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BurmaNet News September 1, 1995

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"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"

The BurmaNet News: September 1, 1995
Issue #212

Noted in Passing:
The struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma is a struggle for 
life and dignity.  It is a struggle that encompasses our political, social and 
economic aspirations.  The people of my country want the two freedoms 
that spell security: freedom from want and freedom from fear. 
- Aung San Suu Kyi (quoted in Keynote Address)

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NGO Forum on Women, Beijing '95 
31 August 1995

(editor's note: Aung San Suu Kyi did not attend the conference, because
she was afraid the SLORC might not let her back into Burma.  Supatra Masdit, 
the NGO Forum organizer, planned to videotape Aung San Suu Kyi's speech, 
but she was denied a visa.  With the help of friends inside Burma, Aung
San Suu Kyi was able to make and send out a video of herself giving the

It is a wonderful but daunting task that has fallen on me to say few words
by way of opening this Forum, the greatest concourse of women (joined by a
few brave men!) that has ever gathered on our planet.  I want to try and
voice some of the common hopes which firmly unite us in all our splendid

But first I would like to explain why I cannot be with you in person today.
Last month I was released from almost six years of house arrest.  The
regaining of my freedom has in turn imposed a duty on me to work for the
freedom of other women and men in my country who have suffered far more --
and who continue to suffer far more -- than I have.  It is this duty which
prevents me from joining you today.  Even sending this message to you has
not been without difficulties.  But the help of those who believe in
international cooperation and freedom of expression has enabled me to
overcome the obstacles.  They made it possible for me to make a small
contribution to this great celebration of the struggle of women to mould
their own destiny and to influence the fate of our global village.

The opening plenary of this Forum will be presenting an overview of the
global forces affecting the quality of life of the human community and the
challenges they pose for the global community as a whole and for women in
particular as we approach the twenty-first century.  However, with true
womanly understanding, the Convener of this Forum suggested that among these
global forces and challenges, I might wish to concentrate on those matters
which occupy all my waking thoughts these days: peace, security, human
rights and democracy.  I would like to discuss these issues particularly in
the context of the participation of women in politics and governance.

For millennia women have dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the task
of nurturing, protecting and caring for the young and the old, striving for
the conditions of peace that favour life as a whole.  To this can be added
the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, no war was ever started by
women.  But it is women and children who have always suffered most in
situations of conflict.  Now that we are gaining control of the primary
historical role imposed on us of sustaining life in the context of the home
and family, it is time to apply in the arena of the world the wisdom and
experience thus gained in activities of peace over so many thousands of
years.  The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot
fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.

If to these universal benefits of the growing emancipation of women can be
added to the "peace dividend" for human development offered by the end of the
Cold War, spending less on the war toys of grown men and much more on the
urgent needs of humanity as a whole, then truly the next millennia will be
an age the like of which has never been seen in human history.  But there
still remain many obstacles to be overcome before we can achieve this goal.
And not least among those obstacles are intolerance and insecurity.

This year is the International Year for Tolerance.  The United Nations has
recognized that "tolerance, human rights, democracy and peace are closely
related.  Without tolerance, the foundations form democracy and respect for
human rights cannot be strengthened, and the achievement of peace will
remain elusive." My own experience during the years I have been engaged in
the democracy movement of Burma has convinced me of the need to emphasize
the positive aspect of tolerance.  It is not enough simply to "live and let
live": genuine tolerance requires an active effort to try to understand the
point of view of others; it implies broad-mindedness and vision, as well as
confidence in one's own ability to meet new challenges without resorting to
intransigence or violence.  In societies where men are truly confident of
their own worth women are not merely "tolerated", they are valued.  Their
opinions are listened to with respect, they are given their rightful place
in shaping the society in which they live.

There is an outmoded Burmese proverb still recited by men who wish to deny
that women too can play a part in bringing necessary change and progress to
their society: "The dawn rises only when the rooster crows." But Burmese
people today are well aware of the scientific reasons behind the rising of
dawn and the falling of dusk.  And the intelligent rooster surely realizes
that it is because dawn comes that it crows and not the other way round.  It
crows to welcome the light that has come to relieve the darkness of night.
It is not the prerogative of men alone to bring light to this world: women
with their capacity for compassion and self-sacrifice, their courage and
perseverance, have done much to dissipate the darkness of intolerance and
hate, suffering and despair.

