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UN's Gambari Saw No Monks, Fled Staged Rally, Myanmar Threat Question Dodged

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 5 -- In the UN Security Council on Friday, speaker after speaker praised the recent trip by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, and the Myanmar government for allowing Gambari in. But how much freedom of movement did he have? Relatedly, to what degree was Gambari's trip a P.R. coup for the regime led by Than Shwe? Gambari himself acknowledge, in response to Inner City Press posing these questions, that his appearance at a pro-government rally had been required by his hosts, and that he did not see any monks. Nevertheless, to the Council he praised Myanmar for demonstrating "greater openness and cooperation with the UN" over the past two years, and spoke of Myanmar moving "forward as one nation." Gambari's opening address referred without qualification to "a mass rally in Lashio, Northeastern Shan State, organized in support of the Government's National Convention and Seven-step political Roadmap."

            At the Council stakeout afterwards, Inner City Press asked about the rally:

Inner City Press: During your visit to this sort of pro-government rally in Shan State, I wanted to know, was that suggested by the Government? Did you want to go there? How much freedom of movement did you have while you were there? And what can you say about what people are calling the missing monks, what's the follow-up on the UN's part?

Mr. Gambari:  This is the good offices role of the Secretary-General. And therefore, I went there with the consent and invitation of the Government. The program was tightly controlled. I had asked to see everybody and everything that would contribute to an assessment of the situation, as demanded by the Secretary-General.  I did get some; I didnít get others. With respect to the pro-government demonstrations, it was certainly not something I requested but we could not avoid.  But the compromise was to stay there for as short a period as possible. Somebody said ten minutes; it was probably less. With the monks, I was not able to see them.

            Around the world, people saw the monks: beaten and shot at and then disappeared, reporting whisked out of Yangon, some floating in the river.

            But the question seems to be, floating in rivers that flow beyond Myanmar? In the Chamber, Chinese Ambassador Wang said that the situation in Myanmar is not a threat to international peace and security, the threshold for Security Council jurisdiction. And so at the stakeout afterwards, Inner City Press asked the Ambassadors of France and the UK to articulate the threat to international peace and security posed by Myanmar, or Burma as UK Ambassador John Sawers, along with U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad in the Chamber, called it.

            France's Deputy Permanent Representative Jean-Pierre Lacroix made a strangely circular argument, that the interest in the matter shown by the regional group ASEAN "is clear evidence" that international peace and security are impacted, is even "proof" of this. The problem with this logic is that, extending it, mere Security Council interest could be cited as indicative of a threat to international peace and security. Amb. Lacroix mentioned refugees and "disturbances related to trafficking" -- presumably drug trafficking -- but the argument was troublingly weak. Video here.

Monks under fire, UN's Gambari not shown

            UK Ambassador Sawers, asked the same question by Inner City Press, said that Myanmar is a "cause of shame" to its neighbors, one of the more ethereal threats to international peace and security. He mentioned refugees, too, and qualified that Myanmar is a "potential" threat to peace and security. Who isn't? It's time for stronger arguments, particularly given the outcome, such as it was, of Friday proceedings: that a draft Presidential Statement will be prepared, perhaps by 6 p.m.. The president of the Council for October, Ghana's Leslie K. Christian, said that only "elements" are being put together, with the U.S. taking the lead. Inner City Press asked Amb. Christian if the representative of Singapore had spoken on behalf of ASEAN, which Myanmar contested. Amb. Christian insisted that he'd spoken as ASEAN chair. But another diplomat, who attended the closed door consultations as well, pointed out that he never said, "on behalf of ASEAN."

            It was by the Security Council coffee machine -- that is, on the margins of the margins -- that the most interesting theories were spun. There was talk of China meeting with a group of Burmese exiles who came together in Ottawa, the idea being that China wants to have its economic interests protected even if there is a change of government. There was talk of Chinese wanting, and building, a naval base on the Indian ocean. Reference was made to Indians in Myanmar, who are not given their rights. Might this, then, be the triggering threat to international peace and security? We'll see.

* * *

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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