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1992 and 2012, Bosnia & Myanmar are connected by also the person most directly in authority over UN operations in the two countries, then and now. In 1992-93 General Vijay Nambiar was in command of UN troops (UNPROFOR) for the former Yugoslavia – now he is the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Myanmar. Just a few weeks earlier, General Nambiar characterized the situation in Myanmar as a “glass half-full rather than half-empty”. However, I’m concerned that once again he may be missing, some would argue deliberately ignoring substantial evidence of ethnic cleansing, as his command did in 1992 when most of the killing, expulsions and concentration camps occurred in Bosnia & Herzegovina – and the momentum for more conflict and genocide was set into motion for another 3 years.
Concealed Evidence of Systematic Abuses of Humanitarian Law/Genocide?
In August of 1992, I received two documents from internal sources directed from UNPROFOR field commanders in the region who were alarmed by evidence of mass executions in one and evidence of brutal detention camps, concentration camps in the other. The UN command had failed to make such evidence/documents available to the public or even to most members of the UN Security Council. In a tense exchange with a high-level UN official, I was queried on how I obtained the “secret internal documents,” but I asked why the information had not been made available for deliberations of the UN Security Council. A UN spokesperson offered that the evidence had been made “public” to those who should have the right to know within the UN Security Council – but this appeared to be only a select group of Permanent Powers.

Within days, several courageous journalists on the scene, (including Roy Gutman, Ed Vulliamy, Penny Marshall, Ian Williams, A), confirmed the atrocities on a large scale. It took half a year for the UN to acknowledge the breadth and systematic nature of such atrocities when preventive action or more transparency may have saved lives and at least to degree stemmed the conflict. The most notable consequence though of the August 1992 crush of evidence of ethnic cleansing was the call for another conference, (in London with Milosevic representing Serbia and whose hollow promises only bought more time for more crimes), and finally the initial steps for the establishment of an international war crimes tribunal (eventually a year later being realized in form of the ICTY).

Is General Nambiar now committing the same mistake and/or omission in Myanmar?  
Having met General Nambiar at that time, I was not disposed to see him as either evil, incompetent, or lacking courage. Rather, my conclusion is that he was part of a mindset that was hopeful in seeing Milosevic as peacemaker even reformer while not wanting to see crimes for which some would have to be held accountable under international law. I’m not particularly familiar with the array of actors in Myanmar, including Rakhine and Kachin states; however, I cannot help but sense that a too rosy a projection of both events and so called reformers is being projected in view of ongoing failures to remedy or even confront the most recent abuses of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, and perhaps other minorities. The glass is certainly worse than half empty for the victims of ethnic chauvinism within the new Myanmar where the regime is repositioning itself as more defender of the majority religion/ethnicity in order to rationalize and perpetuate its absolute hold on power, (another similarity with the image projected by Milosevic’s Belgrade two decades earlier).

Most critically, all the big power capitals want to see “reform” within the Myanmar regime. Myanmar’s resources and new markets are in play now. As in Bosnia, evidence of systematic abuses and complicity of authorities would ruin a rosy projection but also undermine in Myanmar the rush to capture greater trading opportunities and profits.

 

For  UN News Centre’s 3 January 2013 Interview with Vijay Nambiar, Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, see: http://www.un.org/apps/news/newsmakers.asp?NewsID=74

 

 

Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey

 

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UN PHOTO/JC Mcllwaine :  Vijay Nambiar, Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar