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The BurmaNet News: November 3, 1998
- Subject: The BurmaNet News: November 3, 1998
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 02 Nov 1998 21:50:00
------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"
The BurmaNet News: November 3, 1998
BKK POST: BURMA FAILS TO MAKE THE GRADE
THE IRRAWADDY: THE "RANGOON 18"
ASIAWEEK: "WE WILL SPEAK OUT"
ASIAWEEK: TOWARD A NEW ASEAN
AI: URGENT ACTION - ARRESTS FOLLOW-UP
THE BANGKOK POST: BURMA FAILS TO MAKE THE GRADE
2 November, 1998
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 so generous with their patience with the military junta.
Burma was under new and intense investigation again last week. The United
Nations 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
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
words, thousands of Burmese and more than 900 members of the National
League for Democracy have been held until they are frightened enough to be
safely re leased 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 alone reward, a
regime which survives by threats and violence against its citizens.
Burma would do well to consider the example of Nigeria. The African 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
The results have been startling 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 exchanges.
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 an advantage to make regional decisions in today's shrinking
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.
THE IRRAWADDY: THE "RANGOON 18"
October, 1998 by The Irrawaddy Editorial Staff
"DEMOCRACY HEROES" OR SIMPLY "NAIVE"?
A banner hung in the airport's VIP lounge reading: "Welcome Home, Democracy
Heroes." But in a faxed statement to a foreign news agency , a spokesman
for the Burmese junta said that the government felt that "these misguided
youths were exploited" by anti-government groups "to perform subversive
activities and become sacrificial lambs for them ... ." "If we have at
least advanced the fight for human rights and democracy and made people's
lives better in Burma, it has been worth it," said Malaysian activist Chong
Kokwei. He added that he was glad he had been to Burma. "Of course I'm
very happy," screamed Ellene Sana, 36, a social activist from the
Philippines. "I didn't want to stay there any longer." None of the
activists, 10 men and eight women, said they had plans to return to Burma,
but the organisation that sent them there, the Alternative Asean Network on
Burma, promised another venture in the near future. "When we are free to do
so, we are going to go back and distribute this goodwill message again,
very soon, I hope," said coordinator Debbie Sothard. (The Nation, August
On August 9, 18 foreigners were arrested in Rangoon for distributing
leaflets bearing a "Goodwill Message" asking Rangoon residents to remember
on its tenth anniversary the events of August 8, 1988. These leaflets were
distributed at busy centres throughout the capital. The foreigners included
six Americans, three Thai, three Malaysians, three Indonesians, two
Filipinos and one Australian who travelled together to Rangoon and were
subsequently held for interrogation.
Presumably they knew when they arrived in Burma that by making a gesture of
solidarity with that country's oppressed democrats they risked also sharing
the fate of the country's many political prisoners. Their chosen method was
to wear T-shirts with slogans and dispense tiny pamphlets urging people to
remember the democracy uprising of August 8, 1988. Though the 8th passed
quietly in Rangoon this year, there can not be a single person there who
needs reminding about the events of 10 years ago, when up to 3,000 people
are believed to have died in the fight for democracy. As an editorial in
the Asian Wall Street Journal observed, "the foreigners who sought to
protest openly in the nerve center of one of the world's most repressive
regimes were either very brave, or very naive."
International condemnation of the ruling Burmese junta was already in full
swing from the coverage of the Asean Ministerial Meeting in Manila. US
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was pointed in her criticisms of the
Burmese junta. Philippine Foreign Minister Domingo Siazon had already
unloaded both barrels of his diplomatic shotgun on the junta, calling for
Burmese in exile to return home from their comfortable lives abroad to
engage the junta in a "people power" revolution after the fashion of his
own country's in deposing President Marcos. In holding the 18 activists,
junta authorities added fuel to this fire. And the condemnations continued
despite the junta's decision to immediately deport the 18 foreign activists
after sentencing them to 5-year jail terms.
