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UN envoy location a mystery

Yangon, Oct. 1 (Reuters): Mystery surrounded the whereabouts of UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari today after he flew to Myanmar’s new jungle capital to persuade the junta to end its crackdown on the biggest pro-democracy protests in 20 years.

The UN office in Yangon said he remained in Myanmar, but it gave no further details.

“He looks forward to meeting Senior General Than Shwe and other relevant interlocutors before the conclusion of his mission,” the UN said.

One diplomatic source said Gambari was being made to wait until tomorrow to meet junta supremo Than Shwe. The source added that since the streets of Yangon were quiet today, he had gone on a trip to Lashio, in the hills of Shan state, near the Chinese border.

No reasons for the destination were offered, although one Bangkok-based diplomat said a small group of travelling European academics was in the capital, Naypyidaw, 385 km north of Yangon, and due in Lashio tomorrow.

UN officials with Gambari were outside mobile phone coverage and no other diplomats in the former capital could shed any light on his whereabouts.

The delay does not augur well for Gambari’s mission, hastily arranged last week when the junta sent in soldiers to crush more than a week of monk-led mass protests against decades of military rule and deepening poverty in the former Burma.

The 74-year-old senior general is frequently rumoured to be in poor health, but has a well-deserved reputation as military hardliner who pays scant regard to the cares and concerns of the outside world.

The only certain thing about Gambari, a former Nigerian foreign minister, is that he was still in the country 48 hours after his arrival, a prospect that did not look likely when he arrived.

British ambassador Mark Canning said China had pushed for Gambari’s mission to be as long and as far-reaching as possible, getting permission for him to fly to Naypyidaw where he met the acting Prime Minister and information and cultural ministers.

He then returned to Yangon for an hour with Opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest and incommunicado for nearly 12 of the last 18 years.

His immediate return to Naypyidaw sparked hopes of the seeds of “shuttle diplomacy” between a military that has been in charge for the last 45 years, and Suu Kyi’s democracy camp. “There’s been an evolution in his programme. The initial pitch was minimalist. It’s got a bit better, and we want to see it get better still,” Canning said.

The UN made it clear yesterday that Gambari did not plan to leave without seeing Than Shwe, whose troops are stationed on street corners across Yangon, making it impossible even for small crowds of demonstrators to assemble.

In a sign the junta was confident it had squeezed the life out of the uprising, barbed-wire barricades were removed from the Shewdagon Pagoda, rallying point for monks leading the marches. Soldiers and government security men, however, were searching bags and people for cameras, and the Internet, through which images of the crackdown have reached the world, remained cut.

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