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As Myanmar Moves to Exclude Hundreds of UN Staff, Ban Has No Comment on Detentions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 20 -- A week after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon claimed credit for the Myanmar military government's vague statement that it would offer amnesty to some political prisoners this year or in 2010, though apparently not including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the UN had no comment Monday on that government's detention of peaceful marchers to Suu Kyi's father's grave.

  Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe at the UN's regular briefing, and Ms. Okabe called the arrests a "temporary detention... I don't have a direct comment on that." Video here, from Minute 12:23.

   Since Mr. Ban after his briefed the Council acknowledged that he didn't have any specifics about Myanmar's purported commitment to release political prisoners, a week later on Monday Inner City Press asked Mr. Okabe if he had sought or gotten any further information. "He responded to the question" at the stakeout, Ms. Okabe said, adding that the ball remains in Myanmar's court.

UN's Ban shakes with Than Shwe, visas for WFP workers not shown

   Meanwhile, the Myanmar government is now refusing to renew visa for hundreds of UN international staff, only a week after the UN's Ban Ki-moon briefed the Security Council on what he called the victory of future release of undefined political prisoners. Up to 400 World Food Program staff are slated for expulsion in August, Inner City Press is told by local UN sources, who previously blew the whistle on the UN's silence as Than Shwe took up to 25% of post-cyclone aid funds by requiring the UN to convert dollars to Foreign Exchange Certificates controlled and valued by the government.

  These well-placed sources now surmise that the Than Shwe regime does not want international observers to its scam 2010 election, and to the land grab by regime cronies that is occurring in the run up. The sources expressed despair about last week's Security Council briefing, seeing it as a quid pro quo in which Ban was allowed to take credit for future release of prisoners in exchange for not pushing on other issues. Contacted again on Monday, the sources said that the lack of comment on political detentions was simply part of this larger pattern.

* * *

UN's Ban Says Than Shwe Pledged Fair Election, But Suu Kyi Can't Run, Military Seats

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 13 -- Myanmar's purported election slated for 2010 requires that one quarter of the seat go to candidates with military backgrounds, and precludes opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running for office, since she married a foreigner.

   Nevertheless, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on July 13 told the Security Council that during his recent visit, Myanmar's "Senior General Than Shwe has pledged to make the elections free and fair."

    After Mr. Ban spoke to the Council, he came to the Council stakeout to take four questions. Since the other questions ranged from Lebanon through Sudan to Srebenica, Inner City Press went first, asking about Myanmar:

Inner City Press: Mr. Secretary-General, you said that [Senior General] Than Shwe has committed to make the elections free and fair. But the constitution that was passed right after the cyclone says that a quarter of the seats have to go to people with military backgrounds, and that Aung San Suu Kyi couldn’t run because she married a foreigner. Under those conditions, how can you believe that the elections are going to be free, fair or credible?

SG Ban: I urged Senior General Than Shwe that this election should be fair and free, but also legitimate, inclusive and credible. To be credible and legitimate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners should be released. I emphasized that, without participation of Aung San Suu Kyi, without her being able to campaign freely, and without her NLD party [being able] to establish party offices all throughout the provinces, this election may not be regarded as credible and legitimate.

Inner City Press: Should she be a candidate?

SG Ban: That is what I am going to continue to follow up. You have heard the Permanent Representative of Myanmar saying that his Government is now taking some procedures to allow some amnesty. But I’m not quite sure who will be included in this amnesty. But I have made it quite clear that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in particular should be released and free to participate in the election. [Video here.]

   The question is, by "free to participate" does Ban Ki-moon mean "free to run for office"? Because the Constitution which Myanmar pushed through during the time of Cyclone Nargis prohibit a person who had a foreign spouse, even if as is the case with Ms. Suu Kyi the spouse has died, from running for office.

UN's Ban and Than Shwe shake: Constitution not shown

   Inner City Press has repeatedly asked Ban's spokesperson and his envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, for the UN's position on Myanmar's constitution, whether any "free and fair" election is possible under its terms. The UN has thus far refuse to comment on that constitution, calling into question its commitment to free and fair elections.