Often the other side of the coin of intolerance is insecurity.  Insecure
people tend to be intolerant, and their intolerance unleashes forces that
threaten the security of others.  And where there is no security there can
be no lasting peace.  In its "Human Development Report" for last year the
UNDP noted that human security "is not a concern with weapons -- it is a
concern with human life and dignity." The struggle for democracy and human
rights in Burma is a struggle for life and dignity.  It is a struggle that
encompasses our political, social and economic aspirations.  The people of
my country want the two freedoms that spell security: freedom from want and
freedom from fear.  It is want that has driven so many of our young girls
across our borders to a life of sexual slavery where they are subject to
constant humiliation and ill-treatment.  It is fear of persecution for their
political beliefs that has made so many of our people feel that even in
their own homes they cannot live in dignity and security.

Traditionally the home is the domain of the woman.  But there has never been
a guarantee that she can live out her life there safe and unmolested.  There
are countless women who are subjected to severe cruelty within the heart of
the family which should be their haven.  And in times of crisis when their
menfolk are unable to give them protection, women have to face the harsh
challenges of the world outside while continuing to discharge their duties
within the home.

Many of my male colleagues who have suffered imprisonment for their part in
the democracy movement have spoken of the great debt of gratitude they owe
their womenfolk, particularly to their wives who stood by them firmly,
tender as mothers nursing their newly born, brave as lionesses defending
their young.  These magnificent human beings who have done so much to aid
their men in the struggle for justice and peace -- how much more could they
not achieve if given the opportunity to work in their own right for the good
of their country and of the world.

Our endeavours have also been sustained by the activities of strong and
principled women all over the world who have campaigned not only for my own
release but, more importantly, for our cause.  I cannot let this opportunity
pass without speaking of the gratitude we feel towards our sisters
everywhere, from heads of government to busy housewives.  Their efforts have
been a triumphant demonstration of female solidarity and of the power of an
ideal to cross all frontiers.

In my country at present, women have no participation in the higher levels
of government and none whatsoever in the judiciary.  Even within the
democratic movement only 14 out of the 485 MPs elected in 1990 were women --
all from my own party, the National League for Democracy.  These 14 women
represent less than 3 percent of the total number of successful candidates.
They, like their male colleagues, have not been permitted to take office
since the outcome of those elections has been totally ignored.  Yet the very
high performance of women in our educational system and in the management of
commercial enterprises proves their enormous potential to contribute to the
betterment of society in general.  Meanwhile our women have yet to achieve
those fundamental rights of free expression, association and security of life
denied also to their menfolk.

The adversities that we have had to face together have taught all of us
involved in the struggle to build a truly democratic political system in
Burma that there are no gender barriers that cannot be overcome.  The
relationship between men and women should, and can be, characterized not by
patronizing behavior or exploitation, but by METTA (that is to say loving
kindness), partnership and trust.  We need mutual respect and understanding
between men and women, instead of patriarchal domination and degradation,
which are expressions of violence and engender counter-violence.  We can
learn from each other and help one another to moderate the "gender weaknesses"
imposed upon us by traditional or biological factors.

There is an age old prejudice the world over to effect that women talk too
much.  But is this really a weakness?  Could it not in fact be a strength?
Recent scientific research on the human brain has revealed that women are
better at verbal skills while men tend towards physical action.
Psychological research has shown on the other hand that disinformation
engendered by men has a far more damaging effect on its victims than
feminine gossip.  Surely these discoveries indicate that women have a most
valuable contribution to make in situations of conflict, by leading the way
to solutions based on dialogue rather than on viciousness or violence?

The Buddhist PAVARANA ceremony at the end of the rainy season retreat was
instituted by the Lord Buddha, who did not want human beings to live in
silence "like dumb animals."  This ceremony, during which monks ask mutual
forgiveness for any offence given during the retreat, can be said to be a
council of truth and reconciliation.  It might also be considered a
forerunner of that most democratic of institutions, the parliament, a
meeting of peoples gathered together to talk over their shared problems.
All the world's great religions are dedicated to the generation of happiness
and harmony.  This demonstrates the fact that together with the combative
instincts of man there co-exists a spiritual aspiration for mutual
understanding and peace.

This forum of non-governmental organizations represents the belief in the
ability of intelligent human beings to resolve conflicting interests through
exchange and dialogue.  It also represents the conviction that governments
alone cannot resolve all the problems of their countries.  The watchfulness
and active cooperation of organizations outside the spheres of officialdom
are necessary to ensure the four essential components of the human
development paradigm as identified by the UNDP: productivity, equity,
sustainability and empowerment.  The last is particularly relevant: it
requires that "development must be BY people, not only FOR them.  People
must participate fully in the decisions and processes that shape their
lives."  In other words people must be allowed to play a significant role in
the governance of their country.  And "people" include women who make up at
least half of the world's population.

