UNITED NATIONS. SECRETARY GENERAL EXPLAINS HIS MYANMAR POLICY

 

SECRETARY GENERAL EXPLAINS HIS MYANMAR POLICY

15 JUNE 2008

Just after returning to New York from a visit to Myanmar, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "regretted" the decision by Myanmar’s Government to extend the detention of pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. "The sooner restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political figures are lifted, the sooner Myanmar will be able to move towards inclusive national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy and full respect for human rights," Mr. Ban added. The Secretary-General said he expected his Special Adviser Ibrahim Gambari to continue his efforts to foster political dialogue with both the Myanmar authorities and Nobel laureate Ms. Suu Kyi.

On his way back, Mr. Ban responded to questions on his approach towards the issues of Myanmar.

"My travels (to Myanmar) have been both sobering and encouraging. As you know, I began in Yangon. I went there to give the people of Myanmar a message of hope. I also visited China, the epicentre of an earthquake. My message to those people was that the world is with you and the world is ready to help you.

Flying over the Irrawaddy delta, I saw first hand the effects of Cyclone Nargis -- homes and villages destroyed, fields flooded with water, roads washed away and many lives lost. In China I visited the town of Ying Xu in the District of Chendgu, at the epicentre of the earthquake. I saw full mountainsides sheered away. Scarcely a building was left standing. The UN must work together with other Member States of the United Nations, to bring help and support to the people of both countries.

Few countries possess the capacity and resources to cope on its own with disasters of this magnitude. That is why I returned to Yangon for the international pledging conference. Under difficult conditions, the Government of Myanmar and the people have put together a functioning relief program, together with the international community. But much, much more needs to be done. We need to show unity of purpose and act with a real sense of urgency.

We have seen an outpouring of sympathy and support from the international community. In Thailand as you have witnessed yesterday, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej launched the Don Muang airport logistical base for help for Myanmar. I am very much grateful for this very generous and timely initiative of the Thai government.

I have been much encouraged by my recent discussions with Myanmar's authorities. Senior General Than Shwe agreed to allow all international aid workers to operate freely and without hindrance. We agreed to establish several forward logistics hubs and to open new air, sea and road links to the most affected areas.

The Myanmar government appears to be moving toward the right direction, to implement these accords. Some international aid workers and NGOs have already gone into the regions of the Irrawaddy delta, without any problem. I hope -- and believe -- that this marks a new spirit of cooperation and partnership between Myanmar and the international community as a whole. Prompt and full implementation will be the key. I will be fully, continuously and personally engaged. I look forward to returning, before too long, to see for myself the progress we have made.

The pledging conference is a good beginning. Apart from the tens of millions of dollars pledged by the Member States, it was an important exercise towards building greater trust, confidence and cooperation between the Government of Myanmar and the international community. I saw a strong unity of purpose and a sense of urgency at the meeting. They also expect the Government to act in the spirit of our new agreement.

There was unanimous agreement on the need to scale up urgently and very significantly the current relief efforts, to ensure that all those in desperate need are reached quickly and with adequate life-saving relief supplies, and that an effective flow of these supplies is maintained for as long as is necessary.

We have, here, a chance for a new beginning. Let us make the most of it."

Q: I would like to know how long you are going to give the generals the benefit of the doubt here. I hear of urgency, I have been hearing about this for 23, 24 days. How long before...what kind of tests do you put to the generals as to whether or not they really are genuine here, because we have heard so much over the past months and years?

SG: Now the important thing is that we have an agreement between myself and Senior General Than Shwe. We have seen that the Myanmar Government is moving fast to implement their commitment. My sincere hope is that they will honour their commitment - that we have to see. What they asked us is that all the aid workers and NGOs, even previously unregistered NGOs, they should identify their purpose; that their purpose of staying and activities are genuinely humanitarian. As long as your work is based on genuine humanitarian grounds, I am sure that they will take the necessary measures to facilitate your activities.

Q: Sir, there have been numerous United Nations envoys sent to Myanmar to open a dialogue with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Government. Her name has been noticeably absent as well as the release of other political prisoners in Myanmar. Has the United Nations position changed on this and if so, why? And can you kindly let us know how there can be a credible relief effort without discussing politics within Myanmar given the abuses there recorded at the United Nations General Assembly?

