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AUSTRALIA: STANDARD NEWS (3/12/95)
ASIA: BURMA'S SUU KYI VOWS TO PURSUE DEMOCRACY CAMPAIGN
BURMA (CARRIED EARLIER)
RANGOON, Dec 3 Reuter - Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu
Kyi has vowed to continue her struggle for a popular political
system in military-ruled Burma -- rejecting government suggestions
she has been inciting the people to take to the streets.
Suu Kyi, speaking to a crowd of about 3,000 people outside her
Rangoon home late yesterday, said if anyone would suffer in the
fight for democracy in Burma it would be her and other leaders of
her group, not the ordinary people.
"Since the founding of the NLD we decided to strive in a
dignified and just way by making sacrifices for the emergence of an
administration and political system as desired by the people. We
will keep on working according to that decision," she said.
Last week Suu Kyi pulled her National League for Democracy (NLD)
out of a government-organised convention drawing up the guidelines
of a new constitution, saying the proceedings were undemocratic.
The NLD's boycott of the national convention, which has been
meeting intermittently since January 1993, was the pro-democracy
party's most significant act of defiance since Suu Kyi was released
from six years of house arrest in July.
Apparently referring to articles in state-run newspapers
suggesting she was trying to incite the people to take to the
streets Suu Kyi said she would never use such a tactic.
"Some accuse us of inciting the people to protest on the
streets. We will never use the method of sacrificing the people. If
anyone is to suffer we will go to the front to suffer first," she
told the crowd.
In her regular weekend meetings with the crowds outside her home
Suu Kyi has repeatedly called for patience and restraint in the
campaign to end 33 years of military rule.
Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, Burma's national hero
who negotiated independence from Britain after World War II,
emerged as Burma's principal democracy leader during huge
anti-government protests which swept the country in 1988.
The military eventually suppressed the demonstrations and
detained Suu Kyi in 1989 for "endangering the state".
The NLD won more than 80 per cent of the seats in a 1990
election but the military ignored the result, insisting that a new
constitution be drawn up before any transfer of power to a civilian
government could be considered.
The government has insisted that delegates at the national
convention, the large majority of them hand-picked, include a
clause in the new constitution which would guarantee the military a
"leadership role" in politics.
/* -------------" THE AUSTRALIAN: BURMA'S WAR OF NERVES "-------------- */
WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN DECEMBER 2-3, 1995.
BURMA'S WAR OF NERVES (by Cameron Forbes)
In spite of the democratic push led by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu
Kyi, Burma's dictotorship this week took another step towards tightening
its grip on power.
The young Burmese man is thoughtful for a moment, then he mentions
Tennyson's poem 'The Brook'. "Men may come and men may go, but I go on
forever." But he changes quotation "Men may come and men may go, but SLORC
goes on forever."
SLORC - now there's an unfortunate acronym. It conjures up visions of a
rough animal stalking across the Burmese countryside. SLORC is the State
Law and Order Restoration council, the military regime that rules Burma. In
present international mythology, SLORC is beast to Aung San Suu Kyi's
beauty: the dictators oppress the champion of democracy; the men with guns
surround the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
This week another act in the Burmese drama was played out, with Suu Kyi
walking a fine line. She must keep the attention of foreign audience. There
is no future - and no safety - in being the forgotten darling of the
international community. But she must not provoke SLORC too much. When
people took to the streets in 1988, blood ran. Perhaps it would again.
The young Burmese man had been talking to me about the balance of power
between SLORC and Suu Kyi's democracy movement. Perhaps that should be
imbalance. In 1990, SLORC denied Suuu Kyi and the National League for
Democracy the victory overwhelmingly won at the ballot box and in July this
year, when SLORC ended her six years of house arrest, Suu Kyi said: "I have
been released. That is all. Nothing else has changed."
And there are things in Burma that remain the same. Teh magical golden dome
of the Shwedagon Pagoda nominates the slyline of the capital Rangoon,
though distant impressions of serenity are deceptive. Aroung the site,
where legend has it eight harirs of Buddha are enshrined, there are some
spaces for solitary mediation, but most of the pavilions Buddha has gone to
Disneyland, surrounded by garishness and flashing lights.
Yet the ancient and serious business of prayers goes on.
But the business of business has changed. After decades of travelling
deeper and deeper into the cul-de-sac, also known as Burmese road to
socialism, the closed country is open to the world, and touting. A
government sponsored publication, Spot light on Business and Investments,
says that SLORC has worked for political, economic and social development
while seeing to the prevalence of law and order, community peace and
SLORC, the surveys says, firmly believes that political stability is
essential for economic progress and at the same time political stability
contributes to it. "This is the most opportune time to do business in
Myanmar, making the best use of its natural resources for mutual benefits."
And this week, while Suu Kyi and the NLD were engaged in a grave battle of
wits and will with SLORC over the proposed new Constitution that
hand-picked delegates are drafting to guarantee the military a permanent
slice of power, a Korean trade delegation was in town, my hotel lobby was
crisscrossed by phalanxes of Japanese businessmen and I sighted a lone
While some investment flows in, there has also been a steady traffic of
arms. SLORC has taken delivery of, among other weapons from other
countries, medium battle tanks and light tanks from China, helicopters from
Poland, ground-attack air craft from Yugoslavia, mortars from Portugal,
rocket-propelled granades from Israel and heavy duty and all-terrain
vehicles from Japan.
