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UN seeks to count the dead and detained in Myanmar

By Thomas Fuller, IHT, November 11, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand -- A United Nations envoy arrived Sunday in Myanmar to begin the first independent investigation into the military government's September crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks and students.

Paulo SÚrgio Pinheiro, the UN rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, who had been barred from entering the country for the past four years, will visit prisons and monasteries in an attempt to establish the number of people detained and killed in the crackdown, UN officials said.

Myanmar's ruling generals have shown tentative signs of reconciliation toward democratic dissidents, last week allowing their chief political opponent, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to meet with members of her party for the first time in three years.

The New Light of Myanmar, a leading state-run newspaper, ran a picture on its front-page Saturday of Aung San Suu Kyi shaking hands with a representative from the junta, a change in tone for a government that keeps her under house arrest and that for years has sought to play down her importance.

The government says 10 people were killed when troops opened fire on demonstrators and raided Buddhist monasteries. Myanmar's information minister, Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, said last week that the government detained 2,927 people alleged to have taken part in the demonstrations and released all but 91 of them. Burmese dissident groups say the death toll and number of arrests were higher.

Pinheiro, who is scheduled to stay in Myanmar through Thursday, will report his findings next month to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Brazilian lawyer has taken a tough stance against Myanmar over the years and his visits have not always gone smoothly. He cut short a mission in 2003 after finding a wireless microphone under the table in the room at the prison where he was conducting interviews with inmates.

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