Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Myanmar, UN May Help with 2010 Election Under Flawed Constitution, Rohingya Not Discussed

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 20 -- Myanmar's general Than Shwe refused to meet with UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his trip two weeks ago to that country. 

  On his way back to New York, Gambari met with Japan's foreign minister, who after the meeting put a positive gloss on the military regimes move to consolidate its power in 2010 with elections in which the main opposition figure, Aung San Suu Kyi of the NLD, is not allowed to run, using a constitution enacted in 2008 just after Cyclone Nargis, in a referendum in which it was illegal to speak against the proposed constitution. 

  Not surprisingly, the NLD has criticized what it called Gambari's and Japan's joint statement.

  Following a closed door Security Council meeting on Friday, Inner City Press asked Gambari about the NLD's criticism. Gambari responded that it was not a joint communique, but acknowledged that he had told those Myanmar official with whom he met that the UN might favorably view a request for electoral assistance if it followed "broad consultations." He said that the NLD is "free to take positions." Video here, from Minute 7:01.

   Japan's Ambassador Yukio Takasu, this month's Council president, went further, telling Inner City Press that "there was no communique," rather an answer by his foreign minister to a question from the media. Takasu said that the NLD wants to "turn back the clock to 1990," the last time credible elections were held. Video here, from Minute 1:48. 

  Inner City Press asked if it is Japan's position that the 2008 constitution, with all its flaws, is credible. Takasu did not answer directly, but rather calls for efforts before 2010. Videohere, from Minute 5:10.

   Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador John Sawers about the situation of the Rohingya, Muslims refugees from Myanmar many of whom were towed back out to see by Thailand and died.  Video here, from Minute 2:53. Sawers said called this a serious situation, but said that Gambari had not raised it, which Gambari confirmed, saying it was not among the points given to him by the Group of Friends on Myanmar, with which Ban Ki-moon is slated to meet on February 23.

UN's Gambari on Feb. 20, use of WFP helicopters duly noted, but Rohingya not mentioned

  A recurring question was whether Ban Ki-moon should go to Myanmar, even if Than Shwe does not release Aung San Suu Kyi.  Inner City Press asked France's Jean-Maurice Ripert if Ban should go. It is not up to us if Ban goes, Ripert answered. Video here, from Minute 5:01.

  John Sawers of the UK went further, saying it would be "well-judged" if Ban went to Myanmar. From this we can conclude that Than Shwe is winning at the UN, or at least that carrots (instead of sticks) are being prepared for him.

   Inner City Press was told that U.S. disagrees with the impression that Hillary Clinton has signaled a move from sticks to carrots, but US Permanent Representative Susan Rice was not at the meeting -- in fairness, it was said she returned to Washington for family time -- and the US Representative who was present, who is quite articulate on other matters, did not speak at the stakeout.  Watch this site.

Footnote: after the Council meeting and stakeouts, the always affable Ibrahim Gambari told Inner City Press that he had, while in Myanmar, been transported by the World Food Program, and not in military helicopters. As Inner City Press asked about at a UN noon briefing this week, that was the UN's ostensible human rights expert Mr. Quintana....

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