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Burma and George Fernandes...FROM M
Burma and George Fernandes
MIZZIMA NEWS GROUP
14th February 1999
Recent media reports in India said that Burmese authorities in Rangoon
officially protested to the Government of India against Indian Defence
Minster Mr. George Fernandes who is publicly well known a strong supporter
of democratic movement in Burma. The Asian Age newspaper of 7th February
1999 reported: "Burma has officially protested to New Delhi against
Defence Minister George Fernandes's alleged support to dissident Burmese
groups. Government sources told The Asian Age that the protest was lodged
during a meeting of senior home ministry officials of the two countries
held in Burma in mid-January". The OUTLOOK weekly magazine, in its
February 1999 issue, had a similar story. Quoting a Burmese diplomat in
the embassy in New Delhi, the OUTLOOK wrote: "On the other hand, New Delhi
officially wants to increase military cooperation with us, and on the
other, your defence minister goes and supports the anti-government forces
in our country. How do you expect us to reconcile with this?"
MIZZIMA News Group had an interview with Ms Jaya Jaitely who is General
Secretary of Fernandes' Samta party in India on 12th February, the day
when she spoke at a meeting of "The 52nd Union Day and Constitutional
problems in Burma", organized by exiled-Burma Lawyers Council at Indian
Women Press Corporation, New Delhi.
MIZZIMA News Group
Q: Recently, there are media reports that Burmese government
protested against Mr. George Fernandes's support to democratic activists.
What is the stand of your party on this?
A: Well, the support of George Fernandes and our party to the
pro-democracy movement goes back a long time. And if the Burmese
government is protesting now, it is only because of a certain section of
the media in India is using this kind of news to discredit the present
government. Because George Fernandes is the important member of this
government, they feel that whatever he does in the service of his own
ministry, that is something where he has to be responsible for the
security of this country. It has no connection with in fact any of the
party's commitment to, for instance, the establishment of freedom and
democracy in Tibet or the human rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils. We are
not talking about interfering in other country's government. What we are
talking about is democracy and human rights. And this we believe is
indivisible. It is our right to speak about it. After all, the whole world
fought apartheid in South Africa. So it is not the new thing.
The Burmese government, I think, because in one section of the press,
people tried to show that in fact the defence minister was supporting
these kind of groups which were in fact "insurgency groups" that is what
they were trying to show. But it gave a leeway; it gave a little opening
for the Burmese government to protest. However, we have no knowledge that
they actually protested and we have no knowledge of what the government's
response was. So we are not taking it seriously at all. In fact, any
protest by a government of this nature only proves our point that our
support for the pro-democracy movement is very strong and it is troubling
Q: In case the Burmese government said that they would not cooperate
with India in counter-insurgency because of George Fernandes's support to
Burmese democracy groups, what would be your party's stand?
A: The Samta Party is not going to go back from its commitment at
all. And as far as I know there has been no such threat or any such thing
from the Burmese government. This is again part of the media. And the
Indian government I should hope is not going to succumb to such petty kind
of threats. I think we are perfectly capable of looking after our own
border areas and we can never be really assured of the support of people
who oppress their own people.
Q: Can the insurgency problems in NorthEast be solved by cooperating
with the military regime in Burma?
A: Eventually the military of any side cannot solve local insurgency
problems. These problems have developed over a long period of time because
of the lack of development, unemployment, then, in that particular area,
there is a free movement of drugs. All these are building up to people
loosing confidence in the central government of these many years. And
particularly as a party and also George Fernandes as Defence Minister has
made the point constantly that we cannot use our army to control our own
people. We have to use it only limited to defence of our border and for
the security of the nation against any outside nations. And for this,
there has to be many political steps bringing economic development into a
region. This is also largely what is required in Burma. But the
unfortunate thing was the military rule they try and do with
multinationals. But multi-nationals have been known to only be considering
profit and not caring about democracy.
And just look at the whole attitude of America today. They are not so
worried about the human rights or the Tibetan question because they get a
big market in China. So when you bring money and profit, then they cannot
be the ones to bring about justice and human rights. It has to be the
political will of a genuinely democratic government of that country which
brings development equally to all its people.
Q: Your comments on the constitutional principles, drafted by the
National Convention of the military regime in Burma?
A: We feel that we have a moral right as one of the nations of this
world who is a democracy to comment on the constitution building process
of other countries. Indians have in fact helped in the formulating of the
constitution of South Africa, which is being a very historic event.
