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ASIAWEEK--8/1/99; 25/12/98

POSTED 7-MAY-99, 6:00AM


The Junta and opposition must compromise to save the nation

It is time to bring Myanmar in forom the cold. Though the obstacles are
enormous, this rich country-gone-wrong was once the hope of Asia. As a
National Geographic article put it in 1939:' so many round-the-world
aviators and airminded travelers come this way that it has been
predicted that Rangoon will become to the air lanes what Singapore is to
sea lanes-- a 'crossroads of the East." Instead, Myanmar is on the road
to nowhere: impoverished, stuck in political limbo and reviled in the
West. The country's sole saving grace is that its ruling junta
acknowledges the need for change. That is why a recent plan put forward
by the Uniteed Nations, World Bank and international diplomats should be
cncouraged. Proposing to reward political progress with up to $1billion
in financial and humanitarian aid, it is the best hope for Myanmar.

The country's deadlock stems from a refusal by the junta to honor the
results of the 1990 election, decisively won by Aung San Suu Kyi's
National League for Democracy (NLD). The generals do not even consider
Suu Kyi, who has spent much of her life abroad and is married to a
British academic, to be a Myanmar citizen. They will not allow the Nobel
laureate a position in any government, and they will not talk with the
NLD if the participates in the discussions. But the party insists that
Suu Kyi must take part. Neither side will back down-- and the people of
Myanmar continue to suffer from the intransigence. If Yassir Arafat and
Yitzhak Rabin could sign a peace agreement in West Asia, if Nelson
Mandela and F.W. de Klerk could come to terms in South Africa, then the
NLD and the junta ought to be capable of compromise too.

The aid-diplomacy proposed by Asian and Euripean officials could provide
the way out for Myanmar's recalcitrant government and opposition. To
obtain some of the money dangled before them, the generals would first
need to grant the NLD--and other parties--significant political freedom.
This would include releasing NLD members who are still being detained
and allowing Suu Kyi to move about the country. The party would need --
nat least in the short term--to recognise the legitimacy of the military
regime. It would also have to rescind its calls to convene Parliament
(based on the 1990 election results).

The initiative has a chance. When U.N. special envoy Alvaro de Soto
presented the plan to Yangon in Octover, at least no one rejected it.
The NLD and the government offered predictably cautious comments, and
onlookers made the usual pessmistic predictions. But the junta has also
appointed a new, more sophisticated foreign minister, Win Aung. He is
capable of leading talks with someone fro the NLD more flexible than Suu
Kyi. Ideally, an observer from a nation with an even-handed approach to
Myanmar, such as Australia or Japan, should mediate. And the junta
should allow one of the more cogent and educated exiles, like
Bangkok-based student leader Aung Naing Oo, to attend negotiations.

There is no reason to suppose that top junta strategist Gen. Khin Nyunt
and Suu Kyi do not posses the kind of courage and concern for their
people as did the peacemakers in West Asia and South Africa. The pair
can help put Yangon back at the corssroads of Asia. Now is their chance.



"We welcome any assistance from anywhere that is offered with good will
and sincerity. And we will consider it when it comes. But for us, giving
a banana to the monkey and then asking tit to dance is not the way. We
are not monkeys." that's Myanmar's new foreign minister Win Aung talking
to Asiaweek's Roger Mitton at last week's ASEAN conference in Hanoi (see
THE NATIONS. PAGE 28). Both Win Aung and economic czar Gen David Abel
heavily discounted--but did not completely write off--a possible deal
with the World Bank.working with the Unnited Nations to offer Myanmar $1
billion in return for a promise to soften its stance toward the
country's main political party, the National League for Democracy led by
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Said Abel: "There is some substance to
the report, but nothing concrete has yet been offered in financial
tierms." Both denied that any figure had been raised--and said abel,
even if it had, it would need to be a lot bigger than $1 billion and
come without any political conditions. Abel recokons the country needs
more than $3 billion, but even so, "we cannot trade off our country's
sovereignty for $1billion or $10 billion or $100 billion." And if you
think that economic hard times might force them to the table, think
again. "We are not in difficult times." insists Abel. "We might not have
the good things in life, but we are better of then we were 10 years ago
and we can still continue." Abel conceded that he had met with the
U.N.'s special envoy Alvaro de Soto, who recently visited Yangon. "de
Soto told me that perhaps the World Bank would like to come back. I
said, Why Not? We are open to talk." Abel revealed that before he
conferred with de Soto, " I had met tow senior economists from the World
Bank and we had talked about a resumption of the World Bank's program in
Myanmar." The dur had said they would need to go back to their
principals and then respond to Abel. So far, nothing.

EMAILS: drunoo@xxxxxxxxxxxx, uneoo@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
POSTMAIL: Dr U Ne Oo, 18 Shannon Place, Adelaide SA 5000, AUSTRALIA

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