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DAASK Interview Transcript
Following is a transcript of the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi interview of
November 21, 1996 regarding US sanctions, policy, foreign investment,
selective purchasing laws and dialogue with the SLORC.
Could you please tell us, what is the NLD position regarding requests for United
Well, we think that conditional sanctions are a very good idea, but the time is
fast coming when probably the worsening conditions that were mentioned for an
amendment will really be a fact.
Regarding those conditions, with the amendment, in what ways do you think the
worsened repression would need to be demonstrated before the Congress finds the
amendment could be implemented?
I think the next wave of repression, the next wave of arrest, the next wave of
acts of violence instigate by the government should really be interpreted as the
necessary conditions for sanctions to come into effect.
And these would include the implementation of UN and state sanctions?
In your view what do you think would be necessary to happen in terms of signs of
repression for the Cohen-Feinstein Legislation to be implemented?
More arrests of key members of the NLD, more acts of repression against NLD
officers and supporters of the democracy movement, more acts of violence
instigated either by the authorities or by the USDA; I think that should really
be the signal for sanctions to take off.
Does the NLD's call for sanctions by the United States or other Western
countries impede the prospect of dialogue with the government?
This is what the government seems to be hinting at: that it's because we are
calling for sanctions that they have not entered dialogue. But we cannot accept
that explanation, because they did not do anything towards entering into
dialogue, even in the days when we were very careful not to call for sanctions
and we were very restrained because we wanted to keep the door open. So I think
that for the authorities to say now that calling for sanctions will prevent
dialogue is just a ploy to stop us calling for sanctions. I think it's got to be
the other way around. Dialogue first, before we stop our call for sanctions.
Well, in that regard, has there been any progress recently towards establishing
a forum for dialogue in the last few weeks?
No, not at all.
Has the NLD itself tried to make any other efforts of saying to the government. . .?
We make efforts all the time. We're making constant efforts to start dialogue,
but you know, it takes two. A dialogue requires two sides. We don't want a
The government is saying that the only appropriate forum for a dialogue between
any political party or ethnic people and the government is the national
convention. What do you say to that?
That's absolute nonsense. The national convention is not a place where any kind
of dialogue can take place. It's simply a forum for reading off of papers that
have already been censored and approved of by the authorities.
So what would a genuine dialogue that would be more appropriate be for the NLD?
It's got to be a substantive political dialogue between the SLORC and political
leaders including myself and leaders of ethnic groups, exactly as stipulated in
the General Assembly resolution on Burma.
What is your response to the idea that developing the market oriented economy
speeds the process of democratization?
Developing a market oriented economy in the right way, would of course, help the
process of democratization, but not the kind of market economy that grossly
favors the elite and the kind of open market economy that is only open to some
and not to others. What we have in Burma now is not an open market economy.
It's more what you would call "crony capitalism".
How would the imposition of sanctions from the United States or other Western
countries impact the population in Burma?
I don't think the public in general would be affected, because, so far, the kind
of investments that have come in have benefited the public very little indeed.
If you have been in Burma long enough you will be aware of the fact that a small
elite has grown up which is extremely wealthy. Perhaps they would be affected.
But my concern is not with them, but with the general public. And I think I can
say with absolute confidence that the general public of Burma would be very
little affected, if at all, by sanctions.
Would it in political terms, then, have an impact on impeding democratic reform
in terms of how the government will perceive the response from those types of
impositions from western governments?
No, I do not think so, as this government has not really done much towards
democratic reform, you can not say that sanctions would in any way impede
progress toward democratic reform.
Hasn't it in some manner - the market oriented economy - hasn't it benefited
the population of Burma?
It has benefited some people. . . very few. And since the so-called open market
economy has come in, the vast population of Burma is poorer if anything at all,
because standards of health and education have fallen, and conditions in the
rural areas are worse off then they have ever been. So I don't see how you can
equate the so-called open market economy adopted by SLORC with development of
What about the Ronald Reagan phrase, "trickle-down" economic benefit, towards less
enriched sectors of the population. For example, with the tourism industry, taxi
drivers, and people that serve clienteles in the hotels and so forth.
Of course there is a trickle-down effect, we cannot deny that. But the trickle
is a very, very small trickle. And it's dissipated very easily.
The government seems to have a response of apparent indifference towards the
measures that have already been taken by the European Union and the impending
measures by the United States. Do you think that they have a reaction apart from
what seems to be a nonchalance?
Well, if they are totally indifferent to those measures, why do they say that
it's because of our call for sanctions that dialogue has been obstructed?
In economic terms, for the government being operable, what is the measurable
impact of sanctions from Western nations, when the collective investment of them
would not be enough to actually, sort of, stop the economy, as it were?
