YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s military ruler set conditions on Thursday for meeting detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as security forces continued to round up people and interrogate hundreds more arrested in a ruthless crackdown on protesters.
In the first official remarks since a visit by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari this week, junta chief Than Shwe said he would hold direct talks with Suu Kyi if she publicly agreed to four conditions.
Than Shwe told Gambari that Suu Kyi must abandon her “obstructive measures” and support for sanctions as well as her positions that were “confrontational” and for “utter devastation,” state television said, without elaborating on how the Nobel laureate could meet the demands.
Gambari was dispatched to Myanmar to persuade the generals to end the crackdown on protests against their rule that grew to 100,000-strong in the main city of Yangon and to talk to Suu Kyi, who has been in detention for 12 of the past 18 years.
But reports of physical abuse of captured protesters, including Buddhist monks who led the uprising, suggest Than Shwe is paying scant regard to his calls for restraint.
“That is one of the top concerns of the international community,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is due to attend a meeting of the 15-member Security Council on Friday to discuss the crackdown in a country under military rule for an unbroken 45 years.
The U.N. Security Council decided to hear Gambari’s report at a public meeting on Friday, but China said it was opposed to any “international imposed solution.” It said the junta’s crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners was an internal affair.
Beijing’s U.N. Ambassador, Wang Guangya, told reporters, “There are problems there in Myanmar but these problems still, we believe, are basically internal.”
Official media say 10 people were killed in the crackdown on the biggest challenge to the junta in nearly 20 years, although Western governments say the toll is likely to be far higher.
About 1,400 people were still being detained, according to the evening state news broadcast, which said 2,093 people had been arrested and 692 released since the crackdown on the peaceful protests began last week.
The United States called for the military to talk to Suu Kyi without conditions and said the senior U.S. diplomat in Myanmar would visit its new capital, Naypyidaw, to urge them to begin a “meaningful dialogue” with opposition groups.
“We don’t believe that there need to be any conditions. This is a dialogue between a government and its people. You shouldn’t need to have conditions,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.
A relative of three women released said detainees were being divided into four categories: passers-by, those who watched, those who clapped and those who joined in.
“They’re looking for the people who led the demonstrations. The people clapping will only get a minimal punishment — maybe two to five years,” said Win Min, who fled to Thailand during a crackdown on a student-led uprising in 1988.
Leaders could be looking at up to 20 years behind bars, he said.
People in central Yangon’s Kamayut district said soldiers had arrested scores of people on Wednesday for trying to impede a raid on the Aung Nyay Tharzi monastery a few days earlier and giving protection to fleeing Buddhist monks.
Another 70 young monks rounded up in other swoops across the city a week ago were freed overnight from a government technical institute, after 80 monks and 149 women believed to be nuns were released on Wednesday.
One freed monk, who did not want his name revealed, said some had been beaten when they refused to answer questions about their identity, birthplace, parents and involvement in the protests.
“The food and living conditions were horrible,” the monk, from Yangon’s Pyinya Yamika Maha (A) monastery told Reuters.
Among those detained in the middle of the night on Wednesday was a Myanmar U.N. staff member and her two relatives. They were released, along with her driver, on Thursday, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.
The junta’s crackdown has provoked scores of protests around the world and on Thursday hundreds of Buddhist monks in yellow robes marched in India chanting hymns, and waving placards that read “Stop Killing” and “No violence against democracy.”
The body of 50-year-old Kenji Nagai, a Japanese video journalist shot to death near Yangon’s Sule Pagoda, was returned home on Thursday for an autopsy whose results could lead to Tokyo making good on a threat to scale back economic assistance to Myanmar, one of Asia’s poorest countries.
Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington