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The BurmaNet News: May 5, 1998
- Subject: The BurmaNet News: May 5, 1998
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Tue, 05 May 1998 11:33:00
------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"
The BurmaNet News: May 5, 1998
ABSDF: JUNTA SENTENCES 80-YEAR OLD NLD ADVISOR
KNPP: SPDC TROOPS DEFECTED TO THE KARENNI ARMY
BKK POST: VILLAGER HURT BY KARENS' GUNFIRE
THE NATION: PROTEST OVER BURMA SHOOTING
XINHUA (CHINA): MYANMAR MILITARY VISITS VIETNAM
THE NATION: LIGHTER SACKS TO LURE BACK THAI WORKERS
FINANCIAL TIMES: SANCTIONS BITE HARDER
HINDUSTAN TIMES: CHINA IS #1 THREAT TO INDIA
FEER: DOLLAR DIPLOMACY
FEER: DIEHARD OPTIMIST (INTERVIEW WITH ASSK)
ALL BURMA STUDENTS' DEMOCRATIC FRONT: MEDIA RELEASE: BURMESE JUNTA
SENTENCES 80-YEAR OLD NLD ADVISER TO LONG PRISON TERM
5 May, 1998
In early April this year, Burma's State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC) sentenced an adviser to the National League for Democracy (NLD),
Thakhin Ohn Myint, to seven years imprisonment for assisting a student
historian to write a history of the Burmese student movement.
Thakhin Ohn Myint, 80, was detained in February along with several other
people who were accused of aiding Aung Tun to write a book on the history
of the Burmese student movement. Thakhin Ohn Myint was subsequently charged
under Section 17 (20) of the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act
and given a seven-year prison term with hard labour.
Thakhin Ohn Myint is a well-known independence freedom fighter and was a
close colleague of Burmese independence hero General Aung San.
According to sources in Rangoon, the Burmese military regime released
Thakhin Ohn Myint in late March 1998. However, he was re-arrested the
following day by Military Intelligence Service officers. He was later
secretly sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
In 1959, Thakhin Ohn Myint was detained for one year without trial under
the Caretaker Government led by General Ne Win. Thakhin Ohn Myint was
arrested in 1989 by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) for
supporting the pro-democracy movement and was given three years
imprisonment. He was released in 1992. Under the SLORC/SPDC regime, he has
been summoned, questioned and threatened on a regular basis in connection
with his role in the democratic movement.
On June 13, 1997, Thakhin Ohn Myint was detained for one month by the SLORC
without a formal charge for an alleged connection with Cho Aung Than, a
cousin of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Cho Aung Than was sentenced to a long
prison term for an alleged plot against the military leaders.
For more information please call 01-654 4984.
KARENNI NATIONAL PROGRESSIVE PARTY: SPDC TROOPS DEFECTED TO THE KARENNI ARMY
4 May, 1998
According to a higher officer from the Karenni Army, on April 30, 1998, two
SPDC soldiers from Company No. (1), Section No. (1) of LIB No. (531) under
the command of Major San Tun Oo, escaped from their camp based in BP. 9
(Border Post) area of Karenni, opposite of Mae Hong Son, Thailand, and
defected to the Karenni Army on May 1, 1998.
The two mentioned soldiers are Ye Than Htay, Private, 36-y-old, Personal
No. 95095, who was forced to join the army in the beginning of this year
and was given one-month-long military training and Soe Naing, Private,
19-y-old, Personal No. 24844, who had to join the army in 1996 because he
was chosen to serve his turn from his village.
"We escaped from our camp and defected to the Karenni army because we were
no longer patient with our higher officers. All of our higher officers in
the camp had always bullied, not only the two of us, but also the rest of
the ordinary soldiers in the unit. We ordinary soldiers are almost every
day forced to do something for the higher officers. Although we had to work
hard for the higher officers, we had never received enough food to eat and
didn't have time to sleep. Since we could not stand both the rough
conditions and bullies of the higher officers, we finally decided to escape
to one of the Karenni military camps and join the Karenni Army," said the
two defectors of SPDC (the State Peace and Development Council).
