Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


July 17, 2005

Please forward.

Note: We have posted two new photo essays of images provided by the Free Burma Rangers: of IDP children, and IDP encampments at night.

With a few notable exceptions, things are relatively quiet in Burma right now. Of course, it’s the rainy season, and things always slow down this time of year. But that’s not the only reason. It’s also quiet because the military junta, the SPDC, has been conducting an all out war against the democracy resistance, and with effect.

1. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is being held incommunicado, and notwithstanding the statements of the SPDC’s now leading international propagandist and disinformation conduit, Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon, there is no evidence whatsoever that this is likely to end. For the NLD in general, all of its active subgroups are being repressed mercilessly, leaving only the elderly custodians of the organization unmolested.

2. The ethnic groups that have signed ceasefires have been told to hand over their weapons, or else they will be attacked and destroyed. The ethnic groups without formal ceasefires, notably the Karenni and Shan State Army-South, but also the Karen (particularly Karen villagers in Northern Karen State), have been subjected to large-scale offensives.

3. Burma democracy activists resident in Thailand, who were the leading source of resistance outside the country, have been rounded up and incarcerated in remote concentration camps; cut off from the world; subjected to abuse by their Thai guards; and exposed to the constant threat of attack from nearby Burma Army forces. Not only this, Thailand refouled a large group of Shan orphans who were refugees from war, which is a crime under international law.

(Such actions are proof that the Thai government is actively conspiring with the junta to maintain its tyranny.)

It is not going to stay this way. The lull will soon end.

The regime has just released a number of political prisoners. While this is excellent news for the individuals involved, their release was not the result of any good-hearted inclination on the part of the SPDC. The generals simply wanted some positive publicity to counter Secretary Rice’s boycott of the Asean Regional Forum.

One wonders why they even care. The SPDC is now following a policy of “regional isolationism.” Forget the West, the generals will limit their contacts to China, India, Thailand, and the other nations in the region that do not object to their repression. With the notable support of their Singapore allies, they are even threatening to take up the chair of Asean, without regard to the effects this will have on the grouping and its relations with the rest of the world.

At the end of the month, Asean will have to face the difficult issue of Burma’s supremacy over their group. The microscope will be on them, both Burma and Asean, once again. And come October, major Burma Army offensives are expected, including against the Karen, Karenni and Shan, and also the ceasefire groups – or splinters of such groups – that refuse to disarm. This further means that the recent reduction in the horrific abuse of villagers and IDPs in Eastern Burma will end. Massive human rights violations, including the destruction of villages, and the murder and rape of villagers, will once again be norm, as has happened year after year after year – the genocide there will resume.
For all the seeming quiet, the SPDC is aggressively preparing. The Burma democracy movement must get ready as well. Further, we should develop a plan to take advantage of our one significant strength: international publicity. International media attention on Burma is much greater now following the recent and extensive series of events: the purge of Khin Nyunt and Military Intelligence; the ongoing dispute over the chair of Asean; the bombings in Rangoon; Daw Suu’s birthday; the strong words out of the U.S., including Secretary Rice’s boycott; and now the release of the political prisoners. We must work to ensure that this attention does not recede; rather, that it escalates.

To recall the Burma strategy article that Dictator Watch issued at the end of last year, media coverage is only the first step. This feeds into diplomatic relations, where Burma still does not receive the attention it deserves from international diplomats, particularly from the U.N. and the E.U. Media and diplomatic concern, and for the latter action, should in turn lead to increased funding for groups in the democracy movement, which funding can then be used not only for humanitarian programs but to develop initiatives to defeat the regime as well.

For diplomacy, we must continue to try to find ways to get the Security Council involved. Thanks should be given to the U.S. for at least raising the issue, but we cannot let it end here. We need the U.S. to continue its initiative; we need to pressure Kofi Annan to in one way or another put Burma on the Security Council agenda; and we need to find ways to pressure Russia and China, who have now signaled clearly to the world that they are opposed to democracy in the country. Further, we cannot let nations other than the U.S. – no one else has real sanctions against the SPDC in place – ignore the International Labor Organization’s renewed call for such action. This particularly applies to the E.U., which, as has been noted, has had its foreign policy towards Burma, through the kind graces of French President Jacques Chirac, taken hostage by the oil company TotalFinaElf. Lastly, the recently prepared genocide case needs an international sponsor, or sponsors.

This is also a good time to increase pressure on Thailand. While Secretary Rice’s visit and comments were positive, this will not be enough to change Thai policy. Thailand’s economy is weakening now, and the Thai baht is declining in value. And, the country’s problems in its southern provinces are increasing. There is a tragic irony that Thailand is facing extremism and terrorism within its own borders (which has been triggered by the government’s own actions), at the same time that it supports the SPDC, the extremists and terrorists of Burma. The Thai government is particularly susceptible now to pressure regarding its horrendous policy towards Burma.

Lastly, and I hazard to say this, but we need more resistance – political defiance – from the people of Burma, including international support for such efforts, particularly from the U.S. It was disappointing that the only internal resistance that occurred to mark Daw Suu’s birthday was a single pamphlet. The people of the country remain cowed in fear.

For the U.S., the new pressure is an excellent step, but it is still not living up to the promises it made earlier this year, to take its support for democracy in Burma to a new level. There are ways to actively oppose the SPDC, on the ground, and stay within the constraints of the Burma Freedom and Democracy Act.

The SPDC has made a number of very finely tuned calculations, including that the Asean pressure will be temporary and inconclusive; more generally that the international community will continue to turn a blind eye to its crimes against humanity; that the ceasefire groups will not return to active armed resistance; and that the released political prisoners will not reinvigorate the democracy struggle.

It is up to us to prove the generals wrong, to reveal these calculations as the mistakes and misjudgments that they are. The SPDC has created a storm inside Burma. We must turn it against them and blow their house down.