Contact: Roland Watson, 1-484-888-2699, roland@dictatorwatch.org


October 24, 2004

Who will be the first to shake the hand of Burma’s new Prime Minister, Lieutenant General Soe Win, who allegedly orchestrated the ambush of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on May 30, 2003, in which scores of her supporters were murdered? The United Nations and the European Union profess support for Daw Suu. Which diplomat from these organizations, or their member states, will be the first to shake the hand of the man who tried to kill her?

Will it be Razali Ismail, Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy to Burma? Or perhaps Jacques Chirac’s Ambassador? Razali and Chirac are the leaders (from the West) of the group that is appeasing-engaging the SPDC, and their motives for doing this are unchanged. The United Nation’s goal seems to be to do nothing of substance to promote democracy, yet give the appearance of action. For France, the objective is clearly to protect the oil company Total’s business interests.

The first person to shake hands with Soe Win would undoubtedly be Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand (if this were an Asian custom), since he must be desperate to protect his own business interests. He has already expressed support for the SPDC in its new configuration, and even “broke the news” of the purge.

Khin Nyunt may be out, but the status quo of tyranny and crony capitalism remains. The new Foreign Minister, Nyan Win, actually stated that there would be no change in policy. But this does not refer to democratization. Rather, it describes the repression that is the norm in Burma and which may well now get worse.

Most analysts believe that the change is bad for Burma’s democracy movement. Dictator Watch, in keeping with our contrarian roots, disagrees. It is true that conditions in Burma may deteriorate. This includes the possibility of renewed offensives against the ethnic nationalities, which have actually already begun; and continued crackdowns, or worse, on Daw Suu and the National League for Democracy. However, wherever there is change, there is also opportunity. It is now up to the movement to grasp this opportunity. The purge of Khin Nyunt is due of course to greed, but it also results from fear. Than Shwe and Maung Aye are afraid, both of threats from within and without. We must do our utmost to make these threats a reality.

The great benefit of this event is that it has stripped away the soft, comforting, “moderate” veneer of the SPDC to reveal the hard, brutal reality underneath. Now there can be no confusion about whom we are dealing with. It is clear that dialogue, on its own, without the backing of the strongest possible pressure, will never work.

In other words, the strategy of engagement has completely and utterly failed. Years of effort have achieved nothing, and during this time the suffering, death and destruction in Burma have continued.

The movement must throw away its old ideas and notions. If we change our strategy, now, democracy is still achievable. We must strive to do the following:

- Encourage disunity in the dictatorship. The purge of Military Intelligence will have serious and on-going ramifications. A follow-on coup against Than Shwe is a distinct possibility.

- Encourage the groups that have signed ceasefire agreements, to join the NLD in boycotting the National Convention and to resume their resistance.

- Pressure China, Thailand, India and Japan to end their support of the SPDC. (Thailand is already reassessing its huge loans to Burma, which are now likely never to be repaid.)

- Pressure Asean to expel Burma or to suspend its membership. Asean with the SPDC as its head in 2006 is totally unacceptable, and the members of the group know this.

- Encourage the United Nations and the European Union to back democracy in Burma with honesty and sincerity. Since Razali’s mission has failed, he should be replaced. The European Union should enact comprehensive investment and trade sanctions.

- The issue of Burma must be raised in the Security Council, and this is an area as with sanctions where the United States, which in November is President of the Council, can lead. Security Council action should include a worldwide arms embargo and the expulsion of Burma from the General Assembly.

The Security Council has fifteen members, five permanent and ten rotating – five new countries are appointed each year for two-year terms. The permanent members are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The terms of Algeria, Benin, Brazil, the Philippines and Romania continue to the end of 2005. The terms of Angola, Chile, Germany, Pakistan and Spain continue to the end of this year, when they will be replaced by Argentina, Denmark, Greece, Japan and Tanzania.

The members of the United Nations are obliged to carry out Security Council decisions. To pass a vote in the Council requires nine votes, including the votes of all the permanent members.

It is likely that China would veto Security Council action on Burma, but it cannot do this without significant loss of political capital. The democracy movement needs to organize support in the Council sufficient to ensure that its deliberations about Burma are lengthy and not easily terminated.

- The United Nations should also investigate the war crimes that are being committed in Burma and which in the east of the country against the Karen, Karenni and Shan arguably rise to the level of genocide. A case should be lodged at the International Court of Justice, and a humanitarian intervention should be prepared. Burma has a humanitarian crisis, no less than the Sudan. In the Sudan, the African Union is now in the process of scaling up a United Nations-sponsored intervention, a $220 million operation that is funded by the U.S. and the E.U.

- Lastly, we on the outside should encourage, and help, the people of Burma to resist the SPDC – by all possible means. A new popular uprising is not out of the question. We should not just sit and wait to see what the people in the country are able to do on their own.

The movement for democracy in Burma is at a decisive point. The needle on the compass is poised. We can create greater pressure and find a way to defeat the SPDC, or the pressure may be eased. We cannot allow the latter to occur. Therefore, the answer to the opening question is that no one should be the first to shake Soe Win’s hand. The SPDC are pariahs. We must treat them like it!

Note: in September I hosted a new public forum, “Real Change Requires Chaos,” at the University of Colorado in Boulder and in the nearby town of Nederland. The forum concentrated on the need to bring democracy to Burma, and also to end humanity’s destruction of nature. It was very well received.

I have now revised the forum to concentrate solely on Burma, and would like to organize with interested individuals and groups to hold it in other locations. The forum can be held on its own or as part of a larger Burma program. It is comprised of a single thirty-minute presentation, of Dictator Watch’s change theory, which is grounded in the concepts of chaos theory, as it applies to Burma. This is followed by questions and answers – a wide-ranging and open discussion – for up to an additional hour. The goal of the forum is to originate and plan new initiatives, to achieve the above list of movement objectives.

Dictator Watch will publicize the results of each forum (with the confidentiality of the participants preserved). The entire series is designed to provide a way to refine and redirect the movement’s strategic and tactical planning.