BurmaNet News: Sept 30, 2003
editor at burmanet.org
editor at burmanet.org
Tue Sep 30 14:04:25 EDT 2003
Sept 30, 2002 Issue # 2337
AP: Burmese officials stop diplomats from contacting Suu Kyi
Shan: Local druglord's fields out of bounds to outsiders
Xinhua: Vietnam to stage trade fair in Myanmar
Shan: Karen rebels release battle news
AFP: Officials fear Myanmar issue could undermine key ASEAN summit
AFP: UN envoy Razali begins mission to revive Myanmar peace process
Bangkok Post: PM Thinks Pressure On Rangoon Will Ease As Suu Kyi Now Home
Miami Herald: She makes bullies of Myanmar tremble
CNN: Myanmar: Sanctions should end
The Bulletins Frontrunner:
New York Newsday: Myanmar's Tyranny Spreads Like a Disease
Irrawaddy: Khin Nyunts 100 - Day Test
__________________ INSIDE BURMA ___________________
AP, Sept 29
Burmese officials stop diplomats from contacting Suu Kyi
Myanmar officials prevented diplomats from the United States and other
countries from meeting with dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her home
over the weekend, the State Department said Monday.
Suu Kyi, who has been detained since May, went to her home late last week
after being discharged from a hospital where she underwent surgery.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said efforts by the diplomats
to visit the Nobel Peace Prize laureate were blocked. He gave no details.
Suu Kyi was detained by authorities in Myanmar, also known as Burma, last
May. Her doctor said she would remain under house arrest at her home
during her convalescence. Military authorities have said she will be freed
but have not specified a date.
Boucher said the U.S. embassy had asked to meet with Suu Kyi but has not
received a response. No U.S. diplomat has been able to meet with her since
before her detention on May 30.
"We remain very concerned for her and for other political prisoners
currently under detention in Burma," Boucher said.
"We reiterate our calls and those of the international community for the
junta to lift all restrictions on her and her supporters immediately and
to release all other political prisoners."
_____________ DRUGS ______________
Sept 29, Shan
Local druglord's fields out of bounds to outsiders
According to Palaung Youth Newsletter, August 2003, northern Shan State's
well-known militia leader Panhsay Kyaw Myint's domain will no longer allow
local poppy farmers to hire outsiders as farmhands during the 2003-2004
The reason was that more outlanders had led to more security leaks that
had in turn led to serious warnings by the military government, explains
Kyaw Myint, 50, a Panhsay (ethnic Chinese Muslim), had issued
notifications early this year urging the locals to register with him the
planned location and estimated size of each poppy field by 12 February.
He, an officially-recognized militia leader in Namkham township that
borders with China, would be responsible for overall security.
During the last poppy season, on 28 December 2002, a company commanded by
Maj Myint Naing had marched to the area to destroy the poppies, but
Panhsay Kyaw Myint, who had already reached understanding with the major's
superior, Col San Shwe Thar, had led the patrol to Kho Mon where illegal
logging was taking place instead, reports the paper.
Kyaw Myint's younger brother, Kyaw Htwe, is said to have won a license for
the ferry service across the Nam Mao (Shweli in Burmese) near Namkham. The
paper maintains that the ferry business has enabled the brothers to
traffick drugs to China, India and Kachin State's Hpakant jade mines.
The newsletter also scorns the official crop substitution project in the
area. The villagers in Namkham were told to grow corn, it says. But the
corn seeds arrived late in the season. Moreover, each villager received
only about 2 spoonfuls of corn seeds to grow, which they had to purchase
at K. 300 per tin. However, they were not allowed to purchase from the
outside for more seeds. Rubber plantation is only for people with
organizations, it says, because ordinary families cannot afford it.
As for opium plantations, those near the motor roads and towns were
destroyed, but Panhsay and Ta Moe Nye (Ta Moeng Ngen in nearby Kutkhai
township) were growing opium as before, it concludes.
_____________ MONEY ______________
Sept 30, Xinhua
Vietnam to stage trade fair in Myanmar
YANGON, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) --The Vietnam Trade Fair 2003 is due to open at
the Yangon Trade Center here Wednesday.
