Burma's defiant reception of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last
week underscored the military government's self-isolation from the international
community. At the same time, Burma's improved relations with another isolated
nation, North Korea have raised eyebrows. Burma's military rulers appear to be
digging in more than just their heels to maintain their grip on power.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon had high hopes that his visit to Burma would help win the release of
political prisoners and push the military government to allow democratic
elections next year.
Mr. Ban sought the release of more than 2,000
jailed for opposing military rule, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
But after twice meeting with Burma's ruling general Than Shwe, Mr. Ban
was told he would not even be allowed to meet with the democracy leader, let
alone see her released.
The U.N. chief expressed his frustration. He
said Burma's government failed to take an opportunity to show a new era of
"I am deeply disappointed that Senior General Than
Shwe refused my requests," Ban said. "Allowing a visit to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
would have been an important symbol of the government's willingness to embark on
the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the elections in
2010 are to be seen as credible."
Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for
Democracy party won Burma's last elections in 1990, but the military did not
allow the NLD to take power.
The Nobel Prize winner has been held under
house arrest for most of the time since.
Disregard for international
Rights activists say the government's dismissal of Mr.
Ban's request has demonstrated its disregard for the United Nations and the
Debbie Stothard is the coordinator for the
Alternative ASEAN network on Burma, a regional rights group.
do hope that this is a wake-up call that diplomacy is not going to work on this
brutal dictatorship," Stothard said. "It's pressure, and it's leverage. And,
it's time the regime was held accountable for their crimes. That's what they are
afraid of. They are afraid of economic sanctions and they are afraid of
prosecution for their crimes."
Rights groups say the U.N. should
investigate Burmese authorities for crimes against humanity and move for a
global arms embargo.
But China, a veto-wielding member of the U.N.
Security Council, rejects sanctions against Burma.
Relations with N.
While Burma's dealings with the international
community appear to be slipping, Burmese exiles and analysts say its relations
with North Korea are improving.
Burma cut off relations with Pyongyang
in 1983 after North Korean agents bombed a South Korean delegation visiting
Rangoon, killing more than 20 people.
But, the two countries have found
themselves drawn back together.
Bertil Lintner is a journalist and
author in Bangkok who has followed Burma for more than 20 years.
leaders of the two countries discovered that they had a similar mindset,"
Lintner said. "They were both worried about the outside world, about being
pariah states, about being condemned by the United Nations. They felt that they
were more or less alone in a hostile world. And so, it was not surprising that
they sort of began a much closer cooperation in a number of fields, including
military matters, way back in the late 1990s."
Lintner says the two
countries have become close allies.
He says Burma's military leaders are
particularly impressed with North Korea's nuclear diplomacy.
admire the North Koreans because the North Koreans, because they have a bomb,
have been able to stand up to the United States. And, Burma would like to be
able to do the same," he noted.
says it would take years for Burma to develop its own nuclear threat, even if
North Korea defied U.N. sanctions by helping.
But, North Korea does
appear to be helping Burma's military government prepare for survival.
Photos leaked by dissidents appear to show North Korean experts giving
advice on the construction of massive underground tunnels in Burma's capital,
In addition to meeting and storage rooms, the photos, dated a
few years ago, show underground parking spaces for tanks and armored personnel
Lintner says the tunnel network appears designed for the
military to protect itself from attack.