Monday, July 6, 2009

Cause for hope in Burma after UN visit

Ban: Still an optimist


(Bangkok Post) -The outcome of the UN chief's two-day visit to Burma may have caused frustration and dismay among those who had high expectations of the trip.

But optimists will not have lost hope of seeing change for the better in Burma.

They believe the United Nations still has some leverage in this task and the world body could set the momentum by, among other things, offering economic and financial help to raise Burma's battered economy and engage its people in the process.

But for the pessimists, diplomacy seems to have failed to sway the repressive military regime.

They believe united and swift sanctions are needed and the best venue to deal with Burma is in the UN Security Council.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, acting government spokesman, refuses to share the view of the group wanting sanctions, arguing the Security Council has never made clear its stance on Burma.

"I'm surprised that the international community sees a meeting between UN chief Ban Ki-moon and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as the only thing that matters," Mr Panitan said.

The UN secretary-general's trip to Burma should be seen as a success. His mission was to deliver a message of grave concern from the world about Burma's stalled national reconciliation process and the plight of the Nobel laureate Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, he said.

Mr Ban's objective was fulfilled as the leadership there listened to his message, he said.

Mr Panitan said UN members now have to think about what to do next.

The Asean Regional Forum being held in Phuket later this month could provide a platform for such a discussion, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Ban expressed deep disappointment that Than Shwe, chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), had turned down his request to visit Mrs Suu Kyi.

"It would have been an important symbol of the government's willingness to embark on the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the elections in 2010 are to be seen as credible," Mr Ban said.

But he remained optimistic of change, and said other fundamental issues were addressed during his visit that would help move Burma forward.

The UN chief has remained firm in his demands.

He said Mrs Suu Kyi and all political prisoners must be allowed to participate in politics.

He also called for talks between the government and Mrs Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy to resume.

He also demanded that the Burmese government introduce an election law, establish an electoral commission and set a date for the election in 2010.

What was more important during Mr Ban's visit to Burma was his discussion with the SPDC on the need to set up a national economic forum to address the country's development needs, and expansion of humanitarian assistance to areas beyond Cyclone Nargis-affected areas.

The forum will be crucial for democracy, durable peace and prosperity in Burma, he said.

But how much longer can Burma afford to wait for national reconciliation, democratic transition and full respect for human rights? The Burmese junta has yet to give us an answer.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma, said the time for talks on Burma was over.

"There must be political will among the UNSC [UN Security Council] members, not only the permanent five, to start an investigation of potential crimes against humanity or war crimes in Burma," she said.

In May, Harvard University's Law School started researching UN documents, which it says indicate that human rights abuses in Burma are widespread, systematic and part of state policy.

This should justify an investigation to determine whether Burma has committed crimes prosecutable under international law, she said.

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