Jul 30, 2002

The Impact of Aung San Suu Kyis Release on Non-Burman Ethnic Nationalities Struggles

By: Sai Wansai (Shan Democratic Union)

The release of Aung San Suu Kyi, undisputed leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), has given hope to the broad spectrum of the whole society, including the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, that the process of democratization will finally begin and, in turn, their aspirations to be the master of their own faith become a reality. But after more than a month of her so-called unconditional release, the military junta, which calls itself the State and Peace Development Council (SPDC), has not given any hint to begin serious talks with the NLD. The unfolding scenarios that follow indicate that the military junta is not really interested to engage in substantial talks that would lead the country to democratization and political settlement among contending parties.

The unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi on the 6 May 2002 has raised high hopes that political changes will soon be in the air. The non-Burman ethnic nationalities were particularly impressed and pinned their hopes that political dialogue would begin between the contending parties. Aung San Suu Kyi’s public statement, shortly after her release, that the reconciliation process will only be possible with the participation of all non-Burman ethnic groups and not just negotiation between the NLD and SPDC. In response to the NLD leader’s public statement, the SDU, KNU, UNLD and many non-Burman ethnic-based organizations made public statements that the release of Aung San Suu Kyi had given them hope which might pave the way for three-way dialogue between the NLD, SPDC and non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

Seen from the general perspective, the freedom of movement granted to Aung San Suu Kyi and the lack of intimidation by the SPDC in reorganizing and reopening of the party offices around the country might seem that confidence-building is progressing. But it is one thing that confidence is being restored to a certain extent and another to begin substantive political bargaining and settlement on how the governance of the country should look. So far, substantive political negotiation has not even started and it seems, the SPDC leadership is avoiding and sidelining Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD tactfully by pushing other agendas like anti-Thai and Shan sentiment, drugs eradication propaganda, assuming anti-terrorism posture and so on to the forefront so that the dialogue process would become an unimportant backburner. The Thai-Burma border conflict and SPDC’s public relation campaign, represented by Arizona-based DCI Associates, to woo the United States to change its hardliner position on the Burmese junta are two undertakings which indicate its real motive to cling on to state power.
A Bangladesh newspaper, The Daily Star, commentary wrote recently: “However, things may not be as simple and, without sounding conspiratorial, it could be said that Ms. Suu Kyi's release could well be another of the many aces up the sleeve of the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council). A close look at Ms. Suu Kyi's release may reveal more disappointments than hope for the realization of the twin ideals of democracy and national reconciliation that Myanmar desperately needs. For one, her release implies that the military Government is confident that a free Ms. Suu Kyi no longer threatens it as in 1992, and that talks can now be held under the parameters set by the Junta. This confidence may not be entirely baseless.”
The Burmese junta, however, said on several occasions that the talks with NLD leader are still on track, even though it has not undertaken any initiative to engage in the substantive negotiation process repeatedly asked by the opposition.
It remains to be seen, if the United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, Dr. Razali Ismail’s, planned visit to the country on 2 August 2002 will help push the stalled talks further.
From the point of non-Burman ethnic nationalities, Padoe Mahn Shar, General Secretary of the Karen National Union, recent interview in Radio Free Asia, more or less, reflects their general assessment. Mahn Shar said that the whole SPDC’s tactical move is to lessen the pressure on NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, while military pressures continue unabated in non-Burman areas, notably in Shan, Karen and Karenni areas. Like wise, at times less pressures were applied on the ethnic armed resistance movements, when it was bent on cracking down on the opposition parties above ground, particularly the NLD. This is nothing more than a tactical move to hold on to power indefinitely and the Burmese junta is in no way interested in earnest political settlement.

It is clear that the only way out from this political deadlock is to conduct an all-inclusive dialogue involving the SPDC, NLD and non-Burman ethnic nationalities. Anything less will never result in a lasting solution.

Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD have the will and vision to harmonize and work out a comprehensive political settlement within the framework of a genuine federalism. Most non-Burman ethnic nationalities are in agreement with this proposition and want to begin talks to start the reconciliation process. But the SPDC seems to be using stalling tactics by ignoring the opposition, notably Aung San Suu Kyi and creating an external "scapegoat", which is Thailand, so that it can mobilize its fast dwindling public support with the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity after her release.

The recent military build up along Thai-Burma border by the Burmese junta, involving 13 battalions of soldiers, an unknown number of Chinese-built T69 tanks, armoured cars and patrol vehicles to areas opposite Chiang Mai's Wiang Haeng district and Chiang Rai's Mae Fa Luang district, which is said to crush the SSA shows that it is no where near to opt for political settlement with the ethnic armed resistance through peaceful means. The Burmese junta continues to incite national sentiment against Shan and Karen forces as well as Thailand, which it said had sheltered the rebels.

The report titled “License to Rape”, published by Shan Women’s Action Network in collaboration with Shan Human Rights Foundation, has led worldwide protest with the United States leading and stating its concern at such crimes against humanity. The report zoomed in on more than 600 rape cases committed by the Burmese junta soldiers with detailed account to pin point the fact that Burma army is using rape as a weapon of war against innocent Shan female population. As expected, the junta rejected the allegations as fabricated and coming from its enemies’ quarters. The Shan Democratic Union has appealed for an extensive international investigation on the issue.
Seen from the denial and the stalling of much needed dialogue process, the Burmese junta is in no hurry to begin meaningful reconciliation talks with opposition camps. The international community, together with the United Nations, has exhausted every possible means of pressure on the military regime to accommodate democratic change without success. The only alternative left for the people looking for a democratic change will be to apply more pressure domestically on the military junta, which so far has dogged the pressures from all sides for democratization and reconciliation processes. When and how the pressures could be heightened and should be implemented will depend on the people of Burma and the organizations that represent them.

CFG: Cease-fire Groups
CNF: Chin National Front
ENSCC: Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee
KNU: Karen National Union
KNPP: Karenni Progressive Party
MUL: Mon Unity League
NUP: National Unity Party
SPDC: State Peace and Development Council
SNLD: Shan Nationalities League for Democracy
SSA: Shan State Army
SDU: Shan Democratic Union
SHRF: Shan Human Rights Foundation
SWAN: Shan Women’s Action Network
UNLD: United Nationalities League for Democracy

Reuters - July 8, 2002
U.N. envoy to visit Myanmar amid doubt over progress
By Aung Hla Tun

Bangkok Post - Sunday 14 July 02
BORDER: Burma beefs up troops at frontier Prelude to assault on Shan guerrillas

The Nation - July 02, 2002
LETTERS: Burmese junta tricks & its ethnic cleansing war

The Daily Star - Fri. July 05, 2002
Myanmar - The moves: The political process in Myanmar must co-opt the ethnic factor for any lasting political arrangement (By: Paolienlal)

Independence - Vol: 19. No. 198, May 2002 Border tensions

Licence to Rape: The Burmese military regime's use of sexual violence in the ongoing war in Shan State (By: Shan Human Rights Foundation & Shan Women's Action Network, May 2002)