YANGON (Reuters) - Buddhist monks in Myanmar staged a protest march on Wednesday, their first since troops crushed a pro-democracy uprising a month ago, as U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari prepared a return visit to the former Burma.
The United Nations said Gambari, who first visited shortly after the army crackdown, would visit Myanmar from November 3-8 on a second mission to coax the country’s ruling generals into talks with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The latest march by monks in the central town of Pakokku, 370 miles northwest of Yangon, suggests the crackdown merely managed to stifle, not eradicate, widespread unrest over 45 years of military rule and deepening poverty.
The town has been a flashpoint since soldiers fired over the heads of monks in early September, transforming small, localized protests against shock hikes in fuel prices into the biggest anti-junta uprising in two decades.
About 200 maroon-robed monks chanted prayers as they walked three abreast through central Pakokku, a witness told Reuters.
The Democratic Voice of Burma, a dissident radio station based in Norway, said the monks were sticking to their demands for lower fuel prices, national reconciliation and release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.
“We are not afraid of getting arrested or tortured,” one monk was quoted as saying.
There were no reports of trouble in Pakokku.
One resident, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said the monks deliberately chose a route to avoid clashes with junta-sponsored rallies to condemn last month’s demonstrations.
Official media say 10 people, including a Japanese video journalist, were killed when soldiers were sent in to clear the streets of Yangon and other cities, although Western governments said the real toll was likely far higher.
Gambari has been on a six-country Asian diplomatic tour to press neighbors — especially India and China — to take a tougher line against the junta in Myanmar, one of the world’s most isolated regimes.
In New York, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said Gambari would seek “immediate steps to address human rights concerns in the wake of the recent crisis and a framework for meaningful and time-bound dialogue” between the government and Suu Kyi.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he would meet Gambari on Friday in Istanbul to give him instructions for the visit.
“Our goal is that he will facilitate this dialogue between the government and opposition leaders,” Ban said, adding he wanted Gambari to promote “democratic measures by the Myanmar government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators.”
Montas said Gambari would look at establishing a constitutional review mechanism and poverty alleviation commission, and talk to a broad range of people, “including all the groups which he was not able to see last time.”
Ban said he hoped for “substantively different results” this time.
Gambari, a former Nigerian foreign minister, had one audience with junta chief Than Shwe during his visit in early October.
He had two meetings with Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won a 1990 election landslide only to be denied power by the military. She has spent 12 of the last 18 years in detention.
After Gambari’s visit, the junta appointed retired general Aung Kyi as a go-between for Suu Kyi and Than Shwe, who is widely known to loathe the 62-year-old Nobel laureate.
Aung Kyi held a 75-minute meeting with Suu Kyi last week, although it is not known what they discussed.
In Beijing on Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner repeated his idea of offering incentives for the people of Myanmar if the government launches a political dialogue with Suu Kyi and their talks make progress.
“Are sanctions enough? I believe personally that it is not enough. So we have to work on sanctions and on incentives — not for the junta but for the people of Burma,” Kouchner told reporters after meeting his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, and Premier Wen Jiabao.
Kouchner said Beijing and Paris, while agreeing on the ends in Myanmar, did not always see eye to eye on the means.
But he added: “Our Chinese friends are in agreement. We need to develop the political dialogue. There is no other way, no escape, but through political change.”
Additional reporting by Alan Wheatley in Beijing and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations