[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
The BurmaNet News: June 25, 1999
- Subject: The BurmaNet News: June 25, 1999
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 25 Jun 1999 03:37:00
------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"
The BurmaNet News: June 25, 1999
THE NATION: TIME TO PLAY THE POLITICAL CARD
THE NATION: SUPPORT FOR BURMA WILL WORK AGAINST
IRRAWADDY: RETURN PRESS FREEDOM TO BURMA
BURMA DEBATE: OBITUARY - KHIN MYO CHIT
BURMA DEBATE: DANDRUFF IN MY HALO
THE NATION: TIME TO PLAY THE POLITICAL CARD
24 June, 1999 by Josef Silverstein
If new policies are needed for change in Burma, a 'bribe' to the military
is not the answer -- it is time to play the political card. The US and the
UN must take the case against the Burmese military rulers to the world
community, writes Josef Silverstein in the last of a two-part series.
If anyone has any doubt about the illegal and lawless character of the
present regime in Burma, they should read the recent reports from the
International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union
(IPU) and the resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the Commission on
Human Rights. These documents and the State Peace and Development Council's
(SPDC) responses in words and actions provide the most complete evidence
yet to the mindset and behaviour of the rulers in Burma.
If the nations of the world, particularly those in Southeast Asia, act as
though they "see no evil, her no evil and speak no evil" whenever the issue
of Burma arises, it might be helpful to remind them of the serious and
responsible charges made against the rulers of Burma and the votes cast
against Burma in forums other than Asean.
A year ago, the ILO -- composed of 174 states including Burma -- issued the
most complete and damning report yet on the military's use of forced labour
in Burma and its impact upon the ordinary citizens who are its victims.
After interviewing 250 eyewitnesses in neighbouring countries and
collecting more than 6,000 pages of documents, the report concluded that
"the obligation to suppress the use of forced labour is violated in the
national laws of Burma as well as in actual practice. Forced labour is
widespread and systematic with total disregard for the human dignity,
safety and health and basic needs of the people."
Asean and other concerned states should remember that the original
constitutional and democratic government of Burma signed the ILO Forced
Labour Convention, 1930 (No 29) in  and the military in Burma, since
its seizure of power in 1962, has never denounced or repudiated that
treaty. Yet, the present Burmese government gives only a proforma denial to
the overwhelming evidence in the ILO Report while it denies access to ILO
investigators inside of Burma as its unpunished army continues to violate
the Forced Labour Convention.
Year after year a representative of Burma's ruling junta sits in the
General Assembly and hears its government condemned for violations of human
rights, denial of the people's right to form a government based on the 1990
election and other violations of treaties it solemnly signed and, under
international law, it swore to uphold. It should be noted that no Asean
member has risen in the General Assembly to object to the annual
resolutions against Burma or to vote against their acceptance.
SPDC's representatives attend the annual meetings of the UN Commission on
Human Rights where they hear the Special Rapporteur give detailed accounts
of Burma's violations of the UN Charter and the Declaration: of Human
Rights. They see the entire membership of the body vote unanimously for
resolutions condemning Burma's violent and lawless rule with no state
rising to defend Burma.
The latest example of the military rulers of Burma's contempt for
international obligations is its response to the criticism levelled against
it by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Since it recovered its
independence in 1948, Burma has been a member of that organisation. This
year, the IPU adopted a resolution strongly supporting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
and the National League for Democracy's (NLD) right to have called for the
formation of a People's Parliament after waiting nine years for the
military to allow such a body to convene.
The IPU resolution affirmed "that in demanding that a parliament be
convened and in setting up the committee representing the People's
Parliament, the MPs-elect are merely defending the rights of their
constituents to take part in the conduct of public affairs through
representatives of their choice, as guaranteed under Article 21 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in exercising their right to
discharge the mandate entrusted them in 1990. The unanimous vote supporting
this resolution included representatives from several Asean countries".
