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Group of Asian nations decries violence in Burma

UN sends envoy to discuss crisis

The military released smoke canisters after firing on a crowd of thousands in Rangoon, Burma, during demonstrations yesterday against army rule and economic hardship. The military released smoke canisters after firing on a crowd of thousands in Rangoon, Burma, during demonstrations yesterday against army rule and economic hardship. (REUTERS)

UNITED NATIONS - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations voiced "revulsion" yesterday at the killings in Rangoon and sternly demanded that fellow member Burma stop using violence against demonstrators.

In unusually blunt language for the 10-member group, the nine other foreign ministers said in a statement that they were "appalled to receive reports of automatic weapons being used" on crowds, and demanded that the Burmese government "immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators."

Nine protesters were killed yesterday in Burma's main city, Rangoon, when soldiers and police fired on crowds protesting decades of army rule and economic hardship, state media said.

The ministers "expressed their revulsion to Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win over reports that the demonstrations in Myanmar are being suppressed by violent force and that there has been a number of fatalities," said the statement, issued after talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Burma's junta renamed the country Myanmar.

The association's statement was striking for a group that operates on a consensual basis and holds as a core principle "noninterference in the internal affairs of one another."

The statement was made shortly before a UN spokeswoman announced that the junta had agreed to receive a UN envoy, veteran diplomat Ibrahim Gambari, to discuss the crisis.

Burma's foreign minister was not present when the Asian association's statement was issued, and his representative sat stony-faced and had no comment after the meeting.

"They strongly urged Myanmar to exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution," the statement said, and they urged Burma to release political detainees, including democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

A UN spokeswoman said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Burmese authorities "to engage in a constructive dialogue with his special adviser and to commit to a path of peaceful and inclusive national reconciliation."

A report by Gambari, particularly a negative one, would keep the issue before the UN Security Council. China and Russia, which have friendly ties with the Burmese authorities, in January vetoed a US-drafted resolution calling on the junta to stop the persecution of minority and opposition groups.

A Western diplomat said the Gambari mission would give the Burmese authorities a "face-saving vehicle" to open a dialogue with the opposition. . A refusal to receive him would have sent a clear message of the junta's intentions.

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