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On Myanmar, 'Saffron Revolution' Triggers UN Gambari's Night Flight, Soft Talk in the Council

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 26 -- Following the death of protesting monks in Myanmar, the UN Security Council held an unscheduled meeting on the topic on Wednesday afternoon, after which UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari went to the airport and flew "to the region." He had not yet gained approval from Burmese authorities to visit the country. Security Council diplomats tell Inner City Press that inside the chamber, there was no talk of sanctions, other than a reference by Mr. Gambari to a sanctions call made elsewhere by French president Sarkozy, but not followed-up on by the French representatives at Wednesday's closed-door meeting. "Let's hope Gambari gets in," the Ambassador from a Permanent Five Council member told Inner City Press. "Then we'll see what he has to say when he comes back."

            At UN's noon briefing on Wednesday, Inner City Press asked if the UN could confirm how many dissenters have been killed in recent days in Burma:

Inner City Press: Does the UN have any information to confirm the death of protesters?  There are some reports saying five people have been killed.  Is that your understanding?

Spokesperson:  I don't have a direct report from our office in Myanmar confirming the violence and, as you note, the Secretary-General's statement also referred to 'reports' of the use of force and arrests and beatings.  Our presence -- I just wanted to let you know -- on the ground, at the moment we do have a Resident Coordinator who is also the Humanitarian Coordinator, and most of our activities are in various humanitarian and other agency work on the ground.

            The referenced Coordinator is Charles Petrie. Why not have him come to New York to brief the Council on events in Myanmar, rather than waiting to see if Gambari can get in? Or, as some cynics see it, is Gambari's trip of interest to both the back-off and the red-meat sides, to the former because it buys time, and to the latter because of the possibility that Myanmar might not let him in?

            In Washington, a new phrase surfaced, disturbingly perfect: "the Saffron Revolution." This is "straight out of a P.R. or lobbying firm," one source opined. A Council diplomat asked Inner City Press, "Did you guys coin the phrase?" The word is copyright.

Monks march in Burma, as UN's Gambari heads to airport

            Other questions were left unanswered, in the transcript:

Inner City Press: I noticed the Secretary-General's meeting with the Foreign Minister of Myanmar at 5:20 this afternoon.  Is it expected that he will raise this issue of letting Mr. Gambari in and the...

Spokesperson:  Well, obviously he raises it publicly already; he calls on the senior leadership in this statement to welcome his visit.  Let's get a readout of that meeting as soon as it happens.

            Hours later at a reception at the Chinese Mission to the UN, Myanmar's representative sat engaged in conversation in a corner, before he quickly left. Reporters stood back, waiting for a change that never came. There was roast duck and moon cakes, spring rolls and watermelon. "Wait for the ASEAN meetings," a number of attendees opined. And, "Where did all the watermelon go?" 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