- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

Burma’s isolation hit

NEW YORK — The U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma faulted Asian and Western nations on Friday for isolating the military regime instead of engaging it to bring about reforms.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said it was an error to deny Burma leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year, a censure he noted that also reduces the government’s accountability to the international community.

He said Asian leaders and the West are “too erratic” in their dealings with Burma and must find a more consistent and coordinated approach to engage the regime than complaining about the confinement of Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy.

“I don’t think there is much of a strategy there,” said Mr. Pinheiro, a Brazilian, denouncing “megaphone diplomacy.”

He said he is increasingly outspoken because his mandate is ending in the spring, and “in my last moments, I am saying all the things I feel I must.”

Burma’s military junta fails most litmus tests concerning human rights, refusing to brook political parties, imprisoning more than 1,000 dissidents and taking a harder line toward civil and political liberties.

The regime, in power since 1962, is considering withdrawing from the International Labor Organization.

A recent U.N. report found that the Rangoon government had taken virtually no steps to enact its own seven-point road map to build democracy — a disappointment Mr. Pinheiro highlighted in his remarks to the General Assembly human rights committee last week.

U.N. relief organizations face considerable problems, “with authorities imposing onerous fees, bureaucratic hurdles, and extensive restrictions on both travel to projects sites and the import of supplies and equipment,” said an Oct. 21 report on Burma from the Secretariat. The U.N. Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria withdrew from Burma recently, taking with it nearly $100 million in pledged assistance.

U.N. relations also have deteriorated with Rangoon’s refusal to permit Mr. Pinheiro or Razali Ismail of Malaysia, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy to Burma, to visit the country since 2003.

International pressure on Burma has built in recent months, with Mr. Annan and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice taking the unusual steps of criticizing the regime in quasi-public forums.

ASEAN has established an interparliamentary caucus to bring democracy to Burma.

The group is trying to put Burma on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council, a move opposed by China and Japan.

Saddam liked Paris

Saddam Hussein preferred to do business with friends, last week’s report from the Volcker panel proved, and the fastest way to get into the old regime’s good graces was the old-fashioned way of a kickback or a political favor.

Russia and France, the two Security Council members that conveyed Baghdad’s concerns during discussions on the 1996-2003 Iraq oil-for-food program, were well-rewarded.

Although much has been made of Russian firms’ links to the regime, French companies did not fare badly. Iraq’s preference for French customers was so marked, the report found, that companies from other countries pretended to be French, or set up shell companies in France to try to win contracts. The investigation into the program was led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker.

Iraq’s bias toward French partners “led certain companies to pass themselves off [to the Iraqi oil ministry] as being French-based,” the report said.

The deception inspired a 1998 memo from Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan warning officials in Baghdad to ensure that U.S. and British oil firms weren’t seeking contracts by masquerading as French companies.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.



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