Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ban Ki-moon Puts Pressure on Burma

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with the UN Press corps on Monday, 12 January to publicly press the repressive regime in Myanmar (nee Burma), to allow a larger number of foreign aid workers into the country to help with the huge humanitarian crisis created by Typhoon Nargis. In his opening remarks, read from a written text, Ban expressed "deep concern and immense frustration" at the refusal of the Rangoon regime to give visas to most foreign applicants, and warned that in the absence of swift action infectious diseases could "dwarf today's crisis."

"Over the weekend and throughout much of last week
I tried repeatedly to telephone senior General Than Swe," Ban said. "I wanted to ask his cooperation with the international community and offer the United Nations’ full support. I was not able to reach him and so delivered a letter earlier this morning through diplomatic channels. This was my second letter to him since Cyclone Nargis." After noting that the UN was making a "flash appeal" for $187 million in humanitarian aid for Myanmar, he took questions from the Press. It went this way:

Q: Mr. Secretary, the time is brief here. Will you ask the Security Council, or at least push, using the power of your office, for sanctions or any tougher measures on the Government, which appears to have no fear for any type of action in this current crisis?

SG: This is up to the members of the Security Council, to decide whether they will discuss or take up this matter. But at this time, what I am focusing on is to deliver humanitarian assistance as soon as possible. I would like to make this issue on purely humanitarian grounds.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, I would like to go back to that question. There are several members of the Security Council who are opposed to discussing humanitarian aid, and they don’t share the same view about the responsibility to protect civilians in case of a natural disaster. I wonder if you should really go to the Security Council and ask them to put their act together, because you need political pressure to make things work. This is not just politics.

SG: You already know the history of the Security Council’s debate on the situation in Myanmar, not necessarily on this humanitarian issue. My understanding is that there are some differences of opinion among the members of the Security Council on how to deal with the situation in Myanmar, whether it poses a threat to the region. Therefore, while I leave it to members of the Security Council to decide among themselves, as the Secretary-General, at this time, first and foremost, I am focusing on delivering humanitarian assistance to minimize as much as possible the unnecessary sacrifices on the part of the Myanmar people. And we are there to help recover and overcome these difficulties.

Q: While you are making every effort to deal with the Myanmar issue, what acts will it take to cooperate with the Chinese Government to help the people in the earthquake region?

SG: The Chinese Government, in the past and now, has been playing a very constructive role in all the questions relating to Myanmar, including the human rights situation. Now it is time – I have spoken to the Chinese authorities very closely, and they are very much fully on board, and they promised that they will do all in their power to help with United Nations humanitarian activities. And I appreciate that support and cooperation.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, based on your knowledge of the Myanmar leadership, through your constant discussion with Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari, your discussions with them, their ambassador, your general world-view, what do you think is going on here? Is this just an isolated and suspicious regime, that just wants to cling to power? Why aren’t they more open? What is their motivation? What is their thought process, in your view?

SG: This is one of the poor countries, and it has been isolated. This is kind of some self-imposed isolation, unfortunately. They seem to be not fully confident in coming out to the international community. At this time of humanitarian crisis, the magnitude of this humanitarian crisis, is not the time when you are talking about politics. We are now talking only about saving human lives and how to stem the spread of diseases and how to keep humanitarian assistance flowing, as we have experienced in the case of the tsunami, which happened in Indonesia. We need to have constructive cooperation all throughout the international community. That is why publicly on many occasions, I have stated clearly that I will ensure that this will be a purely humanitarian operation, and we will be able to have an opportunity to discuss political issues or human rights issues. Thank you very much."

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