UN defends hiatus on Burma envoy

Jan 8, 2010 (DVB), The United Nations has said that it continues to be closely engaged with Burma after accusations that it has been lax in appointing a successor to former envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

A spokesperson for UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon was yesterday forced to defend charges that it had "downgraded" its commitment to the country by not arranging an immediate replacement for Gambari, who will next week begin his new post as Darfur envoy.

At present, UN Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar is the acting envoy to Burma until an official replacement is confirmed. But with Burma due to hold elections this year, the hiatus between appointments has drawn criticism.

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky said however that there "is no hiatus", adding that Nambiar was successfully continuing the work carried out by Gambari. He also said that Gambari "had not been working in isolation", and neither is Nambiar.

"The Secretary-General remains engaged with the Government of Myanmar [Burma] and he, continues to follow developments closely there," said Nesirky.

"[This includes] what’s coming up, not just an election, the date for which has not yet been announced, but also the [Aung San Suu Kyi court] appeal, which will be heard on 18 January."

He added that an official successor to Gambari, who during his term was criticized for being ineffective in the face of a stubborn military government, would be announced "in due course", but failed to give a specific date.

Between Gambari first visiting Burma as UN envoy in March 2006 and being reassigned in December 2009, the number of political prisoners in the country had nearly doubled. He had also been criticized for his soft approach to the Burmese generals, which drew comparisons with Ban Ki-moon.

Nambiar was chosen as UN chief of staff in January 2007, soon after Ban Ki-moon's inauguration, and has previously served as India's ambassador to Pakistan, China, Malaysia and Afghanistan.

Burma has long been a thorny issue for the UN, particularly within the five-member Security Council which has consistently failed to cement any binding resolutions on the country's human rights record, with the issue pitched between the US and Burma's main ally, China.

The country is due this year to hold its first elections since 1990, although critics of the ruling junta claim that the 2008 constitution will guarantee a continuation of military rule, first established in 1962.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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