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The BurmaNet News: May 22, 1998

------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
 "Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"

The BurmaNet News: May 22, 1998
Issue #1010


 22 May, 1998 

Although the officially sanctioned media sources in Burma have suppressed
any news of the revolutionary developments in Indonesia (see ABSDF and
Reuters postings below concerning Suharto's resignation), people inside
Burma are getting some news of the Indonesian people's uprising. Reports
from inside state that many people are tuning in to radio broadcasts from
outside of Burma (BBC, VOA, RFA, and DVB) and have been kept apprised of
the situation. In addition, those with satellite access to television news
channels such as CNN are videotaping the reports on their televisions and
making copies of the broadcasts for distribution.

While it is still too early to predict or evaluate the impact on Burma of
the Indonesian uprising, many suspect that the rumored opening of some
universities, planned for June, will once again be delayed.


22 May, 1998

Rangoon -- Burma's opposition National League for Democracy plans a
gathering to mark the eighth anniversary of its 1990 landslide election
that was annulled by the ruling military, party sources said yesterday.


April, 1998 By V. Coakley

In July 1997, Burma signed and ratified the 1979 international Convention
to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Under
CEDAW, state parties are obligated to protect women against violence.
Within a year of signing, state parties must submit a report to the U.N.
Secretary General on the measures adopted -- legislative, judicial,
administrative or other - to protect women against discrimination, and on
the country's progress toward the goals outlined in the convention.
Compliance with the convention necessarily means that governments take
responsibility for the practices of their armed forces, punishing
perpetrators of rape to illustrate that it is not acceptable behavior.
Burma's report to the CEDAW committee is due later this year.

EarthRights International's (ERI) latest report entitled, School of Rape:
The Burmese Military and Sexual Violence, (1) analyzes the connection
between perpetrators and acts of rape in Burma. Rape by the Burmese
military, particularly against ethnic minority women, is endemic throughout
areas of conflict in Burma. The report argues that the Burmese government
is not providing the ethnic women of Burma adequate protection against
violence by the armed forces; that in fact, the military system itself
fosters extreme abuses.

Rape is not an easy topic for discussion, much less investigation, as most
rape victims understandably will not discuss their experience directly. Yet
the systematic raping of women seems an integral part of war, specifically
as a weapon in psychological warfare. Knowledge that the armed forces will
use rape as a weapon spreads terror. Rape also serves as a means of revenge
against ethnic insurgent fighters. It is a direct way of waging war on
women as it deprives women of their dignity, and it often results in
lasting trauma. In a culture which places a high value on virginity, the
social stigma may burden the victim long after the worst of the trauma is
past. The stigma is even greater for a woman who becomes pregnant through
rape and carries the baby through to full term. In this way rape can be
perceived as part of an ethnic cleansing strategy, as well as a
psychological weapon of war. The forcible impregnation of ethnic minority
women decreases the number of ethnic minorities by creating more "Burman
births," and more deaths resulting from sexually transmitted diseases,
botched abortions, suicides, and actual injuries or deaths resulting from
rape. (2)

Rape is an act of violence which cannot be viewed out of the context in
which it is perpetrated. It is an integral component of the civil war in
Burma. Its prevalence in Burma is enabled by a number of larger cultural
factors, which ERI has summarized as follows:

* The exalted status of the military in Burma, which enables soldiers to
commit criminal acts with impunity;

* The militarization of Burmese society, in which notions of masculinity
and femininity are played out on the battlefields and in the villages, with
soldiers ' bodies as weapons and women's bodies as targets; and

* The subordinate status of women in Burma.

The report in seeking to analyze the underlying causes of rape by Burmese
soldiers, examines characteristics of the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] that are
problematic and give rise to rape. In particular, it concludes that the
following aspects of the Burma Army make military rape predictable:

* The age of Tatmadaw soldiers. Many soldiers are under 17 years old. They
lack the maturity, the moral development, or the emotional strength to
resist indoctrination of the Tatmadaw. Their youth makes them particularly
susceptible to a military ideology in which masculinity is defined by the
ability to dominate and commit brutality against the "enemy."

