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As Ban Welcomes Myanmar Ceasefire, Firing Continues, Don't Rely on UN News?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 21, updated Jan 23 -- The UN through Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised a Myanmar ceasefire that was never implemented. On January 21 Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman:

Inner City Press: a UN News Service piece yesterday, in which the Secretary-General, welcomed the ceasefire in Kachin State by Myanmar, it seems like there were reports that in fact fighting continues. Is that, I’m sorry, I see you’re looking puzzled, maybe I am asking it wrong --

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: The simple… Well, finish your question.

Inner City Press: I understand a ceasefire could be announced and not fully implemented, but what does the UN say of reports that fighting and death continues? Is it as some say that the Government wants there to be a ceasefire and hasn’t reached its troops somehow, or is the UN troubled by the public announcement and the continuing fighting?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, a couple of things: I don’t think you need to look for a statement by the Secretary-General on the News Centre, a fine place though that maybe. The statement was issued last night and you should have received it. If you didn’t, let me know, and we will check to make sure that you do receive the statements in the future.

I would draw your attention to the first sentence of that statement, which says: The Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Government of Myanmar on Friday of a ceasefire in Kachin and has been following the various reports from the ground on its implementation. And then it does say: He calls upon both sides to make serious effort to create conditions for sustained peace in Kachin through enhanced confidence-building measures and political dialogue. So, also there is the question of access to civilian populations, and we continue to call for that.

Mr. Nambiar was, as you saw just last week, in the region, and indeed not just in Myanmar, but in Kachin. And he did put out a statement on his return that was quite detailed, I think.

   But the reality on the ground was quite different. As recounted to Inner City Press by an informed observer:

It's pretty clear that the government's ceasefire announcement was a public relations move aimed to please the international community and perhaps Ban Ki Moon himself  While the army has scaled down its attacks on Laja Yang, a key area less than 6 miles from Laiza (KIO capital) that had been the focus of a lot of fighting over the past three weeks, heavy fighting continued not very far away over the weekend and on Monday.

For the last 72 hours since the 'ceasefire' announcement the army continued to hit KIO position in other areas very close to Laiza, to the north and to the west.  The army has also continued to hit areas near Mai Ja Yang, the KIO's second largest town, where the UN teams delivered relief supplies to IDP camps from April until June when the government stopped them from doing this.

Why Ban Ki Moon's office chose to release a statement on Jan 20 heralding the ceasefire announcement when its pretty obvious there is no ceasefire raises a number of questions.

It would be interesting to see what on earth Nambiar is doing about this whole thing.  As you know he did little if anything to bring about a peaceful solution in Sri Lanka and facilitated the dreadful white flag incident.  Nambiar's statement released last week following his trip to Burma was pretty bland and didn't mention him meeting with anybody other than government officials. The press release did say he met with the President's chief negotiator Aung Min, whom the KIO have repeatedly and very publicly said they that no longer trust.

  But the questions raised... will not be covered in UN News Service. Inner City Press is informed that they and UN Radio can only rely on the UN's own statements, facts on the ground be damned. We will seek answers, including for correspodents not physically present in the UN Headquarters, from Nambiar and beyond. Watch this site.

Update of January 23, 2013: The Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General has written to "clarify that Vijay Nambiar did not visit Kachin on his last visit to Myanmar." Duly noted.

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