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In Burma, UN's Ban Bowed to "Than Shwe" Buddha, Nuclear Post for S. Korean

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 17, updated -- In the wake of U.S. Senator Jim Webb's visit with Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe's release of John Yettaw, the swimmer who visited her, in New York on Monday Marie Okabe the Deputy Spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was asked why Ban thinks that a U.S. Senator was granted access to Ms. Suu Kyi but he was not.

  Ms. Okabe said the UN has no comment on the Senator's visit. Inner City Press asked if Ban had never expressed any view on the arrest and then seven year sentence for the swimmer. "No he has not," Ms. Okabe replied. Video here, from Minute 9:38. [But see later response and update, below.]

   Some surmise that in other circumstances, Ban would have issued a statement on Than Shwe allowing an outside visit to Aung San Suu Kyi, but that since this time it makes one question why he and the UN were blocked only last month, no comment was made.

  It's not that Ban didn't try to please Than Shwe. Below is a picture, not taken by the official UN photographer who accompanied Ban but by a Myanmar counterpart, of Ban bowing to a statue of the Buddha to which his Myanmar hosts took him. Inner City Press' sources say that, especially in person, the face of this "Buddha" is disturbingly like Than Shwe. Perhaps this is why no UN photo was taken. 

UN's Ban and "Buddha" statue at top, compare face with Than Shwe, below
photo compilation credit and hat tip to Anti-dictatorship on Word Press

When Ban assumed his post, he was asked about his religion, but refused to answer the question. Note also in the below Ban's envoy Ibrahim Gambari, a Muslim, not bowing to the "Buddha" statue.

  Also at Monday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ms. Okabe about a strange report in the Korea Times, that

"A South Korean diplomat has joined a seven-member panel dealing with the U.N. North Korea sanctions, according to an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Sunday. The panelists including director-general Song Young-wan were named by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last Friday. The U.N. chief visited South Korea last week to participate in the fifth Jeju Peace Forum.

"'Song will work in New York for one year from this September when the panel is scheduled to be officially launched,' the official said, asking not to be named....It has yet to be unveiled who the six remaining experts in the group are. But specialists in nuclear weapons, WMDs, finance, and regional and international laws from the United Nations Security Council's five permanent members and Japan have reportedly joined the panel. The screening took more time than expected since there was controversy over whether or not to include figures from non-permanent members, the official added."

   Inner City Press asked for confirmation, and if any non-Security Council member other than South Korea has been considered for a post. I don't know the answer, Ms. Okabe replied. Video here, from Minute 15:18.

  The official document, showing that South Korea is the only non-Security Council member with a national on the committee, is here.

   Ms. Okabe answered Inner City Press' questions by saying, "follow up with the panel." When Inner City Press asked who on the panel to ask, Ms. Okabe again didn't know, saying only that if she has more to say, she'll say it. We'll be waiting.

Update: after the August 17 noon briefing, the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General issued a one paragraph "Response to questions on Myanmar announced after briefing," stating that

"The Secretary- General notes the visit of US Senator Web to Myanmar over the weekend and welcomes his engagement with Myanmar leaders as well as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi toward a peaceful, united, democratic Myanmar with full respect for the human rights of all its people. The Secretary-General also welcomes the release of Mr. Yettaw on humanitarian grounds."

   This then is not a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary General, it's something lower, akin to the devolution at the Security Council from Press Statements to mere "remarks to the press." It was "squawked" over the UN's archaic system, but not e-mailed to the press corps. When Inner City Press heard about it later in the day and went into the Office to get it, it was argued that only those fewer than a dozen journalists physically present in the UN briefing room on Monday should be informed of Ban's views. And on Tuesday August 18, there is no UN noon briefing.

Update -- Update -- at the August 19 noon briefing, after the publication of the story above, UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe referred Inner City Press to the letter already linked to above:

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: Actually, I forgot to mention to you, Matthew, there are two questions that you had yesterday. One, the answer to General Dostum is actually answered by the Special Representative in that press conference yesterday. And the other question you had yesterday about… you had a question about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sanctions panel, and that answer is also in the letter that the Secretary-General sent to the Security Council.

   But the letter doesn't explain if any non-Council members other than South Korea were considered. Still, here again is the link to the letter.
* * *

On Myanmar, UN Council's Weak Response Belies Rice's China and Russia Claim, of Total and UK Banks

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 13 -- In a weakened and belated response to Myanmar's sentencing of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 more months of house imprisonment, the UN Security Council on Thursday afternoon issued a "press statement" that touted Myanmar's sovereignty and noted Than Shwe's reduction of the sentence from three years hard labor to 18 months at home.

