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Suu Kyi wants new Burma full-time UN envoy

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Press Trust of India (PTI) reported Friday that Aung San Suu Kyi’s desire for a full-time Burma envoy was raised during a Burma briefing at the UN Security Council this week. 

Aung San Suu Kyi and Vijay Nambiar, the UN special envoy to Burma. Photo: MizzimaA senior Indian diplomat told the India news agency that Vijay Nambiar, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's interim special envoy, informed the security council at the briefing that Aung San Suu Kyi wants a full-time envoy to take over.

Nambiar who also serves as Ban’s chief of staff has filled in as Burma envoy on an interim basis since January 2010.

Aung San Suu Kyi first publicly called for a full-time envoy in an interview with Radio Free Asia early this year, while the British and Mexican delegations to the Security Council made similar calls at the end of last year.

The closed briefing to the Security Council followed Nambiar’s return from Burma last week. While in Burma, Nambiar met with Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of Burma’s new military backed government including the secretary-general of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the ministers Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Social Welfare and National Planning and Development.  He also met with representatives of the parties recently elected to Burma’s Parliament.

PTI reported that according to the senior member of the Indian delegation, Nambiar's assessment of the post-election situation in Burma was ‘rather positive’.  This contrasted with Aung San Suu Kyi who has indicated in interviews and public statements that Burma’s new government is hardly any different from the previous regime led by Senior General Than Shwe.

Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant was quoted by Inner City Press as saying that Nambiar ‘felt the tone of what the government was doing since the election was better, more open than it had been before’. Grant and his government’s own stance on the situation in Burma contrasted sharply with Nambiar’s view, however. Grant said that since the new government took over, ‘There has not yet been any inclusive dialogue with opposition outside Parliament’.

Also discussed at the meeting according to PTI was the Burmese government’s refusal to allow Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, the opportunity to meet Aung San Suu Kyi. Last year, Quintana issued a scathing report to the UN Human Rights council on the situation of human rights in Burma which suggested that war crimes were taking place in Burma.

Nambiar’s Burma trip shows he ‘neglects justice for war crimes’: HR Watch

Burma activists contacted by Mizzima said they were deeply concerned that during Nambiar’s recent visit to Burma he failed to address the plight of Burma’s ethnic and religious minorities.  Their criticism of Nambiar was shared by Human Rights Watch’s executive director Kenneth Roth who responded to the conclusion of the UN envoy’s trip by issuing a Tweet message which condemned the envoy because Nambiar ‘neglects justice for war crimes’. 

Prior to Nambiar’s arrival in Burma, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a press release urging Nambiar to use the trip to ‘speak out against the absence of meaningful human rights reform in Burma since the November elections’.   

A statement released by Nambiar at the end of his three-day trip, while noting the Indian diplomat pressed the Burmese regime for the ‘release of all political prisoners’  probably did little to address Human Rights Watch’s concern that Nambiar’s trip would be little more than a ‘courtesy call’.

Nambiar’s statement made no mention of ethnic minority issues or the ongoing military campaign waged by Burma’s armed forces in Shan and Karen states.  Nambiar’s omission came despite the fact that securing tripartite dialogue that includes Burma’s ethnic minorities, the ruling regime and the National League for Democracy is supposed to be part of his official mandate.

At a press conference in New York on Thursday, Martin Nesirky, the chief spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon responded to questions about Human Rights Watch’s concerns by stating that just because the issue was not mentioned in the statement does not mean it was not discussed.

Following his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, Nambiar told reporters that Burma’s government had made some signals which he called ‘very encouraging’. Nambiar’s optimistic outlook is ‘completely unwarranted’, says Cheri Zahua, advocacy officer for the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, a Thailand-based advocacy and educational group that seeks to inform the people of Burma about human rights. 

Zahua, a refugee from Burma’s Chin ethnic nationality, says that since Burma’s Prime Minister Thein Sein officially changed roles to become president earlier this year, ‘Nothing has changed in terms of human rights and political freedom’. 
According to Zahua, ‘Despite the fact there are ongoing human rights abuses committed by the military against ethnic minorities, the UN hardly talks about ethnic issues in Burma’. 

Zahua is also unimpressed by Burma’s new Parliament which is dominated by the military-backed USDP party and where a quarter of seats in both the lower and upper houses are reserved for appointed army forces personnel.  This is a criticism shared by Zoya Phan, a Karen activist with UK Campaign for Burma, who has repeatedly urged the UN to take the plight of Burma’s ethnic minorities more seriously. 

During a press briefing at the UN in New York on Thursday, Martin Nerisky, a spokesman for Ban Ki-moon, defended Nambiar’s activities in Burma. 

In an interview with Mizzima, Zoya Phan said, ‘The UN has failed to learn from their past mistakes in Burma; it is not justice’. 

She added that she was extremely disappointed that Nambiar has continued his predecessor Ibrahim Gambari’s practice of being soft on Burma’s generals.  Gambari who served as Ban’s special envoy to Burma while Suu Kyi was under house arrest, previously served as Nigeria’s ambassador to the UN during the rule of military dictator Sani Abacha. Zoya Phan added that she found it ‘unbelievable’ that the UN appointed someone with such a notorious reputation as Gambari to serve as the UN special envoy to Burma for more than three years.

NDF asks Nambiar for UN development assistance

Reached for comment, Than Nyein, the chairman of the The National Democratic Force (NDF), a party comprising of a breakaway faction of members who split from the NLD to compete in last year’s national election, told Mizzima that during the NDF’s meeting with Nambiar, he personally asked the UN envoy to relay a request to the UN for increased assistance to Burma and for the UN to increase its involvement in Burma. 

Than Nyein who was elected to Burma’s new Parliament last November and was previously elected in 1990 for the NLD, said that he ‘would like to have the UN increase some aid from the UN agencies here’ because aid levels to Burma are lower than to other South East Asian countries on a per capita basis. 

He said that he also told Nambiar: ‘We would like the UN to have a greater role in the future because the political situation in Burma is in the process of transition. We would like the world community headed by the United Nations to have a positive and more intimate and more important engagement with this new government’.

With regards to the issue of the UN finding a full-time replacement for Nambiar, Than Nyein said,‘If they [the UN] have an agreement with the government here to appoint a full-time Burma envoy then that would be good’.

Last Updated ( Friday, 20 May 2011 20:32 )  

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