Daily News- June 30- 2002- Sunday

  • Suu Kyi warms hearts again, but has political dialogue gone cold?
  • Anti-Thai pitch annoys people in Burma
  • Thaksin vows to maintain policy, Military action may be used as `last resort'

  • Suu Kyi warms hearts again, but has political dialogue gone cold?

    Source : AFP

    As pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi caps off a triumphant tour of Burma's north, observers in Rangoon wonder whether any real progress has been made since her dramatic release from house arrest.

    Generals in the military junta have largely ignored the Nobel peace laureate since her release on May 6 from 19 months of detention, diplomats and other observers say.

    Even Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has expressed concern that no true gains have emerged from the talks between "The Lady", as she is popularly known here, and the junta which began in secret in October 2000.

    "It has not stalled," NLD spokesman U Lwin told AFP, referring to the political dialogue, "because it hasn't even started yet."

    Speaking at the NLD's dilapidated headquarters, darkened by one of the all-too-frequent power cuts, U Lwin's tone reflected exasperation over the pace of change in Burma, where he said people "have more patience than anywhere else in this world."

    He explained how a channel of communication was indeed open between the opposition party - which won a sweeping 1990 election victory that was never recognised - and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

    "We have had the opportunity to talk with the generals, but not about political dialogue," he said.

    The UN-brokered talks were meant to eventually address the thorny issue of national reconciliation - a euphemism for the transition to democracy in a country driven to ruin through the regime's "Burmese way to Socialism" begun in the early 1960s.

    "But even the government doesn't say that substantive political dialogue has started," a Rangoon-based diplomat points out.

    Instead, U Lwin said, as the talks have concluded their so-called confidence-building phase, they have turned to the release of political prisoners, and logistics such as security for Aung San Suu Kyi and the addition of new telephone lines at NLD headquarters.

    Important as such details are, says a second diplomat, "there is no real substantive dialogue yet on political issues."

    Since her release Aung San Suu Kyi has taken pains to eschew confrontation, a tactic which the diplomat says helps avoid embarrassing and belittling the junta. "And the government is cutting her some slack."

    The junta's new found tolerance was evident this past week as Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in the northern city of Mandalay on her first trip outside Rangoon since travel restrictions on her were lifted.

    Police did not interfere with her activities, and she made several spirited addresses to supporters, many of whom clamored for a glimpse of her.

    "The junta has done more than we have expected," U Lwin admitted. "Before, there was very much hostility and confrontation."

    Several observers say the two political camps have clearly softened their approaches towards one another - although it remains unclear just why the junta is attempting conciliation.

    "Two years ago the government was hell-bent on putting the NLD out of business," the second diplomat said. Now, he said, the junta may even be "willing to accept the NLD in a process towards a parliamentary system."

    Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi's triumphant return trip to Mandalay - where she told supporters that "there is no turning back" - is a stark reminder to the military regime that it faces the risk of a resurgent political groundswell spinning out of control.

    To The Top

    Anti-Thai pitch annoys people in Burma

    Source : Larry Jagan
    Bangkok Post

    The Burmese capital is awash with nationalist sentiment in an anti-Thai campaign mounted by the military junta. Burmese flags adorn the houses and government buildings. Every street is a sea of red. Cars, taxis and bicycles have the flag prominently displayed. The newspapers are full of anti-Thai rhetoric.

    ``We only fly the flag because the military tell us we must,'' says an elderly man in one of Rangoon's satellite towns.

    This is the view of many of Burma's citizens. They do not trust the government.

    In fact the anti-Thai campaign causes resentment, particularly among the country's gamblers and football fanatics. As a result of the ban on Thai goods, local Burmese television has not been able to show live coverage of World Cup football matches.

    The closure of the Thai border is bumping up the price of goods. The kyat has begun to fall against the dollar, because the informal border trade was a major source of dollar bills. Toiletries and medicines have increased in price, as far fewer are being smuggled into Burma from Thailand.

