YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar's military junta dismissed a U.N. statement Friday calling for dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition, insisting that it would follow its own roadmap toward reform — a plan critics say is a ruse aimed at extending the government's grip on power.
The impoverished country's main opposition party, however, hailed the U.N. declaration and urged the ruling generals to comply with demands for negotiations with pro-democracy forces and ethnic minorities, and the release of political prisoners.
State-run TV and radio issued a statement Friday arguing that conditions inside Myanmar — a reference to the anti-government protests that were violently suppressed by troops on Sept. 26 and 27 — were not the concern of the outside world.
"Myanmar's current situation does not affect regional and international stability," said the statement, attributed to Col. Thant Shin. "However, we deeply regret that the U.N. Security Council has issued a statement contrary to the people's desires."
"The government of Myanmar will continue to implement the seven-step roadmap together with the people," the statement said, referring to the junta's plan that promises a new constitution and an eventual transition to democratic rule.
The road map process is supposed to culminate in a general election at an unspecified date in the future. But so far only the first stage — drawing up guidelines for a new constitution — has been completed, and critics say the convention that drafted them was stage-managed by the military.
Top opposition party the National League for Democracy — led by detained activist Aung San Suu Kyi — endorsed the Security Council statement.
"Since Myanmar is a member country of the United Nations and as the government has declared it would work with the U.N., we earnestly underscore the need to urgently implement the demands made by the Security Council," the NLD said.
The 15-member Security Council issued its first statement on Myanmar on Thursday in an attempt to pressure the military rulers — in charge of the isolated country since 1988 — to enter a dialogue with the opposition and make moves toward democratic reforms.
The fourth-ranking member of the junta, Prime Minister Gen. Soe Win, 59, died Friday in a military hospital after a long illness, relatives and state media said. Soe Win reputedly oversaw a 2003 attack on Suu Kyi from which she escaped unscathed.
His death, however, was unlikely to cause a ripple in the regime's grip on power. Soe Win had little if any influence in policy-making as prime minister and was largely considered a figurehead for the junta.
In addition to its statement, the U.N. also renewed its diplomatic efforts to push Myanmar toward reform by announcing it would dispatch special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to the region this weekend.
Gambari was to begin his consultations in Thailand on Monday and then travel to Malaysia, Indonesia, India, China and Japan, "with a view to returning to Myanmar shortly thereafter," U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said. She gave no date for his trip to Yangon.
Gambari met with the junta's leaders earlier this month during a four-day trip to Myanmar after troops opened fire on peaceful protests in Yangon. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after Gambari's visit that he could not call the trip "a success."
Myanmar's military junta has said 10 people were killed and nearly 2,100 arrested in last month's demonstrations, with 700 later released. Diplomats and dissidents say the death toll is likely much higher and up to 6,000 people were seized, including thousands of monks who led the rallies.
At least a dozen freed prisoners described brutal treatment at detention centers, including one who said "dozens" of detainees were killed, the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based short-wave radio station and Web site run by dissident journalists, said in a report Thursday.
There was no way to independently confirm the reports attributed to freed prisoners.
In an interview with The Associated Press, another released prisoner, Zaw Myint, 45, said he was arrested Sept. 26 on a Yangon street after a soldier bashed his face with the butt of his gun, leaving a bloody gash across his cheek.
Zaw Myint said he was denied treatment for three days then stitched up by a doctor at Yangon's notorious Insein prison, after the physician had treated several other wounded prisoners.
"He used the same needle to treat all patients. And I saw him give injections to wounded people using the same syringe," said Zaw Myint, who was released after a week in custody. He said was "extremely worried" about having contracted HIV as a result of the treatment. Rights groups say Myanmar's prisons have soaring rates of HIV-AIDS.
Human rights groups have long accused the military government of abuse and torture of prisoners. The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, comprised of around 100 former inmates, has put out a report describing homosexual rape, electric shocks to the genitals, near drowning, burning with hot wax and other abuse.
Also Friday, Thai police said a bomb exploded in a guesthouse just across the border inside Myanmar, injuring two people. Col. Photsawat Tangchui, a police chief in the border district of Mae Sot in Tak province, said the blast hit the Shwebyisaya hotel, about 30 meters (yards) from the border.