* The soldiers ' education level.  Most soldiers lack even basic education,
and many are illiterate. They are without skills or grounding in the rules
of war. Many have no alternative employment opportunities. This creates a
corps of armed men and boys ruled by ignorance.

* The recruitment methods. Many soldiers are kidnapped or otherwise
forcibly conscripted. In addition, other soldiers join the Tatmadaw to
escape arrest for crimes, sometimes violent, that they commit.
Indiscriminate recruitment means inappropriate candidates are inducted.

* The training methods. The training focuses on building fear rather than
skills. Soldiers are instructed, through example and practice, in cruelty.
By the end of their training, they have become both pupils and teachers in
the art of violent degradation.

* Disciplinary techniques. Punishment is inconsistent, inappropriate,
unpredictable, and generally brutal. In addition, soldiers are called upon
to punish their peers. This creates a culture of perpetual fear and
victimhood where it is expected that force will be used to punish misbehavior

* Daily treatment. Soldiers are virtually starved, given inadequate
clothing and equipment, and forced to act as slaves for their officers.
Their valuelessness is confirmed by the withholding of salaries and medical
attention. A rigid hierarchy is created in which rank-and-file ("ordinary")
soldiers have very low morale, and officers commit atrocious acts unpunished.

* Isolation from support networks. Soldiers generally are prohibited from
visiting their families and, in many cases, from sending and receiving
mail. To the extent they develop camaraderie with one another, it is based
on harmful rituals of brutality they are forced to execute. In addition,
they are discouraged from developing trust within their units through
self-punishment practices and enmity between officers and soldiers.
Isolation and loneliness induce extreme behavior. * Excessive use of
alcohol and, in some cases, drugs. Many soldiers are frequently drunk,
sometimes on the front lines. In addition, some reports indicate that
soldiers use drugs including marijuana and heroin. Drunkenness is accepted
without question and drug abuse is often overlooked if not actually
encouraged. Substance abuse and uncontrolled aggression are invariably linked.

* Bigotry and sexism in the Tatmadaw Soldiers are often indoctrinated to
view ethnic minority groups in Burma as inferior to ethnic Burmans. In
addition, an attitude of strong disrespect for women, especially toward
minority women, is reinforced through behavior by officers.

The Tatmadaw, like all militaries, is a hierarchical institution. Ordinary
soldiers are at the bottom of the pyramid and suffer the most, because as
the least powerful members, they are subject to more potential abusers.
However, because there is a pecking order of brutality in the Tatmadaw,
even officers are subject to abuse by their superiors. Through its
hierarchical structure, policies, and practices, the Tatmadaw transmits an
ethos of violent masculinity to everyone who serves. 

Soldiers are taught that victory over the enemy depends on their
masculinity, that, in turn gets defined as their ability to fight, to
dominate, to commit violence.

At the same time, the Tatmadaw creates a paradoxical situation in which all
but the highest officers are situated as both vulnerable victims of abuse
and masculine warriors. Such a paradox breeds confusion, which is often
resolved through violence. When Tatmadaw soldiers and officers -- anyone
subject to this paradox -- have the opportunity to demonstrate their
masculinity, they take it. This means they seek to dominate and violate
those in more vulnerable circumstance: women. Brutality breeds brutality,
and the prevalence of rape by brutalized Tatmadaw soldiers and officers is
the predictable result of the cycle of violence played out between the
military and the ethnic insurgents. (3) Ultimately, it is the state which
must take responsibility for the actions of its armed forces. As ERI points
out, the ethos within Burma's Tatmadaw has direct bearing in turn on their
treatment of civilians. The ethnic minority women of Burma are extremely
vulnerable in this civil war. As a state party to the CEDAW, the Burmese
government has an obligation to ensure that the discriminatory actions of
the armed forces against ethnic minority women, rape being one
manifestation, are not sanctioned. The international community must be
aware of the reality the ethnic women of Burma face under the Burmese
government's tacit knowledge and acceptance, and voice its disapproval when
the government's report comes under scrutiny.

