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The Strategic Retreat of Burma's Military Rulers
by Rohingya Human Rights
2008-03-08 09:04:27
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Burma's ruling generals who have rejected the verdict of about fifteen million voters of Burma in the General Election of 1990, blocking Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) from taking power for the last 18 years, made a surprise announcement recently that it would bring its pro-military constitution before the public for approval in May, setting the stage for elections in 2010.

The military rulers rejected the result of that election because people voted NLD and its like minded parties with more than 80 per percent of the contested seats, compared with less than 10 per cent by the pro-military National Unity Party(NUP)in order to govern the country instead of the military rule. Consequently, the ruling generals took revenge on the people of Burma by tightening their mechanisms to crush the ribs of the people from all aspects. They put the legitimate ruler of the country Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in detention. They imprisoned thousands of political activists and many high profile political leaders including those of the ethnic minorities like U Kyaw Min of Rohingyas and Shan leader Khun Ton Oo.

However, this announcement of referendum on a sham constitution to be followed by the general elections in 2010 is, in fact, a strategic retreat of the military rulers who want to consolidate their power base under a so-called democratic guise and ,thus, continue their reign of terror for an indefinite period the way they have been ruling the country since 1962 resorting to different guises. This move is also a manoeuvre to deflect international pressure on the regime for a meaningful political reform.

At the same time, with this unilateral announcement which is aimed at duping the democracy seeking people of Burma as well as the international peace loving community, the military rulers have sidelined all the stages of the reconciliation process and the dialogue in particular which has been going on over the past between detained pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime's Liaison Minister, Aung Kyi. It gives a clear message that instead of introducing any meaningful political reform, the ruling generals are determined to go ahead with their so-called "roadmap to democracy" which is in fact a blue-print for the army to legitimize its grip on power after 46 years of unbroken military rule and where the head of the army will be the most powerful person in the country, with the ability to appoint key cabinet figures and suspend the constitution in the event of an emergency that he defines.

In fact, a constitution is a paramount document of a country which can be termed as "a mirror reflecting the national soul". It reflects the hopes and aspirations of a nation. It recognizes and protects the values of a nation. It asserts the cultural, linguistic and regional diversity of a nation. It provides fundamental protections to civil liberties and rights. Its rules and principles govern the state organs and define the procedures of socio-economic and political structures and operations.

But the proposed constitution which literally can be termed as a set of Military Commandments and which has been drafted under military guidance with all the key measures to entrench the military role in the governance, is purely of the opposite dimension. It contains the same stick of barring Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from running in election and the pretext that they have fished to squeeze her is that she was married to a foreign citizen—her late British husband, Michael Aris, who died in 1999, and also because their children hold foreign passports, ignoring the fact that her party NLD won more than 80 percent of the vote in the general elections in 1990, a total of 392 out of the 485 seats contested in the 492-member assembly. And most importantly, the military rulers did not allow any input from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or her party NLD as well as other democratic and ethnic groups while drafting the state constitution.

However, soon after the announcement of holding the referendum as well as the general election, all the democratic forces of Burma burst out in outrage denouncing the heinous tactics of the ruling generals. The leader of Burma’s US-based government in exile has called for a boycott of the junta-announced referendum on a draft constitution and of elections planned for 2010. Dr Sein Win, prime minister of the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB) said that neither a referendum nor an election would solve Burma’s problems and would only legitimize authoritarian military rule. He also said that the announcement of a referendum, to be followed by an election in 2010, could not be accepted while opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest. The regime hadn’t even started talks with opposition leaders and ethnic groups, he said.

By unilaterally announcing the planned referendum and election, Sein Win said, the junta had sent a message that it was moving ahead with its seven point road map. “This means that they do not want to take the opposition into confidence, and they are totally ignoring the 1990 elections. As such we are not confident of the next election,” he said. The Washington-based NCGUB is constituted and endorsed by representatives elected in the 1990 elections in Burma. Dr Sein Win, a cousin of Suu Kyi, has been leading it since 1990. Dr Sein Win said the NCGUB also opposed the regime’s plan for a referendum and election “because of the present situation when there is no freedom of media, and no rule of law. Under these circumstances, people should not take part in any of those processes.”

The regime should hold talks with Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, and with ethnic leaders, Sein Win said. Then, he added, “We will have our solution.”

Dr Sein Win said it is also time for the UN Security Council to give a stronger mandate to the UN Secretary-General’s Office and the UN Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, allowing them to play an effective mediatory role in bringing about an equitable solution to the political deadlock in Burma.

Similarly, all other democratic forces of Burma including the NLD, the 88 Generation Students, a coalition of leading democracy activists, Alliance of All Burma Buddhist Monks and Democratic Alliance of Burma(DAB), an alliance of pro-democracy exile organizations and ethnic insurgent organizations like the National Democratic Front, All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF), Committee for Restoration of Democracy in Burma, All Burma Young Monks’ Union (ABYMU), Chin National Front (CNF) and many other groups, have also denouced in the strongest term the attempt of the ruling generals to legalise the military dictatorship with its sham constitution.