The four-day event, the first of its kind ever held in Myanmar, is
organized by the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency, Vietnam's embassy in
Myanmar said Tuesday.
On display at the trade fair, participated by over 50 Vietnamese
enterprises, will be products such as construction materials, cosmetics,
pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, housewares, garment and fashion
accessories, agricultural machinery and equipment, electronics and auto
Myanmar and Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding in 2002 on the
establishment of a Joint Trade Committee, followed by the signing in the
same year an agreement on exchange of information on economic undertakings
and investment for extension of enterprises.
_____________ GUNS ______________
Sept 28, Shan
Karen rebels release battle news
The Karen National Liberation Army has on 19 August issued a statement
listing its encounters between 2 June - 4 August with junta forces, as
well as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army that was formed 9 years earlier
out of KNLA defectors.
The rebels' 7 brigades and General Headquarters units had, during the 64
day period, fought 66 clashes, killing 43 enemy troops wounding 73 and
capturing 2 while sustaining 4 casualties on its part, according to the
report. Two villagers were wounded during one of the encounters.
At least on 9 clashes, enemy casualties were reported unknown. On the
average, the KNLA had fought at least once each day either wounding or
killing two each time. They had also fought against the DKBA on 10
Summing up, a Thai intelligence officer said, "The report is helpful in
several ways. It confirms our own reports that all is not well inside,
despite outward peace along Thailand's western border. It also confirms
how the Karens are proving a headache to the Burma Army.
"However," he added, "most of the engagements are deep inside Burma and
most of them are about snipings, sabotages and small ambushes. They don't
make news, unlike Shan battles."
All the same, many Thai border watchers observed, regular bulletins from
the Shan State Army "South" of Col Yawdserk on its activities would be
much appreciated. "Their official print organ, Freedom, comes only once in
a blue moon." said one.
The KNLA, SSA and the Karenni Army remain the main armed groups still
fighting against Rangoon.
_____________ REGIONAL ______________
Sept 30, AFP
Officials fear Myanmar issue could undermine key ASEAN summit
Officials seeking to tighten security and economic bonds between Southeast
Asia's 520 million people are fearful that the fate of one woman --
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi -- could undermine a key
regional summit next week.
Host Indonesia sees the October 7-8 ASEAN summit as a chance to return to
the diplomatic stage following years of domestic strife and is pushing
hard for her release before the meeting gets under way in Bali.
Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on May 30 after a pro-junta gang attacked
her supporters during a political tour. Until her hospital stay this month
she had been held at an undisclosed location, sparking outrage from the
In June even the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),
breaking a long tradition of non-interference in each other's internal
affairs, called for fellow member Myanmar to free the Nobel peace
Indonesia's foreign ministry on Saturday welcomed as "not insignificant"
Aung San Suu Kyi's transfer to house arrest after her discharge from
hospital, where she had undergone an operation.
But ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa, whose country currently chairs
ASEAN, said it still hopes she will be released before the summit.
"We still continue to hope that there will be more progress down that
road," Natalegawa said. "We are hopeful that we still have time before the
Hopes are pinned on Tuesday's scheduled visit by UN envoy Razali Ismail,
who brokered landmark contacts between the junta and the opposition leader
that started in October 2000 and broke down this year.
Indonesia has already sent former foreign minister Ali Alatas to meet
Myanmar's military rulers and push for progress. Alatas said on his return
that ASEAN does not want "irrelevant issues" disturbing the summit's
important work of putting in place the grouping's future foundations.
Natalegawa, in an interview with AFP before her transfer to house arrest,
expressed fears that the issue could overshadow the summit.
"We all know that if we have Miss Aung San Suu Kyi still in detention by
the time the ASEAN summit comes, the interest of the world will be largely
on that issue," he said.
Asked if her continued detention during the meeting would embarrass
Indonesia, the spokesman said: "It would not be a happy one."
ASEAN secretary general Ong Keng Yong, in a separate interview last week,
said he hopes the Myanmar issue will not prove a big distraction and
further tarnish the grouping's image.
