Gambari Must be Firm this Time Around
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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Gambari Must be Firm this Time Around

By KYAW ZWA MOE Friday, January 30, 2009


UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari is expected to arrive in Burma this weekend on the seventh visit of a mission that has so far raised little hope of progress towards democratic government there.

Gambari’s boss, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, believes that this time the envoy will be able to meet one of the military government’s top men and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. If he does, let’s at least call that a success.

On his previous visit, last August, Gambari failed to meet junta leader Than Shwe or Suu Kyi. Her refusal to receive him at her Rangoon home was a real blow because she has never declined to meet any of his predecessors during the political deadlock of the past 20 years.

Senior leaders of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy believe that her motive for snubbing Gambari was rooted in her frustration at the lack of progress achieved by the UN in 20 years of involvement in the Burma question. It was also seen as a form of appeal for results to finally emerge from Gambari’s mission.

On this visit—his seventh—Gambari will probably be luckier than last August. NLD spokesman Win Naing told The Irrawaddy that the party shared Ban’s expectation that Suu Ky will agree to meet the envoy.

One reason for a change of heart by Suu Kyi may be a realization that she hasn’t much time left to make her views known before the 2010 election and that Gambari represents her only official channel for her message to reach the outside world.

World leaders and the Burmese people, especially her party members, are anxiously waiting for words that could form the NLD policy position on the 2010 election. For that reason alone, she has to meet Gambari and send the world a clear message about the election through the UN intermediary.

As for the NLD, Win Naing said the party will also stick to the four issues that its leaders emphasized during their talks with Gambari last August:
     1. The release of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi;
     2. A meaningful dialogue between the military regime and opposition groups;
     3. Formation of an economic development committee;
     4. Opening of a liaison office in Burma for the UN secretary-general.

The NLD believes that resolution of these issues is essential for the national reconciliation process.

Gambari upset NLD leaders last August by focusing on the 2010 elections and the government’s schedule for meetings with its proxy civic and political groups. He was accused of failing to act as a real negotiator.

This time, it is believed that Gambari has prepared himself to avoid issues that could upset the NLD. On the other hand, he will have to know how to handle attempts by the military leaders to manipulate him and the UN.

The release of all political prisoners is a necessary starting point for dialogue. Gambari is well aware how the junta has used the political prisoners as pawns in dealing with the international community.

Last September, fewer than 10 political prisoners were among about 9,000 prisoners freed in an amnesty. The release of that small group, including prominent political detainee Win Tin, drew praise from some countries.

By year’s end, however, more than 200 political activists, including prominent dissidents, were sentenced to prison terms of up to 104 years. Currently, more than 2,000 political prisoners are still languishing in various notorious jails across the country. 

Hopes that Gambari may be able to secure the release of even just some of them next week are slim. Even if he does score some success, the world must remain suspicious of the motives of a regime that has cheated so often in the past.

The release of political prisoners must nevertheless remain a fundamental demand, ranking with the necessity of talks between the regime and the opposition. On their fulfillment depends all hope of breaking the present deadlock. Gambari must make that clear to the generals.

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