Myanmar: Continued arrests as Vietnam is urged to help facilitate peace-making

Updated On: Dec 02, 2007

After hijacking much of the ASEAN Summit, the Myanmarese junta continues to throw its weight around, acting as a law unto itself.

First, it has gone back on its word made to UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari to stop arrests and to establish a commission to probe the crackdown. It hereby continues to detain those suspected of having participated in the uprisings of September. Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program director, Catherine Baber, stated that arbitrary arrests continue to be made, including U Gambira, head of the All Burma Monks Alliance who helped lead the September protests, and Myint Naing, a member of the opposition National League for Democracy. Moreover, at least 700 remain detained by the authorities.

These findings are corroborated by the Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN human rights investigator who was recently permitted re-entry to Myanmar. After his brief and heavily-restricted investigations earlier in November, Pinheiro said that he disbelieved the government's claim that only 93 people remain in detention. While declining to give figures, he revealed that he will give a more detailed report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month. In light of the dire situation, Pinheiro also stressed the importance of seizing the opportunity to help Myanmar move on before the issue was forgotten by the international community. He said that this required “quiet diplomacy” as well as support and coordination from other countries.

Gambari is mindful of this short timeframe within which to work. Redoubling his efforts, he announced in Hanoi this week his hope to visit Myanmar again in December. Gambari was in Vietnam to deliver personal congratulations from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on its non-voting membership in the UN Security Council and also to request for assistance in negotiating with Burma. Gambari exhorted the Vietnamese government to “further encourage the government of Myanmar to intensify their cooperation with the United Nations” to end the political crisis peacefully.

To that end, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung publicly urged Myanmar to observe the ASEAN Charter. He also suggested that comprehensive measures be employed to tackle the Myanmarissue. Additionally, noting that poverty is the root of the problem, PM Dung called for the relaxation of economic sanctions on Myanmar as these will worsen the civilian situation. PM Dung also affirmed the UN’s role in dealing with Myanmar, saying that “with support of the UN and the ASEAN community, Myanmar will be stable quickly for further development”.

It is increasingly certain that economic sanctions hurt only the people and will not compel the junta. Despite international calls for a boycott on Myanmarese jewels, the 13-day gem auction which ended this week garnered over 100 million euros (150 million dollars). An anonymous official from state-run Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE) declared, “It was successful.” Given that American and European jewelers have heeded the boycott, most of Myanmar’s customers are Asian, especially the Chinese.

On a related note, it is uncertain how the free trade agreement between the EU and ASEAN will pan out. Philippe Meyer, chief EU negotiator with ASEAN, said, “The political stance of the EU onMyanmar's human rights is clear. (However) we will not try to fix all the problems in the negotiations because that could lead to failure of the process.” Friedrich Hamburger, head of the European Commission's delegation to Thailand, said, “We believe that the United Nations mechanism and the roles of neighbouring countries of Myanmar could have proper roles in solving the problems in Myanmar.”

Meyer hopes that the FTA will be concluded in 3 years. However, Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN's incoming secretary general, is more cautious. He said, “I don't think it would take two to three years to finish the agreement. If we get it to happen in four years, we will be lucky.” (29 November 2007)


Myanmar Junta Reneges on Pledge to Stop Arrests, Amnesty Says (Bloomberg, 28 November 2007)

Vietnam president opposes Myanmar sanctions (AFP, 28 November 2007)

Myanmar Junta Reneges on Pledge to Stop Arrests, Amnesty Says (Bloomberg, 28 November 2007)

Myanmar sells $150 mln of gems at auction: official (AFP, 27 November 2007)

Myanmar concerns won't block ASEAN trade deal: official (AFP, 27 November 2007)

UN investigator says number of political prisoners in Myanmar larger than government says (AP, 27 November 2007)

Vietnam expects a stable Myanmar: PM (Vietnam News Agency, 27 November 2007)

UN asks Vietnam to help rein in Burma (Bangkok Post, 26 November 2007)

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