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BurmaNet News: January 16, 2001

______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
        An on-line newspaper covering Burma 
         January 16, 2001   Issue # 1712
______________ www.burmanet.org _______________

NOTED IN PASSING:  "The drug factories are on your turf, and the 
products are being sold in my house. You say you can't control them. 
This is not right,"

Gen. Mongkon Ampornpisit,  Former Thai Army Supreme Commander on the 
Burmese regime?s claim that it cannot control drug production.  See The 
Nation: Mongkon Spells out Military's Role

*AFP: Myanmar regime says ready to "join hands" after talks announcement
*AP: Senior Myanmar leader says foreign pressure counterproductive
*Xinhua: Myanmar Holds National Seminar on Health Environment
*CHRO: Burmese Soldiers Stole A Church?s Solar Plate

*The Nation: Govt Categorically Denies Burma Arms Charge
*The Nation: Mongkon Spells out Military's Role
*AP:  Thai police: leaders, 14 others from God?s Army rebel group 
*AFP: EU delegation to visit Myanmar
*The Times of India (New Delhi) : Navy chief to visit Myanmar after a 
break of 20 years Navy chief to visit Myanmar after a break of 20 years 
*MCC Communications: [Ediger blacklisted in Thailand]
*Mizzima: UNHCR to cut monthly allowance to Burmese refugees in India 
UNHCR to cut monthly allowance to Burmese refugees in India  

*Bangkok Post:  Junta Takes Tentative First Step

__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________

AFP: Myanmar regime says ready to "join hands" after talks announcement 

 BANGKOK Jan 16 (AFP) - Myanmar's military regime said Tuesday it was 
ready to "join hands with all the forces in the nation" in an apparent 
reaction to the announcement of landmark contacts with Aung San Suu Kyi. 
  But the junta's first secretary Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt said the 
international community must roll back sanctions if it wants to see "the 
emergence of a peaceful, modern and democratic state."   The United 
Nations announced last week that secret talks between Khin Nyunt and 
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi were being held to prepare the way 
for an historic dialogue between the warring sides.   The regime has so 
far made no official response to the news, but Khin Nyunt's comments 
during an opening ceremony for a government training course for the 
first time link the political thaw with the end of sanctions.   Nations 
using pressure tactics and sanctions on Myanmar "should give them up" if 
they wanted to see national reconciliation begin in the military-run 
country, he said.   "It is now generally accepted by most observers that 
these tactics have not worked and can be counter-productive.   
"Presently (Myanmar) is beginning to achieve sound political, social and 
administrative foundations and it is most important that these nations, 
even if they are not in a position to assist us, do not impede the 
progress being made."   The heavy burden of sanctions, which has helped 
bring Myanmar's economy to its knees, is credited with being one of the 
major factors behind the junta's new willingness to countenance 
political change.   Khin Nyunt urged foreign nations holding 
"pessimistic and narrow-minded views" on Myanmar to review their stance. 
  "Even as we look forward to joining hands with all the forces in the 
nation in the march towards the national goal ... it is our earnest 
desire to establish friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation with 
all the nations of the world," he said.   New signs have emerged in 
recent days of an improvement in the political atmosphere in Myanmar as 
the junta and the opposition edge towards an historic dialogue, their 
first since 1994.   Junta officials have told the NLD that 86 of its 
supporters jailed since September, when Aung San Suu Kyi was also placed 
under house arrest, will be allowed to receive food parcel and letters.  
 In another indication of the thaw, the regime has ordered the state-run 
media to halt its routine attacks on the opposition leader.  


AP: Senior Myanmar leader says foreign pressure counterproductive  

Jan. 16, 2001

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ As Myanmar's military government moves toward 
substantive talks with the pro-democracy opposition, a senior general 
has appealed to foreign countries to stop pressuring the ruling junta.   
``It is high time such nations give up sanctions and pressure tactics if 
they really wish to see the emergence of a democratic state in 
Myanmar,'' Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, the third-ranking member in the junta 

``These tactics are counterproductive since it hinder the very process 
of democratization in Myanmar,'' he said, speaking at the opening 
ceremony of a diplomatic skills training course at the Foreign Ministry 
in Yangon on Monday.   His speech was reported in all three 
state-controlled daily newspapers Tuesday.   For several years, the 
military government has come under intense international criticism for 
human rights abuses and repressing Myanmar's pro-democracy movement. The 
National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi was never allowed 
by the junta to take power after a sweeping general election victory in 
1990.   The United States and the European Union have been particularly 
outspoken in their criticisms of the military regime, and instituted 
limited diplomatic and economic sanctions against the junta.   Khin 
Nyunt did not name any country but said his remarks were addressed to 
``to those nations that have negative and biased views on Myanmar.''  

