By Roland Watson
November 26, 2007

The last two months have been painful. Burma was so close to freedom. Hundreds of thousands of people marched throughout the country, and there was serious division within the military junta. Than Shwe even sent his family away, in case the SPDC collapsed.

It is important to recognize, and never forget, that the international community provided no assistance whatsoever to the demonstrators. The countries of the world, including those who have made loud statements in support of freedom for Burma, just stood by and watched. There was a possibility of mass slaughter, a repeat of 1988, and no one, not even the United States, expressed a willingness to intervene.

Then the diplomats took over, and just as we predicted this was a disaster. In a January 2006 statement we said that the U.N. should not appoint a successor to special envoy Razali Ismail unless the individual chosen was uncompromisingly dedicated to democracy and had enormous strength of will. Given that such a person could not be identified in the world’s diplomatic community (I offered myself as a candidate), Kofi Annan decided to keep the position open. But new Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took advantage of the opportunity presented by the uprising and picked Ibrahim Gambari. That’s the same Ban Ki-moon who as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade for South Korea fully backed the engagement with the SPDC of the now unveiled criminal arms dealer Daewoo; and Ibrahim Gambari, who was a diplomat for former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. (He was Abacha’s representative to the U.N. – just search on ‘gambari abacha ken saro-wiwa’ to learn the entire sordid story.)

In his recent trip to Burma, Gambari was denied a meeting with the top generals. He also had only a short conversation with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Daw Suu, recognizing that the trip had been an abject failure, threw him a lifeline by allowing the release of a statement saying that she was “ready to cooperate” to initiate a dialogue. This was a tremendous sacrifice on her part. The pro-democracy movement has been waiting for years to hear her account of the Depayin massacre, and we of course also wanted her views on the uprising and subsequent crackdown. Instead, she censored herself, to avoid giving the junta any pretext to say that talks could not go forward.

The consequence of all of this, though, is that Than Shwe got exactly what he wanted. Large-scale demonstrations ended. He got cover for the continuing arrests. And he gave his most important supporters, China, Russia, Singapore, India and Thailand, and also the advocacy groups that pretend to be pro-democracy (I am referring to the groups that were against the uprising), ammunition to oppose the types of steps that would lead to real change. One example of this is that he made it more difficult for the U.S. to push for sanctions in the Security Council, and also for American lawmakers to pass new legislation such as the Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act and the Saffron Revolution Support Act.

Than Shwe can further allow Gambari to return, and through doing so create the illusion of “ongoing progress,” while at the same time delay indefinitely the beginning of any real negotiations. He can perpetuate this charade until he either dies of old age, or the junta procures nuclear weapons.

How should we respond to this? To answer this question, we need to look at the current positions of the most important parties involved.

Daw Suu is in an extremely difficult situation. Her frustration at being silenced must be enormous. She wants to play an active role. Unlike the international community, she assuredly does not want to sit idly by. However, even with her courage, morality and intelligence, this role may well be outside her grasp. Than Shwe has the power, and he can manipulate her such that she never has a direct, positive impact. For example, all of her deliberations, with Gambari and the NLD and also the junta liaison, have been secret. You cannot be a popular leader if you are forbidden to speak.

Daw Suu should also realize that much has changed since Depayin. In her absence many individuals have answered the call and become leaders in the movement for freedom. Further, while some of the most prominent of these individuals, from 88 Generation Students, ABFSU, and the All-Burma Monks Alliance are now under arrest, others are readily stepping forward to fill the gap. Everyone who took to the streets is a leader, and can assume more active roles. Daw Suu therefore should understand that freedom for Burma is not her sole responsibility, and most importantly that she should not do anything to impinge the action of other parties. Burma will not win freedom through negotiation (at least not through negotiation alone). It will win freedom through uprising, revolution and armed insurrection. If Daw Suu wants to pursue dialogue and play the role of good cop, that is her right, but she should not hinder the efforts of others who resort to more aggressive means. As part of this, she should guard against expressions of undue enthusiasm
While I do not wish to appear too cynical, a revisit of Dictator Watch’s very first press statement, from February 2002, may be enlightening.

End the Dialogue: An Open Letter to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

The people of Burma are going to have to win their freedom. Moreover, this can only occur through the definitive end of the regime. National reconciliation and power sharing are not sufficient. This point has been repeated many times, including by the monks, and it is now well accepted (other than by those parties who support appeasement). In addition, the international community is not going to ride in like a white night and expel the SPDC. It is therefore excellent news that the monks have preserved their alms boycott of the Tatmadaw, and called for a continuation of the protests; that an uprising committee has been established in Rangoon; and that through these and many other steps public unrest continues.

