Tuesday, March 18, 2008

U.N. envoy disappointed after latest visit to Burma

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. envoy said on Tuesday he was disappointed his latest visit to Myanmar yielded no tangible results but said it was important for the United Nations to keep engaging with authorities there.Ibrahim Gambari, special adviser on Myanmar to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was reporting to the U.N. Security Council on a March 6-10 visit during which he met detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi twice but made no major progress in convincing the military junta to implement democratic reforms.

Gambari said he never expected his job to be smooth sailing. "Indeed, over time, my engagement with my interlocutors has been difficult, complex, frustrating, but nevertheless incremental and continuing," he said.

Gambari said during the visit he was not able to meet senior government leadership figures or opposition groups such as the "88 Generation" or representatives of ethnic groups.

"It is a source of disappointment that this latest visit did not yield any immediate tangible outcome," he said.

Gambari's visit was this third to the former Burma since authorities crushed pro-democracy marches in September in a crackdown that sparked worldwide outrage and a major diplomatic push for political reform in the former British colony, which has been under military rule since 1962.

Gambari told reporters after the meeting no date had been set for his return but he might meet officials from the Myanmar government in a third country to prepare for such a visit.


The Myanmar government says it has drawn up a seven-step political "roadmap" to democracy and is making progress in drafting a constitution to be submitted to a referendum in May with a view to multiparty elections in 2010.

However, during his four-day visit, the generals made it clear they would not accept any changes to the constitution they have drafted, despite Western concerns it is a blueprint for the military hanging on to power.

Myanmar's Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe said Gambari's work had helped bring about "positive and concrete developments" such as the release of some 2,600 people detained in September and the appointment of a minister to liaise with Suu Kyi.

Gambari had his offer of election monitors for the May referendum and a planned 2010 election rejected during his visit, adding to worries about their freedom and fairness.

The generals said they had no need for external expertise in running the elections, saying they had "enough experience."

The last time they allowed a poll, in 1990, they ignored the result when Suu Kyi's party won over 80 percent.

Gambari said that despite the lack of tangible results from this visit, his efforts should be seen in a longer-term context as the process was "inevitably subject to ups and downs."

"Now is the time for the international community as a whole to remain united," in support of his mission, he said.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Myanmar's roadmap to democracy was flawed and there were "serious problems" with the draft constitution which had not even been circulated.

He said he would be drafting a Council statement which, if agreed by all 15 council members, would aim to keep pressure on Myanmar. Such statements do not carry the weight of binding Security Council resolutions and the prospect of a resolution is slim given Myanmar's close relationship with China, a veto-holding permanent member of the council.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters before the briefing that Myanmar was making good progress.

(Editing by Stuart Grudgings)

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