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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2763

Don’t blame the underdog UN envoy Gambari!

By Nehginpao Kipgen

A seasoned Nigerian diplomat, who is tasked a mission to the Union of Burma as the UN special envoy, wrapped up his latest visit on March 10. The mission’s outcome was not lesser than the expectation. In the absence of a UN Security Council’s mandate, UN missions are thinning in the air.

Gambari’s third visit since the September 2007 uprising was by and large a foregone conclusion. The UN Security Council’s refusal to pass a resolution on January 12th of this year was a precedent to the futility of UN missions.

Prior to his visit to Burma, the UN special envoy was headed to wooing neighboring countries as anticipated by many, including Burmese opposition groups and members of the United Nations.

Gambari was reportedly encouraged by the whimsy lip services of the nations he visited. What he could best make out of it was just words without concrete commitments. China is expanding her influence in the region, while India is countering it.

The game played by China and India toward Burma is more of economic interest than national security. The confrontation is also of neither spreading communism nor democracy.

With cautious reservation, the office of the Secretary General deserves acknowledgement despite its failed engagements. Although substantive results have yet to be borne, the first meeting of 14 nations “Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar” was convened on December 19, 2007.

Intervention and Popular Uprising (supported by disgruntled military personnel) remain to be the two probable solutions to Burma’s conflicts. Although it is a naïve prediction, military intervention either by the United States or by the United Nations would be the swiftest action to bring change should that be pursued.

Intervention in the absence of concerted efforts continues to provide the military a conduit to survive the tepid international pressure. A change from within the country is also unlikely to emerge without elements in the military that runs the country since 1962.

Any politically conscious mind acquiesces that the basic constitution drafted by the military has flaws and is undemocratic – 25% seats reserved for the military which would also have the ultimate power to declare emergency at will.

Gambari’s role becomes more of a negotiator than a mediator. The two basic demands he put forward during his latest visit – allowing independent observers in monitoring and assisting with technical expertise during the May referendum were out-rightly rejected by the military regime. This indicates that the military is not prepared to accept the role of the United Nations.

If independent observers are allowed into the country, this could subside the volley of criticisms. More importantly, it would enhance the credibility of the international community.

The flip side of the story is: the marginalization of opposition groups. First, the result of the 1990 general elections will officially be nullified; and second, it will attempt to legitimize the military’s drafted constitution.

If free and fair country-wide referendum can be held, this would in no uncertain terms reject the constitution. The military’s plan is to deliberately legitimize its power. If that comes to pass, this would mean “a repeat of history” in Burma’s elections.

Gambari gave his best shot with no bullets. Even if Secretary General himself, as wished by many observers, personally visits the country, it is unlikely to have a significant difference. The Burmese military has guns and the resources, but Gambari and Ban Ki-moon have only rhetoric and no enforcement power from the UN Security Council.

Don’t blame Gambari for not achieving much, but rather blame China and Russia for exercising their veto powers from passing a resolution on Burma!

Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).

- Asian Tribune -

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