Tag Archives: Ban Ki-moon

Ban’s visit a watershed moment


Political analysts and international journalists have criticized the visit of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Burma last week. Various observers have described it as ill-advised and fruitless. Some have remarked that Ban risked his reputation to achieve nothing.

What was striking about his visit was the level of negativity that accompanied it from the moment it was announced, not only among overseas pundits but also among people in Burma and political opponents of the military regime abroad.

Most speakers on Burmese radio programs and writers of commentary on news websites and blogs predicted that the generals would thumb their noses at the U.N. secretary-general irrespective of whether he was sitting in New York or in front of them. As expected, he made no discernible progress on any substantive issues and was unable to meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

Perhaps at no other time in the last two decades have people been so pessimistic about the role of the United Nations in pressing for political change in Burma. This is in stark contrast to a few years ago, when exiles and many in the country nursed ridiculously high hopes that the international community could somehow sweep in and clear things up if only enough important people would take an interest.

For this reason, Ban’s trip is a watershed moment. Thanks to him, most folks now understand that the United Nations isn’t going to appear magically and hold the regime to account for its multifarious wrongs.

But this needn’t give rise to the high level of cynicism about the U.N. failure to promote change in Burma. The current stasis is as much a result of domestic as it is international affairs, and everyone shares some responsibility for it, even if many people would prefer to just blame Ban and the body that he represents. Continue reading


The right to provoke


Over two weeks of rallies against rising prices in Burma have been met with familiar violence. In the former capital, Rangoon (Yangon), government-organized gangs consisting of plainclothes officials and hired thugs have set upon protestors with increasing speed and severity. Hundreds are now in illegal detention — few, if any, have been arrested and held in accordance with the law; the whereabouts of many are unknown.

Some protests have continued in places where authorities have been slower to respond. In the western port of Sittwe, a column of monks and novices marched across town and chanted slogans, prompting warnings to those elsewhere not to follow suit. In the far south, students took to the streets in a line of motorcycles.

In the delta, a man stood alone with a placard in front of a filling pump before a policeman came and ordered him on to the back of his bike. On the way to the station, he reportedly continued to wave the sign, making the officer look like a fellow conspirator rather than custodian, to the amusement and applause of passersby. [News on his release: DVB]

As security has been tightened, new forms of protest have been emerging. Posters and fliers have appeared here and there. One, cleverly designed and written like an announcement for a religious event, calls on people to stay inside their houses at three auspicious times during September and bang pots and pans to drive out evil spirits emanating from the new capital.

Given the depth of frustration felt about virtually all aspects of life in Burma, it is not surprising that some persons have taken the risk of expressing outwardly what everyone else is feeling inwardly. But what is perhaps surprising is how little these expressions have been heard abroad. Although world media reported on them for a few days and some governments have issued stern pronouncements, the United Nations and other important international bodies have remained circumspect at best.

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