Wednesday, August 19, 2009

UN boss Ban Ki-Moon 'passive, throws fits'

( -A SENIOR Norwegian diplomat has slammed Ban Ki-Moon as lacking leadership, ineffectual and prone to angry outbursts, a daily reported today, just two weeks ahead of the UN chief's visit to Oslo.

Mona Juul, the Norwegian ambassdor to the UN, sent a damning confidential letter to her ministry half-way through Mr Ban's mandate, in which she said he had "hardly shown any leadership,'' Aftenposten reported.

The newspaper, which obtained a copy of the letter, said Ms Juul also described Mr Ban as being "passive,'' especially in hotspots such as Sri Lanka, where a decades-long rebel insurgency was brought to an end by a bloody government offensive.

"At a time when solutions by the UN and multilateral agencies are more necessary than ever to resolve global conflicts, Ban and the UN are notable by their absence,'' she reportedly wrote.

The Norwegian foreign ministry has not commented on the report so far.

Ms Juul, who played a leading role in brokering the Oslo accords which led to a peace agreement being signed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said Mr Ban had been a "passive observer'' in Sri Lanka.

She said he had also displayed his weakness in the face of the global financial crisis, on environmental issues and the situation in Myanmar where opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention for decades.

"Ban regularly throws a fit which even his most cool-headed and experienced collaborators have a problem in dealing with,'' she wrote.

The South Korean-born Mr Ban is due to visit Norway on August 31.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told the newspaper that Ban was a "worker'' and a good listener.

Agence France-Presse

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What price engagement? Did Jim Webb give the Burmese a "leave her in jail free" card?

The New

Sometimes diplomatic initiatives produce progress. But sometimes they produce just the illusion of progress. The best known example is that our efforts to promote democracy worldwide have produced a major uptick in the number of countries that conduct elections but that in many of those countries that's as far as democracy goes. In fact, from Russia to Venezuela the appearance of democracy is used to legitimize rulers with anti-democratic intentions.

The Obama administration is going to need to be very careful to make sure that we don't fall into the same trap with "engagement." Just as we need to upgrade our definition of democracy to include not just elections but checks and balances, the preservation of the rights of minorities, and the other legal guarantees necessary to ensure the survival of the culture and intent of true democracy, we are going to need to ensure that we don't accept as the fruits of engagement empty gestures or other forms of pseudo-progress that actually empower, elevate or play into the hands of problem regimes without actually advancing our interests in material ways.

The release of John Yettaw to Senator Jim Webb illustrates just how tricky the engagement calculus is. Yettaw is the Missouri man who said a vision compelled him to swim a lake to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Burmese democracy champion who has been under house arrest for most of the past two decades. His entrance into the home in which Suu Kyi is confined resulted in a three year extension of her term of house arrest despite the fact that she had nothing to do with the incident. This term was cut to 18 months by the leader of Burma's military regime Than Shwe. Nonetheless, the central wrong here is that a woman whose party enjoyed a massive victory in Burma's quickly and brutally quashed 1990 effort at democracy, a woman the Burmese people had selected to be their Prime Minister, is now going to be unjustly imprisoned for another year and a half for something she did not do.

Yettaw is thus a pawn in a bigger game and to the supporters of Suu Kyi it appears the U.S. has been played in precisely the way that was discussed on this blog last week. Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sub-Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, comes out with his man and his headlines and support for his conclusion that a thaw in the U.S. relationship with Burma would benefit us. But the injustice against Suu Kyi is prolonged even as her jailers receive a reward for undoing a secondary wrong that they had already capitalized on as a pretext for continuing policies that amount to nothing less than keeping a boot on the throat of the Burmese people. In other words, thanks to this intervention, both the arrest and the release of John Yettaw provide benefits to the Burmese regime and none to democracy, Suu Kyi or America's true interests in the country.

Apparently, according to preliminary reports, one of Webb's more substantial diplomatic "successes" was being allowed to see Suu Kyi. But according to a story by Seth Mydans in the New York Times, during that visit Suu Kyi and Webb may even have had a disagreement over the issue of continuing sanctions against the Burmese regime. Mydans suggested that Suu Kyi felt they had value. Webb reportedly argued that since so many countries in the region did not honor the sanctions that they were unenforceable and thus not a useful tool. While there is an undeniable practical reality to Webb's point, sometimes sanctions are useful even if they are not 100 percent effective, especially if the cost to the sanctioner, the U.S. in this case, is comparatively minor. In other words, since sanctions are a diplomatic tool, the metrics used to assess their value need to be more than just economic. If they send a message, advance a principle and complicate the lives of the targeted country or regime without causing damage to us that outweighs the (even limited) benefits then retaining them may make some sense. Just as winning a diplomatic "victory" may not make sense if it actually, on balance, benefits an adversary or undercuts our national interests or both.

