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Opinion, Said to be from the Strait

Subject: Opinion, Said to be from the Straits Times, 

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This was posted on soc.culture.burma by
karancha@xxxxxxx (Karancha) so we haven't seen the
original.  Is it for real?  We wonder who Michael Dobbs -
Higginson is -- a regular writer, or once only?  Does the
Straits Times print letters to the editor?  Can someone
provide a fax number?

Said to be from:   The Straits Times, 
Saturday, October 14,1995  

Need to look beyond the human rights agenda

Comment/Analysis by Michael Dobbs - Higginson

TIME out, as the Americans say. Enough is enough. 
Sensationalist cries that Ms Aung Sang Su Kyi, the Nobel
Peace Prize winner, is another Nelson Mandela  or Benazir
Bhutto must be tempered with reason.

Quite clearly she is a remarkable woman and her  six-year
refusal to be released from house detention on condition
that she left Myanmar is to be greatly admired. 

However, what must not be forgotten is that, after more
than 25 years abroad, she only returned to Myanmar in July
1988 to help her mother who was ill.

Her return coincided with the then country wide civil
disturbances. She was then catapulted onto the public stage
by virtue of being her father's daughter (after World War II,
General Bogyoke Aung San was the first national leader to
seek Burma's independence from Britain but he was
assassinated by a competing faction before the country's
independence in 1948) and by reason of her own innate

However, it must not be forgotten that she had, collectively:
no leadership experience, was in her 40s, was very idealistic,
was approached by a wide variety of  inexperienced /
experienced self - interest opposition groups, was
surrounded, a la Tiananmen Square, by student activists and
she had an English husband, Michael Aris, an academic
who, in a rather Don Quixote like manner, took upon
himself  the role of roving, international ambassador for the
Burmese  democratic movement - to say the least, a very 
inexperienced, and thus potentially dangerous, combination.

Certainly this combination was not guaranteed to bring
about - atypically, from an historical point of view - the
immediate installation of a new Utopian democratic form of 
government, which would unify the country and give peace,
economic success and happiness to all the people in

Objectively, even a comparison with former Philippine
President Cory Aquino, brought to power after President
Marcos's downfall, is stretching things. 

Other than being installed as the result of a democratic
election, the laudable, yet inexperienced and naive Ms
Aquino did little to alleviate the chaos and confusion
pertaining  at the time of her election.

Little fundamental credit seems to have been given to the
current Myanmar government (which took over in 1992) for
what it has done to date in gradually bringing about order
and economic progress with comparatively little of the
wholesale repressive, brutal and corrupt  practices of other
regimes elsewhere in the world. 

Its unconditional release of Ms Su Kyi in July, and others,
has received an initial flurry of plaudits. However, the
importance of these moves have been completely
overshadowed by Ms Su Kyi's statement that "all that has
changed is that I have been released, nothing else".

Further, and more dangerously, she has advocated that no
foreign aid be granted until democratic elections have been

Without aid, how can Myanmar get itself to the point, in
terms of sufficient economic critical mass with the
concomitant benefits to the people, where such elections 
can be held with a reasonable chance that the people will
then have enough not to want to lose it in another bout of
the 1988 chaos?

On a related, more practical issue, in 1993, the National
convention, which is represented by some 700 delegates
drawn from a wide range of different groups, including the
military, was convened by the Myanmar government to
draft a new State Constitution.

In this new constitution, the military wish to follow the
Indonesian constitutional model which ensures the military a
substantial role in the government.

While there has been little global, public outcry about
Indonesia's system, no doubt Myanmar's current military
government will continue to be bashed for its temerity in
thinking that it too should continue to be involved in their
country's government.

A more valid criticism, which has been levelled by some, is
that this drafting process is taking too long - the
government estimates that the process will take another two 
years or so finalise it.

So be fair, this begs the question of how long other
countries took so put their new constitutions in place.

It is reasonable that we give some objective media airtime
so Myanmar, which is making a constructive effort so sort
out its problems.

Yet it is a country that seems so attract little serious, in -
depth and balanced media interest - other than endless
articles on Ms Su Kyi. 

Why has there been little media interest in interviewing
senior members of the current Myanmar government - they
have a point of view and in the interests of fairness, they
should be given an opportunity so express it.

Unfortunately, what little exposure it has been given so date
tends so have been very cursory, with every article being
over-larded with a strong negative bias and much more
information about Ms Su Kyi's point of view.  Whatever
happened to objectivity?

