IN OTHER WORDS: Burma’s cage

The UN special envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, met over the weekend with the chief of Burma’s ruling junta, General Than Shwe, and then with Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. He was supposed to be delivering a tough message to one of the world’s most brutal dictators, and demonstrating solidarity with a woman who has been incarcerated for 10 of the past 17 years.

Instead, he was played for a pawn in the junta’s game. The regime’s aim in hosting Gambari was transparent. Having been placed on the agenda of the UN Security Council because of its record of violent repression, forced labour, atrocities against ethnic minorities, and narco-trafficking, the junta faces the prospect of a council resolution demanding substantive changes. The regime is seeking to substitute the trappings of diplomatic dialogue for any meaningful reforms.

What is needed now is for the governments that placed Burma on the Security Council’s agenda to adopt a resolution instructing the junta to release all political prisoners, undertake national reconciliation leading to a genuine transition to democracy, and stop the ongoing ethnic cleansing of minorities. This wo-uld be the clearest sign that the UN takes seriously the obligation it adopted last year to protect civilian populations from their own ab-usive regimes.