Friday, 25 July 2008

UN Missions on Burma Draw Derision

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK — In their hour of despair, Burma’s beleaguered people continue to find comfort in humor. New jokes reflect new frustrations. The latest target is Ibrahim Gambari, United Nations special envoy for Burma.

One revolves around the nickname that has been coined by local comedians for the Nigerian diplomat. He is labeled as "Kyauk yu pyan" (pronounced chow-u-peean), which in Burmese refers to a man who receives precious stones from the government as a bribe. (Burma is renowned for its gems.)

Other nicknames are harsher, like "Gan pha lar" (pronounced gun-pa-la), a play on the envoy’s name, which is the word for the receptacle that Burmese use to wash themselves after going to the toilet.

The jokes are a slice of a growing mood within the Southeast Asian country that reveal a contempt for Gambari’s mission to secure concessions from Burma’s military regime—chiefly an open and inclusive, free and fair political process to usher in a democratic culture.

A letter sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday mirrors the lack of faith that victims of the junta in Burma have in UN political missions. It comes on the eve of twin events: the Security Council taking up Burma, or Myanmar, for discussion later this month, and Gambari’s next visit to the country in mid-August.

"We fully understand that the people of Burma/Myanmar are solely responsible for bringing about change in our country. However, when we are faced with the military regime which has never been reluctant to crush any political activity by brutal and excessive force, we expect the United Nations would be able to change the murderous behavior of the (junta) by diplomacy and pressure," wrote a select group of opposition political figures in the country.

"At the very least, we don’t want the United Nations siding with the dictators and forcing the people of Burma/Myanmar into an untenable position," added the letter by these leaders who were elected to parliament in a 1990 general election that the junta refused to recognize. The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a thumping mandate at that annulled poll. Suu Kyi has since spent over 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest.

"The elected politicians in the opposition parties are disappointed by Mr. Gambari’s performance during his previous visits. The NLD told him to push the military junta to have a referendum that was inclusive," says Zin Linn, a former member of the NLD and former political prisoner, currently living in exile.

The impression he has given is that he is "indirectly following the military regime’s line," added Zin Linn during an IPS interview. "His visits have not given the people any hope for change. He has only helped the junta to gain more legitimacy for its politics and that will oppress the people more."

Gambari’s failure to produce even a whiff of change was confirmed on May 10, when the junta forced people to vote at a referendum to approve a new constitution that was drafted by a junta-appointed committee. The plebiscite, which was rife with fraud, was held as the country was getting over the shock of the powerful Cyclone Nargis that crashed through the Irrawaddy Delta a week before, killing tens of thousands and affecting millions.

That the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the regime is officially known, was determined to stay the course was confirmed in mid-March, following Gambari’s last visit to Burma. It told the envoy that it would not accommodate requests by the U.N. to amend the draft constitution, making it more inclusive for legitimate political participation by the opposition, including Suu Kyi.

That was Gambari’s third visit to the country that came after the junta used brutal force to crackdown on peaceful street protests, led by thousands of Buddhist monks, last September. The protests grew out of anger about growing economic hardship and mushroomed into a cry for greater freedom and democracy. International outrage followed the September repression.

The SPDC’s rebuff of Gambari in March, including by Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, was a reversal of the pledges of political compromise the junta had made to Gambari in the wake of the international fury after the assault on the protestors. Kyaw San warned that Gambari’s neutral role as an ‘’adviser’’ would be challenged.

The SPDC, which is the successor of military regimes that have ruled Burma with an iron grip since a 1962 coup, have treated a growing list of other UN envoys since the early 1990s in a similar manner. Even Ban, the UN chief, has not been spared. The promises the SPDC made to him soon after Nargis struck—for "international aid workers to operate freely and without hindrance"— was broken within days.

The May referendum is part of a seven-point "roadmap" to democracy that the junta unveiled to demonstrate its commitment towards political reform. Drafting a constitution was among them. Holding a general election in 2010 is part of this package that the SPDC uses to hold up in the face of criticism that the military is reluctant to give up its oppressive rule.

