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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1590

Burmese concerned if Aung San Suu Kyi being exploited to lift sanctions

By Zin Linn

Aung_Suu_Kyi.jpg”With the sanctions hurting directly the military regime and the country’s financial system on the downtrend due to mismanagement, the junta’s chief has no other alternative but look for support to the Western Bloc.

Besides, Snr. Gen.Than Shwe is craving to create a good relation with western democracies so that that will fortify or shield his legality,” a Burmese journalist on condition of anonymity commented about the recent meeting of Burmese pro-democracy leader and the Western diplomats.

On October 9, head of Burma's junta has allowed the detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to meet Western diplomats to talk about sanctions imposed against the military regime.

The Nobel Prize winner, who remains under house arrest, was driven to a government guesthouse to meet acting US Charge d'Affaires Thomas Vajda, British Ambassador Andrew Heyn, who represented the European Union (EU) and Australian Deputy Head of Mission Simon Christopher Starr for an hour to discuss the possible lifting of sanctions on Burma.

US Embassy spokesman Drake Weisert, however, told the press, "The meeting follows Aung San Suu Kyi's request in a letter to Senior General Than Shwe to meet representatives of the US and other countries to discuss their relevant policies on sanctions."

The surprise meeting with diplomats followed two sessions of consultation this month between Suu Kyi and the junta's liaison and Labour Minister Aung Kyi, to discuss her September 25th proposal to help end sanctions against the regime.

Gen. Than Shwe:‘General elections as scheduled in 2010’

On the same day Aung San Suu Kyi met the western diplomats, Than Shwe, Burma's supreme military commander spoke in the capital, of launching a general election as scheduled in 2010.

Snr-Gen Than Shwe also indicated in his speech that he would not yield to demands from domestic and international critics who say that the country’s military-sponsored constitution should be revised ahead of next year’s elections.

The Snr. Gen. said, “The new State constitution has been approved by the great majority,” the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on October 10. “Elections will be systematically held in 2010 … in accord with the constitution.”

The 2008 Constitution, the junta said, was “approved” by more than 90 per cent of eligible voters during a referendum in May 2008. The outcome of the referendum was widely dismissed as a sham. But, the regime has constantly ignored calls from the international community and Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to review the constitution.

Although there are 10 registered political parties in Burma, most of them are inactive. The most important thing to be done is to proclaim an electoral law allowing new parties to form and register to contest in the elections. The international community, led by the UN, has constantly stated that the election be all-inclusive, free and fair.

In its ‘Shwe-gon-dine declaration’ dated 29th April 2009, the NLD set conditions for its participation in the 2010 general election. It requested to make amendment of any provisions in the 2008 constitution which are not in harmony with democratic principles and an all-inclusive free and fair poll under international supervision.

UN Sec.Gen.: ‘free Aung San before elections’

Rights groups have also said that the regime must release all 2,100 political prisoners, including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, if it wants the elections to be regarded as legitimate.

The election, which would be neither free nor fair in a country long condemned for human rights abuses, was planned following the 2008 constitution, which in effect reinforces the military-control over any democratically elected administration.

The Western democracies and the United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have warned that the world community would not recognize the result of a general election next year unless the NLD participates in the polls and Aung San Suu Kyi is freed from house incarceration, where she has been kept for 14 of the past 20 years.

The majority of Western nations have demanded that Than Shwe must release Suu Kyi and over 2,100 other political prisoners as a first step toward democratization in the country, which has been under military rule since 1962.

International sanctions have been imposed on Burma since 1988 when the military mercilessly cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations, leaving an estimation of 3,000 people dead. The US and the EU increased their sanctions after the junta refused to acknowledge the NLD's victory in 1990 elections and then arrested opponents and suppressed every type of opposition. Most of the sanctions target the top generals in particular.

With the exception of sanctions by the US and the European Union, the regime is presently suffering assorted sanctions from Australia, Canada and Japan. The regime has been left without development assistance from International financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asia Development Bank. If the regime ignored calls from the international community to promote a favorable setting for a free and fair election prior to 2010, international sanctions are probable to be greater than before in the post-election chapter.

Double talk

Than Shwe hinted this year that he would be willing to open a political dialogue with Suu Kyi if she agreed to cooperate on the sanctions issue. However, in his speech to the War Veterans Organization, Than Shwe said that some powerful nations are playing many ways to force and influence Burma under various pretexts.

“However, the military government of Myanmar does not get scared whenever intimidated and will continue to work relentlessly for a better future of the State and the people by overcoming any difficulties,” Than Shwe said.

Thus, it is a contradiction between allowing the Lady meeting with western diplomats and the heartless tone of Than Shwe’s speech at the meeting with war veterans. People are concerned about the situation of the Lady being exploited by the crooked military chief. The main aim of allowing the Lady meeting with western diplomats seems to ease the sanction strategy and to persuade the world supporting the so-called discipline-flourishing democracy.

According to some analysts, there is no improvement at all. Looking at the truth on the ground, there is more aggression in this 2009, more restrictions toward media and civil societies, more control on Internet users, more arrests, more political prisoners, and more military attacks in the ethnic minority areas. So, dissident politicians warned each other to be very cautious and to put pressure on the regime until the said benchmarks are carried out.

As things go, sanctions may not be easily faded out unless the junta showed positive signs i.e. stop aggressive acts on the NLD and ethnic parties; allow freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

The best option is that the junta’s supreme commander should abandon his pessimism on dialogue with democracy icon in pursuit of national reconciliation. The 2008 Constitution and the junta's unyielding adherence to its seven-step roadmap toward the 2010 elections will create a highly unstable political climate. Without an agreement of national reconciliation, 2010 elections will go nowhere.

Zin Linn: The author, a freelance Burmese journalist, lives in exile. Now he's working at the NCGUB East Office as an information director and is vice-president of Burma Media Association, which is affiliated with the Paris- based Reporters Sans Frontiers.

- Asian Tribune -

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