The last six years afforded me much time and food for thought.  I came to
the conclusion that the human race is not divided into two opposing camps of
good and evil.  It is made up of those who are capable of learning and those
who are incapable of doing so.  Here I am not talking of learning in the
narrow sense of acquiring an academic education, but of learning as the
process of absorbing those lessons of life that enable us to increase peace
and happiness in our world.  Women in their role as mothers have
traditionally assumed the responsibility of teaching children values that
will guide them throughout their lives.  It is time we were given the full
opportunity to use our natural teaching skills to contribute towards
building a modern world that can withstand the tremendous challenges of the
technological revolution which has in turn brought revolutionary changes in
social values.

As we strive to teach others we must have the humility to acknowledge that
we too still have much to learn.  And we must have the flexibility to adapt
to the changing needs of the world around us.  Women who have been taught
that modesty and pliancy are among the prized virtues of our gender are
marvellously equipped for the learning process.  But they must be given the
opportunity to turn these often merely passive virtues into positive assets
for the society in which they live.

These, then, are our common hopes that unite us -- that as the shackles of
prejudice and intolerance fall from our own limbs we can together strive to
identify and remove the impediments to human development everywhere.  The
mechanisms by which this great task is to be achieved provide the proper
focus of this great Forum.  I feel sure that women throughout the world who,
like me, cannot be with you join me now in sending you all our prayers and
good wishes for a joyful and productive meeting.

I thank you.

AUGUST 31, 1995 by Rajan Moses (Reuter)

Burma's rice exports are ballooning as harvests become more
bountiful and a growing global shortage of the staple sparks
increased demand, official and industry sources said this week.

Rice is a major revenue spinner for Burma, which is one of the
poorest countries in the world and hopes to regain its lost
status as a leading global exporter of rice.

In 1934, Burma posted a record high rice export of 3.4 million
tonnes, but a decline set in rapidly as the country went into a
state of self-imposed isolation in the early 1960s.

Official data shows that in the last 1994/95 (April-March) fiscal
year, Burma's rice exports leapt to over one million tonnes from
261,000 tonnes exported in 1993/94.

For the current fiscal year 1995/96, Burma's military rulers or
the State Law and Order restoration Council (Slorc) have set a
rice export target of 1.5 million tonnes.

Private and independent cargo surveyor SGS (Myanmar) Ltd's
general manager U Kyaw Tin confirmed that Burmese rice exports
are likely to spiral in the months ahead.

"Burma's rice production will rise and I think the government can
achieve 1.3 million tonnes of the 1.5 million tonne export target
this fiscal year," he told Reuters.

SGS data, which are computed on a calendar year basis, showed
that Burma's rice exports in all of 1994 totalled 618,787 tonnes
and are likely to hit one million tonnes this year.

In the first eight months of this year, the export figure had
already surpassed the 1994 total and stood at over 620,000
tonnes, the surveyor's figures show.

The biggest importer of Burma's 25 per cent broken rice this year
is drought-affected Indonesia, which has bought about 75 per cent
of all exports, traders said.

Burmese rice export prices have surged to about US$250 a tonne
from around $225 a tonne late last year, they added.

Official statements and traders said the secret behind Burma's
sharp growth in rice has been the introduction of fast-growing,
high-yielding strains of paddy.

Improved irrigation in the Irrawaddy Delta rice bowl has also
made a big difference, the Agriculture Ministry said.

About 16 million acres (6.4 million hectares) of paddy fields are
expected to be planted in fiscal 1995/96, up from nearly 14.25
million acres (5.7 million hectares) in 1994/95, according to
government statistics.

Production is targeted to hit 1.0 billion 46-pound (20.9 kg)
baskets of unmilled rice (paddy) during the 1995/96 fiscal year,
up from 881 million baskets in 1993/94 and 813 million baskets in
1992/93, according to official data.

Burma, with its 45 million people, is now said to be self-
sufficient in rice. The government estimates about 700 million
baskets of paddy are needed to feed Burmese annually.

But industry sources said wastage is rising in farmlands, due to
a lack of infrastructure, modern machinery and storage facili
ties. (TN)

August 31, 1995 

The office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
in Rangoon was officially closed on Aug 15 and its chief
representative Friedrun Medert left the country last Saturday for
her new appointment in Cambodia.

The departure took place after the Burmese junta's about-face on
its promise to allow the Geneva-based organization free access to
political prisoners.

