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West beats Burma drum without purpose or strategy

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Bangkok Post, February 2, 2008

ANALYSIS / BURMA

West beats Burma drum without purpose or strategy

By LARRY JAGAN

The international community is stepping up pressure on Burma’s military regime to introduce economic and political change as soon as possible. At the same time, UN envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari and the European Union are pressing Asian nations to intervene and encourage the junta to listen to the international appeals for reform.

The EU and the United States have recently renewed calls for the immediate release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Rangoon.

”I hope The Lady [Aung San Suu Kyi] can be free as soon as possible,” EU special envoy on Burma Piero Fassino said earlier this week. ”There can be no real talks between the junta and the opposition if a key player is not free to talk to her party and the public.”

But the EU is also threatening to increase sanctions against the junta if there is no tangible progress in the next three months.

”If Mr Gambari is not allowed back into the country, or fails to achieve anything concrete when he’s there, the EU will have no alternative but to consider increasing sanctions against the junta,” Mr Fassino said.

”The West has now turned to Asia to get them out of a hole on the Burma issue,” a senior Southeast Asian diplomat said.

”They expect us to pressure the Burmese government on their behalf, without giving us anything in return.

”Force will not achieve anything with Burma’s military leaders _ they will only recede further into their shell and ignore the international appeals,” the diplomat added. ”The West should certainly not increase sanctions at this stage, and in fact should consider easing them.”

At present, the West’s main hope of engaging the junta seems to rest on the efforts of the UN secretary-general’s special adviser to Burma, the Nigerian diplomat Gambari. He made two crucial visits to Burma in 2007, the last in November. The EU in particular sees its efforts on Burma as supporting the UN’s plans.

”Our strategy is to promote dialogue [in Burma] that will realise national reconciliation, dialogue that will realise democratic transition,” said Mr Fassino. ”This goal will be achieved by discussions with the countries of Asia and the promotion of the UN’s initiatives through Mr Gambari.”

But despite frequent requests to return in the past 10 weeks, Mr Gambari has been continually refused a visa.

The junta has told him they are too busy and preoccupied to see him until after Thingyan, the Buddhist New Year (Burmese Songkran) in mid-April.

Many diplomats in Rangoon fear Mr Gambari may already have made his last trip to Burma _ or if he is allowed in he will not be able to achieve anything. ”If Mr Gambari is permitted to visit Burma in the next months, it’s almost certain he will not meet the top general, Than Shwe, making his mission meaningless,” according to a Western diplomat based in Rangoon.

The junta is clearly in no mood to cooperate with the UN at present. Apart from throwing the UN resident coordinator, Charles Petrie, out of the country two months ago, the regime is playing hardball with the organisation on the ground inside Burma.

Several important UN-sponsored field visits for diplomats (whose countries fund projects) have been cancelled. A trip planned for last week by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to eastern Rakhine (Arakan) state, where Burmese Muslim refugees had been repatriated after earlier fleeing to Bangladesh to escape persecution, was cancelled at the last moment _ the first time since the annual trip started more than 15 years ago.

A UNAids trip planned for later this month has also been postponed at short notice. Many UN officials who oversee programmes and projects in Burma and are based in Bangkok have been denied visas. Members of the UN’s main humanitarian organisation OCHA (the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance) have been refused access to Burma for several months, ever since the crackdown on the monk-led anti-inflation protest last year.

Mr Gambari has just been in New Delhi for talks on Burma with the Indian government. He is now on his way back to New York, before heading to Beijing for further discussions with senior Chinese leaders. He had hoped to fly directly from Delhi to Beijing but the Chinese authorities postponed the trip until early February because of the Chinese New Year holiday.

But with the Gambari process almost dead, the UN will have to find another way to engage the Burmese regime.

”Clearly the junta, or particularly Than Shwe, has had enough of the UN. The only option left is for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself to visit Burma as soon as possible,” a UN official close to Mr Gambari said.

Failing that, it is only the countries of Asia who can influence the Burmese regime.

”The nations of Asia _ China, India, Thailand and the other countries of Asean _ can play an important and strategic role,” said Mr Fassino, the EU envoy.

”The international community must understand that we hate megaphone diplomacy and it will not encourage us to do anything,” Maj-Gen Kyaw Win, Burma’s former deputy chief of military intelligence, told the Bangkok Post several years ago when General Khin Nyunt was prime minister, before he was dismissed and put under house arrest.

The EU envoy, and for that matter the West, is engaged in megaphone diplomacy, which will only alienate the regime rather than encourage them on the path to political reform.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/02Feb2008_news10.php

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

February 2, 2008 at 11:08 am

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