Coverage of Burma increased especially in those countries whose nationals
were among those being held - Asean countries Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia
and the Philippines; the United States; and Australia. The US, always quick
to act when its citizens fall into harms way abroad, but often slow to give
attention to human rights abuses in those same places under less
extraordinary circumstances, welcomed Burma's decision to expel the six US
activists in the group. Their arrest "was just one example of the junta's
abuses, and ought to serve as a reminder that there was an absence of
protection of basic human rights in Burma."
White House spokesman Michael McCurry said while the US was "pleased" by
the release of the activists, the whole incident was "a failure of the
Burmese government to allow freedom of expression which underscores all the
points that we have made privately and publicly."
The International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) protested
against the sentencing of 18 foreign activists, saying the later decision
to expel them did not excuse the verdict. The arrests of the foreign
activists "could obviously be considered as contrary to international human
rights standards," it said in a statement. "The FIDH considers that the
charges levelled against them are unacceptable and invalid. The FIDH also
questions the legal process leading to their condemnation and seriously
doubts that the 18 defendants were granted a fair trial," it said.
REACTION WITHIN ASEAN
The detention of the foreign activists laid bare deep divisions within
Asean. Philippines President Joseph Estrada and Foreign Minister Domingo
Siazon provided exemplary leadership when they made no bones about
demanding that the junta "let our people go." On the other hand, when
Thailand's "flexible engagement" rhetoric was put to the test, it turned
out to be nothing but hot air. Bangkok failed miserably to follow Manila's
example to press for the activists' release, and even Foreign Minister
Surin Pitsuwan's expression of personal support for the detained activists
could not smooth over such a shameful sell-out.
The Thai Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the "Thai government
does not support or encourage Thai nationals to engage in political
activities in other countries ... . However, if Thai nationals are
arrested, we shall make necessary representations to ensure that they are
treated properly in accordance with and in terms of legal and humanitarian
For post-Suharto Indonesia, there was no official reaction, but its
diplomats did offer help to the detainees and their families.
Malaysia, however, was completely out of step. Foreign Minister Abdullah
Badawi said he had no sympathy for Malaysians who enter other countries and
consciously commit wrongdoings. Such an insensitive stance came as no
surprise - anyone caught doing the same in Kuala Lumpur would be similarly
punished. The Malaysian embassy in Rangoon told the families of the
Malaysians arrested that their family members broke local laws and that
they would have to take their punishment. This position was roundly
criticized by Malaysian human rights groups. Malaysia has been one of the
military government's strongest supporters and recently fought against a
move in Asean to break with the group's policy of not criticizing fellow
Meanwhile, Philippines Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon said threats of
Western trade sanctions against Burma will not work to resolve the conflict
in Rangoon. He said that "economic sanctions do not work" and the best way
to deal with Burma was through negotiations with its government through
Asean, citing the release of the 18 activists as an example. "Someone has
to deal with them, talking with them all the time," Siazon said. "The
non-Asean countries are not inside the same house so they have to shout to
be heard. Asean countries are inside and we just have to whisper [to each
other] and we know our problems."
He said Washington's sending of a special envoy to lobby for the release of
the foreign activists never would have worked if Asean members had not
intervened. Asean members "have a better ability to engage [Burma] and to
have very good talks and make constructive suggestions," he said. "If Burma
had not been a member of Asean today, you would still have 18 people
serving five years of hard labour there, I guarantee you that," Siazon
said. Siazon advised western countries to be patient while Asean members
were undergoing reforms.
Certainly, Thailand and the Philippines were deeply concerned in the way
that governments in democracies are, when their nationals are nabbed by
authorities of a police state. Some Malaysian officials may not have been
sympathetic to the plight of the same sort of pesky "activists" whom they
have themselves criticized in the past. But Malaysia, like Indonesia, had
an overriding interest in trying to achieve a positive outcome here.
