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Excuses to order (FEER 23.8.90)

/* posted 17 Jan 6:00am 1997 by drunoo@xxxxxxxxxxxx in igc:reg.burma */
/* -----------------" Excuses to order (23/8/90) "------------------ */

Military given pretext to cling on to power
By Bertil Lintner and Rodney Tasker in Bangkok

A wave of demonstrations to mark the 8 August anniversary of the Burmese
security forces brutal crushing of the pro-democracy uprising in 1988 may
give the ruing military regime another pretext for holding on to power
indefinitely. During one of the anniversary marches, in the central city of
Mandalay, troops reportedly opened fire, killing two Buddhist monks and two

While the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) has made
no mention the reported shootings and killings, it was unusually quick to
publicise the renewed bout of unrest. At a press conference in Rangoon two
days later an official spokesman perhaps predictably blamed the opposition
National League for Democracy (NLD) for instigating the anniversary
marches, and some diplomats in Rangoon think the regime may cite an alleged
deteriorating law-and-order situation as a reason for not handing over
power to a civilian administration.

The NLD received a landslide mandate in Burma's 27 May general election,
but the SLORC has made it clear that there will be no early convening of
the elected assembly. The only line of communication between the SLORC and
the NLD is thought to be through a low-ranking military officer from the
Directorate of teh Defence Service Intelligence assigned to liaise with the
party, but in fact seeking to drive wedges among its leadership.

There has yet to be any serious contact between the regime and the NLD on
any post-election political programme, though the SLORC has said the new
assembly -- whenever it is eventually allowed to convene -- will have to
focus on drawing up an draft constitution. The charter will then have to be
approved by a referendum and the army in what promises to be a prolonged
exercise to delay any transition to civilian rule.

The most recent SLORC-NLD contact, according to diplomats, was when NLD
leaders were summoned by junta officials to be given a dressing down for
issuing a party directive calling for the 8 August anniversary to be
observed by giving holy food to monks. According to a witness report
relayed to the REVIEW, monks led the several thousand marchers who took
part in the Mandalay incident.

The source also confirmed that troops opened fire, not only killing the
four but injuring therr others. The regime admits only that some were
injured, including members of the security forces, but diplomats noted that
the hospital to which the injured were taken was immediately surrounded and
sealed off by troops. Other, more peaceful demonstrations were also
reported in Monywa and Pakokku, as well as Rangoon, More troops have since
been deployed on Rangoon streets, though there has been no report of
further unrest since the 8 August incidents.

As the SLORC evidently becomes more entrenched in its refusal even to
discuss the prospect of handing over power to the victorious NLD, those
countries which had earlier been willing to give the regime the benefit of
the doubt after a fair election, are growing more cynical by the week.

In a clear reference to the NLD victory, the SLORC issued a statement on 27
July declaring that "a political organisation does not automatically obtain
the three sovereign legislative, administrative and judicial powers by the
emergence of a people's assembly ... only the SLORC has the right to
legislative power."

One political analyst in Rangoon criticised the statement as being "dubious
[from legal standpoint] to say the least. The SLORC simply doesn't have the
mandate of anybody any longer. It remains in power solely because it's got
the guns -- and is ready to use them. By holding htis election and refusing
to honour its outocme the SLORC has done away with whatever legitimacy it
once could claim it had."

The regime's questionable legal status had already eroded its international
standing. All former aid donor countries have announced that there will be
no more assistance as long as the SLORC refuses to step aside. The US
recently appointed a new ambassador to Rangoon, but he has reportedly been
instructed not to take up his post until an elected government has taken
over, so as to avoid having to present his credentials to a regime many
consider illegitimate.

Even the Chinese and South Korean ambassadors, whose governments are
considered comparatively friendly towards the SLORC, have on different
occasions privately expressed their hopes for a solution to the current
political crisis. The regime, in turn, has made no secret of its irritation
with some Western diplomats in Rangoon.

Perhaps more important, there has been a noticeable slow-down in foreign
investment following the election, since any business contract signed with
the regime may be up for review if and when a new elected government takes
over. Among the few exceptions are: a joint venture between the Thai firm
Saha Pornsri and the TRade Ministry, signed in late JUne, to set up a
retail shop in Rangoon; and US$1 million deal signed between Tokyo-based
Daichi and the HOme Ministry to build new airports in Rangoon and Mandalay.

Indonesian financier Adriaan Zecha signed a joint-venture agreement on 27
June to renovate the historic Strand, the INya Lake and Thamada hotels in
Rangoon. And on 10 July Miriam Marshall Associates of the US signed a
fishing contract with the Myanmar Fisheries Enterprise.

With less foreign currency flowing in, Burma's current economic crisis,
which many analysts predicted when the SLORC first its hastily put-together
economic reforms in late 1988, it biting harder. The budget deficit in
fiscal 1989-90 was Kyats 16.4 billion (about US $2.5 billion, or 15% of
Burma's GDP).

To meet expenses, the SLORC has resorted to printing more cash, resulting
in an estimated record 60-70% inflation rate. The regime's stubborn refusal
to adjust the country's grossly over-valued currency (Kyats 6.40:US$1,
compared with the blackmarket rate of Kyats 55:US$1) to a more reasonable
level seems also bound to have a serious impact on the economy.

Yet despite bubbling resentment over the regime's failure to honour the
election result and the country's economic straits, most observers strees
that the SLORC is in no immediate danger of being toppled.

In fact, the way in which the regime has used the Mandalay incident in its
own propaganda lends credence to the assumption that nothing will change
substantially as long as the military veteran Ne Win -- still effectively
in charge, despite his official resignation in 1988 -- is still alive, no
matter how much internal and external pressure is put on the regime.