The move of holding the referendum and the general elections has also drawn serious criticism and scorn from the international peace loving community. On Feb 20.2008, nine Nobel laureates led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama urged the UN Security Council and individual governments to impose an arms embargo on Burma's military junta.

They said in a joint statement: “We appeal to the members of the Security Council and the international community to take action quickly on measures that will prevent the sale of arms to the Burmese military, including a ban on banking transactions targeting top Burmese leaders, as well as state and private entities that support the government’s weapons trade.” Besides Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, other signatories to the joint statement are Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Elie Wiesel, Betty Williams and Jody Williams. More Nobel laureates are expected to join the group.The statement singled out China, Russia, India, Ukraine and Poland as providers of arms to Burma.

The statement also regretted the lack of progress towards national reconciliation in Burma. “In spite of the overwhelming desire of the Burmese people for political change the regime has made no overtures and no progress on national reconciliation,” it said.

The statement described the regime’s recently announced timeframe for a referendum on the draft constitution and general elections as flawed. Tutu called it a complete sham.

The government’s “road map” failed to include participation by the National League for Democracy (NLD). “The NLD and Burma’s ethnic nationalities must play an inclusive role in determining a negotiated settlement and transition to democracy,” the Nobel laureates said.

Referring to the arms embargo clamped on the apartheid regime in South Africa, Tutu said: “Now it is time for the UN and individual countries to immediately impose [an] arms embargo and targeted banking sanctions on Burma following the ‘Saffron Massacre’[the crackdown on the September 2007 demonstrations] .”

However, the upcoming constitutional referendum will be a major battle field between the military regime who wants to rule the country forever, and the people of Burma who want to be free from military reign of terror. And in order to foil all the heinous plots and strategies of the ruling generals, it is time for all the democratic forces of Burma to exert their utmost efforts to prove the referendum bid a flashpoint for unprecedented anti-government protests and,thus, to turn it into a total failure.

It is the National Coalition Government of Burma(NCGUB) who can bridge all the chasms among all the democratic forces of Burma both inside and outside the country and let them have a concrete and pragmatic strategy to prove that what the ruling generals are trying to do, can never rally support of the people of Burma whom they have been trampling decades after decades.

The military rulers will resort to all the attempts both covertly and overtly to bring at least some face-saving success to the referendum misusing all the state organs as well as through their puppet parties like National Unity Party which is a reincarnation of late dictator Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Program Party which ruled the country with an iron fist until 1988 and was defeated in the general elections of 1990 and similarly, the Union Solidarity and Development Association(USDA), which is known as a junta-backed notorious organization for its attack on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters, especially the Depayin attack in 2003 and the 2007 uprising.

Now, it is highly important for the NCGUB and all other democratic forces of Burma to take a comprehensive programme and chalk out elaborate strategy to face the situation from all dimensions. It is also very important for them to mobilize the people's power in all those countries who have been still backing the military rulers particularly Russia and China. The government of these two countries have choked the outcries of the groaning people of Burma by applying their veto power in the UN Security Council. But the people of those countries who have given them mandate to govern their country to bring peace and prosperity in their own country, must know with more and more details that their governments have applied veto power in the UNSC to kill the voice of peace and prosperity of 57.6 million people of Burma which is a resource-rich country of 678,500 sq. km. Their people must comprehend the extent of atrocities perpetrated by the military rulers on its civilians. The pens of their journalists and human rights activists must reproduce the bloods and tears of the people of Burma. Their people must take to the streets to compel their governments to stop backing of the military rulers of Burma.

To achieve that end, it is immensely important for the NCGUB, NLD and all other democratic forces of Burma to concentrate, among all other initiatives, on launching an extensive media campaign targetting the people of those countries. They need to let them hear the cries of the children of Burma each and everyday, to let them see the wailing of the victims of military atrocities, to let them feel what can be the pain of leaving one's motherland where he was born and where he has grown up and what can be the agonies of being separated from one's near and dear ones forever.

The people inside Burma sometime burst out in protest, sometime cry in corner and sometime shed tears in silence. But they have no scope to show the world what is going on there. So, it the the patriotic people of Burma in exile who can give voice to those voiceless people groaning inside Burma and to mobilize whatever resources they have to show the international community the real picture of brutalities. Their pains in exile must be turned into a power to make Burma a land of peace, happiness and prosperity.

As a part of the programmes to turn the referendum bid of the generals into a failure and to give a serious knock to the world conscience, a specific programme can be announced by Burma's Prime Minister in exile, Dr Sein Win to observe hunger strike worldwide on the day of referendum. The hunger strike programme can be observed en masse or in single. On that day, each and every national of Burma in exile can go even in single to the nearest news media office or the government office and sit there in front of the main gate bearing banner or festoon or at least with a hand written placard condemning the referendum and asking for solidarity of the international community. Such a programme can demonstrate what immense can be the impact of the power of a non-violence movement.


Ahmedur Rahman Farooq, Chairman, Rohingya Human Rights Council (RHRC). Address: 2975, Vang i Valdres, Norway . Media Contact:+4797413036 Email: rohingyas.rhrc@yahoo.com, rohingyas.rhrc@gmail.com


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