   Mr. Gambari last week affably told Inner City Press to please wait for him to comment, until after Ban Ki-moon briefed the Council. After the briefing and the stakeout, Inner City Press called out after Ban and Gambari, respectively, "travel safely" (to Egypt for the Non-Aligned Movement meeting) and "now you can talk." Gambari replied, the boss had just spoken. But what is the UN's position on the Myanmar constitution? Watch this site.

Footnote: Beyond his failure to meet during his visit with Aung San Suu Kyi, questions that have arisen since the trip include reports that even the former armed groups Mr. Ban met with were told what to say by the regime of General Than Shwe, and that he listened to opposition groups only two minutes each. Of the former issue, Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas told Inner City Press last week that Ban "would be become aware of it." On the latter, Ms. Montas said she didn't know how long each opposition group got with her boss. Presumably he does. We will await more answers.

* * *

At UN on Myanmar, Ban Is Asked to Not "Mislead" the Council as Groups Says Gambari Did

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 13, update -- Ten days after his fruitless visit to Myanmar, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon returned to the UN in New York to brief the Security Council and then take limited questions from the press. Beyond his failure to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, questions that have arisen since the trip include reports that even the former armed groups Mr. Ban met with were told what to say by the regime of General Than Shwe, and that he listened to opposition groups only two minutes each.

    Of the former issue, Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas told Inner City Press last week that Ban "would be become aware of it." On the latter, Ms. Montas said she didn't know how long each opposition group got with her boss. Presumably he does.

   Given the format, with Ban briefing at 11:30 and taking press questions at the Security Council stakeout at 12:30, it seems unlikely that the Security Council members will have a substantive debate of how to proceed on Myanmar.

   The show trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, suspended the day Ban was in the country, has resumed, and she faced five more years in detention. The government proceeds toward a 2010 election in which the military is guaranteed at least one quarter of the seats, and those like Suu Kyi who married foreigners are deemed ineligible to run. 

   Hours before Ban's briefing, All Burma Monk's Alliance (ABMA), the 88 Generation Students, and All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) submitted a letter to him -- copy here.

In Myanmar, rule of law or rule of the gun?

  The letter states that

"it would be wrong for you to mislead the international community by saying that the military regime will consider your proposals seriously. The previous inaccurate and misguided reporting by your Special Envoy after his failed visits have already caused the international community to wait and see without taking action, while the people of Burma, including ethnic minorities, have been suffering crimes against humanity continuously. We urge you to recognize the ineffectiveness of the current diplomatic approach without the strong backing from the UN Security Council with a binding resolution to deal with Burma’s military regime."

What will Ban say about these issues? Watch this space.

Update of 11:34 a.m. -- Ban advisers Nambiar, Pascoe and Kim have gone in. Most of the assembly press are asking not about Myanmar but about the North Korea sanctions committee, meeting in the basement. A diplomat tells Inner City Press the format: Ban and then the Myanmar Ambassador, then members of the Council. "No output expected." At 11:34 a.m., Ban and Gambari rush in.

Update of 11:57 a.m. -- After Ban Ki-moon recited Than Shwe's pledge to make the 2010 elections "free and fair," Myanmar's Ambassador topped him with this whopper, that the election will be "credible."

Update of 12:32 p.m. -- For the U.S., rather than Permanent Representative Susan Rice, Rosemary DiCarlo was the speaker. She called on the "Burmese generals" to make good on their statement that cooperation with the UN is a "cornerstone of the foreign policy of Myanmar."
Update: after the Council meeting, Inner City Press managed to ask Ban Ki-moon two questions about Myanmar - click here.

* * *

At UN, Ban's Two Minute Myanmar Drill May Lead to Grill Monday Between Trips

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 10, updated -- As the closed door show trial of Aung San Suu Kyi resumed on July 10, the UN's pass the buck approach to Myanmar continued. In the wake of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's ill-fated, some say humiliating meetings with dictator Than Shwe, it was Ban's envoy Ibrahim Gambari who briefed the Group of Friends on Myanmar on July 8, rather than Ban.

  Security Council members told Inner City Press that Ban himself would brief the Council. A Council staffer told Inner City Press that it would take place in an open meeting on Monday, July 13.

   But when Inner City Press asked Ban's political advisor Lynn Pascoe on July 9, he said, "it's up to the Council." And when Inner City Press asked the head of the Turkish Mission to the UN, he said, it's up to the Secretary General.

