Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


January 10, 2004

There is a new humanitarian crisis in eastern Burma. As described in the report from the Free Burma Rangers at the end of this press release, there are now over 1,000 new internally displaced persons in northern Karen and southern Karenni states. In the last two weeks they have had to flee for their lives from Burma Army attacks. Their situation is desperate. They lack food and shelter, and they are still being hunted.

Democracy in Burma: It's Now or Never!

Another year has come and gone and Burma is still ruled by a gang of mass murderers. However, the people of the nation cannot stand this any longer. Year after year of oppression is not acceptable. We must have democracy this year.

Last year was a turning point. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi toured the nation, speaking to larger and larger crowds. For the first time in more than a decade, widespread popular resistance to the SPDC seemed possible. To this the generals responded with an assassination attempt. Daw Suu escaped, but many of her supporters, one hundred or more, were murdered.

For the most part the world failed to respond to this atrocity. Following the leadership of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand, the nations of ASEAN, and China, India and Bangladesh, actually rallied to the SPDC’s side. The prevailing opinion seemed to be: what’s a few crimes against humanity when business deals are at stake? The United Nations also effectively did nothing. Nor the European Union. Only the US, and to a lesser extent, the UK, acted on the side of democracy with any real force.

Lastly, the bulk of the world’s media (and certainly the media in East Asia, e.g., the Bangkok Post – excepting the reporting of a few of its correspondents) continued to ignore the never-ending abuses committed by the SPDC, and to give its tyranny legitimacy by parroting its official statements.

Burma and Thaksin

It is clear that Thaksin has made a deal with Lt. General Khin Nyunt to prevent Burma from achieving democracy. The SPDC has shut down Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, and Thaksin is attempting to deliver – to sacrifice – Thailand’s longtime border allies, the KNU. The NLD and the KNU are the only two significant elements in the internal democracy resistance. Democracy, short of a military intervention, cannot be imposed from without. Therefore, absent an internal resistance, and since such an intervention is unlikely, Burma will never become democratic.

The Karen, at the urging of Thaksin, were obliged to talk to the SPDC. But this is not to say that the Karen do not desire a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Burma. They do. They want dialogue, a real and tripartite dialogue, to accomplish the democratic transition. And, they want a ceasefire, a ceasefire that ends not only the hostilities initiated by the SPDC against KNU self-defense forces, but also a ceasefire that ends the horrific abuse suffered by the Karen people, and furthermore, a ceasefire that is not exploited by the SPDC to build its strength for renewed assault against the people of Burma, and not only the Karen, but against the other peoples of the nation as well.

Although the gentleman’s agreement is only recent, the SPDC’s intention is already clear. They are continuing their abuse of the Karen, in incident after incident, and strengthening their positions both in Karen and Karenni areas, through road construction (with forced labor) and the supply of new troops and arms. In addition, they have escalated their abuse of the Shan, Mon and Rakhine.

The SPDC are no gentlemen.

Neither, it seems, is Thaksin.

Why is Thaksin doing this, acting so the aspirations of the people of Burma, and also of Thailand’s international ally, the United States, that Burma become a democracy, are never realized? The answer is so that he and his fellow Thai Jao Por can benefit financially. The SPDC will retain power, and the Thais will exploit – rape – Burma’s natural resources, and also reap other economic spoils including, for Thaksin, a prospective monopoly over Burma’s telecommunications industry.

For the Burma democracy movement, it is now or never. If democracy is not achieved this year, it likely never will be. If this conspiracy succeeds, the people of Burma will never be free. Khin Nyunt’s roadmap, and Thaksin’s sham “Bangkok process,” must be decisively rejected. The SPDC must be put under the strongest possible pressure to release Daw Suu, all other political prisoners, and to allow the NLD to function openly and without restraint. And Thaksin must be subjected to similar pressure, so East Asia’s newest autocratic ruler relaxes his pressure on the Karen and more generally is forced to support democracy in Burma, not prevent it.

One place to start is to lobby for the addition of Thaksin and his family members to the visa restriction lists already maintained by the US and the EU for members of the SPDC. Since he is so supportive of the SPDC’s goals, there is no reason he should not be included on these lists.