Given these and other acts of an international outlaw state, how can anyone
believe that by offering a large financial "bribe" to the military to hold
talks with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the other NLD leaders and the minority
leaders will produce an agreement to transfer power which the present power
holders will keep?
The idea of dialogue is not new. In November 1995, Thomas Hubbard, deputy
assist secretary of state, led a senior US delegation to Burma and held
talks with the military rulers. Following his return, he said, "In two days
of meetings with senior Slorc officials and the foreign minister, we made
clear that the United States would like to establish more constructive
relations. We laid out a series of steps for the Slorc (former name for the
military government) to take on human rights, democracy and
counter-narcotics to enable us to move toward more normal relations. We
also pointed out that the absence of improvement in these areas would lead
to a further downgrading in bilateral ties."
That road map led nowhere. During the intervening period, US-Burma
relations deteriorated as the US used its economic and diplomatic power to
bring pressure on the military rulers to change their policy.
If new policies are needed, a "bribe" to the military is not the answer. It
is time to play the political card. The US and the UN must take the case
against the Burmese military rulers to the world community. They must use
their powers of persuasion to unite that community by reminding all of
Burma's violations of its international agreements, international law and
the rights of the people as set forth in the Declaration of Human Rights.
It must remind the world community that the world is changing and that a
lawless, arbitrary and ruthless dictatorship will not be tolerated. Nigeria
just saw a peaceful end to brutal and arbitrary military rule and the
transfer of power to an elected government; Indonesia is in the midst of an
election which holds promise of movement toward democracy and away from
dictatorship, South Africa has shown the world that peaceful change is
possible and workable as its citizens voted a second time for a new
parliament and leaders.
In this changing world the US should try again, this time more intensively,
to convince the neighbours of Burma and democracies in the rest of the
world to unite in pressuring the military rulers in Burma to step down.
Since last year, several Asean states, the Philippines, Thailand and
Singapore, have been quietly talking to SPDC and encouraging it to open
discussions with the leaders of the people and develop a road map of change
in conjunction with the NLD and the minorities.
If a financial carrot must be offered let it be offered to an elected
government when it comes into being. If the world fears that the peoples of
Burma might want to take revenge against the military if their own
leaders come to power, let them take note of Suu Kyi's most recent
statement given to the editor of Asiaweek, June 11, 1999, and see that she
and her party are not looking for revenge, they are looking for democracy,
human and civil rights and freedom.
Only when the military comes to realise that the whole world is united
against their leadership of Burma will they come to realise that the
international acceptance they prized so highly in the Declaration 1/90 no
They stand alone as a form of dictatorship the world repudiates. Hopefully,
the brave and intelligent members of SPDC will come to realise that it is
they who must change; and to do that they must transfer power and finally
respect the will of the people.
**The first part appeared yesterday.
THE NATION: SUPPORT FOR BURMA WILL WORK AGAINST SUPACHAI
24 June, 1999
LETTER TO EDITOR
May I ask why Thailand continues to defend the Burmese junta at every
forum? At one time it was understandable, with military-to-military deals.
For the Thai foreign minister to defend the forced labour issue shows that
Thailand is more concerned about an illegal government than its own world
I am sure this will not fare well for Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, who is
still fighting for the World Trade Organisation slot. With Thailand letting
its support for Burma's junta known, Supachai is bound to lose the WTO
allies he has. What a dumb statement from the Foreign Ministry!
THE IRRAWADDY: RETURN PRESS FREEDOM TO BURMA
Heavy censorship has been a fact of life in Burma since the military came
into power in 1962. It is time for the regime to return press freedom to
Today, Burma's only English-language newspaper, the state-run New Light of
Myanmar, uncritically exalts the piety, charity and magnificence of Burma's
wannabe-kings much in the way that ancient Burmese inscriptions noted the
achievements and lauded the merits of monarchs of yore. Not a day goes by
without reports of this or that military leader making merit, opening a
school, or lecturing other officials and citizens on the importance of
resisting outside enemies.
