[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

A Slow Game In Myanmar (third try)

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

Very sorry to have cluttered mailboxes with BinHex (readable as WordPerfect
6).  This should be OK for everyone!

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

Nov. 4, 1995

Suu Kyi has decisions to make


Life in Myanmar is traditionally unhurried.  Still, over three
months have now passed since Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader
of the opposition, was released from six years of house arrest,
and nothing much seems to have changed.  The State Law and
Order Restoration Council (SLORC), the military junta
running Myanmar, simply ignores Miss Suu Kyi.  For her part,
she behaves thoroughly correctly -- to little effect, and the
possible loss of her credibility.

Miss Suu Kyi now faces a deadline.  Her party, the National
League for Democracy (NLD), has until November 28th to
decide whether to take part in the "constitutional convention"
that has been meeting, on and off, since January 1993.  Miss
Suu Kyi once dismissed this SLORC - controlled get - together
as "an absolute farce".  To attend risks legitimising it.  But to
stage a boycott risks exclusion from the only form of political
dialogue on offer.

The SLORC is behaving as though a political settlement
would be possible without Miss Suu Kyi, despite her
apparently undiminished popularity.  She counters by dem-
onstrating her popularity.  Every Saturday and Sunday
afternoon she appears at the entrance to her home in Yangon's
(Rangoon's) University Avenue.  Hundreds gather in the street
to hear her preach reconciliation and exchange banter with the
crowd.  The gatherings are more organised now than when she
was first freed.  An atmosphere of happy spontaneity persists,
but in front of her, like bouncers at a pop concert, stands a row
of young men in grey T-shirts emblazoned with her portrait.

Sometimes she speaks a few words in English to oblige the
foreigners in the crowd, mostly tourists.  She has become a
sight.  "When in Yangon," an imaginary guide book might
advise, "don't miss the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda. 
Somerset Maugham, a British writer, called it 'a sudden hope
in the dark night of the soul".  And be sure to see Miss Suu
Kyi, who has a similar effect on many visitors."

Officially, the SLORC bans meetings of more than five people. 
Its tolerance of the gatherings outside Miss Suu Kyi's house is
as far as any political relaxation goes.  Ever since her release,
she has pleaded for "dialogue".  The only hint of a response
came in September, from Khin Nyunt, the SLORC'S secretary
- l", when he received Madeleine Albright, the American
ambassador to the United Nations.  NLD leaders point to his
vague talk then about "sorting out the appropriate time for a
dialogue" as grounds for continued "cautious optimism".

Cautious pessimism may be more appropriate.  Last month the
NLD reappointed Miss Suu Kyi as its leader and Tin U and
Kyi Maung, political prisoners freed in March, as deputy
chairmen.  The SLORC declared the appointments illegal. It is
pressing ahead with the constitutional convention.

The tasks of the convention's 700 SLORC - appointed
members are to entrench the army in power, and to make it as
hard as possible for the NLD to repeat its electoral triumph of
1990, when it won 80% of the seats.  The SLORC ignored the
result, and set up the convention instead, involving some of the
NLD members it had not locked up.  Since her release, Miss
Suu Kyi has been circumspect about the convention, keeping
her options open.  NLD members may well continue to take
part.  "Otherwise our voice will not be heard," says Tin U.

But his colleague Kyi Maung says the convention is "not
acceptable" to the NLD as a proper forum for negotiation. 
"When we come to the end of our patience, we will let them
know," he says.  But the NLD'S options are limited.  Myanmar
still remembers the bloodbath that followed the SLORC'S sei-
zure of power in 1988, after months of pro - democracy
demonstrations.  Nobody is advocating a return to people

The SLORC too faces a dilemma, if not a fixed deadline.  If it
gives any encouragement to Miss Suu Kyi and the NLD, it
may unleash forces it cannot control.  Continue to ignore her,
however, and it will remain, at least partially, an international
pariah and at odds with most of the people it rules.  Some
believe the SLORC genuinely wants to hand over some power. 
The generals have made their fortunes and want to go, but qui-
etly, and safe from vengeance.  They also want credit for what
they see as their achievements: a growing economy and
peaceful borders.

Even if this optimistic assessment of the SLORC is correct, it
does not bode well for a reconciliation with Miss Suu Kyi. 
Her popularity alone makes her seem threatening.  And there is
the danger that the people who gather outside her house will
take note of the message on the bouncers' T -shirts.  Squeezed
into the outline of a map of Myanmar is a quotation from Miss
Suu Kyi: "Burma is nowhere near democracy yet."