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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America


Has the Junta Able to Hoodwink the United Nations?

Kanbawza Win

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained Burmese Nobel laureate and pro democracy leader, was allowed to meet the United Nations Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari hit the world's headline news. For the man on the street, the Burmese thugs letting the Nigerian diplomat and number three man of the UN to meet the Lady, may paints the picture that the cruel Junta has come around to its senses and has soften a bit on its war against democracy and the truth. But delving deep into the affairs one can vividly see the ulterior motive of these sordid Burmese Generals.

If the Burmese men in uniform are sincere why did the military Junta has refused to allow the UN's two envoys for Burma _ the secretary-general's special envoy Razali Ismail and the rapporteur for human rights in Burma Paulo Sergio Pinheiro _ to visit the country for more than two years. In fact Razali resigned earlier this year in frustration and a successor is yet to be appointed.

Very cautious optimism, with wait and see attitude will be adopted by Burma watchers because the regime is so used to paying the Suu Kyi card whenever it got backed into a corner—either to relieve outside pressure or to stage a diplomatic coup to win hearts and minds at home and abroad. The crafty supreme, who is a skilled political strategist with absolute power endeavor to steal the show during Gambari’s visit by showing that he could behave like a true diplomat and that he is the monarch of all he survey. The regime’s diplomatic gambit is only a “temporary cure,” and will be interesting to see what happens, when the international pressure on Rangoon eases. Obviously nothing is predictable for prior to Gambari’s arrival, no one dared to believe that any meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would take place. After all something is better than nothing for a future meeting between the despot and the democracy icon would be a positive next step in moving toward a genuine national reconciliation as the fate of the people of Burma depend on such a meeting.

The Generals knew that Burma's prospects for improved relations with the international community will depend on tangible progress in restoring democratic freedoms and full respect for human rights and at least must introduce some semblance of democratic rule and ease its suppression of all forms of political opposition or otherwise the Burmese problem will come to the table of the UN Security Council. They were about to outlaw and disband the NLD, which has won the 1990 general election by a landslide victory some 16 years ago. But before taking such a drastic step they must ease the tension with the United Nations and the international community. It was like a boiling cattle with its lid tight on, when it become too hot and is about to explode, it opens up the lid to let the steam off. Hence the message was sent via its ambassador to the UN Secretary General.

Very lately the Burmese Junta have admitted that its Tatmadaw (brutal Burmese army) has been killing and plundering the ethnic Karen in their systematic ethnic cleansing and have driven out an estimated 17,000 peaceful Karen villagers from their homes. They have now thrown in 4,000 to 5,000 troops to destroy hundreds of undefended villages in the Papun hills of eastern Burma. The Junta, which rarely comments on military activities, has admitted the offensive justifying that the KNU was behind the bombing in Burma. The dimensions of the misery are staggering and an "inexcusable tragedy" on the ethnic peoples of Burma. The memory of the horrors of holocaust of the Nazi and the genocide in Rawanda are now repeating in Burma. The people are not safe even in their jungle hide out and displaced areas or the refugee camps all along the border areas. They are being relentless hunted upon by the brutal and ill disciplined Tatmadaw that had done most of the killings on a scale that dwarfs even the sectarian slaughter in Iraq. The Associated Press inside Burma confirmed earlier reports of executions, looting and torching of villages by the Tatmadaw in the largest offensive since 1997 against the Karen.

But apparently responding to growing international criticism that the offensive is causing a humanitarian crisis. The Burmese regime which has routinely denies committing human rights abuses against the ethnic minorities has been caught red handed could not lie this time. This will have to be also covered up. So they decided to give a red carpet welcome to Ibrahin Gambari. When the initial trip was postponed, the regime urged the UN to reconsider. Burmese Prime Minister Soe Win pressed them hard to come in the first week of May, and promised that the regime would arrange many meetings, including some with the opposition _ though Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was not mentioned.  All the arrangements for the current trip and itinerary are completely controlled by the Generals So important is the visit to Rangoon; the UN delegation is also being put up in a government guesthouse, instead of a hotel. The Junta was so keen that the generals must have some hidden agenda of their own and that is to prevent at all cost to putting Burma in the Security Council. Under increasing pressure from ASEAN, Burma's top general may want to deflect criticism from its Southeast Asian neighbors by receiving a senior UN envoy. Than Shwe and his generals feel a visit from a senior UN official might help deflect attempts to have Burma discussed again at the Security Council.

Of course behind the scenes, the Chinese have been urging the Junta to do more to engage the international community, according to a government official in Beijing after Maung Aye visited China. The Chinese government has been dismayed by Rangoon's increased isolationism, especially the impending problems with the ILO which is due to discuss the issue at its annual conference next month. Beijing does not want to defend or use the veto on the Burma issue at the UNSC. China wants to be seen playing a neutral role in Burma. China sees Suu Kyi as a hot potato, and just wants to see the issue resolved peacefully. The regime desperately needs friends like China and Than Shwe surely doesn’t mind listening to friendly advice to deceive enemies and critics—particularly if the strategy is to strike first and soften the UN.

On the UN side it has failed miserably where the Burmese crisis is concerned and need a credible task to demonstrate that its peace keeping and aims has been achieved. Since the middle of last year, top UN officials (including Kofi Annan), have been discussing the UN'S strategy towards Burma in the hope of finding a new formula that might encourage the regime to listen to the international community's calls for change. The latest meeting, with Gambari at the helm, was held in the first week of April at which it was decided to send a secret mission to Burma to talk directly to the Generals. So secret was the planned visit that the human rights Rapporteur Professor Pinheiro was not supposed to know about it and had his head bitten off by a senior UN official when he enquired about it.

