irrawaddy.org– According to reports from Burma, Ban met with Than Shwe again on Saturday, only to have his request for a chance to speak with Suu Kyi shot down a second time. “I pressed as hard as I could,” Ban told reporters after the meeting. “I had hoped that he would agree to my request, but it is regrettable that he did not,” he said, adding that he was “deeply disappointed” with the situation. Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that the regime’s refusal to allow a meeting between Ban and Suu Kyi sent the signal that Than Shwe has no interest in genuine political reform or national reconciliation.
Before his trip, Ban said that he hoped to persuade the junta to meet three key demands: the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners; the resumption of dialogue between the junta and opposition as a necessary part of a national reconciliation process; and the creation of conditions conducive to credible elections in 2010. A spokeswoman for Ban said that the UN chief had asked to meet with all of the major stakeholders in Burmese politics, including Suu Kyi. His failure to meet with Suu Kyi, who has been an international icon of democracy for more than two decades, underscored the futility of years of diplomatic efforts aimed at breaking the generals’ repressive grip on power.
“Mr Ban Ki-moon is leaving Burma empty-handed, without even meeting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, much less achieving his goal of securing the release all political prisoners and getting the regime to engage in a dialogue with the opposition,” said Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament. The outcome of this visit, he said, only spelled out the hopelessness of the situation. “We do not believe in hopeful diplomacy, and we are not hopeful of political change in our country,” he said.
For the regime, the visit was just another opportunity to showcase its “road map” to a form of democracy more to its liking—one that guarantees the military a key political role and the right to resume full control if it sees fit. Burma’s state media reported on Saturday that the junta had acceded to Ban’s request to meet with other political stakeholders by arranging a meeting with representatives of 10 registered political parties, including the NLD, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and the pro-junta National Unity Party, in Naypyidaw on Friday afternoon.
However, NLD sources said that the selection of representatives was made by the regime, not by the parties themselves or by UN officials. They also said that the NLD was treated as one of the less important parties, despite being the overwhelming victors of Burma’s last elections in 1990. Others also noted that Ban was not allowed to meet with the NLD representatives separately.
“When UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Burma in January, he was allowed to hold a separate meeting with NLD leaders, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” said a senior NLD member, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But this time, the junta did not even allow Ban to meet the NLD members except as part of a group with the other parties.”
Despite all the setbacks, not everyone agreed that the visit was a complete failure. “This is not the end of diplomatic efforts to bring about changes in Burma,” said Chan Tun, a former Burmese ambassador to China and North Korea. “The next step is talks with China and Russia about the Burma issue.”
Ban’s next move will be to report to the UN Security Council about his visit, giving him an opportunity to push for more active international engagement to address Burma’s political impasse. “The junta’s reaction to Ban’s trip will send a strong message to the UN Security Council,” said Chan Tun. “They have to go the next step.”
Meanwhile, Ban’s visit also highlighted a less publicized—and potentially more volatile—issue: the status of Burma’s armed ceasefire groups. On Friday, Ban met with representatives from some ethnic ceasefire groups, according reports in the state-run media. But notably absent were representatives of the United Wa State Army, the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, or Kokang Army. These three groups have so far refused to meet the junta’s demands to disband and form themselves into border security forces under Burmese military command. Observers say that any effort to force them to fall in line with the regime’s plans could reignite hostilities and lead to a resumption of armed conflict.