 Last week, the United Nations announced that Khin Nyunt and Suu Kyi had 
held their first talks in six years. The government had previously 
refused to deal directly with Suu Kyi, insisting it would talk only with 
other leaders of her National League for Democracy.   The two sides are 
expected to hold more discussions on national reconciliation soon. The 
government and Suu Kyi, who remains under virtual house arrest, have yet 
to comment.   In similar past remarks about foreign interventionism, 
Khin Nyunt usually included attacks on Suu Kyi's movement, but his 
remarks Monday were conciliatory. 

  Khin Nyunt declared that Myanmar ``is beginning to achieve political, 
economic, social and administrative foundations. It is important that 
these pressuring nations do not hamper the progress even if they do not 
want to assist us.'' .   Khin Nyunt said that although the country 
received practically no foreign assistance, the economy grew by an 
average 7.2 percent in the first four years of the five-year economic 
plan beginning 1996-97 because of the government's economic policies. 
Independent economists have expressed doubt over such optimistic 
statistics.   Khin Nyunt also invited the Karen National Union _ the 
sole major ethnic rebel group that hasn't signed a cease-fire with the 
junta _ to work for peace and development like 17 other armed rebel 
groups that joined hands with the government.


Xinhua: Myanmar Holds National Seminar on Health Environment

YANGON, January 16 (Xinhua) -- A national seminar-cum-workshop began 
here Monday to work out an action plan on health and environment, 
official newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported Tuesday. The 
two-day event is attended by Myanmar health officials, representatives 
of U.N. agencies, non-governmental organizations and experts. Based on 
the "Framework for Health and Environment Action Plan, "which is an 
outcome of a Regional Consultative Meeting of World Health Organization 
South-East Asia Region held in October 1997 in Maldives, key 
environmental health issues such as water, sanitation and water 
resources, clean air, food safety, solid and hazardous waste disposal 
and safe use of chemicals and occupational safety will be discussed at 
the seminar. 

Myanmar is implementing its five-year national health plan ( 1996-2001) 
which consists of six programs including the environmental health 
program. Health assumes an important role in Myanmar's social objective 
among others for national development and health and development 
programs, especially in the under-served rural and border areas, have 
been made possible in harmony with its economic policies and extensive 
development of infrastructure.


CHRO: Burmese Soldiers Stole A Church?s Solar Plate

Chin Human Rights Organization

Jan. 15, 2001

Burmese soldiers led by Lt. Kyaw Min of Light Infantry Battalion ( LIB ) 
266  in Vuangtu camp, Thantlang township, Chin State stole a solar plate 
and a  12-volt battery from Lawngtlang (B) village on October 13, 2000. 
The  soldiers, who said they were running out of battery, asked the 
headman of  the village to find a solar plate. The headman, Lian Rem ( 
name change ),  told the officer that the village didnÆt have a solar 
plate, but  unfortunately, the officer saw one that was being charged in 
the sunlight,  and he told the headman to pick it. The headman explained 
that that was the  property of a Church. The officer threatened him and 
forced him to take the  solar plate which he would take for nothing.

The villagers expected that they would get it back the next day, but the 
 platoon commander Lt. Kyaw Min asked them to send two porters to carry 
the  solar plate and the battery to his camp to be his property. It 
worths over  Ks. 100000, including the labor charge. The solar plate was 
donated to the  Church by Lawngtlang natives working in Malaysia. 
Vuangtu and Lawngtlang are  villages in Thantlang township, Chin State.

The soldiers in Vuangtu camp had been reported to have the practice of  
taking properties from business people who come and go through Hlamphei, 
 Khuabung and Lawngtlang.

