( AFP ) - The UN said its envoy to Myanmar will go there for weekend talks with the ruling generals, after monks took to the streets Wednesday for the first time since a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
Officials at the United Nations said the envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, would arrive in Myanmar on Saturday on a six-day visit for his second round of talks with the generals amid ongoing international concern over September's violence.
In Myanmar, about 100 Buddhist monks marched in a peaceful demonstration Wednesday in the town of Pakokku, the scene of one of the most serious confrontations with the military. In last month's clashes, mass street rallies escalated to a bloody conclusion, leaving 13 people dead.
On September 6, monks -- enraged after troops in Pakokku fired warning shots and used batons to break up an anti-regime protest -- took 20 security personnel hostage for several hours.
Although the crisis was resolved, it marked a turning point in what would become Myanmar's biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years as monks then took to the streets in droves to lead the rallies in this devoutly Buddhist country.
Wednesday's march in Pakokku was not openly political. Witnesses said the monks recited prayers but refrained from shouting slogans.
Still, it showed "the sense of frustration and resentment has not disappeared" following last month's crackdown, which saw thousands of monks and pro-democracy activists detained, a Western diplomat in Yangon told AFP.
Hundreds remain in jail, according to diplomats, although the junta on Wednesday released seven people, including members of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).
The UN confirmed that Gambari planned to arrive Saturday and would make a side trip to Istanbul, Turkey, for talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, prior to heading for Yangon.
The secretary general said that this time Gambari's visit "will have to bring substantive results."
"I am going to instruct (him on) what he has to do" during the visit, Ban told reporters, adding that the goal was to facilitate a dialogue between the military regime and the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
He said Gambari would press for "more democratic measures by the government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators and open up their society as soon as possible."
Gambari last visited Myanmar from September 29 to October 2, just days after security forces confronted protesters with batons and tear gas in the streets of the commercial capital Yangon.
During his four-day trip, Gambari met with junta chief General Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta, on Gambari's recommendation, later appointed a liaison to improve relations with her.
Gambari has since been on a six-nation Asia tour to rally regional support for his mission, which has earned the go-ahead from key Myanmar ally China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Myanmar.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday that regional powers must push for sustained contact between Gambari and the junta if Myanmar is to gradually embrace democracy.
"We have to give some sense of permanence to this mission. I say this with caution, and it will be possible only with the support of the ASEAN countries and also, of course, China and India," he said.
Gambari was originally invited to return to Myanmar in the third week of November, but the junta eventually agreed to push up the date following US and European pressure.
The Nigerian diplomat's visit comes as US lawmakers consider a new bid to punish Myanmar's junta, which has been in power since 1962, by targeting the country's multi-million dollar gems trade.
A bill introduced Tuesday in the US Senate would tighten sanctions by imposing a travel ban on top generals and associates, and outlaw the import into the United States of gems and timber from Myanmar.