Brussels, 05 April 2005


Comments by Harn Yawnghwe, Director, Euro-Burma Office, regarding -


"Supporting Burma/Myanmar's national reconciliation process:

Challenges and Opportunities"

A Report by Robert Taylor and Morten Pedersen.



First, I would like to state that I support my colleagues outside whom you may have noticed protesting this meeting. Unlike Burma Day 2003, they have not been invited nor allowed to participate. I believe it is wrong in a democratic society and in a democratic institution like the European Union to exclude people who might have a different viewpoint.


Second, in spite of the circumstances, I would like to thank the European Commission for belatedly inviting me to speak on this panel. This is because I know that the European Union is serious about facilitating political reconciliation and a transition to democracy in Burma.


Third, I would like to state from the onset that I am very disappointed that a valuable opportunity to help the people of Burma was wasted. Robert Taylor and Morten Pedersen  could have seriously explored policy options and recommended innovative ways to support the reconciliation process in Burma. Instead, the report has repeated old arguments against sanctions and have needlessly incited a controversy. This controversy has the potential to derail the focus of the meeting, namely, how to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma. If this happened, the losers would be the people of Burma.


Having made my position clear, I would like to comment on the report itself - both the process and the content:


The Process:  


1.      The process is flawed. I am not sure what compelled the Commission to engage Robert Taylor and Morten Pedersen to write the report. Rightly or wrongly, Robert is well known as an apologist for the Burmese military regime. The New Light of Myanmar regularly quotes him to justify their position[1]. The Commission should have known that any report by Taylor will not be seen as being 'independent' or 'unbiased'. There are other scholars and academics who could have done a better job and been more useful[2].


2.      According to the report, one of the authors' job was to analyze the challenges and prospects for national reconciliation. The authors met with 72 people, 21 of them were Burmese and 5 were cabinet ministers (Agriculture, Health, Education, Foreign Affairs, and Science & Technology)[3]. Everybody in Burma knows that cabinet ministers have no power to influence policy. The authors did not meet with any generals from the ruling State Peace and Development Council; or any regional commanders; or anyone from the National League for Democracy or the ethnic nationalities - political parties, ceasefire armies, or non-ceasefire armies - or anyone from the democracy movement either on Burma's borders or in exile. How did they analyze the challenges and prospects for national reconciliation? The authors may have met the Burmese in the past, but events since October 2004 have shown that the authors should have at least met with these stakeholders in writing this report. Otherwise, the report cannot be deemed to be reliable.


3.      The second task of the authors was to assess the EU's approach towards Burma. The authors do not seem to have taken the trouble to study the EU Common Position carefully. They make no distinction between US policy towards Burma and EU policy; and between political rhetoric and the practical compromises that has been endorsed by the 25 member states. Further, the authors do not seem to realize that EU policy does not promote regime change; that it calls for political dialogue, national reconciliation, and a transition; and that there is room within the current policy to do many of the things that the authors call for under the 'new Alternative Approach' that they are recommending.


4.      The third task of the authors was to discuss how EU assistance can be used effectively. While the authors may have consulted the international NGO community, they have not consulted potential Burmese partners and those who are in fact delivering humanitarian assistance in Burma under very difficult circumstances. How can the report determine how EU assistance should be used without wide-ranging discussions with the Burmese?


5.      Another point is that the report seems to imply that people the authors met agree with them. A number I have spoken to are quite upset. They feel they have been used.


6.      The Commission asked the authors to provide a draft agenda for Burma Day 2005 with suggestions for speakers and stakeholders to be invited. It is unusual to have somebody write a report and at the same time determine who should review their work. Given the authors' background and how arrangements were handled, the general impression is that Burma Day 2005 is being stage managed to support the conclusions of the report. the Panels do not include anyone from the Burmese democracy movement who might disagree with the report. I was only invited after a protest was lodged. Legitimate stakeholders like non-government organization and development agencies concerned about Burma and Burmese community organizations have not been invited.