"The Burmese military is going ahead with its own plans and it has no space for Gambari in this agenda," says Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst based in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. "This is why there are so many jokes about Gambari’s mission to Burma; its lack of any meaningful progress."

"The people inside Burma have come to realize that the UN has no teeth in trying to bring about change," he told IPS. "They have realized that the UN can do little to help solve Burma’s political problems."

Activists urge action after ASEAN charter ratification

Jul 23, 2008 (DVB)–Burmese rights activists have welcomed Burma’s ratification of the ASEAN charter but urged that public education and an enforcement mechanism are key to the protection of human rights in the country.

U Myint Aye of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network stressed that there needed to be greater public awareness of the human rights protections laid out in the charter.

"It is important for everyone to know and really understand the facts about the human rights norms. In order to make that happen, they should be educated about the subject in schools and other public areas and through the mass media," Myint Aye said.

"If the Burmese government's ratification of the ASEAN charter assures us of human right protections, we welcome it," he said.

"However, this is not the first time Burma has signed a Human Rights agreement – we have signed a couple of similar agreements since 1948."

Human Rights Education Institute of Burma director Aung Myo Min also welcomed the development of a human rights agreement for the region.

"We would like to praise the fact that a human rights agreement, the like of which has never been seen in the ASEAN region, has finally been developed,” he said.

“We welcome the fact that the Burmese government, which has been infamous for its violations of human rights, has signed the charter."

However, Aung Myo Min said it was also important that the regional body could hold state accountable for human rights abuses.

"One thing to have a think about is that the human rights charter has not as yet developed to a level where one can tell what kind of enforcement mechanism it will have,” he said.

“We will be very pleased if a mechanism under which the ASEAN can effectively punish governments who violate human rights is developed rather than just a charter to sign."

Myint Aye said it was the responsibility of the government and knowledgeable people to inform others of their rights.

“If we can get the entire 50 million plus citizens of Burma to feel and understand what it's like to live with human rights, that would be a very useful thing,” he said.

“But we can't say there is an improvement in human rights just because the government had ratified the charter."

Aung Myo Min said that the government should take steps to comply with the obligations it already has under international human rights law.

“The government should not wait for the human right norms which have yet to be approved – they should start sticking to the agreements they have already made to protect the rights of women and children, and they should immediately stop violating human rights,” the HREIB director said.

“An easy step they can take first is to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all the other political detainees,” he went on.

“If the junta really respects human rights, they should pursue a dialogue with people's parliament representatives and ethnic leaders elected by the people."

Burma deposited its instrument of ratification of the charter to ASEAN secretary-general Dr Surin Pitsuwan on Monday in a ceremony on the sidelines of a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Singapore.

The charter will come into force 30 days after it has been ratified by all ten ASEAN member states.

The document establishes ASEAN as a legal entity and lays out the key principles and purposes of the regional bloc, including adherence to democratic values and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It has yet to be ratified by Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Reporting by Aye Nai

No Political Prisoner in Burma: Junta’s Mouthpieces

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s state-run newspapers rejected the use of the term “political prisoners” to describe imprisoned dissidents, saying in a series of articles published ahead of
Thursday’s commemoration of the United Nations’ Declaration on Prisoners of Conscience that detained activists were actually guilty of criminal offenses.

From July 22 to 24, The Mirror and Myanma Alin, two of the ruling junta’s mouthpieces, ran a three-part article, “Political Cases, Political Prisoners and the Definition of Burmese Law,” which addressed the question of whether there are any political prisoners in Burma.

Referring to Article 5 (j) of the State Emergency Act and Article 124 (a) of the State Offence Act, which are often used by the authorities to charge and imprison political dissidents, the newspapers claimed that since Burmese law does not use the term “political prisoner,” they cannot possibly exist in Burmese prisons.

The newspapers argued that the Articles 1-8 of the State Emergency Act, which has been in effect since 1950, cover a wide range of issues, including security, administration, communications, taxation and the economy, but do not relate to political affairs.

Article 5 (j) of the State Emergency Act serves to deter acts that threaten the security of the state, law and order, and public morality, The Mirror and Myanma Alin said.

