Myanmar Junta Appoints Liaison for Opposition Leader

Myanmar's deputy labor minister has been appointed to serve as a liaison official for contacts with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, state media said Monday night.

The appointment of such a liaison was suggested by a U.N. special envoy who visited Myanmar following the military junta's violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators last month.

State radio and television said Deputy Labor Minister Aung Kyi, a retired general, had been given the job, but did not say when he might begin contacts with Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.

The announcement described the post as "liaison minister." His exact duties were not detailed, but it appeared from the statement that Aung Kyi would coordinate all contacts with Suu Kyi coming from both the U.N. and the junta. Suu Kyi, 62, has spent about 12 of the past 18 years in detention without trial.

Aung Kyi has a reputation among foreign diplomats, U.N. organization employees and international NGO workers as being relatively accessible and reasonable, compared with other top government officials.

He handles the delicate diplomatic task of defending his country before the International Labor Organization, which has accused the junta of using forced labor and threatened several times to press sanctions against it.

The government said last week that Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the junta leader, was willing to meet personally with Suu Kyi, but only if she met certain conditions, including renouncing support for economic sanctions by foreign countries.

It remains unknown if Suu Kyi will accept the offer.

Security in Yangon continued to ease more than a week after police and soldiers suppressed the demonstrations with gunfire, beatings and arrests on Sept. 26-27. Some roadblocks were removed and visitors began trickling back to the heavily guarded Shwedagon and Sule pagodas, the starting and finishing points of protests that began in mid-August over a sharp fuel price increase.

However, Yangon residents are keeping up a low-key resistance, harassing soldiers by tossing rocks at them at night, student activists said.

Security forces have responded to the activities, which have taken place in the past 2-3 days, by detaining the rock throwers they catch after curfew, they said.

In some cases of rock throwers being detained, their relatives — including children — have also been taken into custody, said the activists, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of arrest. Curfew in the country's main cities, Yangon and Mandalay, runs from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

No figures were available on the number of people engaging in such activities or how many may have been detained. The reported new arrests came as the government has been giving numbers of those arrested and released in connection with the protests.

The junta says at least 10 people were killed in the crackdown — although independent sources say the toll was likely much higher — and that some 1,000 remain in detention centers. At least 135 monks are being held, according to The New Light of Myanmar.

In addition, 78 more people suspected of involvement in the rallies were being questioned by investigators, it said.

Inspired by the participation of monks, who are revered in the country, thousands of people turned out for the protests last month, the biggest in nearly two decades of brutal military rule. The junta's crackdown in Myanmar, also known as Burma, sparked international condemnation — including from its Southeast Asian neighbors.

The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962. The current junta came to power after routing a 1988 pro-democracy uprising, killing at least 3,000 people.

Recent raids on monasteries turned up 18 knives, one ax, slingshots and one 9mm bullet, though it was not yet clear to whom they belonged, according to The New Light of Myanmar, a state-run newspaper. The government threatened to punish any monks that violate the law, stepping up pressure on clerics who led the protests.

In a commentary, the newspaper stressed that those arrested during the unrest would be treated as criminals rather than political prisoners.

"Supporters of the protest who claim themselves pro-democracy activists will not be pardoned if they break the law, as no man is above the law," the paper said on its comments page. "Those who are found guilty of breaking the law will be imprisoned."

State media, including The New Light of Myanmar, are not taken seriously in the country, said Soe Aung, a spokesman for the National Council of the Union of Burma, a coalition of opposition groups based in neighboring Thailand.