He said fellow members were not interfering in Myanmar's domestic politics
"but what we are trying to explain is there is a negative emanating from
the situation in Myanmar and this negative has an impact on ASEAN's image,
"So we wish to get some kind of understanding from Myanmar's government
that our Bali summit, our ASEAN meetings should not be distracted by the
world's preoccupation with Myanmar."
ASEAN members, said Ong, "are keeping our fingers crossed that there can
be some kind of positive response from the Myanmar government."
Even normally taciturn Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri has
joined the appeals.
"The Myanmar government should state specifically whether it will keep Suu
Kyi under house arrest or free her immediately," she told Sunday's Jakarta
Otherwise the issue could overshadow the summit, said Megawati. Indonesia
hopes its proposal for a regional "security community" will dominate
It was unclear whether the decision to transfer Aung San Suu Kyi to house
arrest would ease regional pressure on Myanmar at the summit. Thai Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Monday that foreign governments should
ease pressure on the junta to release her, and allow it to act in its own
But barring any dramatic move over the next week, international interest
is expected to focus on Myanmar rather than on Southeast Asia's efforts to
bounce back from SARS and terrorism and to tackle the economic challenge
ASEAN "can't afford to have all these important initiatives in Bali
overshadowed by the media and the world concern about Myanmar," said Ong.
Sept 30, AFP
UN envoy Razali begins mission to revive Myanmar peace process
United Nations envoy Razali Ismail on Tuesday began a critical three-day
mission to Myanmar aimed at bringing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi
and the ruling generals back to the negotiating table.
But sources said that on the opening day of the visit Razali did not
secure meetings with the democracy icon or top members of the regime who
put her under house arrest last week after holding her in custody for
nearly four months.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 58, was taken to her famous lakeside residence after
undergoing major gynaecological surgery on September 19.
Razali is expected to see her as well as Myanmar's leader Senior General
Than Shwe and Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt on Wednesday.
"I will be making my program now," he told reporters as he began his 11th
visit on a low-key note with talks with Home Minister Tin Hlaing and a
dinner hosted by Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win.
Razali acted as the catalyst for landmark national reconciliation talks
between Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta which began in October 2000 but
collapsed earlier this year.
He now faces the difficult task of reviving the contacts and advancing a
seven-point "roadmap" for democratic reform unveiled by the military
regime in August, as well as pushing for Aung San Suu Kyi's release.
Ethnic political parties, who form an important third sphere of influence
in Myanmar after the ruling junta and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League
for Democracy (NLD), said they are to meet with Razali on Wednesday.
"I am very optimistic that Razali will be able to achieve something
significant this time around, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi,"
said Khun Tun Oo, chairman of the Shan National League for Democracy.
He said that if the junta was sincere about the roadmap, he would ask
Razali to insist that the first step in the process -- a national
convention to draft a new constitution -- was totally revamped.
"It should be an entirely new national convention with the ethnic
minorities genuinely represented," he told AFP.
The NLD quit an earlier national convention in 1995, saying it was
illegitimate and unrepresentative because participants were hand-picked by
But there are hopes that the ruling State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC) may seize the initiative to pursue genuine reforms.
"He's come at a good time and I hope he can get the (SPDC) to agree to a
more inclusive process," said one Yangon-based diplomat.
Myanmar's junta is under intense pressure to release Aung San Suu Kyi
before an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bali
next month, which risks being completely overshadowed by the issue.
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who sent former foreign
minister Ali Alatas to Yangon last week to negotiate her release, has made
a blunt call for the regime to say clearly what its plans are.
But observers in Yangon say it is unlikely the government would be willing
to release her so soon, raising the prospect that Khin Nyunt might choose
not to attend the summit.
Razali is hoping to shuttle between the generals and Aung San Suu Kyi
during his short visit to prod them into making progress on the reform
"roadmap". However, Myanmar's political parties are deeply sceptical about
The pro-democracy Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP),
formed after disallowed 1990 elections which the NLD won in a landslide,
said the roadmap would not solve Myanmar's political and economic crisis.