They also noted that under the Election Law for the People’s Assembly No. 11, promulgated in 1989, elected persons can lose their right to represent their constituencies if they break any military decree related to law and order.

“Although the laws do not use the term ‘political prisoners,’ political activists are charged because of their political work,” Aung Thein, a lawyer for several political detainees, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the United States’ representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, T. Vance McMahan, is scheduled to moderate a panel discussion at the United Nations headquarters in New York to underscore commitments made in the Declaration on Prisoners of Conscience.

The UN General Assembly issued the Declaration on Prisoners of Conscience on June 11 with the support of 64 nations, including the US and 27 European Union members.

A Burmese human rights group in exile, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) welcomed the declaration on July 22.

“[The] AAPP wholeheartedly welcomes the commitment of these 64 nations and
encourages all other nations—especially the Burmese military regime, which is holding over 2,000 political prisoners—to reaffirm their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to adopt the Declaration on Prisoners of Conscience,” the group said in a statement.

Burma’s Disposable Soldiers

Wounded soldiers receive little support from Burma’s military regime. (Photo: Yuzo / The Irrawaddy)

The Irrawaddy News

A morning breeze cools a perspiring Zaw Moe as he walks through a residential neighborhood in the outskirts of Rangoon with a pile of books in his arms.

Wearing a faded Burmese army uniform, the 42-year-old ex-corporal supports himself on crutches as he makes his way from door to door with the low-priced books on Buddhism that he sells for a living. Seven years after losing a leg while serving as a soldier in Burma’s 400,000-strong army, the crutches have become a natural extension of his body.

Like thousands of other disabled veterans of the Burmese regime’s endless anti-insurgent campaigns, Zaw Moe struggles to support his family of four on his meager earnings.

“I didn’t want to do this kind of work at first, because I made sacrifices for my country,” he said, speaking to The Irrawaddy from a public telephone near a crowded market. “But I couldn’t afford to feed my family, so I had to do something or starve.”

In a soft voice, he explained that his monthly pension of 10,000kyat (less than US $9) is barely enough to pay his rent. “After we were forced to leave the military housing compound, I had to get used to doing this job.”

But peddling religious texts is not easy on the former soldier’s pride.

“Some people are willing to listen, but most just want the throw us out,” he said. “They think we are just beggars.”

Military sources in Burma say that times have gotten tougher for soldiers wounded in action. In the past, generals often allowed disabled servicemen to remain in on-base housing compounds until they were ready to leave of their own accord. Now, however, they are expected to leave as soon as they are no longer able to perform active duty.

“Before they could stay as long as they wanted,” said an officer from Light Infantry Battalion 702, based in Hmawbi Township, Irrawaddy Division. “But now the commanding officers don’t want them to stay and expel them from the compounds.”

The source added that the shift in policy began in late 2007 and is now enforced under orders from senior generals in the Ministry of Defense.

Official statistics on the number of disabled soldiers in the Burmese armed forces are not available, but sources close to the Defense Services Rehabilitation Hospital in Rangoon’s Mingaladon Township said that at least ten thousand soldiers have lost limbs over the past two decades.

“Most of the soldiers were injured by landmines,” said one source at the hospital. “The insurgents’ handmade landmines are rarely capable of killing, but they are effective at blowing off hands or legs.”

For enlisted men who survive landmine injuries, the options are limited.

“Disabled veterans fit into three categories,” said one former soldier who lost a hand in battle. “Some can survive by selling religious books door to door in our uniforms. Others have skills, such as sewing or cutting hair. For the rest, there is nothing they can do but beg.”

Officers generally fare much better. Most who suffer injuries get positions in the military bureaucracy or in civil departments, retaining the privileges of their rank.

“If a rank-and-file soldier gets injured, he is no longer considered fit to serve his country,” said a sergeant from Light Infantry Division 88, contrasting the fate of officers with that of low-ranking soldiers.

One of the few provisions made for injured veterans is a vocational training program. Training centers in Pyinbongyi, Pegu and Kyaukse townships teach practical subjects such as sewing, photography, garment dyeing, electronics repair and hairdressing.

