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Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi Not Mentioned by UN's Ban to Than Shwe

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 24, updated May 27 -- Ban Ki-moon met with Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe for more than two hours but did not discuss or even mention Aung San Suu Kyi, it has emerged. At Friday's noon briefing at UN headquarters, Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe, "In this two-hour-and-some meeting with Than Shwe, was the issue of Aung San Suu Kyi raised?  And what was the response?" Video here.

            Ms. Okabe tried to leave open the possibility that Ban had raised the issue, saying

"Not that I know of.  As I said, this was a meeting that went on, my understanding is, for over two hours with, most of the time, members of his delegations present.  But my understanding is also that they had about a 40-minute tete-e-tete.  So the part of that that was tete-a-tete, I don't know what transpired."

            Is this because Ban doesn't tell his Spokesperson's Office what he has discussed when he sits down head-to-head with a military leader? Or that, there being no other witnesses, the Spokesperson's office doesn't "know what transpired"?

Ban and Shwe:
Aung San Suu Kyi not shown, nor mentioned

            Hours later in Bangkok, Ban Ki-moon himself was asked "Yesterday, have you discussed Aung San Suu Kyi?

            Ban answered, "I was there for purely humanitarian grounds. I am sure that I will have some other opportunities for addressing this issue."

            Like when? At the pledging conference slated for May 25? Some say Aung San Suu Kyi should be allowed to be there. Others note that Cyclone Nargis and the West's response may strength the general's grip on power.

Footnotes: That Ban did not even mention Aung San Suu Kyi in more than two hours with Than Shwe recalls his failure to raise the two Sudanese indictees of the International Criminal Court in his meetings with president al-Bashir. And the UN, human rights groups say, is going out of its way not to investigate or confirm renewed child soldier abductions by indictee Joseph Kony of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Does soft power diplomacy requires impunity?

On the media beat, it is said that the media outlets allowed into Myanmar agreed to some still-undislosed conditions. The UN, on Ban's jaunt to China, allowed very few outside reporters, but made a space for its own in-house radio to come along, as Than Shwe himself might have done.

Update of May 27: there was been some push-back at the comparison immediately above, and even some apparently related freezing out from the opportunity to ask questions (which, in all snarkiness, tends to prove rather than disprove the point). Video here.  But to explain: the point was and is that the UN's own in-house media, no matter how well-intentioned, admits that it is not journalism, and does not pursue questions like why Ban didn't visibly raise to Than Shwe the issue of Aung San Suu Kyi in the way that independent media pursues it.

   While the inclusion of the particular reporter on the side-trip to China might be justified in terms of speaking Chinese, it is unclear if the inclusion of in-house media on the overall trip may have limited the number of outside journalists who would go. It is worth noting that the reports of UN Radio were the more frequent pool coverage during the trip. While a credit to hard work, it was also a problem, given the acknowledged limitations, in terms of hold the UN accountable, of the UN's in-house media. To be continued.

For informal May 23 Inner City Press Q&A on Myanmar & Sudan, click here.

* * *

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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