P. S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE: Ibrahim Gambari, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General, began a delicate mission to Myanmar on Saturday, amid expectations from the pro-democracy protesters there that he might “change the dynamics” in their favour.

An atmosphere of tension-filled calm prevailed in Yangon, the scene of anti-junta protest marches for nearly 10 days, as Mr. Gambari arrived there on his way to the country’s administrative capital, Naypyitaw, for talks with the military regime.

Mr. Gambari, who passed through Singapore, is expected to convey a message from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Myanmar’s military rulers and also urge them to heed the U.N. Security Council’s call for restraint.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is keen that he should convey its strong sentiments to the military rulers in Myanmar, a member-state. He hopes to meet Myanmar’s opposition leaders as well, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the celebrated democracy campaigner in prolonged detention.

During the day, even as the junta’s soldiers and police tightened their grip over Yangon, commercial and cultural centre and former capital, at least 70 protesters gathered for a peaceful rally, according to dissident sources. The troops were said to have chased and attacked the protesters as they sought to march through the streets. Elsewhere in the city, soldiers fired warning shots to disperse small but determined groups, it was said. Witness accounts were relayed over a satellite channel of the Myanmar opposition camp.

The junta beefed up the deployment of soldiers and police in Mandalay as well, besides continuing to blockade Buddhist monasteries, the epicentre of the latest movement for economic and political justice. However, at least 1,000 monks led thousands of other protesters in the town of Pakkoku, where there was little or no deployment of soldiers, it was said. Dissidents in exile could not immediately confirm this.

Dissident spokesman Soe Aung said there were some signs of “disobedience” on the part of soldiers who were reluctant to target protesters. Regardless of this new development, there was no major violence against the demonstrators on Saturday.