Bangkok - With the United Nations and its various agencies being given the cold-shoulder by Myanmar's increasingly xenophobic military junta, the world body is planning to review its policies towards Yangon. Some senior UN officials are concerned that the organisation's apparent stress on democratisation and human rights may have limited its potential role in Myanmar in the past few years.
According to a report in the Bangkok Post, the UN's top leadership believes that a more nuanced policy towards Myanmar is needed. It is particularly disturbed by the ruling junta's lack of cooperation with its two envoys and the growing restrictions being placed on UN staff and projects in the country.
For the past 18 months, the UN's special envoy for Myanmar, Mr Razali Ismail, and the special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, have been repeatedly refused access to the country.
The problems that the UN and its agencies are facing in Myanmar come at a time when the country and its people could do with plenty of international assistance. UN officials believe that Myanmar is sitting on an Aids time-bomb. UNAids chief in Yangon, Mr Brian Williams, says more than 500,000 people may be suffering from Aids/HIV. Some activists suggest that the real figure is twice that amount.
More than 60 person of Myanmar children are suffering from acute malnutrition while only 20 per cent of students who started primary school graduated.
There are also fears of civil war breaking out once again in the country. Many of Yangon's ceasefire agreements with ethnic rebels are in serious danger of unraveling – which would increase instability and insecurity in the country.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is said to be considering a visit to Myanmar later this year to try and revive the world body's efforts to help bring about political change in the country.
However, Mr Annan cannot visit Yangon without at least a guarantee that he would be allowed to meet detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The visit was one of the issues discussed by former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas during his recent three-day mission to Yangon as Mr Annan’s special envoy.
* The sense of urgency grows at the UN (Bangkok Post, Aug 20)