[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

$1Billion for Burma? (r)

The following article appeared on the front page of today's "IHT".  It is
based not on official statements by the UN, the State Peace and Development
Council or the National League for emocracy, but on "a Rangoon-based
diplomat", "sources involved in the negotiations" etc. In my view, whatever
is going on is more likely to be early discussions of possibilities than a

This article is reminiscent of one that appeared in the Bangkok "Nation" in
April 1992, revealing a so-called "UNICEF package" for humanitarian and
economic assistance in return for political dialogue in Burma. And that was
the last we heard of it.  



Paris, Thursday, November 26, 1998
UN Links Burma Aid To Political Dialogue

$1 Billion Is Possible If Generals Will Talk With the

By Thomas Crampton International Herald Tribune

RANGOON - The United Nations and World Bank have entered into
secret negotiations with Burmese government and opposition leaders to offer
the ruling military regime $1 billion in financial and humanitarian aid in
exchange for opening a dialogue with the opposition, according to sources
involved in the negotiations.

Initiated only weeks ago, the plan has been introduced at a time of
bitterly polarized and deeply entrenched political stalemate in Burma.

But government officials, opposition leaders and Rangoon-based
diplomats said the attempt at dollar diplomacy offered "the best glimmer of
hope yet" for breaking the deadlock between the opposition led by Daw Aung
San Suu Kyi and the ruling generals.

The plan calls for step-by-step compromises from both the government and
the opposition, with progress rewarded by increasing amounts of financial
assistance and humanitarian aid.

"A lot of sticks have been used - and they remain in place - but now we are
also offering the government some carrots,'' said a Rangoon-based diplomat
who is involved in the negotiations.  "With the reaction we have received
so far from all sides it is not impossible to outline a win-win scenario."

Both the government and opposition have agreed to pursue the idea in
further meetings with a United Nations envoy that are scheduled to take
place in Burma within the next eight weeks, sources in the government and
the opposition said.

This is the first United Nations attempt to include international financial
institutions directly in political negotiations, and it comes amid rising
criticism that past peace efforts have been undermined by a lack of such
coordination among the organizations.

Presented late last month in Burma by a United Nations special envoy,
Alvaro de Soto, the plan was formulated at a secretive meeting held weeks
earlier in southern England between the World Bank, the United Nations and
five Rangoon-based ambassadors who attended in an unofficial capacity.

Sources involved in the negotiations said they discussed the first step for
a release of funds, which was initially set at requiring the government to
release political prisoners, allow Daw Aung San Suu Kyi freedom of movement
and permit her National League for Democracy to function as a political
party. In exchange, the National League for Democracy would
agree to rescind its calls to convene Parliament, and international funding
would be opened to Burma for the first time in more than a decade.

Funneled through the World Bank, the bulk of the funds would come from
Japan, with additional assistance expected from Australia and Singapore,
sources involved in the negotiations said.

If the plan proceeds, the United States, which has imposed a wide range of
sanctions against the country's military regime, will then withdraw its
long-standing automatic veto of any funding or assistance for Burma from
the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, according to diplomats
involved in the negotiations.

One suggestion floated was for a meeting between the UN
secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and Burma's military leaders at the summit
meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations next month in Hanoi.

"If the process gets under way, the World Bank will just be the thin end of
the wedge," a Rangoon-based diplomat said.

"The private sector will gain confidence and the donor countries, which are
looking for just about any sign of change, will jump in to help the
development of the country."

But not even a blank check from the World Bank would break the
deadlock in Burma, many observers in Rangoon warned. The country has no
culture of political compromise and the military's sole priority is to
retain its total grip on power, the observers said.

No matter how the plan is structured, however, the ruling generals would be
forced to accept Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's strong influence over the use of
funds and her ability to stop them at any time.

The opposition leader, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her
democratic struggle against the government, helped inspire the wide range
of sanctions now imposed on Burma and she alone has the credibility to call
for their loosening or removal.

Meanwhile, the government remains wary of foreign involvement in domestic
matters and confident of the country's ability to ignore external pressure.

"Did the United Nations ensure stability in Cambodia after injecting
billions of dollars? No,'' said Brigadier General Maung Maung, minister to
the office of the ruling council's chairman. ''We welcome any unconditional
assistance you would like to give us, but like Cambodia, we need to solve
our problems by ourselves."

One diplomat dismissed the UN initiative as an attempt by Western
governments to "whitewash the dictatorship into something palatable for
domestic consumption."

"You simply can't cross-breed democracy and military dictatorship," the
diplomat said.  "The generals may take some of the money, but they will
never cede power. You must accept this reality and on that basis decide
whether to give aid or not."

Most countries have opted against giving aid. Development specialists
estimate that Burma could easily attract more than $500 million per year
from donor countries, but international condemnation of human rights abuses
by the military government has reduced annual multilateral foreign
development assistance to less than $20 million in recent years.

All of this assistance passes through a UN program designed to avoid
supporting the military government by sending aid directly to a select set
of small, grass-roots projects in different parts of the country. 

The UN program would very likely serve as a model for funneling initial
World Bank assistance into Burma, sources involved in the negotiations said.