"The new state policy on the roadmap is a manifestation of the ruling
military's intent to create and decide the country's destiny by itself and
according to its own will," it said in a statement.
"If the ruling military really desires national reconciliation... it must
implement five tasks including the unconditional release of Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo and all other political prisoners."
Tin Oo and other senior NLD members have also been in detention since May
30 when clashes between Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters and a pro-junta gang
triggered a crackdown on the pro-democracy side.
Sept 30, Bangkok Post
PM Thinks Pressure On Rangoon Will Ease As Suu Kyi Now Home
International pressure on Burma to release opposition leader Aung San Suu
Kyi should now ease as the junta has responded well to that call, Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday.
The Burmese government allowed Mrs Suu Kyi to return home last week after
undergoing surgery, ending nearly four months' detention at a secret
Mr Thaksin said Burma should be allowed to deal with Mrs Suu Kyi's full
release in its own way.
Things should go step by step. We cannot force that country to do what we
want. It has already given us something so we better give it time. Every
country has its dignity.
Burma knows the international community is pressuring it. But it has its
own way of retreating,'' Mr Thaksin said.
Mr Thaksin said Burma had cooperated well with his government's war on
drugs. For example, anyone holding ID cards of the Wa ethnic group would
be barred from entering Tachilek town opposite Thailand's Mae Sai
district, he said.
Methamphetamines trafficked into Thailand were produced mainly by Wa
minority rebels inside Burma.
Mr Thaksin said Thailand would host an international meeting on the
democracy road map for Burma, but declined to elaborate.
He is expected to meet Burmese Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt on the
sidelines of the Asean summit in Bali next week.
Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said the Burmese leader had asked
for a meeting with Mr Thaksin and the leaders of China, Laos and Vietnam
during the Oct 7-8 summit.
Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung said UN special envoy Ismail Razali may
meet Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi next week.
Asked about a timeframe for implementing Burma's seven-point road map, Mr
Win Aung simply pointed to his head.
Mr Surakiart said he believed Rangoon's restrictions on Mrs Suu Kyi's
movements would be reduced gradually until she was completely freed.
Allowing Mrs Suu Kyi to return home, albeit under house arrest, would ease
tensions between her National League for Democracy party and the ruling
State Peace and Development Council, paving way for the drafting of a
__________________ INTERNATIONAL ____________________
Maimi Herald: makes bullies of Myanmar tremble
She is a small, slender woman, weighing just over 100 pounds. Her
speeches, when she is free to give them, are an appeal to reason rather
than political broadsides. She has been an unflagging advocate of
nonviolence all her life. Why, then, are the military rulers who run
Myanmar, formerly Burma, so afraid of Aung San Suu Kyi?
Maybe it's because they know that she represents the vast majority of
Myanmar's people, given that her party won 82 percent of the vote in 1990
before the military seized power. Or maybe it's because, as with all
bullies, they fear nothing more than someone who refuses to be
intimidated. Like Nelson Mandela before her, Aung San Suu Kyi has become
an international symbol of heroic resistance to despotism, and that,
apparently, is what Myanmar's rulers find terrifying.
Freed in May of 2002 after 19 months of house arrest, she was rearrested
last May following a violent incident provoked by a pro-junta gang. The
government shut down the offices of her political party and detained her
at a secret location. Earlier this month, she was taken to a hospital for
emergency treatment. Today, the 58-year-old crusader for democracy is once
again under house arrest.
Amid intense international pressure for a shift to democracy and mounting
sanctions against the regime, the government recently unveiled a
seven-point ''road map'' for change, including free elections. But it
would be foolish to believe in good intentions while the Nobel laureate
opposition leader remains detained. We urge Asian nations and the Bush
administration to keep pressing for her freedom and for visits by
international representatives. Until Aung San Suu Kyi is released from
house arrest, there can be no progress for Myanmar.
Sept 30, CNN
Myanmar: Sanctions should end
Myanmar's foreign minister has told the U.N. General Assembly that
economic sanctions against his country should be ended.
