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Bangkok Post News (2/11/98)
<center><bigger>Burma fails to make the grade
</bigger></center><italic>Burma has undergone intensive scrutiny on
several international fronts. It managed to insinuate itself into the
Asean-Europe dialogue after a year of effort. But United Nations
investigators and the European Union membership are not go generous with
their patience with the military junta.
</italic> Burma was under new and intense investigation again last week.
The United Nation deputy secretary-general Alvaro de Soto was in Rangoon
with tough human rights questions. The independent UN Human Rights
Commission issued a new and scathing report by its Burma expert,
Rajsoomer Lallah. The European Union widened its sanctions against the
military regime. The message was clear. The junta should begin the
inevitable process to bring democracy to Burma.
The EU extended travel restrictions against the regime to include even
government tourist officers. Europe now has barred most members of the
regime from even stopping over in any EU country on their way somewhere
else. Mr de Soto's report has yet to be made public. Mr Lallah cited
harassment of loyal opposition politicians, and an unknown number of
political prisoners. The UN report said it was clear the regime had
official policies of arbitrary executions, rape and forced labour.
All in all, Burma continued to edge closer to becoming a worldwide
pariah. The one bright spot was a Thai-brokered arrangement that will let
a Burmese official sit in on Asean-EU talks, essentially as an observer.
The one-time arrangement broke a one-year logjam in relations between the
two groups, caused entirely by Burma's refusal to consider even exploring
a more lenient form of government.
On the contrary, it has continued to strong-arm, intimidate and brutalise
its most benign political opponents. In its own words, Rangoon has
invited democratic supporters to long periods of political discussions.
In other word, thousands of Burmese and more than 900 members of the
National League for Democracy have been held until they are frightened
enough to be sarely released back to their homes.
This is not acceptable. It is up to the Burmese to settle their form of
government and its leaders. But the world cannot abide, let along reward,
a regime which survives by threats and violence against its citizens.
Burma would do well to consider the example of Nigeria. The Agrican
nation, long a drug-transit centre, is one of just four countries on a US
drug blacklist, the others being Iran, Afghanistan and Burma. But Nigeria
has recently made a new commitment to democracy. Army chief Gen
Abdulsalami Abubakar has seen, and said, that he sees great advantages to
a democratic transition, and has undertaken an entirely peaceful and
popular series of reforms.
The results have been stateling even to many pro-democracy advocates, The
country has turned politically peaceful. Election plans are proceeding.
There is renewed confidence in the future. One of the immediate gains is
in the field of narcotics. The United States is going to start
immediately to resume cooperation with Nigeria. First, there will be a
$400,000 counter-narcotics fund, along with diplomatic and other official
There is little doubt that a commitment to democratic reform in Burma
would be greeted with similar enthusiasm and rewards. The junta should
know that Burma has no real friends it can depend upon. Thailand's
foreign minister, Surin Pitsuwan, did not help Burma to attend the
European meeting because he wanted Burma there. He did it in Thailand's
interest, because we consider it and advantage to make regional decisions
in today's shrinking world.
Burma would gain prestige and boost its relations with a commitment to
bring democracy to the nation. It is not that difficult to do, either. In
1990, the Burmese regime held one of the fairest, democratic elections on
record in our region. The only thing left to do is to follow through, and
accept the results.