The Democratic Alliance has called on President Jacob Zuma to send the Burma ambassador to South Africa packing, after a Mail & Guardian investigation raised questions about diplomat Myint Naung’s human rights record.
Kenneth Mubu, the DA’s shadow minister of international relations and co-operation, said: “In terms of the Vienna Convention, the president has the power to refuse access to members of diplomatic missions should their credentials not stand up to scrutiny. Accordingly, he should now use his powers and revoke Naung’s diplomatic accreditation.”
“This government needs to stop embracing dictators and human rights abusers and start practising the ubuntu it preaches in its foreign affairs policy,” Mubu said.
The M&G investigation cited news reports from Burma’s state and exiled media, as well as documentation from rights groups, which suggested that the ambassador is a former brigadier general, who commanded a unit that was responsible for a wave of human rights abuses in Burma’s eastern Karen state.
Brigadier General Myint Naung’s name has also been linked to a brutal attack on a Buddhist monastery in Rangoon in 2007.
The M&G established that the ambassador’s wife has the same name as that of the brigadier general’s, and that both men are “crazy about golf”. A source from the Burmese community in South Africa described a conversation with the ambassador in which he referred to being “away at shei-dan [the frontline or battle zone]” in his previous life.
The ambassador has still not responded to questions about his past sent by the M&G more than a week ago.
Mubu’s call for Zuma to take action echoes similar calls by local and international human right activists.
Last week, political analyst Kiru Naidoo said: “With the decades of well-documented atrocities in Karen state, any risk that South Africa could be harbouring war criminals should be taken seriously.
“If there is even a hint of war crimes, an offending ambassador should be marched out of the country.”
Mubu said he would be submitting parliamentary questions this week to both Zuma, and to International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, as to “why Naung was granted access to South Africa, and whether his reported links to human rights violations were investigated at any point”.
The department of international relations has so far not responded to the M&G‘s requests for comment.
The M&G story has generated wide international response. The article has been circulated inside Burma itself, and has been carried by Irrawaddy — a popular online news magazine run by Burmese exile journalists based in neighbouring Thailand.
An Irrawaddy reader commented that Burma’s attempt to transfer power from the military junta to a civilian government is compromised by promoting former military commanders to important posts, both in Burma and overseas.
“If the ambassador designate’s past is questionable, so is the so-called civilian government of [President] Thein Sein and their Constitution,” commented the reader. “Their Parliament and MPs of both the upper and lower houses are infested with military personnel, retired or otherwise.”
South Africa remains a key diplomatic pressure point for Burma, ever since the Mbeki government voted in 2007 against a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning human rights abuses by Burma’s military junta.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the vote as “a betrayal of our noble past”.
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