BANGKOK POST: VILLAGER HURT BY KARENS' GUNFIRE
4 May, 1998
Mae Sot, Tak -- Karen renegade soldiers opened fire on a group of Thai
villagers fishing in the bordering Moei River yesterday morning, seriously
injuring one man, according to the border police.
The report said five villagers from Mae Kone Kane village were fishing near
a Thai-Burmese disputed area when about six pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen
Buddhist Army soldiers fired three shots at them at about 9 a.m. from the
Burmese side of the river.
Suphap Kaew-arun, 28, was shot in the shoulder. He was rushed to Mae Sot
THE NATION: PROTEST OVER BURMA SHOOTING
5 May, 1998
Thailand yesterday protested to Burma over the shooting on Sunday of a Thai
villager who was fishing in Thai waters, allegedly by a soldier from across
the Burmese border, a Thai senior military officer said.
Col Chatchapat Yaemngamriap said he sent a protest letter to Myawaddy
authorities asking them to investigate the matter and take legal action
against the soldier who shot and injured the villager.
The incident took place near the ill-defined disputed area of Ma Nao islet
in Tak's Mae Sot district.
He said citizens of both Thailand and Burma are entitled to use the Moei
River, which links the two countries.
Tak Governor Thawatchai Fak-unggoon visited the area and said for safety
reasons Thai villagers should avoid going near the border area.
Thailand has submitted several protest letters to Myawaddy as Burmese
troops and the pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army are suspected of
launching other cross-border attacks against Karen refugee camps in
attempts to force the refugees back to Burma.
XINHUA (CHINA): MYANMAR MILITARY LEADER BEGINS VISIT TO VIETNAM
4 May, 1998
Yangon -- Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Defense Services General
Maung Aye, who leads a military goodwill delegation, began his visit to
Vietnam Monday to promote the ties between the two armed forces and the two
Maung Aye, who is also vice-chairman of the Myanmar State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC) and commander-in-chief of the Army, is
accompanied by SPDC Second Secretary Lieutenant-General Tin Oo and other
The trip followed a visit to the country by SPDC Chairman Senior-General
Than Shwe in March 1995.
In recent years, relations between Myanmar and Vietnam continued to develop
with exchange of visits by leaders of the two countries.
In May 1994, the then Vietnamese Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet came to Yangon
and agreements were initiated on trade, tourism cooperation and
establishment of a Myanmar-Vietnam Joint Commission for Bilateral
During Than Shwe's 1995 return visit to Hanoi, the first meeting of the two
countries' JCBC was held and mutual cooperation in drug abuse control and
forestry agreed upon.
The second meeting of the JCBC held in Hanoi in January 1997 further
discussed measures to promote multi-sided cooperation, particularly in
trade, agriculture and forestry.
In May last year, the then Vietnamese Party General Secretary Du Muoi
officially visited Myanmar and the two countries' relations were further
A visit by Vice-Minister of National Defense of Vietnam and Chief of the
General Staff of Vietnam People's Army Lieutenant-General Pham Van Tra in
June last year also boosted cooperation between the two countries' armed
NATION: LIGHTER SACKS TO LURE BACK THAI WORKERS
5 May, 1998
By Anan Paengnoy
The rice milling industry is pondering halving the conventional packaging
for rice as part of government-led efforts to lure more Thais to retake
jobs they have spurned to be taken over by illegal immigrants, Deputy
Labour Minister Jongchai Thiangtham said yesterday.
Conventionally, rice has been held in gunny sacks weighing 100 kg apiece.
According to industry information, Jongchai said, there are now an
estimated 80,000 labourers working at rice mills nationwide, including
20,000 who are illegal immigrants.
The proposed shift in rice packaging from the traditional 100-kg sacks to
50kg ones is in line with the International Labour Organisation-recommended
standards, which call for 50 kg, 30 kg and 10 kg of weight to be carried by
male, female and child labourers, respectively he said.
The proposed halving of the rice package, Jongchai said, "would definitely
be a pull for more Thais to work as rice mill labourers."
He said the rice mill industry, which has been won over to the idea, will
bring the matter to consult with the rice sacking industry, and the
Association of Rice Exporters.