“Every physically disabled person who was injured in fighting against insurgents can attend the school,” said a sergeant at one of the schools. “However, the schools can’t accept all applicants, because two of the schools do not have enough accommodation or trainers.”

For Win Than Than, the wife of a corporal who lost his leg in battle several months ago, such help as the military is willing to offer falls far short of her family’s immediate needs.

“As soon as he was injured, we had to leave his battalion. Now I don’t know how we will survive with our children,” she said.

Asean on the Rocks

July 25, 2008

(WSJ) -The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is noted more for what it doesn't do than for what it does do. Topping the list is its non-action on Burma, which is a member of the 10-nation regional group. Two other members, Thailand and Cambodia, are currently facing off over a border dispute over an 11th-century temple while Asean stands by.

Nothing at this week's meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Singapore indicates that the organization is making progress in addressing its members' most important problems. The assembled ministers issued a mild rebuke of Burma on Monday, managing to mention detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a press release for the first time ever.

Some Southeast Asians are outraged by Asean's kid-gloves treatment of Burma and are starting to push back. Their catalyst is opposition to the group's new charter, which would make Asean a legal entity and create a human-rights body. It must be ratified by every member state.

In Indonesia, there are signs that Parliament might reject the charter. Some opposition politicians have made Burma their key issue, and many Indonesians feel a kinship with Burma's embattled citizenry, remembering the repressive rule of the late President Suharto.

In the Philippines -- another nation that's been outspoken about Burma -- President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is trying to figure out how to sell the charter to a skeptical Parliament. She said last year that the charter would likely be voted down unless Asean persuaded Burma to free Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for nearly a dozen years.

In Singapore this week, the foreign ministers glossed over all this, as usual, in favor of the group's vaunted "consensus." One of the crowning moments of the meeting was the announcement that Burma had ratified the new charter. A day later, the Burmese envoy was busy making sure that the new human-rights body created by the charter would be powerless to investigate the junta's many abuses. Aung Sang Suu Kyi, he said, would stay in detention until at least next May.

Asean isn't the only group that has failed to engage Burma effectively; the U.N. has hardly done better. But it's telling that during the relief efforts after Cyclone Nargis last year, Burma's generals preferred to work with Asean over the U.N. They know who their friends -- or, rather, their enablers -- are. Burma's people are suffering. It's to their detriment that Asean continues to play that role.

Fifth of Burmese aid cash lost to exchange rate trick

(Times Online) - International aid agencies helping the victims of the devastating cyclone in Burma are losing as much as a fifth of the money that they bring into the country because of arbitrary foreign exchange rules imposed by the military dictatorship.

Foreign non-governmental organisations and United Nations agencies, such as the UN Development Programme and the World Food Programme, are compelled to exchange US dollars for convertible vouchers known to expatriates as “Monopoly money” before they are changed into local currency for as much as 20 per cent below the market rate. The money lost in these transactions could otherwise have been spent on the millions of people who lost homes and livelihoods in Cyclone Nargis, which killed about 138,000 when it struck the Irrawaddy Delta on May 2.

The UN humanitarian chief, Sir John Holmes, raised the matter with the ruling generals yesterday but reached no agreement. “We need a solution and we need a solution quickly,” he said in the main Burmese city, Rangoon. “They did not say exactly how but they said they would try to find ways by which we could get round the problem.”

This week a joint report by the Burmese Government, the UN and South-East Asian governments said that $1 billion (£500million) one billion US dollars would be needed over the next three years to recover from the cyclone.

In the early weeks the generals were reluctant to allow foreigners to enter the disaster zone. The situation has eased, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by the UN agencies, including $54 million (£27 million) from the British Government. Most of that does not need to be converted into Burmese kyats because it is spent outside the country on imported food, medical supplies and blankets. However, as the aid operation progresses from emergency relief to recovery, agencies will increasingly have to source their supplies locally.

