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Goal of junta still an illusion (r)

South China Morning Post

 Thursday  September 18,  1997


Nine years after the formation of a military junta designed to lift a
once-prosperous country out of poverty and isolation, Burma remains
poorly equipped to face a future with few friends.

A senior diplomat in Rangoon has a quick explanation: "Real freedom is
anathema to people used to barking out orders."

But when the State Law and Order Restoration Council was born in the wake
of the anti-democracy crackdown on September 18, 1988, that left
thousands of protesters dead, it was certainly not part of the plan that
Burma should remain poor and lonely.

Months before, dictator General Ne Win had stunned the nation by stepping
down after admitting that a quarter-century of his quasi-socialist rule
had brought the country to its knees.

But the optimism caused by the ageing strongman's calls for free markets
and a multi-party Government was quickly tempered as the unbending nature
of his chosen "transitional" vehicle the SLORC, to use its ugly acronym,
became clear.

"It was always inherent contradiction to expect military figures brought
up in the tradition of a very self-reliant ultra-nationalist like Ne Win
to relax their control and allow the markets to work their magic," the
diplomat said.

The generals expected that if they could lift Burma on to the Asia
high-growth bandwagon, greater wealth would reduce the clamour for
political freedom.

But the SLORC's closed military minds were shocked when their political
puppet party was blown out of the water in 1990 elections.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won by
a landslide - even though its leaders had been locked up by the
frustrated junta.

The generals have ruled with an iron fist ever since.

Brief construction booms in Rangoon and Mandalay have been unable to
disguise the wretched state of the rest of the economy where "a lot of
absurdities still need to be shaken out", another envoy said.

Foreign economists suspect that only by feeding off drug money can Burma
continue with many of its prestige building projects.