Francois Zen Ruffinen, head of Asia and the Pacific Media Liaison
Office, said yesterday that the ICRC bureau in Rangoon was
officially closed on Aug 15, but its representatives remained to
sell off office equipment and complete necessary paper work.

Medert left Rangoon last Saturday and is currently on holiday
before taking up her new appointment in mid-October as chief of
the ICRC office in Phnom Penh, he said. Two other Red Cross
workers also left Rangoon after the office closed.

The ICRC decided to leave Burma after there was no improvement
towards ICRC requests for access to political detainees in
Burmese jails.

Although its office in Rangoon is now closed, ICRC still has left
avenues open for serious negotiations with the Burmese junta,
known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc), on
issues concerning humanitarian interests in the country, Zen
Ruffinen said.

The ICRC had been involved with humanitarian activities in Burma
since 1986. Despite the closure of the office, ICRC assistance to
the Burmese Red Cross programme in indentifying war amputees in
border areas and transporting them to Mandalay and Rangoon for
the fitting of artificial limbs would continue.

In June, an ICRC regional representative travelled to Rangoon and
officially informed Slorc of its decision to withdraw from Burma
because of the failure in negotiations with the government to
allow its workers access to political prisoners.

Slorc informed ICRC on March 21 that 'it took no account of the
customary procedures for the right to visit places of detention
as allowed in all other countries".

Negotiations began in 1993 when Slorc became more willing to
listen and consider ICRC requests. Progress was made when Slorc
leaders informed US Congressman Bill Richardson, during his visit
to Burma in February last year, that Rangoon would comply with
ICRC requests. (TN)

August 31, 1995

Mitsui and Co of Japan will build an industrial zone in Rangoon
and supply Burma with five million barrels of crude oil every
year, business sources said yesterday.

A Mitsui delegation led by Akira Utsumi, adviser to the company's
president, is currently in Rangoon negotiating the details with
Burmese officials.

On Tuesday, the delegation called on Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, secretary
of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the country's
ruling military junta.

It also held talks with the chairman of Burma's investment
commission, the minister for national planning and economic
development, and various officials of the Construction Ministry.

Details of the talks were immediately known, but according
agreements reached so far Mitsui would supply five million
barrels of crude oil annually from 1996 and build an industrial
zone in Rangoon, the sources said.

Burma at present produces 15,000 barrels of crude oil a day, a
decline from 32,000 barrels a day in 1980. Burma has been
importing crude oil since then.

The country has a refining capacity of about 60,000 barrels of
crude oil a day at three major refineries, including one built by
Mitsui at Mann, central Burma. (TN)

August 31, 1995

Free parking in downtown Rangoon will soon become a thing of the
past as authorities attempt to regulate the number of cars in the
capital's increasingly congested streets, official press report

>From Sept 1, private cars would be charged 10 kyats_ US$ 1.67 at
the official rate_an hour for parking in the city centre between
8am and 6pm, city authorities said in state newspapers.

The directive said official, military and diplomatic cars would
exempt from the tax, as would ambulances, fire engines and
commuter buses.

Traffic is fast becoming a problem in the city of about four
million people, with large numbers of people commuting to work in
Rangoon from satellite towns. Recent official figures said some
200,000 of the country's 275,000 registered vehicles were plying
the streets of the capital. The figure does not include military

The new measures would add to the financial burden of private car
owners, who already pay hefty premiums for insurance, annual
registration fees and wheel tax_totaling nearly 5,000 kyats.

The new regulation is also seen as another way of raising funds
for the city development committee, which is responsible for
developing Rangoon as part of the "Visit Myanmar (Burma) Year
1996" campaign to attract tourists. (TN)

August 31, 1995

Thai forces are watching the border with Burma following a clash
between the United Wa State Army and the Mong Tai Army.

The clash resulted in military personnel from both sides
intruding into Doy Pa Da in Mae Ai District of Chiang Mai. The
Naresuan Task Force chased them back across the border on

Soldiers in the Third Army and Border Patrol Police in Chiang
Mai, Chaing Rai and Mae Hong Son have since stepped up their
watch on the area.

Task force Chief-of-staff Col Tomorn Kittisophon said about 100
Rangoon troops supporting the UWSA had set up two strongholds
close to the border opposite Mae Ai District. The task force
warned the troops to move back at least two kilometres deeper
into their territory.

The MTA received the same warning after attempting to set up
camps too close to the border. Col Tomorn said the Army would not
interfere with the fighting and the MTA troops showed willingness
to heed the warning.

