Reason for hope on Myanmar: Envoy


UN troubleshooter Gambari quietly confident his mission is achieving results.

MYANMAR has yet to reach the “point of no return” for national reconciliation. Instead, UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari believes some progress had been made since the junta launched a violent crackdown on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks and students nearly two months ago.

He noted that even detained opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – whom he was allowed to meet on both of his recent missions – was more optimistic about the situation today than ever before.

“I want you to take her word for it,” Professor Gambari told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview. “Aung San Suu Kyi has said that the signs are promising and it appears to her that the regime seems to be more seriously committed to dialogue and to move the situation forward.”

Giving an overview of developments in Myanmar on the eve of his departure to Singapore for the East Asia Summit, the seasoned troubleshooter and no stranger to helping resolve seemingly intractable problems in hot spots around the world, fielded questions in a calm and measured manner during the half-hour interview in his office on the 21st floor of the UN building.

Looking dapper in a black suit and bright red tie, the 63-year-old Nigerian diplomat belied a gruelling schedule since October. He has been shuttling between New York, Asian and European capitals and Myanmar, twice on some occasions.

Prof Gambari appeared quietly confident that his mission was getting results. He referred to the fact that Ms Suu Kyi had been allowed to speak through him and that he was given the opportunity to meet senior members of her party, the National League for Democracy.

The junta has also allowed UN human rights envoy Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro to conduct the first independent investigation into the September crackdown. His visit marked the first time in four years that the junta has granted him access to the country, which included a rare visit to the Insein prison.

Besides Ms Suu Kyi’s more positive outlook, Prof Gambari highlighted three other factors that indicated the reality on the ground was changing slowly. Prof Gambari, who met top junta officials during his visits, said there was a feeling in Myanmar that the status quo was both “unsustainable and undesirable”.

Second, he noted there had been a significant change in the attitude of Asean, China and India in dealing with Myanmar.

He also made clear that the UN General Assembly, which strongly condemned the military crackdown in which 15 people were killed and 3,000 detained, was closely watching developments in the country.

“They are watching…and will continue to watch,” he warned. “The satellite is on.”

There was a final dimension that involved the Burmese diaspora. He said that many of them, from the US to Europe and Australia, were urging their host countries to continue taking an active interest.

He made clear during the interview that his schedule was unlikely to change soon.

“My attitude is that there is a lot of work to be done,” said the Nigerian diplomat. “The situation in Myanmar has been going on for decades.

“To me, it is not whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.We should look at the facts happening on the ground.

“I think we are moving in the direction of more steps than less. I am a pragmatist. I just want to get on with the job and see where it takes us.”

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