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by Marwaan Macan-Markar

UN Getting Nowhere With Burma's Generals

(IPS) BANGKOK -- Burma's military regime fired a warning shot this week to let the United Nations and the international community know that it will not cave into pressure on domestic political reform.

The junta's unequivocal stance was confirmed during a rare press conference held by the country's information minister, Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan, when he told reporters that the doors of the Southeast Asian nation were not open to influence from outside.

He also confirmed what many analysts had long suspected in the recent months: the military rulers of Burma are in no mood to welcome the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, currently in her 12th year under house arrest, to discussions on the drafting of the new constitution.

"No assistance or advice from other persons is required,' Kyaw Hsan, who is a close confidante of Burma's strongman, Gen. Than Shwe, said on Monday. The press conference was the first held by the junta since the brutal crackdown of peaceful pro-democracy protesters in late September.

The comments came on the day the military-appointed Committee for Drafting a New Constitution was to begin work. This phase is the third in a seven-step "roadmap' to democracy that the junta has been touting since it was unveiled in August, 2003. No time limit has been placed for the 54 appointees of the committee to finish their task.

The UN, however, has been pressing for a different outcome. Ibrahim Gambari, a special UN envoy, had informed the international community following two visits to Burma since the crackdown that Suu Kyi should be given a significant role to play in the political reform process. The Nigerian diplomat had urged the junta to release her from detention and to involve her in the constitution drafting process.

Initial signs suggested that the junta had warmed up to Gambari's appeals, given that his mission was backed by some of the military regime's allies, such as China and the governments in Southeast Asia. The junta permitted Suu Kyi to meet a government liaison officer, Labor Minister Aung Kyi, on three occasions as part of a reconciliation effort. After one of these broadly publicized meetings, she described it as "positive.'

But the early hope that emerged after these encounters has been dashed with the junta reverting to its more familiar role of stubbornly defending its enternched positions. "The junta wants to demonstrate that it will not be cowed by international pressure and it doesn't want outside mediation,' Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst living in exile in Thailand, said in an interview. "It is a sign that the Burmese military has become more enternched.'

The reaction from the U.S. government to this week's turn of events was the first in what could be a litany of statements of condemnation and disappointment from capitals across the world. After all Beijing had backed Gambari's mission to Burma on behalf of the international community and so had the members of the 10-nation regional bloc, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member.

"We condemn the Burmese regime's rejection of meaningful participation for Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic and ethnic minority leaders in the process of drafting a national constitution,' the U.S. department of state spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement during a Tuesday press briefing. "The regime's December 3 statement to the diplomatic corps make clear that Senior General Than Shwe and his regime have no intention to begin a genuine, inclusive dialogue necessary for a democratic transition.'

But this week's stance on political reform was not the only bullet that junta had in store for the UN On Tuesday, the UN resident coordinator Charles Petrie left Rangoon after the military regime refused to extend his visa. Petrie had angered the regime by making a media statement that was released by the local UN office in late October expressing concerns about Burma's "deteriorating humanitarian condition.'

The UN's view about increasing poverty in the country conveyed what was widely known by then, since the pro-democracy protests in September had evolved out of small public demonstrations that were staged in mid-August after the junta raised the price of fuel by 500 percent overnight. Economic conditions have continued to worsen, according to residents in Rangoon that IPS spoke with. Many who survive on a daily wage are cutting back on meals.

The stakes have consequently increased for Gambari, who is due back in Burma later this month or in early 2008, to engage the junta. "Unless Gambari can bring more leverage from the Security Council and China, his next mission will be a failure,' says Win Min, a Burmese academic attached to Payap University, in Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai. "The junta feels it has less pressure on its back now that the ASEAN summit is over.'

But there are growing signs within Burma that its oppressed people have little reason for optimism, Win Min revealed during an interview. "Most people have lost hope for political change to be achieved with the help of the UN and the international community. They know now that nothing will change as long as Than Shwe remains in power.'

It is a view shaped by the current regime's record. After all, the first step in the "roadmap' to democracy was the reconvening of a National Convention to draft the new charter. The initial round of talks for this convention began 14 years ago as an effort to prevent the opposition party that Suu Kyi heads, the National League for Democracy, from forming a government after it secured a thumping mandate in the 1990 parliamentary elections.

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Albion Monitor   December 7, 2007   (

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