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A gleam of hope for Myanmar or is it “too little too late”?

Updated On: Oct 09, 2007

It is uncertain if the global outcry against the recent meltdown in Myanmar will amount to anything.

Protestors all over the world have marched and put pressure on their governments to act. Numerous states have threatened sanctions with ASEAN even mulling expulsion of its delinquent member. The UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has visited Myanmar and issued a report to the UN strongly condemned it for the mass arrests and violent crackdown of peaceful protests.   

In perhaps a sign that it is confident that it has the situation under control, the Myanmar military junta reduces the number of troops present in Yangon.  However, as a gesture of reconciliation, the ruling generals were also reported to have donated thousands of dollars as well as food and medicine to monasteries in Yangon.  It has also taken up Mr Gambari’s suggestion to appoint an official to maintain “relations” with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as a first step towards some sort of dialogue. This came as UN is weighing a draft statement to condemn the military junta. UN Security Council experts are huddled behind closed doors now in search of a consensus on the text of the statement to be issued.

While world wide protests continued, there is increasing recognition that the UN offered the best hope for a solution to be found.  Singapore, the chair of ASEAN, urged the SecrOn Friday (6 October) Mr Gambari said that all council members agreed the status quo in Myanmar is “unacceptable and unsustainable” and backed his plan to pay another visit to Myanmar before mid-November. Singapore, the ASEAN Chair, has urged Mr Gambari to return to Myanmar as soon as possible to sustain the momentum of his mission and asked the Security Council to “buttress” Mr Gambari’s position and “invest” him with the support and authority to seek a political solution to the crisis in Myanmar. While not ruling out the use of sanctions against MyanmarSingapore also cautioned that such actions should only be taken if “they can strengthen the hand” of Gambari in mediating the crisis.

While there are increasing voices within the ASEAN community to expel or suspend Myanmar from ASEAN, Singapore’s Foreign Minister, George Yeo, emphasized that it was important to keep Myanmaras a member of the ASEAN family. “We need to keep Myanmar in the family and handle the problems there with a certain degree of understanding and compassion. Of course people who live further away can have their own views, but I believe we have a deeper understanding of the situation there, and the stand we take is the correct stand.” He added that if Myanmar breaks out in civil war, China and Indiawill be involved and this will destabilize the whole region.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar also called for greater engagement before any attempt to implement economic sanctions or military action against Myanmar.  He said “Let there be a meeting without any preconditions to discuss the future of Myanmar before the international community enforces stronger pressure.”

While indeed some “conciliatory” measures seemed to be made with the release of many of the monks arrested and the appointment of a “liaison minister”, many critics dismissed them as “comestic” and alleged that arrests and intimidation continued.  The Burmese people are also not giving up. Burmese exiles continue to hope for a breakthrough and protests are still continuing within Myanmar itself through secret acts of rebellion like throwing stones at the army’s buildings.

However, it is unlikely that a solution to the Myanmar crisis can be sought without involving the military.  Mr Vasu Gopala Menon, Singapore’s ambassador to the UN, cautioned the Security Council not to “oversimplify the situation in Myanmar” and to remember that the military is a key institution in Myanmar that cannot be wished away.  “If the military is not part of the solution, there will be no solution”, he added.

Many foreign companies operating in Myanmar now, ranging from Chevron of the US, Total from France, and many other companies from Myanmar’s neighbouring countries involved in its oil and gas industry, gems trade and other manufacturing activities have also decided to stay put despite the unrest.  Some analysts believed that rather than pulling out from the country, collectively the business interests can be a source of leverage to engender some change.  (9 October 2007)

Sources:

Junta appoints official to liaise with Suu Kyi (Straits Times, 9 October 2007)

Foreign firms stay put despite unrest in Myanmar (Straits Times, 9 October 2007)

Myanmar junta says weapons seized from Buddhist monasteries (AP, 8 October 2007)

Resistance to Myanmar Soldiers Continues (AP, 8 October 2007)

Malaysia joins pressure on junta (Guardian, 8 October 2007)

Security Council to discuss action on Myanmar (AFP, 8 October 2007)

Myanmar junta seeks reconciliation with monks (AFP, 8 October 2007)

Malaysia urges Myanmar junta to hold unconditional talks with Suu Kyi (AP, 7 October 2007)

ASEAN must avoid pushing Myanmar into civil war: George Yeo (Channel News Asia, 7 October 2007)

UN censure looms for Myanmar (Straits Times, 7 October 2007)

S’pore cautious about Myanmar sanctions (Straits Times, 7 October 2007)

The junta's enablers: ThailandIndiaChina (Globe and Mail, 6 October 2007)

Exiles still cling to hope (Bangkok Post, 6 October 2007)

UN envoy may be going back (Bangkok Post, 6 October 2007)

Burma protest movement 'remains strong' (Bangkok Post, 6 October 2007)

Burma releases detained monks but diplomats not hopeful (Nation, 6 October 2007)

ASEAN told to be tougher on Myanmar (Jakarta Post, 6 October 2007)

Total president says no pull out from Myanmar (AFP, 6 October 2007)

Suu Kyi appears on state TV as under-fire Myanmar frees monks (AFP, 5 October 2007)







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