UN envoy seeks talks between Myanmar military, opponents

On eve of envoy's visit, junta announces plans to expel the top UN diplomat in the country.

Myanmar 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Myanmar 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Myanmar amid ominous signs that its ruling junta would again not bow to international efforts to end the bloody confrontations between the ruling military and its pro-democracy opponents. Gambari arrived Saturday for his second visit since bloody anti-government demonstrations captured world attention. On the eve of his landing in Yangon, the isolated Southeast Asian nation's largest city, the junta announced it planned to expel the top UN diplomat in the country. The move added an extra hurdle to the envoy's already difficult mission. After a brief stopover in Yangon, Gambari flew to the new remote capital of Naypyitaw to meet with senior leaders of the junta, Myanmar government officials said, requesting anonymity since they were not authorized to speak to the media. It was not known which of the junta leaders would meet him in Naypyitaw, a bunker-like seat of power 250 miles north of Yangon, or whether he would later be allowed to visit detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon. Expected to be high on Gambari's agenda is the junta's accusation that the UN Resident Coordinator Charles Petrie went beyond his duties by criticizing the regime's failure to meet the economic and humanitarian needs of its people, and by saying this was the cause of September's mass pro-democracy protests, which were violently put down by the government. The military has said 10 people were killed in the crackdown, but diplomats and dissidents say the death toll is much higher. Thousands of people were detained. The junta gave foreign diplomats and UN representatives a note saying the government did not intend to continue Petrie's assignment in the country. A UN press release said Gambari, who would "stay in Myanmar as long as necessary to accomplish his mission," met with Petrie after his arrival. Gambari carried a message of support for Petrie from UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon as well as one to junta head Senior Gen. Than Shwe, it said. Gambari was first dispatched to Myanmar after the government crackdown, meeting with junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe as well as twice with Suu Kyi. But little of substance has changed on Myanmar's political scene since, and analysts expect that little will result from Gambari's latest visit. "It's a game. It's the only game in town, but it's a game," said David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert from Georgetown University who visited the country last month and met with ministerial-level officials. The United Nations has attempted to bring about reconciliation for almost two decades. The junta has from time to time made minor concessions, like brief meetings with Suu Kyi, but continues to perpetuate its 45-year stranglehold on power - and sometimes snub its nose at the international community. Protest leaders who recently escaped to Thailand say some still look on the United Nations with hope, but others are deeply disillusioned that it has failed to be more forceful in dealing with the junta. "The world seems to have accepted the lies of the (junta). This is a matter of life or death but so far the UN and the world have only come up with words," said Kar Kar Pancha, a Yangon businessman who fled to the Thai frontier. The UN secretary-general, who met Gambari on Friday morning in Istanbul, Turkey, to discuss his Myanmar trip, was "disappointed" at the government's message, and expressed "full confidence in the United Nations country team and its leadership," UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said at UN headquarters in New York. She said the UN envoy will convey to Myanmar's military rulers the secretary-general's "very strong" support for the UN leadership in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Gambari has been on a six-nation Asian tour urging support from key countries for national reconciliation, a stepped-up transition to democracy, and the release of all detained demonstrators in the military-ruled country. The US and other Western countries shun the junta for its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government. They maintain diplomatic and economic sanctions against the regime, and block assistance from multilateral aid agencies such as the World Bank.