By failing to take quick and effective action in response to the extraordinary situation in Burma, the international community looks as if it will again stand by while violence erupts and the people of Burma are let down.


Despite some intensive diplomatic activity on Burma in New York, where world foreign ministers are gathered for the annual UN General Assembly, the international community has not convinced the one country with real influence in Burma, namely China, to join a process of political and economic transition aimed at genuine and lasting national reconciliation. Some countries have proposed additional sanctions against Burma, but sanctions do nothing to resolve the current stand-off, nor do they have any affect on the military regime because they are not applied universally.

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The international community should instead employ “preventive diplomacy” to defuse tensions immediately and to hasten better outcomes for the medium term, but that’s only the first action it should take. The UN should:

  • commend the Myanmar Government for its restraint, and urge it to continue to avoid use of force;
  • call on the Myanmar Government to sit down with leaders of the protest movement to address their reasonable demands;
  • call on the Myanmar Government immediately to accept a high-level UN team consisting of political, human rights and economic experts to assist in the handling of the current crisis;
  • call on the Myanmar Government, as a gesture of good faith, to restore any internet, email, and mobile phone communications they might have blocked, in return for the protesters returning peacefully to their homes and monasteries;
  • call on the Myanmar Government to reinstate immediately the International Red Cross’s right to visit political prisoners, including those apprehended in the recent protests;
  • suggest to the Myanmar Government that it invite its business and expert economic advisers to sit down with it to re-assess the fuel price policy.

If the Myanmar Government agrees to these proposals, the UN should then ask its members to suspend any new unilateral action against Myanmar. Looking to medium term issues, the resolution of which must come from the people of Myanmar themselves, the UN should formally offer assistance to the Myanmar Government to bring forward the referendum on the (albeit flawed) constitution, which many Burmese inside and outside the country now, pragmatically, see as “the only game in town”; and the UN should formally offer assistance to bring forward the national elections to be held under the constitution.

Overwhelmingly, the Burmese do not want the military to rule the country, they want repression to end and to enjoy the various freedoms that exist in most countries, including their near neighbours. But many are also prepared to recognise that the military has a role to play in running their country in the future, and that some measured political transition is needed.

Burmese people view the current situation as an opportunity to move forward. But for the Burmese people, a return to the status quo before the start of these protests is the worst outcome of all.

CRIKEY: Meanwhile…

Despite the media lockdown, internet shutdowns and poor mobile phone coverage, some images and news is making it out. The Times Online offers this selection of blog comments, while this blog — ko htike’s prosaic collection— has published a range of photos from the protest. Here is a brief selection:

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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