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"A Turn for the Worse" (FEER)

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November 23, 1995


Government and opposition grow further apart

By Bertil Lintner in Bangkok

Aung San Suu Kyi doesn't like taking no for an answer, but
she may have to get used to it.  Since her release in July from
six years of house arrest, Burma's most prominent opposition
leader has sought some sort of dialogue with the military
government that imprisoned her.  The government has
steadfastly refused, even while tolerating Sun Kyi's renewed
high profile.

Alas, the generals seem to have tired of this delicate minuet,
and appear to be reverting to unbridled hostility.  The
clearest sign of their change in mood came on October 19
and 20, when the New Light of Myanmar, a government
mouthpiece, published two harsh attacks on Suu Kyi and the
movement she is trying to revive after years of repression.

One of the two pieces - both published under the
pseudonymous by - line U Phyo - lashed out at Rangoon
groups who "are cracking cheap jokes at will to satisfy the
average level of people, thereby engaging in destructive acts
 ... If I. U Phyo, were a police officer . . . I would certainly
have taken action against these people for obstructing

So much for reconciliation?  Many are starting to question
seriously whether there can be any accommodation between
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and the ruling
junta, officially known as the State Law and Order
Restoration Council, or Slorc.  What's more, some think, if
the opposition doesn't soon produce something more
tangible than mere words, Sun Kyi, despite all the talk about
her being "Asia's Mandela," could find herself discredited and

Whether government and opposition are indeed moving
farther apart should become clearer on November 16, when
Burma celebrates its national day.  The two camps are
already planning separate ceremonies, so the event may mark
a parting of ways after the awkward truce of the last four

Even Suu Kyi herself won't say whether a dialogue is
becoming more or less likely. Speaking by telephone, she
told the REVIEW: "I don't want to be evasive, but you have
to wait for an official statement from the NLD."

One problem is that it remains unclear what a dialogue would
be about. So far, the two sides seems to be talking past each
other. While Suu Kyi and the NLD call for "national
reconciliation" implying talks leading to some compromise
the junta advocates "national reconsolidation," suggesting a
reinforcement of military rule.

"The problem is that they aren't even speaking the same
language," says a Bangkok - based Burma watcher.  

Since her release, Suu Kyi has delivered weekend speeches
from the gate of her compound on Rangoon's University
Avenue, attracting hundreds of people.  But she's in no
position to do much else.  Some fear the longer she and the
NLD go without some substantive accomplishment, the more
their credibility fades.

Even Suu Kyi herself states publicly that "I've been released,
that's all ... the situation hasn't changed."

Optimists in Rangoon believe negotiations are likely on
November 28, when the National Convention reconvenes to
consider a constitution that has been under discussion for
almost three years. "They will talk," says a Rangoon - based
diplomat. "It's in the interest of both parties to sort out their

Others aren't so sure. The military has picked most of the
700 delegates to the convention, which opponents dismiss as
a sham affair meant to legitimize Slorc's grip on power. 
They suspect the military hopes simply to string Suu Kyi
along until the public, with its high expectations of her,
inevitably becomes disenchanted.  "By making vague
promises of talks sometime in the future, but doing nothing
to facilitate such talks, the junta is playing a clever waiting
game which can only hurt Suu Kyi's chances of achieving her
political aims," says a Western businessman with years of
experience in Burma.

"To bring about a change, Suu Kyi would have to up the
ante," says a worker for a non - government organization in
Thailand who follows events in Burma.  "She just can't
continue calling for national reconciliation and a dialogue
which doesn't seem to materialize."

Raising the ante, however, requires confronting not only the
military rulers but also a powerful new lobby of foreign
businessmen who have poured millions of dollars into Burma
and have no interest in rocking the boat.

Indeed, money may be the only reason Suu Kyi is walking
free: By releasing her the military has opened the door to
foreign aid hitherto withheld.  In October, Japan resumed
grants- in - aid to Burma with a first allotment of 1.6 billion
yen  ($16 million).  Tokyo says it's willing to deliver more
aid to Burma on "a case - by - case basis." As the Burma-watcher in Bangkok notes, "even the IMF and the ADB have
said that they are prepared to wait for a political settlement,
but not indefinitely."

Edgardo Boeninger, a member of America's National
Democratic Institute who went to Burma in early November,
argues that unless Suu Kyi can prove that she is good for
business and the present government is not, there will be no
incentive to change the regime."

And if there isn't, Suu Kyi risks irrelevance.  "A year from
now, she could even be forgotten," says a Burmese source. 
"In a way, she was more dangerous when she, was under
house arrest than she is today, as a 'free' person who has to
obey the same severe restrictions as all other citizens, which
makes any overt political activity virtually impossible."

Most probably Slorc will continue ignoring appeals for a
dialogue until all parties, domestic and foreign, accept the
government on its own terms.  That, after all, has been the
regime's goal since it seized power seven years ago.