   Inner City Press asked the Council President for August, UK Ambassador John Sawers, if there had been any discussion of the credibility of the 2010 elections, even if Suu Kyi were released, given the limitation of top posts to those with military backgrounds. Sawers answered at length that the Council supports national reconciliation, that the elections must be inclusive, that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that. Many read the press statement as heavily influenced by China, with its indirect praise of Than Shwe's mercy and Myanmar's sovereignty.

   The weak press statement came less than 20 hours after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told an audience at New York University that she is working well with China and Russia, even fielding the latter's ambassador's call on the way to the NYU speech. The U.S. had proposed a stronger Presidential Statement, but it was delayed and watered down.

  As Inner City Press wrote in its review yesterday of Rice's speech, for Rice to say China and Russia are cooperating reflects to some a devaluing of the importance of such issues as the dictatorships in Myanmar and Zimbabwe, the slaughter of civilians this year in Sri Lanka, to say nothing of killings in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Chechnya and Ingushetia. Working well together?

  France too may care less about Myanmar than it lets on. While President Sarkozy speaks of sanctions, France-based oil company Total continues doing business in the country. The same of true in Sri Lanka of UK-heavy financial firms such as HSBC and Standard Chartered. So where is the beef?

UK's Sawers and his minister with Ibrahim "Good Offices" Gambari

  Inner City Press asked Sawers about the additional European Union sanctions which France, despite and without changing Total's investments, proposed on August 11. Sawers said, in his national capacity, that the EU continues operations on this and a decision is expected in a day or two. There was a ruling earlier on Thursday -- but it does not impact Total or many other European financial investments.

Footnote: In further reporting on Ms. Rice's speech, Inner City Press has learned that it was written, at least initially, by speech writer Warren Bass in Washington. Thus, to be fair, perhaps the omission of Africa in the lede, which Inner City Press noted, is attributable to Bass and not Rice. But the lack of focus on reform goes beyond its mention or non-mention in a speech. And it was Ms. Rice herself who opined she's working well with China and Russia. If Thursday's outcome on Burma is any indication, the commitment to human rights is taking a back seat. Watch this site.

Amid UN's Myanmar Stalling, Exiles Curtailed in Jakarta, Suu Kyi House Litigation

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 11 -- As in New York the UN Security Council delays in even issuing a statement about the conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, in Jakarta a planned meeting of exiled Burmese democracy figures was cut back by Indonesian authorities, from two days to less than one. Three participants spoke to the Press in New York on August 7, in an event organized by Independent Diplomat, promoting their upcoming Jakarta meeting. When four days later it was curtailed, no update was given. On background, a media advisory arrived:

"Due to restrictions by Indonesian police, a revised program to discuss the Burma democracy movement’s transitional / national reconciliation package with Indonesian parliamentarians, politicians and Indonesia-based diplomats and NGOs will take place only briefly tomorrow, Wednesday, August 12. The original two-day program, will now be shortened to a one-day program where from 9 am -11 am a briefing will be held for invitees and participants at the Sari Pan Pacific Hotel and then continued in the afternoon from 2-5pm at the Indonesian parliament, hosted by the PDI-P caucus at their office. There are no scheduled events or meetings and NO press conference on August 13."

   Of the three exiles who appeared at the UN in New York on August 7, an Inner City Press source writes:

"What is intriguing about your items on 5 and 8 August is that the 'Trio' seems to include both Sein Win (NCGUB) and Maung Maung (NCUB). Last year, against SW's advice, MM tried to "unseat" the Myanmar delegation. MM knew it was just propaganda, but he is a better politician than SW. If they have really come together, that is news. Of the Trio who met you, only Bo Hla-Tint is an elected NLD Member. Maung Maung is the darling of AFL-CIO, the ITUC an the Italian Trade Union Confederation, but was not elected in 1990. Sein Win is PND (Party for National Democracy) and a cousin of Suu Kyi whose brother Aung San Oo, a US citizen, married Le Le Nwe Thein who must have a brother I assume to be Sein Win. Suu Kyi and Aung San Oo are fighting for possession of 54 University Avenue which has supposedly just been "sold" by family proxies for Aung San Oo, a sale which Suu Kyi is currently contesting. Sein Win, wisely, keeps well out of this family squabble.

