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Repercussions from Suu Kyi's stand-

The Nation (Thailand)
August 28, 2000

Repercussions from Suu Kyi's stand-off


It was no accident that a confidential report written by the new Australian
ambassador to Burma, Trevor Wilson, was leaked to the press last week.

The report gave a very negative assessment of human-rights conditions in 
It said that the junta showed no signs of being interested in relinquishing 

Australia's stake in Burma is very high, because Canberra believes that its 
soft approach, as against the harder-line practices of the EU and US, is 
positive results in improving the human-rights record and promoting 
political dialogue.

Canberra is funding a series of human-rights workshops and training programmes
in Rangoon, hoping that this will help the regime to set up a national 
commission as in other Asean countries.

The report was a prelude to the ongoing stand-off between Burmese 
opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi and military authorities in Dala, a town outside Rangoon, 
as this
is the latest indication that the regime remains as intransigent as before. 
It was the
first time in two years that Suu Kyi had defied a ban on travelling outside 
after she made worldwide headlines in August 1988 in a 13-day confrontation 
the military on a bridge northwest of the capital.

As Suu Kyi stays inside her car, refusing to turn back, international 
criticism of
the regime's action continues to grow. Washington has deplored Burma's refusal
to allow Suu Kyi and other National League of Democracy leaders to travel 
in their own country.

Britain, which has maintained one of the toughest anti-Burma positions in 
the EU,
also weighed in. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said he deplored the 
of Suu Kyi. "We urge the authorities to lift these unnecessary and unlawful 
and call on the regime to open an immediate dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi 
and the
NLD," he said.

The European Union likewise called on Burma to lift travel restrictions on 
Suu Kyi.
So far all Asean members remain silent.

If the confrontation continues this week, all the goodwill that Burma 
at the recent Asean ministerial meeting will evaporate very quickly. Worse 
this stand-off could have wider implications.

First, it would further embarrass Asean, which has suffered for the past 
three years
after admitting the pariah state into the grouping. It could also derail 
the Asean effort
to assist Burma to meet its obligations towards the International Labour 
by mid-November. If that is the case, Burma faces the prospect of having 
more Asean
members abstain from voting for it.

Second, the stand-off, if it deteriorates and causes any harm to Suu Kyi's 
condition and to that of her entourage, will certainly draw tougher 
retaliatory measures
from the EU. As the president of the EU, France has so far adopted a rather 
approach towards Burma. France could lose ground to such EU hard-liners as 
the UK,
Denmark and Sweden. If that is the case, it could also affect the scheduled 
ministerial meeting in Vientiane later this year.

Finally it brings Suu Kyi back onto political centre stage inside Burma 
after years of
lying low. After the military crack-down in August 1988 and the regime's 
reneging on
the May 1990 election, she has been playing a catalytic role in promoting 
in Burma and calling for an international boycott of the regime.

Her presence and defiance will certainly win back those sceptics who have 
her as a potent political force in a future Burma. Bangkok-based 
representatives who met her recently said she was in high spirits and would 
her political crusade for a democratic Burma.

In a interview last week Suu Kyi renewed her call for international 
pressure to help
achieve democracy in Burma. She said the recent opening of universities, 
in 1996 after anti-government protests, was a sham.

At this crucial juncture, it is interesting to watch the role of the UN 
representative for Burma, Ismail Razali. In his assessment, the Australian 
stressed that his appointment and other attempts at more direct engagement 
the Burmese leaders have yet to result in any substantive improvements.

Asean and its dialogue partners hope that Razali will be able to make a 
within a year given his experience and the country he represents, Malaysia. 
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was the key person pushing for Burmese
membership in Asean.

As the world watches the stand-off at Dala, it will witness Suu Kyi's iron 
will and that
of those who want to stop her.