UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — Southeast Asian foreign ministers were to meet here Thursday under pressure to join the Security Council in urging Myanmar rulers to allow a visit by a UN envoy to defuse world anger over a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
The 15-member council met in emergency session here Wednesday but failed to condemn the brutal repression in Yangon.
Members merely expressed "strong support" for a visit to Myanmar by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari "as soon as possible," expressed "concern" about the government crackdown and called for "restraint."
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers will meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session before holding separate talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in New York later in the day.
ASEAN, which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, has adopted a soft stance on Myanmar in line with its general policy of non-interference in domestic affairs.
A Western diplomat said council members were hoping that the grouping would use its influence on Myanmar to persuade it to meet Gambari and free political prisoners, including democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
US officials said Rice was also expected to ask Myanmar's ASEAN partners to crank up the pressure for an end to the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Yangon and the start of a dialogue with the opposition.
Rice said Wednesday that Gambari should be issued a visa by the military junta "immediately" and allowed to see Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Gambari visited Myanmar twice last year, including last November when he met Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the past 18 years.
At least four people were killed and 100 injured Wednesday as Myanmar's security forces clamped down on protests led by Buddhist monks in Yangon, according to officials and witnesses.
Up to 100,000 people defied heavy security to take to the streets, despite warnings from the ruling generals who are facing the most serious challenge to their rule in nearly two decades.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday he was sending Gambari to the region and urged Myanmar's junta "to cooperate fully" with his good offices mission aimed at assisting "in the process of national reconciliation through dialogue."
Gambari, who briefed the council on the latest developments in Myanmar, told reporters that he was heading for Southeast Asia late Wednesday to await a visa for Myanmar.
Diplomats said the issue of sanctions was not raised during the session.
"We found common ground in support of Gambari's mission," said China's UN envoy Wang Guangya.
Singapore on Thursday urged Myanmar to give full access to the United Nations envoy and said it was "deeply troubled" by reports that violence had been used against demonstrators. Singapore is the current chair of the 10-member Association of ASEAN, which includes Myanmar.
On prospects for tougher action, including sanctions, if things escalate in Myanmar, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told AFP late Wednesday: "I do not exclude that. That is certainly on the table for us and several other members. But the council is not there yet."
The council reaction Wednesday constrasted with expressions of global outrage, with governments vowing to hold Myanmar's military rulers to account.
In a joint statement issued in Brussels, the European Union and the United States said they were "deeply troubled" by reports that security forces had fired on demonstrators and arrested monks spearheading the protests.
The statement called on the Security Council to consider further steps "including sanctions."
Tuesday, US President George W. Bush unveiled new sanctions on Myanmar's military rulers and urged global pressure for democratic reforms to end the junta's decades-old "reign of fear."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday urged French businesses including oil giant Total -- accused over labor rights abuses in Myanmar -- to freeze investments in the country and called for the swift adoption of UN sanctions.
But Western diplomats said a push for council sanctions was likely to run into stiff resistance from veto-wielding council members China and Russia.
Wang said sanctions would not be "helpful."
In Moscow, the foreign ministry said the bloody crackdown on mass street protests by Myanmar authorities was an "internal matter."
In January, China and Russia vetoed a draft resolution in the Security Council that would have urged Myanmar's rulers to free all political detainees and end sexual violence by the military.
They then argued that the Myanmar issue did not represent a threat to international peace and security and was best handled by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.
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