After a two-hour meeting with Myanmar’s reclusive leader, General Than Shwe, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reports that the country will drop its opposition to foreign aid workers operating in the country. From Bloomberg:
“He has agreed to allow all aid workers regardless of nationalities,” Ban told reporters in the capital, Naypyidaw, according to the UN delegation. “He has taken quite a flexible position on this matter.”
This is a very promising development. Given the Myanmar government’s history of shutting out foreign involvement, though, action will be much more credible than words here. Even with this commitment, it is not yet clear whether aid workers will be permitted into all areas of the country, including more remote sections of the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta region, or even what kinds of boats will be allowed to transport the aid. Had Ban’s mission failed — or if Myanmar reneges on its pledge — then France, whose foreign minister has been outspoken in invoking the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, is willing to go to the Security Council to push for delivering aid “by all means necessary.” Fortunately, though, Ban’s focus on diplomacy seems to be paying dividends. Granting the UN — which is ready to fully deploy, having stockpiled food and supplies for 2.4 million people — full access is clearly the preferable option here, but it is crucial to ensure this Myanmar’s openness is not more of a public relations ploy than a genuine acknowledgment of the country’s desperate situation.