So, in fact, did Asean, which has made a virtue of welcoming Burma into its
ranks with the assertion that membership in that auspicious clubs can help
speed Burma's entry into the ranks of respectable nations. Thailand and the
Philippines have been urging Asean for some time to take a more active role
in promoting positive values among its more retrograde members. With some
of their own nationals in distress, perhaps Indonesia and Malaysia too
could have taken this unforeseen opportunity to test the waters of
Burma's Asean neighbours rhetorically stuck to their policy of
non-interference, but many individually expressed disquiet. It did not,
however, stop the generals from trying to exploit the foreign intervention.
THE IMPACT OF THE CRISIS
Press reactions to the release of the protestors were decidedly positive.
The Nation and other English-language dailies dubbed the protestors the
"Rangoon 18," "democracy heroes" and other lofty appellations, adding that
they "richly deserved a hero's homecoming." That the activists were
immediately deported only served to add mockery to the junta's judicial
system, and this is generally thought to have been the intention all along.
As an editorial in The Nation suggested, "the activists had gambled and won
- the generals blinked." Indeed, in much of the press coverage the incident
was portrayed as a public-relations catastrophe for the junta. For the
second time in as many weeks, the international community heaped
condemnation on the military regime for its unseemly behaviour.
In some countries such direct actions would have seriously back-fired. For
example, a few years ago Malaysia saw a number of foreign activists slip
into the country and chain themselves to trees to protest against the
rapacious logging of Sarawak's rain-forests. The authorities wasted no time
in painting them as outsiders telling Malaysians how to run their country,
and having an iron grip on the media, the government had no problems in
rallying citizens to back its stance.
The young protesters in this case were organized before setting out on
their mission of "goodwill" by the Alternative Asean Network on Burma
(Altsean-Burma), a group based in Bangkok, which helped the activists to
mount their protest. The organization has nettled the junta before by
smuggling out tapes of Aung San Suu Kyi. But the detention of the 18
activists was its greatest public-relations coup yet.
"The SPDC seems bent on self-sabotage," says Debbie Stothard, Alternative
Asean's coordinator. "They simultaneously shot themselves in the foot and
dug their own grave. But now we thank them; the swirl of negative
international publicity makes our job a lot easier."
But does it? Reactions to the activists and their arrests among Burmese
living in exile and individuals and groups working on Burma issues were
decidedly mixed and much more ambiguous than Ms. Stothard's statement
concerning the action's short and long-term value.
Diplomats in Rangoon said that the leafleting campaign by foreign activists
against Burma's junta had resulted in no significant impact in the country
and attention remains fixed on Aung San Suu Kyi. Perhaps the best gauge of
the relative significance of the 18 foreign activists and their arrest is
in the lack of reaction from Burma's most celebrated activist. Although the
protest drew international media attention, Suu Kyi ignored the activists.
The Nobel peace laureate launched her own demonstration, making her fourth
failed attempt to visit supporters in the provinces in little more than a
Although praised by rights groups when they were deported to Bangkok after
six days' detention, the 18 foreign pro-democracy activists were branded
"naive" and "irrelevant" by some diplomats, including a number whose
governments firmly oppose the junta. "They might have won a lot of support
overseas but it was all pretty irrelevant in Burma," said one western
diplomat. "I don't think anyone kept the leaflets," another western
diplomat said, citing reports by witnesses. "They would've dropped them
straight away even if they were interested in the first place."
Interestingly, Burma's activists in exile were divided into two camps. "We
want international assistance and moral support but not that kind of
physical action," one prominent Burmese activist said while other activists
welcomed the 18 and treated them like "heroes".
Insiders in Rangoon are quite confused. "We have little room to move but
after they  came in the security has been tightened." Some are also
worry that the junta could justify its claims of "collaboration between
neo-colonialists and destructive elements."
Activists in exile were quietly unhappy when they saw some comment made by
the 18 activists after they landed Bangkok Airport.
Shortly after the release of the activists, the Burmese regime began
issuing warnings to those who may intend to follow suit. On August 17, the
military junta issued a veiled threat of violence against any foreigners
intent on repeating the pro-democracy leafleting campaign carried out by
the 18 activists. "The people of Burma want to live in peace and are angry
with the 18 foreigners," wrote Maung Pyi Tha, a pseudonym for a government
official, in a commentary in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
"The next time any destructionists or saboteurs try to disrupt the country
they will face not only the laws but the people who are ready to prove
their sense of duty."