The statement in the title of this article was shouted on September 26th just as a Burma Army truck packed with soldiers rounded a Rangoon street corner at high speed. It was an exhortation for people in the crowd to move forward and hold a Fighting Peacock banner aloft in defiance of the junta, to which call many individuals responded. This is the ultimate expression of courage, to willingly put yourself at risk of death for what you know is right.

The fight for freedom requires this level of courage, and many, many people in Burma now possess it. However, while we of course look forward to a resumption of large-scale demonstrations, and the initiation of a nationwide general strike, there are other ends to which such courage may be devoted. Said another way, if you are willing to risk your life, make your actions count! There are many ways to oppose the SPDC. Some, such as taking to the streets, are public. Others, though, are private, and it is these types of revolutionary actions that in the present difficult environment can have the greatest impact of all. If you are going to risk your life, do something strong and dramatic. Do something historic, which future generations in a Free Burma will celebrate!

Outside the country, the only real institutional ally is the United States, but as should be clear by now its support is mixed. President and Laura Bush have offered comforting statements, but little else. There have been some diplomatic initiatives, e.g. the blocking of a free trade agreement with Asean, and also behind the scenes discussions, which probably helped motivate the declaration by the Philippines that it will not sign the Asean charter. But to-date whatever diplomacy has been directed against China and Russia, not to mention India and even Thailand, appears to have accomplished nothing.

In reality, only Congress has acted, by passing a variety of sanctions bills. It is imperative that an additional Burma law be passed, and with three core components. First, provisions must be imposed to stop Chevron from assisting the SPDC. The options for this include forced divestment and also bans on cash transfers and tax benefits. Secondly, U.S. funding should be increased, ideally beyond the twenty million dollar figure that is included in the Saffron Act. And thirdly, such funds should be devoted to projects that are actually dedicated to freedom.

The bulk of current U.S. “pro-democracy” funding, which is believed to be about six million dollars, is distributed via the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). But USAID funds humanitarian assistance programs, and NED is prohibited from supporting anything that involves or which may lead to violence (including those groups that have self-defense armies). The consequence of this is that all the non-humanitarian funds are spent on such things as capacity building, media coverage, and documentation of the SPDC’s crimes (as well as office expenses, travel, and conferences), which while laudable do not directly assist the struggle for freedom.

In addition, the United States is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to resettle tens of thousands of Burmese refugees. It is obvious that the U.S. has a flawed policy. It would be far better to spend the resettlement money on freedom, to help the people of Burma defeat the SPDC, at which point the refugees could simply return home.

The U.S. recently announced that it is going to fund armed groups in the northwest frontier area of Pakistan, in the war against the Taleban. Similarly, the U.S. should assist Burma’s armed resistance groups. To accommodate this program, the SPDC should be declared a terrorist group.

Also, the U.S. should use its intelligence capabilities to fully investigate the SPDC’s nuclear and missile programs. It should then disclose the results publicly. The SPDC is a threat to international security and peace, and such disclosure would create irresistible pressure on China and Russia to reverse their Security Council vetoes – and also to end their involvement in these programs.

(Note: It is probable that many Burma Army soldiers and officers are now willing to reveal secret information. Everyone who has or who can establish conduits to such individuals should gather and then publicize as much information as possible. Please inform Dictator Watch if you become aware of anything significant.)

It is very worrisome that the U.S. has not taken these steps, and also that it has quietly initiated a massive and expensive resettlement program. The words of President Bush and Secretary Rice notwithstanding, it is apparent that the current administration expects the SPDC to stay in power and that it is not willing to do anything material to change the status quo. Further, this is Bush’s last year in office. The Democratic Party has a greater than fifty percent chance of winning the presidency next year, but the Burma policy of its candidates is unknown and in all likelihood the country will remain a low priority for the United States Government.

Regarding the United Nations, however well intentioned the Secretariat may be (if it even is well intentioned), its actions are not helping. The expulsion of Charles Petrie is yet more proof of this. Gambari should announce that while he is willing to facilitate a dialogue, this is impossible unless Daw Suu and the other political prisoners are freed. He should say that if they are freed, he would be delighted to return, but if they are not he will be forced to stay away.

This discussion of the U.S. and U.N. reinforces the point that the people of Burma must win their liberty. A further complexity here, also alluded to, is what may be called the “loyalist” factor. The background for this term is that during the American Revolutionary War, many Americans actually sided with King George III. They were referred to as loyalists, and they formed pro-British militia, provided the British troops with supplies, and spied on General George Washington’s Continental Army.

