(by Benny Avni, NYSun.com) UNITED NATIONS – As Burma moves to extend the imprisonment of its most famous democracy advocate, Secretary-General Ban is coming under increasing criticism for his failure to confront the regime on political issues.
President Bush and other world leaders yesterday strongly criticized the Burmese military junta’s decision to lengthen the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi to a sixth year, even as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s American attorney insisted that the extension violates Burmese law. Mr. Ban, returning to New York after a visit to Burma, expressed regret over the junta’s decision.
But the secretary-general defended his decision, in a rare meeting with the country’s military strongman on Friday, to sidestep political issues, including Ms. Suu Kyi’s situation, in favor of concentrating on the immediate needs of the victims of Cyclone Nargis. Mr. Ban said he secured promises from Senior General Than Shwe to allow humanitarian aid workers unfettered access to the country’s hardest-hit areas.
Five days after Mr. Ban made public the general’s pledge, however, just 20 aid workers have been allowed into the remote areas hardest-hit by the May 2 storm, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, John Holmes, said yesterday in a briefing to reporters. Of 2.4 million people in need of help, outside workers have reached 1 million, he added. Still, the junta has managed to conduct a second round of voting on its constitutional referendum around Rangoon and in the Irrawaddy Delta, two hard-hit areas.
A day after General Shwe met with Mr. Ban, the junta announced that Ms. Suu Kyi’s house arrest would be extended for an additional year. The opposition leader’s American attorney, Jared Genser, said the extension violates the country’s state protection law, enacted in 1975, which allows one-year extensions of a house arrest for up to five years. Ms. Suu Kyi was first detained under her current house arrest in May 2003, and the final extension expired Saturday.
In the meeting with General Shwe, “I was clearly aware of when this house arrest would expire, and I was concerned whether this house arrest would be extended,” Mr. Ban told reporters. But in his meetings with the junta leaders, “I told them that this is a time we should not talk about political issues, but we must talk about humanitarian issues,” he said, adding that his personal adviser on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, would now resume “the political dialogue” with the junta.
The relations Mr. Ban has established with the junta leaders are “an asset” to the United Nations, the British ambassador to the United Nations, John Sawers, said. However, he added, “you have to bear in mind that the reason that the Burmese authorities were so unresponsive to the needs of their people is because it’s an undemocratic regime; there is a link between the two.”
“You have to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Mr. Genser said. Separating the humanitarian and political dimensions only serves as a “license to the generals to consolidate their power,” he said.
The lawyer said he doubted that General Shwe would meet with Mr. Ban again.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. Read the Background on “The Government of Burma” below. Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?
2. a) Who is Ban Ki-moon?
b) For what reason did Mr. Ban meet with Burma’s ruling general Than Shwe?
3. What was the result of Secretary Ban’s meeting with General Shwe?
4. What is the problem with General Shwe’s promises, according to the U.N.’s John Holmes?
5. What did the junta do about Mrs. Suu Kyi’s case after General Shwe met with Secretary-General Ban?
6. Why didn’t Secretary-General Ban discuss Mrs. Suu Kyi’s situation with General Shwe?
7. What did Mrs. Suu Kyi’s lawyer say will be the result of Secretary-General Ban’s decision only discuss humanitarian aid with General Shwe?
PLEASE NOTE: “Answers by Email” has ended for the summer.
-Burma is ruled by a military junta. A junta is a government, especially a military one, that has taken power in a country by force and not by election.
-In 1989, Burma’s military junta changed the name of the country to “Union of Myanmar.” This controversial name change was not recognized by the opposition groups and many English-speaking nations.
THE GOVERNMENT OF BURMA:
Britain conquered Burma over a period of 62 years (1824-1886) and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony; independence from the Commonwealth was attained in 1948. The military has ruled since 1962, when the army overthrew an elected government that had been buffeted by an economic crisis and a raft of ethnic insurgencies. During the next 26 years, General Ne Win’s military rule helped impoverish what had been one of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest countries.
The present junta, led by General Than Shwe, dramatically asserted its power in 1988, when the army opened fire on peaceful, student-led, pro-democracy protesters, killing an estimated 3,000 people.
Despite multiparty legislative elections in 1990 that resulted in the main opposition party – the National League for Democracy (NLD) – winning a landslide victory, the ruling junta refused to hand over power. NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient AUNG SAN SUU KYI, has been under house arrest on and off since 1989, the latest since 2003, where she remains virtually incommunicado. In February 2006, the junta extended her detention for another year. Her supporters, as well as all those who promote democracy and improved human rights, are routinely harassed or jailed. In August 2007, Burmese citizens angry over the government’s decision to double the price of fuel, began staging peaceful protests against the high prices. Buddhist monks were also involved and have spearheaded the largest challenge to the military junta since the failed uprising in 1988. (information taken from the CIA World FactBook and FreedomHouse.org)
For a map of Burma, go to worldatlas.com.
For general information on Burma, go to the CIA World FactBook at cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html.