The newspaper also serves as a launching pad for propaganda sorties against
the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi. But it has not
always been such a waste of paper. The New Light, established in 1914, was
once a well-respected newspaper.
Burma used to enjoy one of the richest traditions of press freedom in
Southeast Asia and the New Light of Myanmar, along with a multitude of
daily newspapers, served as a lively source of political debate and a forum
for diverse views. But this tradition came to a halt in 1962 when the state
was seized by the generals, who fear the press and see but one use for its
Gen Ne Win held his first and last press conference in Rangoon soon after
taking power. As senior journalists and reporters questioned his mission
the general slammed his chair, threatened reporters and left the press
conference room. This marked the end of the era of press freedom in Burma.
Since the junta's rise to power there have been repeated crackdowns on all
sorts of information sources, including writers, magazines, and publishing
groups. Censorship is not limited to political and news reporting, but also
According to Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres, the Asia-Pacific region
has the sorry distinction of including the country keeping the most
journalists in prison, China, and the country with the most appalling
prison conditions, Burma.
Fourteen journalists are imprisoned in China, and seven in Burma.
One of them is U Win Tin.
Imprisoned since 1989, journalist U Win Tin, also known as Hanthawaddy Win
Tin as he was once the chief editor of the Hanthawaddy newspaper, is locked
up for his involvement in establishing an independent press during the
brief flowering of the media in 1988.
Before his imprisonment, he served as a chief adviser to Nobel Peace Prize
Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and was a senior party member of the NLD.
According to reports from Insein prison where U Win Tin has been held, his
health worsened in 1998 and he has received little medical care.
Recently, well-known poet U Tin Moe has been facing government harassment
for writing two poems about Aung San Suu Kyi's late husband, Dr. Michael
Aris, who recently passed away in London.
It was learned that the authorities also seized two computers from a
publishing house that they accused of publishing poems and commemorative
funeral fans for Aris. Suu Kyi held a religious ceremony in Rangoon. The
poems, received by the Irrawaddy, are apolitical and only pay homage to
Aris and Suu Kyi's courage, hardly constituting a threat to national security.
The government strictly regulates access to equipment used for publishing,
including printing presses, fax machines, computers and satellite dishes.
Failure to register these items is punishable by long-term imprisonment. In
1996, Leo Nichols, Ambassador for several northern European countries, was
imprisoned for possessing an unregistered fax machine. He died in prison
because of a lack of basic medical care.
In 1998, the top two enemies of the Asian press according to the Committee
to Protect Journalists (CPJ) were Indonesia's President Suharto and Burma's
Prime Minister Than Shwe. In a statement released by the CPJ, they stated
that these two, along with other enemies of the press, are "collectively
responsible for unabated press freedom abuse that has penalized hundreds of
journalists through physical attack, imprisonment, censorship, harassment,
and even murder." But in the span of a year, Suharto has been sidelined and
Indonesia now possesses a burgeoning press which is free to offer criticism
of the government.
Indonesia's famous editor and journalist Goenawan Mohammed said last year
that "After Suharto stepped down we became real journalists and are able to
practice our journalistic skills." That is indeed good news for Indonesian
But Burma's heavy censorship remains, leaving many Burmese unsure of what
to believe. Rumors and speculation fill the void left by a discredited
media. A lack of reliable information leads to a sense of bewilderment and
creates mistrust amongst Burmese, as rumors are manufactured to discredit
opponents of the government.
Owners, publishers and editors of private magazines and weekly news
journals complain about the declining quality of publications in recent
years. Since the military government imposed heavy restrictions on
magazines and publishing houses they have stopped taking risks.
More and more Burmese rely on foreign broadcasts such as Radio Free Asia,
the British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America. But these media
outlets are under fire, and informers spy on those who listen to foreign
Information about the economy is also notoriously unreliable. The official
media often uses dubious statistics to portray Burma as an ideal place to
invest. The lack of real information to present to inside and outside
investors has discouraged business people from investing in Burma.
The junta has claimed that it intends to build a multi-party political
system someday and that it will also introduce democracy, but they must
bear in mind that press freedom is an important element in democracy and
that it is necessary for democracy to work.