Endnotes, 'School of Rape'
1 Betsy Apple, School of Rape: The Burmese Military and Sexual Violence,
EarthRights International, 1998, pp. 41-45 and 91-94. The report can be
ordered from ERI: PO Box 12, Lard Phrao Bangkok 10901, Thailand; Tel/ Fax:
66 2 512 2051; e-mail earth@xxxxxxxxxxx
 2 B. Apple, 1998, ibid., p. 41-45. 
 3 B. Apple, 1998, ibid., p. 13-16. 


April, 1998 By V. Coakley

Following [attacks] on several camps along the border in March 1998,
Thailand's Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai announced that the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would be allowed to play a role in
managing aid for refugees and administering the camps. (1) A recent
seminar, attended by representatives from the Thai government and military
and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), was held in Bangkok to discuss
the future of the refugee camps, as well as the UNHCR's potential role on
the borders Though plans have not yet been finalized, the seminar made
clear that significant changes are imminent in the administration of the
border camps.

To date, Thailand has allowed the UNHCR only limited access to the Burmese
refugee camps and has been asked to help on a case-by-case basis. Thailand
has been concerned that the presence of the UNHCR would attract more asylum
seekers across the border, and the refugee camps would become more
permanent. However, the Royal Thai Army has faced increasing criticism for
its inability to protect the 116,000 refugees in camps from cross-border
attacks. This year has already seen repeated attacks on Huay Kaloke (aka
Wangka), Bae Klaw (aka Mae La) and Mawker camps, and other camps are
currently on alert fearing further attacks. The Thai government now hopes a
UNHCR presence will provide more protection for the refugees, and help
deflect criticism for inadequate security when the camps are threatened or

At the seminar, possibilities were discussed for the relocation of the
refugee camps to more secure sites within Thailand. Lt. Gen. Sanan
Kajornklam, Special Adviser for the Thai Office of the Supreme Command,
suggested consolidating all the existing camps into a single camp, as
occurred in the Cambodian situation. The camp would be located as much as
fifty kilometers inside Thailand, in order to ensure better protection.
This necessarily depends on border security - how easy it is to move inside
Thailand from the border.

UNHCR's assistance in establishing a single Burmese refugee camp would
entail a different administration structure than is currently used. The
existing camps are small replicas of villages and are mainly located close
to the area of Burma where the refugees originally fled from. They are
administered by a camp committee composed of local members. It is a
cost-effective administration structure in this context, and arguably
better than administration from managed completely from the outside as it
allows for local involvement in running the camps. In addition, there could
be an increase in social problems and tensions if people from different
locations and with different affiliations are all grouped together. A new
camp run by the UNHCR will make refugees more aid dependent than they
already are, as the administration of the camps could become outside of
their control, and the increased dependency may foster a reluctance to
return to Burma.

Gen. Sanan welcomed the role the UNHCR could play in financing such a camp
and mediating to draw financial support from other countries. This comment
brought a response from the Burmese Border Consortium (BBC) representative,
as the BBC has been coordinating humanitarian assistance to the camps for
the last decade. Around eleven countries provide aid assistance to the
existing camps through the BBC, and the programs permitted have been
determined by Thai policy. Careful thought should be given to replacing the
existing structure with something bigger until the parameters of Thai
policy are known. Finance is not the real issue. The NGOs working along the
border have only been able to provide the assistance permitted under a very
restrictive Thai policy.

The UNHCR would be responsible for a refugee registration process, which
would entail identifying ethnic group, political or other memberships or
affiliations, and needs prior to repatriation. Screening is a contentious
issue in this context. A number of the refugees are family members of
people belonging to various political and insurgent organizations, and
there exist significant hostilities and rivalries between groups. This
suggests potential security problems in the camp due to these tensions, but
NGOs will protest if people are refused protection.

