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On Myanmar, France's Total Conflict, China's Hedged Bet, Zimbabwe Precedent for S. Africa

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, October 11 -- After adopting a weakened Myanmar presidential statement, members of the UN Security Council emerged to take questions from the press. French representative Jean-Pierre Lacroix said his country would have preferred a stronger statement, and said that France will be considering sanctions against Burmese leaders. Inner City Press asked what, if anything, France will do about French companies like Total doing business with the Burmese regime. "The additional activities by Total and other companies are strongly discouraged," Amb. Lacroix said, before adding that "in devising whatever further sanctions against the authorities of Myanmar, we must be attentive to not targeting the people of Myanmar." Video here, from Minute 5:37.

            The French foreign ministry may have something of a conflict in this regard. Bernard Kouchner, before joining the regime de Sarkozy, was commissioned by Total to write a report, generally favorable, about its activities in Myanmar, including photogenic development projects near the Yadana pipeline. Can Kouchner, now the boss of Ambassadors Lacroix and Jean-Maurice Ripert, now come out strongly about Total?

            Chinese Deputy Permanent Representative Liu Zhenmin came out, to his credit, and argued that the solution of Myanmar's problems is up to Myanmar-ians. Implicitly, the argument is that it is not an international issue, and should not be in the Security Council, the basis on which China and Russia earlier this year vetoed the attempt to get Myanmar on the Council's agenda. But what with television pictures of monks beaten in the street, and the upcoming Olympics (some say), China agreed to a presidential statement, albeit in modified form, justifying its agreement as no more than an attempt to support the "good offices" role of "Professor" Gambari.

            Inner City Press asked Ambassador Liu Zhenmin to confirm that his government has in fact had contacts with democracy activists, some in exile, from Myanmar, including the so-called Ottawa Group. Amb. Liu came back to the microphone to say, "We have good relations with the government of Myanmar, and the people of Myanmar... for national reconciliation." Video here, from Minute 1:56. The idea is, if China admitted to contacts with the other side of the Myanmar question, it would undermine the government of Gen. Than Shwe. But China is savvy. Any major power covers its bets and speaks to both sides, the experts say.

Myanmar energy contract signing, Total not shown

            South African Ambassador Dumisani S. Kumalo came to the stakeout to talk about the statement. Inevitably, the subtext, at least to Inner City Press, was South Africa's earlier opposition to the Security Council issuing even a presidential statement about Zimbabwe, where there have also been human rights violations, violence, and refugee flows, not least to South Africa. Inner City Press asked, is this statement a precedent for Council consideration of Zimbabwe?

   Amb. Kumalo, ever the savvy showman, played it as comedy, saying "The American Ambassador is very happy you raise Zimbabwe." But that's not why Inner City Press raised it. Amb. Kumalo went on to say, "There are many thousands of miles between Zimbabwe and Myanmar," and to gamely attempt to distinguish the two cases "because of the good offices of the Secretary-General" and Gambari in the case of Myanmar. Video here, from Minute 2:10. Finally, he said that while Gambari is meeting with a military government, Zimbabwe has a democratically elected government, which has "held elections when it has been necessary." But hasn't Myanmar purported to hold a constitutional convention? Developing...

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540