Thoughts of Former UN Envoy
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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thoughts of Former UN Envoy

By Razali Ismail [2005] Tuesday, January 10, 2006


The Irrawaddy speaks to outgoing UN Special Envoy to Burma Razali Ismail regarding his decision not to renew his contract and therefore leave the post on January 4. Ismail spent nearly five years in the role, enjoying early success in managing to bring the National League for Democracy and the military government together for talks, while making nearly a dozen trips to Rangoon. However, the last two years of Ismail’s mandate were marred by the junta’s unwillingness to allow him into the country.

Q: You were credited with bringing the NLD and the government together for talks shortly after taking up the post of special envoy. What else do you feel you achieved in the role?

A: That is not exactly accurate. The NLD and the government, they didn’t have the talks that I expected that they would have. It was not done at the level of the prime minister and [Aung San] Suu Kyi—it was done at a lower level.

I really don’t know that I should make the evaluation myself of what I achieved, what I did not achieve. That’s up to you guys…in fact it is best to conclude that I have failed. I mean, you look down the road after nearly five years, I have failed because I could not deal with the circumstances…the exit of [former prime minister Gen] Khin Nyunt and all his group. After that, I couldn’t deal with it [the Burmese government] anymore. Up to that point in time, fine…after that he wouldn’t see me anymore as much as I tried and therefore no success means failure.

Q: Just how frustrating was it for you?

A: No, it’s not frustrating. It was never really frustrating. Frustration is for personal stuff. These are big issues. Why should you be frustrated? You are a facilitator. If you start being frustrated, you can’t do your business. You have so many aspects to cater to, all the positions that have been taken by the government, and they see themselves as the custodians of the state and all the things they have done and sacrificed. Suu Kyi standing up for the things that should be different…new. At one time, she thought it could be changed, it could be done, but finally accepting there should be a compromise for the sake of the people, and she was willing to work with Khin Nyunt. So, there are so many factors it is not easy to capture this thing.

Q: You have recently suggested in the press that your replacement be more “palatable” to the regime. You yourself were previously a civil servant working for a fellow Asean government. How much more palatable can your successor be without suffering a lack of credibility?

A: If the Senior General [Than Shwe] has a personal dislike for me—which is not impossible—then another fellow perhaps can be found within Asean or within the region of Asia that would be more palatable to him.

Q: It seems unlikely that Snr-Gen Than Shwe disliked you before you took up the post. Wouldn’t any special envoy be in the same position as you found yourself in that regard?

A. If you have to ask those questions, especially questions relating to Aung San Suu Kyi… of course he [Snr-Gen Than Shwe] is going to dislike hearing these questions being asked. So we should take a step backwards. Would he allow anyone to go in—man or woman—to do the things that I was allowed to do before, in absence of…Khin Nyunt? I think that is very important.

We went quite a long way. I spent hours talking to Aung San Suu Kyi alone, something like three hours. If there were bugs or whatever, I don’t know, but… we were allowed to discuss things and there was no attempt to tell us it was taking too much time, nothing. And I give credit to the government. I was allowed at least two meetings with Suu Kyi every time I went in. And then I met the other political parties, and there were several other people that I met and even I met a few people that were on their own but had an influence in the politics of Myanmar [Burma]. So… I am not sure the senior general would want the UN to be as engaged as that.

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