EDITORIAL Humiliation of UN chief

Published: 6/07/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
The Burmese military junta stripped away the pride of the United Nations during the weekend, but the UN was a too-willing accomplice. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spent two fruitless days on an impossible mission. He not only failed to secure the release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but also refrained from even the most mild criticism of the regime that has locked her away on trumped-up charges. Then, in a final humiliation of the visitor, the ruling Burmese generals guided Mr Ban into a meeting with ”former armed groups” now intimidated into acting as shills for the regime.
The United Nations, and Mr Ban himself, billed the visit to Burma in somewhat glowing terms. Their theory was that the presence of the secretary-general in Burma would create a moral facade. The importance of his office, Mr Ban apparently believed, would convince or shame the generals into changing 47 years of iron-fisted control. They would release Mrs Suu Kyi and hundreds of other political prisoners and agree to accept a political path to democracy. The reality was that the dictators stayed on the course they have repeatedly announced and enforced with the blood of thousands of Burmese citizens. Mrs Suu Kyi remains jailed, as do all other political prisoners, and Burma remains under the boot of the military regime.

Mr Ban and his aides at the United Nations had plenty of warning that the secretary would become a pawn rather than a peacemaker. His decision to visit Burma and plead for Mrs Suu Kyi was doomed from the start, and it is disturbing that he could not see it. His cheerful optimism last week seemed to be a denial of the task that lay ahead. He did not go to Burma to demand freedom for thousands of battered and unjustly imprisoned citizens; he went to beg for them.

It is not that Mr Ban failed to win freedom for Mrs Suu Kyi and 50 million fellow Burmese. It was the manner of his failure that let down the free world and caused Mr Ban and the UN to lose face. The UN chief said as his ill-fated trip ended that he was ”deeply disappointed” in failing to win so much as a prison visit with Mrs Suu Kyi. There were no sharp words about her jailers, no criticism of the system they impose at gunpoint.

Mr Ban had a rare opportunity to shed light and show the world how violent and unjust the Burmese generals have made their country. Instead, he was convinced or tricked into attending a fake event to boost the prestige of the junta. Prime Minister Thein Sein ushered the visitor into a meeting of former opponents of the regime. These groups, including political parties and former armed rebel forces, have been crushed and intimidated at gunpoint. The junta has coerced or forced them into supporting the regime’s so-called ”road to democracy” sham, which will climax next year in a carefully controlled referendum to perpetuate military rule in Burma forever.

There was never much chance that Mr Ban would succeed at gaining freedom for Mrs Suu Kyi or the other political prisoners. Nor was there a chance that the generals would heed the prestige of the UN and switch from brutal dictatorship to democracy. But Mr Ban did have a rare chance to stand up to the junta. He did have an opportunity to speak the truth. By confronting the junta, he would have earned huge respect for the United Nations and provide hope to the people of Burma.

Instead he has reduced the plight of that sad country to more routine diplomatic failure.

Bkk Post

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