YANGON An urgent United Nations mission to bring Myanmar's ruling generals and their many foes to the peace table was shrouded in secrecy on Sunday with no word on progress from the country's new jungle capital.
Officials were unreachable in Naypyidaw, 385 km to the north of Yangon, the centre of an uprising led by Buddhist monks that the junta has been squeezing the life out of by arresting or confining monks and barricading off the city centre.
There was no word even on who U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari met in Naypyidaw, which translates as "Abode of Kings", where the junta moved the government abruptly in 2005, apparently because astrologers had defined the auspicious hour for the shift.
The generals, directing moves to throttle the protests in Yangon and other cities from Naypyidaw, usually ignore outside pressure. Yet they bowed to the chorus of international concern that followed soldiers shooting down peaceful protesters last week to allow Gambari in at short notice.
The heavy-handed suppression of the protests had prompted criticism even from China, the closest the junta has to an ally, and rare condemnation from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member.
Pressure was added by the departure of a Japanese envoy to Myanmar on Sunday on a mission to ensure a full investigation into the death of video journalist Kenji Nagai, 50.
Video of his death on Wednesday, when the generals began their crackdown on mass protests, appeared to show a soldier shooting him at point blank range as security forces began to clear central Yangon of protesters.
FEW ON STREETS
State-run media have declared the job done, proclaiming the restoration of peace and stability after security forces handled the protests "with care, using the least possible force".
At their height last Monday and Tuesday, the protests in central Yangon, formerly Rangoon, filled five city blocks.
The crackdown, in which soldiers shot into crowds, raided monasteries and hauled monks away in trucks, have reduced the mass demonstrations to bands of a few hundred people.
They taunt and curse security forces, who have sealed off the protest area around two main pagodas in the city centre, then vanish into alleys when charged.
Soldiers and police fire occasional warning shots, ensuring the city remains scared of a repeat of 1988, when the army put down an uprising, killing an estimated 3,000 people.
There is no sign now of the maroon-robed monks, the moral core of the deeply Buddhist nation, whose column stretched nearly a kilometre at the height of the protests against 45 years of military rule.
Those not arrested are penned in their monasteries by surrounding security forces.
The United States said the fact Gambari was going almost directly to Naypyidaw -- whisked out of Yangon as soon as he arrived from Singapore on Saturday -- was reason to worry about his mission. He was dispatched following an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting prompted by the bloody crackdown.
"We have concerns that Mr. Gambari was swiftly moved from Rangoon to the new capital in the interior, far from population centres," White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.
He urged the junta to allow Gambari wide access to people, including religious leaders and detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
GAMBARI TO MEET SUU KYI
Gambari was due to meet Suu Kyi, who has spent about 12 of the last 18 years in some form of detention, when he returned to Yangon.
The two met a year ago, the last time any senior foreign figure has seen the democracy icon, who has been confined to her lakeside Yangon villa without a telephone and requiring official permission, granted rarely, to receive visitors.
Since she was last detained in May 2003, some of her countrymen have been able to see her just once -- early in the monk-led protests when marchers were allowed through the barricades sealing off her street.
Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won a landslide election victory in 1990 that the generals annulled, appeared at the gate of the house, riot police between her and the protesters.
There has been no explanation, and no repeat, of the incident.
However, in a sign any concessions to the protesters by the generals would be limited, state television is publicising marches around the country condemning the Yangon protests and officials say there will be more during Gambari's visit.
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