Saturday, December 12, 2009

Does Burma need another UN envoy?

by Mungpi
Friday, 11 December 2009 22:57 (Analysis)

New Delhi (Mizzima) - With several United Nations special envoys failing to facilitate a process of democratic change in Burma, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should now consider handling the matter personally instead of appointing or re-appointing envoys to represent him, a campaign group said.

Burma Campaign UK, a group advocating democratic change in Burma, said Ban Ki-moon must think of a different approach towards Burma and should stop appointing another envoy to replace Ibrahim Gambari.

Last week, Ban named his special advisor and envoy Gambari as the lead envoy of the UN-African Union (UN-AU) peace keeping force to Darfur. The World Body leader also indicated that he would soon find a replacement for Gambari to carry on with his good offices role in Burma.

But Mark Farmaner, Director of the Burma Campaign UK, argues that it would not be a wise decision to find a replacement for Gambari and strongly suggested that Ban Ki-moon should personally handle Burma with a different approach, so that the junta can no longer continue with its dilatory tactics.

“Experience of the past 20 years has proved that UN special envoys did not achieve anything. It shows that the Burmese regime does not want to respond to envoys. So, we need a higher level with a different approach to deal with the junta,” Farmaner said.

Ban Ki-moon, instead of appointing another envoy, should handle the matter personally and get a stronger back-up of the UN Security Council to pressure the junta, he added.

Gambari, whose new job to lead a peace force to Darfur will be effective from January 1, 2010, had visited Burma eight times since 2006 during his tenure as the special envoy. While he was able to have talks with the junta officials and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, he failed to facilitate a process of political dialogue between the junta and the opposition.

During his last visit in August, he was not allowed a meeting with the junta’s military supremo Senior General Than Shwe and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi refused to meet him.

The Nigerian diplomat often came under fire from critics saying he had failed to achieve his principle objective and had been manipulated by the Burmese junta to their liking.

Win Tin, a senior member of the Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, said, the junta had no intention of making any effort to implement changes suggested by the special envoy and had smartly manipulated him to its benefit.

“All his trips to Burma had been planned by the junta and in his later visits he was not even allowed meetings with the top leaders of the regime. He was used by the junta to ease international pressure,” Win Tin told Mizzima.

In June, Ban Ki-moon paid a rare second visit to the Southeast Asian nation to talk to the Burmese junta’s Chief Sen. Gen Than Shwe. While he not only failed to convince Than Shwe to start a process of dialogue, he was also refused a request to meet Aung San SUu Kyi, who at the time was facing trial in a special court inside the notorious Insein prison.

Farmaner said Ban’s failure to convince Than Shwe and his failure to meet Aung San Suu Kyi are classic examples that the junta does not take the UN seriously as its “soft-soft” approach is not hurting or threatening its stand.

“The UN needs to change its approach by mobilizing the international community and getting a stronger backup of the Security Council because unless the junta feels the pressure they are not going to respond,” he added.

While the Burmese regime does not seem to take the UN seriously, Farmaner said, it is serious about the United States, which has long imposed sanctions on the regime, and is keen to re-establish diplomatic relations.

In September, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that a policy review on Burma was completed and that the US has decided to directly engage the regime while maintaining the existing sanctions, which are subject to change depending on the improvements in the junta’s behaviour.

“In the US-Burma relationship, it was the regime that showed its willingness to talk. That is because they feel the pressure of sanctions. It also shows that the junta does respond to pressure,” Farmaner said.

But Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador to Thailand, who had closely monitored political developments in Burma, said sanctions had caused unnecessary hardship for the general Burmese people, while it failed to dent the coffers of the Generals, who rule the country.

While having no objections on sanctions that impact the military regime and their supporters, Tonkin said, “on the evidence of the last 21 years, none of the sanctions imposed has had any measurable material impact on those against whom they are supposedly targeted.”

On the other hand, he said, the Burmese people generally have been affected by specific sanctions - such as the denial of bilateral development aid and of assistance from international financial institutions like the IMF, ADB and World Bank.

“The West needs to accept that the economy in Burma is so debilitated, so dysfunctional and the regime so incompetent that sanctions as a policy tool to induce political and human rights reforms are bound to be ineffective and indeed counterproductive, making the regime more recalcitrant, more inward-looking and more resentful,” Tonkin added.

He added that Western sanctions would leave Burma open for other countries, mostly in the region, to promote their own interests.

“It seems to me that the West really has no choice but to re-engage with the countries of the region, including Burma,” Tonkin added.

But Win Tin said, while the UN special envoys to Burma have failed to achieve any tangible results, the United Nations should not give-up but continue its efforts to persuade the regime to implement changes.

“We are very much thankful to the UN for their continued engagement with Burma but the UN needs to have a stronger stand on the regime and its envoys should stand up against the junta’s manipulations,” Win Tin said.

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