UN official in Myanmar to urge talks

MISSION: Ban Ki-moon met with Ibrahim Gambari on Friday morning to discuss his trip to Yangon, where he will address a new charge by the junta


Mon, Nov 05, 2007 - Page 5

UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari was in Myanmar's bunker-like new capital yesterday hoping to nudge the country's ruling generals into reconciliation talks with their pro-democracy opponents.

Gambari arrived on Saturday for his second visit since the junta violently suppressed anti-government demonstrations in September.

The day before his arrival in Yangon, the junta announced it planned to expel the top UN diplomat in the country, adding an extra hurdle to the envoy's already difficult mission.

After a brief stopover in Yangon, Gambari flew to Naypyitaw to meet with senior leaders, government officials said, requesting anonymity since they were not authorized to speak to the media.

It was not known which leaders would meet him in Naypyitaw, 400 km north of Yangon, where the generals have established a new capital in a remote area nestled in mountain jungles, or whether he would later be allowed to visit detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon.

Expected to be high on Gambari's agenda is the junta's accusation that UN resident coordinator Charles Petrie went beyond his duties by criticizing the generals' 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.

The military has said 10 people were killed in the crackdown, but diplomats and dissidents say the death toll is much higher. Thousands 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.

The UN said in a statement that Gambari met with Petrie after his arrival and would "stay in Myanmar as long as necessary to accomplish his mission."

Gambari carried a message of support for Petrie from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well as one to junta head Senior General Than Shwe, it said.

Gambari was earlier dispatched to Myanmar after the government crackdown, meeting with Than Shwe as well as twice with Aung San Suu Kyi.

But little of substance has changed on Myanmar's political scene since, and analysts expect that little will result from Gambari's current 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 UN has attempted to bring about reconciliation for almost two decades.

The junta has from time to time made minor concessions, such as brief meetings with Aung San 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 UN with hope, but others are deeply disillusioned that it has failed to be more forceful in dealing with the generals.

"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 border.

Some people in Myanmar have even taken to calling Gambari Kyauk Yu Pyan, translated as "one who takes gems and then leaves."