The Lady, the house, the litigation not shown

In 2001 they were all good friends:

'Minister U Win Sein, Chief Justice U Aung Toe, Attorney-General U Tha Tun and Auditor-General Brig-Gen. Tin Aye then left the Mausoleum. U Nan Nwe and family on behalf of U Aung San Oo and wife Daw Le Le Nwe Thein and Secretary of National League for Democracy U Lwin and party, on behalf of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi laid wreaths. Afterwards, families of the Arzanis ["Martyrs"] laid wreaths at the respective tombs and shared merits.' (New Light of Myanmar 20 July 2001)

The UN Security Council's deliberations will continue. Watch this site.

At UN, Burmese Exile Figures Denounce Nuclear and Constitution Reports, No Team Ban Meeting

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 8 -- Days before the military government in Myanmar will announce its verdict on democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, three exiled Burmese leaders came to the UN in New York and told the Press of a "Proposal for National Reconciliation." Inner City Press asked "prime minister in exile" Sein Win about the Constitution that was pushed through in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, and under which the UN is reportedly considering working with the regime on a 2010 election.

  Sein Win said that the under the constitution, the Commander in Chief, who must have a military background, appoints 25% of the seats. Since the Constitution can't be amended with less than 75% of votes, he said, the military essentially has a veto over any amendments.

   Inner City Press asked about the reports of North Korea assisted tunnels and nuclear developments in Myanmar. Foreign minster in exile U Bo Hla-Tint said that the reports are worrying, and that the UN Security Council should take them seriously. Ban Ki-moon, when Inner City Press asked him this week about the reports, replied that he had no information, no substantial information.

   Previously, Ban's envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari told Inner City Press that the Rohingya, Muslims so mistreated in Myanmar they take to the seas, facing further abuse in Thailand and elsewhere, are not within his mandate. Inner City Press asked the trio who their proposal deals with Rohingya. "They are citizens of Burma," said NCUB General Secretary (in exile) U Maung Maung.

  He added that Burma does not need a nuclear reactor, on which he said Russia is helping. We already sell gas to Thailand, he said. "Burma does not look forward to being a nuclear state."

UN's Ban with "former armed groups" -- who refuse to go the government's bidding on the border, per trio

   The trio was not able to meet with Ban's envoy, Ibrahim Gambari. Later, several Ban advisers moaned that "we're going to get demarched on Monday, why did you not receive, etcetera." The Ban advisers said of the Burmese trio that they are "nice guys" but "getting older and older" and "desperate." A wire service journalist opined that his Asian bureau opined that "the generals will never listen to them." It was, then, sad. But heartfelt. We'll have more on this.

Footnote: The August 7 press conference was organized and promoted by Independent Diplomat, which also at the UN pushes issues of climate change and small states and Western Sahara, among others. On the latter, a UN staffer recently marveled at Polisario's representative in Australia signing deals with Australian energy companies for some future date, while the UN and its Office of Legal Affairs has strikingly declined to comment on complaints that Morocco is illegal moving to exploit energy and other resources.

  The National Coalition Government of Burma press release, seemingly referring to U.S. lobbying rules, says that "more information is available at the Department of Justice." Might DOJ have information or views on the legality of Morocco's exploitation of Western Sahara? Or might the War on Terror, even under Obama, still seem more important?

* * *

On Myanmar's Nuclear Plans, UN's Ban Declines Comment, Split on Constitution

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 5 -- Emerging from a meeting with his Group of Friend on Myanmar, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was asked by Inner City Press what he makes of reports that Myanmar is developing a nuclear reactor or even, in an early stage, nuclear weapons with the assistance of North Korea and Russia. "I do not have any information on that," Mr. Ban replied, "therefore I am not able to comment on that."

   Afterwards, a senior Ban advisor told Inner City Press that Mr. Ban had been prepared to answer the question, and that the planned if-asked talking point was that the UN does not have an substantial or verifiable information, but that if it is true, it is a matter of grave concern as this is precisely the moment the international community should be driving toward non-proliferation. Oh that Ban had said that.

It was also explained to Inner City Press that if it had managed to ask if Ban favors modification of the country's constitution, pushed through in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which devotes 25% of seats to people with military backgrounds, Ban probably would not have answer. "The Group of Friends is divided on that," the source explained.

UN's Ban in Yangon, nuclear plans not shown

  He argued against the theory that the timing of Wednesday's meeting was meant to allow Ban, before he set off on vacation, to speak his piece Myanmar. Rather, he said, some thing that Myanmar blinked on July 31 and put off the Aung San Suu Kyi verdict.

  With another statement, perhaps they'll think hard about what verdict to impose. But again, Inner City Press asks, not without sarcasm, does that mean Ban questions the separation in Myanmar between the judicial and executive - or military - branches of government? We're not commenting on that, a UN official answered. Nor about the Constitution. Watch this site.

  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.

* * *

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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