Subject: IHT/JRH: Democracy for Burma: Lean On the Generals

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

International Herald Tribune

June 27, 2003


Democracy for Burma

Lean On the Generals

By Jose Ramos-Horta

DILI, East Timor Burma's military regime should not only release Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters, and reopen the offices of her party, the National League for Democracy. The regime must accept a clear timetable for restoring democracy in Burma.

The recent attacks on Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's opposition leader, and her supporters were orchestrated by hard-liners in Burma's military regime who fear her enduring popularity and the national reconciliation process supported by other, more tolerant, members of the ruling junta.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace for her campaign to restore democracy and civil liberties in Burma by peaceful means, has been incarcerated and held incommunicado for several weeks. The United Nations special envoy, Razali Ismail, who met her not long ago, says that she is unharmed.

But the British government says Aung San Suu Kyi is being held, under the most draconian law that the military authorities have at their disposal, in a two-room hut at the notorious Insein jail just outside Rangoon. I and many others are worried not just about her fate but of hundreds of her supporters whose whereabouts and well-being are unknown.

The foreign ministers of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - of which Burma is a member - recently broke a taboo against interfering in what have traditionally been regarded as the internal affairs of a member state. Embarrassed that the international reputation of ASEAN is suffering because of the gross and systematic human rights violations in Burma, the ministers demanded at their annual meeting in Phnom Penh that Aung San Suu Kyi be freed immediately.

China and Japan, as regional powers, working closely with Indonesia in its current position as chair of ASEAN, should prod Burma's military leaders to move toward restoring democracy. The United Nations, in close consultation with ASEAN leaders, must be involved in facilitating and supervising the steps for free elections within three years. In working towards a peaceful and stable political transition, the democracy movement in Burma as well as the international community must also consider safeguards and incentives for those in power to allow the evolution to proceed.

Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union should consider responding to each meaningful step taken by the military government with measures such as gradual easing of travel restrictions for regime members and providing humanitarian aid through nongovernment organizations.

As the regime shows evidence of irreversible movement toward free elections, foreign investment, trade and tourism should be encouraged. A federated Burma would be one way to keep the country united and spare it a new wave of conflicts along ethnic lines.

With political reform under way, the World Bank and other institutions such as the United Nations Development Program should step in to help reform Burma's institutions and economy.

Because of repression in Burma, ASEAN is facing a serious credibility challenge. It must resolve the impasse in its own backyard with the help of other concerned countries. Failure to do so will weaken ASEAN and undermine its international influence.

The writer, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, is East Timor's minister for foreign affairs.

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