What most people often forget is that societies need so have
time so evolve from an authoritarian environment, where
the individual is told what so do, so a democratic
environment, where the  individual has the free choice
concerning what he/she  wishes so do.

However, it must also not be forgotten that, before a
democratic system can work effectively, such individuals
need so have sufficient education and a sense of personal
moral responsibility and accountability for their activities.

Rightly or wrongly, the military government believed that,
from one day so the next, transferring power so the 
National League for Democracy was a recipe for a Tower
of Babel disaster.

Further, it could be argued that the government, quite
rightly, took the view that the country was simply not ready
for full democracy until a solid, well-rooted  government
and economic infrastructure had been put in place.

Accordingly, they refused so transfer power and they
continued so keep Ms Su Kyi under house detention. The
world, already frustrated by her detention, was astonished,
shocked and outraged - after all, perception is nine-tenths of
most peoples' view of reality - in this regard, amply assisted
by the developed world's press.

This caused Myanmar so be turned overnight into a  pariah
state by the West plus Japan - an attitude easy so take as
there were no business interests at stake. 

However, when the new leadership took over in 1992, they
determined that, for the country so evolve, Myanmar had so
develop an open-market economy and that it could only do
so, provided a basic structure of law and order could he
developed and maintained. 

This policy has already  begun  so bear fruit, thanks in no
small part so the support of its more reasonable and
pragmatic Asian neighbours, who have themselves already
been through the same process. Thus, the West's, in
particular the United States',  uninformed, superficial and
often voter - oriented views,  concerning the necessity for
immediate democratic elections and, in the interim, the
inappropriateness of extending aid are counter productive. 

It must also he appreciated that, unlike many other countries
In Asia, Myanmar has 135 ethnic groups from which some
16 armed insurgent groups have evolved. 

This fact, in turn, has dramatically increased the  difficulty
of the government so encourage a sense of national unity
and purpose during the period since independence. 

Despite the magnitude of its task, the Myanmar government
has succeeded in coming so peaceful terms with 15 of 16
insurgent groups and it has initiated concrete discussions
with the ethnic groups so create well - administered zones
or divisions, so as so accommodate, at least some
of these groups requirements for a degree of autonomy.

Further, since July 1989, the Myanmar government has
released some 38,000 detainees, who were detained both
during the period of anarchy and subsequently for political

It should also be noted that political detainees were often
merely placed under house arrest - as was the case of  Ms
Su Kyi - as opposed so being imprisoned.

Finally, after the 1988 "disturbances", although the civil and
military courts imposed a considerable number of death
sentences, none were actually carried out. 

The point therefore of this article is so emphasise that
Myanmar only really emerged from isolation in 1992,
decades after countries such as Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia,
Singapore,  Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and even
China (1978)  started their  respective  arduous roads so
economic success and changes in their forms of
government; in virtually all cases towards a more
democratic form of government.

It is therefore hardly reasonable so expect Myanmar so be at
the same stage of development as its Asian neighbours.

Comparatively speaking, in law and order terms, It is also
well ahead of virtually all the ex- Soviet bloc Asian
counterparts, virtually all of its African counterparts and, at
least, some of its central / South American counter-parts -
not too bad for a late start.

Further, in human rights terms, its confinement under house
arrest of Ms Su Kyi in a large house with spacious  grounds
on the beautiful Inya Lake, its otherwise respectful
treatment of her and its offer so allow her so leave Myanmar
at any time, contrasts rather positively, with the prison cells
or "work camps that major opponents of other governments
have found, or now find, themselves in.

It is not a developed country and, as it has literally  only just
begun so emerge into the real world.   
What is also not appreciated is that, under General Ne Win's
isolationist policies, the then Burma developed neither 
capitalist nor communist friends. 

Thus, at the end of the cold War, even the most  repressive
regimes, such as North  Korea,  had  some friends who were
prepared so give it some support.

Conversely, Myanmar, when it finally emerged from its time
warp cocoon, had no friends, no old alliances, and thus no
moral support.

Instead, it seems so have become a convenient whipping
boy so be trotted out for some human rights bashing, when
nothing much else is happening or when the human rights 
and other -liberal white - hat extremists, frustrated
elsewhere  by the business black hats, need some soft target
so attack. 

Who said the world was fair? 

The military government believed that transferring power to
the National League for Democracy was a recipe for a
Tower of Babel disaster.