Friday, November 23, 2007
ARE THEY SERIOUS?
ith Burma's diplomatic victory in Singapore earlier this week, the ASEAN bloc's loss of face was covered with assurances from its embarrassed leaders that the Burmese regime is serious about democratic reform. So trusting were the gullible majority of leaders of ASEAN governments, that they were able to humiliate themselves for the benefit of their criminal "family member" by expressing their faith that the junta could handle the UN "process" all by itself. The extreme repression within their neighbour's house is just an internal affair, and the bedrock ASEAN principle of non-interference trumps all other considerations.
The Burmese Prime Minister General Thein Sein, in Singapore for the ASEAN summit, did what he was told by his boss Senior General Than Shwe -- who is said to look upon his prime ministers as nothing more than postmen. Among the ASEAN leaders only Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came out of the summit with her integrity intact, warning that her country would be unable to ratify the new ASEAN charter unless serious reforms were undertaken by Burma's military rulers.
Their seriousness will be determined by their actions (political arrests continued over the conference period), and Arroyo showed that she is serious, but what of the other 8 ASEAN members? Their unprecedented official expression of "revulsion" during the crackdown has not survived even two months, and they were unable to be so blunt when it came to face to face meetings.
The ASEAN leaders and other officials said the right things to reporters this week -- and to snubbed UN envoy Gambari, who was already in flight to Singapore when word came that his invitation had been revoked -- but are they serious? They assured the world that they stand fully behind the UN efforts regarding Burma, but do they? There was an opportunity to demonstrate so, and they failed the test.
The United Nations General Assembly’s Committee for Social, Humanitarian and Culture approved a non-binding draft resolution on Tuesday that strongly condemned the human rights violations by the Burmese junta in September. The resolution must now go before the General Assembly for final approval...Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia voted against, Cambodia was absent, and the rest abstained.
No Asean-member country voted in favor of the resolution.
Moreover, a report by The Associated Press on Wednesday said that confidential recommendations by Asean region diplomats advised Asean to not intervene in domestic human rights problems such as the current situation in Burma, but instead to protect member countries from foreign meddling.Protecting the junta from "foreign meddling" takes precedence over protecting Burma's long-suffering people from the junta, even when the only action called for is a simple vote on a non-binding resolution. Like a famous US presidential candidate a few years ago, they were for it before they were against it. The ASEAN highway to democratic reforms has a dedicated U-turn lane.
Mr. Gambari was able to brief some leaders individually in Singapore, including President Arroyo.
President Gloria Arroyo met with UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari on Tuesday, and her spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Gambari had told her "little progress" had been made in Myanmar.Burmese who aspire to democracy, and who are therefore closer to the mainstream of most ASEAN countries (excluding Burma, communist Laos and Vietnam, and the Sultanate of Brunei) than are the reclusive Burmese generals, are not impressed.
"It's a historical moment for them to sign the charter, which is supposed to be the charter for the protection and promotion of human rights, and now they let the (Myanmar) regime take over their agenda," said Thailand-based Khin Ohmar.While the talking shop was continuing in Singapore, the military dictatorship in Burma continued its political arrests.
"Now they're taking sides with the regime it seems," said Khin Ohmar, a former student leader of Myanmar's 1988 uprising, in which up to 3,000 people died.
Myint Naing, a senior NLD (National League for Democracy) member, and Pu Chin Sian Thang, chairman of the Zomi National Congress (ZNC) party, were detained by police on Tuesday, family and opposition sources said.Pu Chin, aged 69, has been detained nine times by the military -- the last one at the height of the crackdown in September. The two political figures were arrested just a day after Aung San Suu Kyi met with "Relations Minister" Aung Kyi on Monday, and on the same day ASEAN leaders signed their new charter.
But such overt hypocrisy does not embarrass Than Shwe in the slightest. He needs only to send out his "postman" to take the flack. One would expect the regime to have experienced some measure of shame, when further proof of its use of child soldiers -- and its trafficking in children for profit to "recruiters" -- was made public last month. Not so.
