Monday, November 19, 2007

UN Briefing On Myanmar Called Off On Government Objections

SINGAPORE (AFP)--Southeast Asian leaders have called off a briefing by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari on the situation in Myanmar after the military government objected, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told AFP Monday.

"The briefing is off," Syed Hamid told AFP in an interview as leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, held informal talks ahead of their annual summit on Tuesday.

"Myanmar feels that they deal with the U.N. and it is their own domestic matter. This evening, Myanmar objected and we base our decisions on consensus."

ASEAN has come under mounting international pressure to rein in member state Myanmar in the wake of September's suppression of mass pro-democracy protests that left at least 15 dead.

Gambari had been invited by ASEAN summit host Singapore to brief Southeast Asian leaders plus their counterparts from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea on his two recent missions to Myanmar on Wednesday.

But the Malaysian minister said while the bloc supported Gambari's efforts in the military-run state, he would not be asked to collectively brief the region's leaders on his work.

"If they want any briefing, Myanmar will do the briefing," Syed Hamid said.

"It is an ASEAN matter. We will continue to support the U.N. but we cannot take the matter out of the ASEAN forum and take it into some other forum."

The minister, however, insisted the move should not be "considered a slap to the U,N,," noting: "As far as ASEAN is concerned, we support the efforts of the U.N."

"This does not preclude if anyone wants to see Gambari - that's up to them," he added.

Asked whether Gambari would meet leaders one-on-one while in Singapore, Syed Hamid replied: "That may be the best option available for him and for those who want first-hand information on how he's handling the Myanmar situation."

Earlier, two of Syed Hamid's counterparts suggested the briefing could be downgraded to exclude ASEAN's six East Asia dialogue partners.

"If Gambari's briefing takes place, it should be limited only to the ASEAN leaders," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said -- a position echoed by Thailand's Nitya Pibulssongram.

ASEAN for the 40 years of its existence has followed a policy of reaching decisions based on consensus - meaning no votes are taken, so nations cannot be outvoted into accepting something they do not want.

Syed Hamid pointed out: "The host country invited Gambari - it was not something that was done by ASEAN."

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