In July 2000, they took 70 heads of cattle from smugglers and sold them 
in  the villages for their own pocket. They also seized 15 horse-loads 
of goods  which the owners never got back. In addition, the soldiers 
asked the village  headmen to help them cover what they did to the 
smugglers. When the headmen  denied, they were threatened and disturbed 
by the Burmese soldiers in  several ways. The name of the headmen are 
hidden for security reason.




___________________ REGIONAL/INTERNATIONAL___________________

The Nation: Govt Categorically Denies Burma Arms Charge

Tuesday, January 16, 2001

THAILAND yesterday categorically rejected an allegation from a Burmese 
state-owned paper that it was trying to revive the ethnic minorities' 
armed struggle along the border by supplying them with weapons under the 
pretence of narcotics suppression.

"We categorically reject the report in the Burmese paper The Mirror. 
Thailand has no policy of supplying arms to ethnic minority groups to 
fight the Burmese government," said Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman 
Rathakit Manathat.

The paper, in its editorial last Friday, slammed Thailand for supplying 
arms and offering moral support to ethnic-minority rebels in a bid to 
rejuvenate their armed struggle for autonomy.

It said Bangkok was using the excuse of drug suppression along the 
border as a cover for its operations.

Rathakit said Bangkok wanted to see peace, stability and prosperity in 
Burma as well as have a good neighbour.

"We believe in political means through dialogue as the only way to solve 
political and ethnic conflicts and bring about reconciliation and 
lasting peace in Burma.

"That is why we support the role of the UN's special envoy to Burma 
Razali Ismail," he said.

Rathakit also said the Thai government believed its "unrelenting efforts 
in the past will lead to serious and sincere cooperation in order to 
tackle the drug problem".


The Nation: Mongkon Spells out Military's Role

Tuesday, January 16, 2001

The Nation

FORMER Supreme Commander General Mongkon Ampornpisit said yesterday 
Thailand's military, with its closeness to regional counterparts, will 
continue to play a critical role in the country's ever-shifting 
relations with its neighbours.

However, Mongkon dismissed prospects of a return to a military role in 
guiding foreign policy, saying the armed forces would not usurp the 
Foreign Ministry's role.

Mongkon made the comments during a lecture entitled "The Military and 
Our Neighbours" at Chulalongkorn University.

The general was quick to point out, however, that "it is undeniable that 
relations between the armed forces are better than those between the 
region's foreign ministries".

The military's main challenge now is to realise its goal of becoming a 
"lean but mean" force, working within budgetary constraints without 
sacrificing defence capability.

Mongkon admitted the cutbacks had diminished Thailand's capacity to 
project force, however.

"If you read less, you're less likely to pass an exam," he said. 

Thailand's defence budget stands at 1.4 per cent of GDP, the smallest in 
the region, according to Mongkon, and slightly greater than those of 
Japan and Switzerland.

This is worrisome in the context of a regionwide military modernisation 
campaign, he said, noting that Burma, for example, spent 6.77 per cent 
of GDP on defence and was constantly upgrading its arsenal, purchasing 
modern weaponry from foreign manufacturers as well as arms made by local 
suppliers with assistance from Singapore and Israel.

"Burma is the only country in the world increasing the size of its armed 
forces," Mongkon said, citing the current global military streamlining. 
Burma has 140 battalions comprising 50,000 personnel along its border 
with Thailand, he said.

"That is equivalent to half the Thai army. Our bargaining power, in the 
sense that 'whenever we talk they stop', has decreased significantly," 
he noted.

Another major concern is ongoing border disputes with the four countries 
Thailand adjoins: Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.

"I told the Foreign Ministry: 'Germany fought a war on two fronts and 
lost. What are we going to do?,'" he said.

Thailand needed a "comprehensive strategy" in the event of a major 
conflict on more than one front, one in which every Thai would be 
required to fight, Mongkon said.

To prevent this worst-case scenario, Thailand must work to build 
confidence using the principle of non-exploitation. In the case of 
disputes, relationships between local commanders on the two sides would 
be helpful in pre-empting escalation, he said.

Meanwhile, the general took a swipe at Rangoon for its "uncooperative" 
approach to stemming the influx of drugs into Thailand.

There are now 20 to 30 illegal metamphetamine factories in 
minority-controlled areas of Burma smuggling drugs into the Kingdom. 