Meanwhile, the 18 foreign activists were threatened with even sterner
punishment if they tried to repeat their action. Philippine ambassador to
Rangoon Sonia Brady was quoted in a report as saying, "if they were to
return to Myanmar in the future and violate their laws, they would serve
not only the sentence that would be imposed upon them but also the sentence
condoned" on the day of their deportation.
Foreign diplomats in Rangoon said scores of foreign journalists had
descended on the city amid escalating political tensions in recent weeks,
with all but a few arriving on tourist visas. Journalists who have applied
for official visas have been refused. Some journalists had also been
briefly detained in Rangoon and forced to sign documents saying they did
not work for news organisations, the diplomats added.
A French journalist became the second foreign newsman expelled from Burma
for entering the country under the pretense of being tourists. Philippe
Grangereau was deported for "illegally gathering information" while in the
country on a tourist visa, newspapers said. Cassette tapes and documents
hidden on his body were seized. Mr Grangereau, who works for the Paris
newspaper Liberation, had apparently met officials of the opposition NLD. A
few days earlier, the military regime said an Italian journalist, Maurizio
Giouliano, who was blacklisted for illicitly gathering news earlier this
month was expelled when he tried to enter the country again. These arrests
and deportations continue, as another three foreign journalists in Burma on
tourist visas were arrested and deported on September 1.
In addition, there have been changes in visa issuing policy at the Burma
Embassy in Bangkok. The visa, which used to be issued within a matter of
minutes in Bangkok and within two or three days from other locations in
Thailand, became more difficult to acquire. Since the incident, the embassy
has explored two different policies-the first, a one week waiting period
which allows officials to screen each passport individually before
approval; and the most recent requirement, that all applicants go to the
embassy in Bangkok for an interview before visa permission is granted. One
travel agency reported that the embassy was screening for young people,
particularly young Westerners, and was intent on not repeating last month's
Embassy officials have been quizzing foreign applicants for tourist visas
about possible links with the media and forcing some to sign declarations
they were not journalists, applicants and other sources said. "They are
telling people they know they are journalists, asking all sorts of
questions and making them sign these documents if they want visas," said
one Bangkok executive whose associate was attempting to travel to Burma.
One applicant said they were being told by embassy officials that they knew
they were journalists because they had been seen on television. The junta
stands its ground: "Most countries have laws controlling foreign
journalists ...Why shouldn't we?," said an official.
And then there is the issue of foreign NGOs operating in Thailand - the
Thai government, while tolerant of their presence and activities, receives
little from these organizations and is in no way obligated to facilitate
their work by extending visas to their employees, most of whom do not hold
work permits, sometimes repeatedly for years on end. This incident may
jeopardize foreign NGO's tenuous rapport with the Thai government as well.
Not to mention potentially negative effects of the incident on the already
escalating harassment of Burmese by the Thai authorities in recent months.
Whatever the "Rangoon 18" incident may have accomplished in terms of
international attention and awareness, which is still a matter of much
debate and speculation, or in terms of reminding people inside Burma that
there are people from around the world who are sympathetic and working for
their cause, and thereby giving them hope, also a matter of speculation, in
the short term at least, the detention of the 18 foreign activists
threatens to make the work of human rights NGOs and the media in Burma -
always difficult - much more so, if not impossible. Indeed, the Burmese
media had a field day in depicting the 18 as alien saboteurs bent on
"inciting unrest", and ridiculing Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition as
tools of foreign agents. This can make her work no easier also.
Perhaps it is also apt to reflect on whether it was wise for foreigners to
be leafleting in the streets of Rangoon, no matter how righteous the cause
is. But there should be no illusion as to why they were freed. After all,
they had behind them the weight of a number of governments, and countless
NGOs and individuals who had worked tirelessly for their freedom. As
Philippine Foreign Minister Domingo Siazon reminded the world, the struggle
for democracy in Burma should be determined by the Burmese. Yes, as members
of the global community we should support that struggle. However, whether
going to Rangoon and leafleting Burmese "not to give up hope" is going way
beyond "support" is a question that should be discussed by foreign NGOs.
Burma's reaction-to tightly reassert control over the flow of people and
information into and out of the country-may be only temporary. But it could
be, equally, merely a prelude to a return to the isolationism which has
characterized so much of Burma's recent history. If this short-term state
of affairs becomes a long-term reality, the change in Burma that so many
have worked and hoped for may be further away than any of us expected.
ASIAWEEK: "WE WILL SPEAK OUT"
6 November, 1998
A CANDID INTERVIEW WITH DOMINGO SIAZON
THE PRESIDENTS OF THE Philippines and Indonesia - Joseph Ejercito Estrada
and B.J. Habibie respectively - criticizing Malaysian authorities for how
they have dealt with former deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim. Malaysian Foreign
Minister Abdullah Badawi berating Estrada and Habibie for their remarks.
Kuala Lumpur at odds with Singapore over Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs and other
historical issues. Differences among ASEAN members over how to tackle the
economic crisis, or how much to democratize. Whatever has happened to the
grouping's traditional tendency to camouflage any tensions under a facade
of unity? For an informed view, Asiaweek Senior Correspondent Antonio Lopez
talked to a diplomat who has thought deeply about the changes ASEAN is
undergoing - the Philippine foreign secretary, 59-year-old DOMINGO SIAZON.
Excerpts from their hour-long conversation:
WHERE EXACTLY DOES PRESIDENT ESTRADA STAND ON ANWAR?
He has expressed his concern that Anwar be given due process. The president
feels a certain attachment to Anwar. Both occupied the No. 2 position. The
president and Anwar are friends, but I don't know to what degree.
Initially, when Anwar was arrested, the president was already quite
perturbed. What really forced him to comment publicly was when he saw Anwar
with the physical injuries.
WERE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE PRESIDENT MAKING SUCH REMARKS?
I was worried about the Malaysian reaction. But since the president clearly
stated he was just stating his personal view, I thought it would not affect
ASEAN's policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries.
SO HOW IS ANWAR'S CASE AFFECTING PHILIPPINES-MALAYSIA RELATIONS?
Relations are of course a little tense now. You have to watch these things,
to see that they do not go out of control. Both sides have been quite civil
about [the situation]. Both sides are trying very hard to control it. You
have to distinguish the Malaysian moves, whether "they" are the government,
the public or some members of UMNO. There was a rally in front of the
Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Some of our people tell us the rally
was [organized] by party members . . . There won't be any long-term damage.
Malaysia and the Philippines have been created by God as neighbors. There's
no way we can avoid each other.
YOU HAVEN'T MADE THE SAME NOISE ABOUT MYANMAR.
We are just making selective exceptions when there are certain issues such
as Anwar's arrest and his being hurt while under police custody. It doesn't
usually happen that a deputy prime minister is arrested and jailed. Aung
San Suu Kyi's case is different. She's under house arrest, she holds
demonstrations outside her house, except that her movement outside of
Yangon is limited. It's a different situation.
There are quiet negotiations. Our ambassador to Myanmar will host some
"social" meetings among some of the groups. The idea is to get them to
talk, start a dialogue. The problem is not the generals but the other side
- the National League for Democracy. The NLD wants to talk but wants to
impose conditions. There should be no conditions.
SO HAS ASEAN ABANDONED ITS POLICY OF NON-INTERFERENCE IN EACH OTHER'S AFFAIRS?
During the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in July in Manila, Thailand
wanted to do away with the principle of non-interference and [adopt]
constructive engagement. There was resistance. [Even so,] we are telling
members that, from now on, we will be true to our own values and ideas and
we will speak out and express our views. Nobody can deny the right of any
member to say, "this issue is important to me." This is a clear signal to
everyone that, from now on, our behavioral pattern will be different from
the pattern we were used to in the past. And please understand this.
