If sanctions do not work, will a UN development fund help Myanmar reform?

Updated On: Nov 02, 2007

All eyes are now on UN envoy Gambari’s upcoming visit to Myanmar on Saturday (3 Nov). 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has openly declared that the visit must yield “substantive results” towards “facilitating a dialogue” between the military regime and the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.  However, he left unsaid what UN would and could do if there are no “substantive results”.

The Myanmar military regime had in fact taken the first step towards dialogue as a week ago, Aung San Suu Kyi was taken to the state’s guest house to meet with the liaison minister, Aung Kyi. But what was discussed in that one hour meeting had never been revealed.  This led skeptics to question if it is only for show and that the advent of national reconciliation will not take place soon enough.

Meanwhile, the situation is so desperate that the monks have resumed their protest marches. About 200 Buddhist monks demonstrated in Pokokku –the seat of the “saffron rebellion”-on Wednesday this week. Additionally, the hatred for the junta runs so high even among the more privileged classes of Myanmarese that there were reports alleging that they are wishing for a US invasion to bring about regime change, just as in Iraq.

The International Herald Tribune reported that three ex-army officers turned businessmen criticized the present army, saying that troops were brought in from the border regions, fed with “drugs and rum”, and then ran “them like dogs, fighting their own people”. They added that people of similar backgrounds also hated the generals who only cared about power and crushing all opposition. One businessman said, “The junta will never change unless the generals and their families are hurt.”

How then can the international community pain the junta enough for it to comply?

Predictably, sanctions have not and will probably never work. They do not appear to have hurt the junta one iota. The increased US sanctions in October have not had any results, nor do Myanmar’s closest neighbours seem committed to compel Myanmar to improve. The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has even recently scoffed at the efficacy of sanctions, saying, “We worked on sanctions. Was it enough? Certainly not.” Therefore, France and Thailand have come together calling the international community to provide positive incentives to cajole Myanmar into democratization. They are in favour of the positive part of the “carrot and stick” approach that Gambari exhorted during his recent Asian visit. Kouchner recommended that an international trust fund could be set up for development projects. Thai foreign minister Nitya seconded France’s approach, saying that Thailand would fully support a fund as well as social and economic development policies for Myanmar.

However, Myanmarese opposition leaders preferred that international pressure be kept up on Myanmar.  Exiled Myanmarese opposition leader, Maung Maung, secretary general of the National Council of the Union of Burma advised the international community to keep applying international pressure, saying, “Why would they let Gambari in right away if they did not care about the outside world? The international pressure does mean something to the regime. They are really worried about it.” Maung Maung even called for a UN presence in Myanmar to monitor daily events. This could “could stop atrocities” and ensure the junta keep their promise of engaging with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Revving up international urgency to act upon Myanmar is the recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report –Sold to Be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma –of the dire state of child soldiers in the Myanmarese army and other ethnic minority armies. The report said that the infamous grueling conditions of the Myanmarese military have caused young men not to conscript, thus the army is “buying, kidnapping and terrorizing boys as young as 10 to join its ranks” in a bid to fulfil quotas. The children are abused by officers and are sometimes forced to commit human rights violations like “battlefield atrocities, the burning of villages, forcible recruitment of porters and sexual abuse of women”.

Myanmar has refuted these allegations fiercely. The Myanmar Information Ministry Deputy Director Ye Htut condemned the report as “exaggerated lies”. Ye insisted the army does not practice forced enlistment and those who do so are severely punished. He said that more than 140 children had been returned to their parents between 2004 and 2007.  (2 November 2007)


UN wants results from envoy’s return to Yangon (Straits Times, 2 November 2007)

Pressure can move Myanmar junta - exiled leader (Reuters, 1 November 2007)

Defiant Monks March Again in Myanmar (AP, 1 November 2007)

Ban Says UN to Raise Pressure on Myanmar Junta to Open Society (Bloomberg, 31 October 2007)

UN's Gambari to visit Myanmar Saturday (AFP, 31 October 2007)

Kouchner throws support behind Burma 'trust fund' (ABC Online, 31 October 2007)

200 Buddhist monks protest in Pokukku, seat of rebellion (Nation, 31 October 2007)

Myanmar Slams Human Rights Group on Child Soldier Report (AHN, 31 October 2007)

Myanmar children bought and sold by army recruiters: HRW (AFP, 31 October 2007)

French foreign minister in China with sensitive issues on agenda (AFP, 30 October 2007)

Child soldiers 'bought and sold' in Myanmar, report says (AP, 30 October 2007)

France and Thailand agree that Myanmar junta needs incentives to democratize (AP, 30 October 2007)

In disgust for the junta, Burmese are united (IHT, 29 October 2007)

Time for Thailand to revisit its policy on Burma (Nation, 29 October 2007)