"The drug factories are on your turf, and the products are being sold in 
my house. You say you can't control them. This is not right," Mongkon 

Serious communication problems between the two sides have stymied 
cooperation not only on the issue of narcotics but also over refugees. 
The present problem, he said, exists between the countries' highest 
officials, not between local officials or the Thai and Burmese peoples. 

Adding to the strain, he said, is a series of anti-government movements 
allegedly using Thailand as a base from which to create unrest in 
neighbouring countries.

"These are serious problems that have a serious effect on relations," he 
said, adding that Bangkok needed to act decisively and sincerely with 
its friends.


AP:  Thai police: leaders, 14 others from God?s Army rebel group 

BANGKOK, Thailand 

Jan. 16, 2001 

The twin adolescent leaders and 14 members of a mystical rebel cult from 
Myanmar surrendered to Thai authorities Tuesday, police said. 

The members of the God's Army group, led by the charismatic brothers 
Luther and Johnny, turned themselves in at the border with Myanmar in 
Suan Phung district of Ratchaburi province, Lt. Col. Somchai Suwatsuwan 
of Thailand's Border Patrol Police. Ratchaburi is 100 kilometers (60 
miles) west of Bangkok. 

The group, including nine boys and two girls, surrendered themselves 
along with M16 assault rifle and other weapons. 

The rebel group first gained notoriety after it gave refuge to another 
group of Myanmar dissidents known as the Vigorous Burmese Student 
Warriors who had taken hostages at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok in 
October 1999. The Thais allowed them to go free in exchange for the 
captives' release. 

Several months later, the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors seized a 
Ratchaburi hospital, demanding that the Thai government send medicine 
and doctors to treat ethnic Karen people injured in fighting with 
Myanmar troops. All hostage-takers were killed by Thai commandos. 

It was unclear whether God's Army participated in the hospital raid. The 
Myanmar army, aided by Thai forces, ousted the group from its stronghold 
after the raid. They have been on the run since, variously reported to 
be hiding out in villages on either side of the Thai-Myanmar border. 

A photograph of a long-haired, angelic looking Johnny posing next to his 
tougher looking, cigarette puffing brother was taken and circulated 
around the world after the incident. The twins were 12 at the time. 

Somchai said most of the surrendered rebels were being held at Border 
Patrol Police headquarters in the province. 

He declined to give more details, saying an investigation was underway. 

The surrendered rebels include two suspects in the killing of Thai 
villagers in a robbery on a Thai border village earlier this month, the 
Nation television channel reported. 

They had been separated from the other surrendered rebels and were 
detained at a police station in Suan Phung, the Nation reported. 

Violence along the border between Thailand and Myanmar, also known as 
Burma, is common, although the two countries maintain good 
government-to-government ties. 

The frontier seethes with insurgents fighting the Myanmar government, 
drug traffickers and smugglers. Local, cross-border conflicts are 

Karen groups are fighting for autonomy from Mynamar's military regime. 


AFP: EU delegation to visit Myanmar 

STOCKHOLM, Jan 16 (AFP) - A European Union (EU) delegation will visit 
Myanmar at the end of January to meet with representatives of the 
military regime and the opposition, a Swedish official said Tuesday.   
The statement followed the announcement of landmark contacts between 
Myanmar's ruling junta and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.   "The EU 
troika will visit Myanmar January 29-31," foreign ministry spokeswoman 
Aasa Arvidsson told AFP.   "This is a continuation of the EU dialogue 
that began in 1999," Arvidsson said.   

The troika, which consists of representatives from Belgium, Sweden and 
the EU Commission and Council of Ministers, will hold talks with 
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the military regime, and various 
organisations and UN bodies.   The United Nations announced last week 
that secret talks between the junta's powerful number-three, Lieutenant 
General Khin Nyunt, and Aung San Suu Kyi were being held to prepare the 
way for the first official dialogue between the warring sides since 
1994.   Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace laureate who is viewed as 
an icon of democracy by the West, was placed under house arrest in 1989 
and only granted limited freedom in 1995.   Despite being confined to 
her home, she led her National League for Democracy to a landslide 
victory in 1990 polls, which the junta refused to accept.   She has 
again been under house arrest since September 22.  