After the camps burned in March, army chief Gen. Chettha Thanajaro
announced that "only women, children and old people would remain at the
refugee camps, while adult males would be removed and repatriated."3 Last
year in March at Bong Ti, male children as young as 14 were classified as
"able-bodied men" and repatriated to Burma on a similar rationale. Such a
policy of selective protection is a clear violation of humanitarian
principles. Gen. Chettha's statement has not been repeated, and it seems
clear that such a simplistic solution is unlikely to become policy.
However, such statements emphasize the need for the UNHCR's screening
process to be managed both impartially and independently.

The Thai government is concerned that allowing the UNHCR an enhanced role
along the border may upset Rangoon. Although the UNHCR's work is considered
humanitarian and nonpolitical, the Burmese government views the agency as
representatives of the western community which it repeatedly criticizes.
Thailand is no doubt concerned that by upsetting its volatile neighbor,
existing and potential economic agreements could be threatened. However,
Thailand also wants to solve the expensive and often embarrassing refugee
problem, and realizes that it will only be safe and acceptable to send
refugees back when the civil war ends.

Gen. Sanan acknowledged that the root of the problem is the Burmese
government's aim to abolish the ethnic minorities who do not support the
government. Until there is a political resolution in ethnic minority areas,
refugees will continue crossing the border. Thailand must do what it can to
encourage a political resolution to this crisis. Within ASEAN (Association
of Southeast Asian Nations), constructive engagement with the military
government may be the best option. However, it was noted that up to this
point, the Burmese have been very self-contained and difficult to budge;
they listen but do not respond to suggestions.

Gen. Sanan emphasized that a time frame must be established for the UNHCR's
involvement, and proposed that their involvement be structured to last
between three and five years, with the shortest time frame preferred.
However, he acknowledged that much depends on the internal situation in
Burma. He pointed out within the next five years Burma's new constitution,
currently being drafted under management of the SPDC, is due to be finished
and promised elections held. It is too early to predict exactly when the
ill-famed constitution will be finished and preparations for an election
would begin, or whether such elections would be UN-supervised. It will
nevertheless be important that the refugees are able to participate in such
a process.

The UNHCR's role on the Thai-Burma border will be clarified over the next
few months. The main question is what is the appropriate role for the
UNHCR, and how will Thai policy change regarding programs and activities
permitted inside the camps. The proposed time frame for the UNHCR's
involvement starts with protection and necessarily ends with a successful
repatriation program. Such a plan cannot be cast in stone by the UNHCR and
the Thai government. The attitude of the Burmese junta towards the ethnic
minorities will ultimately determine the time frame for repatriation and
the nature of the UNHCR's participation. Thailand's refugee situation will
not end without a political resolution agreed upon and adhered to by all
concerned. The international community needs to carefully monitor the
progress on this issue, and demand accountability and transparency from the

Endnotes, 'UNHCR'
 1 The UNHCR can only assist in refugee situations upon invitation from the
refugee host country. To be involved in a repatriation program, the UNHCR
must be invited to assist by the country of origin and the host country.
 2 The seminar, entitled "Burmese Refugees Status and Solution," was held
on April, 1998, hosted by ForumAsia and the Asian Research Centre for
Migration, at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok 
 3 ``Karen men in refuge sites to be repatriated," Bangkok Post, 26 Mar 1998


21 May, 1998

The All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) welcomes the resignation
of Indonesian President Suharto on May 21, 1998 as a response to the will
of the Indonesian people. We hope this move will pave the way for a new era
of political reforms in the Republic of Indonesia.

The ABSDF heartily congratulates the victory of the Indonesian people,
including the students of Indonesia who, through commitment and
perseverance, have struggled to oust President Suharto and bring sweeping
political reforms to their country.

"The resignation of President Suharto presents a wonderful opportunity for
the beginning of social and political changes in Indonesia. The success of
the people power in Indonesian will have a huge impact on the people of
Burma. It will be a great encouragement to them," said ABSDF General
Secretary Aung Thu Nyein.