The “international community”

The international community, to which many Burma commentators have appealed, has remained silent. Indeed, there is no such thing. The world is a collection of rogue nations, following their own selfish interests. Even the United Nations, whose primary mission is to confront and resolve serious conflict, has failed. Of course, such a statement assumes that the UN actually tried to accomplish positive change in Burma. It did not. Under Kofi Annan’s timid leadership, and through the direct complicity of Special Envoy Razali, the UN actually worked on behalf of the SPDC.

More generally, the UN is flawed, since it includes among its members the worst dictatorships on earth. The UN needs to be restructured. All such regimes should be expelled. The UN should regroup as a club of democratic nations (the United Democratic Nations), to which only nations that meet a prescribed set of standards can join. The standards would begin with democratic stability, as defined by the holding of periodic and open and fair elections, and the nonviolent transfer of power.

Still, at the moment we are stuck with the UN as it now exists. We therefore must pressure Kofi Annan to commit to accomplishing change in Burma, and also to fire Razali. (Congratulations to the ICDB for their recent letter!)

Regarding other international players, the European Union, and notwithstanding the many efforts of its resident democracy activists, has done nothing of consequence. Following the lead of Germany and France, and against the wishes of Britain, the EU has offered only the most timid – one could say diplomatic – of responses. Apparently, and certainly to Germany and France, the massacre on May 30th was trivial. In one of the most cynical examples of diplomacy in recent history, as a means to get back at the United States for invading Iraq, they have blocked any real action by the EU on Burma.

If this is what diplomacy means, the world would be better off without diplomats.

Even in the US, the support for democracy – with real conviction – is far from guaranteed. The Burma Freedom and Democracy Act was passed by Congress, the legislative branch, but its implementation is the responsibility of the President and his administration, the executive branch. Such implementation to date has lacked determination and vigor. In addition, the US has given Thaksin a pass regarding his relations with the SPDC, apparently because Thailand is a long-standing ally. Unfortunately, this represents the continuation of America’s longstanding tradition of supporting autocrats. Also, one must question the judgment of having as an ally an individual who opposes your position on an issue of critical importance. Such an ally is in fact an opponent. Further, the administration has taken no steps against Unocal, the American oil company that continues to funnel to the SPDC hundreds of millions of dollars, which the latter then uses to buy arms to continue its repression. Instead, the administration has written a brief supporting Unocal in the lawsuit filed against the company by Earth Rights International, on behalf of the victims of Unocal’s Burma pipeline. (Go ERI!)

Internal resistance forces and external activists

For the democracy movement overall, we must find ways to pressure Annan, and the vindictive hypocrites in Europe. While we at Dictator Watch opposed the war in Iraq, because of the reasons for which it was launched (yes, of course we are happy that Saddam’s tyranny has ended), we also recognize that this is no reason to oppose United States policy when it is just (in this case the Burma policy of the US Congress). Would that Germany and France, and through them the EU over whom they apparently act as dictators, felt this way as well.

We also must find ways to pressure the US administration, so that for once it has a coherent foreign policy, a policy that follows from, not contradicts, the principles on which the United States supposedly is based.

For the internal resistance, it is time to reexamine the common faith in the idea that dialogue, in any form including via the SPDC’s “national convention,” will lead to democracy. To be frank, this is a false belief, and hope. Dialogue can only succeed if the partners to it are sincere. The SPDC is not sincere, hence a dialogue with it will never work. Instead, all able internal resistance forces must call for and lead a popular uprising, and also publicly communicate to the outside world, including the UN, ASEAN, Germany, France, China, Japan, India, Bangladesh, and Australia, the demand that they back democracy and stop all of their support for the SPDC, including for the “roadmap” and “process.”

And, for Burma democracy activists on the outside, it is time to stop being chat room dilettantes. In the coming year we must:

(1) be on the front lines, providing assistance to the people of Burma;
(2) raise money for the individuals and groups who are, and a lot of it (organize cake sales, car washes, house-to-house canvassing, whatever!);
(3) work to convince government officials to take concrete steps to defeat the SPDC, and to get Thaksin to back down; and
(4) organize popular protests against, and boycotts of, the SPDC and its cronies. (For this step, we would note that discussions of a boycott to pressure Thaksin have gone nowhere. Of course, no one wants to hurt the Thai people, but just as there are “smart” sanctions so boycotts can be selective as well. We must remember, Thaksin is not Thailand. We can boycott him personally, through his business interests, including Shin Corp. and its subsidiaries such as AIS. Please contact Dictator Watch if you would be willing to participate in such a boycott, or if you have any other ideas on how we can get him to change his policy.)