The Times of India (New Delhi) : Navy chief to visit Myanmar after a 
break of 20 years Navy chief to visit Myanmar after a break of 20 years 

January 16, 2001 

NEW DELHI: Chief of Naval staff Admiral Sushil Kumar is leaving on a 
three-day official visit to Myanmar on Tuesday, the first by an Indian 
naval chief in almost 20 years. Although expected to be high on 
atmospherics, the visit is in keeping with the country's new pragmatic 
policy to improve ties with the Yangon military junta. "It is basically 
a return goodwill visit that has been hanging fire for some time and has 
had to be rescheduled thrice earlier. But we hope to begin picking up 
strings from where we left off many years ago," said a source.  

The past few years have witnessed a series of visits between the two 
countries, the last being in November last year when Vice-Chairman of 
the ruling State Peace and Development Council Gen Maung Aye led a 
high-level official delegation on a week's trip to India. That was his 
second visit last year. Gen Aye had visited Shillong in January last 
year in his capacity as Army chief, a day after the then Army chief, Gen 
VP Malik, visited Myanmar.  

During Gen Aye's November visit, New Delhi was particularly happy with 
Myanmar foreign minister U Win Aung's statement that Myanmar would not 
allow any outside power to use its territory against India for either 
setting up military bases or for passage of arms. He was referring to 
both large-scale Chinese military (and economic) assistance to Myanmar 
supported by a trade regime that promoted extensive border trade and to 
insurgent groups active in the North-East.  

In fact, the alarming proportions of insurgency and narcotics trade 
along with China's substantial military assistance had led Nerw Delhi to 
establish quiet contacts with the Myanmar military junta in 1993. 
Consequently, agreements were signed to deal with both cross-border 
terrorism and narcotics smuggling, and also to promote trade along the 
1,600-km Indo-Myanmar border. In 1995, the two armies had mounted a 
largest ever-coordinated military operation along the Manipur, Mizoram 
and Nagaland borders. In keeping with India's policy of engagement, the 
BRO has recently finished constructing a 144-km highway in Myanmar 
linking Tamu, located near the Manipur border, to Kalemyo. Discussions 
have been on for extending the highway by another 160-km and to develop 
a hydro-electric potential of the Chinduin river.


MCC Communications: [Ediger blacklisted in Thailand]

[Jan. 2001]

Mennonite Central Committee

AKRON, Pa. -- Max Ediger, longtime Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) 
volunteer, has been banned from re-entering Thailand, where he works in 
Bangkok at Burma Issues, a human rights organization he helped found in 
1989. Ediger traveled to the United States in December to meet with MCC 
staff in Akron, Pa., and visit family and friends in Oklahoma.  Upon 
returning to Thailand Dec. 31, he was denied entry. 

Immigration officials told Ediger his name had been placed on a "list" 
at the Ministry of Interior in November prohibiting him from entering 
the country. 

Ediger was involved in a seven-month-long court case in 2000 regarding 
his work with Burmese refugees.  Last February, Thai police raided the 
Burma Issues office in Bangkok and charged Ediger with harboring illegal 
immigrants. He was held for one day, then released on bail. Two other 
MCC workers and nine Burmese trainees were also detained, questioned and 

Burma Issues helps Burmese refugees develop creative and nonviolent ways 
to respond to the war and oppression in their communities. 

The police raid in February followed the death of 10 Burmese rebel 
soldiers killed in Thailand when they seized a hospital.  The young men 
had crossed the border illegally and one was found with a Burma Issues 
publication in his pocket.  He was not involved with Burma Issues, 
although some trainees do come from counter-insurgency groups. 

Burma Issues work includes researching and documenting human rights 
abuses in Burma, producing various publications and teaching literacy. 
Burma's more than 60 minority ethnic groups have struggled through civil 
war and military rule since 1948.  Most who come to Burma Issues for 
help cannot receive legal travel documents to Bangkok, where the office 
is located. 

After seven months of spotty court hearings, Ediger pleaded guilty and 
was sentenced to one year in prison and a $370 Cdn./$250 U.S. fine. The 
court suspended the prison sentence, however, determining Ediger to be 
of good character and Burma Issues work "beneficial to Thai society and 
the people." 

Since the February raid, Burma Issue has moved its trainings with 
Burmese refugees out of Bangkok to the Burma/Thailand border.  Fewer 
resources and research materials are available there, but the move makes 
this work less controversial. 

