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On Myanmar, UN Belatedly Speaks, Claims It Has No Leverage, Blames NLD, It Seems, and China's Energy Hunger

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 11 -- Better late than never: 19 days after UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari left Myanmar without meeting with either democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi or Senior General Than Shwe, he finally came to take question from the Press, after briefing the Security Council. Inner City Press asked him about the controversy about the UN offering technical assistance to the Than Shwe government to hold elections under a constitution which was passed in a referendum held just after Cyclone Nargis hit, with restrictions on the ability to campaign for a "no" vote against it. Gambari countered that the opposition National League for Democracy "took part in the referendum." Video here, from Minute 4:42.

  This statement, sure to create even more tension between Gambari and the NLD, seemed to some to spring from Gambari's frustration at having his trip be widely described as a failure, while he felt himself constrained from any public comment or explanation for two days shy of three weeks.

  Inner City Press asked Gambari if he knew why Aung San Suu Kyi refused to meet with him. "I don't know," Gambari, saying that her boycott was "inconsistent" with her criticism of him for failing during some previous visits to meet with the Senior General. But perhaps it is precisely because he did not have access to Myanmar's ultimate strongman that she refused to meet.

Protesters, Aung San Suu Kyi seen in photo but not visited

  Earlier on September 11, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon:

Inner City Press: it's been almost three weeks since Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari made his visit, and there has been a lot of actually negative press coverage saying that the visit was perceived as a failure, that he didn't meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, nor with General Than Shwe. It's also reported that he's offering electoral help, whereas most of the opposition parties say that the way the election is proceeding toward 2010 is undemocratic and is under a constitution that really wasn't legitimately approved. I wonder if you could say specifically where you would like to see things go in Myanmar?

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: Those are two timely questions; I thank you very much for them. On Myanmar, I am as concerned as you are, and as frustrated as everybody else. But I would like not to characterize Mr. Gambari's visit as a failure. If you talk about failure, then if we stop making progress through all possible diplomatic means, that should be viewed as a failure. I continue to make progress in this, as mandated by the General Assembly. As you may know, I'm going to convene an ambassador-level meeting of the Group of Friends on Myanmar tomorrow afternoon to discuss this matter with concerned Member States. I'll try to continue to do whatever I can, in close coordination with Member States, particularly those countries which may have some influence on Myanmar.

  This final phrase merits some analysis. The UN's off the record defense of what it accomplishes or doesn't in Myanmar is that it, and by extension the West, has no leverage. China and India, this defense goes, want Myanmar's energy resources; China will use its veto for Myanmar, even more readily than for Zimbabwe.

  In fact, when Inner City Press on September 9 asked French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert about Ingrid Betancourt's reference to Aung San Suu Kyi, he ended up saying that France would seek some outcome from the Council after Gambari's briefing:

Inner City Press: She said at the end of her speech, that Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, that she is in an hunger strike and that we must act. Do you agree with that? Do you think that the UN has done enough in that regard?

Ripert: You know very well the position of France regarding Burma. Certainly, we will have some occasion to repeat it, in front of the Council during the next days. A debate is now scheduled to listen to the report of Mr Gambari. We think that the Security Council  has not been listened to by the authorities of Burma/ Myanmar and we think that they have to abide by their commitments.

We want to recall what we have asked for: the liberation of Aung San Suu Kyi of course and of all political prisoners. The elections will not make sense if there are not free, if there is no due process of law.

We do not recognize, as the opposition did, the result of this fake constitutional referendum: it was held in the midst of a terrible hurricane, with devastating effects on civilian population. We have seen the lack of care of the authorities of Burma vis-a-vis their own population.

At the same time, certainly the UN has to continue to push for a dialogue with the authorities. We are supportive of the efforts of the UNSG, of Mr Gambari, of the group of friends. And we hope that all countries in the region which have some leverage on the Burmese authorities will use it to get as soon as possible, the freedom and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. She is in danger. She is in danger and she has been recognized as a figure of peace for the world as Nobel peace pri[z]e. We have to fight for her freedom... We think that now we have to raise the stakes of the Security Council and that it should be very clear for the Burmese authorities that they have to be accountable to the Security Council.  So one way or another we will do something.

  On September 11 outside the Council, diplomats told Inner City Press that France was preparing a draft Press Statement about Gambari's trip and Myanmar, but that China most prominently blocked it. Council President Michel Kafando came out and said that no agreement had been reached.

  Of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Inner City Press asked:

 Inner City Press: Does the US know why Aung San Suu Kyi did not meet with Professor Gambari this time?

Ambassador Khalilzad:  There is speculation. We do not know directly from her.  Her party has said some things, which is that her dissatisfaction that this process - including the good offices and including the visits of Mr. Gambari - have not produced concrete results.  There is concern that this process, in the aftermath of the flawed constitutional referendum in violation of what the international community had asked for, that this process may lead to legitimizing elections to a flawed process that they could take place.

   UK Ambassador John Sawyer, also in response to a question from Inner City Press, went on to say that the constitutions "has no legitimacy because the referendum was not free and fair." So why is the UN offering technical assistance for an election poisoned by a scam referendum? To use what is in the U.S. the phrase of the week, isn't the UN thereby trying to put lipstick on a pig? To be continued.

Watch this site, and this (UN) debate.

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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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