SLORC 's prime security concern is with the decades-long struggle of ethnic
minorities, in particular the Karen, against the central Government and
what they see as domination by the Burmans, who make up nearly 70 per cent
of the population.
But Tatmadaw (the armed forces) turned its guns on civilians and manks in
1988 and this week army chief Lieutenant-General Tin Oo warned that
"Tatmadaw will resolutely take action against and annhiliate those who mar
or disturb the interest of the entire nation.".
It was rhetoric to chill Suu Kyi and the NLD who, the previous day, had
been accused by SLORC of actions "tantamount to totally forsaking and going
against the national interests" by walking out of the National Convention.
But by staying in the convention the NLD would effectively have consigned
itself to oblivion and acquiesced in the delivering of Burma to a strange
sort of democracy.
The tatmadaw insists on "a leading role in the future political life of the
State". It will appoint a quarter of themembers of both the lower House of
Representatives and the upper House of Nationalities. It is sure to look
with much interest at the Indonesian system and most likely most elected
politicians will emerge from the Union Solidarity and Social Development
Association it has set up.
Aslo, the new Constitution bans from the presidency or vice presidency
anyone who has married a foreigner or has not lived in the country
consinuously for the past 20 years. By an amazing coincidence, Suu Kyi
falls into both categories.
What can she and the NKD do in the face of guns and steely determination ?
There is steel in Suu Kyi, of course, and a sunniness when she address her
supporters who wait on the footpaths outside her home for her appearance on
Saturdays and Sundays. There is much laughter, intense empathy. But at
times, when someone else has the microphone, she seems to be in a cone of
When I met her in the grounds of her house this week and asked her if she
saw a time when the only option was to call the people into the streets,
she said she had never wanted to do this and had no intention of doint it.
Which is the obvious and sensible answer.
She also did not want to be compared with Cory Aquino of the Phillippines,
which seems, at face value, the obvious comparison. "I mean, of course we
are both women," she said. "There's a similarity there." But other people
in The Phillippines were fighting for democracy and in eastern Europe, for
example, a lot of men were fighting for democracy. Her point is that it is
the cause that is important, not the gender.
Aquino's so-called peoples' power revolution did drive out a dictator and
restore democracy, flawed though it may be. But the catalyst was teh revolt
of some old-age politicians and the young officers of the Reform the Armed
Forces movement. Without the split in the armed forces, Ferdinand and
Imelda Marcos would probably have remained in their palaces.
But Suu Kyi says the NLD does not want to encourage a split in the army
because it knows that would mean trouble for the country - and, according
to both foreign observers and Burmese I have spoken to here, the army's
unity is solid.
One argument is that it genuinely believes that in the 1950s the civilian
government damaged the nation and allowed insurgents to the gates of
Rangoon; it certainly presents itself, through its newspaper, The New Light
of Myanmar, as the guardian of the nation and its peace and tranquility.
There is a rush to build new hotels and tart up Rangoon ahead of Visit
Burma Year in 1996 and SLORC is trying to put on a new face for internal
consumption. It is working on its Bhddhist credentials, with Tin Oo Playing
a prominent role at the funeral this week of a revered monk, Tipitakadhara
Sayadaw, and a long line of military buses ferrying nourners.
But I found fear in people I spoke to and, according to Amnesty
International, SLORC shows little sign of changing its basic ways, with
1500 political prisoners behind bars and human rights violations throughout
the country.(The regime takes the usual refuge, claiming that there are
different versions of human rights standards that vary from one culture to
And according to one observer, SLORC has written off the West, taking
comfort in the warming relations with its Asian neighbours and in the
efforts of the proponents of constructive engagement ( some of whom are
concerned not with achieving good ends by pragmatism but with not missing
out on a piece of the pie).
As China is the champion of SLORC, the United States is the champion of Suu
Kyi. Its concerns with Burma is fuelled by its ideological drive to see
democracy spread and flourish - and with the fact that 60 per cent of the
heroin htat goes into the veins of Americans comes from Burma, with
production up 15 percent this year.
The US has blocked most assistance to Burma from the key lending
institutions - the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the
Asian Development Bank. Indications are that SLORC is willing to bear this
and, while the US speaks of increased sanctions as an option, sanctions
rarely produce result.
Australia, too, maintains a firm line on Burma, though Foreign Minister
Gareth Evans would have made a visit this month if a mutually convenient
time could have been found ( and National Party leader Tim Fischer is
likely to visit Suu Kyi next week.).
One argument is that SLORC is a reality and thw wourld must deal with it
and try to modify the system. Certainly there does not seem to be any quick
fix. One Burmese critic of the regime told me it had to be evolution, not
But there are other realities: fear, repression and Suu Kyi. She is playing
a careful and dangerous game and deserves the support she asks for.