|UN Huffs and Puffs, but Where’s the Action?|
1 June, 2006
At the same time as Gambari’s visit and his meeting with Suu Kyi were attracting international media headlines, thousands of ethnic Karen were being battered by the Burmese army in eastern Burma. Villages have been locked down, homes burnt, crops destroyed and more than 2,000 displaced people have had to make the arduous hike to the Thai-Burmese border to find shelter and respite from the attacks.
The last man sent by the UN to Burma, special envoy Razali Ismail, made dozens of trips there and achieved nothing. Burma still has political prisoners, Aung San Suu Kyi is still under arrest, forced labor is still practiced, illicit drugs are being produced and trafficked, health care is virtually non-existent and HIV rates continue to spiral. The UN’s record of success in Burma is miserable, and this isn’t the first time a UN visit to Burma has knocked the military onslaught on the Karen off the front pages.
In May, 2002, for instance, Razali visited Burma shortly after a Burmese army attack in Dooplaya District, Karen State, in which 12 people, including six children, died.
The independent Karen Human Rights Group estimated at the time that as many as 10,000 villagers were forced from their homes by the army, 1,000 of them fleeing to Thailand. Yet Razali’s visit dominated the news from Burma.
The concern of many Burmese and ethnic opposition groups is that in its attempts to look as if it is getting serious about Burma, the world body ends up doing nothing. Seventeen years of UN ineffectiveness have not, however, caused the Burmese people to lose their hope that some relief from their oppressors might yet emerge.
Unfortunately, all the talk in the world won’t achieve anything while big profits are to be made from Burma’s natural resources. China, Russia and India are three major players with the power to influence the regime and encourage a loosening of its iron grip, but all three have recently signed highly lucrative energy deals with Burma.
Meanwhile, the UN continues to huff and to puff about what it might or might not do in Burma. Last month, the UN human rights envoy for Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, urged the Burmese regime to “urgently” stop military operations against civilians in northern and eastern Karen State. The military operations not only continued but increased in scale. Burma is a military state at war with its own people, and the generals are determined to have all Burmese citizens under its control. So it’s hardly surprising that following Gambari’s meeting with the generals the Karen people are bracing themselves for further attacks and making for the safety of the Thai border.
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