October 05, 2007

MYANMAR: Darkness at Noon

By B. Raman

The Myanmar military Junta headed by Senior General Than Shwe has effectively isolated the people of the country from the rest of the world and the monks protesting against the economic hardships of the common people and the repressive policies of the Junta from the rest of the society.

2. To prevent the rest of the world from knowing the real state of affairs inside the country, it has cut off all telephone and internet connections with the rest of the world. It has also closed down and sealed the offices of the two Internet Service providers in the country.

3. To prevent the monks from interacting with the people and demonstrating against the Junta, it has arrested a large number of young monks known as novices, who have been in the forefront of the agitation. The remaining monks, particularly the older ones, and the nuns have virtually been placed under house arrest inside the monasteries. They are not allowed to move out to seek alms from the people as per the Buddhist tradition.

4. There has been a steep decline in the number of people visiting the monasteries due to military deployments in and around the monasteries. As a result, people are not able to reach alms to the monks. One does not know how the monks bottled up in the monasteries are managing to eat since they have been refusing to accept alms from the security forces.

5. As a result of the total communication black-out imposed by the Junta, one does not know how many monks and others were killed when the army used military force to disperse the demonstrators last week, how many people, including monks, have been arrested and what is the condition of the monks bottled up inside the monasteries.

6. The Junta continues to show a total indifference to international outrage and criticism. Even the more articulate expression of concern over the situation by India, China and the ASEAN, which had in the past preferred to maintain a discreet silence over the repression of the Junta, has not had any impact on the Junta.

7. The only positive developments have been the Junta's agreeing to allow Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, the former Nigerian Foreign Minister, who acts as the UN Special Envoy on Myanmar, to visit the country. He has already visited the country and met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi twice, Gen.Than Shwe and other leaders of the Junta. One does not know as yet what was the outcome of these meetings.

8. The Junta is not bothered about the threat of more economic sanctions. Past economic sanctions have not worked with a ruling clique, which is hardly bothered about the economic hardships of the people.

9. The present agitation started on August 19, 2007, in protest over the doubling of fuel prices. It subsequently took a political turn, with the protesters demanding the end of the repressive rule and the restoration of democracy. Any regime sensitive to the difficulties of its people would have offered to hold talks with the people at least on their economic hardships and to reduce the increase in fuel prices. Even this, the Junta has not done. It has refused to hold talks with the people on any issue----political or economic.

10. Faced with such a regime, it would be wishful-thinking to believe that it can be made to change its policies through external economic pressure.

11. Regime change through external military intervention is not an option in Myanmar. Regime change through external political, economic and moral pressure is unlikely. There is, therefore, no prospect of an immediate end to the plight of the Myanmar people.

12. At the same time, their cause should not be given up as lost. One has to keep up their morale through political, economic and moral support. One should strengthen their capacity for Psychological warfare against the Junta. The international borders should be kept open to enable those fleeing capture by the Junta's military forces to cross them and take sanctuary in the territories of neighbouring countries.

13. There should be a regular dialogue between India and China on how to co-operate in mitigating the sufferings of the people and how to bring about the end of the repressive measures. The Junta should not be allowed to capitalise on the competing interests of India and China to sustain its repressive rule.

14. India should encourage a large number of young members of the Myanmar security forces and other public servants to visit India for training and other purposes so that they could see for themselves the benefits of democracy. India should appoint its own Special Envoy on Myanmar and entrust him with the responsibility of continuous interaction with all sections of the Myanmar society in order to find a way forward, which will have wide acceptance inside Myanmar.

15. India should take these measures at its own initiative and with its own means without getting involved in the US-led pro-democracy drive, which has ulterior motives. Any impression in Myanmar military circles that India is acting as the USA's cat's paw would make the Indian initiatives a non-starter.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

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