The first thing the generals should do is lift censorship and return press
freedom and the New Light to Burma's able reporters and public.
They should do it now.
BURMA DEBATE: OBITUARY - KHIN MYO CHIT
Vol. VI, No. 1
Following the 1962 military coup in Burma by the army chief General Ne Win,
Khin Myo Chit became an editor of the new government newspaper published in
English, The Working People's Daily.
But it was in this job that she incurred Ne Win's wrath with her
increasingly outspoken criticism of the repressive socialist regime and its
propaganda methods. Her article "Dandruff in my Halo", on 21 July 1986, was
the final straw. In it, she described how friends would praise her for
being prepared to visit political prisoners on their release from jail, and
for not being scared that "They" -- Military Intelligence or MI -- would
assume guilt by association. While pouring scorn on their fear, she
admitted to an enduring guilt for having once shunned a friend released by
the Japanese for fear that she too might become a target.
That experience aside, her refusal to be cowed endured until her death. She
was one of the few Burmese brave enough to play host to the 1991 Nobel
Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, an old family friend, after her
release from house arrest in 1995. (The latter's own article "Freedom from
Fear" echoes sentiments in "Dandruff".) She continued to write short
stories and articles after her dismissal. Her story "Infinite Variety" won
first prize in 1970 in a South-East Asia competition. Many regard her
English language writings as more effective than her Burmese ones, and her
articles on history and everyday life such as "Colourful Burma" (1990) have
been published both inside and outside Burma.
They reflect her wry, mischievous sense of humour. Perhaps it was this
which had prompted her to send Ne Win a complimentary copy of a Wonderland
of Burmese Legends which had been published outside the country (1984). A
few days later the MI called at her house and instructed her to await them
the following day. An unmarked car duly arrived and she and her husband
boarded it with trepidation. An hour of circling Rangoon followed. It was
only after they had been reduced to nervous wrecks that it transpired that
the driver was simply killing time until the appointed hour for them to
take tea with the dictator. Ne Win greeted them warmly and asked about old
friends, before turning to what he considered to be errors in the book.
Khin Myo Chit developed a rebellious streak as a young girl. Her childhood
was disrupted by her policeman father's postings around Burma and she tried
in vain to win the affection of a mother who preferred her other children
to her disappointingly ugly and headstrong eldest daughter. As a result,
Khin Myo Chit buried herself in schoolbooks and grew up on a diet of Lamb's
Tales from Shakespeare, Victor Hugo and Dickens, determined to make a
career as a bluestocking if she could not be a traditional Burmese beauty,
or better still, a boy.
She began to support herself by writing romances and articles, after a
first unsuccessful attempt at taking a degree. Ironically her first
successful novel was about the life of a female university student, still
quite a novelty at the time.
Against her parents' wishes, she moved down to Rangoon in 1937. There she
fell in with the Thakins ("Masters"), a group of left-wing,
pro-independence activists who included Aung San, who was to become the
father both of Burmese independence and of Aung San Suu Kyi. Another member
of the group was Ne Win, Burma's authoritarian ruler from 1962 to 1988.
At one point Khin Myo Chit shared a house with Thakin Nu, who, as U Nu, was
Burma's first post-independence Prime Minister, and Thakin Than Tun, who
later led Burma's Communist insurgency. The latter's questioning of Burma's
dependence on Buddhism struck a chord with her own youthful skepticism.
Both Thakins encouraged her patriotism and the anti-colonial views which
had been ignited by her grandparents' first-hand accounts of the banishment
into exile by the British in 1885 of Thibaw, the last Burmese king.
She took part in the anti-government strikes of 1938 and later toured the
delta region with U Nu, making pro-independence speeches. When the Japanese
invaded Burma in 1941, she and her writer husband, Khin Maung Latt, whom
she had married at the beginning of the war, took refuge in up-country
monasteries. They returned to Rangoon in July 1942. Reluctant to seek
favors from their Thakin friends who, as members of the Burma Independence
Army, had been installed in government by the Japanese, they sold slippers
for a living.
