Friday, September 28, 2007

UN needs to give Myanmar an ultimatum

The Jakarta Post
October 4, 2007

By Thang D. Nguyen

JAKARTA—As the crisis in Myanmar worsens, protesters in neighboring Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia are increasing their calls for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to play a more proactive role in overcoming the situation.

But really, what else can ASEAN do about Myanmar?

ASEAN - whose members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - has tried to work with Myanmar in a constructive way to bring democracy into the country.

In 2003, foreign ministers from ASEAN issued a statement urging Myanmar's military rulers to free Nobel Laureate and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy secured a landslide, but unrecognized, victory in a 1990 election.

Last year, an ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus was established, with the primary aims of pushing democracy in Myanmar and helping free Ms. Suu Kyi.

Let's not forget that ASEAN has only recently moved away from its founding principle of non-interference - i.e. members will not get involved in issues considered to be the internal affairs of other members.

To ASEAN's credit, the pressure it exerted in the past led to Myanmar giving up its scheduled turn as the chair of the association last year (the Philippines took the position, as it was next in line).

After consulting other members, Singapore, which assumed the chairmanship of ASEAN in July, called on the organization to make a statement on the crisis in Myanmar.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said ASEAN cannot "credibly remain silent or uninvolved in this matter".

But, let's face it, a statement from ASEAN may be helpful, but it won't be a critical force. In other words, the Myanmarese junta is really beyond the reach of ASEAN at this point.

Do not forget, this is the same government that defied calls from the U.S., the European Union, ASEAN itself and the entire international community to free Aung San Suu Kyi and allow democracy to take place.

The proof is that despite U.S. sanctions that President George W. Bush announced in New York during the United Nations (UN) General Assembly last week, the Myanmarese junta went ahead with its crackdown on Buddhist monks and civilian protesters, arresting more than 100 and killing at least 17.

India and China - two neighboring countries outside ASEAN that have influence on Myanmar - have reacted disappointingly to the situation. While they both expressed concern about the crisis, they clearly said it falls into the category of Myanmar's internal affairs.

As a close trading partner and corridor to the Indian Ocean, Myanmar must be stable in China's eyes.

However, a Beijing-backed crackdown on the monks over their protests would hurt China's image, especially as it prepares to host the Olympics next year.

As for India, Myanmar is its source of oil, so it will remain diplomatic.

With news from Myanmar overwhelming the mood at the General Assembly, the UN Security Council held an urgent meeting and agreed to send the UN Secretary-General's special envoy, Ibraham Gambari, to Myanmar to deal with the junta.

However, Gambari's presence is not strong enough for the junta.

He handed over a message from the UN urging the junta to stop its crackdown on the monks and civilian protesters.

But this regime has shown, and continues to show, defiance of instructions, no matter how strong they are or who they are from.

After all, the junta has been living with warnings, sanctions and other forms of pressure from the international community for the past 19 years.

So as sad as it may be, another visit from another envoy with another message from the UN is nothing new for the junta.

Therefore, if the crisis in Myanmar is to be resolved, the UN needs to gather its will, consensus and resources to send an ultimatum to the junta.

The ultimatum is simply this: If the junta does not stop its crackdown, the UN will move its troops into Myanmar!

The junta is smart enough to know that its military resources do not outnumber those of the UN, should it decide to take this path.

And if this scenario materializes, the people of Myanmar will side with - you guessed it - the UN troops, adding more force to this democratic revolution.

This is an opportunity for the international community to bring peace and democracy to Myanmar once and for all. And if the world misses this opportunity, Burma - as Myanmar it is affectionately known - will never be free.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist. More of his articles can be found at


Blogger Hasibul Haque said...

Indeed, here is a chance for the permanent members of UN security council - to show that they can deliver.
Although I doubt China will agree to any substantive ultimatum to Burma.

The regime in Burma only knows force.
It will capitulate only if it is faced with credible and imminent threat of force.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Thang D. Nguyen said...

Thank you, Hasibul, for your comment. I agree with you that China is unlikely to agree to an ultimatum to Burma.

Unless the US invades Burma, which is most unlikely, and the UN does not do what I suggest, no one else can save that nation!

8:26 PM  
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12:15 AM  
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7:57 PM  
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