WHAT HAS BROUGHT ABOUT THIS SEACHANGE?
For one, President Estrada, as a person, is more sensitive to these kinds
of issues and is used to articulating his views. For another, after 31
years of ASEAN, maybe we are mature enough to discuss some of these issues
publicly without being too sensitive. You are seeing this change in
Indonesia. There has been a transformation of the political system there
which involves greater popular participation and therefore a greater
feeling of equity in domestic power. Once expressed domestically, this
feeling is expressed in terms of international equity.
DO YOU SEE AN ALLIANCE AMONG THE PHILIPPINES, INDONESIA AND PERHAPS
THAILAND OVER SUCH ISSUES?
Not really an alliance. That would be a misnomer. Thailand and the
Philippines have always been quite outspoken on issues related to human
rights. Within ASEAN, Thailand and the Philippines are probably the most
democratic governments, or governments with the most popular participation.
Now Indonesia will also tend to be more democratic. People will be asked
their views. The impact is that you will have more countries speaking out
on issues with trans-boundary effects. For example, we used to keep quiet
about the forest fires in Indonesia. If that happens now, you will see a
lot of countries speaking out and asking Indonesia to do something about
it. Before, we were rather embarrassed to do that.
WHAT ABOUT INDONESIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ALI ALATAS? DOES HE NOT BELONG TO
THE OLD SCHOOL OF NON-INTERVENTION?
Ali is not conservative. He has always tried to protect the interests of
Indonesia. Indonesians cannot reform overnight. But President Habibie is
already speaking [of transparency]. Ali will have to reflect that view.
IS ALL THIS GOOD FOR ASEAN?
Of course. It will better ASEAN because we won't have anything to hide from
each other. If something goes wrong, the other countries will say, "Why
don't you fix it?" We will start arriving at solutions faster than we used
to, rather than hide the problem under the carpet.
IT WOULD ADD UP TO A VERY DIFFERENT ASEAN.
It's going to be [that way]. ASEAN will be more outspoken. Indonesia is the
biggest country. Once it changes, and with the present Thai and Philippine
systems of government, and invariably even Malaysia - where you see
demonstrations now - you will see greater popular participation in
government. This will impact on Vietnam, on Cambodia, and later on, Myanmar
and Laos. Popular governance, people involved in governance, will march in
Southeast Asia. With greater popular participation, you will have greater
accountability, greater transparency. This will reflect also on the
GIVEN THE PERSONALITY DIFFERENCES AMONG ASEAN LEADERS, WHAT IS THE OUTLOOK
FOR THE SUMMIT IN HANOI IN DECEMBER?
There are no personality differences. It's a difference over issues.
IS ASEAN STILL RELEVANT?
It is still very important. It is the glue that binds us all together.
Despite our temporary differences - as brothers and sisters may have - you
still have to go back to where you belong. We belong to the same ASEAN
family. Individually, we cannot survive in this globalized world. We have
to stick together.
ASIAWEEK: TOWARD A NEW ASEAN
6 November, 1998
MORE OPENNESS CAN PROMOTE GREATER HARMONY AND UNDERSTANDING IT BEGAN WITH
THE ASEAN ministerial conference in Manila in July, when Thailand, backed
by the Philippines, urged a change in the policy of non-interference in
domestic affairs. Then came Lee Kuan Yew's candid memoirs, which made
unflattering assertions about Malaysia's revered founding leaders. In
September it was Jakarta and Manila's turn, criticizing Kuala Lumpur's
treatment of ousted deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. After 31 years of
downplaying differences, verbal jousts among founding members of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations have observers asking, Is ASEAN
falling apart? Some even fear a return to the nationalist tensions and
military confrontations of decades past.