"Myanmar has taken substantial steps on the road to democracy," Foreign
Minister U Wing Aung said on Monday.
"It is important that the international community recognize the positive
changes. Credit must be given where credit is due ... It is disconcerting
that some countries have chosen to turn a blind eye to the reality and
have subjected Myanmar to a wide array of unfair economic sanctions for
their political ends."
Myanmar has been ruled by a military junta since 1962. Prime Minister Khin
Nyunt unveiled a seven-step road map to democracy last month but many are
critical of it, saying there is no role for opposition parties.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, of the National League for Democracy
(NLD), has spent more than seven of the past 14 years under some form of
She recently was held three months by the government in a secret location,
then was taken to a privately run hospital where she underwent surgery for
a gynecological condition.
She was released from a hospital Friday and went to her home, where her
doctor said she remains under house arrest.
Asked about her current status, U Wing Aung said, "We don't call this
"She is now recuperating. Let us see in the week how conditions are
improved. We are helping her to overcome the health problems," he added.
U.N. envoy Razali Ismail will visit Myanmar on Tuesday in an attempt to
revive talks between the military and the NLD.
The United States and the European Union tightened sanctions on Myanmar
after Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest.
Sept 30, The Bulletins Frontrunner
Unocal Hires Hogan & Hartson To Aid Compliance With Myanmar Sanctions.
The Hill (9/30) reports, "Unocal Corp., the oil and gas conglomerate under
fire for working on a Myanmar pipeline despite that country's poor human
rights record, has hired the Washington, D.C., international law firm
Hogan & Hartson to help it comply with new U.S.-imposed economic
sanctions." Unocal "has spent over $200 million on the natural gas
pipeline, sparking protests from several quarters, including prominent
shareholders." Former Treasury Department general counsel Jeanne
Archibald, "now a partner at the firm's International Trade Group,
recently registered as a lobbyist for Unocal." Timmons & Co. "already had
been working with Unocal on Myanmar."
Sept 30, New York Newsday
Myanmar's Tyranny Spreads Like a Disease
The military junta that rules Myanmar, formerly called Burma, has long
been known as a group committed to retaining power at any cost. The price
has been paid mainly by Burmese citizens, but the consequences may now
spread well beyond Myanmar's borders.
The generals have killed thousands of democracy supporters since the
student protests in 1988 and waged war on ethnic insurgents. To tighten
their grip on the population, over the past 15 years they have doubled the
size of the military, which now consumes 40 percent of the budget, at the
expense of spending on health and education.
Consequently, hundreds of thousands of their citizens have died as a
result of the broken-down health-care system. The generals who run the
country are notorious for their widespread use of forced labor. The junta
has maintained these abhorrent policies despite sanctions, aid cutoffs and
repeated denunciations by many Western countries, including the United
Yet it makes the headlines only when it commits an outrage, such as that
of last May 30, when pro-government militia crashed a political rally near
Mandalay and murdered several bodyguards and supporters of Nobel laureate
Aung San Suu Kyi, the fearless democracy crusader who had been freed only
last year from a lengthy house arrest.
The junta rearrested Suu Kyi, shut down offices of her political party and
detained her at a secret location. She returned home Friday for a new
stint of indefinite house arrest.
Until now this record of bloody repression and economic ruin has primarily
victimized the long-suffering Burmese people, and world attention has
often drifted away. But it is time to take a closer look. Myanmar's
generals are quietly moving in new directions that could make that dismal
country a source of instability throughout South and Southeast Asia.
Strategically situated between regional rivals India and China, Myanmar is
seeking to leverage the two powers' battle for influence.
China is the regime's major arms supplier and has assumed significant
economic power over the country, recently extending debt relief and a
$200-million loan to Myanmar, which has been cut off from most other
external funding. China, reports indicate, has built a port and shipyard
south of Rangoon to help export products from China's western provinces.
India, concerned about China's rising dominance, has stepped up its
relations with Myanmar. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee met
with the Myanmar foreign minister earlier this year, the highest-level
contact between the two countries in more than a decade, and India is also
reportedly building a port.
