A window of opportunity

ASIA INTERVIEW

Will you be attending the Asean Summit? If so, what is the purpose of your visit?

I was invited by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who spoke to the UN Secretary-General about the value of having someone come over to brief Asean leaders on the situation in Myanmar. I will be briefing them, but I also hope to benefit from their perspectives and any advice they may wish to facilitate the work of the good-offices mission of the Secretary-General.

I feel very strongly that the more support that the good offices of the Secretary-General get, the better.

If some members are closest to the event or issue such as Asean, and China plus India which share a common boundary with Myanmar, and in addition other members attending the summit – Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand – their blessing and advice will be extremely helpful to my mission.

During this trip, I hope to complete my round of consultations with Asean members. I have already been to several of these countries. It is important to continue consultations with others in the group, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar itself.

What did you accomplish from your recent regional trip?

It was part of the consultations to obtain consensus of the international community, especially neighbouring countries, on Myanmar. My last round took me to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, India and Japan.

I obtained very strong support from them for my mission, so strong that they have refrained from appointing a special envoy of their own, particularly Asean, because they feel that it is important to concentrate all efforts of the UN.

When do you plan to return to Myanmar?

I have been invited by the new Myanmar Prime Minister Lieutenant-General Thein Sein. He has told me in his own words “to come back again, and again and again”. And I intend to honour that invitation.

But the precise dates are still subject to negotiations between the Myanmar government and myself. I have just come back, so it’s better for me to catch my breath to ponder further on the issues. Certainly, I hope to be back again before the end of the year.

How would you respond to criticism from the US and other Western countries that there is no tangible evidence of progress?

My attitude is that there is a lot of work to be done. The situation in Myanmar has been going on for decades. We should recognise that, but we should demand that further steps be taken. For example, as I speak, there are still political prisoners who we feel should be released, including Aung Sun Suu Kyi.

Clearly, you cannot have her as a partner in the dialogue but have her under house arrest. Similarly, some detained persons who were recently detained. The Constitution should be more inclusive.

To me, it is not whether the glass is half-full or half-empty, whether you are optimistic or pessimistic. We should look at the facts happening on the ground.

When something happens that could take the country forward, we should acknowledge it and also point to those things that are still meant to be done.

There is a window of opportunity. For the first time, Aung Sun Suu Kyi was allowed to speak through me. She has met with the minister in charge of relations with her twice. She has spoken and characterised those meetings as promising. She has met with the executive committee members of her party. There has been some release of detained persons, including political prisoners. The UN Special Rapporteur for Human rights in Myanmar is just concluding his visit.

So, I prefer to see what are the steps that are potentially positive and what are the things that still need to be done. I think we are moving in the direction of more steps than less. I am a pragmatist. I just want to get on with the job and see where it takes us.

But primarily, the solution to the problems of Myanmar lies with the government and people of the country with the support of Asean, the UN and international community.

What still needs to be done? All political prisoners should be released, the Constitution should be all-inclusive, and there should be national reconciliation. I think the issue of addressing the root causes of discontent by the people, of social and economic nature.

Do continuing reports of arrests in the country by the military affect your mission?

They are disappointing and certainly go contrary to the spirit of cooperation with the United Nations. They had indicated that they would make undertakings to prevent future arrests. So the latest arrests can only undermine that confidence that we are trying to build. I don’t want to speculate on why the arrests are going on. I don’t know for sure, but there might be elements within the Myanmar government that are pursuing hardline policies as against those who want to put those events of the past behind and move in the direction of cooperation and openness with the international community.

False hopes have been raised on Myanmar before. What gives you grounds for optimism for a lasting solution?

I would say four things. One, inside the country, there is a feeling expressed in many ways that the status quo is both unsustainable and undesirable and the government cannot continue to ignore the aspirations of the people.

Second is the attitude of neighbouring countries like Asean, and China and India, which have given public support to the good offices of the Secretary-General. They have spoken in ways they have never spoken before. No country can exist in isolation. It has to take into account the views of neighbouring countries.

Thirdly,the response of the General Assembly and the international community. They are watching developments in Myanmar and will continue to watch. The satellite is on.

There is a final dimension and this involves the Burmese diaspora. They are all over the world, in Europe, the US, Australia and Thailand, that are urging the host countries to continue to take active interest. That is why I believe this time there is hope but we have to be completely vigilant.

It is not a point of no return yet in Myanmar but there is hope. Aung Sun Suu Kyi herself has said publicly, once through me, and the other after meeting her party, that the signs are promising and it appears to her that the regime seems to be more seriously committed to dialogue and to move the situation forward. She is more positive today about the situation than she ever was before. I want you to take her word for it.

Who seems more interested in national reconciliation – Ms Aung Sun Suu Kyi or the junta?

In their own ways, both seem to be interested in finding a solution. That is why dialogue is important. We have to find out through dialogue, which is time-bound, and need to produce tangible results. It is only then can we test the sincerity of the commitment to national reconciliation. It is clear that there will be no lasting peace unless there is national reconciliation that is all-inclusive.

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