Thursday, January 1, 2009

UN’s ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ Won’t Work in Burma

December 29, 2008
The Irrawaddy News

This year we saw many twist and turns and ups and downs in Burma—but the tragedy of Burma seems to have no end in sight.

Early this year, the regime surprised the world by announcing that it would go ahead with a constitutional referendum implementing part of its seven point road map to prolong military rule. UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari accepted the proposal, while pushing for an independent monitoring body—but without considering the opposition parties’ stand, let alone the opinion of most people of Burma, who want to see regime change.

Political issues were swept away by the deadly cyclone that slammed into lower Burma in May, killing more than 100,000 people and making millions homeless.

The international community responded to the disaster with sympathy and offers of material aid. The US, Britain and France sent warships to the area, loaded with food, medicines and other supplies. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toured the cyclone-flattened region and met leaders of the military government, urging them to allow more aid into Burma.

Not surprisingly, the junta opened the door slightly to aid agencies after dragging its heels on the dispatch of emergency relief to the cyclone victims.

At the same time, the regime went ahead with its sham referendum, claiming 92 percent approval for its proposed constitution.

Then, to the surprise of many, the regime launched its “shock and awe” strategy, handing out heavy prison sentences to prominent opposition leaders and humanitarian workers and sending them separately to remote prisons.

Now it is shocking to learn that Gambari has suggested that governments should offer Burma financial incentives to free its political prisoners, estimated to number more than 2,000—including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi—and to initiate democratic change.

The Nigerian diplomat must be insane to think that the corrupt generals who terrorized the whole nation can be bribed into compromise.

The influential Washington Post has reported: “In the months ahead, the UN leadership will press the Obama administration to relax US policy on Burma and to open the door to a return of international financial institutions, including the World Bank.”

Several years ago, when the World Bank offered the Burmese regime US $1 billion in return for political reform, it was told, in effect: “Don’t give us bananas, we are not monkeys.”

Minutes of a meeting between Gambari and a UN Burma team led by Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe—obtained by The Irrawaddy—seem to suggest that Gambari, a citizen of one of Africa’s failed states, is giving advice to some officials from a failed state of Southeast Asia.

The Irrawaddy reported that Gambari had told the Burmese team that if there was progress towards reconciliation in Burma before the new administration took office, Washington might modify its Burma policy.

The Washington Post, in its report, quoted the Nigerian diplomat as saying: “It cannot be business as usual. We need new thinking on how to engage with Myanmar [Burma] in a way that will bring tangible results.”

The UN, he said, cannot rely simply on “the power of persuasion with too little in the [diplomatic] toolbox.”

Gambari appears to be suffering from the “Stockholm syndrome”—held captive by the deceptions of the Burmese regime, he is in danger of succumbing to them. If he thinks that the UN and the international community can bribe the regime to free political prisoners and Suu Kyi, his understanding of Burma is indeed questionable. It clearly shows that the UN envoy is out of juice.

More dangerously, Gambari—snubbed by the regime and opposition leaders alike—appears to be deluded.

It cannot be business as usual to allow the UN and Gambari to work as normal on Burma. The UN’s engagement with the regime must be strictly monitored to ensure that it is transparent and accountable.

The Burmese generals must be laughing at Gambari and his proposal. The country’s political prisoners, however, have nothing to laugh about. They will be asking whether a more effective and better informed UN special envoy cannot be appointed.

Persuasion and bribes won’t move the captors of more than 2,000 innocent people.

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