Just as the people of Burma followed the developments in the Philippines
when the late President Ferdinand Marcos was ousted, the people have been
closely following the news from foreign radio broadcasts on the
developments in Indonesia.

Despite the fact that the situations in Burma and Indonesia are very
similar, the ABSDF sees a striking difference between the two regimes.
President Suharto admitted to and apologised for the mistakes he has made,
whereas the military regime in Burma has condemned peaceful demonstrations
as "anarchism" and has continued to commit gross human rights violations.
In addition, the Indonesian army has restrained from using violence against
the students.

The ABSDF also commends the Indonesian army for maintaining a non-violent
stance which unlike the Burmese military has refrained from using violent
methods to crack down on the students and the people of Indonesia. The
ABSDF hopes that the army will continue to act in this manner.

The ABSDF extends our solidarity with the Indonesian students and fully
supports the aspirations and commitment of the students who have
spearheaded peaceful rallies throughout Indonesia leading to the
resignation of President Suharto.


21 May, 1998 By Jonathan Thatcher 

BurmaNet Editor's Note: This article has been edited. Sections that have
been cut are indicated by [ ... ].

Manila -- For Indonesia's nervous neighbours, President Suharto's forced
resignation is a huge relief. But it comes with a blunt message to other
Asian leaders tempted to overstay their welcome.

The aging Indonesian president on Thursday relinquished his position as
Asia's longest-serving political leader after months of economic crisis
which turned into mass protest and rioting that finally broke his hold on

"It creates psychological waves through the region...other governments will
be behaving with Suharto at the back of their minds,'' University of the
Philippines political science professor Alex Magno said.

``This is really a trend in Asia. It is a healthy one,'' added Abdul Razak
Baginda, executive director of the Malaysian Strategic Research Institute.

It was a trend, he said, that began 12 years ago in the Philippines when
huge ``people power'' protests ended with the downfall of dictator
Ferdinand Marcos.

Similar, spontaneous uprisings spread as far as East Europe where communist
regimes were crumbling.

In Asia, ``people power'' spawned anti-government protests in Burma in
1988, in China a year later and Thailand in 1992.

But only in Thailand could the demonstrators claim any success. Governments
in China and Burma kept the loyalty of the military which shot protesters
from the streets.

[ ... ] 

[Suharto's] departure, say some analysts, is a sign of the times that the
authoritarian style of leadership has run its course in Asia.

``I am in disagreement with the (former Singapore prime minister) Lee Kuan
Yew thesis that you need an authoritarian government to have
development...that model is to say the least, questionable,'' Malaya Ronas,
director of Institute for Strategic and Development Studies in Manila, said.

``Regular elections, no matter how rambunctious, are better than people
power. People power is the last resort,'' he added.

Philippine President Ramos, a former general who helped lead the 1986
"people power'' movement and who is now about to hand over power to a newly
elected successor, was quick to point out the need to allow greater say in

``We hope this will provide a lesson for all of us here in the Philippines
as well as in ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations) that the
right approach perhaps...is to stay on the track of reform in consultation
with our people and the leaders of various sectors,'' he told reporters.

Kim Byung-kook, political science professor at Korea University, was more

"Indonesia sends a message that the old form of rule -- general turned
politician and using the military -- is outdated and is bound to fall." He
said damage from the Asian financial crisis has been the catalyst for
change in much of the region. The other two countries hardest hit by the
crisis -- Thailand and South Korea -- have both since acquired new leaders.

``If it was not for the IMF's (International Monetary Fund's) punishing
package it wouldn't have come to this. The IMF is the hand-maiden of
change,'' said Zainal Aznam, deputy director general of Malaysian's
Institute of Strategic Studies.

Widely publicised photographs of IMF managing director Michel Camdessus,
standing with arms folded, looking down on Suharto while he signed an
agreement to introduce tough reforms in exchange for loans, became a symbol
of the Fund's not always welcome power.

Zainal said the development of the new international financial architecture
would be pivotal and with it the demands that government reveal more openly
what they are up to.

"The forces of democracy work with globalisation," he said.