WASHINGTON – U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown renewed a call to the Myanmar junta Friday to stop its violent suppression of pro-democracy protestors.
The world's two leading pro-democracy leaders discussed "the need for countries around the world to continue to make their views clear to the junta, that they need to refrain from violence and move to a peaceful transition to democracy," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, according to Agence France-Presse.
They also emphasized the importance of the visit by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Myanmar this weekend, said Stanzel.
President Bush and Prime Minister Brown's appeal for peace joined the calls of leaders around the world as news circulated that at least 13 people have died from the junta's violent crackdowns, according to AFP.
For the third day, shots were heard and batons were hurled at disgruntled citizens in Myanmar's two biggest cities. Daily protests drew tens of thousands of people with 100,000 protestors gathered on Monday in the largest pro-democracy demonstration since 1988.
"The military was out in force before they even gathered and moved quickly as small groups appeared breaking them up with gunfire, tear gas and clubs," Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar, told The Associated Press by phone.
"It's tragic. These were peaceful demonstrators, very well-behaved," she said.
The European Union, meanwhile, denounced Myanmar's crackdown as "gross and systematic violations of human rights."
"Our team could see the demonstrations from windows in our room and we paused several times to pray for the tense situation," reported an EQUIP ministry trainer, according to the ministry on Thursday.
EQUIP is a Christian leadership training ministry working in more than 100 countries to produce effective leaders. Some of the ministry's leaders were in Myanmar, also known as Burma, to train local leaders as riots broke out this week.
"We see first hand the desperate need for God to work through effective leaders during this critical time in Burma's history," added the trainer who requested to remain anonymous for safety concerns.
According to reports, the military regime on Friday appeared to have cut public Internet access to block images and reports of the violence from leaving the country.
The United States in response to the brutal crackdown has tightened sanctions against the regime, saying Thursday it would freeze all assets held by 14 top officials in the junta within U.S. jurisdiction, and ban U.S. citizens from conducting business with them, according to AP.
Japan and China have also agreed to cooperate to resolve the crisis in Myanmar.
China is Myanmar's main economic and political ally, while Japan is its largest aid donor.
However, China has thus far refused to condemn or impose sanction on Myanmar, calling the protest an internal affair that did not threaten regional or global stability.
Myanmar is one of the world's most repressive as well as one of the poorest countries in Asia.
The junta is accused of persecution of ethnic minorities, child labor, human trafficking, squashing freedom of speech, assembly and worship, and holding more than 1,000 political prisoners – including Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military regime is accused of sanctioning sexual violence against women of ethnic minorities as well as ordering crosses and churches destroyed.
Nearly half of the reported cases documented against women of the Chin ethnic minority were gang rapes, and at least a third were committed by officers, according to U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
"These horrors are being sanctioned by the state in Burma," said Cheery Zahau, a spokesperson for the Women's League of Chinland, in a released statement. "How can the civilized world accept this junta among their ranks? And how can countries like India and China be arming these rapists?"
The Chin population in Burma is about 90 percent Christian and is severely persecuted by Burma's traditionally pro-Buddhist military regime.
Burma has one of the world's worst religious freedom records and is repeatedly designated by the State Department as a "country of particular concern" (CPC) – the worst religious freedom violator label. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent U.S. government agency, advised Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in May to again include Burma on this year's CPC list.
According to AP, the U.N. special envoy will arrive in Myanmar as early as Saturday to discuss the crisis.