Friday, 22 August 2008

Dead-end in Burma for UN envoy

Larry Jagan
21 August 2008

Bangkok (Mizzima): The UN's special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari's current mission to help break the political deadlock between the military junta and the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be heading towards complete failure.

His efforts to establish a dialogue between the sides has collapsed and he is expected to leave on Friday empty-handed. Even Aung San Suu Kyi -- the charismatic, leader of National League for Democracy or NLD-- has refused to see him so far during this trip, although he met her on all his previous visits.

Nevertheless, he also failed to meet any senior members of the country's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). His failure to accomplish anything at all during this visit now raises serious doubts about his future role, and the UN's mediation efforts in Burma as a whole.

Mr. Gambari has had a busy schedule – meeting many people nominated by the regime to brief him -- but so far has been unable to meet any senior representatives of the regime. Instead he has been left kicking his heels in Rangoon.

The senior leaders, including the top general Than Shwe – who are all ensconced in their new capital Naypyidaw some 400 kilometres north of the old capital-- have been keen to keep him at arms length, and insisted he could meet everyone he needed to in Rangoon. The key meeting he wanted though, with the opposition icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, has also not taken place yet and is unlikely too according to sources inside Burma.

The UN envoy originally planned to meet her at the State Guesthouse on Wednesday, but she did not show up, according to NLD sources in Rangoon -- although UN officials in Burma contacted by Mizzima declined to confirm a meeting had been scheduled. "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is refusing to see the UN envoy before he sees a senior representative of the SPDC," an opposition source close to the detained leader told Mizzima on condition of anonymity.

She feels there is no point in meeting Mr Gambari at the moment, as he has nothing from the Generals to report or offer, he said. "She definitely won't see him if he does not meet a top member of the regime," he said.

Many members of the pro-democracy movement in Burma no longer trust the UN envoy and feel it is no longer in their interests to co-operate with the process.

For many Asian diplomats though her actions are an affront. "It's un-Asian to let the envoy wait in vain for her to show up," said a Japanese diplomat, who closely follows Burma.

"It seems unusually rude, to the extent that it gives the impression of being insensitive." It will only serve to further undermine Mr. Gambari's credibility and strengthen the regime's belief that she is ill-tempered and uncompromising, the diplomat added. (JEG's: I suppose Than Shwe is very polite by ignoring the envoy :-) and it is better to listent to kyaw Hsan to call a person IGNORANT - then again Japanese are very famous for their crimes and cruelty under their soft politeness)

On the other hand, some diplomats believe it may actually boost Mr. Gambari's hopes of seeing Than Shwe, or another senior member of the SPDC. She may also be concerned at the protocol implications of meeting the UN envoy – as leader of the opposition, while he is only allowed to see junior members of the government.

"My hunch is that having stood him up once, she has made her point, and will agree to see him before the end of his visit," said a Rangoon-based western diplomat.

This is former Nigerian foreign minister's fourth trip to Burma since the brutal crack-down on the massive Buddhist monk-led protests a year ago and six visits to Burma since he replaced the previous envoy Ismail Razali more than three years ago.

In November last year, he smuggled out and made public a letter from the opposition leader that appealed to the country's military leaders to put aside their differences with her and to work together on national reconciliation for the sake of the whole country. This infuriated the regime, who denounced her claims in the state media for weeks afterwards.

So far on this trip Mr. Gambari has met only lower-ranking officials from the junta, including the foreign affairs minister Nyan Win and the information minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan. On Thursday, he also met the minister in charge of liaising with Aung San Suu Kyi -- the labour minister Aung Kyi -- who held several round of talks with the NLD leader after last October 2007, but has not seen her since January.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gambari was wheeled around meeting many small political parties that are all likely to contest the elections planned for 2010. Most of them were pro-government groups, including the dreaded Union Solidarity and Development Association which is expect to form at least three different political parties by the end of this year to contest the forthcoming elections.

He was only allowed a 20-minute meeting with five NLD leaders from the central executive committee – including Chairman Aung Shwe and Secretary U Lwin. Vice President U Tin Oo and Secretary-General Aung San Suu Kyi of course were absent – as they are both being detained under house arrest. It was a very inconclusive meeting, according to a NLD member who was present.

"He did say he had recommended that the government release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi – and urged them to make sure the 2010 elections are open and fair -- but refused to talk about the 1990 election result," he said. The NLD overwhelmingly won those elections by a land-slide but were never allowed to form a government.

The international community, especially China has exerted substantial pressure behind the scenes on the junta to allow the UN envoy to visit the country. He originally wanted to return to Burma before the referendum that was held in May, despite the devastation caused by the Cyclone Nargis to Rangoon and the fertile and densely populated Irrawaddy Delta to the west of the former capital.

"The regime's only interest in allowing Gambari back is to try to get him to endorse their roadmap," said Win Min, an independent Burmese academic based in Chiang Mai.

"They have forced the new constitution through a sham referendum, and now they are planning elections that are likely to be less than fair or free. They're not interested in anything else. They have no intentions of changing their minds or making oncessions to the international community – let alone starting a genuine political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic or ethnic forces."

Mr. Gambari's priorities on this mission were to try to kick-start talks between the two sides, press for the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and discuss the junta's roadmap and the planned elections in 2010. The UN envoy did in fact raise all these issues with the government during his meeting with the information minister Kyaw Hsan earlier this week – but no response has yet been forthcoming. At least he did not get a ticking off this time – as he did when he met the government's spokesman last time. General Kyaw Hsan accused him of being ignorant, insensitive and irrelevant to Burma's future. The envoy's offer to provide international observers for the referendum on a new constitution was also roundly rebuffed.

Although Mr. Gambari may have avoided a dressing down this time, the regime obviously has no less contempt for him than previously – but this time the strategy seems to be to try to educate him so that he will accept the regime's Road Map to 'disciplined democracy'. On Thursday the regime pressed with its efforts to convince him with a long meeting with the Chairman of the referendum commission. But the junta are unlikely to get any joy from Mr. Gambari on this score.

"Individual governments are free to endorse or reject the roadmap," Mr. Gambari told Mizzima in an exclusive interview prior to his last trip to Burma in March.

"The UN's responsibility is to uphold international norms and standards, which countries apply in very different ways from one situation to another. It is not for the UN to take a position on the issue, beyond reporting objectively the views and concerns of all parties, which I have done and will continue to do," he added.

This time though Mr. Gambari is also reportedly trying to prepare the ground for the forthcoming visit of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon later this year. He has passed a letter onto Than Shwe from the UN chief, according to diplomats in Rangoon.

The planned visit, pencilled in for December, according to senior UN officials in New York, remains tentative. "The SG has also indicated his intention to return to Myanmar (Burma), when conditions are right, to continue his dialogue with the Myanmar leadership," a senior UN spokesperson, Marie Okabe told journalists earlier this week. That means Mr. Gambari being able to continue his role in providing a channel of communication between the junta leaders and the pro-democracy opposition.

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