Myanmar junta running rings round a hapless UN?

Updated On: Nov 09, 2007

The much-anticipated second visit by UN envoy Gambari to Myanmar turned out to be a bit of disappointment. 

First, Gambari was refused an audience with the top man of the regime, Senior General Than Shwe, due to the latter’s anger at the UN over criticisms made by the UNDP country head, Charles Petrie. Petrie’s visa has since been refused renewal and must depart Myanmar at the end of the month. Hence, throughout his visit, Gambari could only meet other officials like National Planning and Economic Development Minister Soe Tha, Religious Affairs Minister Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung and Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, and the foreign diplomats the junta summoned to the capital, Naypyitaw.

Next, Kyaw Hsan delivered the junta’s message that a “tripartite meeting [involving Gambari, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the government-appointed liaison Labor Minister U Aung Kyi] will not be possible”. The rejection of the three-way talk upset all the expectations the international community had harboured for Gambari’s second visit –after the first yielded a meeting between Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi, and the approval for Gambari’s prompt return.

To add insult to injury, Kyaw Hsan launched into a tirade against Gambari and the UN, saying his earlier visit failed the junta’s expectations as it had only brought intensified US sanctions. Kyaw Hsan lambasted, “I would like you to know that Myanmar is a small nation and if a big power bullies her with its influences by putting Myanmar’s affairs on UNSC, we will have no other way but to face and endure.” He then refuted the allegations of inept governance and graft, blaming the lack of economic and social development on the international sanctions. The junta remains adamant that Myanmar will not “tolerate interference in its affairs [or] bow to external threats… but will welcome positive coordination and cooperation”. Kyaw Hsan added, “If you wish to see democracy flourishing in Myanmar, you should try to persuade other nations to cooperate with us in assisting (us with) the task.”

In spite of these stinging rebuffs, Gambari delivered a stern message to Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein that “a return to the status quo before the crisis would not be sustainable”. Gambari also suggested “specific steps for Myanmar to meet international expectations” for reform.

It was probably naïve of the international community to imagine that democratic change could come from a few visits by Gambari and his encouragement of vital players like IndiaChina and ASEAN to step up effective bilateral action. However, the situation in Myanmar is so dire that one cannot blame the UN for grasping at any chance however slim. ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong said as much. He told Channel News Asia that to expect regime change in Myanmar stemming from Gambari’s diplomatic trips was impossible. In his opinion, the only thing that other countries can do is to stop the killing and political imprisonment and draw the two opposing sides together for dialogue.

And with this modest expectation, there may be a sliver of hope. During Gambari’s talks with the generals, there were hints that detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi could be allowed to meet officials of her organization, the National League for Democracy.  In his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi before heading back to New York, Gambari also secured a statement from Ms Suu Kyi that she is willing to cooperate with the military junta “in pursuing a dialogue for national reconciliation”.

The junta also claimed that 2,836 people out of the 2,927 detainees have been released, and confirmed that “there are no more arrests, night apprehensions and search of monasteries in connection with the incident”. Action will be taken against the remaining 91 as they were apparently “involved in violence and terrorist acts in one way or another”.

Additionally, if somewhat ironically after the tongue-lashing by Kyaw Hsan, PM Thein Sein has reiterated the junta’s “full support for and confidence in Gambar’'s efforts on behalf of the U.N. Secretary-General” –to the extent of another visit to further the “good offices process”. The UN Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro –banned from re-entry to Myanmar since 2003 –has also been allowed to return for a visit from 11 to 15 November.  (9 November 2007)


Suu Kyi ready to cooperation with junta on dialogue (Straits Times, 9 November 2007)

UN envoy meets Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi (Channel News Asia, 8 November 2007)

UN envoy to meet Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi (AFP, 8 November 2007)

UN Envoy Tells Myanmar Junta Maintaining Power Is Unacceptable (Bloomberg, 8 November 2007)

Burma invites UN special rapporteur back (Nation, 7 November 2007)

UN says Burma talks make no progress (Bangkok Post, 7 November 2007)

Generals keep Gambari at arm's length (Bangkok Post, 7 November 2007)

UN envoy discusses dialogue framework with Burma junta (Nation, 7 November 2007)