As Myanmar Moves to Exclude Hundreds of UN Staff, Ban Has No Comment on Detentions

UN's Ban shakes hands with Than Shwe

UN's Ban shakes hands with Than Shwe

A week after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon claimed credit for the Myanmar military government’s vague statement that it would offer amnesty to some political prisoners this year or in 2010, though apparently not including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the UN had no comment Monday on that government’s detention of peaceful marchers to Suu Kyi’s father’s grave.

Inner City Press asked Ban’s Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe at the UN’s regular briefing, and Ms. Okabe called the arrests a “temporary detention… I don’t have a direct comment on that.” Video here, from Minute 12:23.

Since Mr. Ban after his briefed the Council acknowledged that he didn’t have any specifics about Myanmar’s purported commitment to release political prisoners, a week later on Monday Inner City Press asked Mr. Okabe if he had sought or gotten any further information. “He responded to the question” at the stakeout, Ms. Okabe said, adding that the ball remains in Myanmar’s court.

Meanwhile, the Myanmar government is now refusing to renew visa for hundreds of UN international staff, only a week after the UN’s Ban Ki-moon briefed the Security Council on what he called the victory of future release of undefined political prisoners. Up to 400 World Food Program staff are slated for expulsion in August, Inner City Press is told by local UN sources, who previously blew the whistle on the UN’s silence as Than Shwe took up to 25% of post-cyclone aid funds by requiring the UN to convert dollars to Foreign Exchange Certificates controlled and valued by the government.

These well-placed sources now surmise that the Than Shwe regime does not want international observers to its scam 2010 election, and to the land grab by regime cronies that is occurring in the run up. The sources expressed despair about last week’s Security Council briefing, seeing it as a quid pro quo in which Ban was allowed to take credit for future release of prisoners in exchange for not pushing on other issues. Contacted again on Monday, the sources said that the lack of comment on political detentions was simply part of this larger pattern.

By Matthew Russell Lee / Inner City Press

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