Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Britain has suggested to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that a full-time envoy be appointed to replace Vijay Nambiar, Ban’s interim Burma envoy, the country’s UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters in New York last week.
Nambiar, who also serves as Ban’s chief of staff, took on the position of Burma envoy part-time following the departure of Nigerian diplomat Dr. Ibrahim Gambari last December.
Grant made the comment following a UN Security Council meeting on Burma in which Nambiar reported back on his recent two-day trip to Rangoon, during which he met pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The British calls for a full-time replacement for Nambiar were echoed by Mexico’s ambassador to the UN, Claude Heller.
Ban’s deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, informed Mizzima that Ban had told the ambassadors “that he is considering the idea”, adding that Ban’s office would make an announcement if there was any change of personnel.
Nambiar ignores Burma’s ethnic minorities, critics say
Mark Farmaner of the London-based advocacy group Burma Campaign UK, responded to news that the British government had proposed replacing Nambiar, stating that while his organisation had advocated that Ban and his office take a greater role on the Burma file they were unimpressed with the performance of his chief of staff as Burma envoy.
He said his organisation was “increasingly concerned by the approach of Nambiar, who seems to be following the failed approach of Gambari, thinking that befriending the generals will somehow buy influence. It seems that the dictatorship has got lucky yet again”.
Burma Campaign was extremely disappointed with Nambiar’s handling of Burma’s ethnic question, Farmaner said, adding that: “We are also disappointed that yet again a UN envoy has gone to Burma, met with Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals, and not with key ethnic representatives. The mandate from the General Assembly which Nambiar is acting on is to secure tripartite dialogue, not just dialogue between the generals and Aung San Suu Kyi.”
NLD veteran Win Tin, in a phone interview conducted the night before taking part in Suu Kyi’s meeting with Nambiar, told Mizzima that he would use occasion to urge the UN diplomat to meet leaders of Burma’s main ethnic groups so as to better understand their situation. Despite the request, Nambiar failed to do so during his short trip.
Nambiar said to have let Chinese strongly influence Burma report
The Washington Post reported last month that in August Nambiar had met Chinese UN ambassador Li Baodong days after the US announced its support for the creation of a commission of inquiry to investigate possible war crimes committed by the Burmese regime. The report said that during the “confidential” meeting, Li relayed Beijing’s strong opposition to any such inquiry.
The Post’s Colum Lynch wrote that three separate UN sources privy to the details of the meeting said Li had told Nambiar the proposed Burma inquiry was “dangerous and counterproductive, and should not be allowed to proceed”.
Nambiar by omission appeared to share Chinese opposition to the commission of inquiry. A report in September this year on the Situation of Human rights in Burma, prepared with the assistance of Nambiar in his position as Burma envoy and officially submitted by Ban to the General Assembly, made no mention of the proposed inquiry.
The omission came despite the fact that UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana had issued a report in March to the UN Human Rights Council that called for such an inquiry. The September report, while briefly mentioning Quintana’s report also left out any discussion of his conclusion that in Burma there existed a pattern of “gross and systematic” rights abuses which suggested that the abuses were a state policy that involved authorities at all levels of the executive, military and judiciary.
The September report, which is supposed to cover the period from August last year to August this year also left out any mention of the significant Burmese military offences in ethnic areas that occurred during this time, leaving many in the Burma movement deeply concerned.
In a previous interview with Mizzima, senior NLD leader Win Tin said that it was totally unacceptable that the September report neglected to mention the continuing attacks against villagers in eastern Burma. He also said he was deeply disturbed that the report ignored the Burmese Army’s military offensive in the Kokang region of Shan State in August-September last year which the UN itself had estimated forced 37,000 refugees to flee into China.
In response to questions about the glaring omission of rights abuses in ethnic areas, Ban’s spokesman Haq said at a press conference in New York on November 26: “I have no comment on the SG’s [Secretary General] human rights report, which speaks for itself.”
Nambiar allegedly called Suu Kyi out of touch, too hard-line
The calls to replace Nambiar came just days after a widely circulated report by Inner City Press reporter Matthew Russell Lee that sources in the UN had said that after returning from Burma “Nambiar’s internal reporting to UN officials was critical of Aung San Suu Kyi, characterising her as out of touch and somehow too hard-line”.
Haq told Mizzima that Russell Lee’s report “is not accurate”, and that according to Haq, “Mr Nambiar has considerable respect for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi”.
Responding to Haq’s denial, Russell Lee told Mizzima he stood by his story. He said in an e-mail message: “Having spoken with people privy to Mr Nambiar’s report – back within the UN Secretariat – which again was different on the point from what Nambiar said in the Security Council and Group of Friends meeting, Inner City Press stands by its story 100 per cent. Now with the UK, Mexico and others having asked that Nambiar be replaced by another full-time envoy, this double game or doublespeak diplomacy may be less relevant. Mr Haq’s denial gives rise to the question: did Haq even ask to see the internal report before denying it?”
Envoy upbeat on Burma’s election
While Nambiar certainly had not condemned Suu Kyi or the NLD in public, he had made positive statements about Burma’s recent and much criticised elections. In an interview with the BBC Burmese langue service conducted after the election, Nambiar claimed that in Burma “Government formation is taking place. I think there will be new spaces, new slots in the parliament which will open up for by-elections”.
Nambiar also told the BBC that by-elections, held for a single seat or a small number of seats usually held when a politician retires or dies in office would give “small opportunities for increasing the political space for a broader, inclusive involvement”. As Burma’s national election was just held last month it is hardly likely will be any by-elections in the near future.
Role in Sri Lanka during height of civil war still controversial and unresolved
Nambiar remains surrounded in controversy over questions regarding his actions in May last year during the final days of Sri Lanka’s war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), aka Tamil Tigers, while he was in the country on behalf of Ban as part of an apparent effort by the UN to stop the bloodshed. Ban sent the former Indian diplomat to Sri Lanka despite that his own brother, retired Indian army general Satish Nambiar, had served as an adviser to the Sri Lankan military for several years.
Marie Colvin, a reporter with The Times of London, wrote that on Monday, May 18, 2009, at 5:30 a.m. she personally called Nambiar in Colombo to relay a message she had received from members of the LTTE leadership, who were surrounded in a bunker with 300 loyalists including women and children, that they were ready to give themselves up to Sri Lankan government troops. According to Colvin the leaders wanted “Nambiar to be present to guarantee the Tigers’ safety”.
Nambiar told Colvin that he had been assured by Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa that those who gave up would be safe if they were to “hoist a white flag high”.
When Colvin suggested that Nambiar go personally to witness the surrender he told her it would not “be necessary” and that “the president’s assurances were enough”.
Hours later the lifeless bodies of dozens of members of the LTTE leadership including the two men who told Colvin they were ready to give up, were put on display by a triumphant Sri Lankan government. General Sarath Fonseka, head of the Sri Lankan military at the time, told an opposition newspaper last December that Gothabaya Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan defence minister and brother of the president had been “given orders not to accommodate any LTTE leaders attempting surrender and that ‘they must all be killed’”.
Foneska, now jailed and facing charges of sedition for making the allegations, said the president, the defence minister and their brother Basil Rajapaksa, a senior presidential adviser were all guilty of war crimes for ordering the summary executions of rebel forces during the final days of battle.
The Times also reported that after arriving in Colombo to survey the situation, Nambiar was briefed by UN staff that they estimated at least 20,000 people had died “mostly by army shelling” during the final stages of the war against the Tigers. The report said Nambiar “knew about but chose not to make public” the UN estimates. When the British Foreign Office revealed the UN estimate, human rights groups demanded an inquiry into the conduct of the Sri Lankan armed forces.