[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Sunday, September 28, 2008

[Myanmar Again]
UN Secretary General called a special meeting on Myanmar on Saturday. It was attended by a group of so-called 'Friends'.

I recalled how a year ago, following the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters and the shooting of monks in cold blood, ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued a strongly-worded statement here at the UN. We were appalled and revulsed. Despite the severe criticism by ASEAN, however, Myanmar remained engaged in ASEAN, making clear that it wanted to stay in the family. Myanmar also accepted the good offices of the UN Secretary General. Special Envoy Gambari made a number of visits, some more successful than others.

But all of us knew that the process of national reconciliation would be drawn out. We expected up's and down's. Gambari's mission would not be easy. I said that it was to be expected that at different times he would be criticized by different quarters. Mediating a family dispute is always a risky undertaking.

Then came Cyclone Nargis, a disaster of biblical proportions. Until ASEAN intervened, there was this absurd standoff between the military government and the international community. With the tripartite mechanism in place, problems were overcome and a second wave of death from hunger and disease was avoided. PM Thein Sein intervened personally to ensure that bottlenecks were cleared.

The relief and recovery effort gave us hope that similar progress could be made on the political front. All the 'friends of the Secretary General' pledged their support of the UN good offices and Gambari's mission. We also recognised the important contribution of the Sec Gen himself. In May, he had a good meeing with Senior General Than Shwe and expressed a wish to go back. But preparations have to be carefully made before the Sec Gen visits Myanmar again and there must be some assurance of progress. Expectations will be high. I said that ASEAN Leaders will express their views when they meet him at the coming Summit in Bangkok in December. We noted the recent release of political prisoners and called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others as well.

I also emphasized the importance of economic development, a point which Thant Myint-U, the grandson of former UNSG U Thant, made to me a couple of months ago. Economic development can soften some of the divisions in the country and open new ways forward. In this, Myanmar's neighbours - ASEAN, China and India - take a different position from the western countries.

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