Rice mills have asked the government to allow them to continue hiring some
20,000 illegal labourers after the government policy of deporting illegal
immigrant workers takes effect later this year.
FINANCIAL TIMES: SANCTIONS BITE HARDER
5 May, 1998
The US investment ban is hitting the country's economy, but is failing to
soften the government's stance, writes Ted Bardacke To the north of Rangoon
lies a sprawling new industrial estate where you can, in the words of the
developer who has installed $12m worth of infrastructure, "just plug your
But few companies have made the connection since the park opened for
business last year. By the time it was completed the year-old US ban on new
investments by US companies in Burma was in force. Just one small Japanese
factory is making monosodium glutamate, while two other plots have been
sold to Fujitsu to assemble computers and to a Hong Kong company to make
raincoats for export to Europe.
The coincidence of US sanctions over human rights and lack of activity at
Mingalardon Industrial Park is not lost on Khin Shwe, managing director of
Zaykabar, which is developing the site with Mitsui of Japan and the Burmese
military junta. He recently hired Jackson Bain, the Washington lobbyist, to
improve Burma's image with a view to changing the US policy.
The sanctions, combined with the Asian economic turbulence, are clearly
hurting the Burmese economy. The annual inflation rate is almost 50 per
cent. Foreign investment and tourist arrivals have slowed to a trickle. The
regime has so few foreign reserves - reliable estimates say just over $100m
- that it recently banned most imports and stopped accepting investment
proposals from potential exporters which would use a lot of imported raw
European investors, except oil companies, have generally been scared off by
the political risk associated with sanctions.
Asian investors who were expected, in the aftermath of Burma's admission to
the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), to provide foreign
capital simply do not have the cash to replace US companies.
But sanctions are not just supposed to hurt the economy. They are also
supposed to encourage, or force, Burma's ruling generals to engage in
serious political reform, start a dialogue with opposition leader Aung San
Suu Kyi and clean up their human rights record.
But many US State Department officials doubt the worth of sanctions, and
the department is reviewing their effectiveness.
In the year sanctions have been in effect, Burmese politics have taken a
turn for the worse. Scores of supporters of Ms Suu Kyi's National League
for Democracy (NLD) have been arrested on petty charges and sentenced to
long prison terms.
Alvaro de Soto, UN special envoy, "made no headway whatsoever" with the
junta during a January visit, according to diplomats.
"He was told politics were purely an internal and domestic matter with no
role for the UN," says one diplomat, noting that senior military leaders
rejected the offer by Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, to act as a bridge
for the junta to international institutions provided certain concerns were
Last September the junta ousted a number of its own members on corruption
charges and changed its name from the State Law and Order Restoration
Council (Slorc) to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which is
dominated by local army commanders.
The national convention to draw up a new constitution has not met in more
than two years. The last formal contact between the junta and the NLD was
last November. Opponents of sanctions, including some within the regime who
consider them a minor economic problem, argue that the measures have
created a siege mentality which has caused the junta to dig in harder.
The NLD does not have a strategy to topple the regime through a popular
uprising. Instead, Ms Suu Kyi and the NLD argue that because the private
sector elite and their military allies are those most affected by the slump
in foreign investment, economic hardship could result in internal
disintegration, eventual dialogue and political opening. Many thought this
was the case when the Slorc transformed itself into the SPDC. Early
indications are that they were mistaken.
"When they got rid of the corrupt guys that created the potential for
dissension within the institution," says a western diplomat. "But there
have been few overt indications of problems. They appear to have
consolidated it well."
Some former members of the NLD now argue that the democracy movement should
rethink its position on sanctions.
But Ms Suu Kyi will have none of that. "There is little evidence either
that foreign contacts have led to a more liberal attitude on the part of
the authorities or that the juicy fruits of foreign investment are enjoyed
by many outside the small elite who see the concepts of liberty, justice
and equality as a threat to their privileged status," she said recently.
With the US and European lobbies for democratic change in Burma taking
their cue directly from Ms Suu Kyi, the international pressure on the junta
is unlikely to ease. But as a NLD member says: "The regime hasn't responded
yet, but they are nearer to the point where they will be forced to respond."