The Contents:


1.      The arguments used by the authors - that sanctions have not worked in Burma; that failed  policy approaches have exacerbated the crisis in Burma; and that sanctions should be lifted; etc, are old arguments[4]. I will not respond in detail except to say that a much better job could have been done. The report wasted a valuable opportunity.


2.      Another problem with the authors' arguments is that their claims are not substantiated. They are also contradictory. Example - they claim that sanctions are ineffective[5] but at the same time, blame EU sanctions for the Burmese regime's inability to implement reforms[6].


3.      The authors' analyses are simplistic. They listed Burma's problems but they do not address the cause. They also gloss over the military regime's failings and instead blame sanctions and a lack of development aid. Most economists including the IMF and the UNDP, however, identify internal factors within the regime, not sanctions as the cause of the problems[7]. In other words, the military does not have the political will to address Burma's economic problems. Strangely, this is acknowledged elsewhere in the report[8].


4.      The report writes off the National League for Democracy as being irrelevant[9] and implies that only military rule can bring about development in Burma[10]. Most observers would say the opposite, that Burma is today a development disaster because of military rule. If the authors are correct, why are we here discussing how to build civil society in Burma? 


5.      The report also writes off the ethnic nationalities[11], and is overly optimistic about the outcome of the National Convention[12]. Recent events in Burma do not support the authors' faith in the ability of the military regime to deal with the ethnic nationalities. The authors themselves acknowledge this elsewhere in the report[13].


6.      To inconsistencies in the report are too numerous to deal with individually. The most glaring have to do with the Burmese military. For example -


a)      The next generation of military leaders will bring about reforms[14], and 

b)      There is no room for negotiating political reforms with the military[15].


a)      The Burmese military is undefeatable unless the army splits. This will not happen[16], and

b)      The recent upheaval within the military is the biggest challenge to the military leadership.


The report also does not deal with the removal of Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt except in passing[17]. This is the biggest most significant event in Burma in recent years. It affects everything. How can the consequences of this not be taken into account in the report?


Having critiqued the report, the question is where do we go from here? Do we accept the report uncritically, throw it out, or debate the report? I do not think it will be beneficial to do any of the above. Having made my point, I would like to suggest that we use the day to focus on what can be done in Burma and work out a process whereby aid can be delivered.


My own recommendations would be -


1.      Continue with the current EU Common policy of sanctions and dialogue, and refine it;


2.      Develop a comprehensive Burma strategy - political, economic and strategic - and a process to consult widely, especially the Burmese. Key components would include -

a)     Supporting 'process' versus 'product'. The process of building trust between the antagonists, dialogue, participation and inclusion must be actively pursued. This very important because development models tend to focus on 'output', not process;

b)     Over the long term, make a conscious effort in all aid programmes to build the capacity of Burmese organizations - formal and informal. Again most development models tend to focus on efficiency and effectiveness. Building the capacity of Burmese organizations may be less efficient in the delivery of aid but it is crucial to do so. Efforts must also be made to overcome the existing rigid hierarchical client-patronage systems. Democratic norms of inclusiveness and participation - of women, ethnic and religious minorities - must be encouraged.

c)      Provide educational support - informal and formal, locally and internationally, basic literacy and more technically advanced - to the populace at large and to officials.

d)     Humanitarian - serious health issues already identified by many agencies.


3.   Appoint a high-level EU Envoy (preferably a former head of state) for Burma to:

a)     Dialogue with the generals;

b)     Develop EU Burma policy with the 25 member states;

c)      Coordinate political and humanitarian initiatives of member states;

d)     Coordinate policy with ASEAN, China, Japan, Indian sub-continent, USA and UN.

[1] i)   "Global Scholars Do Not Accept Economic Sanctions on Burma", 27 September 2004, New Light of Myanmar;

  ii)  "Observe Myanmar's Democratic Transition Correctly", 22 March 2005, New Light of Myanmar.