   On July 10, diplomats told Ban has been requested to formally brief the Council, but since Monday will be his only day in headquarters before heading out again, to the meeting of the Non Aligned Movement in Egypt, Myanmar may be related to one of many topics at the Council's closed door luncheon with Ban.

   In terms of what Ban should expect be asked or grilled about, consider this account of Ban's meetings with the opposition, a mere two minutes each:

The regime invited the National League for Democracy to send five CEC members to Nay Pyi Taw to meet with Ban Ki-moon. U Aung Shwe replied with a list of five, including U Win Tin. The regime replied that they would not allow U Win Tin to meet Ban. Then, Police Special Branch picked up the four CEC members on the July 2nd, brought them to Nay Pyi Taw.

On the afternoon of July 3rd, representatives from all ten registered parties, including NLD, were allowed to meet with Ban for an hour. Ban made an opening speech.

In his speech, Ban said that the government is carrying out a seven-step roadmap, and is now at the fifth step, which is to hold the election. He said that the government promised him that they will conduct the election free and fair. He also said that he and UN also will try to make the election free and fair.

Then all parties were allowed to present their stance for two minutes each.

UN's Ban arrives in Yangon, two minutes per group, airport to airport

U Khin Maung Gyi from National Unity Party said that his party wants the regime to hold the election in 2010 and he does not want any postponement. He asked Ban to make this happens. Then U Nyunt Wai (NLD) stood and said that NLD would not accept the two minutes limit and it would not be possible to present important political matters in two minutes. Then he sat down. Ban was shocked. Then other parties presented their position in two allotted minutes. The NLD "Uncles" didn’t say anything.

After the meeting, Ban’s assistant approached the Uncles and invited them to follow with him to Ban’s bedroom. Only then, Uncles were allowed to meet with Ban alone in his bedroom for 10 minutes.

The Uncles told him four points that (a) Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners should be released, (b) meaningful political dialogue between the regime and democratic opposition should be realized, (c) the 1990 election result should be recognized by some ways, and (d) the 2008 Constitution should be revised to be satisfactory of all parties concerned. Ban asked more details for these positions and they explained.

The Uncles believe that Ban was not well informed or reported to by his Special Adviser and staff. He didn’t realize the magnitude of the problems.

   So will Ban be asked about this by Council members on July 13? As happened during Team Ban's hand selection of which reporters could cover Ban's trip, will questions to Ban on this be allowed at his promised "monthly" press conference?

Update of 12:09 p.m. -- at the UN's noon briefing just now, Ban's spokesperson announced Ban will brief the Council on Monday at 10 a.m., and then will go to the Council stakeout around 11. This apparently will constitute Ban's monthly "press conference." Will he answer the above?
  Update of 2 p.m. -- later in the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas to confirm or deny that two minutes was given to each opposition group. Ms. Montas said she didn't know how much time was given, but that Ban addressed the elections in his speech while in Myanmar. But what Iabout the constitution? nner City Press asked again about reports that one or more of the former armed groups that Ban met with was told by the government what to say. Ms. Montas had said that Ban would be become aware of this, and presumably would comment. On July 10, Montas made was appeared to be her own answer: that Ban could only ask to meet groups, not that they be free in what they could say to him. Watch this site.

* * *

As Group of Friends on Myanmar Meets at the UN, UK Perm Rep Sawers Doesn't Friend Them Despite UK Push for Trip

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 8 -- In the run up to the trip to Myanmar by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his envoy Ibrahim Gambari, Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the House of Commons that the UK had urged Ban to go to Burma. The trip took place; General Than Shwe rejected Ban's request to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi; nearly everyone called the endeavor a failure.

   With Ban still out of New York, at the G-8 meetings in Italy, Gambari descended to the UN basement on July 8 to brief the 14 countries on Ban's Group of Friends on Myanmar. Notably, UK Permanent Representative John Sawers was not present, unlike his counterparts from Japan, Indonesia and Singapore, among others. Some some suspected Facebook fallout -- and joked of Sawers not "friending" the Group --  others questioned the UK being so loud before the trip, and so quiet afterwards, at least in public.