Rangoon troops and the UWSA have continued to shell MTA bases for
three consecutive days. Both sides have allegedly tried to cross
into Thailand to gather food.

Burapha Task Force Deputy Director Maj-Gen Pairoj Wannatrong said
he told soldiers to prevent this. The task force yesterday seized
horses laden with more than a ton of rice in Wiang Haeng Sub-
district, Chiang Mai. The rice, bought from a Thai trader, was
about to be taken across the border.

It was unclear who had sent for the rice. A Burmese who accompa
nied the horses was charged with illegal entry. Maj-Gen Pairoj
said he believed that during the past year at least 100 tons of
food had been smuggled out of the country to assist the minority

The MTA was yesterday resisting the Burmese Government's warning
to abandon its stronghold at Yon. Rangoon has threatened to crush
the MTA if it does not withdraw from the stronghold before the
end of next month. (BP)

August 31, 1995  (abridged)

Burma's male-led delegation to the Beijing women's conference has
been asked to explain to the meeting how Burmese women are
already equal to men and so have no need to demand more equality,
official media reported yesterday.

Lt Gen Khin Nyunt of the ruling State Law and Order Restoration
Council (Slorc) made the comments to the delegation, led by Maj
Gen Soe Myint, minister of social welfare, relief and resettle
ment, before it left to attend the United nations Fourth
Conference on Women.

Burma's most famous woman politician, Nobel Peace laureate Aung
San Suu Kyi, has sent a videotape speech to be played at the non-
governmental organisation (NGO) forum on women.

The speech made by the recently-freed opposition leader was due
to be played on August 31 at the NGO forum which runs parallel to
the UN conference.

Khin Nyunt told the Burmese delegation it does not need to demand
the rights and equality called for by other women at the

The Burmese representation at the Beijing conference is not to
make demands for Burmese women, but to present objective
conditions of the rights they enjoy, he said.

If there were any accusations laid against Burma at the confer-
ence, the delegates need to explain the rights Burmese women
enjoy and refute any accusations most firmly, the official media
reported. (BP)

September 1, 1995

EVER the self-publicist, Shan leader Khun Sa has frequently
compared himself to a tree: a political Christmas tree for
others to decorate, or a tree with golden leaves that others
shake for their own enrichment. But now the 62-year-old warlord
and drug baron, who used profits from the opium trade to build
up a formidable rebel army and create a self-styled independent
Shan state in eastern Myanmar, is being shaken to the roots.

He was indicted in 1990 by the US for narcotics trafficking.
Fearful that they might be implicated in the heroin trade, his
allies and benefactors- among them some powerful Thais-have been
distancing themselves from him. The primary motive for talking
out Khun Sa has nothing to do with the heroin trade, says a
Bangkok based analyst. It's basically to curry favor with the US
and to help destroy the resistance in Shan state. Thai security
officials now say that Khun Sa has three options: jail in
Myanmar, China or US.

Even Khun Sa's once tightly disciplined Mong Tai Army is showing
cracks. Reports suggest that it lost over 25% of its troops in
just a few months. Those who have bolted, either to create their
own insurgent groups or to defect to the ruling State Law and
Order Restoration Council (Slorc), claim that under Khun Sa's
regime drug trafficking has taken precedence over more legiti
mate Shan nationalist aspirations. The biggest blow to the army
was the recent desertion by a trusted officer, Maj Karnyord, and
500 men. They broke away to form the Shan State National Army,
which has reportedly swelled fourfold since then.

Other ethnic minority rebel groups have not fared well either.
Last year the Karen National Liberation Organization, one of the
largest insurgent groups, suffered a severe blow when Slorc
supported faction, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Organization,
split from its ranks. With help from the breakaway elements,
government troops were able to capture the rebel bases at
Manerplaw and Kawmura earlier this year. Unable to come up with
a new leadership formula that would provide fresh impetus to the
rebellion, the Karens have reluctantly entered into preliminary
cease-fire negotiations with Slorc.

The government has been less successful in dealing with the
Shans. A two month offensive that ended in May is believed to
have resulted in heavy casualties for Slorc troops. Travelers in
central Myanmar at the time reported seeing wounded government
soldiers being ferried to Yangon on scheduled civil fights. Khun
Sa's Mong Tai Army is thought to number more than 6,000, which
means it is still the largest single force challenging the
junta. Its arsenal is also well-stocked, containing even
surface-to-air missiles. Still, just a year ago, Khun Sa claimed
to command 25,000 troops.

