China and Russia, which are both close to the regime, have repeatedly blocked UN sanctions against Myanmar. The United States and EU have both imposed tough sanctions against the country.

“Now he has to go back to New York and brief the Security Council and basically say ‘We have got nowhere. We have to seriously rethink our engagement strategy,’” Human Rights Watch’s Mathieson said.

“This really shows that he’s got to put more pressure on China and Russia in the Security Council, I think that’s one thing to come out of it.”

Aung Myo Thein of leading activist group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners of Burma, based in Thailand, said Than Shwe’s hard-line stance could itself backfire by causing international outrage.

“In a way it’s a good situation. People can now know the intentions of the regime and discuss with each other about the situation,” he said.

“They should now take whatever the regime says with a grain of salt.”

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