HINDUSTAN TIMES: CHINA IS #1 THREAT TO INDIA, SAYS FERNANDES
3 May, 1998
Defence Minister George Fernandes has declared China as the "potential
threat number one" with its military and naval involvement beginning to
"encircle" India along the border with Pakistan, Myanmar and Tibet. "Any
person who is concerned about India's security must agree with that fact,"
averred Mr Fernandes. In support of the perception, he drew attention to
the transfer of missile technology and nuclear know-how to Islamabad by
Beijing besides the nuclear weapons stockpiled in Tibet along the borders
The Defence Minister disclosed that over the last six months, there has
been a lot of elongation of military air fields in Tibet, where the latest
version of the Sukhoi aircraft were going to be parked. On the eastern
frontier with India, the Chinese have also trained and equipped the Myanmar
Army, whose overall strength has gone up from 1,70,000 to 4,50,000.
This scenario of a Chinese involvement along the Indian borders from
Pakistan right up to Myanmar, including Tibet, extended to the Indian
waters, continued Mr Fernandes. He said Myanmar's territory of Coco
Islands, on the northern tip of Andaman and Nicobar, has been taken on loan
by Beijing and converted into a monitoring post (for keeping track of
India's activities) through installation of "massive" electronic
"There is no doubt in my mind that China's fast expanding navy, which will
be the biggest navy in this part of the world, will be getting into the
Indian Ocean fairly soon," contended the Defence Minister. He pointed in
the same breath to Beijing's plans to transform Coco Islands into a major
naval base - which would be a direct threat to India - and the construction
of harbours on Myanmar's western coast where Chinese ships can be towed in.
"Their (the Chinese) senior officials have said that the Indian Ocean is
not India's ocean," remarked Mr Fernandes. In support of the view that New
Delhi has often underplayed, even ignored, the potential threat from China,
he said: "To underplay the situation across the Himalayas is not in the
national interest... I think there is a reluctance to face the reality that
China's intentions need to be questioned. This is where our country has
made mistakes in the past - in the early fifties and in the sixties, for
which we paid the price."
In an interview to 'In Focus With Karan,' to be telecast tomorrow by Home
TV, Mr Fernandes, while terming China as a bigger threat to India's
security than even Pakistan, remained unconvinced about Islamabad's claims
of possessing a (nuclear) bomb. The threat posed by Beijing to New Delhi's
security interests also figured in the V. K. Krishna Menon Memorial lecture
the Defence Minister delivered here this evening.
"India is against war and believes in peace. Discussing Confidence Building
Measures (CBMs) with our immediate neighbours is not enough. We want
negotiations to be carried to a decisive stage while discussing CBMs," Mr
Fernandes told newspersons after delivering the lecture. "We must get down
to serious talks," he insisted, "given the fact that countries in the
neighbourhood are in possession of weapons of mass destruction that could
However, the Defence Minister stated that he had no verified version of Pak
Premier Nawaz Sharif's statement that Islamabad has a (nuclear) bomb: "One
can give a definite answer to the question only if one has the verified
version. At this point in time, I'm not convinced whether I should say I
believe him (Sharif)."
While agreeing that the security environment (in South Asia) has
deteriorated with the test-firing of Ghauri missile by Islamabad, Mr
Fernandes went on to confirm a shift in New Delhi's nuclear policy under
the BJP-led Government. The predecessor regimes, he replied in response to
a specific question, had not ruled out the nuclear weapons but the new
Government has ruled them in: "Well, (earlier) it was not ruled out. We
have ruled it in. Agreed."
Significantly, Mr Fernandes noted that among the options available to India
were to make a review and see whether there were threat perceptions "where
you have to go for a nuclear weapon." He said the Government would exercise
the nuclear option in the event of the planned strategic review making such
The Defence Minister linked the change in the nuclear policy to the change
in threat perceptions. He said: "It's because there has been a change in
threat perceptions today. If those threat perceptions are as one visualises
them to be (following the review), then you have no option. If one says
options are to be exercised, then one exercises them at some point in time.
