U.N. envoy upbeat after Myanmar trip, West doubtful

  • World
  • Wednesday, 14 Nov 2007

By Claudia Parsons

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari gave an upbeat report on Tuesday on his recent trip to promote democracy in Myanmar but Western ambassadors voiced doubts about the junta's will to cooperate with him. 

Gambari told the U.N. Security Council the situation was "qualitatively different" from a few weeks ago and he believed the government could respond to international pressure for change following its crackdown on protests led by monks. 

U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari speaks during a news conference at a hotel in Singapore November 8, 2007. Gambari gave an upbeat report on Tuesday on his recent trip to promote democracy in Myanmar but Western ambassadors voiced doubts about the junta's will to cooperate with him. (REUTERS/Christophe Vanderperre)

Gambari said his trip did not produce all the results he had hoped for but there had been some positive steps. He said after the meeting he would return "again and again and again" to promote what he hoped would be "substantive dialogue." 

He noted that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had been allowed to issue a statement for the first time in over four years and to meet members of her party. He urged the government to release Suu Kyi as a demonstration of its commitment. 

Gambari, a former Nigerian foreign minister, also said the government had assured him it would make no more arrests. 

Earlier on Tuesday, however, activist Su Su Nway was arrested in Yangon after being on the run since the army crushed protests in September, an opposition source said. 

"On balance, the positive outcomes of this latest mission show that the government of Myanmar ... can be responsive to the concerns of the international community," Gambari said. 

British Ambassador John Sawers said he welcomed the "small steps forward" reported by the envoy, but warned that without sustained international pressure, signs of progress "could also be a false dawn." 


U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Myanmar should show its commitment by releasing Suu Kyi and other detainees. 

He said that while there had been some positive steps, they "do not yet constitute a fundamental shift" by the junta. 

He said it was "troubling" the junta had arranged Gambari's schedule, which "raised questions about their sincerity." 

"The regime's so-called roadmap to democracy is demonstrably inadequate," Khalilzad added. "A process for process's sake will not be acceptable." 

Myanmar Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe said his government was cooperating fully with the United Nations and making progress. 

"It's disappointing that, notwithstanding the positive developments, some continue to express skepticism," he said. 

It was Gambari's second visit to the country formerly known as Burma since at least 10 people, and probably more, were killed in September's ruthless suppression of the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years. 

The day before he landed, the junta summoned the U.N.'s top resident diplomat to tell him he would be kicked out for a statement linking the protests to poverty. 

Gambari then failed to secure a meeting with junta supremo Than Shwe and had a proposal for three-way talks including himself, Suu Kyi and the military rejected as premature. 

Khalilzad told reporters it was important to balance engagement with pressure, adding: "We do not rule out sanctions." 

Washington and the European Union have already imposed some sanctions but broader international measures are unlikely. 

Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said the situation was improving in Myanmar and was an internal matter that did not require sanctions or other international interference. Russia said sanctions and external pressure were counterproductive. 

The meeting ended with no official statement but Indonesian Ambassador Marty Natalegawa who is president of the council said there was unity on supporting Gambari's efforts and expressing concern about continuing detention and arrests. 

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said U.N. special rapporteur on human rights Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was facing restrictions on his first visit to Myanmar in four years. 

"I heard from my reports that his activities there are not being fully guaranteed," Ban said during a South American visit. "He has not been given access to all the places." 

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won 1990 elections by a landslide, but was denied power by the military, which has ruled in one form or another since a 1962 coup. 

(Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations and Raymond Colitt in Brazil) 

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