Myanmar: Persistence Is The Only Progress

2002

David Scott Mathieson

The ninth trip to Yangon in mid November by United Nations Special Envoy Tan Sri Razali Ismail has again failed to produce the long-awaited breakthrough in dialogue between the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and the National League for Democracy (NLD). In 2 years of mediation the veteran Malaysian diplomat has made laudable progress in bridging the deep divide between the two sides. Yet his good work seems to have stalled. Razali’s five day visit failed to achieve any discernable strategy for reform and dialogue from the government.

Tan Sri Razali had a meeting of only fifteen minutes with the three top generals of the ruling junta - a development which reports from Yangon claim are unusual. During his meeting, the envoy suggested that the government reconvene the stalled National Convention in order to write a new constitution, this time with genuine input from a range of delegates. Razali also cancelled a trip to the Shan State capital of Taunggyi where he was scheduled to meet opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Frustrated by the lack of evident progress, Razali told a Malaysian paper on the eve of his visit that he was considering quitting his post. 'If it goes on and on, I may decide to step down. I am hoping to get the momentum moving again and I want to understand why it has slowed down.' He restated his frustration concerning the lack of Myanmar government commitment to journalists at the end of the visit, but upon his return to Malaysia vowed to maintain his role.

Razali did meet members of the opposition Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) to talk about the economy and the progress of the talks. There have been other positive signs emerging from this process. While the government has stopped the release of political prisoners, they have permitted the NLD to re-open some sixty offices around the country and allowed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi conditional travel to meet supporters. In October the government also allowed the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to open a liaison office in Yangon. The economy has continued to flounder in the absence of comprehensive government reform and only a trickle of aid, mostly from Japan and Australia, has been resumed.

Despite the optimism of early 2002 and the promise which Razali generated, the generals still appear reticent to take the next crucial step of establishing a dialogue for power sharing. The envoy’s next visit will decide the fate of externally-mediated reform in Myanmar.

WATCHPOINT: Will Tan Sri Razali maintain his job as UN Special Envoy to Myanmar and succeed in facilitating a dialogue between the government and opposition that will produce real outcomes for the people of Myanmar?

 

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