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Behind Myanmar's Bluster, Gas Deals for Daewoo, China and India, UN's Ban No Comments

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 5 -- As Myanmar has stepped up the pace of its imprisonment of political opponents, bloggers and journalists, the UN's Ban Ki-moon met Friday with his "Group of Friends on Myanmar." Afterwards he told the Press that he will only go to Myanmar if there are some positive moves by the Than Shwe government, including release of political prisoners. Inner City Press asked him about the responsibility of private corporations doing business in Myanmar, giving the specific example of South Korea's Daewoo and its deal with Myanmar Oil and Gas. I cannot comment on specifics, Ban said, adding that "whoever has influence" should try to convince Myanmar to improve its record.

   Along with India and corporations like Daewoo and Total, a major influence is China, whose foreign minister visited with Than Shwe just this week. The problem is that all of these parties want natural resources from Myanmar. Inner City Press' analysis is that these resources make Myanmar feel impervious to outside pressure; its business partners however prefer having the fig leaf that Ban Ki-moon's involvement and visits provide. This is the small leverage that the UN is trying to use: no photo opportunity with Ban until a few political prisoners are released. "They can just be locked back up later," one cynic said.

   After Ban's spokesperson had tried to say that the query -- about the Congo -- before Inner City Press' was the "last question," Inner City Press had asked if Myanmar's oil and gas deals with China and India were helpful, or made Myanmar more intransigent. Ban to his credit waved off his spokesperson and took the question, although ultimately he did not answer it. Standing behind Ban was his Indian chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar. Sources tell Inner City Press that the United Kingdom is putting pressure on this position, previously held under Kofi Annan by the UK's Mark Malloch Brown. While incongruous, as Inner City Press asked the UN's British humanitarian coordinator John Holmes earlier on December 5, the UK's minister for international development Gareth Thomas this week criticized the current UN as unworthy of leading the fight against poverty, click here for that.

UN's Ban, with Vijay Nambiar and Brit John Holmes behind, greets Indian minister

Footnote: Ban's "no comment" on whether and how responsible businesses would do deal with Myanmar right now seems incongruous given his attendance, earlier on December 5, at a forum of educators for responsible management. Two of these educators told Inner City Press that, as regards Myanmar, the UN should have disclosed when it was losing up to 25% of value to Than Shwe through government-required currency exchange, as only revealed after an internal UN memo was leaked to Inner City Press.

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

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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