Friday, May 9, 2008

Myanmar and the death of Responsibility to Protect (update 4)

So, it's been a bit of a whirlwind day on Myanmar here at the United Nations. (Or perhaps "whirlwind" isn't the most appropriate euphemism given the circumstances.)

First off, in the morning, reports came in that Myanmar seized humanitarian aid from the World Food Programme at Yangon Airport, causing the WFP to suspend flights. Hours later, the agency caved, agreeing to send more flights tomorrow. They did not achieve any concrete assurances that these wouldn't be seized either, describing negotiations with the Myanmar government as "fluid." And no, they further clarified, the aid hadn't been "seized." The planes landed, the aid workers unloaded the planes, and then the government's soldiers took the food. This is, you know, different than the food being "seized." In any event, by noon, Shawn Crispin of the Asia Times was calling for a US invasion, saying -- I'm not making this up -- that we would be welcomed as liberators.

Fortunately, sanity reared its pitying head at the OCHA flash appeal launch today in the UN Trusteeship Council Chamber. The UN requested $187 million to help 1.5 million Burmese for 6 months. They got nearly a third of it at that meeting. The Myanmar Ambassador said his country would take aid "from any quarter" including a US C-130 Hercules airplane touching down at Yangon Airport on Monday. (Sidenote: this is maybe the least likely event, short of the NY Philharmonic playing in Pyongyang, that I could have imagined happening this year. A US military aircraft landing in Yangon BY MUTUAL AGREEMENT of Washington and Napyidaw? * head explodes *) Anyway, the US, UK, and France, while firmly calling for aid to be let in, were much less confrontational in their remarks, and pledged huge reams of assistance, for which the Myanmar Ambassador was grateful. It was, to be honest, a bit of a love-fest, actually. After the French behavior earlier this week, Laura Bush's bellicose rhetoric, and the regime's despicable behavior, this was all entirely unexpected.

Of course, we have to see if any of this leads to any improvement on the ground whatsoever, but at the very least I think regime change is off the table for now, let's say. Sorry, Mr. Crispin.

Meanwhile, the situation on the ground worsens. And OCHA coordinator John Holmes called Myanmar's claim that it was only ready to receive supplies and food, not actual aid workers, "very disappointing." (Myanmar hasn't reversed that stance since this morning, by the way.) Holmes called for "open house for international humanitarian workers, whether they're from the UN or elsewhere." Open house in Myanmar? We shall see...

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