Receiving UN’s Gambari but expelling Petrie: Myanmar’s game with the UN

Updated On: Nov 06, 2007

The ever-enigmatic Myanmarese junta has made another irrational move to outrage the international community again.

This time around, it expelled UNDP Resident Coordinator Charles James Petrie on Friday –a day before it received UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

At first, there were hopes that the junta’s approval for Gambari’s speedy return to foster national reconciliation talks signified that the status quo was at last beginning to change. However, the junta took offence at Petrie’s condemnation of the “deteriorating humanitarian situation” of the general state of affairs in the country and about the harsh September crackdowns and booted him out. Further intransigence by the junta was displayed as the army carried out state-sponsored rallies calling for “respect from the United Nations” on the first day Gambari returned to Myanmar. The slogans demanded “We Respect the U.N., We Respect Gambari, Respect Myanmar”.

Considering that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressly motioned that Gambari attain substantial results, this expulsion amid recent tightening internet controls and the rejection of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) monitors to access the political detainees bode ill for Gambari’s mission.

It is uncertain what Gambari will achieve in such a hostile atmosphere. The junta has not indicated how long Gambari can stay to tackle the pressing issues. Moreover it is not sure if he would meet top leader Than Shwe. Yangon-based diplomats, speaking anonymously because of a ban to talk with journalists, confirmed Gambari’s difficulty in moving the UN agenda forward. He has thus far met Labour Minister Aung Kyi, the government-appoint liaison with Suu Kyi, and Foreign Minister Nyan Win. Nonetheless Gambari is slated to stay in the new capital, Naypyitaw, before returning to Yangon for a possible meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Political observers say that the junta is only playing a “cat-and-mouse” game with the UN. David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert from Georgetown University who visited the country last month and met with minister-level officials, said, “It's a game. It's the only game in town, but it's a game.”

Meanwhile, the people are getting more desperate and questioning if the global efforts is of any help. Kar Kar Pancha, a Yangon businessman who fled to the Thai border, complained, “This is a matter of life or death but so far the U.N. and the world have only come up with words.” Some Myanmarese now believe the UN is corrupt and are being bribed by the junta. Some have begun calling Gambari “Kyauk Yu Pyan” –loosely translated as “one who takes gems and then leaves”.

Tensions are riding high and the national authorities are wary. U Maung Maung, general secretary of the National Council of the Union of Burma, predicted, “Maybe the next time it will be the farmers who take the lead in response to the rapid inflation between their plantation season and crop harvesting seasons who see their investment evaporate.” Textile workers in the Yangon region have recently called for overtime fees. Surprisingly enough, these demands were acceded to avoid protests boiling onto the streets. Maung Maung also said that monks in Myanmar were still refusing to take alms or perform funeral services and auspicious ceremonies for the army and their families. This rebellion is said to be a powerful statement and is making the junta uneasy. (5 November 2007)


Singapore 'disappointed' over Myanmar's expulsion of UN official (Channel News Asia, 4 November 2007)

Myanmar welcomes U.N. envoy with government rallies (Reuters, 4 November 2007)

UN Envoy Seeks Myanmar Reconciliation (AP, 4 November 2007)

Burma Receives One UN Envoy, Expels Another (VOA, 3 November 2007)

UN envoy meets Myanmar junta officials (AFP, 3 November 2007)

US calls Myanmar expulsion of UN representative outrageous and an insult (AP, 2 November 2007)

Farmers may lead new protests in Myanmar--dissident leader (AFP, 2 November 2007)

Red Cross asks for access to detainees in Myanmar (Reuters, 1 November 2007)