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The Nation News (23-6-99)
<bold>Negotiating for change in Burma
After several failed attempts to bring the Burmese junta to the dialogue
table, the world is still waiting to see what will happen next, Josef
Silverstein examine pass efforts to find a solution to the country's
political and civil problems in the first of a two-part series</bold>.
The skies over Burma are slowly filling with trial balloons about
negotiating political change in the country.
The first balloon was sent aloft last year by Human Rights Watch (Aug 6<<
1998) when it called for three things:
* Understanding of the nature of the three key actors in Burmese politics
the military, the NLD and the ethnic minorities.
* New dialogue between the industrialised nations and Burma's military
* The construction of a road map of specific improvements in human rights
in Burma and "incremental restoration of normal economic and diplomatic
relations with the international community"
In October, a second balloon was floated by the UN and several of the
leading industrialised nations. They offered technical and financial
assistance for political dialogue in Burma between the military and the
National League for Democracy(NLD).
The first proposal went nowhere, even though several writers and
journalists picked it up and gave it their backing.
The second effort alarmed supporters of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD
because of rumours that the military rules were being offered US$1billion
as an inducement to accept negotiations.But the loud outcry
against"bribing" the country's ruling State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC) to hold meetings with the military junta's rejection of the plan,
appeared to have buried it.
But six months' later, in late May 1999, US Deputy Secretary of State for
Asian and Pacific Affairs Ralph Boyce, on a visit to Asia, was reported
to have said that the October UN initiative was "the only game in town"
and still worth pursuing.
A few weeks later, the press reported yet another balloon which suggested
that the UN was prepared to send an envoy to Rangoon to discuss
exchanging aid for a political dialogue.
The new element in this repoet was that Burma's neighbours, who
previously were silent as they pursued the Asean policy of constructive
engagement, were now encouraging Burma's military rules to accept NLD
leader Suu Kyi.
As the world waits to see what will happen next, it is worth examining
the past activities of the key players in order to put the future into
It should be remembered that Suu Kyi has long been on record as saying
that she and her party were ready for dialogue and willing to discuss
anything with the view of starting a process of restoring democracy in
Burma. Suu Kyi's position has not changed since she made this statement
to the then US Congressman Bill Richardson while under house arrest in
Opposition to dialogue between Suu Kyi, other leaders of the NLD and
minority leaders is also part of the military's policy of "divide and
rule". They have blocked all her efforts both to travel to areas
inhabited by the minorities and hold talks. They also have put dialogue
restraints on the minority groups. As a condition of the ceasefire
agreements with them, the military rules have demanded that those who
signed should not communicate with those who did not.
By keeping all political groups apart, SPDC hopes that the people will
see and accept the military as the only leaders in the country and gather
behind it. But no matter what they say or do, Suu Kyi and her party have
the backing of both the Burmese in the country's heartland and the
minorities in the frontier areas.
Burma's military rules have fooled no one with their shifting
explanations about the goals of the 1990 election and their own efforts
to write a new constitution which will keep them permanently in power.
They say that until the constitution is written and issues which matter
most to the people-whether Burma will be federal or unitary. whether or
not it will be a democracy and whetheror not the people will be given all
the rights set forth in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Thus, if internal dialogue is the goal of the Human Rights Watch, the US
government and the UN, they are right to focus on the military rules
because it is they and not the NLD who refuse to come to the table and
talk. If the dialogue is to proceed, then the participants must come as
equals, each with the right to choose its own leaders.
But is it necessary to pay a giant bribe to get talks underway and why
should anyone trust the military rules to keep their word?
Governments and people, the world over, know that the military rules
showed no respect for the election law and the results of the voting.
They continue to show no respect for the laws they have promulgated and
the promises they have made. The world community also knows that SPDC
shows no respect for international law and binding treaties.