We believe the time has come to exercise the option."
Mr Fernandes clarified that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's statement
about no change in India's foreign policy couldn't be "lumped with" the
defence policy. "The defence of the country," he asserted, "cannot be
equated or clubbed with foreign policy... I am very sure that the Prime
Minister did not have in mind the strategic defence review and the
decisions which follow from that...."
FAR EAST ECONOMIC REVIEW: DOLLAR DIPLOMACY
7 May, 1998
By Deborah Lutterbeck in Washington
Burma's costly lobbying campaign yields little -- so far
In early March, Jackson Bain had a front-row seat as Burmese government
officials set fire to what he estimates was about $1 billion worth of
narcotics. "It was amazing. Heroin stacked as high as your head, all burned
up," enthuses Bain, a former network White House correspondent turned
On contract to a Burmese company, Bain had shepherded journalists,
ambassadors and foreign leaders to the bonfire. Burma, he says intently,
has gathered and prevented drugs from being shipped out on its own --
certainly with no help from the United States."
What's more, he stresses, the army responsible "is understaffed and much
less well-equipped than their opponents -- the drug armies. You are pitting
the little Myanmar army against guys who are armed with ground-to-air
Bain uses Myanmar, the name the ruling junta gives Burma. And he can afford
to be sympathetic: A Rangoon real-estate developer, Zay Ka Bar, has hired
him -- for $252,000 annually -- to show the media a kinder, gentler Burma.
Little wonder he seems disappointed that the photo opportunity attracted so
little media coverage.
"To me it is so blind," Bain says. "It is amazing they are not seeing what
the real issue is here."
He speaks with conviction, but U.S. officials find Bain's spiel farcical.
For the Burmese government to be fighting the drug trade "is really, really
laughable," a senior administration official charges. "I can't hand out
classified information, but everything indicates that the government is
deeply, deeply involved in the drug trade. Anything they do to fight drugs
is just fiction."
Rangoon's new regime, bent on freeing the country from trade sanctions, is
investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in Washington to have people
like Bain represent the country. While pro-Burma lobbying is nothing new,
it has risen to new levels in the wake of U.S. investment sanctions imposed
last year and a changing of the guard in Rangoon.
Myanmar Resources Development Ltd., a privately held investment company,
pays Ann Wrobleski, a former assistant secretary of state now running the
lobbying behemoth Jefferson Waterman International, $400,000 a year and
some $100,000 in expenses to arrange contacts with congressional and
In their Justice Department filings, Bain and Wrobleski say they work for
the companies that hired them, not the Burmese government. But Bain
concedes that "it is incredibly naive to think that you would not have to
do business with the government in a country like Myanmar."
U.S. corporations with an interest in Burma, such as California energy
giant Unocal, are also doing their part to burnish the country's tarnished
image. They have tapped Frances Zwenig to embark on a diplomatic
initiative. The former Congressional staffer is now with The International
Centre -- a non-profit organization aimed at educating the press, Congress
and the public about American foreign-policy issues. With corporate
funding, Zwenig lined up a trinity of former high-ranking American
officials to visit Burma. High on their agenda: to gauge the success of
trade sanctions there and report back to the powers-that-be.
Such lobbying efforts are costly -- but they don't yet seem to be showing a
return. Says Gare Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau
of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour: "Real change has to come from
within, and they have exhibited no meaningful progress." On a practical
level, there's no talk of legislation, and there is "not even the slightest
chance" the White House will drop sanctions, Smith says. Some of the more
subtle shifts, though, may come to light when a Senate Foreign Relations
Committee panel holds Burma hearings in the coming weeks.
The lobbyists themselves recognize the difficulty in trying to put a
friendly face on the junta. Instead, they focus on selling Rangoon's
efforts in the war against drugs. Jefferson Waterman has set up a special
report on a Web site that spotlights the "struggle." Heroin seizures in
Burma totalled 1,400 kilograms last year, it says, up from 500 kilograms in
1996-but still only a small portion of production.