But eventually they joined the Burma Defence Army and Khin Myo Chit worked
in the Women's Section until the end of the war. After the war she returned
to writing short stories and articles on Burmese history and culture for
magazines. Between 1949 and 1952 she worked for the newly established Burma
Translation Society. From 1958 until General Ne Win's 1962 military coup,
she was features editor of the English-language Guardian.
Despite her staunch opposition to British rule, Khin Myo Chit had many
foreign friends and loved English literature. In the 1980s and 1990s she
and her husband taught English to students using works such as "King Lear"
and Shaw's "Antony and Cleopatra," drawing out the political parallels as
well as the linguistic lessons.
The students enjoyed her tales of the independence movement even if they
were astonished by her confession that the 1930s "Freedom Fighters" had
begun their secret meetings by standing and singing "God Save the King".
This, she stressed, was on the grounds that they made a clear distinction
between their sovereign and the government they were seeking to overthrow.
During the "Rangoon Spring" of August 1988, she and her husband, like many
others, produced a newspaper with articles on politics and democracy. But
10 years of debilitating and disfiguring arthritis followed, which
prevented her from writing. Neither medication nor the Buddhist faith she
had rediscovered could overcome the pain. This, coupled with deep
frustration at the state of Burmese politics and the death of her husband
in 1996, finally bowed her indomitable spirit.
Khin Myo Chit, writer and journalist: Born 1 May 1915; married Khin Maung
Latt (one son; died 1996); died Rangoon 2 January 1999.
[The original version of this article appeared in London's The Independent,
Obituaries, 9 February, 1999.]
BURMA DEBATE: DANDRUFF IN MY HALO
Spring, 1999 by Khin Myo Chit
Vol. VI, No. 1
[Original published 21 July, 1986]
He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need,
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If thou wake, he cannot sleep,
Thus in every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part.
Now that this page is blossoming forth with poetry, I cannot help but quote
poetry from memory, for, poor me, I can't write poetry to save my life. I
quote these lines, so simple and beautiful and bearing a timeless message
to humanity, as written as could have been written only by Shakespeare.
These immortal lines often spring to my lips unbidden, for friendship seems
to be as rare a commodity as any these days, and there are few, if any, who
will bear a part in your griefs, especially if you happen to be a person
frowned upon by Fortune.
I often wonder what Fortune looks like, but now, I began to think she wears
many guises, one of them being what people refer to as THEY, that faceless
horde with badges of authority.
When a few years ago the government had to take a number of people into
detention many of them happened to be the ones my husband and I had known
closely at one time of our life. We could not have gone through the last
thirty years of our country's history without having known those who are
today either sitting on the seat of power or in detention camps.
Even though we could not care less for their political creeds or intrigues,
they are our friends and we care for their wives and children. It was but a
small thing we could do to call on the home of a detenue and give comfort
to the family. I thought nothing of it until a friend rang me.
"Did you go to -- -'s house?"
"Yes, I did. I saw his wife and children."
"Thank goodness you did. I wish I could do the same, I dare not do that,
for, you never know what might happen if THEY found out that I am his friend."
"But, what could THEY do to you just because you know that man. Why can't
you go to a friend's house when his family is in trouble?"
"Oh, big sister, you never know, I admire your courage in going round to
those house of your friends who are now in detention."
Perhaps I should wear a halo as an angel of mercy but there is a patch of
dandruff in my halo and it is giving me such itches that go straight into
my fingers now tapping on the typewriter.
That patch of dandruff began during the Japanese regime, when one of our
friends was arrested by the much-feared Kempetai, the Japanese Military
Police. That friend had helped us when we, during the earlier months of
Japanese occupation, were walking along the streets seeking work,
half-starved, with a young toddler on my husband's shoulders. According to
the Burmese way of friendship we should be the first to rush to his house
and comfort his frail little wife with heart trouble and two young
children. My husband and I, who had never failed to visit our thakin
friends in British jails at Rangoon and Insein, did not even think twice
about not going near his house, for fear of being a suspect of the
Kempetai. We had sunk this low. We denied friendship with a man who had
saved us from starvation!