Ediger is now in Hong Kong, where he's working with the Christian 
Council of Asia and determining what to do next.  Immigration officials 
said it may be possible to appeal the ban on his entry into Thailand.  
Since the list was created, a new Thai government has been elected. 

MCC has three other volunteers at Burma Issues in Bangkok: Nunus Subandi 
of Central Java, Indonesia; Erich Miller of Goshen, Ind.; and Joel 
Ulrich of Lombard, Ill. 


Mizzima: UNHCR to cut monthly allowance to Burmese refugees in India 
UNHCR to cut monthly allowance to Burmese refugees in India  

New Delhi

January 16, 2000 

Mizzima News Group (www.mizzima.com) 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in 
India has informed the Burmese refugees in New Delhi that it would not 
be possible to continue to provide monthly subsistence allowances (SA) 
to all refugees due to the level of UNHCR voluntary funds available for 
the year 2001. Although UNHCR officials have not announced when exactly 
the SA will be cut, it is now talking with the representatives of 
Burmese refugees to evolve alternatives such as loan schemes and 
skill-related training for the refugees.  
In recent two meetings held on 14 December and 15 January, 2001 with 
representatives of Burmese refugees, UNHCR officials cited the reason of 
SA cut as low availability of financial contributions from donor 
countries for this year. As a result, while UNHCR (India) had received 
the budget allocation of US $ 1.6 millions last year, only US $ 1.2 
millions is allocated for the New Delhi Office for the year 2001. 

Moreover, 20% of the allocated budget for this year is again to be 
frozen as some donor countries might not fully contribute their promised 
ôWith this in mind, the further extension of monthly subsistence 
allowances to all refugees would not be possible beyond UNHCR present 
financial commitmentö, said UNHCR in a latter sent out to refugeesÆ 
representatives. Marie-Jose Canelli, Officer Incharge, signed the 
letter. It claimed that UNHCR (India) spent 40% of last yearÆs budget 
amounting to US dollar six hundred thousands only for the SA of 
Afghanistan and Burmese refugees in India.  
UNHCR provides monthly Subsistence Allowance of Indian Rupees 1,400 (US 
$ 30) per person to most of the Burmese refugees in Delhi. There are 
around 800 Burmese refugees living under the mandate of UNHCR in India. 
The Government of India has, since late 1999, issued Residential Permit 
(RP) for the UNHCR-recognized Burmese refugees and the permit is to be 
renewed every six month.  

UNHCR is now seeking the active involvement of the Burmese refugee 
community in activities geared towards improving their self-reliance, 
from planning to execution. It has advised the Burmese refugees to set 
up various Committees, which would work on the projected activities 
towards welfare and self-reliance of the refugees.  

It is, however, to continue to provide SA, through its one of NGO 
partners in Delhi, to the extremely vulnerable individuals and would 
continue to subsidize refugee childrenÆs access to education.  

Burmese refugee community in New Delhi responded the news with dismay 
and urged the UNHCR either to continue the monthly Subsistence Allowance 
or resettle them in the third countries such as USA, Canada, Australia 
and New Zealand.  

ôWe are shocked to hear the news of SA cut. Going back to our own 
country means imprisonment for life and death for usö, said Elvis Ceu, 
an ethnic Chin national from Burma. Except some, many of the Burmese 
refugees are not interested in self-reliance activities as they said it 
would be very difficult for them to work in India. However, for UNHCR, 
ôresettlementö is the least preferred solution as it entirely depends on 
those countries to accept the refugees.


Bangkok Post:  Junta Takes Tentative First Step


The generals have invited in Suu Kyi for discussions on their country's 
future. This is a first step on what may be a very long road, but one 
which must be travelled, to democracy.

Htun Aung Gyaw

The political deadlock between Burma's opposition National League for 
Democracy and the military junta has been broken through the efforts of 
UN special envoy Razali Ismail.

Many, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the European Union, 
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Rattakit Manathat, the Singaporean 
Foreign Affairs Ministry and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright 
earlier had warned the regime to treat NLD head Aung San Suu Kyi as a 
national leader not as a little sister. British Foreign Office Minister 
John Battle also has announced that Britain would not ease its pressure 
on the junta until it respects democracy and human rights, and shows 
practical evidence of real progress.

