Myanmar to kick out top U.N. official

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Myanmar’s military junta is kicking out the United Nations’ top resident diplomat for highlighting the country’s deepening economic crisis, casting a shadow over a weekend visit by special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

U.N. officials said on Friday that Charles Petrie had been summoned to the former Burma’s new capital, Naypyitaw, for an official dressing down for a statement he released on the October 24 United Nations Day.

After the meeting, Petrie and his colleagues were given a letter saying the military government would not be renewing his credentials, which expire “pretty much now,” a Yangon-based diplomat said.

“They were basically not very happy with the statement,” one U.N. official told Reuters in Bangkok. “The government has emphasized that they do not want him to continue to work in Myanmar.”

In New York, the United Nations said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was disappointed with the junta’s move. Ban “has full confidence in the United Nations country team and its leadership,” his spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said, adding that he endorsed the views in the statement issued by Petrie.

It was not known when Petrie would actually leave the country.

Montas said Petrie would meet Gambari on his arrival on Saturday for a second visit since September’s bloody crackdown on monk-led pro-democracy protests. She said Ban asked Gambari to convey his views on Petrie’s expulsion to the government.


Gambari’s mission is to persuade the junta to enter serious talks about political reform with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a 1990 election landslide but was denied power by the army.

The United States condemned Petrie’s expulsion.

“This outrageous action the day before the arrival of U.N. Special Envoy Gambari in Burma is an insult to the United Nations and the international community,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.

In his statement last week, Petrie said the protests that started in mid-August against shock increases in fuel prices and snowballed into a major anti-junta uprising were indicators of the dire state of the economy after 45 years of military rule.

“The events clearly demonstrated the everyday struggle to meet basic needs and the urgent necessity to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country,” it said.

One of Asia’s brightest economic prospects when it won independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar has become one of its most desperate cases after a series of disastrous experiments with home-grown socialism.

It has also been riven by decades of ethnic civil war and, in the last 10 years, some U.S. and European sanctions.

According to the U.N.’s World Food Program, 5 million people out of a population of 56 million do not have enough food. One third of children under five are underweight, and 10 percent are classified as “wasted,” or acutely malnourished.

Johndroe, the White House NSC spokesman, said Myanmar’s military junta should “release political prisoners and stop detaining its citizens who are peacefully protesting the repressive regime. Further, reports that the Junta has restricted Internet access again are very troubling. They are trying to hide their atrocities from the world.”

Additional reporting by Caren Bohan in Washington and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations