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United Nations Envoy’s Second Visit to Myanmar – some signs of hope?

Updated On: Nov 17, 2006

The United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari made his second visit to Myanmar and met Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday 11 November.

His previous visit was in May 2006. Gambari brought a letter from the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, which stressed that the international community expects “concrete actions” by the Myanmar government. The letter also “urged a government security review, which should lead to the release of other detained persons.”

Gambari said, “We had a very good and very frank exchange with the senior general, Than Shwe.” Although the Myanmar government did not admit that the general humanitarian condition in the country was a cause for concern, the government did acknowledge the ongoing stalemate with the National League for Democracy leader Suu Kyi was a problem. Another visit seems to have been planned in February 2007 but on the condition that there are signs of improvement. He revealed that Suu Kyi had expressed her concern over the National Convention and unwavering support for the country’s ethnic minorities.

Suu Kyi is only one of the thousands of political prisoners held in Myanmar. There are presently over 1,185, including 14 members of parliament detained. In 2005 alone, at least 144 politicians were imprisoned. Khun Tun Oo, the chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy was sentenced to jail for 93 years. U Kyaw Min, a Muslim member was sentenced to 47 years. So far in 2006 alone, at least five political prisoners have died in prison. 

A group of activists and students led by the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma gathered in front of the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok on 13 November 2006, urging the Myanmar government to release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Gambari’s visit not only seems to indicate a renewed effort to push the Myanmar government towards greater political liberalisation but also a retreat from the other ASEAN members on this issue. The ASEAN Secretary-General, Ong Keng Yong has said earlier in November that no new initiatives on Myanmar will be introduced in the coming ASEAN summit. The Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Phibulsonggram said that Thailand was supportive of the steps taken to have a national reconciliation in Myanmar but Thailand would not intervene in the domestic affairs of Myanmar. The Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said, “We hope that Myanmar will continue to work closely with the UN.”

The Myanmar issue now seems to be firmly in the hands of the UN as ASEAN takes a back-seat on this after failure in its engagement policy towards Myanmar.

Sources:

UN Envoy Awaits “Concrete Steps” from Junta After Visit (The Nation, 15 November 2006)

Suu Kyi Expresses Concern and Support for Ethnic Minorities (Irrawaddy, 14 November 2006)

Annan Letter to Junta Calls for Suu Kyi’s Release (Irrawady, 14 November 2006)

UN Envoy’s Visit “An Opportunity for Yangon” (Straits Times, 14 November 2006)

Prisoners’ Release Demanded (The Nation, 14 November 2006)

Burden Now on SPDC to Reform, Says Gambari (Irrawaddy, 13 November 2006)

ASEAN-India FTA Faces Another Delay (Straits Times, 8 November 2006)