Fortunately, we had had the chance to see that friend again and ask his
forgiveness. HE understood and assured us that there was nothing to
forgive, but we have never forgiven ourselves, nor can we ever forget the
shame of it.
The old wounds hurt when today we see so many people degraded -- degraded
and sunk as low as we once were during the darkest days of the Fascist
terror. We felt depressed and infected with their fear. The only thing that
made us overcome our fear is our unshakable faith in General Ne Win and the
Revolutionary Council. They would not let this happen if only they knew the
truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what is happening in
>From the look of things, once a man is taken into detention his family
might as well put a cross on their door like people of medieval Europe did
when they were stricken with Black Death. Such a house is shunned by those
who once were his friends. Even those who had once lived on his bounty not
only shun the house, but turn their faces away should they, by accident,
meet the children of his family on buses.
When many of the detenues were released, we rejoiced over the many happy
reunions. However we came to know that the ex-detenues are still shunned
and they themselves dare not go to the houses of those they once called
friends for fear of causing embarrassment. Or danger. Or worse. We hear the
refrain "What if THEY found out that we are friends!" We cannot understand
why this mysterious overpowering THEY should hang over people like a
To acknowledge friendship with a man has nothing to do with supporting his
political creed or any wrong he might have done against the state. There is
the Law to take of such matters. The authorities may put a man in prison,
hand him or shoot him in accordance with the Law, but why must we deny
friendship with such a man and not go and comfort his stricken family?
It is the most natural thing in the world for anyone to go and comfort and
help someone in trouble. That such an action today should seem to be an act
of heroism or foolhardiness or naivete is beyond me.
It is even worse when it seems a faux pas to mention names of some mutual
friends to some people for fear of causing embarrassment. Even the show of
joy when the detenues were released was not considered in the best of
taste. (How manners change!) Not all of them who came out of the detention
camps are my friends, but my heart felt joy for every single one of them
that went back to the bosom of their helpless families, and breathed a
prayer of gratitude to the Revolutionary Council on their behalf.
Life within the four walls, under very uncertain conditions and for a very
indefinite period, is something I would not wish for my bitterest enemy,
and to be given freedom from such a life seems to me to be a cause for
universal joy. And so I rejoiced. I felt happy for friend and foe alike,
for their good fortune, just as I would weep and cry and protest if a
similar misfortune should --God forbid -- overtake any of my friends now in
happier circumstances in this fortuitous, unpredictable world.
When the news of Bo Zeya's death was splashed in the daily papers, I could
not read them, for my eyes were dimmed with tears. I wept remembering the
old times when we fought together for national independence, first against
the British, and then against the Japanese.
I wept for Bo Zeya, though God knows that I could not care less for his
politics or ideology. I wept for a friend dead and gone. But these days one
cannot do a single natural thing without getting dubbed a capitalist or
It reminds me of an incident somewhere in 1946 when Ko Ba Hein, a member of
the BCP (then a legal organization) died in Mandalay. My husband and I went
to the memorial meeting which was held at the City Hall in Rangoon, the
most natural thing for us to do. But to our utter dismay, we were charged,
by our own friends of the Socialist camp, with having gone communist.
I tried to explain to them that Ko Ba Hein had been a good friend to us
since college days. But "friendship" is something not in their dictionary.
One of them said: "You always find some excuse to go to them; but you never
come to us."
I lost patience, I retorted: "We went there because someone had died. If
you want us to come to you that much, why don't you go and die yourself? We
will come without fail even if no one else does."
So, that's that.
In spite of such experience I am still human enough to offer sympathy for a
friend in misfortune and to shed a few tears for the one dead and gone.
Surely, we can be human as well as Socialist (in the truly Burmese Way) at
the same time, can't we?