The threat of sanctions late last year by the International Labour 
Organisation shook the regime which goes under the name of the State 
Peace and Development Council and forced arethink of its inflexible 
stance, but without Mr Razali dialogue could never have gone ahead this 
Genuine peaceful change depends on building trust, forgiveness and 
sacrificing self-interest. If the two parties put aside their own 
interests and work together for the benefit of the people, they will 
successfully build on common issues, and this will ultimately achieve 
genuine long lasting peace for the whole country.

It is too early yet to say whether the secret talks between the NLD and 
the military regime will lead to real peace and a change in the 
political system in Burma. But Mr Razali is the first envoy to 
successfully break the deadlock.

His success is based on five factors:

He is an adviser to Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir, who like 
Mr Razali has visited Rangoon this year.

Dr Mahathir is the biggest supporter of the regime among the Asean 
members since the fall of Suharto as president of Indonesia.

Malaysia's influence on Burma is important for a number of reasons. From 
a political point of view, it is important for Asean to prove to the 
world that constructive engagement with Burma is working. Dr Mahathir 
took a leading role in bringing Burma into Asean.

>From an economic point of view, newly industrialised members of Asean 
are competing with China. Labour costs in China are very cheap compared 
to Malaysia. As a result, Malaysia needs a modern colony which will 
provide raw materials including labour and a market to sell its 
products. Burma fits into this category.

Its faltering economy and the threat of pressure from the West have 
brought the regime to its knees but have not killed it outright. The 
generals need a way out which will save them face. They will not start a 
dialogue with the NLD because of outside pressure but they are willing 
to compromise if the mediator is from a friendly country.

Also the regime wants to offer something to Asean and justify 
constructive engagement by accepting a mediator from an Asean member 
country. Mr Razali fits this bill well.

The main driving force for the dialogue is legitimacy. Japan is the main 
donor to Burma. Sadao Ogata, the Japanese UN high commissioner for 
refugees until this year failed completely to influence the regime. 
Likewise her government's representatives. None convinced the generals 
to start talking to the NLD, even though Japan gave them millions of 
dollars in grants and loans.

The regime just took the money and ignored the demands.

But when Mr Razali was appointed the UN special envoy for Burma, the 
regime's spokesman welcomed him as an acceptable negotiator and praised 
him as a fellow member of Southeast Asia.

Last year, the UN secretly offered the regime $1 billion (43.5 billion 
baht) to start talking with the NLD and to cede it the political power 
it won in a general election in 1990. The regime rejected the offer. 
This proves that even though Burma is poor, money is not enough for the 
regime. What the generals need is recognition, especially from fellow 
members of Asean and China, as a legitimate government.

The ILO sanctions imposed last year worry the regime because they could 
mean the isolation of the country. This would hasten their fall. 
Their survival depends mainly on two factors: the strength of the army 
at home and their recognition abroad as a legitimate de facto 
government. The army, or Tatmadaw, is the main influence, and it is 
weaker than in the past. Proof of this is that the chain of command has 
been decentralised to a regional collective leadership. These regional 
commanders have become very powerful and operate like warlords.

Armed resistance groups also are well armed despite signing cease-fire 
agreements, and the regime cannot control the Red Wa which control the 
drug trade from just inside Burmese territory from Thailand.

The army is nowhere near as solid as it was, and this is adding to the 
problem of the regime's lack of credibility on the world stage. But then 
generals have not lost hope altogether of clinging on to power. After 
all, fellow Asean members Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam 
and Laos have governments which are not fully democratic.

The success of the dialogue between the NLD and the junta depends on the 
two sides having a genuine desire to reach an agreement which improves 
the welfare of the people.

It has been obvious from the start that the NLD is sincere about 
engaging in genuine dialogue based on mutual respect. And there are 
signs the regime is now more receptive.

When the regime was trying to crush the resistance Karen National Union, 
its newspapers called the KNU leader Nga Mya (nga was used in the past 
with slaves). But when it started talks with the Karen resistance, the 
newspapers began referring to him as General Mya. When the talks failed, 
they resorted again to insult.

The military regime's mouthpieces have for years referred to Ms Suu Kyi 
as a democracy witch, a Western Mae Daw Gyi, Mrs Airs, a Western puppet 
and just Suu Kyi, dropping the name of her father Aung San, a national 
hero. But in December last year, the newspapers started using her full 
name Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a signal to all Burma watchers that there 
might be some positive news.