Improving ties with regional powers is not necessarily a bad thing,
especially if they would push Myanmar toward more civilized behavior.
But neither Beijing nor New Delhi has shown any such inclination.
Instead the two huge neighbors are using Myanmar as a pawn in their
rivalry, making it a potential source of friction, not a buffer. Japan is
increasingly concerned about China's penetration of Myanmar, and it was to
counter China's influence that the regional grouping of smaller countries,
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, decided to admit Myanmar as a
member several years ago. These countries see now that the junta was
cynically using them to try to gain legitimacy.
More troubling is the news that Myanmar, one of the poorest countries, has
contracted with Russia for a nuclear reactor. Both sides insist it is for
medical research purposes, but even if that's true, it would add an
unnecessary proliferation risk to a world where terrorists are on the
prowl for nuclear material. Some 300 Burmese have been in Russia receiving
training to operate the facility, and Myanmar has also bought 10 MiG-29
fighter jets from Russia.
Most disturbing of all, Myanmar is renewing ties with North Korea that
were cut off after North Korean agents in 1983 set off a bomb in Rangoon
that killed 21 people, including four visiting South Korean cabinet
members. Besides possibly reestablishing formal diplomatic relations, the
two have held high-level discussions on military cooperation.
The link-up of these two pariah states can only spell trouble. North
Korea's main export is dangerous weapons technology, and there have been
reports that Myanmar is getting missiles and other arms from Pyongyang.
These developments have been largely overlooked as we concentrated on the
war in Iraq, challenges in the Middle East and unpredictable developments
on the Korean peninsula. But they are the seeds of a major threat to Asian
security and stability. The world should take notice, and the United
States needs to make Myanmar a priority in its relations with Russia,
China, India and ASEAN so that we can forge a multilateral plan to turn
the generals from their dangerous course.
Sept 30, Irrawaddy
Khin Nyunts 100 Day Test
September 30, 2003Shortly after Gen Khin Nyunt became Burmas Prime
Minister at the end of August, some commentators said he needed 100 days
to prove himself. With 30 days passed, a third of his time is up.
Pro-democracy supporters and foreign governments were torn over whether
his appointment signaled a real turning point, or if it was just another
political stunt. Burma was, and still is, experiencing a major political
stalemate. The ambush against the opposition on May 30 derailed the
already stalled talks for national reconciliation. The new Prime Minister
will be confronted with both difficulties and opportunities to get the
talks moving again.
In Burma and in other countries, crises have spawned great leaders.
Sometimes, they have emerged alone, such as Gen Aung San during Burmas
independence struggle and George Washington in Americas independence
struggle in the 18th century.
But in many cases, inspirational leaders have come in pairs. Together,
John F Kennedy and Dr Martin Luther King put an end to legally sanctioned
racial discrimination in the US. FW de Klerk joined with Nelson Mandela to
end South African apartheid. All of these people dared to take risks in
order to bring about change.
Burma already has a Mandela in opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But
where is Burmas De Klerk? In the mid-1990s, US Ambassador to the UN Bill
Richardson met both Khin Nyunt and Suu Kyi, who was then under house
arrest. The ambassador predicted that Burmas future rested with those two
leaders. In a press conference in Bangkok in 1995, Richardson expressed
continued faith in Khin Nyunt and claimed the intelligence chief was a
moderate being held back by the hardliners in the regime.
By any assessment, Khin Nyunts first 30 days as Prime Minister have been
marked by more bad signs than good.
It is useful to compare Khin Nyunt with De Klerk. Towards the end of 1989,
De Klerk took over the presidency from PW Botha. Although De Klerk was a
long-serving member of the apartheid government, he took bold steps to
reverse many of his governments repressive policies.
In his first speech, De Klerk stunned South Africa and the world by
calling for a non-racist South Africa and announcing the start of
political negotiations. Big changes came in the next four months. The ban
on the African National Congress (ANC) was lifted; Mandela was released
from prison; and talks with the ANC commenced. Despite the initial
skepticism of many observers, De Klerks decisive action made the world
see him as a real man for change.