   Gambari, normally affable, rushed into the meeting room. UN staff have confirmed to Inner City Press that Than Shwe in a fit of pique made Gambari travel to the country's jungle capital by road, rather than by air. Reportedly, surrounded by the Ban-selected scribes on this most recent trip, Gambari wished for the presence of other reporters, to witness the indignities and discomforts that he has been going through.

    There was also the report -- an exclusive by Inner City Press -- that Gambari's name was offered by Ban as a possible replacement for Rodolphe Adada in Darfur, but that some Western powers rejected it. A subsequent candidate Said Djinnit earlier on June 8 thanked Inner City Press for not asking publicly about the Darfur post, at least not during his press conference on West Africa (Inner City Press' report on West Africa is forthcoming.)

UK's Sawers and His Minister with Gambari in previous Friending

   Indonesia's Ambassador strode in jaunty as ever; Japan's Takasu with a staffer. China's also jaunty Deputy had Xinjiang on his mind, saying that despite Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's statement that Turkey will put Xinjiang on the Security Council's agenda (see Inner City Press story here), the Turkish Mission to the UN has received no instructions to this effect. Other Ambassador's marveled at the recent and dirty campaign to re-nominate Mr. Supachai as secretary general of UNCTAD.

   Diplomat's minds seemed everywhere except on Myanmar. But since the UK asked for the trip, some felt Sawers should have been present. He spoke of the issue earlier in the day, but only to select reporters, and only off the record. Whether this approach is the best for Burma is in question. Watch this space.

Update of 4:07 p.m. -- to be fair, Sawers' affable deputy was present. Whether he will speak on the record after the meeting, given the UK's role, remains to be seen.

Update of 4:31 p.m. -- while the Friends on Myanmar continue meeting, the head of a Security Council mission spoke to Inner City Press about the Turkish Prime Minister - China imbloglio: "that's why we have a free Press," he said....  But on Myanmar, there are no other reporters outside the Friends' basement meeting.

Update of 5:15 p.m. -- And when the meeting broke up, like clock work at precisely five o'clock, Gambari declines to speak with the Press, saying to wait for Ban to return to New York. Inner City Press said, or asked, "Ban will speak to the Security Council?" "Or to this group," Gambari answered. That would be to further downgrade the Myanmar issue.

* * *

At UN, July 8 Briefing on Ban's Burmese Failure by Gambari, Japan Says "Too Early"

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 7, updated -- While by nearly any measure UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's two day visit to Myanmar was a diplomatic failure, on July 6 when Inner City Press asked Japan's Ambassador to the UN Yukio Takasu to assess the trip, he said it was "too early" for that, that when Ban returns from Europe they will get a full briefing and address the issue. Video here, from Minute 6:43.

   But the so-called Group of Friends on Myanmar, Inner City Press has learned, will be briefed on July 8 by Ban's envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari.

Some view this as distancing Ban from the lack of accomplishments on the trip, which they view as having provided some legitimacy to the regime of General Than Shwe. Gambari, recently offered up to replace Rodolphe Adada for the UN in Darfur, has been to Myanmar eight times and has little to show for it.

   Gambari's supporters blame the "Western powers" for not giving him any carrots with which to tempt the generals. But perhaps the Myanmar regime, like Sri Lanka's, doesn't need the West's carrots.

UN's Ban and Gambari, the latter will go first while the former goes G-8

  China and India are competing for Myanmar's natural gas -- along with French and other Western companies. North Korea is helping militarily, at least with advice on building underground weapons plants.

   Japan's position remains ambiguous. While following the Burmese military's murder of a Japanese cameraman during the abortive Saffron Revolution Japan spoke out about Myanmar, Japan was notably less concerned with the human rights of civilians during this year's assault on Northern Sri Lanka by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. Amb. Takasu says he's waiting to hear from Ban, but Japan will be represented at the July 8 briefing by Ban's envoy Gambari. Watch this site.

Post-script: it's been reported that the "former armed groups" with which Ban met were told by the Than Shwe regime what to say. This will be inquired into.

Update of 12:23 p.m. -- Inner City Press asked Ban's Spokesperson Michele Montas about this at Tuesday's UN noon briefing. Ms. Montas said that Ban had thought the groups were free to speak, that he is not yet aware of reports to the contrary but he will be. For convenience sake, check this, and watch this site.

Inner City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

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

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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