My apologies for being direct, but if you are not doing this, taking at least one of these steps, then you are not in fact an “activist,” or part of the Burma democracy movement. Rather, the incessant conversations that take place, and which distract people from the real tasks at hand, hurt the movement. (The fact that people are arguing so much now about the convention is proof that the SPDC’s divide and conquer and delaying tactics are working.)

Only one thing counts: stopping the SPDC. This is the only thing worth talking about, although in any case the time for talk is long past. This year, only actions count.

Free Burma Rangers report
Thu, 8 Jan 2004

New IDPs: There are now over 1,000 new Karen and Karenni IDPs who are fleeing attacks by the Burma Army and forced relocation. These IDPs are hiding in the jungle in the northern Karen State near the Karen-Karenni border. This is the northern area of Muthraw district, Karen state, northeast of the village of Naw Yo Hta. Many are sick and for all of these IDPs, food is running out.

Karen State: Muthraw (Papun) District, Karen State. The Burma Army, LIB 568 attacked the village of Ka Lae Lo on 30 December 2003, chased the villagers out, looted their homes, burned two rice barns and destroyed two more. Two villagers were tortured. The attacking battalion was divided into two columns, #1 commanded by Thaing Shwey, #2 commanded by Aung Mya Htoo. LIB 568 was assisted by Saw Kyu Kyu and Saw Paw Lu and 10-15 men of the break away Karenni factions - Kayin Solidarity Organization (KSO) and Karenni National Peoples Liberation Front (KNPLF). After attacking Ka Lae Lo, LIB 568 chased the villagers of Lay Wah, Thay Ba Htee and Mar Mee into the jungle. These people along with the villagers of Ka Lae Lo number 557 persons and have fled south deeper into Muthraw district, Karen State, within a day's walk of Naw Yo Hta village. One woman gave birth as the people fled, one woman gave birth today (Jan 7 2004), and there are four more expectant mothers. All of these IDPs are living in hiding high in the mountains with only the food they escaped with. More Karen IDPs are expected to arrive in this area this week.

Karenni: Southern Karenni State - south of Mawchi, along the Karen State border. 235 Karenni IDPs have now arrived at the same hiding place as the Karen IDPs as they have fled attacks and forced relocation by the Burma Army in Karenni State. 220 more Karenni IDPs are expected in this area this week. The 220 who have not yet arrived are now reportedly out of food and still have two days to walk before they can arrive to the others here. On 26 December 2003, the 55th Division of the Burma Army at Mawchi, Karenni State ordered the headmen of 50 villages of 3 townships that all Karenni villagers must move to the relocation site at Mahntahlay on the Mawchi-Pasuang road, near the west bank of the Salween. The order stated that, "If any fail to come in ten days, they will be considered rebels and will be shot on sight." The village headmen were told that within the following 3 months all Karenni villagers would be cleared out of district 2, Southern Karenni State and all persons must be in the relocation site. The Burma Army plans to sweep the area, kill any persons who remains and lay land mines to stop anyone from returning. Before the 10 days were up, 100 troops of the 55th Division, Burma Army arrived at Pha Ho village to the east of Nat Taung mountain, on 29 December and chased the villagers out of their village. The Burma Army troops looted the village and stole their livestock. They also looted the village of Kae Lay Moo and chased the villagers out. Troops from the Burma Army fired on villagers with machine guns and mortar as they fled their villages but so far there have been no reported deaths.

The Karenni reported that the Burma Army is opening a Wolfram mine near the Karenni-Karen border and plan to build a road from this mine to Mawchi. The Burma Army is clearing this area of all Karenni villagers and have laid mines to keep the people out. On 13 December a Karenni man, Saw Day Khwa was killed and his daughter age 14 badly wounded, when they stepped on a Burma Army mine. They were from Lo Ka Lo village. The Burma Army unit that placed this mine was LIB 568, commanded by Thin Shwee Oo.

Summary: This is a humanitarian crisis. These people urgently need food, shelter and protection. They would also like to be able to return home and not face the oppression of the Burma Army.