UN support for expelled official

Nov 6, 2007 (DVB), United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari expressed the UN's support for resident coordinator Charles Petrie after the military regime asked him to leave Burma, a UN spokesperson said yesterday.

Petrie, the highest-ranking UN official in the country, was summoned to Naypyidaw by government officials on Friday and informed of their decision.

Gambari met Petrie soon after his arrival in Burma and conveyed a message of support from secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

Tensions between Petrie and junta officials arose when the UN country team published a statement on 24 October criticising the Burmese government for failing to meet the basic needs of its people.

The country team's statement called for urgent government action to address the "deteriorating humanitarian situation" in Burma, and said that the protests in the country in August and September stemmed from "the everyday struggle to meet basic needs".

The Burmese Foreign Affairs ministry laid out the reasons for the resident coordinator's expulsion in a letter.

"[Petrie] acted beyond his capacity by issuing the country team statement on UN Day about the social and economic situation. The government considered that inappropriate and does not want Mr. Petrie to continue in post," the letter said.

A UN spokesperson said that it is possible for the Burmese government to expel a UN official in this way, but that no timeline has been given for him to leave.

The UN secretary general has said he is "disappointed" by the junta's decision and reaffirmed his confidence in the country team and its leadership.

This was echoed by a United Nations Development Programme statement in support of the resident coordinator.

"UNDP senior management and the entire UNDP family strongly support the Resident Coordinator, who has always abided by the principles and charter of the United Nations. We further support the 24 October 2007 statement by the UN Country Team."

In addition to an earlier denial of the issues raised in the country team's statement, the Burmese government held a ceremony on 2 November to refute the allegations made in greater depth.

The speaker at the ceremony claimed that the UN statement was "one-sided and entirely ignores Myanmar's present development situation".

An article on the ceremony in the state-run New Light of Myanmar said that the statement could damage Burma's international reputation.

"Although Myanmar is fully cooperating with the United Nations, the statement of the UN Country Team tarnishes the image of Myanmar by feeding the international community with wrong information," the article said.

Reporting by DVB

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