UN chief gambles on Burma breakthrough

Ban Ki-moon is not a man known for taking risks. Yet his decision to visit Burma and meet its secretive military rulers – at a time when the rest of the world is outraged by their decision to put opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on trial – is quite a gamble.
The visit was requested by the Burmese government.
The generals are rarely graced by the presence of figures of Mr Ban’s international stature in their bunker-like capital Nay Pyi Taw.
If the secretary-general gets nothing in return, he will be assailed by his detractors for being naive, for allowing the status of his high office to be used by a pariah regime.
Critics have already argued that a UN secretary-general’s visit should be a prize, to be awarded after significant concessions have been made, not before.
But if Mr Ban’s visit can revive a dialogue between the military and the opposition that has been dead for six years, he can chalk up the greatest achievements at the UN to date.
So what are his prospects?
Previous UN envoys have generally had little success in Burma. The one exception was Razali Ismail, a distinguished Malaysian diplomat, who was appointed UN Special Envoy to Burma in April 2000.
He helped broker talks between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi that resulted in her release from house arrest in May 2002.
But after she was detained again a year later, Mr Razali was repeatedly denied entry to the country, and he resigned in frustration at the end of 2005.
His successor, Ibrahim Gambari, has led eight missions to Burma, but has little to show for them.
He arrived there right after the army’s violent suppression of mass anti-government protests in September 2007, and thought he had been given assurances by Senior General Than Shwe that the military would be lenient with the protesters.
Since then, in a seemingly calculated snub to international opinion, military-dominated courts have imposed harsh sentences on hundreds of political prisoners.
Election risk
Ban Ki-moon’s position as secretary-general may make it easier for him to deal with the notoriously reclusive and stubborn military ruler.
It may be that his oft-criticised unassertive diplomatic style strikes a chord with Than Shwe.
Mr Ban certainly seems to feel he has a rapport with him, a big claim to make after just one meeting over a year ago – but a claim nonetheless that few other international figures can rival.
continue http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8132723.stm

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