Expelled UN official urges action on poverty

Dec 8, 2007 (DVB), United Nations resident coordinator Charles Petrie, who left Burma on 4 December, has said that the UN must continue to find ways to work with the regime to address poverty.

Petrie was told by the Burmese government that he was no longer welcome in the country after the UN country team released a statement on 24 October criticising the government's failure to meet people's basic needs.

Petrie told DVB in an interview that the country team had decided it was important to highlight the issue of poverty in Burma.

"The message that we had heard over those [past] few months, especially the ones that were uttered by the monks, were the same messages that we had been pursuing with the government over the last few years," Petrie said.

"It was the fact that the issue of poverty is becoming a very important issue and has to be addressed."

He said that the team had also wanted to outline the "different dimensions" of the economic difficulties facing the Burmese people, but he felt that the government had misinterpreted the statement.

"The third part of the message was to say that we are committed to working with all groups to engage in dialogue with the government among others to try and resolve this issue and I think the fundamental message or intention of the statements was not understood," he said.

Petrie said the team was keen to discuss the statistics in the statement with the government and find a way to engage in constructive dialogue.

"Our objective is not to humiliate or embarrass but our objective is to find a way to discuss these issues, which are incredibly important issues," Petrie said.

Petrie said that dialogue with the regime had progressed in some areas, citing HIV/AIDS and trafficking as examples.

"So what we're trying now is to push this form of interaction to address the overarching issue of poverty," he said.

Petrie said that the UN would continue to push for closer engagement with the Burmese government, through both the country team on the issue of poverty and special envoy Ibrahim Gambari regarding the political process.

"[Gambari will] try and get them to understand that a more open process will actually lead to far more effective results," he said.

"I think the whole of the UN system, the different parts of the UN system, are committed to finding ways of getting these issues understood and addressed."

When asked about the prospects for Gambari's mission in Burma, Petrie said he was not in a position to provide a detailed analysis, but expressed admiration for the special envoy.

"I have been part of some of Professor Gambari's mission and I have seen how committed he is to try and move the process forward, I've seen how much energy and focus he brings to this mission and I have great admiration for the professor and I'm sure that he is going to continue pushing," Petrie said.

"It's not an easy environment and the responsibility of the UN is to try and continuously push for an outcome that would actually help the people."

Petrie dismissed reports that he had predicted another uprising in Burma, but said that it was important for the regime to address the underlying causes of popular dissent.

"I haven't said that I thought there would be another uprising in Burma, I just think that the issue of poverty has to be addressed and if it's not addressed then I think there will be a lot of tension," he said.

Petrie played down the importance of his own personal role in the UN's work.

"I'm only an individual, but the UN remains committed to finding the solution and to getting the authorities to understand what needs to be done," he said.

A UN spokesperson said on 4 December that the resident coordinator role would be temporarily filled by Dan Baker, a UN Population Fund representative, until a replacement for Petrie was found.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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