    Diplomats in Rangoon fear that the Burmese generals are also using border tension to deflect attention away from the internal political situation.

    ``It gives them an excuse for not talking to [opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi about substantial political reform and at the same time try to strengthen the army's position,'' says a Rangoon-based diplomat who requested anonymity.

    When a government fails to unite its people its final option is xenophobia,'' says a Burmese journalist. ``It's typical Burmese strategy, one which was often used by the former dictator, Gen Ne Win,'' he said. But many in Rangoon also feel that the country's leader, Gen Than Shwe, is using the border fighting to unify the army.

    Since the discovery of an alleged plot by the Ne Win family to overthrow the government, Burma's military chiefs have feared regiments in the army might have divided loyalties.

    The border tensions have given Gen Than Shwe the opportunity he needed to eliminate any divisions among the rank and file.

    For the generals, the policy has inherent dangers. Already the military's nationalist pride has taken a beating. The number of casualties has shocked army leaders.

    More than 700 Burmese troops, Wa soldiers and civilians have died since the fighting erupted in mid-May, according to military experts in Rangoon. Injuries are also high, and most of them have been evacuated to Rangoon.

    Military deputy intelligence chief Kyaw Win says only 50 Burmese soldiers and militia have died, and with another 30 wounded.

    So far the army has been able to keep the casualty figures hidden. Newspapers are forbidden from publishing the obituaries of people killed in the fighting and families of the dead are discouraged from conducting funeral rites.

    The authorities have been press-ganging into service many young men, particularly among the poor in the satellite townships of Rangoon. There's an informal curfew in place throughout the city. Most parents prevent their sons from going out after 10pm for fear that they will be abducted and taken to the front as porters.

    The junta insists the government is not using forced labour for porters. But police sources have confirmed that young men are indeed being picked up under article 30D for loitering on the road at night.

    The government has been angered by what it sees as Thai duplicity.

    Over the last few years, the Thai army has continuously blamed the Wa for the flow of amphetamines into Thailand, whereas the Burmese believe the Shan rebel army is just as heavily involved in the trade and gets active support and sanctuary from the Thai military.

    ``We know the Shan Army are involved in drugs,'' says Brig-Gen Kyaw Thein, the chief military intelligence officer behind Burma's battle against drugs.

    But there are hints that Burma may now be prepared to accept Thailand's offer to discuss their problems.

    Foreign Minister U Win Aung believes the two sides will talk soon, and that relations would return to normal.

    To The Top

    Thaksin vows to maintain policy, Military action may be used as `last resort'

    Source : Bangkok Post

    The government has reaffirmed its policy of settling border conflicts with Burma through diplomatic channels.

    Emerging from a meeting with the foreign minister and the head of the National Security Council, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the government's stand of non-interference in Burmese internal affairs would be maintained.

    ``Our policy remains the same,'' he said. ``We will not interfere in any country's internal affairs, and we will not allow our territory to be used to launch attacks against a neighbouring country.''

    The premier made the statement after Rangoon accused the government of backing Shan rebels fighting Burmese troops near the border.

    However, Mr Thaksin did not dismiss the possibility of military action in dealing with border disputes, which he said would be a ``last resort.''

    The country's sovereignty would continue to be protected, he said.

    The policy on Burma had been reaffirmed to ensure all state agencies were aware of the government line, he added.

    Mr Thaksin earlier said he had received a positive gesture from Rangoon in the form of a message from Gen Maung Aye, Burma's second in command, who expressed deep respect for Their Majesties the King and Queen.

    ``The vice-chairman of Burma's State Peace and Development Council said he would never intentionally insult the monarchy,'' he said.

    Burma's government mouthpiece, New Light of Myanmar, sparked a war of words last week after it published articles attacking Thai royalty.

    Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkasing, third army chief, said troops had been deployed to verify reports that about 50 Burmese soldiers had crossed the border.

    To The Top