Time is running out for Khun Sa. He is feeling the pressure from
efforts by Thai authorities to tighten the flow of arms:
resupplies are becoming harder to obtain and more expensive. The
poor weather has not helped, reducing the yield of the poppy
harvest this year. Heroin production in areas controlled by Khun
Sa is down by a third. And observers are now waiting for Slorc
to launch the final strike against him. Government offensives in
the last two months have resulted in Skirmishes with the Shan
and substantial damage to Karenni rebel positions. Thai forces
in the Third Army Region are bracing for an overdue mid-monsoon
offensive. In the last few years, the rainy season has become
less of a problem, and some believe that a monsoon offensive is
not as impossible as it once was, says a Western observer.

Stung by the recent setbacks, Khun Sa has been keeping an
unusually low profile all year, rarely hosting visitors at his
Homong headquarters near the Thai border. This has led to
speculation that he is either seriously ill or planning to step
down. A reshuffle in the past two weeks has resulted in a more
collective leadership in the of an 11 member Shan Sate Adminis
trative Council. And Zao Gangade, chairman of the Shan State
National Congress, has been mentioned as a possible successor to
Khun Sa. But all this is generally viewed as little more than a
cosmetic ploy.

Khun Sa's predicament comes amid increased tension along the
Thai-Myanmar border. The number of refugees- mainly Karen and
Mon in Thailand is now approaching 100,000, the highest ever.
Myanmar authorities have closed of all border crossing points,
including major ones at Tachilek and Myawaddy. The loss to
Thailand in border trade has been estimated at $28 million a
month. A final key gateway in the south at Victoria Point was
closed after an incident where four Myanmar fishermen were
murdered by their Thai crewmates aboard a trawler belonging to
Myanmar Narong Canning, a Thai fishing concessionaire.

While the historically antagonistic countries have seldom been
on worse terms, the situation may soon change. Thai Defense
Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh is planning an informal but
high profile September visit to Yangon to smooth relations. "It's
been a long time since I've seen my old colleagues," he told
reporters recently. It the Thais and their colleagues in Yangon
decide to drop their differences long enough to cooperate, then
Khun Sa may be in for a lot more trouble. (AW,SEPT1,1995)

August 31, 1995

THE people come quietly in twos and threes. Soon they number in
the hundreds, gathered before the grey, metal gate. They come
every week to listen to Burma's most famous dissident, Aung San
Suu Kyi.

Since her release in July after six years of house arrest, Suu
Kyi has turned the gate, once the boundary of her prison, into a
pulpit. Standing on a ladder behind it, she preaches patience
and determination in the quest for democracy. Progress, she
tells her supporters, will come through negotiation and compro

Suu Kyi is not just speaking to the crowd. She is also sending a
message to the generals who have ruled Burma for more than 30
years: She wants to talk. The question is : Do they? The junta's
grip on power has never looked stronger, thanks to a powerful
security apparatus, ceasefire deals with ethnic rebels and the
seeds of economic recovery. Yet the economy desperately needs
foreign aid and investment to bloom, and how quickly that flows
in depends in large part on how the generals treat Suu Kyi.

These days when economics and politics are so closely linked,
those who are involved economically can hardly avoid being more
positive in bringing about the necessary changes, Suu Kyi told
the REVIEW, urging foreign investors and aid donors to support
the evolution towards democracy in Burma.

More than a month after her release, both sides are still
cautiously feeling their way ahead. We do have a line of
communication with the authorities. I am not prepared to say
more than that, Suu Kyi says. To speak too soon could hurt the
process towards dialogue.

The leaders of the military junta, the State Law and Order
Restoration Council, or Slorc, have made no public response to
Suu Kyi's call. But a leader of Suu Kyi's National League for
Democracy says some military officers have reacted positively.
They say they appreciate the tenor of Aung San Suu Kyi's

Avaro De Soto, assistant secretary general of the United
Nations, met with military leaders and Suu Kyi in mid August,
trying to jump start a dialogue. When he left, there was still
no sign that talks were imminent. Yet Suu Kyi says talks are
inevitable. Even wars end at the negotiating table, she says.
I'm sure one day we'll end up at the negotiating table, and the
sooner the better for the country.

If talks materialize, the first item on Suu Kyi's agenda is to
stake out some common ground with the generals. Both sides, she
says, want to work for prosperity and stability. Her main
short-term goal, she says, is the release of all political
prisoners. Hundreds still languish in jail, including about a
dozen MPs elected in 1990 polls that were won by the NLD but
then annulled by the military. We can guarantee that there won't
be any trouble if our people are released, promises a leader of
the party. Our position is not to encourage radicalism.