First the good news: sorry to disappoint arms merchants, but there won't be
any shooting war in ASEAN for the foreseeable future. Whatever side they
may take on constructive intervention, human rights and democracy, one
thing the region's Crisis-hit countries don't want is a confidence-killing,
recovery-stopping conflict. Moreover, one of ASEAN's achievements is
precisely the diplomatic culture and mechanisms to manage and resolve
differences. The recent war of words over Anwar is a soiree compared with
the explosive conflicts that the grouping has weathered, including the
Philippine claim to Malaysia's Sabah state, and the Indochina wars, whose
Asian adversaries sit around the ASEAN table today.
Now, for possibly better news: publicly raising touchy issues, including
human rights and democracy, could lay a stronger foundation for ASEAN
harmony. Its hallowed doctrine of non-interference sometimes meant that
intractable matters festered behind the whitewash of feel-good solidarity.
Eventually they got out of hand - like Thailand's financial excesses and
Indonesia's forest fires - and caused harm to and animosity among other
grouping members. By airing rather than hiding differences, ASEAN could
learn to manage and resolve them while preserving overall relations. "We
will start arriving at solutions faster," Philippine Foreign Secretary
Domingo Siazon told Asiaweek.
It's about time. The onus on ASEAN to address concerns over rights and
democracy won't go away. It needs to court Western help in the Crisis - not
easy if some members jail dissidents, stifle media, break up rallies, and
oppose or rig elections. Anwar's detention, for instance, theatened to
derail the APEC summit in Kuala Lumpur Nov. 17-18, just when the forum
needs to act on the Crisis. Moreover, voters and media in liberal countries
like the Philippines and Thailand will continue pressing their governments
to criticize repression elsewhere. In tut-tutting over Anwar, the
Philippines' Joseph Estrada and Indonesia's B.J. Habibie were partly
playing to their home crowds. Lastly, a willingness to openly speak on the
issues of the day will help the association retain its relevance.
Can ASEAN maintain good relations while being more open about differences?
Yes, if the recent altercation is any indication. Despite the strong talk
from Jakarta and Manila, Kuala Lumpur kept its cool and did not take steps
to make its critics sorry they opened their mouths. Estrada and Habibie,
for their part, wisely avoided going too far with their carping, the former
listening to prudent advice from his predecessor, Fidel Ramos. Initial
clumsiness in speaking out was to be expected; such candor, after all, is
new to ASEAN.
Practice will hopefully make for a better sense of how far to push one
nation's views on another before the exercise becomes unproductive and even
dangerous. Focusing on policies rather than personalities would also help
make intervention more constructive. Estrada and Habibie spoke up mainly
because of their ties to Anwar. It would be good in future to address such
hot-button issues as detention without trial, press freedom, free and
honest elections, IMF programs and foreign debt relief. Then the
intervention would be less partisan, and its impact extend beyond one man's
The other imperative for the new openness is for ASEAN to act as the
grouping that it is, expressing a collective position, not just individual
nations mouthing disparate, if frank, views. A single voice, forged by
majority vote or consensus, would be much harder to ignore than the
comments of specific governments. To be sure, agreement on such delicate
issues as human rights will be extremely difficult. But try the association
must, if only to harness the major issues of the day as a force for ASEAN
unity, not fractiousness. One agreement to aim for is a code of citizens'
rights and duties with different implementation deadlines for various
members, depending on their level of political, legal and economic
development. Having devised a country-specific schedule for liberalizing
trade, it's time the grouping did the same for politics.
