Burma Partnership, Strengthening Cooperation for a Free Burma
Signup Now!
Join our mailing list for latest news and information about Burma.

Exiles put forward ‘benchmarks’ for Burma’s government

Originally appeared in Mizzima

August 29, 2011

Burmese democracy activists in exile say they do not see the on-going interactions between Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese government as a “dialogue” but rather as “talks.”

Speaking at a seminar on “Democratization and Reconciliation: Burma at the Crossroads,” the activists put forward three key benchmarks if Burma is to see real democratization.

“The release of 2,000 political prisoners, stopping the attacks against ethnic nationalities and holding an inclusive dialogue are the three benchmarks necessary for democratization and reconciliation in Burma,” said Khin Ohmar, a representative of the Thailand-based Forum for Democracy in Burma.

Supporting the call of the country’s armed ethnic groups for a nation-wide cease-fire, Khin Ohmar said Burma continues to witness widespread human rights violations. “We call for establishing a ‘Commission of Inquiry’ as a way of ‘truth seeking’ and this has already been called for by three successive UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights in Burma, including Tomas Ojea Quintana who made the five-day visit to Burma ending on 25 August.”

Questioning whether recent developments in Burma, such as the release of Burma’s opposition leader Suu Kyi from house arrest in November and the Burmese President Thein Sein meeting with her represents a “real democratization process,” the activists said Burma needs a genuine political dialogue for peace.

“They seem not to be coming out for a real change. It seems the Burmese government is in total disarray,” said Nyo Ohn Myint, a leader of National League for Demcoracy (Liberated Area) based in Thailand.

Shirley Seng of the Kachin Women’s Association-Thailand highlighted the on-going abuses by the Burmese military in the ethnic minority areas and the coming together of ethnic armed groups including the Karen, Kachin, Mon, Shan and Chin under the banner of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) in February 2010.

“We, ethnic nationalities, want to live together within the Union provided that we have our own rights guaranteed. We work together with Aung San Suu Kyi and the democracy movement for a peaceful reconciliation,” Shirley Seng said in her discussion.

She noted that the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) had attempted several times since 1963 to open a dialogue with successive ruling military regimes in Burma, including during the 1994 cease-fire agreement, however all had failed because the central government was not interested in a “genuine political dialogue.”

The three-member delegation from Thailand-based Burmese activists is presently on a political tour to India to interact and meet with different sections of society including Indian members of Parliament and political parties.

Focusing on India, the world’s largest democracy and Burma’s neighbour, the Burmese activists at the seminar asked the Indian government to develop a pro-active Burma policy in support of democratization and reconciliation in Burma.

“India should impose an arms embargo against Burma, support the refugees and support the call for establishing a Commission of Inquiry (COI),” said Khin Ohmar, who noted that no Asian country has supported the call for a COI in Burma. Sixteen countries including Australia, Ireland and the United States have called for a COI.

Dr. Baladas Goshal, a senior researcher at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, who supported the activists call for the release of political prisoners and respect for human rights, added that there needs to be two “legitimate forces” for a reconciliation to happen. “In Burma, both sides (the opposition movement and the Burmese regime) need to recognize each other,” Goshal said.

“Aung San Suu Kyi should not now insist on the 1990 election results. She now leads as a moderator and can reform the regime through a national reconciliation process,” he said. “The Western countries should lift the sanctions with certain conditions, for example, the release of political prisoners.”

Ghoshal and others highlighted the need for Burma to rebuild institutions that have been broken down since the military took power in 1962. “Education needs to be revived. And India, through soft power, can play a role,” Baladas Goshal said.

C.S. Kuppuswamy, representing the South Asia Analysis Group said, “Democratization and reconciliation have to come together. Ethnic issues have to be brought in to the democratic dialogue as well. This process (of democratization and reconciliation) will take longer than it took in Indonesia.”

Indian observers agreed that Suu Kyi was the only leader who enjoyed widespread support across the stakeholders in the country, and the exiled democracy movement also should look at “how best to use the kind of space they have now.” “The current situation needs to be looked at with hope for the future,” said Dr. K  Yhome, a research fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation.

Raising important questions for the Burmese democracy movements, several academics pointed out that the “opposition movement” in Burma needs to look at the past and agree on a common vision for the future of Burma, saying that the West has practiced hypocrisy in various policies.

“When we talk of conflict in the ethnic areas, we need to look at the political economy of those areas. Were there any colonial roots in the conflicts,” said Dr. Vinay Lal, a professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “When the Burmese (activists) refer to the term ‘international community,’ which countries do they refer to? When we think of why India should be thinking more about Burmese support, we need also to think about the shared civilization and political and historical ties between Burma and India,” he said.

“The democracy movement needs to look at its own credentials. It has to come up with a common vision. Since Burma is behind 60 to 70 years compared to other countries, it is fortunate to have an opportunity not to go through the same (routes) that others had. It [the movement] should re-imagine what it wants,” said Satya Sivaraman, a veteran Indian journalist.

Indian observers encouraged the Burmese democracy movement not to loose sight of the recent developments in the country, especially in the light of direct meetings and talks between the General-Secretary of National League for Democracy Suu Kyi and the President Thein Sein-led government.

“Yes they are talking now, not in a ‘dialogue.’ But you can persist in the talks that could lead to a dialogue. This could offer an opportunity to Aung San Suu Kyi (and the movement),” said B.G. Verghese, a keen observer on Burma and a veteran Indian journalist.

He also suggested that there should be “multiple dialogues” in all sections including parliamentarians and civil society groups to strengthen capacity building. “India does talk privately to the regime about democratization and national reconciliation in Burma. After all, more than 400,000 Indians, many of them stateless, are living in Burma,” he said.

View the original article here.

This post is in: News Clip