And there have been other healthy signs including a statement from U 
Lwin, an NLD executive, welcoming any dialogue while warning that both 
sides had to be careful not to undermine the process of confidence 

The first step needed for building confidence is for the regime to 
release all political prisoners. If the regime is worried that releasing 
these prisoners will cause political instability, there is another 
option; tt can recognise them as political prisoners until it reaches an 
agreement with the NLD and grant them special status like under British 
colonial rule. 
How the NLD and regime handle this very sensitive issue depends on their 
ability, maturity, honesty, willingness for change and, most of all, 
concern for the well-being of the people. Both sides understand the 
delicacy of this matter.

Moving from dialogue to a peaceful transition to democratic government 
needs the building on common issues such as: the establishment of 
democratic government; defining the duties and responsibilities of the 
military in Burma; defining the duties and responsibilities of political 
parties; minority rights; and the establishment of an independent 
judicial system.

The two sides need to believe in the establishment of a democratic 
government which is accountable, transparent and has respect for the 
rule of law.

The military has played a prominent role in Burmese politics. Burma 
needs a strong military to protect the country. But the military needs 
to respect democratic institutions and the rights and existence of 
political parties, which is the total opposite of military rule.

The role of the military is to safeguard democracy and protect the 
country from foreign invasion, not to rule the country by force. The 
Burmese army in the future needs to be divorced from politics.

Political parties are crucial for the establishment of a democratic 
government. Political parties need to support the modern military 
establishment and upgrade the facilities of the army.

Political parties need to respect the military and try to avoid attempts 
to influence the forces for political advantage. Most of all, each 
political party needs a written commitment to democracy in its party 
manifesto and it needs to promise not to eliminate the opposition if it 
wins government. Minority rights need to be respected and apply across 
the whole county. The NLD needs to join a fully democratic national 
convention (as opposed to the sham held previously) and discuss with 
minority leaders the drafting of a new constitution. Without the 
agreement of minority leaders, any new constitution will not be 

Many minority leaders see Ms Suu Kyi as a potential leader and fit to 
lead the constitution drafting process. But it is time she addressed the 
ethnic issue which divides the country and prolongs the civil war. 
Military leaders have been dealing with ethnic groups for more than four 
decades. They have a lot of experience in this field but, because of 
their use of force, they are regarded as the enemy by most ethnic groups 
even after cease-fires have been reached. Ms Suu Kyi does not have this 
experience, but she has charisma.

Establishing an independent judicial system is crucial to safeguarding 
democracy. Without an independent judicial system, there will be no 
freedom for the Burmese people. Without an independent judicial system, 
the people and civil society will suffer from government brutality.

Democratic government depends on certain steps: dialogue (bargaining, 
negotiation, compromise); transitional government; the constitution 
drafting process; elections; and the transfer of power to the elected 

Dialogue will lead to the formation of a transitional government, one 
which will represent both the NLD and the military. The transitional 
government will draft a new constitution and hold elections, which will 
produce a winner hopefully able to form a democratic government.

Now Burma is taking the first step after more than a decade of 
hesitation. While the regime and the NLD talk, there are many 
non-political tasks that need to be carried out by foreign governments, 
NGOs, activists and academics from Burma living abroad.

The most important problem facing Burma is in the health area. This is 
on the verge of collapsing. Despite government denials, Burma is 
overwhelmed by HIV/Aids cases. According to the World Bank, there are up 
to 700,000 sufferers. HIV threatens to grow into a full-scale epidemic. 
The military regime needs to think about this dangerous disease and 
allow NGOs to enter and work now in Burma.

It also is time for Burmese patriots to set aside their grudges against 
the military regime and work together with international organisations 
as non-political social workers. There is no time to wait for political 
change; we have to help our people before it is too late.

The peaceful transition to democracy depends mainly on the military 
regime. The question of whether the army is for the people or for the 
generals will be answered very soon. It is time the regime proved how 
much it loves its country and how much courage it has in embracing 

Htun Aung Gyaw is president of the Civil Society for Burma based in New 
York City. He also was the first chairman of the All Burma Students' 
Democratic Front.



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