In a surprise move, Myanmar allowed a top United Nations envoy to meet with detained democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
Some analysts believed that this “goodwill gesture” was made so as to forestall UN Security Council action against the regime. The last time a UN envoy was allowed to visit the secretive state and met with Aung San Suu Kyi was in March 2004 with Malaysia's Tan Sri Razali Ismail.
Nigerian-born Ibrahim Gambari, the UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, was given permission by the military junta to meet with the opposition leader for 45 minutes at a state guesthouse. She was in good health, Mr Gambari told reporters after meeting her.
Mr Gambari also followed up with talks with the junta's supreme leader, Senior General Than Shwe, at an undisclosed jungle compound outside the town ofPyinmana. According to an Asian diplomat, Gambari also raised issues about the progress towards democracy, the release of political prisoners and the current offensive against the Karens that had led to a displacement of thousands of people.
Myanmar’s authorization for the UN envoy’s visit was strategically primed to mitigate support for US’s initiative to push the UN Security Council (UNSC) to act onMyanmar’s human rights situation. The US has a total ban on Myanmar exports since 1997, and George Bush has extended the economic sanctions. Of late, US has urged the UNSC to “review the situation in Myanmar as a matter of priority”. It was also speculated that the Chinese have also been urging the junta to do more to engage the international community.
No one really expects any quick resolution and change in the situation in Myanmar, but the meeting between Gambari and Than Shwe was seen a positive step, and “an improvement on the part of the authorities”.
The Indonesian foreign minister, Hassan Wirajuda, had followed up with this positive development by calling on China, India and South Korea, to use their influence to press Yangon to reform. Speaking at the US-Indonesia society in Washington, Mr Wirajuda did not hide ASEAN’s frustration at failing to convince Myanmar to restore democracy.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The junta crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 and two years later rejected the results of national elections won by Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy. Ms Suu Kyi has spent more than 10 of the past 17 years under house arrest in Yangon and has been barred from meeting foreigners for more than two years. The UN visit raised hopes for some that Ms Suu Kyi may be released. 'This makes us optimistic,' said NLD spokesman U Lwin.
According to one Yangon-based diplomat briefed by Mr Gambari, Mr Than Shwe had agreed to 'try to find common ground with the NLD on political issues', a common position with the political opposition and Ms Suu Kyi. The diplomat said Mr Than Shwe had also told Mr Gambari that Yangon would 'explore ways' to give humanitarian UN missions and aid groups better access to Myanmar’s needy areas.
The UN spokesman at the UN News Centre reported that the Secretary-General Kofi Annan “views this visit, therefore, as an overdue and potentially important opportunity to assess developments in the country firsthand and to see what more can be done, including by the United Nations, to help Myanmar move in the direction of all-inclusive democracy, sustainable development and true national reconciliation.”
Myanmar: UN to hold first high-level talks in 2 years with Government on democracy (UN News Centre, 22 May 2006)
Suu Kyi meeting 'a move to pre-empt UN action' (Straits Times, 22 May 2006)
Myanmar junta permits UN envoy to see Suu Kyi (Taipei Times, 22 May 2006)
UN envoy says Myanmar's Suu Kyi 'is well' (Straits Times, 21 May 2006)
US extends sanctions against Myanmar (Straits Times, 19 May 2006)
Indonesia urges Myanmar trade partners to use clout (Reuters, 20 May 2006)