Roland Watson
February 17, 2008

While the murder of Padoh Mahn Sha was likely the work of Karen traitors Htain Maung and the DKBA, it almost certainly had the approval of the Burmese dictatorship, the SPDC. It further would not be surprising if there were at least tacit acceptance from the Thai authorities in Mae Sot. The town has been known for years to harbor junta assassins. That’s why all the pro-democracy activists there are worried for their safety. Thai officials cannot be ignorant of this. Moreover, many Thai businessmen will applaud his death. These are the businessmen that profit from human trafficking and sweatshop labor; that are raping Burma’s natural environment for timber and natural resources; that want to build dams on the Salween River; and perhaps most importantly that want to establish large-scale contract farming along the border inside Burma.

These businessmen, and the Thai government in general, have the goal to force the Karen National Union to surrender, to open the way for such profit opportunities. They have no concern whatsoever for the Karen people, or indeed for any Burmese. They created the great pressure that forced the KNU to submit to “ceasefire negotiations” with the junta, which precipitated divisions within the Karen that continue today and which were directly responsible for Padoh Mahn Sha’s death.

Having said that, though, the core blame lies with Than Shwe. This was an act of international terrorism by the SPDC, against the leader of a group that has been forced to seek refuge in a neighboring country. There is also speculation that the gang of assassins is now in Rangoon, receiving its reward.

This is further the latest step in Than Shwe’s overall strategy to defeat the pro-democracy movement, which in recent years was reestablished with the attempted assassination of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at Depayin and her subsequent incarceration in solitary confinement. As there was no international penalty for this atrocity, he became emboldened. Subsequent steps included an acceleration of the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Karen, Karenni and Shan; the arrests of senior Shan leaders such as Khun Tun Oo; the energy price increase last summer; the arrests of student demonstrators and local NLD officials; the crackdown on the monks; the announcement of a constitutional referendum; and now this.

Like Daw Suu, the NLD, the 88 Generation Students, the ABFSU and the monks, Padoh Mahn Sha was attacked precisely because he was effective. Than Shwe systematically targets anyone who poses a real threat.

All of these have been major setbacks, and they inevitably raise the question: Why is the fight so one-sided? Why doesn’t the pro-democracy movement ever win its own victories?

There are two primary reasons for this. The first is that the International Community refuses to help. There are statements of concern, and money for humanitarian aid, but almost nothing for freedom (or, as the assassination so vividly illustrates, even for security). A Karen commander from the Fourth Brigade once told me that with sufficient funding he could raise a force of three thousand soldiers and retake all of Tenasserim Division. This would create a huge safe haven, but there is no such funding.

The reason for this in turn is quite simple: the United States, the only logical source, won’t help. I have talked to U.S. Government officials a couple of dozen times. (I drafted a welcoming letter from Padoh Mahn Sha to Ambassador Boyce.) Dictator Watch has provided a continuous stream of intelligence about the situation in Burma, and from many different sources. Each time we also asked for assistance, not for our organization – that is entirely self-funded, but for the Karen or for joint action initiatives with other groups. Our appeals weren’t even acknowledged. We never received anything. It was completely one-sided.

Personally, I can think of nothing more depraved than to sit by and watch people be killed, when you could do something to help.

The other reason the pro-democracy movement is so weak is that the Burmese people themselves have become too timid. They suffer from “struggle fatigue.” SPDC behavior is appalling; it must be met by a dramatic response. While I didn’t agree with the Bangkok Embassy takeover – actions should be inside Burma – what the movement clearly needs is new groups along the lines of the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors. (Padoh Mahn Sha himself began his political career as a member of an underground revolutionary group.)

The assassination and the announcement of the constitutional referendum are rightly viewed as acts of war. They should serve as triggers for a renewed uprising in Burma that expands into a full-scale insurrection. If you haven’t read it already, please see our article, Insurrection in Burma. Please participate in the fight. The SPDC is the second worst regime in the world. (The worst is the junta’s ally, North Korea.) It won’t be easy, but we can win victories, too. Than Shwe can be defeated.

Closing Note: We also lament the passing of Congressman Tom Lantos, another hero of Burma. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress has just recessed for two weeks, with still no action on the Burma law he initiated, the JADE Act.