UN Envoy Fails To Get Myanmar Sides Talking

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United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari was in Myanmar this week in an effort to bring about political reform. But he apparently failed to persuade the military leadership and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to talk to each other. And the military shows no sign of giving up power anytime soon.


A United Nations envoy was in Myanmar this week in an effort to bring about political reform there. But the envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, apparently failed to persuade the military leadership and the detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to talk to each other. The military shows no sign of giving up power anytime soon, or at all. Foreign journalists are not allowed into the country -not officially, anyway. But NPR's Michael Sullivan was just in Myanmar and joins us now from Hanoi, in Vietnam.

Good morning.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: First of all, why will neither side budge despite Mr. Gambari's efforts?

SULLIVAN: Because both sides have totally different views of how this thing should play out. And Mr. Gambari must be feeling like the Rodney Dangerfield of diplomacy at this point, because the National League for Democracy says that it wants all the political prisoners released as a precondition for any talks. And when he goes and he talks to the government, to the military, the militaries say that that's not going to happen and in fact, they want sanctions lifted before any talks can occur. So Mr. Gambari has come several times. Comes, he leaves, he has nothing.

WERTHEIMER: And meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, and the military continues to detain political opponents if, as and how they want to, right?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think things are getting worse, not better, for the opposition in Myanmar. I mean, there are twice as many political prisoners in the country now as there were in September 2007, before those monk-led demonstrations. Many, many opposition members were picked up during that time and after. And many more were picked up after Cyclone Nargis in May.

And I think this is one of the things that Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy are very upset about. And this is one of the things they feel frustrated with the U.N. about. And in fact, the last time around, when Mr. Gambari came to Myanmar in August, Aung Sang Suu Kyi refused to meet with him, allegedly because she was just so upset that every time he comes here, he fails to get the military to budge on anything.

WERTHEIMER: Let me ask you about that cyclone, Cyclone Nargis. Thousands were killed in that disaster. It was eight months ago. How do things look now?

SULLIVAN: Things look a lot better in the capital, Yangon. I mean, Yangon is completely cleaned up, although there is still no electricity in the capital for much of the day. But that's got nothing to do with the cyclone. It has more to do with the fact that the military government doesn't provide the power to the people. And many people in the capital told me, in fact, that they've been diverting power to the new capital in Naypyidaw.

So people in the city are very frustrated with the way things are going. They don't see things getting any better economically. The economy is deteriorating. Physically, down in the cyclone-affected area - I was able to get down there this time, and things are getting better. The first post-cyclone rice crop is in. It's down, as you might imagine, because a lot of the paddies were affected by saltwater contamination. But there seems to be enough food to go around right now.

But a lot of these people are still living in temporary housing. And it's getting very close to the rainy season again. And this temporary housing - it's just plastic sheeting and four poles and a thatched roof, in many cases - that's not going to last through the rains this time around.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Michael Sullivan. He recently visited Myanmar.

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