UN envoy meets Myanmar ministers amid rebuffs
by Hla Hla HtaySun Mar 9, 9:11 AM ET
UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari Sunday met a group of mid-level ministers in a visit to Myanmar that so far appears to have failed to push the ruling junta into making any concessions on an upcoming vote.
Twice during his trip the regime has openly rebuffed his diplomatic overtures, while he has been denied access to key decision-makers such as junta leader Than Shwe, casting real doubt on how much his mission can achieve.
Gambari met Myanmar’s minister of health, minister of planning, deputy foreign minister and civil service chairman at a military guesthouse on Sunday morning, a United Nations statement said.
It gave no details on what was discussed.
A government official said earlier that Gambari met the information minister, Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, but the UN did not mention the meeting.
The Nigerian diplomat was granted a rare meeting here Saturday with detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
However, that was quickly overshadowed when the junta rejected his offer to send foreign observers to a planned constitutional referendum in May designed to pave the way for multi-party elections in 2010.
Gambari’s visit had already run into trouble Friday when Kyaw Hsan accused him of bias in favour of Aung San Suu Kyi, and said the junta would not make any changes to the constitution, which bars her from running.
The UN envoy had been expected to leave military-run Myanmar on Sunday, but extended his trip by one day despite the setbacks.
“His visit has been extended, so he will go back tomorrow. His schedule is always changing,” said a government official who did not want to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Gambari had arrived Thursday aiming to push the junta to include Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the referendum and elections.
The constitution would bar Aung San Suu Kyi from the polls because of her marriage to a foreigner, while a new law limits the NLD’s ability to campaign by criminalising public speeches and leaflets about the referendum.
Gambari offered UN technical assistance and help with providing observers for the referendum in a meeting Friday with members of the commission charged with organising the vote — proposals rejected flatly by the junta.
Myanmar analyst Win Min said the junta had turned a deaf ear to everything Gambari had to say so far.
“They are just going their own way, they have refused everything,” he told AFP in Bangkok.
State newspaper the New Light of Myanmar gave an account Sunday of Gambari’s meeting with the commission.
“Mr Gambari said he would like Myanmar to invite observers to win the trust of the international community over the country’s work programmes,” the newspaper reported.
“(Commission member) Thaung Nyunt replied that holding the referendum for the constitution is within the State sovereignty.”
Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest, and is allowed little contact with the outside world.
If held, the 2010 elections would be the first since she led the NLD to a landslide victory in 1990 elections, a result never recognised by the regime.
Meanwhile, adding her weight to Gambari’s efforts, President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines urged Myanmar to permit foreign observers as a “small but modest step” toward democracy.
“It is a sad day for democracy and our region that Myanmar has rejected the proposal put forward by the UN for outside observers to the May election,” she said in a statement.
“A central pillar of democracy is a free and fair election,” Arroyo added. “Outside observers are not a threat to any nation’s sovereignty. Rather, the participation of outside election observers is a sign of strength.”
Gambari began trying to open up a dialogue between the opposition and the regime following a violent crackdown in September on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks, which left at least 31 dead, according to UN figures.