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Defections Show Deep Dissatisfaction Within Burma’s Military Regime

By Burma Partnership  •  July 11, 2011

On 4 July, the second highest-ranking diplomat at Burma’s Embassy in Washington, DC defected, claiming frustration at a lack of tangible change in the political system in his country.

Kyaw Win, a career diplomat, sent a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton upon defecting that outlined his reasons for leaving the embassy and seeking asylum. He asserts that his suggestions of “actions to improve bilateral relations between Burma and the US,” have resulted in him being “deemed dangerous” by the regime. In his letter, Kyaw Win continued, “Because of this, I am also convinced and live in fear that I will be prosecuted for my actions, efforts and beliefs when I return to Naypyidaw after completing my tour of duty here.”

Most notably, the former diplomat wrote a scathing review of the now 3 month-old parliament in Burma, arguing that, “The truth is that senior military officials are consolidating their grip on power and seeking to stamp out the voices of those seeking democracy, human rights and individual liberties. Oppression is rising and war against our ethnic cousins is imminent.”

Kyaw Win also stated that threats on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s life “must be taken seriously,” and championed the importance of maintaining and strengthening financial sanctions as “these sanctions can play a critical role in denying the regime, and the businessmen who live off of them, access to the international financial system.”

Some of the strongest arguments against the military regime are from those who were inside the system and had the most to gain from complying with and supporting the regime despite its history of abuse. For a career diplomat to defect three months into a purportedly new political system indicates a deep seated dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in recent months, and moreover, the failure of the regime to fulfill their stated objective to implement a “disciplined democracy.”

Defection is certainly not new in Burma’s political environment, and particular high profile cases have often shed light on the inner workings of the military regime. Last year, Major Sai Thein Win defected, bringing with him knowledge and photos indicating the existence of a nuclear weapons program in Burma, to which the regime has failed to provide a convincing argument to the contrary. Sai Thein Win’s efforts have given political actors and nuclear scientists much to debate on the true nature of the regime’s nuclear project. Furthermore, desertions of troops from both the Burma Army and the Border Guard Forces (BGF) to ethnic armed groups clearly indicate a growing frustration within the rank and file soldiers and a widespread dissatisfaction in ethnic areas with the military regime’s efforts to incorporate ceasefire armed groups into a centralized BGF under the command of the Burma Army.

Whether one chooses to look at the heavily skewed composition of the new parliament, the documented electoral fraud, renewed instances of armed conflict, or the continued imprisonment of nearly 2,000 political prisoners, little has changed in Burma since the November 2010 elections.

To continue to place hope in the regime’s “disciplined democracy” is to naively place hope in the hands of authorities who, for decades, have abused their power to reap personal gains at the expense of the country’s citizens, and have even failed to maintain the loyalty of some of those firmly entrenched within the political system. As a first step to move towards any genuine change, the international community must support the efforts of Burma’s ethnic and political groups that truly strive towards democracy, peace and justice, and call for a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

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