Tuesday, November 6, 2007

UN's Gambari fails to impress Burma Junta

On his second visit to Burma since the brutal crackdown on demonstrators, in September, United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari held talks with senior members of the Burmese military regime. But there are few signs of a breakthrough in encouraging a transition to civilian rule.

Gambari’s task was fraught by the fact that on the eve of his arrival in Rangoon, the country’s largest city, on Saturday, the junta announced the expulsion of Charles Petrie, the U.N.’s top diplomat in that country, for activities that were deemed ‘inappropriate.’

“The government’s announcement that the U.N. resident coordinator Petrie is to be expelled, is clearly a deliberate attempt by the Burmese regime to sabotage Gambari’s visit,” a western diplomat in Bangkok who deals with Burma told IPS.

And now, although he has held meetings with the top brass of the military in the capital of Naypyitaw — some 400 km north of Rangoon — Gambari has been told to cut short his mission by one day and leave on Wednesday.

In fact, there are clear signals that the generals are not in the least interested in the international community’s efforts to encourage democratic change and are intent on introducing a political system that will consolidate the military’s power in the future.

Burma (also known as Myanmar) has been ruled by the military since 1962. The U.N. and international human rights organisations have charged the regime with widespread and systematic human rights violations, including torture, summary executions and the use of child soldiers.

Before flying to Naypyitaw, Gambari was briefed in Rangoon by Petrie who advised him to concentrate on his primary aims, and not be side-tracked by the regime’s decision to declare him persona non-grata, according to U.N. sources.

Gambari had also discussed his mission with U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki Moon in the Turkish capital of Istanbul on Friday. He was asked to tell Burma’s leaders that the U.N. regards their actions as totally unacceptable, according to U.N. officials.

But Gambari would have found it hard to ignore the junta’s accusation that Petrie went beyond his duties by criticising the regime’s failure to meet the economic and humanitarian needs of its people, and by saying this was the cause of September’s mass pro-democracy protests. “The Senior General and his hard-line supporters have no intentions of including Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD (National League for Democracy) in talks about Burma’s political future. They are pressing on with their own road map and are not interested in having any U.N. involvement. The latest ploy is intended to sidetrack Gambari, because they are not prepared to make any concessions,” he said.

Burma’s military rulers had originally invited the U.N. envoy to return to the country in the latter part of November because that fitted neatly into their plans. They wanted to finish drafting the new constitution which effectively legitimised their grasp on political power, and have the Asian leaders summit, in Singapore in two weeks time, endorse it.

A referendum on the new constitution would then be set for early next year, according to a senior Burmese government official. This would allow the regime to provide the U.N. envoy with a fait accompli which would prevent any concessions being made to Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. “The only issue open for discussion then would be whether the pro-democracy parties and ethnic groups would oppose the constitution at the planned referendum,” said an Asian diplomat based in Rangoon.

But intense behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure from Beijing convinced the regime to bring the visit forward. “The Chinese authorities told their ally that if Beijing was to be able to continue to protect them in the U.N. Security Council then they had to show some progress — and an early return visit by Gambari was essential,” the Chiang Mai-based Burmese academic Win Min told IPS.

Much is riding on Gambari’s efforts to get the two sides to talk. His visit is critical if there is to be progress in Burma, Singapore and Indonesia’s foreign ministers told journalists at a press conference in Singapore, last week.

“I hope that Myanmar (Burma) can look at the positive examples in many countries and move decisively towards national reconciliation and engage in a serious dialogue with Aung San Syu Kyi, the NLD and all the other parties, and move forward,” said Singapore’s foreign minister George Yeo.

“The key here is strengthening Gambari’s hand and giving him a strong set of cards so that he do his good work in Myanmar, be a good mediator, catalyse the process which should bring the country forward,” the minister added.

The two foreign ministers — Yeo and Indonesia’s Hassan Wirayuda — both met Gambari last week while he was in Singapore waiting to finalise his visit to Burma.

“While we don’t expect too much to come from it, it does give the junta a way out if they are interested in finding an inclusive solution to their economic and political problems,” said a Rangoon-based diplomat.

At this stage it is unclear whether he will be allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi on his return to Rangoon, but it is almost certain he will be seeing her at least once, according to U.N. officials in Burma. He will also be meeting other representative of the pro-democracy movement, including executive members of the NLD, and ethnic leaders.

For almost two decades the U.N. has attempted to help bring about national reconciliation in Burma. During that time the junta has made minor concessions, occasionally releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and freeing political prisoners. Now the U.N. envoy is desperately trying to strengthen the process.

Gambari’s mission is to promote “democratic measures by the Myanmar government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators,” Ban Ki Moon said last week. “Our goal is that he will facilitate this dialogue between the government and opposition leaders,” he added.

But there is little evidence that Gambari is going to be any more successful on this trip than his previous visits to Burma. “The hardliners have strengthened their control on power and are in no mood to include Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD in the process,” Win Min told IPS.

The above news was obtained from www.burmanet.org

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