UN’s Ban Ki-moon told Burmese military leader Than Shwe on July 3, “I’d like to appreciate your commitment to move your country forward.” Since Cyclone Nargis hit the Iradwaddy Delta in May 2008, Shwe has used the displacement it occasioned to give land under what used to be fishing villages to his regime’s cronies.
While to some that is “moving [the] country forward,” to others it is the antithesis of the type of development the UN should be praising. While unlikely, perhaps Ban meant that while he would like to appreciate Shwe’s actions, in good faith he cannot.
Inner City Press is told by well placed UN sources that, even beyond the currency exchange scams through which the UN allowed up to one quarter of post cyclone donor funds to be taken outright by Burma’s junta, the UN Country Team continues to subsidize the dictatorship by, for example, accepting requirements to buy certain equipment in-country at inflated prices.
While some argue that the UN stays silent out of commitment to remain serving Burma’s poor, the staged theatrics of Ban’s current trip lead others to see a darker, more mixed motive.
“Ban desperately needs the appearance of a win at this time,” Inner City Press was told July 2 by a UN official who requested anonymity from fear of retaliation. “The Generals in Naypyitaw know that, and they are using Ban’s desperation to legitimatize the fixed election they plan for 2010.”
The official characterized the detention of Aung San Su Kyi as a less fundamental issue, one on which Ban might be allowed to claim some victory such as her transfer from Insein Prison back to house arrest, or a commitment to later full release. Such a commitment, if the past is any guide, could later be rescinded, as could the release of lower profile political prisoners during Ban’s current two day trip. Who knows — maybe Ban will claim credit for the adjournment today of Su Kyi’s trial for a week.
The stated rationale was the failure of a Burmese (kangaroo) appeals court to return to court the file along with its decision barring two of Su Kyi’s four proposed witnesses from testifying. Perhaps as his entourage claims, Ban’s quiet diplomacy and soft power, work in mysterious ways. Watch this site.
Footnote: as Inner City Press reported June 28 and was confirmed by Ban’s Spokesperson Michele Montas on June 29, Ban’s office hand-picked which journalists would be told of the opportunity to cover his trip to Burma. Ms. Montas first said that the UN “picked people who were willing to pool for others.” On July 2, when Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas when these pool reports would begin, she reversed course and argued that “I said some of them were willing to pool, some of them… There is no print pooling, no.”
Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas to confirm the information in a list it has seen, that there are at least 22 UN personnel in Ban’s traveling party, ranging from political chief Lynn Pascoe and deputy chief of staff Kim Won-soo to Hak-Fan Lau, to whom reporters on Ban’s previous UN mission to Burma gave at least some pooled material. “I can check for you,” Ms. Montas answered. By 8 a.m. on July 3 in New York, no information was provided. Watch this site.
Of the accompanying wire services, two of the three — or with Yonhap was it four? — quoted Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch on what would constitute success, or failure, on this trip. Might Ban meet with Aung San Su Kyi? Might she nonetheless be sentenced to further house arrest? Why is she being barred from the 2010 election?
Beyond the Aung San Su Kyi show, what about the Karen people? Even more oppressed, what about the Rohingya?
The UN’s Ibrahim Gambari told Inner City Press that the Rohingya, Muslims been long in Burma but denied citizens’ rights, are beyond the scope of this “good offices” mandate.
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS – July 3, 2009