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Ban Convenes 'Friends of Burma' Meeting

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WASHINGTON—UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has convened a meeting of his 14-nation “Group of Friends” on Burma to discuss the current situation in the country and the Nov. 7 general election, which most of the Western world said lacks legitimacy.

The meeting on Monday evening in New York will be attended by several top diplomats, including some foreign ministers who are currently attending a General Assembly session at the UN headquarters. However, diplomatic sources said that the Burma meeting is unlikely to yield any results.

It is expected that the UN will issue a statement expressing its concern over the current situation in Burma and reiterate its call to the military junta to ensure that the election is free and fair. The meeting will be attended by Ban’s Chef de Cabinet Vijai Nambiar, who is temporarily overseeing the Good Offices of the Secretary-General on Burma.

Nine months after the secretary-general removed Special Envoy on Burma Ibrahim Gambari, Ban is yet to find a suitable replacement.              

Reflecting the disappointment of the pro-democracy Burmese people living in exile in the United States, Aung Din of the US Campaign for Burma said he does not expect anything from the UN Friends of Burma meeting. He said there will be division as usual among the 14 members of this group: Australia, Indonesia, Russia, the US, China, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, France, Norway, Thailand, India, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

“As long as Ban Ki-moon does not assert his moral authority and demand these nations exercise a collective and effective pressure on the regime, this meeting will be nothing more than another public relations show by the UN,” Aung Din told The Irrawaddy.

“The military regime in Burma does not care about their hollow voices. It cares only about actions, such as a UN Commission of Inquiry and a total rejection of its sham election,” he said. The US Campaign for Burma, along with several other organizations, has been pressing the world body for a Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity against the military junta, which has of late gained support from a host of Western countries including the US, Britain, Canada and France.

Meanwhile, US State Department Spokesman P J Crowley said that, at this point of time, it was not clear if this issue would be brought up for discussion at the Friends of Burma meeting at the UN on Monday. “I don't know if that's going to be brought up at this meeting or not. Let's wait and see,” he said, adding that that US plans to go through a “full range of issues” at the meeting.

Following his meeting with the leaders of the Association of Southest Asian Nations (Asean) in New York last week, US President Barack Obama renewed his call for the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The president believes in the importance of democratic reform and protection of human rights and renews his call on Burma to embark on a process of national reconciliation by releasing all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and by holding free and fair elections in November,” the White House said in a statement after the meeting.

Obama and the Asean leaders agreed on the importance of stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and highlighted their concerns about North Korea and Iran in the joint statement they issued, the White House said.

Last week in his meeting with Asean leaders, the UN secretary-general made a passionate appeal to help move Burma toward democracy. “I count on your support in encouraging Myanmar’s engagement with my Good Offices,” he said. “I am sorry that I have to specifically have one visional issue among 10 Asean countries, but this has become somewhat of a common concern among all issues.”

Noting that the UN and Asean share the aim of stability and development in Burma, the secretary-general said they all agree on the critical need for a democratic transition and national reconciliation, and for ensuring free, fair and inclusive elections.

“Failure to meet these expectations could undermine the credibility of the process, which, in turn, could reflect on Asean’s collective values and principles,” Ban said. “At the same time, we must also help Myanmar, so that they can address these humanitarian and development challenges.

“With Asean's support, I am committed to continue working with the government and people of Myanmar to enable a successful transition to civilian and democratic rule,” he added.

Earlier this month, Ban voiced his concern at the decision by Burma's election commission to dissolve 10 political parties, including Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

He called on the authorities to ensure that November’s elections are fully inclusive.

In August, Ban called on the military junta to release all remaining political prisoners so that they could fully participate in Burma’s November polls.


Nyan_win80"Once her [Aung San Suu Kyi's] sentence expires in November, and that notion is not disputed, it is our understanding that she will have served her sentence."
—Nyan Win, the foreign minister of Burma


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