It's not a matter of stopping the economy. What the sanctions do is to make
people understand that you cannot exercise repression in this country and, at
the same time, expect international support as well. Although people say that
western sanctions will not make much of a difference because a lot of the
businesses which are investing in Burma are not from the West, a lot of those
businesses intend to export to the West, and so those businesses will be
affected. And Western sanctions will have a considerable effect on the eagerness
of people to invest in Burma, which, in another way of putting it is, it will
have an affect on how far non-western countries would like to go to support the
policies of SLORC.
There has been some talk that in fact, the European Union and the United States
are both waiting for one another to make a move in order for them to go forward with
a move for more definitive sanctions against the government of Burma. Does this
dynamic have an impact in relation to Western governments to ASEAN? In other words,
do you think there would be ASEAN investors, potential investors, that perhaps
would hesitate more if there were stronger sanctions. . .?
Oh, certainly. Stronger sanctions from Western countries would certainly make
ASEAN investors hesitate a great deal.
How do you think this sort of stalemate, as it were, in terms of. . .?
As I said earlier, I think more arrests of key NLD personnel, more acts of
violence, more acts of repression, then I think both the United States and the
EU should then see it as time for sanctions to come into full effect.
Would sanctions be more effective if the United Nations as an international
entity took an active role in calling for UN sanctions based on resolutions?
Certainly. A United-Nations-supported sanctions move would be very, very
effective because it would, in effect, mean that the whole international community
was in favor of such sanctions.
In the United States, there have been some states such as Massachusetts, that
have chosen to have selective purchasing forms of sanctions whereby they won't
do business as a state government with businesses that deal with Burma. Is this
an effective means of speeding democratization?
Yes, very much so! Consumer power. And it's good to know that the people of
different countries are really concerned and involved in the movement to bring
democracy to Burma. I think in some ways it's better to have the *people* of the
world on your side, rather than the governments of the world, even if the
governments can be more effective in certain directions.
Would the NLD like to see more individual states within the United States try to
draft such forms of selective purchasing acts?
Very much so. The more the better. [smiling]
And in what ways do you think that the American public could be more cognizant
of the situation in Burma? What types of information do you think that they
would need if they would like to lobby their elected officials to enact such
They would need to know more about what's actually going on in Burma: how very
few rights the Burmese people have; how there is misrule of law -- constant
misrule of law; how members of the NLD are subjected to tremendous injustice and
oppression; how we, how the majority of our people are forced to live in fear
Could you explain the SLORC's current economic situation in the country in terms
of the limited foreign reserves that they've got and in what ways that will
affect their continued operation as a government as well as impact on the
living standards of the people.
Well, the living standards of the people have never really benefited from
whatever economic measures the SLORC has taken. Because of the rampant
inflation, living standards have been dropping for the great majority of the
population. We understand now that government has what one would call a
"liquidity problem", that is to say, they don't have much money in the treasury.
Obviously, that is going to affect the situation of the country. As far as we have been
aware, the government does not spend that much money in any case on such
essentials as health and education, which are indicators of the degree of
development of a country. So, if they have a liquidity problem, and there is
very little money available, one will have to come to the conclusion, that the
development of the country will be further impeded. I doubt that they will spend
what little they have on the health and education of the general public. One has
to feel very greatly that this will go to shoring up their own authority.
Is it your understanding that the current administration, the re-elected Clinton
administration, perceives the situation in Burma as serious to rank high enough
in terms of foreign affairs that they must address under Clinton's newly elected
We are hopeful that they consider the situation in Burma serious enough to be
considered. . . "seriously". [smiling]
As I'm sure you're aware, President Clinton will be traveling to Bangkok, your
neighboring city, this coming weekend.
What kinds of things would you like to apprise him of if you could, sort of,
indirectly have a chance to have an audience with him, or a briefing, what kind
of things would you like to apprise him of?
I'm sure he's already been briefed of the situation in Burma. It would be most
surprising if he has not been briefed on what is happening in Burma when he is
about to visit Thailand, such a very close neighbor, and such a very important
member of the ASEAN organization. I'm sure he is aware of the very latest
developments in Burma, and of the fact that change is necessary if we are to
break out of this present political impasse, which is not doing any good, either
to our people, or even to SLORC, if they imagine that it is better off as it is
The recent attack on yourself and your colleagues two weekends ago, isn't that
type of incident a "serious enough" incident in terms of the manifest of
repression in terms of the security of the NLD and its members?
