Burma’s generals beyond reason
September 10 , 2000
Burma is a land of ironies. Last month, the people there saw Lt Gen Khin Nyunt in a conquering mood. In front of a large, unfinished Buddha image, the powerful general chanted out loud: “Victory, Victory, Victory.”
Attendees were baffled by the bold pronouncement, as the country is still in the midst of an economic crisis that shows no signs of abating.
Symptoms of the economic malaise include the plummeting value of the national currency, the kyat, skyrocketing prices and a lack of foreign investment.
Burma;s market economy has found no market. It is no wonder Khin Nyunt’s “Victory” intonation brought nothing but laughter and astonishment from ordinary Burmese. But a few weeks later, these victory cries seemed emptier than ever.
The recent standoff at Dala highlighted Burma’s ongoing political stalemate and displayed once again the need for Burma’s major political players to enter into a dialogue to settle the country’s decades-old conflicts and problems.
However, Burma’s military regime, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), remains steadfast in its refusal to compromise with the National league for Democracy (NLD).
Thought no official travel ban has been imposed on Aung San Suu Kyi, it is a well-known fact that “the lady” of University Avenue is not allowed to venture outside of the city.
In 1988, her attempts to meet supporters outside of Rangoon were unlawfully blocked by the authorities. Finally, after repeated attempts to exercise her right to travel freely in her own country, she was forcibly dragged back to Rangoon.
The recent move by the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi has been seen as an attempt to highlight the junta’s unchanging attitude towards the opposition.
It comes at a time when a growing number of foreign governments, frustrated by the failure of their efforts to exert pressure on the regime by treating it as an international pariah, have shown signs of warming to the answer to Burma’s trobles after all.
The rgime has once again cited security concerns as a pretext for obstructing Aung San Suu Kyi’s bid to meet with party members based outside of the capital.
It claims that her safety cannot be guaranteed, as armed separatist terrorist groups remain a threat in parts of the country.
But the only armed forces Aung San Suu Kyi and her entourage were planning to visit are government troops and the police.
Rebels along the Thai-Burmese border slammed the junta’s statement. “We have no troops in that area,” said Padoe Mahn Sha, general secreatary of the Karen National Union. “No Karen soldiers are near that area. We all know who wants to harass and attack the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi. It is not us – no ethnic group has ill intentions towards Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But the junta does,” he told Radio Free Asia in a recent interview.
So why did they stop? One senior writer in Rangoon said it was purely a matter of the ruling generals’ “personal hatred” of Aung San Suu Kyi.
During a similar episode in 1998, when Aung San Suu Kyi and fllow NLD members were stopped at a roadblock in Anyarsu, they were not even allowed to buy drinking water. Clearly, the regime’s professed concern for the well being of its staunchest opponents is little more than an attempt to add insult to injury.
However, this is the same regime that recently handed down a heavy prison sentence to the secretary of the Committee Represnting the people’s Parliament. Aye Tha Aung, a senior NLD member, was given a 21 year prison sentence for violating publication and emergency laws.
Many NLD members have been forced to resign from the party, and more recently, local authorities have begun removing NLD ofice signboards. A large number of NLD members, languish in Burmese prisons. Meanwhile, anyone who attempts to visit the NLD headquarterts in Rangoon to attend conference or regular meetings is susceptible to harassment or arrest.
While Western countries have condemned the regime’s latest antics, Asean nations are, as usual, reluctant to violate the grouping’s sacrosanct policy of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. The welcome exception to this rule has been Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan, who said in an interview with the Bangkok Post that the association’s image is once again in danger of being dragged through the mud by the regime. “We ourselves also don’t want problems (in Burma) to continue because it may affect the image of Asean as a whole,” he told a reporter.
The problematic Burma situation will no doubt appear on the agenda for the Asean-Eu meeting in Vientiane this December.
It is ironic that officials in Canberra, Tokyo and some other nations have recently softened their stance against the SPDC, believing that they can time the generals. Canberra has been giving human rights training to Burmese officials.
Burma is a tragedy waiting to happen, and if the world simpy allows the regime to have its own way once again, there will be little reason to hope for a peaceful end to the country’s deeper political problems.