The official exchange rate is six kyats to a dollar but this is a fiction used only in government accounting. The black market rate varies around 1,200 kyat to a dollar, and although this is the rate used in day-to-day transactions, Burmese are not allowed to hold dollars and changing them on the black market is illegal. Aid organisations are compelled to purchase foreign exchange certificates, the so-called “Monopoly money”, printed by the Burmese Government and exchanged at a rate of one dollar for one FEC. When these are changed into kyat at the government-controlled Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank, they are bought at an exchange rate significantly below the market rate for the dollars that were used to purchase them.

On July 9, according to information supplied by foreign diplomats, the dollar-to-kyat rate was 1,185 but the FEC-to-kyat rate was 980, a gap of 17.3 per cent. At other times the fluctuation in the FEC price has widened the gap even further. “It's a major problem and a huge concern for all of us, affecting all of the donor community,” the head of the World Food Programme in Burma, Chris Kaye, told The Times. “But the solution is not going to be easy, because the FECs are an important part of the way the government structures its economy.”

Western Interests Dictate Security Council Agenda

Analysis by Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service

United Nations, 24 July, (Asian Tribune-IPS): The continued political deadlock over a rash of ongoing crises -- including Iran, Myanmar (Burma), Palestine, Kosovo, Zimbabwe and Sudan -- is threatening to paralyze one of the world's most powerful political bodies, harking back to the days of the Cold War when it was turned into a battleground for U.S.-Soviet confrontation.

The 15-member Security Council, the only U.N. body with the power to make war and peace, remained incapacitated when China and Russia double vetoed two different resolutions, over the last 19 months, aimed at punishing Burma and Zimbabwe.

In January last year, a Western-backed and U.S.-led move to castigate the Burmese government for human rights violations suffered the first double veto in recent memory.

And in early July, history repeated itself, when these two big powers exercised their vetoes again -- this time to stall a resolution aimed at imposing sanctions against Zimbabwe for its disputed presidential elections.

The Zimbabwe resolution co-sponsored by Western nations -- led by the veto-wielding United States, Britain and France -- was dismissed by China and Russia primarily on the grounds that domestic issues, including human rights and presidential elections, do not constitute threats to international peace and security: the primary mandate of the Security Council.

Dr. Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS that although the double veto was "very disappointing and certainly a setback in terms of U.N.'s ability to stand up for human rights, it does not represent a significant precedent."

For example, there were the multiple triple vetoes by the United States, Britain and France, which blocked sanctions against South Africa during the apartheid era, he said.

"There have been the multiple U.S. vetoes blocking U.N. action over ongoing Israeli violations of international humanitarian law in the West Bank, which -- unlike the Zimbabwe case -- did not even involve issues of national sovereignty, since they involved territories under belligerent occupation," he added.

Similarly, France and the United States have repeatedly prevented the Security Council from enforcing its resolutions on Western Sahara due to their support for the Moroccan monarch, said Zunes, who has written extensively on issues relating to Security Council vetoes.

"Indeed, one would have to wonder what the three Western powers on the Security Council would have done if there was a similar resolution involving Equatorial Guinea or any of the other dozen Western-backed dictatorships in Africa," Zunes told IPS.

While Western hypocrisy is no excuse for China and Russia to block strong action against Zimbabwe, he argued, the Western nations should not expect those countries to be more responsible in enforcing international standards of human rights as long as they fail to do so themselves.

If the Western powers had their way, as one political observer pointed out, the Security Council would have imposed international sanctions against Sudan, Burma, Iran and Zimbabwe, and also admitted Kosovo as a new U.N. member state (a move that will be vetoed by Russia).

If China and Russia had their way, the Security Council would have penalised Israel for the increasingly brutal occupation of Palestinian territories (a move that will surely be vetoed by the United States, along with France and Britain).

So, the conflicting political scenario has continued to leave the Security Council in a state of permanent deadlock.

Speaking just after the double veto on Zimbabwe, an Asian diplomat told IPS that "the Security Council has been paralyzed once again on a topical issue."

Many had expected China and Russia to abstain, he said. "That was the feedback many of us had, but something happened in between."

