November 5, 2007
MYANMAR : Politics
UN envoy seeks talks between Myanmar military, pro-democracy opponents
U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari planned to nudge Myanmar's ruling generals into reconciliation talks with their pro-democracy opponents as they met in the country's bunker-like new capital Sunday.
Gambari arrived Saturday for his second visit since the junta violently suppressed anti-government demonstrations in September. The day before his arrival in Yangon, the
isolated Southeast Asian nation's largest city, the junta announced it planned to expel the top U.N. diplomat in the country, adding an extra hurdle to the envoy's already difficult mission.
After a brief stopover in Yangon, Gambari flew to Naypyitaw to meet with senior leaders, Myanmar government officials said, requesting anonymity since they were not authorized to speak to the media.
It was not known which leaders would meet him in Naypyitaw, 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Yangon, where the generals have established a new capital in a remote area nestled in mountain jungles, or whether he would later be allowed to visit detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon.
Expected to be high on Gambari's agenda is the junta's accusation that U.N. resident coordinator Charles Petrie went beyond his duties by criticizing the generals' failure to meet the economic and humanitarian needs of its people, and by saying this was the cause of September's mass pro-democracy protests.
The military has said 10 people were killed in the crackdown, but diplomats and dissidents say the death toll is much higher. Thousands of people were detained.
The junta gave foreign diplomats and U.N. representatives a note saying the government did not intend to continue Petrie's assignment in the country.
The U.N. said in a statement that Gambari met with Petrie after his arrival and would ซstay in Myanmar as long as necessary to accomplish his mission.ป Gambari carried a message of support for Petrie from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well as one to junta head Senior Gen. Than Shwe, it said.
Gambari was earlier dispatched to Myanmar after the government crackdown, meeting with Than Shwe as well as twice with Suu Kyi.
But little of substance has changed on Myanmar's political scene since, and analysts expect that little will result from Gambari's current visit.
ซIt's a game. It's the only game in town, but it's a game,ป said David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert from Georgetown University who visited the country last month and met with ministerial-level officials.
The United Nations has attempted to bring about reconciliation for almost two decades. The junta has from time to time made minor concessions, such as brief meetings with Suu Kyi, but continues to perpetuate its 45-year stranglehold on power _ and sometimes snub its nose at the international community.
Protest leaders who recently escaped to Thailand say some still look on the United Nations with hope, but others are deeply disillusioned that it has failed to be more forceful in dealing with the generals.
ซThe world seems to have accepted the lies of the (junta). This is a matter of life or death but so far the U.N. and the world have only come up with words,ป said Kar Kar Pancha, a Yangon businessman who fled to the Thai border.
Some people in Myanmar have even taken to calling Gambari ซKyauk Yu Pyan,ป translated as ซone who takes gems and then leaves.
Because of the ineffectiveness of the U.N. envoys' dealings with the generals, unsubstantiated rumors have circulated that some have taken bribes from the junta. Gambari's predecessor, Razali Ismail, acknowledged that a Malaysian company he heads, IRIS Corp., sold high-tech passports embedded with microchips to the regime.
The U.N. secretary-general, who met Gambari on Friday morning in Istanbul, Turkey, to discuss his Myanmar trip, was ซdisappointedป at the government's note, and expressed ซfull confidence in the United Nations country team and its leadership,ป U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said at U.N. headquarters in New York.
She said the U.N. envoy will convey to Myanmar's rulers the secretary-general's ซvery strongป support for the U.N. leadership in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Gambari has been on a six-nation Asian tour urging support from key countries for national reconciliation, a stepped-up transition to democracy, and the release of all detained demonstrators.
The U.S. and other Western countries shun the junta for its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi's party after it won national elections in 1990. They maintain diplomatic and economic sanctions against the regime, and block assistance from multilateral aid agencies such as the World Bank.