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On Myanmar, UN's Gambari Defends Ban's (Very) Soft Ear, Believes in Oil Company Morals

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 5 -- In the wake of the arrest of protest leaders in Myanmar, and the blocking of even the International Committee of the Red Cross from visiting the prisoners, UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari on Wednesday praised Myanmar's government for reaching an agreement with the ILO about forced labor.  Inner City Press asked, but what about Myanmar's use of civilians as mine sweepers? Video here. Gambari indicated that is something he hopes to raise to the government. We'll see.

            The defensiveness of Gambari, and by implication Ban Ki-moon behind him, was clear at the UN on Wednesday. Gambari recited from his equally-defensive letter to the Washington Post, about how Myanmar's neighbors are being mobilized to push in the same direction. What about the neighbors which sell weapons to Myanmar?

            Gambari spoke of engaging the private sector, naming specifically Chevron. One of his aides after the briefing named a U.S. - Asean business group, though which other corporations are being risk. "The business of business is to stay in business," Gambari said. But it is not clear that message does not promote getting along with repressive regimes.

            Gambari had mentioned the UN Development Program, whose Charles Petrie is also the UN's resident representative in Myanmar. Inner City Press asked Gambari about UNDP's admission that it let go five staffers earlier this year for corruption -- which UNDP has still failed to fully disclose -- and about reports that UNDP now refuses to share copies of audits of its Myanmar operations. What safeguards are in place to make sure the UN and UNDP money is not being spent in the service of human rights violations?

            UNDP will have to speak for itself, Gambari in essence said. We're still waiting.

Gambari in Myanmar

            Gambari said the briefing had to end, he had to meet with September's Security Council president, France's Jean-Maurice Ripert. A half an hour later, Inner City Press asked Amb. Ripert if Myanmar will rise from the footnotes of his month plan of work and actually be considered, as a resolution, in the Council. Ripert was non-committal. Video here.

            Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Gambari for an update on his letter to Nigeria vice president earlier this year, offering the UN's help, especially with regard to the Niger Delta. Gambari noted that Nigeria's president will be at the UN for the General Debate later this month, and that will be the next step to make the UN's offer specific, even real.

            Ban Ki-moon now repeats as a mantra that he is a man of results and not of words. How will results be measured, in Nigeria and even more in Myanmar? The question was not answered on Wednesday, but it should be answered soon.

* * *

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (which had to be finalized without Ban's DPA having responded.)  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent 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