Contact: Roland Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
LULL BEFORE THE STORM
July 17, 2005
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, its the rainy season, and things always slow down this time of
year. But thats not the only reason. Its 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 SPDCs 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
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 Rices 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 Burmas
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 Suus birthday; the
strong words out of the U.S., including Secretary Rices 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 Organizations
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
This is also a good time to increase pressure on Thailand. While Secretary Rices
visit and comments were positive, this will not be enough to change Thai policy.
Thailands economy is weakening now, and the Thai baht is declining in value.
And, the countrys 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 governments 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 Suus 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.