Next, the NLD would like to see a gradua easing of martial-law
restrictions. Political activity has been stifled. Gatherings of
more than five people remain illegal. If they wanted to, the
authorities could arrest Suu Kyi and the people who come to hear
her speak on the weekends.

Both sides will have to make some tough choices before the end
of October, when a convention drafting guidelines for a new
national constitution is set to reconvene. The generals are
seeking to formalize their leading role in politics. Among other
provisions, the new constitution contains an article reserving a
quarter of the seats in parliament for military men. The Slorc
must decide whether it will invite Suu Kyi to take part in this
process. And the NLD must decide how far it is willing to go
with the Slorc's plan.

The timing of any move, however, is up to Burma's military
leaders, who are stronger than ever and firmly in control of
politics. The army has cut deals with most ethnic-minority
insurgent groups, halting decades of fighting in border areas.
And it has effectively suppressed dissent across the country.

No one has forgotten the 1988 uprising, when troops killed and
injured thousands of anti-government protesters. And people are
still angry that the military refused to accept the NLD's 1990
election victory. But for the moment, fear has the upper hand.
There is no free press, and Burmese who talk to foreign diplo
mats and journalists are questioned by military intelligence.
Those who defy the regime are thrown in jail. Three students
arrested earlier this year for shouting slogans at the funeral
of Burma's first president, U Nu, were sentenced recently to
seven years in prison.

We always have to watch out. We have no rights, says one
businessman in Mandalay. Nobody dares to say anything. Nobody
dares resist. It would be like beating your head against a wall.

In an effort to ease the dissatisfaction with its repressive
rule, the government in 1988 began dismantling the stultifying
socialist system it imposed on the country in 1962. The generals
promulgated a liberal foreign-investment law, offering tax
breaks to businessmen who set up shop in Burma. Private banks
are allowed to operate again and state-owned enterprises are
being privatized.

The result: Signs of economic life are returning to Rangoon.
Workers with their Longyis hiked up above their knees clamber
around hundreds of construction sites. Scores of new hotels and
restaurants have opened. There are even traffic jams down-town
in the afternoon. The government has approved foreign-investment
projects worth $3 billion since it decided to open up the
country, and the influx of capital has helped get the economy
moving again.

But so far, the benefits have come only a handful of Burma's 45
million people. The country remains one of the poorest and
least-development in the world. The United Nations figures that
per-capita GDP was just $220 in 1993. Just one in four children
completes primary school, malaria remains the leading cause of
death, and most villages are without electricity.

Indeed, most people are suffering as the country makes the
difficult transition from central planning to a market economy.
Inflation has been running above 30% annually since 1993. The
prices of rice and other staples are soaring. The government
also has raised the price of electricity and fuel, which is
strictly rationed. In the socialist days, our salaries were
small. But prices were low enough that we could buy what we
needed, says one civil servant. Now, we have to struggle to

More worrying, to some, is that the recent investment boom could
run out of steam. Most of the money that has poured into the
country has been to fund hotel projects and the extraction of
timber, oil and natural gas. To widen the scope of investment
and attract a substantial number of manufacturing industries in
the electricity, transportation and telecommunications infra

That, of course, takes a lot of money. The government has signed
an agreement with Marubeni of Japan to serve as an adviser on
infrastructure projects. But so far, private companies have
shown little interest in stepping into the breach. Long-term
investments in infrastructure are still seen as too risky, given
Burma's uncertain economic and political future.

That has left the governent to fend for itself. It has been
funding new roads and other public works out of its own coffers,
and running large budget deficits to do so. It has made up for
the shortfall by printing money, adding to inflaction. Despite
the government's efforts, it simply does not have the resources
to do everything that needs to be done. We've reached a plateau,
says one Burmese businessman. I can't see things getting much
better until we get foreign aid. 

Foreign aid and loans from the World Bank and others would help
spread the wealth and lay the groundwork for future economic
growth. But donor countries, with the exception of China,
stopped giving aid after the army's bloody crackdown on
anti-government demonstrations in 1988. Loan programmes, too,
were suspended.

Many analysts suspect that economic motivations are the main
reason the government decided to free Suu Kyi. The generals no
doubt hope her release will pave the way for a resumption of
foreign aid and loans from multilateral lenders. In the wake of
Suu Kyi's release, Japan announced that it would consider
resuming its aid programmes. A high-level mission was to visit
Rangoon before the end of August to discuss this with the

The United States and other Western countries have taken a
harder line, saying that the Slorc must talk to Suu Kyi and make
substantial progress towards re-establishing democracy before
aid can be restored. Washington sand its allies also have
effectively blocked Burma's access to loans from the World Bank
and International Monetary Fund.