Mr. Gambari and Mr. Williams had been selected to visit Rangoon more than a fortnight ago, but it was scotched by Kofi Annan, who sensing the mentality of the Burmese Generals, was afraid that the UN might become a laughing stock if it doesn't achieved anything from this secret mission. Some members were worried that such a high-level visit will only give the regime a publicity coup. The secrecy surrounding it were odd, citing the recent pushes of Burma being push to be included on the Security Council agenda and the failure of previous envoys to produce tangible results. The trip is nothing but seems to be part of the UN's latest, desperate attempts to re-establish a dialogue with the regime and nothing more.

However, there has been no let-up of the international community’s critical stance towards Burma’s military regime. President Bush has just renewed its punitive sanctions for another year, and a US Senate resolution passed calls on the Washington to “lead an effort at the United Nations Security Council to pass immediately a binding, non-punitive resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate, met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to press for a binding U.N. Security Council resolution calling on the Burmese military junta to release Aung Sung Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and halt a counterinsurgency campaign that is targeting civilians. Tutu, along with former Czech Republic president Vaclav Haval, commissioned a report last year on Myanmar that helped bring the issue before the Security Council for the first time. Even though a State Department official admitted that a U.N. resolution is a hard sell, we have got to get this back on the Security Council agenda. "If he doesn't see her, then we must bring it up Before the Security Council," he commented. It seems that under the present circumstances in the country, it is time for the UN to intervene. People on the ground look upon international organizations like the UN as a ray of hope.

Six special Rapporteur from the newly-formed Human Rights Council—including the representative for Burma, Paolo Sergio Pinheiro—have joined US congressmen in calling on the Burmese regime to halt military attacks against the Karen.  The strongly-worded statement from Geneva was made as protesters in a dozen countries demanded UN intervention in Burma. US congressmen from both sides of the political spectrum joined the chorus of disapproval "The thugs of Rangoon are on an all-out rampage," Republican representative Joe Pitts said in a statement, Associated Press reported. “If the international community does not act, we are complicit in the Burmese regime's atrocities.” Democrat representative Joe Crowley compared the situation in eastern Burma to that in Sudan, where the UNSC intervened after government-backed militia were found to be killing innocent civilians in Darfur. “Even in Sudan, aid agencies, journalists and representatives of the United Nations and African Union are allowed; not so in eastern Burma,” he said.

In the meantime Asian human rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) released a report on Tuesday documenting the deaths of 127 democracy activists in custody since 1988. The group also warned that more than 1,000 political prisoners risked the same fate. The 148-page report said the activists' deaths were "a result of torture or ill-treatment" by people working for the military junta.

The US has been urging the UN Security Council to review the situation in Burma as a matter of priority and last December the Council held a closed-door briefing on Burma, at which Gambari presented a very depressing view of the situation in Burma. Again Gambari will brief the Security Council on his return to New York after reporting back to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which was approved by all the members of the Security Council, (previously, China, Russia has always caste the negative vote). It will only be the second time in its history that the Security Council is formally briefed on Burma following the request of the US.

The American ambassador John Bolton to the UN remarked "We consider the fact that he had such a meeting to be an important step ahead," The US call was backed by the UK, Denmark, France and Slovakia, diplomats said, with no countries opposing it. The briefing, likely to take place next week, is a one-off action which is not the same as formally putting Burma on the agenda of the Security Council. It is still a very sensitive matter and both Russia and China, ignoring the fact that Narco Burma has become a threat to the region not only because legalizing the narco barons, but also involved in human trafficking and exporting of human and animal diseases to the region and the world, is still adhering to the hypothesis that human rights is outside the council's agenda of upholding international peace and security. But the British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said "We'll take it step by step," Burma is a subject that does not normally come before the Security Council and is a test case for the Chinese and Russian morality of how they will react to this rogue nation. As permanent members that has the veto power what is their liability to the world and the international community? Will they be responsible emerging new super powers that can lead the international community to a better world are just some of the simple questions which the people of the world will be asking to themselves. Being historical dictatorial regimes will they continue to back up this pugnacious Burmese regime?

The junta has been preoccupied with trying to prevent the UN Security Council discussing Burma. They have sought the support of both Beijing and Moscow in their campaign to deflect the UN's interest. Both China and Russia have told Rangoon that they support Burma's position in principle but that the military regime should help them to defend them. The big question being is Burma, the pariah worth defending by using the veto power?

All in all a clear message is that the prospect of Burma being discussed at the UN Security Council send cold chills through their spines of the Generals, for once the Security Council takes action then the big stick will follow which the Generals clearly understand. Unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, this time Uncle Sam will not be acting all alone unilaterally. The World body will be behind this super power. In other words it will be the end of the vehemently hated military Junta, which will be followed with a blood bath in the worst scenario. However, to be more optimistic, like the Asian diplomats, Ibrahim Gambari visit may provide a diplomatic break through which the UN should followed it up wisely with the Junta grudgingly forced to comply as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's term of house arrest is due to expire on 27 May is just food for thought.

This time the UN Security Council has painted a very vivid picture and spoken in the language which the Generals understand or otherwise the sooner the UN force arrived Burma, the fewer the people will die, it is as simple as that. Blue helmets, from whatever country are greatly needed to save the people of Burma from this cruel Tatamadaw.

Chiang Mai

The views express here are solely the opinion of the author. (Kaowao's Editor)



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