August 22, 2005


UN envoy makes inroads in Myanmar (Marwaan Macan-Markar, 8/23/05, Asia Times)

The surprise visit by former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas to Myanmar last week has turned the spotlight on the Southeast Asian statesman considered best qualified to bring political change to the military-ruled country.

Senior General Than Shwe, chairman of the Myanmar State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), met Alatas on Friday morning at the parliament building in Yangon. So far, neither has disclosed the details of their meetings.

A decision by Yangon's junta to permit Alatas to fly into Myanmar in his capacity as a special envoy of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is significant, especially when such accommodation included a meeting with Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win on Thursday when the envoy arrived at the start of his three-day visit. [...]

Yangon has over the past year been increasingly averse to engaging with the international community, given the pressure exerted on the junta from many quarters, including the UN, to loosen its iron grip on power. Annan has increased the tempo on the Myanmar generals to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from continued isolation and house arrest.

The SPDC is also facing economic heat from an unprecedented decision by members of the International Labor Organization to impose punitive sanctions on Myanmar for continued use of forced labor.

The Myanmar government will be more receptive to Alatas because of his stature in the region as an elder statesman, said Withaya Sucharithanarugse, an Indonesian expert at the Bangkok-based Institute of Asian Studies. "There is no one in Thailand or the Philippines to match him and I think Malaysia has antagonized the SPDC with criticism about lack of political reform."

Here's a case where kofi Annan could be useful--make a joint appearance with George Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard, Manmohan Singh, Junichiro Koizumi, and a few other democratic Asian leaders and demand that the junta liberalize or face concerted action.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 22, 2005 6:28 AM
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