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April 5, 2010

US and EU should pressure more on Burma

By Zin Linn

People of Burma are looking forward to the international community to stand with them. They hope not only from European Union but also from governments around the globe to say publicly that they do not take into account the regime's election and prearranged outcome, and pressure the regime to make substantive and positive change for Burma.


The withdrawal of the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party from an election wished-for this year has added to the awareness that the votes would bring no change to Burma's political setting, other than a magic show of the generals who aim changing into civilian clothes to maintain power.

The withdrawal decision is in line with a statement made by the NLD's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who said last week that she would "not even consider" the elections after unreasonable laws were released that forbid her from participating and call for her expulsion from the party if it is to run.

Burma has been under military dictatorships since 1962. The last polls in 1990 were won significantly by the NLD, which secured 82 per cent of the parliamentary seats and more than 60 per cent of the popular vote against more than 93 contesting parties.

As the NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, it has been regarding as the figurehead of Burma's democracy movement for more than 20 years. Consequently, as the NLD constantly refuses to bow to the junta's unjust election "laws," it will be closed down by the junta soon. According to U Win Tin, one of the founding members of the party, the NLD will not disappear. It will be along with the people, in the midst of the people. NLD will keep up struggle for democracy, human rights and equality among all ethnic nationalities, by peaceful means.

Burma has been passing through a critical historical point in time. Since October, 2001, the secret talk has been proceeding between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, General-Secretary of the NLD and State Peace and Development Council. People welcome this procedure with the view that the root cause of all problems in Burma, economic crisis, systematic human rights violations, humanitarian crisis, drugs trade, human trafficking, child soldier issue, forced-labor problem, armed conflict, is political in nature and it is believed that those issues can be resolved politically only through dialogue, negotiation and compromise. The NLD and its ethnic alliance parties fully support the principle, reaffirmed by consecutive UN resolutions that dialogue between SPDC, NLD led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and leaders of ethnic groups is the best modus operandi for early restoration of democracy and national reconciliation Burma.

If we look back to contemporary Burmese history, it can be found that the Burmese military has in the past altered when there was a crisis and their survival was in jeopardy. It transformed the 1962 Revolutionary Council to the Socialist Regime based on 1974 Constitution. In 1988, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) abandoned "socialism" and adopted "market economy" with the hope to replace foreign aid with foreign investment. Then the SLORC started restructuring itself into the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) on November 15, 1997. In last quarter of 2000, the State Peace and Development Council again changed tactics from confrontation to engagement.

No noteworthy political harmony reached

However, the SPDC or the junta just like before seemed to be taking the path of half-hearted reform with minimum conciliation. Even though the secret talks commenced in October 2000, no noteworthy political harmony has been reached. The demand made by Aung San Suu Kyi for the release of all political prisoners essential for confidence-building between the two parties, is being responded at a sluggish speed. The regime has not committed to finding a solution to the crisis in Burma through dialogue, negotiation and compromise. The then "secret talks" are designed to drop off the internal and international pressure and give the military ruling time to consolidate its power base. The aim is to retain its grip on power.

The talks have stalled on at least two occasions while the SPDC's the late Foreign Minister, Win Aung has continued to insist that every thing is in good shape. He kept to this line even when Special envoy Razali's visit to Burma was postponed, and when Aung San Suu Kyi refused to attend the official ceremony on Martyr's Day on 19 July 2001. Her absence on that occasion was the most obvious indication that the talks were in serious gridlock.

At that juncture, the exiled dissident groups believed that the European Union can play a key role in helping not only to ensure that the talks do not break down, but that the process does develop into a genuine and substantial political dialogue. The SPDC only embarked on a dialogue strategy in October 2000, after the strengthening of the EU Common Position in April 2000 and the ILO decision in June 2000. Take lesson on this, it is critical that the EU Common Position not be relaxed at any time soon before the junta sit at dialogue table with the Lady.

People of Burma are looking forward to the international community to stand with them. They hope not only from European Union but also from governments around the globe to say publicly that they do not take into account the regime's election and prearranged outcome, and pressure the regime to make substantive and positive change for Burma.

It should commence with the immediate release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the termination of the regime's military operations against ethnic minorities. The SPDC should negotiate with Burma's existing democratic alliance, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic representatives for a peaceful solution toward national reconciliation and prosperous Burma.

Japan calls for "an open election"

The government of Japan, one of Burma's largest donors, warned that Tokyo will not expand economic aid to Burma as earlier proposed unless the junta ensures the participation of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others in the country's general election this year, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said.

Okada conveyed the stance to Burmese Ambassador to Japan U Hla Myint on March 26, and also told reporters he would like to discuss the situation in Burma with his counterparts on the sidelines of a Group of Eight foreign ministerial meeting in Canada next week. Okada said he told the ambassador that Japan is hoping for "an open election" that will allow anyone concerned and willing to participate.

The United States and Australia denounced the ruling junta, which cancelled the NLD's victory in last elections held in 1990, for pressing the party into a narrow corner and undermining hope for change after decades of military rule.

"We think this is an opportunity lost in terms of Burma's ability to demonstrate that it is willing to contemplate a different course of action, a different relationship with its own people," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

"I don't believe that any election without the National League for Democracy can be a full, free and fair election," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told ABC Radio.

US and EU should pressure more

Most people in Burma believe that it is vital that United States and European Union clearly state that the pace of progress is not yet sufficient for relaxing the US's sanctions and the EU Common Position. People of Burma believe both US and EU should look to imposing additional sanctions if the credibility of the reconciliation continues to be undermined. In such a serious moment of planning a sham election, US and European governments should make necessary preparations now for the commitment of financial sanctions and arms embargo in Burma,

While arranging the groundwork for such sanctions, US and EU should simultaneously help to prevent the junta's deployment by clearly defining now what would be done sufficiently in the upcoming elections handled by the junta. If the junta is truly made progress then an easing, rather than a strengthening of sanctions could be offered to the regime. If the regime is insincere in its attempt to talk national reconciliation ahead of the polls, then western democracies, using a concerted effort, ought to increase pressure on the Burma's military dictator.

Submitters Bio:

Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976.

He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. He then took on a role as an active member in the Rangoon Division Students' Union. He Participated in a poster-and-pamphlet campaign on the 4th anniversary of 7 July movement and went into hiding to keep away from the military police. He was still able to carry out underground pamphlet campaigns against the Burmese Socialist Programme Party ( BSPP). However, in 1982, he fell into the hands of MI and served two years imprisonment in the notorious Insein prison.

In 1988 he took part, together with his old students' union members, in the People's Democracy Uprising. In November of that year, he became an NLD Executive Committee Member for the Thingangyun Township and later became superintendent of the NLD Rangoon Division Office.

In 1991, he was arrested because of his connections with the exiled government, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment in the notorious Insein Prison. In last week of December 1997 he was released.

Zin Linn was an editor and columnist and contributed articles to various publications, especially on international affairs, while in Burma.

He fled Burma in 2001 to escape from military intelligence and worked as information director for the NCGUB from 2001 to 2012. He is also vice president of the Burma Media Association which is affiliated with the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers. Zin Linn is still writing articles and commentaries in Burmese and English in various periodicals and online journals on a regular basis.