There is an analogous situation in Burma. Loyalists include the cronies of the Junta; the USDA; the armed groups that have signed ceasefires; Chinese merchants; and also the family members of Burma Army soldiers (those soldiers who were not forced to enlist). Just as in early America, this is a large group. One can also say that the Burmese exiles who are living comfortably abroad with NGO funding (including from USAID and the NED), and who opposed the uprising and who support only dialogue, are effectively loyalists as well.

In America, loyalists were pilloried, and worse, particularly after they were caught planning an assassination attempt against General Washington. For Burma, they should at a minimum be identified, and severely criticized.

If foreign governments won’t help, this means the only real assistance available is from the international public. The demonstrations that have been organized worldwide have been excellent. For this effort the “Support the Monk’s Protest in Burma” Facebook group has been invaluable. Also, we should never forget the courage of the Burmese freedom fighters. Our actions must be a suitable response to their sacrifice: we must provide real help. It was noteworthy that during the uprising many people expressed a need for weapons: for something to fight back with against Burma Army repression.

The United States Army Special Forces Handbook says that successful guerrilla warfare has three prerequisites. The first is that the spirit of resistance must be present in a segment of the population. (This clearly holds for all of Burma, excluding the loyalist groups.) Secondly, the guerrillas must have support from local civilians. (Ditto.) Thirdly, the guerrilla movement must have a sponsor.

Ideally, the sponsor would be the United States, with backing from Thailand. Since this is unlikely, we must fill the gap. It is therefore excellent that the ABSDF recently received a large private donation. This is the type of help that Burma needs. For anyone who truly wants to be part of the revolutionary struggle, Dictator Watch would love to hear from you. It would also be excellent if the Facebook group administrators would put out such a call, since at present most of the funding choices on the site homepage are for humanitarian programs.

(Note: The apparently pro-junta Norwegian Burma Committee just cut its ABSDF funding, after the group released a statement saying that it would continue to fight for freedom. The hypocrisy of the NBC is staggering. I can just imagine the Committee saying to the Norwegian Resistance of World War II: “You are not allowed to fight against the Nazis. You have to defeat Hitler with words.”)

Lastly, let’s not forget China. Anyone who believes that China has been helping on Burma is either deluded or an idiot. The commentaries written in support of this view are rubbish. China is the enemy! But to be clear, we should recognize that this means the Chinese government, not the Chinese people. The latter are victims as well. (Reflecting this, inside Burma Chinese merchants should be boycotted, but not attacked.)

We must continue to pressure China, and the Olympics are still the mechanism of choice. Please send protest emails using the following website.


Also, please bookmark this site on your computer and send an email or two every day. (This equates to 500-1,000 emails actually sent.) We can keep the Olympics ticket office disrupted through next August. Please also add to the standard message a statement saying that you are planning demonstrations during the Games, including at the Games. China must be made to suffer for its support of the SPDC. Their greatest fear is public demonstrations during their grand coming out party. We must feed this fear.

The dictators of China have a proclivity for massive social experiments. These include the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the results of which were horrific. They have now embarked on a new experiment, rapid and unplanned industrialization (this is a revisit of the Great Leap Forward), and which is also having devastating social and environmental consequences. The difference this time, though, is that they are trying to force the rest of the world to participate as well.

We do not have to accept this. We do not have to be obedient to the rulers of China and their corporate servants such as Wal-Mart. Boycott not only the Olympics, boycott China as a whole. Refuse to buy anything from the Games’ sponsors, and anything “Made in China,” during the holiday season and beyond.

The leading Olympics sponsors include: Adidas; Anheuser-Busch; Atos Origin; BHP Billiton; Coca-Cola; General Electric; Johnson & Johnson; Kodak; Lenovo Group Limited; Manulife; McDonalds; Microsoft; Panasonic; Samsung; Staples; Swatch; UPS; Visa; and Volkswagen.

In conclusion, I’d like to be able to say that people do not have to die for Burma to be free. Unfortunately, the cold reality of the situation is that this is not true. More people, likely many more, will die. Everyone who believes we can rely on diplomats, and the diplomats themselves, are in denial about this fact. Indeed, murder by the Burma Army continues on an almost daily basis in such places as Karen State. Further, the protestors who have been arrested are being tortured, and some of them are dying as well.

Burma is at war. It is a civil war, by the SPDC and the loyalists against the general public. In the last year over 30,000 villagers in the east of the country have had to flee Burma Army attacks. In response to this, the ethnic resistance forces have fought back. This year through September, the KNLA reported 1,010 clashes and the deaths of 446 Burma Army soldiers.

Negotiation doesn’t end war, at least not until the enemy suffers large-scale defeats on the battlefield. (Demonstrations in the streets are also a type of battlefield.) The sooner we recognize this, and do what is necessary – support the revolution in Burma by any means possible, but particularly with funding – the sooner the country will be free.