New Delhi: Myanmar’s military junta is taking slow but positive steps towards democracy and development and an Asian consensus is building to push Yangon further in that direction, a top UN envoy said on Thursday (12 July).
Ibrahim Gambari, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, was speaking during a two-day visit to India, his second stop on a three-nation tour aimed at bolstering that consensus.
He also plans to visit the Southeast Asian nation in September to encourage the new ”openness and cooperation” of the military regime.
The military, which has ruled the impoverished country in some form or other since 1962, had agreed to reconvene a National Convention for the last time next week to finish drafting a new constitution as part of a seven-stage roadmap to democracy, he said.
Yangon had also received several international representatives to help tackle diseases, humanitarian crises, and armed conflict and reached agreement with the International Labour Organization to fight child labour.
”The best approach ... is to combine, to recognise progress where it has been made and to encourage them to move further along the lines of democratisation and respect for human rights,” Gambari told Reuters in an interview.
Asian giants China and India, as two neighbours who have close links with Myanmar, have a key role to play in this effort, he said.
”I don’t know whether pressure is the right word, but certainly to encourage,” Gambari said after talks with Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon.
”We urge them to encourage the authorities in Myanmar to build on the positive steps they are making ... send positive messages to reinforce those tentative steps.”
Western capitals, led by Washington, have consistently pressured Myanmar, formerly Burma, on political reform and to release political prisoners, including democracy icon and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Critics call the plan of the generals to draft a new constitution and eventually hold elections a sham aimed at entrenching military control over Myanmar’s 54 million people.
Sanctions imposed by the West have had little effect, with some pro-democracy activists blaming China and India for the failure of efforts to isolate the military regime.
Beijing has been a long-time supporter of Yangon, selling it arms worth millions of dollars, helping it upgrade its naval facilities, buying large amounts of timber and minerals and exploring energy projects there.
New Delhi has been a late entrant into the regional diplomatic game.
It initially supported Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in the early 1990s, but changed strategy to court the military regime in what some analysts say was an attempt to counter China.
It has invested in developing ports, building roads and railways and is also competing with Beijing for Myanmar’s oil and gas reserves. Besides, Yangon is also helping New Delhi fight militants across the border in India’s troubled northeast.
Gambari arrived in New Delhi after talks in Beijing. He flies next to Japan.
In the wake of his China visit, Beijing said Myanmar was not a threat to regional security and should be allowed to solve its own problems. But Gambari said it would be wrong to suggest his trip had not been useful.
”They see some synergy in terms of our approach, strategies ... so we intend to build on that,” he said.
Menon was also “very, very constructive, very free, very open, very candid”, he added.
“I don’t see any discrepancy in terms of our approach and theirs. On the contrary, I really am encouraged by the level of understanding between us.”