Very much so, it is of course, very serious. But, on the other hand, we would
not like it to appear as though we consider our personal safety and personal
security as far more serious than the safety and security of the people in
general. So, rather than take this as, as it were, the sign of the worsened
conditions that one talks of in relation to sanctions, I would like people to
. . . *watch*. . . and to study the situation, and to decide that if there are more arrests
of key members of the NLD and more repression of the movement for democracy,
then that would be the time for sanction to come in. I do not like to encourage
personalized politics, as it were. So we would not like it to be thought that
just because certain political *personalities* were attacked, that this means the
situation's very grave. The gravity of the situation comes from the fact that
ordinary members of the NLD are repressed all the time. What we want is a
healthy political organization, which is allowed to function freely. We don't
want a political organization that has been completely paralyzed, and only a few
of the select leaders are protected by international attention.
You've received news of further arrests of party members. Would you like to
explain that a bit?
Well, we have heard that one of our key party members, a member of the CWC, was
arrested yesterday evening, and that also a key NLD member from the Kayah State
was arrested. I'm not quite sure exactly when he was arrested. We want to see
whether they were just called in for questioning, or whether they are going to
be actually detained for a longer period. We want to investigate further. If
they have been detained -- if they are going to be tried or sentenced to
prison, then I think that this would constitute a very, very serious infringement
of the rights of the NLD to function. I would say that this would constitute a
move serious enough to be considered a reason for bringing in sanctions.
The attack last week, it has been rumored, as rumors fly about Rangoon, that in
fact, the alleged two factions within the SLORC, one of them was behind it and
the other one had no knowledge of that -- the attack on the entourage of your
cars. Would you like to comment on that, what you know about that, and if you,
in fact, think there is one faction of the government that's trying a more
concerted effort that perhaps would allow physical confrontation with the NLD?
There is not sufficient proof either way. I think it could be, your theory, what
you have heard, that one faction did not know about it. But I'm afraid there is
not sufficient proof -- evidence -- in either direction, for me to make any kind
of statement on the matter.
What were your thoughts in that flash of the moment when the car was being
I was just interested in what was going on [laughing]. It was quite interesting,
Did you feel, did you have sense, that this was something, you know, very
serious, or what was the feeling of being surrounded by so many people?
Well. . . I was fairly detached, I just saw it all as an observer: there were all
these faces crowding in. There was this one man in front with an iron bar in his
hand. I assumed that he was the one who made this big gash in my windscreen. I
just said, "keep moving." I made this decision that we were going to go on and
go to meet the crowds who had come to support us. . . . didn't really. . . I didn't really
feel any much else. One of the boys who was with us in the car was a bit angry
about the whole thing, so, I spent a bit of time calming him down, telling him
not to be angry.
Are you concerned that if leaders of the NLD choose to be in contact with the
public supporters in the future, that there might be other incidents of physical
Well, it's possible, but, then we'll have to look on it as an occupational
hazard. Because leaders of political parties *do* need to be in contact with the
people. That's what it's all about -- politics is about people.
Are you concerned for the supporters themselves, if these USDA-hired civilians,
as it were, are out in the streets, might try to. . . some sort of cataclysmic riot
might erupt between the various civilian people?
That of course, is always a possibility. But, I'm fairly confident that we can
control *our* people. Whether or not the authorities can control theirs is another
And, finally, is there any progress made -- I understand that the party filed a
formal police complaint about the incident that occurred two weekends ago? Is
there any update on that?
As far as I understand, they have called for a list of witnesses, and I think Oo
Ti Oo went to the police station this morning, but I have not seen him since he
We went out of town for a few days and talked to some farmers. . .
Yes, I hear that the rice harvest is not so bad, but the lentils, the beans and
lentils have been destroyed by the unseasonal [sic] rain. But in some other areas I
hear that the unseasonal [sic] rain has effected the harvest.
. . . effect on the economy because this is our staple food.
Just one final thing, going back to the economy, if we could, what is the
foreseeable scenario, if in fact the government is, to use slang, broke? What is
the foreseeable repercussions of that, in terms of. . . both the rise in prices, but
the people's reaction to such a dramatic rise in their living standard costs?
I think if prices are going to rise much, much more, and people are unable to
cope with the cost of living, there is bound to be a lot of discontent and
frustration. And it is difficult to predict how this frustration and discontent
will be expressed. It certainly will not be a happy situation.
I just have one final question. . . I already asked you two weeks ago about tourism. . .
but since then things have happened. Has that changed your. . .?
No, it has not changed my mind in any way. I still oppose "Visit Myanmar Year".
And you ask every tourist to stay away?
Yes, I would say to tourists to stay away from "Visit Myanmar Year". Burma is
not going to run away, you know. [smiling] They should come back to Burma at a time when
there is a democratic society, when people are secure, when there is justice,
where there is rule of law. They will have a much better time, and they can
travel about with a clear conscience.