Is there a path to engagement with the Burmese leadership that might be worth pursuing? Of course. And it may well be that gains from Webb's visit outweigh the negatives. It is too early to tell because thus far all the Burmese have done is what is easy for them and the only way to measure progress will be when they start doing things that are hard -- like freeing Suu Kyi or actually allowing free elections to take place.

There is never harm in dialogue that clarifies or advances our position. We should even be willing to shrug off claims by the other side that such dialogue represents a "victory" for them if it is we are net beneficiaries -- as I believe we were in the case, for example, of the release of the two American journalists from North Korea. In that instance, we got back Laura Ling and Euna Lee and the North Koreans at best, got a photo op with a stony-faced former U.S. president. Here, we got our prisoner back but in so doing appeared to be doing so by throwing Suu Kyi further under the bus and, inadvertently no doubt, underscoring differences between us and the revered leader of that country's democracy movement. We got one addled American but the Burmese junta got a "leave her in jail free" card and the perception that the U.S. might be willing to move forward with further engagement on better terms than might have been available in the recent past (better for the regime, not necessarily better for the 2100 political prisoners in Burma.)

The Bill Clinton visit was engagement with a purpose and with a carefully limited downside. The Webb visit, at first glance, appears not nearly so deft. The commitment to engagement with Iran falls somewhere in the middle with our reluctance to condemn the Iranian government's repression of its own people following a seemingly stolen election seen as either not giving enough support to reformers or, alternatively, not "tainting" the demonstrators with our support. It all depends on who you talk to. In yet another case, that of Cuba, we seem to be willing to require a clear quid pro quo for every future concession we may make, a much stricter standard than seems to be the case in some of these other instances. (Cuba must move toward democracy. Burma must move toward what? Repression that doesn't involve Americans? To my mind, until Suu Kyi is released a substantial change in our policy is not called for.)

Webb says he was not an official emissary of the administration. Bill Clinton said the same thing. Clearly, in both instances this particular bit of diplomatic kabuki theater is transparent to all. Webb is the regional subcommittee chair on a critical Senate subcommittee, he is close to the administration, was briefed by them before his trip and promises to brief them on his return. At no time did they renounce the trip and he traveled on a U.S. government plane. His visit was official and the credit for the release of Yettaw and the potential negative consequences of the mission must accrue to the president and his team.

Personally, I think making engagement a centerpiece of a new U.S. foreign policy is a major positive development for which the administration deserves great credit. But as with any such new initiative, we need to be careful about how we approach it prior to getting all the bugs worked out. The Webb mission, even with is success in terms of securing the release of Mr. Yettaw, winning a session with Suu Kyi and engaging in a rare exchange with the leader of the regime, raises important concerns that need to be addressed if the new policy is to work to our best advantage in the future.


READ MORE---> What price engagement? Did Jim Webb give the Burmese a "leave her in jail free" card?...

Pro-democracy Camp to US Senator: What Success?

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK — A rare visit by a United States senator to Burma—billed as ”successful” in some quarters—is winning little applause from sectors critical of the military regime that rules the country.

Western diplomats based in Bangkok, speaking on condition of anonymity, lauded the visit, saying they "welcome this breakthrough."

Critics, however, warned that the two-day visit by Senator Jim Webb, which began on August 14, could be used by the country's strongman, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, to bolster his image and win more concessions without conceding any ground to improve human rights and to let a democratic culture flourish in Burma, officially the Union of Myanmar.

Webb, after all, has been a strong proponent of engaging with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the military junta is formally known. He has also called for the lifting of the economic sanctions that Washington has imposed on Burma since the mid-1990s, declaring that it has failed to push the junta down the road towards democratic reform.

Little wonder why the treatment Webb received during his mission was akin to one that the junta offers to heads of states. It included meetings with the reclusive Than Shwe and one with Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader who the junta has shut away from public life for over 14 years.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did not get to meet Suu Kyi during his July visit to Burma. Ban had called for the release of Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners during his meeting with Than Shwe. His request to meet with the detained leader was denied.

"There is no surprise at the way Senator Webb was welcomed in Burma by the military regime. Than Shwe wants to open up good relations with the US government, and he knows Webb's views on Burma,” said Bangkok-based Zin Linn, information director for the National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma, the democratically elected government forced into exile.

"The winner was the SPDC and Than Shwe; not Webb," he added in an interview. "Than Shwe exploited this situation the way he has done with other foreign visitors. He knows when to ignore leaders and when to meet them."

The highpoint of Webb's visit—from the US point of view, at least—was the success of securing the release of US citizen John Yettaw on humanitarian grounds. The 53-year-old American was sentenced on August 11 to seven years in prison and hard labour for swimming across a lake in Rangoon and entering the home of Suu Kyi.

The Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi was not as fortunate. The same court, located within the compound of the notorious Insein Prison in the former capital, found the 64-year-old opposition leader guilty of violating the conditions of her house arrest by letting the uninvited Yettaw into her lakeside home in early May.

Suu Kyi was condemned to a further 18 months under house arrest, removing all doubt that the trial lived up to its expectations as a "farce," as some Burmese analysts have described it. Yettaw's quest to reach her—because he was writing a book on "faith-based heroism"—set the tone to this Kafkaesque case.

The further isolation of Suu Kyi is the reality that matters to Burmese activists and not the humanitarian gesture the junta offered Webb. They see the suppression of Suu Kyi's freedom, effectively denying her a role in the general elections the junta has pledged to have in 2010, as a confirmation of the junta's mindset.

"The release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is most important. We need to judge if Senator Webb's trip was a success or failure based on that," said Bo Kyi, head of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPP), a group of former political prisoners campaigning for the rights of the country's jailed activists. "Yettaw's release is not that important."

Yettaw's freedom, in fact, is not a surprise, added Bo Kyi during a telephone interview from Mae Sot, a town along the Thai-Burma border. "The military regime had no use of him anymore. They needed him earlier to find a way of keeping Daw Suu under house arrest," he revealed, using the honorific "Daw" as Burmese do when referring to senior women.

A similarly critical tone is echoed by Burma watchers on another message Webb has been pushing since leaving the Southeast Asian nation: to ease the current sanctions regime. Webb, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, is trying to drum up support for a "new approach" to dealing with the regime.

They say it is reminiscent of a view that emerged in the region in 1997, when Burma was admitted as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member regional bloc. Asean—which includes Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam—described its policy towards the region's pariah as "constructive engagement."

The Burmese regime, the successor to the military dictatorships that have ruled the country since a March 1962 coup, benefited from the protective wall that Asean built around it. It helped deflect criticism at the UN Security Council and Asean chose not to tow the line of the punitive sanctions policies imposed by the US government and the European Union.

"Asean walked into a web of a different kind in 1997 when it opened its doors to Burma. It said, 'don't criticize the regime; don't pressure it,'" said Debbie Stothard of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma, a regional human rights watchdog. "Asean believed at the time that by engaging with the military regime, it would change."

Yet, the contrary has unfolded in the past decade, with the regime tightening its grip on the country and its list of human rights violations lengthening, Stothard told IPS. "This regime is a bad enemy but an even worse friend," she said.

"This is why democracy activists are shocked at the message Webb is sending out," Stothard added. "They are outraged that Webb's approach would undermine the pressure on the regime and send the wrong message, because the regime is desperate to get legitimacy for the 2010 elections."

READ MORE---> Pro-democracy Camp to US Senator: What Success?...

After deaths, refugees moved to Suan Plu

By Boonluan Phromprathankul

Foreign agencies concerned about the treatment of detainees

Ranong (The Nation)- Following the deaths of two Rohingya detainees in the Ranong immigration checkpoint detention cells, the remaining 55 detainees have been moved to the Immigration Bureau in Bangkokกฆs Soi Suan Plu area.

Immigration checkpoint inspector Pol Lt-Colonel Nattarit Pinpak said the evacuation order came from the Royal Thai Police and Ranong authorities had prepared two vehicles for the late-night trip to the capital.

A source at the Immigration Bureau said the move followed concern from many parties over the Rohingya detention, especially following the two deaths and several reports of serious illness. The source said the situation had led international organisations to criticise Thailand and its treatment of the Rohingya refugees, most of whom were boat people from Burma.

The source said that during a recent visit by human rights groups and lawyers, detainees had complained that when they fell sick and called for medical attention, Thai guards didnกฆt allow them doctors but gave them basic medicine such as painkillers.

On July 1, detainee Abdul Salam, in his 20s, died. Fellow detainees said he had vomited blood many times, but when they alerted guards to get him treated, they were ignored.

On August 13, Hamma Tula aged about 18, died without any symptoms and was buried according to the Islamic faith on the same day. Reports said there were many more sick Rohingya people in detention who needed urgent attention.

Three welfare groups the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB), the Cross Ethnic Integration in Andaman Project and the Sathiarakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation have asked the government to take action. They had three requests:

** The Rohingya be given medical care and an appropriate place to live, not the Ranong detention cells that were harmful to life and health.

** Since the Rohingya are Muslim, officials must allow them to perform religious activities during the Rama-dan period, starting from August 21.

The government must announce a clear policy not to push the Rohingya back to possible death or torture.

At the Ranong immigration checkpoint, there were initially 86 Rohingya detainees กV a batch of 78 rounded up in January, combined with several others arrested earlier. Since then two have died, 29 were sent to Bangkok for Bangladesh national identification, and 55 remained in detention.

READ MORE---> After deaths, refugees moved to Suan Plu...

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