But do Burma's leaders think the economic situation is critical
enough to make political changes? The answer seems to be no. We
are going at our own pace, says Set Maung, one of the chief
economic advisers to the government. Things are improving, but
it's a slower improvement than we would be having if we had
foreign aid. Even so, he says, I don't think we would bend over
backwards to do things that aren't appropriate foe us. We are
talking measures in every field at our own pace.

Set Maung and other government officials emphasize Burma's
ability to be selfsufficient. He notes that only about half of
Burma's arable land is cultivated, a phenomenon he attributes to
socialism. Now that the government is allowing farmers to sell
more of their crops on the free market, he expects production to
increase. The government is hoping to use exports of rice and
other agricultural commodities to boost its meagre foreign
exchange reserves.

Government planners expect Burma's other rich natural resources
will provide handsome foreign-exchange earnings as well. The
jewel in the resource crown is natural gas. When a pipeline to
carry natural gas from the Gulf of Martaban across Burma to
Thailand is completed in 1998, hard-currency earnings will soar.

The Slorc's message is clear: We can take care of ourselves. But
the Slorc has to decide how long people will be content to just
get by, with no say in how they are governed. Farmers recent the
government's relentless push for more output and its mandatory
purchases of crops. Even those who have benefited most from the
recent spate of economic growth have few nice things to say
about the government.

"I really hate the Slorc," says a Burmese executive at a foreign
firm in Rangoon. "Aung San Suu Kyi is the real representative of
the Burmese people. If the generals don't respect her, they
don't respect us."

Despite such comments, the mood in Burma now is certainly for
compromise and not confrontation. People seem to have no stomach
for the kind of violence that the military meted out in 1988.
The government rules this country with guns, says a former
student activist.

Most of my friends went to jail after the uprising. Now they're
out. A lot of them jobs. They don't want to risk it all now.

The National League for Democracy says it is in control of its
forces and wants to talk. The ball, it would seem, is now in the
generals' court. (FEER,Aug31,1995)

August 31, 1995  (Far Eastern Economic Review)

Since her release from six years of house arrest, Aung San Suu
Kyi has been calling for perseverance in the pursuit of democ
racy in Burma. In an interview with correspondent Gordon
Fairclough, the Nobel Prize winner suggests that foreign aid
donors and investors shouldn't rush in too hastily.

Fairclough: What can other countries do to help Burma?
Suu Kyi: There has been a debate over how far pressure and constructive
engagement have worked. There is no argument about the fact that
change is necessary. There is only argument over how change can
be brought about. These days when economics and politics are so
closely linked, those who are involved economically can hardly
avoid being more positive in bringing about the necessary

Fairclough: What do you think about Japan's decision to resume aid?
Suu Kyi:  I think they should watch and see a bit and not rush into it.
Aid should get to people who need it most and it should be given
in the right way at the right time. If it is a reward for my
release, I'm just one political prisoner released, and there are
others as well. The change in condition of just one person is
not enough.

Fairclough: What about the businessmen here?
Suu Kyi: I really think they take a broader view of the returns they can
expect from the country. A country that is stable---offers more
economic opportunities. In a country where people feel their
will is flouted, where they are frustrated by stability. Even it
they're just interested in making a lot of money, in the
long-term, that's more likely in a country with a stable

Fairclough: Do you think that the government's effort to liberalize the
economy has made much of an impression on people?
Suu Kyi: I think it has made an impression on some people. The vast
majority of people in Burma live in rural areas. For them, I
don't think we can say the economic changes of the past six
years have had that much impact.

Fairclough: How do you see your role in politics in the months and years
Suu Kyi: Well, I'm not thinking years ahead. In the months ahead,
obviously my role is to try to get dialogue started as soon as
possible. I hope the military will understand that in the end,
the only way to solve the country's problem is through dialogue.

Fairclough: What if Slorc doesn't talk to you?
Suu Kyi: Well, we'll have to persevere. In the end, all problems end at
the negotiating table. Even wars end at the negotiating table.
I'm sure one day we'll all end up at the negotiating table, and
the sooner the better for the country.

Fairclough: Can the National League for Democracy live with a constitution
that sets aside parliamentary seats for military officers?
Suu Kyi: The National League for Democracy promised people that we would
give them a genuine democratic system. That was the promise on
which the NLD won the elections, and we will have to honour that