China issued a plea for calm in Myanmar on Thursday after refusing to condemn the military-run government, while Southeast Asian nations expressed “revulsion” at the violent repression of the demonstrations.
The United States said it was imposing economic sanctions against 14 top officials in the military junta.
A statement issued after a foreign ministers’ meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly’s ministerial meeting in New York strongly urged Myanmar’s government “to exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution.”
The ASEAN ministers called for the release of all political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.
“They 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,” the statement said.
“They strongly urged Myanmar to exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution,” it said. “They called upon Myanmar to resume its efforts at national reconciliation with all parties concerned, and work towards a peaceful transition to democracy.”
Myanmar is an ASEAN member, along with Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam.
China refused to condemn, sanction junta
China has come under increasing pressure to use its regional influence to urge Myanmar’s ruling junta to show restraint in dealing with the protests.
On Wednesday, China refused to condemn Myanmar and ruled out imposing sanctions, but for the first time agreed to a Security Council statement expressing concern at the violent crackdown and urging the country’s military rulers to allow in a U.N. envoy.
The U.N. special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, headed for Myanmar at Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s request to try to promote a political solution and reconciliation efforts. U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Ban had been told by Win that Gambari “will be welcomed by the Myanmar government.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in Beijing that “China hopes that all parties in Myanmar exercise restraint and properly handle the current issue so as to ensure the situation there does not escalate and get complicated.”
The crackdown puts China in a bind. Its communist government has developed close diplomatic ties with junta leaders and is a major investor in Myanmar. But with the Beijing Olympics less than a year away, China is eager to fend off criticism that it shelters unpopular or abusive regimes.
China and Russia contend the situation in Myanmar is an internal affair and doesn’t threaten international peace and security — as required for Security Council action — so getting them to agree to the press statement was considered a positive step.
U.S. sanctions 14 junta officials
The Bush administration announced that 14 senior officials in Myanmar would be subject to sanctions. Those targeted include the junta leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, and the No. 2 man, Deputy Senior Gen. Maung Aye. The action freezes any assets the 14 have in U.S. banks or other financial institutions under U.S. jurisdiction, and also prohibits any U.S. citizens from doing business with those individuals.
At the United Nations on Tuesday, Bush accused Myanmar of imposing “a 19-year reign of fear” that denies basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship.
“The world is watching the people of Burma take to the streets to demand their freedom, and the American people stand in solidarity with these brave individuals,” Bush said in a statement.
European Union diplomats agreed to consider imposing more economic sanctions on Myanmar. Sanctions were first imposed in 1996 and include a ban on travel to Europe for top government officials, an assets freeze and a ban on arms sales to Myanmar.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters in Beijing that the use of force by the junta “will solve nothing.”
“We all need to agree on the fact that the Burmese government has got to stop thinking that this can be solved by police and military, and start thinking about the need for genuine reconciliation with the broad spectrum of political activists in the country,” he added.
Hill was expected to discuss the violence in Myanmar with Chinese officials on the sidelines of North Korean nuclear disarmament talks this week in Beijing. He declined to say whether Washington would request specific measures from Beijing.
Japanese journalist killed
Among those killed Thursday was Kenji Nagai, a journalist for the Japanese video news agency APF News. Nagai, 50, had been covering the protests since Tuesday, APF representative Toru Yamaji said in Japan.
In Washington, Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said Tokyo held Myanmar “strictly” accountable for Nagai’s death. The 50-year-old journalist had been covering the protests in Yangon, APF representative Toru Yamaji said in Japan.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Japan will lodge a protest with Myanmar, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said. “We strongly protest the Myanmar government and demand an investigation” into the death, Machimura was quoted as saying by the official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, as saying. “We demand (Myanmar) take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the Japanese citizens in that country.”
Japan will send Deputy Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka to Myanmar to protest Nagai’s death, said Tomohiko Taniguchi, a deputy press secretary traveling with Komura in Washington.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said his government would also press Beijing to urge the junta to end its violent repression.