Wed, Oct 17, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Myanmar junta shrugs off international criticism

MARCHING ON Japan canceled almost US$5 million in aid in its first act of protest against the crackdown on demonstrations in which a Japanese journalist was killed

AFP , YANGON

Myanmar's military junta yesterday shrugged off international action to punish the regime for its crackdown on dissent, vowing to "march on" even as Japan cut aid and European nations widened sanctions.

State media also insisted there were no political prisoners in the country and criticized a UN Security Council statement deploring the violence used to quell the biggest anti-government protests in nearly two decades.

The response came amid international pressure on the regime to halt its repression and launch talks with the pro-democracy opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Japan, one of Myanmar's main donors, said yesterday it was cancelling grants of about US$4.7 million over the fatal shooting of a Japanese journalist when security forces put down last month's mass protests.

On Monday, EU foreign ministers approved a new set of sanctions against the junta, including an embargo on the export of wood, gems and metals, and threatened further penalties.

US President George W. Bush, whose country has imposed targeted sanctions against junta leaders, called for "enormous international pressure, to make it clear to the generals that they will be completely isolated and not accepted into the international community."

But Myanmar vowed to resist, saying in state media that: "We will march on. There is no reason to change the course."

"We will remove all the hindrances and obstacles that may lie ahead," the official New Light of Myanmar daily said.

The newspaper criticized last week's UN Security Council statement, which deplored the regime's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and called for the release of political prisoners.

"The situation in Myanmar does not constitute a threat to regional and international peace and security," it said.

"It is obvious that there is no reason for the UNSC to take action against Myanmar. In reality, there is no one in Myanmar who is in prison for political reasons. There are only those against whom action has been taken in violation of the existing laws," it said.

Last month's protests led by Buddhist monks drew up to 100,000 people onto the streets in what escalated into the most potent threat to the regime since student-led demonstrations were crushed in 1988. But they were violently broken up by troops and police in an operation that left at least 13 people dead and more than 2,000 locked up.

The UN sent Ibrahim Gambari, a top trouble-shooter, to Myanmar after the crackdown to meet junta chief Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi, who is held in detention at her Yangon home.

Since then, Than Shwe has made a heavily conditioned offer of direct talks with Aung San Suu Kyi -- provided she drops her support for sanctions and ends "confrontational" policies.

The regime has also eased its curfew and restored Internet access that had been cut off during the protests.

At the same time, security forces have kept up the pressure on dissidents, arresting six more activists at the weekend, rights group Amnesty International said.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy -- which won elections in 1990 but has never been allowed to govern -- said any dialogue with the junta would be jeopardized if the regime continued to hunt down activists.

Gambari called the latest arrests "extremely disturbing" when he met Thai officials on Monday in Bangkok at the start of a regional tour aimed at building pressure on the regime, and called for an immediate halt.

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