RAY SUAREZ: Now to the international response to the Burmese government’s crackdown on monks and pro-democracy demonstrators. We get two perspectives. I’m joined in Washington by Indonesia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat. Indonesia and other Southeast Asian nations yesterday expressed “revulsion” against the use of force against protesters in Myanmar.
And Mark Malloch Brown is with us, a British Foreign Office minister responsible for Asia, Africa and the United Nations. Previously, he served as the U.N.’s deputy secretary-general.
Gentlemen, welcome to you both.
Mr. Ambassador, let’s start with you. Is ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, pressuring Myanmar’s government to stop the crackdown?
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT, Indonesian Ambassador to U.S.: Yes, they did. In fact, the minister of foreign affairs for ASEAN got together yesterday, working in New York, and they have expressed their concern over the situation in Myanmar. And we tried to as best as we can to pressure the government of Myanmar to do whatever possible, not to resort to violence.
RAY SUAREZ: Are there other things beyond just delivering a strongly worded message that the other members of ASEAN can do, which include all of Burma’s neighbors?
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, of course, we have been doing it for a number of years. And we are trying to get harder words to be — message to be sent to the Myanmar government. And, of course, if we are going to do things, of course, then ASEAN is going to get together and decide for that, and for the time being.
RAY SUAREZ: For now, then?
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes.
RAY SUAREZ: OK.
And the British government, Mark Malloch Brown, you’re members of both the permanent five of the Security Council and the E.U. And for better or worse, your country has a very long relationship with Myanmar. What have you been doing?
MARK MALLOCH BROWN, British Foreign Office Minister: Well, Gordon Brown, our prime minister, immediately was one of the first to condemn this. And we’ve been working very hard in New York this week, with friends both in ASEAN, but in Europe and with the United States, to really try and use the Security Council and other means available to us to get as firm a condemnation as possible of what’s happened, because there really is a sense of events poised precarious where they could, like in previous occasions, tip into really very large-scale violence, or where the message of the international community, expressed through ASEAN and through the Security Council, acts as a restraining hand on the government, and the situation backs away from violence. And that’s what we’re presently focused on.
RAY SUAREZ: Today your prime minister, Gordon Brown, also expressed publicly the fear that the death toll in Myanmar is much higher than has been publicly expressed. What’s he basing that on?
MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, this is a very closed country. There’s very limited media access. A lot of the Internet and internal communications has now been closed down. And so there are rumors going around that many more lives have been lost, but we just don’t have good information. That is just one aspect of how this country has gotten left behind by the world, because its leadership have kept it so closed.
Pressure from ASEAN
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Ambassador, your group of Southeast Asian nations is now 40 years old. In your organization's charter, in the way it does business, is there a mechanism for it to bring pressure, bring sanctions to bear on another ASEAN member when it goes off the road, as you're expressing?
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, first, on the charter, we haven't yet got the charter. Charter is being formulated, and hopefully by the end of this year it will be ready.
Secondly, on the way we deal with issues in Myanmar, in ASEAN, we have a different layer of gathering, of meeting of senior officials, the minister, and up to the level of summit. And at every layer of the ASEAN organizations, we have in these last few years expressed our deep concern and expressed a number of words that resort to pressure to Myanmar. So that's what we have been doing so far in the level of ASEAN.
RAY SUAREZ: You're also currently a member of the United Nations Security Council.
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: We are, yes.
RAY SUAREZ: In that capacity, do you see any hope for the U.N. taking action in Myanmar?
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, of course, the Security Council is going to take up the issue. Indonesia is asking to participate, but in what format Indonesia will take part, and, of course, we're going to see what is going to happen in the Security Council. But, certainly, we would like to participate in the effort by the Security Council.
Security Council action on Burma
RAY SUAREZ: Mark Malloch Brown, as a fellow member of the P-5, the permanent five, does the posture of China and Russia give you much hope for getting any Security Council action on Burma?
MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, first, let me just confirm that the Security Council is a very important forum as far as Burma is concern. When I was deputy U.N. secretary-general, I saw just how much they would try to do to prevent Burma being taken to the council. So this is very important to use the council. You know, it has a real impact on them.
As to China and Russia, I think China is hugely influential. It's a major trading partner. It and India are probably, you know, the two single most important countries, in terms of their economic links with Burma, so they have to be carried along.
And the fact is, it was Chinese pressure which secured the visa for the U.N. envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to visit today. The Chinese have been impressing the leadership in Burma with the need for restraint in avoiding violence. So I think so far, so good.
I think the Russians similarly -- I mean, I think there is always this argument that gets raised, "Well, are as many lives being lost in Burma as some other countries which are not getting the same attention from the Security Council?"
But I think the pictures on television around the world of these saffron-dressed monks being faced by violent troops is really something that no modern member of the Security Council in our global community, where human rights have become universal, nobody can withstand that and be seen to resisting -- to be resisting action to protect innocent lives in Burma.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, the sales of gas from the country continue and timber...
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes. They do. They do.
RAY SUAREZ: ... and gemstones. And if all of that continues, so that money continues to flow into the country, what would make the government of Myanmar stop doing what it's doing?
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, of course, there are many ways that Security Council can take action if they are going to take action. But, of course, there should be a kind of prudent approach to the issue of Myanmar, how to deal with Myanmar at this stage.
And the way the Security Council would take up the issue, of course, this very much depends on the (inaudible) of the other members, and I hope they will come up with action. So we would like to have a look at what is going to happen, in terms of effort made by the Security Council.
Consequences of sanctions
RAY SUAREZ: Because you, yourself, mentioned a few minutes ago that you've been trying to get them to behave differently for a long time. And so far nothing has worked, has it?
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, it takes some time. And, of course, they have to be patient to deal with these kind of issues. But, of course, we have to continue to press.
RAY SUAREZ: Mark Malloch Brown, the Western countries have been disengaging from the Burmese economy for years. Is there any remaining Western leverage in that country?
MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Some, but, I mean, I think that is the perverse consequence of years of sanctions and disengagement, that the direct economic incentives we can bring to bear are quite limited. And that is why ASEAN and India and China are so important.
And I would just confirm that ASEAN has been working hard on this. We worked with Indonesia when I was at the U.N. The president wanted to do a lot more to try and move things in Burma.
And I think the fact that we are connected, that the region is not standing by Burma and dismissing this as just Western busy-body interference, but is with us in trying to find a strategy to restrain violence and promote democracy in Burma shows that we can get this done, even though the main economic taps to be turned off are in Asia, not in Europe or North America.
Shutting off the outside world
RAY SUAREZ: We touched briefly earlier on the fact that this was still a closed society and information wasn't very reliable. Do you think that there is still violence ongoing against civilians that the government has successfully shut off from the eyes of the outside world? Or are there sources that the British government has that they have a pretty good feel for what's going on in the major cities?
MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, you know, I need to see the latest reporting. Obviously, you know, we try -- this is a country we've got deep connections with. We try to keep as good tabs on it as possible.
But, you know, the fact is, in not just Burma, but country after country, where you can close down and keep out Western correspondence, terrible things happen. They've happened in parts of Darfur. They've happened in Zimbabwe. They've happened all over the place, where governments embark on strategies of limiting media access when they wish to do terrible things to their population.
So I think we're at the mode of being extremely suspicious, sounding the alarm, but I'm sure, once we have hard evidence, we will produce it.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, are you optimistic that this government can be restrained, that the violence can be stopped by outside pressure?
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, of course, we should continue to press ahead with any efforts that can make them stop from doing violence. So this is a big job, but we have to do it together.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, Deputy Foreign Minister, gentlemen, thank you both.
SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Thank you very much.
MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Thank you.