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Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown

Posted: July 3, 2009 09:51 AM

Ban Ki Moon in Burma: The Chance for a New Beginning


When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon meets the military dictatorship in Burma today he will have the whole world with him.

His mission, to persuade the junta to release all political prisoners and engage with democracy, is critical to the future of the Burmese people.

But it is also a crucial moment for the international community.

In recent weeks, we have seen an extraordinary consensus around the world in support of all those forced to suffer under the Burmese regime.

The UN, the EU, and ASEAN have all made clear the need for urgent change. More than 45 Heads of State have added their voices to the call.

How we respond to the injustices in Burma will send a message about our resolution to tackle similar abuses across the globe.

Political and humanitarian conditions in the country continue to deteriorate.

When over 140,000 were killed and millions made destitute by Cyclone Nargis last year the world's efforts to help were resisted, a peaceful uprising by monks in 2007 was violently quashed, ethnic minorities are persecuted and under armed attack.

The media are muzzled, freedom of speech and assembly are non-existent and the number of political prisoners has doubled to more than 2000.

As Secretary-General Ban arrives, the most high profile of them -- Aung San Suu Kyi -- faces further persecution from the Generals as her sham trial resumes.

She has long been a symbol of hope and defiance during her 14 years as a prisoner of conscience.

She is a most courageous woman. In those long years, she has barely seen her two sons -- yet is resolute in her faith in democracy and the Burmese people.

Her refusal to buckle in the face of tyranny is an inspiration.

I call on the regime to mark Ban Ki Moon's arrival by immediately halting her trial, which makes a mockery of justice, and ending her detention which undermines their credibility in the eyes of the world.

But while hugely significant, this alone would not be the sole measure of progress.

Only agreement to release all political prisoners, start a genuine dialogue with the opposition and ethnic groups will give any credibility to the elections in 2010.

I hope that Ban Ki Moon can convince the Generals to take the first steps. A serious offer is on the table: the international community will work with Burma if the Generals are prepared to embark on a genuine transition to democracy.

But if the Burmese regime refuses to engage, the international community must be prepared to respond robustly.

We should not rest until Aung San Suu Kyi -- and all those who share her commitment to a better and brighter future for Burma -- are able to play their rightful role in it.

The Burmese people have been condemned to nearly half a century of conflict, poverty and isolation. It is time to give them the chance of a new beginning.

The regime can choose to ignore the clamour for change. Or it can choose the path of reform as the region, and the world, have urged.

Today can be the start.