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Suspending the ICRC - Myanmar’s continued recalcitrance

Updated On: Dec 01, 2006

This week, Myanmar has done it again.

On Wednesday, the Myanmar government held a press conference to announce that it has suspended the operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Myanmar. The Red Cross has been providing much needed humanitarian programmes such as the provision of clean water, sanitation, health care in sensitive border regions, including conflict zones where there have been skirmish between the government and ethnic minority insurgents. The move from theMyanmar government came after the United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a resolution last week, criticising Myanmar’s poor human rights record.

The Myanmar government has also claimed that it is winning the fight against HIV/ AIDS, citing a reduction of infections from 1.5% in 2000 to 1.3% in 2005. The Minister of Health, Dr Kyaw Myint used the figures to deny that the HIV/AIDS problem in Myanmar constituted a threat to international peace and security, an argument used by the US to raise the Myanmar issue on the United Nations Security Council agenda. Yet, the Myanmar government has in private admitted that the HIV problem in Myanmar is still a serious problem. Earlier this month, the Myanmar Prime Minister Soe Win told his Thai counterpart, Surayud Chulanont thatMyanmar has a problem with HIV and that it does not have enough experts to solve the problem.

At the United Nations, the UN Under-Secretary Ibrahim Gambari told the UN Security Council that the Myanmar government had made “some small steps” since his visit to Myanmar in May. These “small steps” included the release of former officials from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) but he warned that the “good offices” process of the Secretary “cannot be open ended.” Instead, the UN is “now waiting for the Government to take further steps to respond to the concerns of the international community.” 

Both main English dailies in Thailand, The Nation and Bangkok Post have published articles discussing the problem of Myanmar. The Nation (Thailand) has warned that the Myanmar government has been “able to pit energy-starved countries, including Thailand, against one another.” The Nation urged the Thai government not to make “self-serving pacts with Rangon as it has done in recent years” (under Thaksin) and instead, fulfil Thailand’s obligations as a responsible member of the international community. The Bangkok Post similarly urged the Thai government, saying “The world is already watching, and will soon be taking a closer look.Thailand’s role in either condoning or trying to put a stop to such abuses will be there for all to see.”

Unfortunately, it seems that the new Thai government would probably not heed the Nation’s advice. The interim Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said on last Thursday, 23 November 2006 that the Thai energy projects in Myanmar would continue without change or review.

What about ASEAN? Bangkok-based political watcher Aung Zaw said, “ASEAN has been quite vocal about Myanmar recently….. With the ASEAN summit to be held soon, I won’t be surprised if it this time sends out a tougher message.” The Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already issued a statement, saying, “We regret the decision by the Myanmar [Burma] government to ask the ICRC to close its five field offices.” The statement added, that the closure of the ICRC office “does not augur well for Myanmar and its relations with the international community.”

Sources:

Myanmar Isolates Itself Further; Junta’s Move to Suspend Red Cross Operations Likely to Push ASEAN Away (Today, 30 November 2006) 

Burma Says It’s Winning HIV/AIDS Fight (Irrawaddy, 30 November 2006)

Pressure Builds Up on Burma (The Nation, 30 November 2006)

Urging Burma to End Rights Abuse (Bangkok Post, 29 November 2006)

Critics Slam Junta for ICRC Ban (Irrawaddy, 28 November 2006)

Myanmar Should Release Political Prisoners, Take Other ‘Concrete Action’: UN Official (UN News Centre, 27 November 2006)

UN Asked to Respond to Rapes By Military in Burma (The Nation, 27 November 2006)