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Commentary: Burma must stand on its own two feet

Zin Linn

Sep 2, 2008 (DVB), The Burmese opposition and pro-democracy forces have lost faith in the good offices of the United Nations after Gambari’s latest futile mission and its exploitation by the military regime.

Burma’s key opposition party, the National League for Democracy, spoke out against UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, stating that his mission to Burma has failed to accomplish anything. People will not rely on the UN as a trustworthy body if they become too accustomed to hearing nothing but rhetoric.

On 29 August, the NLD released a statement criticising the six-day mission of Gambari to Burma from 18 to 23 August. The party states that Gambari has a mandate to realise the resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly between 1994 and 2007, namely "the implementation of the 1990 election results, the establishment of a democratic Burma, the inauguration of meaningful political dialogue and the release of all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi". The statement also says that the recent mission of the UN special envoy has not brought about any tangible political improvement.

It is clear that Gambari’s recent mission to resolve the political impasse between the military junta and detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be slowing to a complete standstill. His efforts to create reconciliation talks between the junta and the opposition have fallen apart.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the key stakeholder in the Burma issue, refused to see Gambari during his six-day trip, although he met her on his previous visits. However, the special envoy also failed to meet the senior general or vice-senior general of the country’s ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council. Gambari's total failure to accomplish anything at all during this fourth visit now raises grave uncertainties about the future of his mission and about the UN’s arbitration efforts in Burma as a whole.

It is not clear that why Gambari, as a special envoy of the UN, did not follow his own agenda during his fourth trip. It was shameful to see how he danced to the SPDC’s tune , meeting scores of people chosen by the junta to converse with him , but could not persuade the regime to grant him meetings with any of the regime's decision makers. Senior General Than Shwe , who hides entrenched in the new capital Naypyidaw some 400 kilometers north of Rangoon , has been using Gambari as a pawn in his time-buying game.

Than Shwe has continued to be too pigheaded to accept the dialogue process and refuses to meet anyone who raises the issue of reconciliation talks with the Lady, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Although Gambari sought a meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, he was unable to fulfil his mission as a result of following the junta’s schedule. Instead he met only with puppet ministers who have no authoritative power and dishonest pro-junta agents who have no real role in politics.

The UN envoy originally planned to meet the Lady at the State Guesthouse in a meeting organised by the junta for 20 August, but she did not show up. Obviously, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not want Mr Gambari to overplay the impression that his mission was gradually improving. Many people also take the Lady’s refusal to meet the special envoy as a signal to the nation not to depend too much on international intervention. It was a call to fellow citizens to stand up in unity on their own feet.

However, the junta’s mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar exploited the event in its coverage, claiming that the UN special envoy had voiced his support for the junta’s seven-step roadmap and urged the Burmese regime to ensure free and fair elections in 2010.

According to some analysts, the Nobel laureate refused to see the UN envoy before he had seen the man who calls the shots in the SPDC. She may perhaps be of the opinion that meeting with Gambari in any other circumstances would be futile as he would have no assurances from the senior general of any intention to commence a reconciliation process.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962. The regime has earned the shameful reputation of being one of the world’s worst human rights violators. It brutally suppressed pro-democracy movements in 1988, on 30 May 2003 in the Depayin conspiracy and during the Saffron Revolution in September 2007. There have been many more intermittent crackdowns. The junta has arrested over two thousand political dissidents including the Nobel laureate of Burma, who has been confined to her residence for 13 of the last 19 years. Furthermore, the junta has been intensifying its crackdown on democracy supporters to protect its undemocratic 2010 elections.

Amid the disaster wrought by Cyclone Nargis, the regime held a referendum at gunpoint on 10 and 24 May this year and unilaterally declared a popular mandate for the charter which makes the military the final arbiter of the destiny of the Burmese people. The new elections planned for 2010 will legalise military rule. Needless to say, the processes will not be free and fair any more than the referendum held at gunpoint.

The socio-economic situation is deteriorating fast, and the junta is not able to cope. It will soon come face to face with a depressing future if it continues to reject the national reconciliation process being urged by the opposition National League for Democracy and United Nationalities Alliance.

The NLD and the UNA both point out that the "ratification" of the constitution staged by the junta was invalid. Both assert that it was carried out against the will of the people and with no regard for international norms for referendums. The junta has also ignored the presidential statement of the UN Security Council issued on 11 October 2007.

The regime has turned a deaf ear to successive resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly calling for a return to democracy in Burma through a tripartite dialogue between the junta led by Senior General Than Shwe, democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and representatives of ethnic nationalities. From the turn of events so far it is clear that the junta has no plans to heed the UN call or to release political prisoners, a precondition to facilitate a tripartite dialogue.

Many a pro-democracy citizen in Burma no longer trusts the UN envoy or his facilitation process. Quite a lot of Burmese democrats believe that the Lady’s latest political stance may effectively encourage Gambari to find a way of seeing Than Shwe. It seems to be a pragmatic approach by the Lady to show her annoyance at the protocol of the generals who had arranged a meeting with her for the UN envoy while he was only allowed to see non-authoritative, low-ranking members of the regime.

More to the point, the junta put on a show of Gambari’s meeting with the infamous Union Solidarity and Development Association , a bunch of hooligans similar to Hitler’s "Brown Shirts" who carried out an assassination attempt on Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on 30 May 2003 and during the course of that premeditated attack slaughtered scores of NLD supporters.

The worst is that when Gambari met with NLD members, he tried to encourage them by suggesting measures to ensure that the 2010 elections would be free and fair. But when asked about the 1990 elections he would not give an opinion. Furthermore, he did not even focus on resuming political dialogue between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals.

Burmese people inside and outside the country are beginning to infer that the United Nations and its special envoy Ibrahim Gambari are preparing to support the 2010 elections, with or without the participation of key political parties such as the National League for Democracy, Shan National League for Democracy and other important ethnic parties. Such an act by the UN would mean effectively approving the seven-step roadmap strategy of the military regime.

Consequently, a question has been emerging for the world body: Will the UN recognise the 2008 military-dominated constitution unilaterally approved by the junta and its consequences?


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