SG: I made it quite clear that the United Nations position vis-a-vis the democratization process of Myanmar remains unchanged. I made it clear again that the mandate given by the General Assembly for the good offices will continue and should be deepened and broadened. I am going to continue to have Mr. Gambari, my Special Envoy, to continue his work as my Special Envoy to help facilitate the democratization process of Myanmar. I hope the Myanmar authorities will keep their commitment to the seven-point democratization process and I'll be personally, continuously engaged. This time as I made it clear, my mission is for humanitarian purposes. Considering the magnitude of this disaster and the loss of life, catastrophic damages to property, I think the international community as a whole have agreed with and understood my position. This time, I have focused on humanitarian grounds but in the near future I will continue my work to address all these issues.

Q: A lot of hopes and expectations on the pledging conference. What do we know now about the generals' promises of access that we didn't know earlier? Did they give any details on how they would facilitate this free access for the ASEAN relief efforts? Also, how much new money was pledged?

SG: The international pledging conference for Myanmar today was very encouraging, and I think, successful in a sense not only in mobilizing the necessary resources to help the people of Myanmar in addressing this natural disaster, but also in establishing a sort of trust and confidence between the international community and the Myanmar Government. I hope the Myanmar Government will continue to honour the commitment reflecting the wishes of the international community. Of course the pledging conference should not be viewed in terms of amount of money pledged although this will continue - the United Nations is going to have a second flash appeal sometime in the month of June. At the same time, we should look at it in the longer term - how the international community can help the Myanmar people in addressing and rehabilitating and reconstructing their country. Now the question will be trust. I emphasize that establishing mutual trust between the Government of Myanmar and the international community as a whole will be crucially important. That is why they agreed to my proposal to allow all international aid workers to enter Myanmar and also to move freely without hindrance to the places where there are needy people.

Q: I think the Myanmar junta was implying that the relief phase of this disaster operation is over. Did they suggest that they go back on that and imply that there still has to be a lot more disaster relief work to be done?

SG: I made it clear that there should be a common assessment, a common understanding on how we need to see this situation and how we need to continue our relief and reconstruction, rehabilitation process. I made it clear again in my remarks, in my meeting with senior leadership that the relief phase may have to continue for at least six more months and we need to work in parallel with this relief phase to look at in the longer-term how to rehabilitate and reconstruct. We have, I think, a common understanding among the United Nations, ASEAN, and the Myanmar Government, as a basis for addressing these issues.

Q: So how much difference between the Myanmar Government and the international community is left still? Sir, how much difference on views on the situation and relief?

SG: My discussions with the Myanmar authorities at the international pledging conference, I believe, should have helped in bridging the gap of understanding, and positions and assessing the situation, between the Myanmar Government and the international community as a whole. This effort will have to continue. I don't think that we have completely agreed on everything. The Myanmar Government has been isolated for quite some time from the international community, unfortunately, and it may be necessary for us the United Nations and ASEAN particularly to try to engage and encourage the Myanmar Government to fully participate as a responsible member of ASEAN first of all, and as a responsible member of the international community. I hope that my visit, and again this meeting, will help, will make a very important turning point in our common efforts to engage Myanmar.

Q: Can you tell me what explanations did the Senior General give you for his government's reluctance to admit foreign aid workers?

SG: I am not in a position to explain to you in detail what I have discussed. But I made it quite clear in my presentation to the Senior General and other senior government officials that, unfortunately that since the beginning of Cyclone Nargis there has been a delayed issuance of visas and of allowing relief items, and delayed administrative procedures of allowing international aid workers into Myanmar which have caused some frustrations on the part of the international community, and that they should be more flexible. That is why they have agreed to be more flexible, very positively.

Q: What is the UN prepared to do if the Myanmar Government decides not to keep its word in the next few months? What is the UN prepared to do? Anything else?

SG: The most important thing will be implementation of the accord we have made. This accord was made not only between myself and the leadership of Myanmar, but with the international community as a whole through this international pledging conference. The Prime Minister, Thein Sein, made it quite clear that they will honour this commitment. Now we have established tripartite mechanisms to implement and to address this issue among the United Nations, ASEAN and the Myanmar Government. ASEAN has established a Task Force, led by Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan of ASEAN. We have all monitoring and implementing mechanisms established. I am confident that on the basis of this agreement today we will be able to carry on to help Myanmar's people and Government in overcoming this natural tragedy.