22nd May, 2002
Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


Dictator Watch challenges anyone to describe a situation where dialogue alone, not accompanied by other stronger measures, including widespread popular resistance from strikes and marches through to armed rebellion, persuaded – forced – a murderous military dictatorship to yield its power.

There is one issue on which there can be no compromise: SPDC/SLORC must give up power – completely and unequivocally.

The release from house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was a carefully staged political event. The SPDC took the heat a year and a half ago; now they are being feted. They are being rewarded for nothing, actually, for shrewd manipulation.

The SPDC are clever. They are manipulating all the pro-democracy parties, including diplomats, the media and activists, using false hopes. They have raised such hopes as a diversion, and through this as a delaying tactic. We were led to hope that special envoy Razali would be successful, and then shared his many defeats. We were similarly led to hope for Daw Suu Kyi’s release. Now we are being led to hope about the release of the political prisoners.

It is astonishing that the lessons of history, of World War II and confronting the aggression of Germany and Japan, have been so quickly forgotten. Dictators cannot be reasoned with. They can only be defeated, or forced to sue for peace.

(As an aside, Razali should be removed as special envoy. His business with the SPDC is a clear conflict of interest.)

It is an interesting question why, after so long, Daw Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. One view is that the SPDC succumbed to outside pressure, including a fear of military intervention launched on the pretext of suppressing drugs. Another perspective, though, is that the three leading generals now believe that they have nothing to fear. They are in a position to effect a transition that is actually a “non-transition.” Hun Sen did it, and Robert Mugabe, and General Musharraf. So can they.

Given that the power players involved want this (China, ASEAN, the oil companies, Japan, and even Australia, the EU and US, through the primacy they give to commercial interests rather than democracy), they may be right. If the dictatorship is legitimized, if it is renamed a democracy, the door will be open for business again. And if Daw Suu Kyi wants to take over the burden of government – health care, education, infrastructure, etc., in which the SPDC has no interest – while leaving the Tatmadaw and hence the real power in their hands, so much the better.

No one person can do everything. Nor have we the right to ask her to try. Also, to the extent that Daw Suu Kyi concentrates on the release of the prisoners, this will divert her from the real task at hand: ending the dictatorship. Political prisoners are only a symptom, which can never be properly treated until the underlying problem is solved.

The democracy movement was frozen during the house arrest. We were afraid to act, for fear of upsetting the dialogue. Now we are in a new, but similar, trap. If Daw Suu Kyi acts like the leader she has the potential to be, she risks re-arrest. Everything is focused on her, but her situation is precarious. Rather, we can support her by doing everything in our power to pressure the dictatorship. There are myriad possibilities, both large and small. And she herself should consider putting her freedom to the test, to force the SPDC’s hand. We recommend that she:

- As a sign of respect for the Karenni, ask the Japanese government not to give new aid for the dam site in their state.
- Ask the Russian government not to provide nuclear technology.
- Ask all the nations of the world to heed the call from the ILO for new sanctions. Ask the EU to enact investment sanctions and the US both import and retroactive investment sanctions.
- Ask the oil companies to suspend operations until democracy is established.

Pressure must be heaped on the SPDC until the Big Three break: until they take exile in China. As part of this, the people of Burma must throw off their defeatism and their irrational hope. No one is going to save them. We on the outside will help in the fight, but they must save themselves.

To the extent that there is a dialogue, this can add pressure, or serve as a diversion for the SPDC and thereby reduce it. To guard against the latter, Daw Suu Kyi should insist that the ethnic nationalities join the dialogue, now. While all the different groups are not yet ready to send appropriately-selected representatives, this will prompt them to get their houses in order. Also, this is exactly what the SPDC does not want. They want the nationalities to remain impotent in the hills, while they delay with the NLD.

The need to uphold the election result, and other such issues, cannot be divorced from the concerns of the ethnic groups. Further, if the groups are not included from the start, this will open the door to later recriminations.

There are fifty million political prisoners in Burma. Only through the greatest effort, from everyone who yearns for democracy, will they be freed.