By Rama Rao Malladi
Myanmar Derek Mitchell,
named as the US envoy to Myanmar is an Asian expert and the appointment
has gone down well with democracy groups in that country, particularly
pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who sees the appointment as the
expression of American determination to help usher in true democratic
reforms in her country.
Sunday, April 17, Myanmar welcomed its new year. Suu Kyi's disbanded
National League for Democracy (NLD) heralded the New Year with a four
day festivities at the party office, and prayed for "peace and happiness
and hope for the future".
will take a while for Derek Mitchell to take up his new post. To begin
with he needs the Senate's confirmation, which from all accounts,
appears to be a formality. But as and when he lands in Myanmar, he will
have tough job of negotiating with Yangon, which is still military
dominated, even after last year's election.
what extent Suu Kyi's latest pro- sanctions stance, and her public
statement that she looks upon Mitchell as a friend will endear her to
the regime is unclear. One thing is clear though. The regime will do
its best to either co-opt her or defeat her strategy by turning towards
and relying on energy and resource hungry neighbors for trade and
also is not oblivious to the reality. This is clear from its
willingness to engage the junta. And it stems from the realisation that
the sanctions route has not delivered. Nonetheless, the US cannot
afford to dilute its economic and political sanctions since these are
linked to Myanmar's human rights record. More so when it has invoked
human rights issue in neighbouring China while seeking solutions to its
European Union, which, along Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, has
also imposed strict sanctions on Myanmar, has recently reached the
conclusion that its sanctions had failed to achieve their political
goals. Its internal review also found that the sanctions had
"undoubtedly contributed to the stagnation and continuing impoverishment
of the people." The EU review concluded, according to the Christian
Science Monitor, non-statutory curbs on multilateral aid such as World
Bank loans, had primarily affected Myanmar's rural poor.
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analysts aver that Suu Kyi sees sanctions as her political leverage
'since the US and other governments take a lead from her stance'. In a
statement on Feb 8, her NLD claimed that economic conditions had "not
been affected by sanctions to any notable degree" and it was "ready for
talks with Western governments on how the restrictions could eventually
be modified with a view to improving human rights". Suu Kyi apparently
believes that she can use her influence on the West as leverage to coax
the reclusive generals toward reforms.
the regime came down heavily on Suu Kyi and her party. A commentary
that ran in several newspapers (on Feb 13, 2011) warned of a "tragic
end" for the party and its leader. "If Daw Suu Kyi and the NLD keep
going to the wrong way ignoring the fact that today's Myanmar is
marching to a new era, new system and new political platforms paving the
way for democracy, they will meet their tragic end," the commentary
said. A strong comment but it clearly shows a readiness to limit the
turf space for Suu Kyi and an unwillingness to cooperate with her on her
this age of eternal chase for markets, sanctions have limited utility
and value. If the sanctions could not shake the White Man controlled
Northern Rhodesia years ago, they cannot deliver miracles in Yangon
today. Anyhow Yangon has adopted an ingenious approach to make Western
Suu Kyi is a big player, she alone is not the player at the moment in
Myanmar and she will have to dovetail all her energies to rebuild her
party and make it a politically active platform.
politics, like in sports, credentials alone are not enough. Performance
counts. Since her release in November, Suu Kyi has focused on
rebuilding her NLD. She has been reaching out to the youth. This is
enough. She must devise ways and means to reach out to the ethnic
minorities and the tribal groups in the outlying areas of the country.
The regime has subdued the tribals with the help of China but it is
still an uneasy equation. And it provides the opening for the NLD leader
to put in place a more broad based national coalition alternative.
foregoing is not a case to ignore to rights abuses but a dispassionate plea to approach the
problem in a frame work tailored to meet Myanmar's conditions. That
such an approach brooks no delay is clear from the latest report that
rights abuses in the country, particularly the ethnic areas, are leading
to health "catastrophe". Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the
Bangkok-based Burma rights advocacy group, Altsean, says 'Public health
indicators in ethnic areas are similar to that of long-term war-torn
countries like Rwanda and Sierra Leone'
new study by the US-based NGO Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), said
that human rights abuses and counter-insurgency campaigns in Chin state
(Western Myanmar), are causing a 'health catastrophe'. The situation is
no different in Shan state (Eastern Myanmar).
Chin, almost 92 percent of households experience forced labour and
reported the military stealing or destroying their family's food stock.
Forty-three percent of families reported moderate to severe household
hunger to PHR. Families whose food was destroyed or seized reported
hunger levels more than six times higher than those left alone,
according to PHR.
eastern Shan, the child mortality rate is almost double and maternal
mortality triple the national average (122 per 1,000 live births and 380
per 100,000 live births, respectively. Nearly one-third of all
households in Shan State reported one or more human rights abuses from
2009 to 2010, according to a separate 2010 health survey. Displaced
families are about three times more likely to have acutely malnourished
children. Almost half a million people are displaced in Myanmar.
The message is clear. Whatever be the political games and the economic trade offs on offer, the international community, particularly the neighbours have a responsibility to ensure a better deal to the people of Myanmar.
Rama Rao Malladi is New Delhi based senior journalist and distinguished commentator on South Asian and Central Asian issues. He is a regular contributor to several publications in and outside India. His articles are featured in News Blaze.Rama is (more...)