British ambassador to Burma, Mark Canning, talks to The Irrawaddy about the role of the UN and Asean in Burma, the Cyclone Nargis relief effort and his expectations for the election in 2010

Mark My Words – Question: How do you assess events in Burma in 2008?
Answer: It was a bad year on almost all fronts. It was especially cruel that on top of all their other problems, the people of this country had to cope with the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis—but at least there we’ve seen some good progress. After a difficult start, relief reached those who needed it, a creative mechanism was established for overseeing the operation and a number of tricky problems were overcome.

Elsewhere, there was no movement, in fact quite the opposite. The UN secretary-general himself said very recently that the degree of cooperation between Myanmar and the UN had been unsatisfactory. There was no move towards any sort of dialogue between the government and the opposition. There was continued repression.

The number of political prisoners doubled, and more than 200 activists, who’ve done nothing but espouse peaceful protests, were given massive prison sentences. Aung San Suu Kyi remains locked away and prevented from playing the conciliatory role she could fulfil if allowed. The various concessions made at the turn of the year, like the series of meetings between her and the labour minister came to nothing. The population has been told to expect the introduction of “disciplined democracy” in 2010—they’ve seen plenty of the former but not much of the latter. continue

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