In the same way as De Klerk, Khin Nyunt has had a long association with
his countrys oppressive regime. But as Prime Minister, he does not have
the same power that De Klerk had as President. Khin Nyunt still has to
answer to Sr-Gen Than Shwe, the chairman of the ruling State Peace and
By any assessment, Khin Nyunts first 30 days as Prime Minister have been
marked by more bad signs than good. He presented a seven-point road map
for political change in his first speech, but gave no mention of
negotiating with the political opposition. Instead, he strongly criticized
Suu Kyi for delaying political change in the past.
The second bad sign came when the juntas civilian organization, the Union
Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), convened rallies in Rangoon
and other cities to support the new road map. USDA members played a
leading role in the May 30 crackdown and the USDA has been frequently used
to stage demonstrations of support for the military and its policies.
When Suu Kyi was recovering from surgery, small groups of pro-democracy
supporters gathered in front of the hospital. Fortunately, and
surprisingly, however, authorities did not break up the demonstrations. A
positive sign, given that public gatherings of five or more people are
illegal in Burma.
Another positive gesture was the regimes decision to let Suu Kyi return
homealbeit under house arrestrather than return her to government
Another positive gesture was the regimes decision to let Suu Kyi return
homealbeit under house arrestrather than return her to government
detention. But if Khin Nyunt is to balance the negative with positive, he
needs to launch some more positive initiatives before his 100 days are up.
His diplomacy will certainly be tested in the coming weeks. First, he has
to get through a meeting today or tomorrow with the UN special envoy to
Burma, Razali Ismail. Although Khin Nyunt has met Razali many times
before, this will be Khin Nyunts first meeting with the UN envoy in his
capacity as Prime Minister. To earn positive marks, Khin Nyunt must let
Razali see Suu Kyi and confirm a date for her release from house arrest.
He must also agree to jump-start the talks.
But Khin Nyunt will first need to convince his boss, Than Shwe, that this
is the best way forward. It is doubtful whether Khin Nyunt has enough
leverage to see this though on his own, and he will need Razalis weight
behind him to exercise secret but firm diplomacy.
His second test will come in Bali, when leaders from the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meet on October 7 and 8. Khin Nyunt can
only prove himself as a genuine regional player if he can bring something
solid to the table. Many of his Asean counterparts have said they will no
longer accept empty promises from Rangoon. If he is smart, Khin Nyunt will
release Suu Kyi from house arrest before the summit convenes so to avoid
The last two opportunities will be at next months APEC summit in Bangkok
and the UN General Assembly in New York in November. Before Burmese
government officials attend these forums, Khin Nyunt needs to start
serious talks with the opposition. If he does so, he could well be
rewarded with a Nobel Prize for Peace. But before that, he will need to
make major revisions to his road map.
For this scenario to become reality, Khin Nyunt faces an enormous set of
challenges. Does he have the power to overcome them all?
Khin Nyunt began his government career as a staff officer in the War
Office the 1970s and rose through the ranks to head Military Intelligence
in the 1980s. His background differs from other regime officials who came
up through regional commands. For example, retired Sr-Gen Saw Maung,
Sr-Gen Than Shwe and the juntas current rising star, Lt-Gen Thura Shwe
Mann, all emerged as heads of Southwest Regional Command in Irrawaddy
Division. In contrast, Khin Nyunt lacks experience as an army man.
But it is likely that some within the military favor a change. The
majority vote for the NLD in military-dominated townships such as
Mingaladon and Hmawbi in 1990 proved that. The reality is that most
military men know the high price of expressing dissent and would not dare
communicate democratic ideas with each other.
Like Kennedy, who could never have tackled racial discrimination without
the help of King, De Klerk could not have dissolved apartheid without
Mandela. Each of the pairs represented political opposites, but they
needed each other, and were willing to take risks to make the seemingly
It is time for Burmas new Prime Minister to make a choice. Khin Nyunt
must decide whether he wants to be another cog in the regime, or whether
he wants to work with Suu Kyi and make history.
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