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As Myanmar Cracks Down, Some See Glass Half-Full, Do Not See Rambo IV or Financial Disclosure

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 13 -- While at the UN the Group of Friends on Myanmar met behind closed doors, the Burmese government confined democracy activist Tin Oo to another year of house arrest. This came days after the announcement of a referendum, which will apparently exclude the opposition parties. From Myanmar's border with Thailand a just-escaped democracy activist described continued repression, saying of the Burmese government that UN envoy Ibrahim "Gambari may tell them to stop arresting people but they just carry on." At UN headquarters on Wednesday, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas for a reaction to this, from Mr. Gambari or the Secretary-General. Ms. Montas replied that Ban has called not only Indonesia's president, but also the foreign ministers of China and India, two of the members of the Group of Friends on Myanmar. Friends *of* Myanmar, one wag observed, noting that China's state-owned CNOOC recent swapped stakes in Burmese gas projects with its equivalent from Thailand, which is another of the Friends.

            Later in the UN's basement, before the 5 p.m. meeting of this Group of Friends, Inner City Press asked France's Deputy Permanent Representative Jean-Pierre Lacroix about the purpose of the meeting. "It is important that we meet," he simply said. As Mr. Ban entered the meeting, Inner City Press asked him if he will visit Myanmar, as requested by Thailand and others, if so-directed by the Group of Friends. Ban smiled but did not answer. Next to him, envoy Gambari when asked when he will go to Myanmar said, "As soon as possible."

            Nearly two hours later as the meeting ended, several attendees viewed as more sympathetic to the Burmese government told Inner City Press that the referendum may be a good thing. Gambari summarized the meeting as focused on the referendum, rather than on when he will go to Myanmar. Some see the glass as half full, he said, barely bothering to finish with those who see it as half empty. Inner City Press asked Gambari about the continued confinement of Tin Oo, and Gambari said, "It is not helpful."

Messrs. Ban and Gambari - the page does not appear to be financial disclosure

            When Inner City Press asked Mr. Gambari what he thought of Myanmar being the topic of the new Rocky film, Gambari said that he hadn't been aware. Since Sylvester Stallone claims that it was the UN who told him that Myanmar is the most forgotten humanitarian crisis on Earth, one wonder to whom Stallone / Rocky spoke. We'll see.

Footnote on financial disclosure: while Ban Ki-moon urged all Under Secretaries General, of which Gambari is one, to make public some financial disclosure, a call Ban reiterated at the Security Council stakeout when asked by Inner City Press, as of February 13, the list of disclosers still does not include Gambari. Surely he's busy, but as UN Ethics Office chief Robert Benson told Inner City Press, it does not take too long. So when will this glass be filled? Watch this site, and this one too.

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These reports are 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

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540