10/22/2007, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Generals end curfew, not repression

Curfew ends in big cities. People are relieved but still scared. In the meantime thousands of monks and dissidents remain in prison. UN envoy Gambari is in India to get support for economic sanctions but with little hope. Junta proposes ‘talks’ with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The United Nations' special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, today met Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to discuss the situation in Myanmar. Meanwhile the curfew imposed on the country was lifted. Life, however, is not back to normal.

Mr Gambari is expected to meet Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to urge India to support sanctions against Myanmar and force the military junta to end the repression against Buddhist monks and opponents which has been going on since September.

International sanctions have had little effect so far because Myanmar’s main Asian trading partners have not joined.

Delhi for example has great stakes in Burmese gas development and is afraid that it might be shut out to the advantage of China.

India sent its oil minister to Myanmar in the middle of last month's pro-democracy protests. Shortly after the bloody crackdown, it announced it was pressing ahead with plans to develop a port on Myanmar's north-western coast.

Gambari has already held discussions with officials in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is also slated to visit China and Japan to discuss the situation in Myanmar.

In Myanmar the government ended the curfew on Saturday in Yangon and Mandalay but soldiers still patrol the streets.

In Washington, the White House said the lifting of the curfew was a "bad sign,” indicating that the government now felt confident it had succeeded in repressing dissent.

People welcomed the end of curfew but everyone agrees that the situation remains serious.

A teashop owner said he hoped more customers would return after the curfew ended.

“My business suffered during the curfew because I had to close my shop around 9pm, and most of all, we had very few customers,” he explained.

Street tea shops are popular for nights out among people in Myanmar, where few people can afford to go to restaurants.

A 55-year-old housewife said she was glad that the curfew had been lifted, but added she would stay away from Yangon's golden Shwedagon Pagoda, a rallying point for protesters.

Authorities have released a number of prominent detainees—but diplomats say thousands remain locked up. The whereabouts of thousands of monks who took part in the protests in September are also unknown.

Internet access, blocked after the crackdown, was restored only recently. But the military government continues to ban foreign media.

Junta chief Than Shwe has offered to hold talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 17 years, but only if she gives up her support for economic sanctions against Myanmar.

For years Ms Suu Kyi has called on foreign investors to boycott the country to put pressure on the military who are profiteering from trade whilst the population goes hungry.

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