UNSG Ban in Burma: junta ‘to allow foreign aid workers’

Original post:
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has arrived in Burma and has toured the devastated Irrawaddy Delta in a helicopter. He will meet Senior General Than Shwe, the leader of the military junta.

The former Australian Foreign Minister under ex-PM John Howard, Mr Alexander Downer, has just been on the BBC World Service. He described a prior meeting of his with Sen. Gen. Than as “polite” but warned that Mr Ban will get a “polite but cold” reaction from the junta.

Still, the recent agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian nations is a good step forward in terms of the relief effort. More can still be done, but it’s a first step.

Let’s see what Mr Ban accomplishes.

(Side note: foreign journalists, normally banned from Burma, have been let in if they are part of the UN’s press corps. Will be interesting to see how the junta handles them.)

Update (0705 UTC May 23): The BBC is reporting that following talks between Mr Ban and Gen Than Shwe in the junta capital Nay Pyi Taw, Burma will allow in all foreign aid workers now. Whether there will still be restrictions on them is yet to be seen.


BBC WHYS question: How should the world react to the trouble in Tibet?

How should the world react to the trouble in Tibet ? « BBC World Have Your Say

An Olympic boycott appears out of the question. Most of the world, including the United States, recognises Tibet to be a part of China, so should it be dismissed as an internal problem that China should handle on its own? That is Russia’s view; at odds with the U.S.’ position that China should hold talks with the Dalai Lama and to, as Secretary of State Dr Condoleeza Rice put it, “respect the fundamental and universally recognised right of … citizens to peacefully express their … views”.

Pressure from the IOC might work; the Games were awarded to China in the hope that it would make China improve its human rights record. But what can the IOC really do? Since a boycott has been ruled out, it would seem the only thing the IOC could do would be to threaten to not let China host another Games ever, but I suspect that would only cause China and its allies to withdraw from the IOC.

United Nations action seems, at first glance, the most sensible thing to do, until you remember that China is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council. (Side note: The UN police force in Kosovo suffered a major casualty today, as a Ukrainian officer died from injuries sustained fighting Serb nationalists in Mitrovica.) No resolution mandating UN force will ever get passed.

The best hope would be for the violence to die down on its own, and I fear that won’t happen any time soon.

Kosovo to declare independence today

Distribution of ethnic Albanians outside Kosovo (image courtesy BBC News)
(Image: BBC News)

The United Nations-administered province of Serbia, Kosovo, is all set to make a unilateral declaration of independence later today. The announcement is expected in the evening local time, around 1400 or 1500 GMT. People with Albanian and American flags have already taken to the streets in celebration ahead of today.

The move, backed by the U.S. and some EU states, is opposed, obviously, by Serbia, and its main ally Russia. Serbia and Russia have both said they won’t react militarily, but does anyone really believe them? The UK has even gone as far as to put 600 men on standby in case military intervention is needed.

The Ahtisaari plan, rejected by Belgrade and Moscow (and hence never approved at the UN), seemed to be the right way forward. Since that was rejected then Serbia and Russia will just have to deal with unilateral independence.

Happy Kosovar Independence Day.

Kenya deadlock broken

The BBC reports that former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has secured a breakthrough in mediation efforts between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga in Kenya. The BBC’s Nairobi correspondent, Adam Mynott, says that an opposition spokesman has suggested a joint interim government has been reached between the two sides.

This might just finally bring an end to all the killing in Kenya. The death toll is probably in its thousands, with tens of thousands more displaced. Let’s hope this works out.

France evacuates further 363 to Paris as fighting intensifies

The French government has taken further steps to evacuate foreign civilians from N’Djamena, Chad, as fighting there between government forces and Khartoum-backed rebels intensifies. According to the BBC, thousands of people have fled N’Djamena.

The government claims to have defeated the rebels, who say they have withdrawn only to give civilians an opportunity to leave. Reuters reports that thousands of people have fled across the border to Cameroon at N’Djamena and Kousseri.
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