Burmese military officials have refused to let a 14 year old boy from South Dagon township leave the army, despite his parents providing proof that he is underage.And as one would expect in a fascist state, this was not permitted.
According to a local representative of the family, Maung Kyaw Min Thu went missing on 14 September after spending five days visiting his uncle’s house in Insein...
On 18 September, a man came to see Thaung Aye and Aye Naing and told them that he had seen their son while visiting someone in the army, and the boy had told him to tell his parents to come and get him from the barracks.
Maung Kyaw Min Thu’s parents showed the army officers his birth certificate and other documentation to prove he was below the legal age to join the army, but the officers said that the documents could have been forged, and they threatened to prosecute the boy for making false claims about his age when he was recruited.Any truly professional soldier would be ashamed to be staffing his army this way, but in Burma the shamelessness starts at the very top. With that pudgy guy in the photo above.
The military officers made Thaung Aye and Aye Naing sign a letter confirming that their son was over 18 and had joined the army of his own free will.
The family’s representative said that they signed the letter as they were afraid to disobey the army officers.
Now the regime takes a page out of the "P"RC playbook for dealing with exiled dissidents. The Burmese embassy in Bangkok has contacted local colleges and universities, asking for name-lists of their Burmese students. They'd like to do some cross-checking, and find the ones who participate in the ongoing demonstrations against them here. The embassy has already rejected one student's passport renewal on these grounds.
Student sources report that Bangkok’s Assumption University, also known as ABAC, has been asked by the Burmese embassy to provide a list of Burmese attending courses there. Students at the city’s Mahidol University say teaching staff there had warned them about the Burmese request.These schools should tell the regime's embassy staff to go take a leap, and I hope they did. They ought to know that the regime has systematically destroyed higher education in Burma, and collaboration in harrassing students in Thailand would be to their own deep shame. Chinese embassies in western countries have used this type of intimidation of overseas Chinese for years, and not just against students.
In a recent BBC article, a well-known Thai academic was asked why ASEAN needed to admit Burma as a member in the first place?
"A decade ago South East Asia was a different place," says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.And so a decade later, Burma is a solid client-state of the "People's" Republic, adopting more of its tried and tested repressive practices, while ASEAN kowtows to the generals in Nay Pyi Daw. If the idea was to keep the junta out of China's orbit, the strategy has backfired. Just this month, Chinese military vehicles and equipment have been seen crossing into Burma at Muse, across from Yunnan province, and proceeding toward Mandalay.
"Relations with China were not amicable - and there was a fear that if Burma was left out it would fall into China's orbit."
Here are some items I've saved over the past week or so, that I hope will be useful:
- A video interview with U Pan Cha, the Sikh businessman who took responsibility for the security of the public demonstrations, and held regular meetings with army officials during those days. He is now in Thailand. Wai Burma.newsladder.net.
- An ABC video crew went undercover recently into Rangoon, where a monk told them the regime is worse than Saddam Hussein's. Two video reports, here and here.
- BBC's Sue Lloyd Roberts also went undercover into Burma, and came out with this video report. She looks into the Burmese gems market, posing as a buyer. Watch while her hidden camera captures a Chinese gems merchant explaining to her how they can do the deal through Singapore banks, and ship the jewels through Thai middlemen.
- About a month ago, I directed readers to some original images of the uprising by Bangkok-based photojournalist Thierry Falise, who just happened to be in Mandalay when the mass protests began. He rushed down to Rangoon on Sept. 20, and wound up in the thick of things. He has published A Rangoon Diary of those eventful nine days, in the current issue of The Irrawaddy.
- The monk U Gambira, now under arrest, charged with treason and facing a possible death sentence, has a mother who composes poetry.
I should even be proud of this;She spoke of her son and her family's experiences to Radio Free Asia ("RFA - setting up hostilities" - MRTV).
I'm even embarrassed to be shedding tears.
I, the mother, pray
For my husband and children to be healthy
For their quick release.