Has the Burmese regime grown immune to UN initiatives?

by Mungpi
Sunday, 05 July 2009 21:42

New Delhi (mizzima) – Burma’s military rulers have once again proved their indifference towards world opinion by rejecting the request of the United Nations Secretary-General to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The opposition has said it is a major setback for Burma’s reconciliation, while critics say it is a direct insult to the world body and that it is time for the UN to take alternative steps in its approach to dealing with the junta.

On Saturday, Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, wound up his second visit to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation expressing deep “disappointment”. Ban, at a press briefing before leaving the country, told reporters that he had twice requested a meeting with detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, but Burma’s military supremo, Senior General Than Shwe, refused to yield.

Before arriving on a two-day visit to the country, Ban stated he would attempt to persuade the generals to free the more than 2,000 political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and to immediately engage in a meaningful dialogue with the opposition in order to create conditions conducive for a free and fair election in 2010.

But none of his goals have apparently been achieved, with the generals carefully planning his schedule, arranging meetings with selected political parties and ethnic armed ceasefire groups, who told Ban what the generals wanted him to hear.

“When I met General Than Shwe yesterday and today, I asked to visit Ms. Suu Kyi. I am deeply disappointed that he refused,” Ban told reporters in Rangoon on Saturday before leaving the country.

“I believe the government of Myanmar [Burma] has lost a unique opportunity to show its commitment to a new era of political openness,” he added. Nyan Win, spokesperson for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, said while Than Shwe’s refusal is a major setback, he cannot speculate on whether the trip was a total failure simply because the UN chief failed to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi.

But Win Tin, a veteran journalist and Central Executive Committee member of the NLD, said Than Shwe’s refusal sends a clear message to the UN as well as to the international community that the generals are indifferent towards their opinions and are determined to go ahead with their plans.

“It is a direct insult to the UN and also a clear message that the generals are determined to imprison Aung San Suu Kyi,” Win Tin said.

He said the junta, by systematically arranging Ban’s meetings, is clearly sending a message that they are not willing to take the UN’s suggestions into consideration and will instead continue to pursue their roadmap.

“Allowing a visit to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would have been an important symbol of the government’s willingness to embark on the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the elections in 2010 are to be seen as credible,” Ban said at the press briefing.

In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which left over 140,000 people dead or missing while affecting millions more, Ban, in May 2008, visited Burma to persuade the generals to allow greater international humanitarian assistance for cyclone survivors.

In December 2008, he said he was willing to visit Burma again but only on condition that the generals demonstrated tangible progress in their efforts for national reconciliation, starting with the release of political prisoners. On that occasion, the lack of tangible progress on the part of the junta forced Ban to cancel his plans.

Win Tin believes despite the continued lack of progress, Ban made his second visit, July 3-4, largely because the regime is charging Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and putting her on trial.

“So, refusing him [Ban] a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi is like the junta telling the UN ‘we will do whatever we want with her and sentence her for a prison term,’” Win Tin interpreted.

He added that it also indicates that the junta is rejecting the entire UN agenda. With Aung San Suu Kyi continuing to be detained, argues Win Tin, pressure to release all political prisoners is meaningless, there can be no meaningful dialogue as Aung San Suu Kyi represents the opposition and it is also a clear sign that conditions will not exist for a free and fair election in 2010.

“I would say the UN chief’s visit is a total failure and that the junta has made their position clearer than ever in a single move,” he added.

What can the UN do?

Despite of junta’s stubbornness, the NLD says it would like to see the UN continuing to engage the junta and place diplomatic pressure upon the regime for change.

“We feel that the government’s refusal to allow Ban Ki-moon to meet Aung San Suu Kyi is a big setback for the UN chief’s visit to the country, but we do not want to jump to a conclusion that his mission is a failure,” Nyan Win explained.

But he cautioned that when diplomatic pressure fails to work, Ban should lead the UN Security Council into action.

“We would like to see more diplomatic pressure on the junta, but if diplomatic pressure has failed, the UN Security Council should act,” he suggested.

Win Tin maintains that if the UN is to act anytime at all, now is the time, as the junta has clearly indicated that no amount of diplomatic engagement will change their course.

“This is the time for Ban Ki-moon to get the UN Security Council into action,” he iterated.

In early 2007, a draft UN Security Council resolution critical of the junta was vetoed by Russia and China, on the grounds that Burma’s problems do not pose a threat to international peace and security.

But Win Tin said with the international community expressing wide concern over the trial against Aung San Suu Kyi, Russia and China may have to re-think their position if a new resolution is brought forth.

However, other critics believe that with Russia and China steadfast in maintaining a close relationship with the Burmese regime, any action on the part of the Security Council beyond another Presidential statement remains highly unlikely.

But it is high-time for the UN to understand that the regime does not care for any amount of diplomatic pressure in doing what they want to do, Win Tin said.

What should be done?

There are few options for the international community at large and for the Burmese people to take things forward for genuine democratic reforms in the country, unless the ruling regime is interested in such reforms.

However, the UN Chief can go back to the Security Council with his first hand report of dealing with Than Shwe and focus on how the generals can be dealt with effectively by the Security Council. For any effective UNSC action, Ban Ki-moon needs the support of the two veto wielding powers Russia and China. The world body and the UN Chief should now focus their attention to these two veto powers.

Secondly, the UN Secretary General should coordinate actively with ASEAN and other countries, including India, for concerted efforts towards any changes to take place before the end of this year. Hope is not yet lost for Burma if the Secretary General personally takes the Burma issue on the world stage more prominently. But he has to prove now that his empty-handed return from Burma does not mean failure of the world body on a country that produced one of the world’s brightest Secretary General U Thant.

More importantly, as he pointed out in his address to diplomatic missions in Burma and the civil society in the country before he left Rangoon on July 4, “all the people of Myanmar (Burma) must work in the national interest.” The utmost priority for the people of Burma from all sections of the society including the military and politicians is to put national interest before anything else. Everything comes later.

The Burmese people will have to work through a very difficult situation for the country’s national interests. All actors in the country will have to give something away to come together so that more human lives will not be lost, and there will be less suffering.

The Secretary General has said, “The question today is this: how much longer can Myanmar [Burma] afford to wait for national reconciliation, democratic transition and full respect for human rights? The cost of delay will be counted in wasted lives, lost opportunities and prolonged isolation from the international community.”

It is indeed, Burma cannot afford to lose any more opportunities.


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