YANGON, Myanmar – U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Myanmar Saturday, looking to convince the military junta to end its brutal crackdown on demonstrators that has virtually strangled a people's movement to end 45 years of military rule.
Hope was slipping through the hands of protesters taking on the governing junta, however, as streets that saw violent government crackdowns in the previous days were mostly quiet. Troops were stationed on nearly each corner of the two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay.
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Gambari arrived at the Yangon airport and was being briefed by U.N. officials. He was expected to head immediately to Naypyitaw, where the country's military leaders are based.
Western diplomats said Gambari's schedule was set by the government and likely would not include meetings with pro-democracy figures, such as Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.
The envoy remained confident. "I expect to meet all the people that I need to meet," Gambari told reporters before boarding a plane in Singapore on his way to Myanmar.
Daily protests began last month and had grown into the stiffest challenge to Myanmar's ruling junta in decades. They were initially started by people protesting massive fuel price hikes, with crowd sizes mushrooming to tens of thousands after monks joined in.
At the United Nations, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo described Gambari's visit as critical. "If he fails then the situation can become quite dreadful," he said. He added that he believes the junta "will be restrained" during Gambari's visit.
Yeo said that if Gambari could "help them achieve national reconciliation, that would be of enormous value."
Some protesters didn't see a chance that the situation will improve.
"I don't think that we have any more hope to win," said a young woman who took part in a massive demonstration that was broken up Thursday when troops opened fire into a crowd. She was separated from her boyfriend and has not seen him since.
"The monks are the ones who give us courage," she said, referring to the clergymen who have been the backbone of rallies — both those of this week and in past years. Most are now besieged in their monasteries, penned in by locked gates and barbed wire surrounding the compounds, with soldiers standing guard outside.
The junta, which has a long history of snuffing out internal and external dissent, started cracking down Wednesday, when the first of at least 10 deaths was reported, and then let loose on Thursday, shooting protesters and clubbing them with batons.
Small groups of activists and ordinary citizens had continued to turn out since then. Housewives and shop owners were among those taunting troops and then quickly disappearing into alleyways. But the mood was somber Saturday, with few people in Yangon and Mandalay leaving their homes.
Though Myanmar is rich in natural resources, 90 percent of its 54 million people live on less than $1 a day, making it all the more difficult for some people to imagine a successful people's power revolution.
The United Nations said it was worried the current unrest could impede efforts to feed some 500,000 people. Authorities already have placed restrictions on the movement of food in some areas around Mandalay, Josette Sheeran, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, said in a statement from New York.
Images of bloodied protesters and fleeing crowds have riveted world attention on the escalating crisis, prompting many governments to urge the junta to end the violence.
The U.S. urged "all civilized nations" to press Myanmar's leaders to end the crackdown, which has also resulted in hundreds of arrests. Win Mya Mya, an outspoken member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, was among those seized overnight, according to family members.
But analysts said it was unlikely that countries with major investments in Myanmar, such as China and India, would agree to take any punitive measures. They also noted the junta has long ignored criticism of its tough handling of dissidents.
Although the crackdown raised fears of a repeat of a 1988 democracy uprising that saw an estimated 3,000 protesters slain, the junta appeared relatively restrained so far.
The arrival of additional troops in Yangon overnight strengthened the government's hand, said an Asian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing protocol. The corralling of monks — who carry high moral authority in the predominantly Buddhist nation — was also a serious blow.
"They don't want the world to see what is going on there," Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the U.S. government, told reporters in Washington.
Lines formed at stores in Yangon, meanwhile, for shortwave radios, with people eager to tune into BBC, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.
The government has put the official death toll from this week's violence at 10, but diplomats and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said many more may have died, citing unconfirmed witness reports.