To make more serious inroads, "The international community -- particularly
the U.S. -- must engage the government of Myanmar in a coordinated effort,"
the Web site says. An administration official familiar with narcotics
policy says, "To the people in this community who are in law enforcement,
an increase in seizures like that really resonates and they see it
portending greater success, greater opportunities."
But this kind of message does more to cloud issues than change policy, a
Burma watcher says. Similarly, Reuters reported on April 1 that the U.S.
would contribute $3 million to the United Nations Drug Control Programme to
eradicate poppies, calling it the first direct grant the U.S. had made to
Burma since 1988.
The story quoted Douglas Rasmussen, deputy chief of mission at the U.S.
embassy in Rangoon, saying: "We try to approach the narcotic problem from
an objective and largely non-political sort of approach."
Rasmussen's comments made Washington phone lines light up amid speculation
about a behind-the-scenes policy change, says one source steeped in Burma
issues. The State Department put this debate to rest on April 2, noting
that: "The funding goes to UNDCP and the project in the affected area --
not the government of Burma." Notes the source: "This kind of scrambling
would never have happened if there wasn't that propaganda out there."
The junta is keen to see sanctions against Burma removed to enable the free
flow of goods and investment into the country. On this front, the lobbyists
have adopted a "Let them see for themselves" approach.
Bain handles the journalists. "Our whole message is: Do sanctions really
work? Are they doing what they are supposed to? Is it punishing the
generals? I don't think so. You think they are missing any meals, any
satellite TV? Who are they punishing? They are punishing people who would
like to have jobs and can't," he says.
The International Centre approaches the diplomats. Zwenig rounded up three
former U.S. policy makers: Morton Abramowitz, former ambassador to
Thailand; Michael Armacost, who served as ambassador to the Philippines and
Japan; and Richard Armitage, a former assistant secretary for defence. The
trio visited Burma, their trip financed in part by U.S. corporations with
interests in Burma. They recorded their findings in a letter to White House
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Its conclusion: "Sanctions over
time will become a wasting asset and slow Burma's exposure to the outside
The fact that the trip was underwritten by U.S. firms may not have shaped
the former officials' thinking -- but it undermined their message. "If I
were the regime, or a lobbyist for the regime," says another administration
official, "I might well see it to my advantage to have individuals or
institutions make the case on my behalf, and to have them do so in a manner
that suggests that they were expressing their view solely on their own
He adds that their message may have been stronger had it not been exposed
that companies with an interest in Burma had paid for some of their travel
expenses. As long as the lobbyists do not break any American laws or
regulations, though, they are free to work in whatever way they wish.
"Thankfully, however," he adds, "we continue to make our own judgements
based on our own best information."
FAR EAST ECONOMIC REVIEW: DIEHARD OPTIMIST
7 May, 1998
By Flemming Ytzen
Aung San Suu Kyi still kindles the flame
Through six years of house arrest and three and a half years of severely
restricted "freedom," Aung San Suu Kyi's defiant spirit remains unbroken.
But can Burma's democracy leader achieve much from her home in Rangoon? The
arrests and intimidation of some members of her National League for
Democracy have crippled the party. Her followers in exile are divided --
and face new challenges from professional lobbyists in the United States
who are keen to put a good face on the Burmese junta. Still, Suu Kyi
continues to speak out. In this interview, conducted in Rangoon with Danish
journalist Flemming Ytzen, she reaffirms her belief in sanctions. She also
shares her views on "Asian values," and dismisses claims that democracy in
Burma would lead to ethnic chaos.
Q: What form of contact have you had with the ruling SPDC during recent
months? If negotiations did begin, where would you define the middle ground?
A: There have been no invitations that would allow us to enter sincere
negotiations. It is not our side who refuse to meet. I have no
preconditions before agreeing to talk, but we have received no serious
offer. As long as the other party does not engage in serious and sincere
dialogue, how can you talk about defining a middle ground and compromise?
They want a role for the military, and we are prepared to give them that,
as the institution that defends the country against military threats.
Despite the absence of talks, there continue to be developments in this
society which eventually will influence the future. Though public meetings
are banned, it does not take politics away from the minds of people.
Q: You have not changed your position on sanctions?