Adopting constructive intervention need not lead ASEAN to dump its
traditional tack of raising concerns in private, which remains appropriate
in certain circumstances. And let no one think the path of open debate is
without perils. Two are most pernicious: members might still let
nationalist pride drive them to conflict, and outside powers could exploit
frictions within the grouping. Plainly, ASEAN solidarity will be tested -
and hopefully strengthened - more than ever.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: URGENT ACTION - ARRESTS FOLLOW-UP
21 October from ajsloot@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
PUBLIC AI Index: ASA 16/28/98
Further information on UA 237/98 (ASA 16/26/98, 8 September 1998)- Mass
Arbitrary Arrests / Prisoners of Conscience New concerns: Fear of torture
and ill-treatment / Fear for safety / Health concern
MYANMAR Over 200 members of the NLD opposition political party, including
Thakin Khin Nyunt, aged 84 (released)
New name: Dr. U Saw Mra Aung, aged 80, and 54 people, including 23 NLD members
Thakin Khin Nyunt was released on 14 September 1998, and 32 others also
arrested by Myanmar's military authorities since 6 September 1998 have also
since been released. However, there are serious concerns for 54 people who
were recently arrested in a related case, some of whom were reportedly
severely beaten during interrogation. Hundreds of other prisoners of
conscience who are still detained remain in danger of torture or
Dr. U Saw Mra Aung, an 80-year-old medical doctor and an elected member of
parliament, was arrested on 6 September. In view of his age, Amnesty
International is particularly concerned about his health while in
detention. In mid-September he was appointed as Head of the symbolic
People's Parliament by the few National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders
who are not currently in detention. The NLD is Myanmar's leading opposition
party, led by Nobel prize laureate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
In a press conference on 7 October, the State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC, Myanmar's military government) announced that 54 people, including
23 NLD members, had been arrested in connection with a "conspiracy" to
"incite unrest" by NLD members and students allied with foreign
organizations. Amnesty International could find no evidence in the SPDC
statement that any of those arrested had engaged in anything other than
peaceful civil disobedience in Myanmar. Amnesty International is also
concerned by reports that some of those detained before the press
conference were severely beaten during interrogation, and that they may not
be receiving the medical care they could need as a result.
SPDC officials have stated that NLD members are being held in government
guesthouses and treated well. The SPDC also claims that detainees are
participating in discussions about the future of the country with
government officials. However, other reports indicate that NLD members are
being intimidated into resigning from the party, and that most of them are
held in detention facilities around the country, including Insein Prison in
Yangon, where hundreds of political prisoners are held.
According to the NLD, over 900 of its members have been arrested since May,
including some 200 elected members of parliament. Student activist sources
also claim that hundreds of their colleagues have been arrested during the
same period. Because of the lack of access to Myanmar by journalists and
independent human rights monitors, it is impossible to confirm these
numbers. However, Amnesty International believes that hundreds of
opposition activists have been arrested in the last five months, many of
them for their peaceful political activities, including holding
demonstrations and distributing leaflets, calling on the SPDC to convene
the parliament elected in 1990, and attempting to meet with colleagues
around the country.
FURTHER RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/telexes/faxes/express/
airmail letters in English or in your own language: - welcoming the release
of Thakin Khin Nyunt and 32 others arrested by Myanmar's military
authorities since 6 September 1998; - expressing deep concern at the recent
arrests of 54 people in a related case, and at reports that some were
severely beaten during interrogation and may not be receiving medical
attention; - urging the SPDC to release all those arrested in the last five
months for their peaceful political activities, including Dr. U Saw Mra
Aung; -urging the SPDC not to ill-treat or torture anyone currently in
detention; - calling on the SPDC to make public a list of all those
detained, their whereabouts, and any charges brought against them; -
reminding the government of Myanmar of its commitment to the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, in particular Article 20 (1):"Everyone has the
right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association."
Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, Secretary 1
State Peace and Development Council
c/o Director of Defence Services Intelligence (DDSI)
Ministry of Defence, Signal Pagoda Road
Dagon Post Office
Union of Myanmar
Telegrams: General Khin Nyunt, Yangon, Myanmar
Faxes: + 95 1 229 50
Salutation: Dear General
Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman
State Peace and Development Council
c/o Director of Defence Services Intelligence (DDSI)
Ministry of Defence, Signal Pagoda Road
Dagon Post Office
Union of Myanmar
Telegrams: General Than Shwe, Yangon, Myanmar
Salutation: Dear General
COPIES TO: Diplomatic representatives of Myanmar accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 8 December 1998.
"Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association." -
Article 20 (1), Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Visit: Amnesty International UDHR campaign website on
Amnesty International Coordinating group Burma on