Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Yet another snub to the UN

Perhaps the world community needs to think outside the box.
Perhaps we should explore certain ideas such as
an exit strategy for the generals and
power sharing, controversial as they may be.

Thailand should be doing more to increase pressure on the junta in Burma

(The Nation) -United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon headed home empty-handed from a trip to Burma this past weekend. Ban wanted to visit pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who is confined in the notorious Insein Prison, where she is defending herself against charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest, after an uninvited American man swam to her lakeside house in May.

As expected, the generals snubbed Ban. Even before he began his trip, Ban was warned against making the visit for fear that it would play into the hands of the ruling junta.

The UN chief was kept waiting overnight on Friday in the Burmese capital Naypydaw before hearing about the refusal of his visit. He told reporters during his later stopover in Bangkok that he was "deeply disappointed".

He said his visit could have been an "important symbol of the government's willingness to embark on the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the election in 2010 is to be seen as credible".

Ban's meeting with Senior General Than Shwe did allow him to convey "very frankly" the international community's concerns about Burma's progress towards democracy.

"If you use the word reject, it's only my request to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. For all my proposals, I believe they will seriously consider [them]. They have not rejected any of what I proposed," Ban said.

Among Ban's requests was that some 2,000 political prisoners be released and that the junta ensures the upcoming general election be free and fair.

In a rare public speech to hundreds of diplomats and aid workers in Rangoon, Ban outlined his vision for a democratic Burma.

"I am here today to say: Myanmar [Burma], you are not alone. We want to work with you for a united, peaceful, prosperous, democratic and modern Myanmar," Ban said.

While Ban may have given the Burmese generals an earful about the frustrations and concerns of the world community, there is nothing to suggest that the military top brass will heed his requests, much less anybody else's, regardless of the threat of more sanctions.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already raised the possibility of further sanctions, while US President Barack Obama has slammed the legal proceedings against Suu Kyi as a "show trial".

Suu Kyi has been either jailed or under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years, since the junta refused to recognise her National League for Democracy's victory in the 1990 election.

The Burmese authorities have no qualms about handing out lengthy jail terms to anybody who gets in their way. Neither are they afraid to gun down protesters in cold blood, including men of religion and unarmed civilians, as seen in 2007 when democracy activists were killed during demonstrations led by Buddhist monks. And so when the junta snubbed the UN chief, it was not a surprise.

Ban was correct to say that access to Suu Kyi should not be a benchmark for success. But despite the number of visits by UN special envoys, there hasn't been much progress towards reform. Indeed, it is clear the Burmese regime is not going to release its hold on power.

Perhaps the entire approach has been wrong. Perhaps the world community needs to think outside the box. Perhaps we should explore certain ideas such as an exit strategy for the generals and power sharing, controversial as they may be.

Instead, Western countries continue to raise sanctions against the junta as neighbouring India and China take advantage of the regime's isolation.

Asean, of which Burma is a member - with its long-standing policy of non-interference - cannot muster anything more than a statement here and there.

Thai civil society activists urge the world community to step up the pressure but tend to overlook the fact that many of our own people, especially gem traders, benefit handsomely from doing business with Burma. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that the Burmese gem industry actually benefits the people of Burma.

But then again, we shouldn't be surprised. The Thai public doesn't seem to be bothered by the Burmese junta's use of rape as a weapon against innocent civilians, much less its strategy of purposely displacing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians as it tries to wipe out rebel armies.

To make matter worse, Thai soldiers guarding the northern border appear to pay little consideration to the plight of these displaced people and instead look for the first opportunity to force refugees back over the Burmese side of the border in spite of the ongoing violence.

It has taken the courage of a few aid workers and others, who make public these incidents, before the brass in Bangkok ordered the forced repatriations to stop.

Sad to say, if our refugee policy appears to be driven by what other people think, then we are not much different from the junta that brutalises its own citizens. At least the Burmese junta has the ability not to pretend to be something it is not.

Recent Posts from Burma Wants Freedom and Democracy

Recent posts from WHO is WHO in Burma


The Nuke Light of Myanmar Fan Box
The Nuke Light of Myanmar on Facebook
Promote your Page too