A: Nothing in the present situation justifies any lifting of sanctions. We
continue to believe in sanctions, because they provide a psychological
boost to the democracy movement and keep foreign investors and
policy-makers focused on the situation in Burma. With the kind of
investment Burma has had in recent years, sanctions do not hurt the average
Q: What is your vision of a democratic Burma? A federalist system like in
India -- even though its democratic institutions have not saved the country
from political violence and instability?
A: I certainly admire what India has achieved with its democracy, but the
experience in Burma is very different. India has had tremendous
difficulties in the country's development, but we should admire the country
for its ability to solve its domestic conflicts by constitutional means and
maintaining basic liberties.
Once you have democratic institutions, you have the proper means of
peaceful conflict resolution. The wonderful thing about a democracy is that
it has so many open ends ... possibilities and opportunities for peaceful
change, based on open dialogue. That makes violence the last resort. I
share the view of Winston Churchill, who said that democracy will never be
a perfect system, but none of the other systems history has known have
proven to be better.
Q: Some people fear that a future Burma, even with some form of democracy
in place, could develop into a Yugoslavian nightmare.
A: I do not share that fear. The core of the conflict of the former
Yugoslavia is the nationalism of the Serbs and the fact that this
nationalism is historically related to one particular region, Kosovo. Well,
Burma has no Kosovo. And contrary to Yugoslavia, we had a democratic
experience during 14 years after independence. With Yugoslavia it was
different, they had decades of communism.
Q: Still, it is easy to see the parallels. In the 1950s, Burma's
parliamentary government had difficulties in accommodating the demands of
some of the ethnic minorities. In 1958 the government resigned.
A: That did not happen because of differences with the minorities, it was a
split within the government. And I do not believe that any of the minority
groups really wanted to break out of the Union.
Q: We have heard the argument from politicians in the region that the
solutions to Burma's problems are to be developed through an Asian way and
by applying Asian values. What is your view on this?
A: The proponents of these particular Asian ways have become silent during
recent months! Some of the region's countries have achieved significant
results in raising the standard of living of their people during the last
decades. But the emphasis on economic growth alone does not create a
harmonious society. Rather than speaking of Western vs. Eastern ways and
values, I prefer to talk about universal goals and values. Citizens all
over the world strive for a life in security. I do not think that economic
policies can succeed in the long run if they do not protect the rights of
people. A free and secure people have much more to contribute towards
healthy economic developments than a repressed and insecure people. It is
wrong to separate human rights from economics.
Q: Some say that Confucian values have been crucial in creating the
so-called East Asian economic miracle. What is your view on this?
A: In pursuing industrialization, East Asians have actually adopted many
Western ways. Too much emphasis on economic progress is dangerous, because
what happens is that you start sacrificing human values to economic
expediency and that, in the long run, will lead to conflict. But we will
have to wait another decade or so to see how these Confucian values are
affected by the new Western economic ethics.
Q: Some say that a well-educated middle class has to be in place for
democracy to take root, as was the case in Taiwan and South Korea.
A: Not necessarily. Again, look at India's experience. Democracy in India
took root because the country, during the first years of independence, had
an elite, strong and responsible government which believed in democracy.
Here, it was the other way around -- democracy produced a strong middle class.
Q: Until 1988, Burma was ruled by a political party which called itself
socialist. The following year socialism was pronounced dead in Europe. What
is your view on socialism?
A: That it is so hard to define! Socialism means something different in
different parts of the world. But the authoritarian form of socialism is
almost certainly dead, at least it is so thoroughly discredited that it is
unlikely to emerge as a political force again.
Q: Could you envisage Burma's political future being the issue of a United
Nations conference, remembering Cambodia's experience a few years ago?
A: We would like to see the international community backing the UN
resolutions on Burma, but what the world learned from the experience in
Cambodia was that democracy cannot be imposed from outside, no matter how
many millions of dollars are poured in to support those efforts. Democracy
has to be built by the forces within the country.
Q: Are you an optimist?
A: A cautious optimist. I am certain that our cause will prevail. I am
convinced that we will reach our goals. It may take a long time, but we
will get there.