Saturday, December 6, 2008

UN chief says world is frustrated with Myanmar

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday there is "growing frustration" around the world with Myanmar’s ruling generals.

He spoke to reporters after emerging from a closed-door meeting during which he spent more than an hour trying to get 14 nations to exert more influence on Myanmar, formerly called Burma.

The so-called "Group of Friends on Myanmar," which Ban created a year ago, includes both Western nations pushing for human rights reforms and Southeast Asian trading partners, chiefly China, with different priorities.

All share "not only a higher expectation but also a growing frustration that our efforts have yet to yield the results we all hope for. I share this sense of expectation and frustration," Ban said.

Ban also received a letter Wednesday signed by 112 former presidents and prime ministers urging him to return to Myanmar and to press its military junta to free all political prisoners.

Myanmar’s military, which has ruled since 1962, tolerates no dissent and crushed pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks in September 2007. It holds more than 2,100 political prisoners, up sharply from nearly 1,200 before the demonstrations, human rights groups say.

Ban traveled to Myanmar last May after Cyclone Nargis devastated coastal areas. He was able to meet with the junta’s top leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, and persuade him to ease access for foreign aid workers and relief supplies.

Although Myanmar’s military junta has pledged cooperation with the U.N. as a "cornerstone" of its foreign policy, Ban said that the nation’s refusal to budge in any meaningful way risks undermining the nation’s prospects for democratization, reconciliation and respect for human rights.

"At this time I do not think that the atmosphere is ripe for me to undertake my own visit there," Ban said. But, he quickly added: "I am ready to visit any time, whenever I can have reasonable expectations of my visit to be productive and meaningful."

The U.N. Security Council said last year that Myanmar must open up democratically, but stopped short of agreeing on any binding action due to opposition from two veto-wielding members, China and Russia. Britain, the U.S. and France also hold veto power.

All five permanent Security Council members are members of Ban’s Myanmar group, along with Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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