[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
Mounting pressure on Myanmar (The H
Subject: Mounting pressure on Myanmar (The Hindu, 23/2/97.)
Mounting pressure on Myanmar
The Hindu (New Delhi), 23/2/97.
V. Jayanth (in Singapore)
Here have been some hectic developments both on and in Myanmar,
previously Burma, in the past fortnight. But the military junta in
Yangon goes about its job, putting a brave face on it.
As the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,
which Myanmar hopes to join in a year. grapple with the political
complexities of the military regime, the State Law and Order Restoration
Council (SLORC) went after Karen rebels on the border with Thailand.
After considerable delay and protracted negotiations, Mr. Frances
Vendrell, a Director in the Political Affairs Department of the U.N.
Secretary-General's office, visited Yangon and initiated a new round of
discussions with SLORC on the possibilities for national reconciliation
and a political dialogue. The visit has been described as something of a
breakthrough, for the junta refused to let his boss, Mr. Alvaro de Soto,
Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, visit the country in
the past few years on behalf of the U.N. chief. SLORC also refused to
receive the U.N. Human Rights envoy, Mr. Rajsoomer Lallah, former
Mauritius judge. His predecessor, Mr. Yozo Yokota, quit last May
disgusted with a continuing battle with the junta to discuss the central
The Indonesian President. Mr. Suharto, paid a three-day State visit to
Yangon during the weekend to reassure SLORC that his country and ASEAN
would continue with their policy of "constructive engagement" and admit
Myanmar into the group at the right time.
After more than two years, ASEAN held its biennial "dialogue" with the
European Union in Singapore last week. The E.U. came fully prepared to
discuss Myanmar and East Timor with the ASEAN Foreign Ministers. ASEAN
persuaded the E.U. to drop East Timor -- which touches a raw nerve in
Indonesia -- from the agenda because it was already on a tripartite
forum of Portugal, Indonesia and the U.N. There was no ducking Myanmar
because the international community was not able to get anywhere on this
ASEAN, therefore, worked out a strategy to provide for a two-hour
discussion on the Myanmar situation at an informal luncheon. The intent
was to keep it out of the joint declaration, but the E.U. insisted on
mentioning at least that Myanmar "also" figured in the deliberations.
The EU's concern was plain and simple. it wanted an end to the violation
of human rights, launching of a political dialogue with the
pro-democracy movement and ultimately the restoration of democracy.
As the Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister of the Netherlands. Mr. Hans
van Mierlo, put it bluntly -- the EU urged ASEAN "to please do something
about Myanmar." He was not worried about the "instrument" through which
normality was restored, but it was important to achieve the objectives.
He would have no objection to a "constructive engagement" with the junta
so long as ASEAN was able to "use its influence" and make the military
regime see reason and open a dialogue.
Singapore, co-chair for the meeting, was obviously satisfied with having
provided a platform for debating Myanmar. Its Foreign Minister, Prof. S.
Jayakumar, said "There are differences. Both sides have their concern,
but we agreed to continue the discussions". He also made it clear that
ASEAN could in no way impose any conditions for Myanmar's accession to
The E.U. officials explained that Brussels would continue with its plan
of action and exert pressure on the military regime on international
fora for restoration of democracy. He said "We can understand ASEAN'S
concerns about isolating Myanmar and its consequences. We too are not
for isolation. But at the end of the day there must be results in any
positive engagement. If ASEAN can also persuade SLORC to open up for
political reforms through a dialogue, there will be nothing like it. So
that is what we have conveyed to our friends in ASEAN."
But the Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr. Manuel Marin,
conveyed an even more blunt message -- that EC or EU would be unable to
sign any new agreement with ASEAN, if Myanmar became a member as it
The EU-ASEAN agreement is supposed to have lapsed in the beginning of
the 1990s. But at the instance of Portugal, over the East Timor issue,
Europe has refused to negotiate a third-generation, comprehensive
co-operation agreement. From 1992, the Foreign Ministers of the two
regions have stopped with issuing a joint declaration and both sides
concede that an agreement is not even on the table at this point of
time. The Myanmar issue has further clouded the agenda. The West is
losing patience with Myanmar and its repeated attempts to persuade
ASEAN, immediate neighbour, to do something tangible, are not getting
the required response. Southeast Asia believes that over a period, the
SLORC can be engaged to open up the economy in the first place, provide
concrete development to the country and gradually pave the way for an
internal political solution, without any interference and at a pace
convenient to the administration.
As Singapore's former premier and the region's elder statesman, Mr. Lee
Kuan Yew explained once "There is no instrument or system of
administration in Myanmar except the military now". So any attempt to
replace that in a hurry can only create more problems for the country
The only other option for the West is to push for some steps through the
UN. And it is in this context that the Mr. Vendrell's visit has been
viewed. How much has he to achieved during this visit and his access to
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi are questions.
In a strange coincidence, just as the Thailand Foreign Minister, Mr.
Prachaub Chaiyasarn, urged the West to use its influence with Ms. Suu
Kyi, asking her to return to the constitution-drafting National
Convention and resume dialogue, the Nobel laureate issued an appeal to
the SLORC urging it to open a tripartite discussion involving the
National League for Democracy, the ethnic groups and the military.
But there has been no response from the junta, whose focus has now
shifted to the continuing battle with the Karen National Union -- only
ethnic, armed group which refuses to come to a truce or accept a
brokered peace with SLORC.
As Ms. Suu Kyi asked the then visiting American congressman, Mr. William
Richardson in 1994. when she was still under blouse arrest: "Too many
nations use the economic carrot, and not the stick. to encourage
improvement in Burma's human rights and the fundamental question is
whether the outside world's investment and trade with Burma is really
helping the people or it is simply helping the government dig in its
heels." There are no answers and the carrot continues to be dangled at