UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon faced a barrage of criticism on Friday for apparently praising the Burmese junta without winning any concessions over human rights or a move toward democracy.
Ban was under pressure to produce concrete results from his two-day mission to Burma, which was criticized as providing an endorsement to the Burmese leadership just as it is staging a trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The high-stakes visit to Burma comes at a critical time for Ban, whose low-key approach to his job has been criticized as ineffectual.
He came under further fire on arrival in Naypyidaw, the regime’s headquarters, when he told the head of the junta, General Than Shwe: “I appreciate your commitment to moving your country forward.”
“That is absolute nonsense,” said Brad Adams, a Burma specialist at Human Rights Watch. “It’s just what we implored him not to say, to make these diplomatic gaffes. Than Shwe has steadily moved his country backwards.”
British officials were also furious at the remarks. They had urged Ban not to visit Burma and risk handing the junta a propaganda prize without ensuring he would gain concessions in the form of the release of political prisoners and steps toward genuine democracy.
“Only agreement to release all political prisoners [and] start a genuine dialogue with the opposition and ethnic groups will give any credibility to the elections in 2010,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in an article in the US online magazine the Huffington Post.
According to his office at No. 10 Dowing Street, London, Brown calls Ban at least twice a week to discuss Burma.
“I hope that Ban Ki-moon can convince the generals to take the first steps,” Brown said. “A serious offer is on the table: The international community will work with Burma if the generals are prepared to embark on a genuine transition to democracy. But if the Burmese regime refuses to engage, the international community must be prepared to respond robustly.”
However, Than Shwe said little at his meeting with Ban and did not grant the secretary-general’s request to meet Aung San Suu Kyi in prison. Ban expressed hope that a meeting could still be permitted.