Russia's decision to veto, he said, toughened the Chinese position. "There was a view prior to this that China would try to be accommodating given the Olympics. Clearly, this consideration did not stop them, as evidenced by the veto."

He also said: "I understand that they wanted an up-front assurance from the three Western powers that the Security Council would suspend any indictment of Sudanese President (Ahmad) Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in return for an abstention" -- an issue that could come up before the Security Council in the near future.

But the Western powers were apparently unwilling to agree to this, claiming that justice had to take its course.

He said the double veto could herald a period of greater division and tension in the Security Council.

"If this is the case, we can expect the Security Council to be paralysed further," he added.

Commenting on the failed resolution on Zimbabwe, Bill Fletcher Jr., executive editor of, said: "U.S.-inspired sanctions against the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe lack any moral authority. This does not excuse President (Robert) Mugabe for his autocratic approach to the situation in his country."

Rather, with the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq -- and its threats to Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and other countries -- the United States lacks the ability to play a leading role in resolving the Zimbabwe crisis, Fletcher told IPS.

As is happening now, the African Union (AU) must be pressured to play the leading role, along with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), he added.

"This means that Africans must lead in putting the pressure on the Mugabe regime," Fletcher said.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has suggested a policy of complete non-cooperation with the Mugabe regime and this makes sense if led by Africans rather than introduced by those in the West who have unhelpful agendas, he added.

On Monday, in a dramatic turnaround, the Mugabe government and the opposition agreed to a dialogue "with a view to creating a genuine, viable, permanent and sustainable solution to the Zimbabwe crisis."

This agreement was reached as a result of the intervention both by the AU and SADC. The talks are scheduled to take place later this week in Pretoria, presided over by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Third World diplomat told IPS that there is also a disturbing tendency by the "West" to try to broaden the definition of what is a "threat to international peace and security".

While the U.N. Charter leaves some room for interpretation, this definition of a "threat" has generally been confined to wars and violence.

"What we were seeing now is an attempt by the West to include all manner of transgressions as possible reasons that require Security Council action," the diplomat said.

In the Zimbabwe case, the argument was that democracy, elections, and human rights all fall under possible new definitions of "threats". "This is the same sort of reasoning that we have seen the West try to apply to Myanmar over the political process and the humanitarian crisis."

Related to this, he said, there is also a tendency on the part of the West to impose its own standards of behavior on the world.

"You can see this being done throughout the U.N., most noticeably in the committee dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural issues, and increasingly now so in the Security Council," he said.

"I am not sure whether the double veto will stymie these Western efforts. I doubt so. They will keep pushing the envelope," he declared.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency

UN Security Council split on how to deal with Myanmar

UNITED NATIONS (ST)- THE United Nations Security Council was split over how to push Myanmar to improve human rights and adopt democratic reforms as a UN special envoy prepared for a key visit to the Asian nation.

After focusing on aid efforts in Myanmar since a May 2 cyclone left 138,000 dead or missing, the 15-member Security Council turned its attention back to pressuring the country's secretive military government on political reforms.

The United States said on Thursday it wanted 'concrete results' from next month's visit to Myanmar by Ibrahim Gambari, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's special envoy, and that 'tougher measures' may be needed if that was not achieved.

'My message to the regime is to take advantage of Mr Gambari's visit, turn a new page ... or face more pressure - the choice is theirs in this regard,' US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters.

He said for Professor Gambari's visit to be a success, Myanmar had to cooperate on a political roadmap, agree to time-bound talks on political transition ahead of 2010 elections, and release political prisoners including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawers said the Security Council needed to remain focused on the political problems of Myanmar, but acknowledged that reaching an agreement among members on how much pressure to apply would be difficult.

'We're in a very difficult position in the sense that the Burmese government have not responded to the demands of the international community,' he told reporters. 'Things have gone backwards in Burma over the last six months or so.'

But China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya said there was no need for council action and urged patience on Myanmar, while Vietnam's UN Ambassador Le Luong Minh said the country's problems were comprehensive so 'any solution should be comprehensive'.

