Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Long battle for Suu Kyi - Editorial

From: CHAN Beng Seng
Date: 2008/10/27
Subject: [ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 27/10/08

Long battle for Suu Kyi - Editorial
The Nation (Thailand): Thu 23 Oct 2008

Today, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will have been incarcerated for 13 years. The more the appeals for her release - from the United Nations, Asean and numerous world leaders - the more the Rangoon junta leaders harden their resolve not to let her free.

Why? They have learned that in the real world, nobody really cares about others. They do so for a period of time, but not all the time. It has been extremely unfortunate for the people of Burma and Suu Kyi since 1988. Whenever the international community came together, something happened that diverted attention away from Burma.

When Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in early May, the world's sympathy immediately and readily poured into Burma to help the people. Suddenly, the atrocities of the armed soldiers against protesting monks and the ordinary people were pushed to the back burner. Of course, the junta leaders have benefited from the influx of financial aid as never before seen. They have not changed a thing and seriously they do not need to. Obviously, international humanitarian organisations have used the Burmese crisis for their own benefit.

The Western world and international organisations automatically dropped their hardline criteria because they wanted to help the cyclone-affected Burmese people. Earlier Burma's recalcitrance to allow foreign relief and rescue teams caused additional deaths. Now, nobody is talking about political reforms and ongoing political suppression. International organisations are happy because they have earned a name for themselves by helping the poor Burmese. They said more aid should be channelled to the junta leaders and their organisations because they will learn how to deal with foreign assistance. Never mind if they have benefited from all the assistance. After all, the Burmese people will get direct help. The problem is, the junta has not given anything away that could facilitate national reconciliation and dialogue.

Apparently, the junta leaders are very confident that their sevenpoint road map will serve as the main instrument to eventually establish their legitimacy. Come 2010, it will be a fait accompli. The ongoing global financial crisis will take the focus away from Burma. UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon believes that he can influence junta leader General Than Shwe to free Suu Kyi because he has made a good impression on the general. He is scheduled to visit Rangoon on December 19 after the AseanUN summit in Bangkok. Ban should not risk his reputation and that of the UN by such an endeavour. The UN's special envoy on Burma, Ismail Gambari, needs to improve his performance. He has yet to facilitate or bridge the gap between the junta and the opposition.

From the regional point of view, it is a win-win strategy for Burma. Just look at Thailand, which is in the political doldrums. As long as the Asean chair is in perpetual chaos, it cannot raise the Burma issue because it would be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Indeed, it was fortunate that Singapore was the Asean chair last year during the Saffron Revolution because the island republic could issue a strong statement condemning the junta's heavy use of arms against protesters.

At this juncture, it seems that Western countries as well as Asean are sharing similar assessments - that the Burmese regime is very strong and its grip on power and the people is absolute. Nothing can be done about it. The best way is to work with the junta and take part in its political schemes. Conventional wisdom believes this is the best way because the regime might crack. Refusing to take part in the political process would immediately cut off future bargaining chips that the opposition or democracyloving people have.

It is heartrending to look into the future of Burma, knowing full well the political hypocrisy and vanity surrounding this issue. One can only hope that Suu Kyi will remain strong and robust and in good spirit. This is going to be a long battle.

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