Singapore: Myanmar needs to go beyond the “preliminary stage” of talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi because the current situation is not sustainable, said United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.
“The government and Aung San Suu Kyi are talking about talks now,” he said on the sidelines of Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) leaders’ meeting in Singapore. The UN hopes they will start “time-bound” talks “soon”, he said.
Calls for penalties on Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, increased after General Than Shwe’s regime cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in September, killing more than 100 people, according to the UN.
The UN is unlikely to achieve much in Myanmar, said Hiro Katsumata, an analyst at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
“Unless China puts pressure on Myanmar, nothing will change,” said Katsumata. “Both at the global and the regional level, China is not interested to address the issue.”
Australia’s foreign minister Alexander Downer said on Wednesday that China, which can veto resolutions at the Security Council, was working “behind the scenes on Myanmar”, without giving details.
Asean, India reticent
“It would be wrong to suggest that China hasn’t been doing anything, China has,” Downer said. “The Chinese will work in their way, behind the scenes, but we will continue to urge all countries which have the capacity to influence the regime to do so and to reinforce the efforts of Professor Gambari.”
Other nations that can influence Myanmar include India and Asean members, said Katsumata. However, both India and Asean want to maintain good relations with Myanmar to counter China’s influence in the region, he said.
Gambari, who expects to visit Myanmar before the end of the year, will also go to Myanmar’s other neighbours, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, starting Thursday. Gambari said he had a “very frank, very constructive” meeting with Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein at the Asean summit in Singapore this week.
Meanwhile, a UN General Assembly panel has passed a resolution strongly condemning “the use of violence against peaceful protesters” and expressing “grave concern” at the violation of human rights and freedom in Myanmar.
The committee also passed a resolution slamming Iran and North Korea for rights “abuses” despite objection by several developing nations, including India, which questioned singling them out for criticism.
India voted against resolutions, supported by overwhelming number of western countries, on Myanmar and Iran and abstained on the one criticizing North Korea’s human rights record.
Several delegations also protested that the texts represented an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of member countries, and were politically motivated, with no bearing on or real interest in human rights.
Explaining India’s vote on the resolution criticizing Myanmar’s human rights record, its delegate Kunwar Sarvraj Singh stressed the need to promote human rights through dialogue, consultations and cooperation, saying this approach has a better chance of leading to “genuine” improvement.
Myanmar’s envoy to the UN, Kyaw Tint Swe, dismissed the vote, saying his country would reject the resolution “and we will not be bound by it”.
Gambari said “engagement” is the best option to convince Myanmar to change because sanctions haven’t worked.
Myanmar has said it will work with the UN now, and “we will test it to the limit,” Gambari said.
“Countries that support the UN will have to show their support in concrete terms.” That support may not be forthcoming. Asean, of which Myanmar is a member, on Tuesday signed a watered-down charter that doesn’t explicitly mention penalties for violating human rights.
The Eminent Persons Group that framed the document had asked for the group to expel errant members.
“Asean has special responsibility when it comes to the situation in Burma,” US trade representative Susan Schwab said on 19 November in Singapore. “The credibility and reputation of Asean as an organization has been called into question because of the situation in Burma. It can’t just be business as usual.”
The US Senate last week unanimously adopted a resolution urging Asean to suspend Myanmar from its group, following an earlier move to impose sanctions and travel restrictions on the junta’s leadership.
Asean includes Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. It has a combined population of 570 million and gross domestic product of about $1 trillion (about Rs39 trillion).Bloomberg
Bloomberg’s Shamim Adam, Liza Lin, Jean Chua, and Arijit Ghosh in Singapore, and PTI contributed to this story.