[2] A) Dr Ang Cheng Guan, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore - "Myanmar: Time for a Unified Approach", SAGE Publications, Vol.32 (4), December 2001;

   B) Dr Anne Booth, Department of Economics, SOAS, UK - "The Burma Development Disaster in Comparative Historical Perspective", SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol.1 (1), Spring 2003;

   C) Dr David Tegenfeldt, Hope International Development Agency, Yangon - "More Than Saving Lives: The Role of the International Development Agencies in Supporting Change Processes in Burma/Myanmar", Burma Update Conference, Australian National University, Canberra, 18 November 2004.

[3] Appendix: List of People Met, EU Report by Robert Taylor and Morten Pedersen, January 2005.

[4] A) March 2004 - "Reconciling Burma/Myanmar: Essays on US Relations with Burma", published by the    National Bureau of Asian Research, Seattle,Washington, USA.

   B) November 2002  - Conference on "Burma: Reconciliation in Myanmar and the Crises of Change" at the Paul H Nitze School of Advance International Studies, John Hopkins University, Washington DC.

[5] Page 1 - "Fifteen years of Western censure and sanctions have had no visible impact on the will or the capacity of the military rulers (of Burma) to maintain power," Taylor & Pedersen.

[6] Page 15 - "… Western pressure… have only reinforced the military leaders' seige mentality… It may also have contributed to the back-tracking since the mid-1990s onmarket oriented, open-door economic reforms…," Taylor & Pedersen.

[7]  UNDP 1998, IMF 1999 - The four main factors: high defence expenditures, low tax mobilization, a weak (and corrupt) public administration,  and an uncertain policy environment (created by inept economic management and ad hoc decision-making).

    Anne Booth (reference 2B) concludes - "The problem in Burma is not the dominance of the military per se, but rather that the military have been either unwilling or unable to share power with other groups, whether technocrats in the civil service or private entrepreneurs who could place the economy on a secure and sustainable upward path."

[8]  Page 17: "There is no doubt that the military is hostile to economic and administrative reforms that would directly weaken its hold on power, and less than enthusiastic about community development and other programmes that contravene their notions of development. Meanwhile, their concept of the development process lags several decades behind current international development thinking", Taylor & Pedersen.

[9]  Page 5: "…the conflict between the government and its civilian opponents looks set to resolve itself throgh a process of attrition rather than reconciliation… the decision by the NLD not to participate in the National Convention, has left the party marginalised and in serious disarray", Taylor & Pedersen.

[10]  Page 16 "…it is questionable whether a civilian government would have the capacity to deal with the immense structural obstacles to peace and development, even with international support", Taylor & Pedersen.

[11]  Page 4 - "…the ultimate compliance of these (ethnic ceasefire and peace) groups with the constitutional process seems assured as they have no other viable options and little appetite for resuming armed struggle", Taylor & Pedersen

[12] Page 2 - "The agreement by the military government with some twenty former ethnic insurgent groups to halt fighting after half a century of continuous warefare constitutes a political watershed, and the outlook for establishing a constitutional, though only nominal democratic government in the near future is positive", Taylor & Pedersen

[13] Page 3 - "Yet, the sustainability of this embryonic peace will remain open to question unless long-standing grievances of ethnic nationalists ….are dealt with effectively", Taylor & Pedersen.

[14] Page 17 - "The next generation of military leaders … once in charge … will want to make their mark and improve … Thus there will be an important window of opportunity for reviving the reform drive", Taylor & Pedersen.

[15] Page 14 - "When adding the obvious corporate and personal interests that they have in maintaining power, this perspective leaves very little room for negotiating political reform, at least not in any form that might undermine the military ultimate control of the government", Taylor & Pedersen.

[16] Page 15

[17] Page 4 - The sudden and largely unexpected removal in October 2004 of the Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt and his military intelligence coterie…