Mr Ban met on Wednesday with the so-called friends of Myanmar group - India, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, the five permanent members of the Security Council, and others - to discuss Prof Gambari's visit.

He said in a statement that the group made it clear Prof Gambari's visit 'would need to yield tangible progress on the issues of concern to the international community'. Prof Gambari has said his most recent visit to Myanmar was a disappointment and yielded no concrete results. One of the problems was that he was unable to meet senior junta leaders.

It was his third visit since authorities crushed pro-democracy marches in September in a crackdown that sparked worldwide outrage and a major diplomatic push for political reform in the former British colony, which has been under military rule since 1962.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also urged the 10-member Association of South-east Asian Nations on Wednesday to put more pressure on Myanmar. Asean's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. -- REUTERS

UN keeps watch on aid money to Burma

(ABC News)- It's been almost three months since Cyclone Nargis swept through south-west Burma leaving 140,000 people dead or missing and 2 million without homes.

Australia has put in an extra $30 million, more than doubling its contribution to Burma to help it rebuild after the disaster.

However other nations may not be so generous and there are concerns that aid funds will be siphoned off and end up lining the pockets of the military junta that runs Burma.

The United Nations humanitarian envoy, John Holmes, has just left Burma after assessing what's needed.

Last night as he was in transit in Bangkok he spoke about what has changed since his last visit.

"Repairs were underway, houses were being rebuilt, fields were being tilled, economic activity was underway, so it was beginning to resume at least a degree of normal life," he said.

The rebuilding bill in Burma is expected to reach $1 billion. That's on top of the $500 million that will be spent in total on relief.

This week Human Rights Watch, the New York-based agency, called on donor countries to insist on an independent monitoring process.

John Holmes says that is happening.

"We have international relief workers on the ground in the shape of NGOs (non-government organisations) and UN agencies," he said.

"The embassies who were taking a close interest in this are certainly sending people on a regular basis to see what's going on."

In the early days of the aid efforts, some donor countries were wary of the military junta's past record of diverting development funds for its own use, but most still managed to overcome their scepticism.

"There are relatively large sums of money here but they are not as big as they were for the tsunami," Mr Holmes said.

"The damage in the delta is pretty much equivalent to what happened in Aceh after the tsunami, and the response was much bigger in terms of funding then."

The equation could change once development and rebuilding projects ramp up.

Donor countries which have imposed sanctions against Burma because of its human rights record might well rethink their contributions.

There are some signs of a softening by the junta. This week Burma ratified the charter set down by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which will include provisions for greater human rights protections.

But even the ever-optimistic John Holmes is wary.

"You can sign onto all the documents you like. You have to demonstrate, in practice, that you are going to improve things and that is why a lot of people have been watching the future, not only in the humanitarian area but other areas too," he said.

Based on a report by Karen Percy aired on AM.

Cooperate with UN or face more pressure: US tells Myanmar

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United States warned Myanmar's military rulers Thursday that they must cooperate with UN mediator Ibrahim Gambari or face increased pressure from the Security Council.

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters after closed-door consultations with Gambari that the 15-member council expected "concrete results" from the UN troubleshooter's visit to Myanmar next month.

"My message to the regime is to take advantage of Mr. Gambari's visit," the US envoy said. "Absent political progress, we see the potential for increased political instability and the council cannot remain indifferent to that."

He added that the ruling junta must "turn a new page" and agree to a political roadmap for elections in 2010 as well as to the release of political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"If there is not progress on these issues ... we would have to look at other measures, bringing more pressure to bear on the regime," Khalilzad said.

"Things have gone backwards in Burma (Myanmar) over the last six months," British Ambassador John Sawers said ahead of the council meeting.

"We're in a difficult situation in the sense that the Burmese government has not responded to the demands of the international community," he added.

Vietnam's UN Ambassador Le Luong Minh, the council chair this month, reaffirmed the 15-member body's support for Gambari's mission, set for mid-August, and said members wished him "success in his mission."

Gambari's return visit had to be postponed after Cyclone Nargis struck the country in May, leaving at least 138,000 missing or dead.