Similarly, particularly with the neighboring country when we have had such
old historical and cultural connections, we believe that the constitution
for any democracy should be its secular Bible. And because of that it must
have the hopes and aspirations and the moral, spiritual, political,
philosophical guidelines that the country needs and its peoples need.
Something that everybody no matters what the ethnic group or what the
religion that they should be able to look up to for guidance. Now,
therefore, the constitution creating process must be as broad-based as
And the first thing that is necessary, it must incorporate fundamental
charter which incorporates human rights, the basic human rights, freedom
of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, all these aspects.
And unless there is a basic charter of fundamental rights, no constitution
can have any real validity. The second point is that a constitution
formulated by a government which is a military rule which by its very
nature and by its action, is a government that it has war with its own
people, cannot be the representative body to formulate the constitution
for its country. And the way that they have kept out even the
representative bodies throughout this whole process, arresting some,
favoring some and in this manner, they had made it very selective body
which is getting less and less representatives.
Thirdly, it is so obvious when they are asking for 25% of reservation of
seats for them when they are in fact only one percent of the population.
It is quite radiculous. There is no basis for it. Secondly, basically the
military no matter what they may say in terms of their aspiration for
their own country, the military is a profession just like any other
profession. So you could have tomorrow with equal justification.
educationist or doctor or any other group of profession asking for
reservation in the same way. The fact that they have also demanded that
the Home Ministry, the defence portfolio as well as any border related
areas, those portfolios must remain with those from the military who will
be in the government and in parliament obviously shows that they want to
keep total control. Why should they keep the Home Ministry when the home
ministry has the police and police can enter every household and all the
intelligence everything comes under.
So, in fact, they want a police state or a military state in the guise of
democracy. A constitution therefore can only be formulated by totally
elected representatives of the people under a free and fair democratic
Q: Your comment on the constitution-drafting process of exiled
Burmese democratic forces like National Council of the Union of Burma
A: well, I just had many of the pro-democracy movements all over the
world have been making various kinds of contributions. There had been
leadership training, there had been job training, and there had been so
many things which any responsible citizen who cares for the future of
Burma would be involved in. If there are so many Burmese in exile, there
are so many people who are pushed out of the democratic process, which is
necessary in their country, who are protesting in some form or the other,
they are part of the voice of Burma.
And it is very legitimate for them to undertake this kind of a process.
Sooner or later, the military rule has to go. No military rule has been
able to sustain itself. At that point of time, one does not want some
chaos to take over or the military rulers to use as an excuse that there
is no preparation for any other process to be put in place. For that
reason, I think this exercise in formulating an alternative constitution
is a very good one. Particularly when you are getting the best inputs from
constitutional experts all over the world.
In India, although we have one of the best constitutions which we are very
proud of, already till date, more than 80 amendments have been made in the
last 50 years, which means that you have to have a broadly based
constitution which everybody respect. Even then, according to changing
processes, social and other needs you may have to make amendments in the
constitution. And in fact, I think in the process that is being undertaken
by the pro-democracy movement outside Burma, there are many aspects of the
constitution which are being incorporated which I think could serve an
example even for our country.
Q: Norway, Denmark and Belgian parliaments have expressed their
support to the Committee Representing the Peoples' Parliament (CRPP)
formed by NLD. May we ask your party's position on the committee?
A: We have been trying to set up a group of parliamentarians on
Burma. And we already had a meeting, which is convened by our party
inviting Members of Parliament from all the parties. And we have had
useful discussions, where we are trying to involve people increase their
awareness. And we hope that we will be able to bring up for discussion, so
that at the parliament level, the country can take a decision to support
such a committee.
Q: What would you like to say on current overall political situation
A: I feel that after the protest which were undertaken by Aung San
Suu Kyi recently, somehow there has been a lull because the protests which
she undertook as a single individual has not been able to be really
carried on with the kind of momentum it needed by the people and whatever
attempts has been made, there had been large scale arrest. Because the
important nations of this world seem to be so rapped up in their own
problems. Bill Clinton and his own personal problems and how he tries to
get out of that by bombing Iraq. All these things are shameful episodes in
history. We have looked at America as a country that plays in active role
in making the rest of the world realize that we must force the military
leadership of Burma to give over power to the democracy forces.
But unfortunately I feel that in the present time, there is a lull. And in
this lull, the generals seem to be under some false idea that they cannot
be touched. But it is certainly one of the dark spots in the world today
where inaction is much worse than the kind of military action that is
going on in other parts of the world. And it is this inaction that must be
focused upon and anybody who is proud of their own democracy has a very
important responsibility to bring back the situation in Burma to center