Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Referendum below UN Standards

The Irrawaddy News

The US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday the Burmese referendum on the draft constitution held in May did not meet UN Security Council standards of openness and fairness.

Khalizad, the Security Council president for the month of June, also expressed concern over the lack of progress made by the military government toward political reconciliation and democracy.

"We have not seen satisfactorily progress on that and as a matter of fact, the referendum did not meet the standards of the Security Council," Khalilzad said.

The Security Council for the past several months has emphasized the Burmese political reconciliation process should be all inclusive and transparent.

"The easing of the conditions on Aung San Suu Kyi has not taken place besides the issue of the referendum,” Khalizad said. “The reconciliation process has not moved forward."

On the junta’s response to the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, Khalilzad said: "While there has been some progress, we recognize that it didn't start as early as it should have. We expressed our outrage early on and said the government had the responsibility to protect its people and it shouldn't stand in the way."

At the same time, he said: "We have been encouraged by some of the recent decisions. We want to see more access."

"We will continue to closely monitor events in Burma," he said.

Khalilzad said the issue of Burma is expected to be taken up for discussion by the council this month.

Meanwhile, the United States announced that its naval ships stationed off the coast of Burma are preparing to leave the region, after waiting in the area for three weeks for the junta to grant permission to assist in relief efforts.

The ships—the USS Essex, USS Harpers Ferry, USS Mustin and USS Juneau—were sent to the coast of Burma to offer assistance after Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy Delta in early May.

"These are assets that are needed elsewhere, and there's no rational expectation at this point that we would be able to effectively use those assets in the humanitarian relief operation,” State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington. “That permission has not been forthcoming from the Burmese authorities. And at this point, we don't have any rational expectation that it would be."

However, McCormack said the US would continue with its relief mission through other means.

"We are not going to abandon those people. We're going to continue to try to get more aid in there, get experts in there. It's a humanitarian issue, and we're certainly not going to give up."

"The decision-making process of the Burmese regime stands in stark contrast to the decision making of those countries affected by the tsunami several years ago in the Southeast Asia and Indian Ocean region," McCormack said.

Those countries, he noted, were quick to open up their borders to a massive influx of aid. As a result, people's lives were saved and the process of reconstruction was able to proceed quickly.

"Because of that, also, I would say the international system was prepared to offer even more assistance well beyond the date at which the natural disaster took place," he said.

At UN headquarters in New York, a spokesperson at the secretary-general’s office confirmed media reports that nearly a month after the cyclone hit Burma, more than a million people have still not been reached by representatives of the international community. The assessment is based on information provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

However, they may have received aid from Burmese authorities or other groups, she said.

"What they are also saying is that a large number of villages have not received any support at all, and this is causing displacement as people search for food and clean drinking water," she said.

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