Tuesday, November 25, 2008

General Assembly approves Burma resolution, debate intensifies

Mizzima News
24 November 2008

The United Nations General Assembly's Third Committee on Friday approved a draft resolution on the human rights situation inside Burma, amid a lengthy debate that illustrated the divide over Burma, the rights of member states and the workings of the international body.

The UN's Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee passed the resolution, critical of the human rights condition in Burma and the authorities inaction or unwillingness in combating rights violations, by a vote of 89 in favor and 29 against, with 63 abstentions.

All 27 members of the European Union offered their support for the resolution, in addition to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, among others.

In contrast, only seven Asian countries approved of the draft, including none of Burma's immediate neighbors and no member of ASEAN. Bangladesh, Brunei, China, India, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam all voted against, while Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand abstained (Cambodia was absent).

The abstention on the part of the Philippines came just days before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this weekend rained praise on the Philippines as being the one country in Asia supportive of the United States' position on Burma.

In addition to Japan, Mongolia, South Korea and Kazakhstan, the other three Asian countries to support the item have all recently witnessed significant external intervention, led by either the United States or Australia – Afghanistan, Iraq and Timor-Leste.

Burma's delegate to the Committee reserved strong language for those who supported the motion, letting it be known that Burma would feel under no obligation to be bound by the vote.

"If left unchallenged, [the motion] will set a dangerous precedent for all developing countries", he warned, as the resolution was an attempt to infringe on national sovereignty while a case of direct interference in the domestic affairs of a member state.

Subsequently, a no-action motion put forth by the Burmese representative was defeated by a vote of 90 against to 54 in favor, with 34 abstentions.

Those that opted not to support the draft commonly sighted the politicization of human rights, inattention to the domestic progress made by Burmese authorities and the inappropriateness of the venue for country specific resolutions – the Human Rights Council felt to be the rightful forum in which to raise such concerns.

France, who took the lead in tabling the action on behalf of the European Union, said the text was designed to raise awareness among the international community as to the continuing rights violations in the Southeast Asian country and "in an effort to mobilize action on all sides."

The French representative called on Burma's ruling military to engage in dialogue and to cooperate fully with United Nations mechanisms in the area of human rights. He proceeded to say the new constitution, approved in May, fails to address the assurance of basic rights inside the country and that, "No attempt had been made to prosecute those guilty of repressing the acts of peaceful protest from a year ago."

India's representative, explaining his country's vote, first noted that the country has always recognized the importance of human rights. However, it was forced to vote against the resolution as it was not "forward-looking" and confrontational in approach. India also wished that the Committee would recognize the positive steps of the Burmese government over the past year – a sentiment similarly voiced by Indonesia and Japan, despite the latter weighing in in support of the draft.

Further commenting on the ideological, development and interest divide at the international level, Friday also witnessed the tabling of a resolution critical of human rights as a unilateral coercive measure "implemented in contravention of international law and the United Nations Charter, and with negative consequences to economic development."

The resolution passed, garnering 124 votes in favor to 52 against. All ASEAN countries, China, India and Russia supported the motion; while the European Union, United States, Canada, Australia and Japan were among those who voted against the action.

READ MORE---> General Assembly approves Burma resolution, debate intensifies...

Burma needs a pragmatic solution

by Moe Thu and Htet Win
Mizzima News
24 November 2008

Since 1962, not a single military-dominated government in Burma has been able to improve the country's economy. This, as the Burmese economy is poised to suffer even more in the upcoming months, and possibly years, due to the pervading global economic crisis.

The country's economy has already suffered a lot during the past two decades, a period when the military regime has continued to pursue its stranglehold on political power, dragging the economy into the doldrums along the way.

"The Burmese army's philosophy is to keep its own ass safe to the detriment of others, so we will go around in circles until the present structure is forced to change," said one Rangoon-based observer.

The country is moribund in a Catch-22 situation, in which one "solution" inevitably leads to but another problem.

"I have no hope the country will be back on the right track soon after the 2010 general election, which it is highly possible will lead to but another crisis," he said. "That's because of those military officers who have been indoctrinated with a superiority complex for generations.

The Revolutionary Council, which was installed in 1962 and headed by General Ne Win and later transformed into the Burma Socialist Program Party through the 1974 constitution, started this unhealthy mix of civilians and military personnel in public administration.

Ne Win's military government of xenophobia, combined with the mismanagement of the economy, assured that the country descended to the status of a least developed nation, the effects of which eventually erupted into the mass anti-government uprising that was put down by the Army through bloodshed in 1988.

Following 1988, the then State Law and Order Restoration Council – and present day State Peace and Development Council – assumed power and continued to rule the country, without any constitutional mandate and consumed by paranoia, as has happened throughout Burma's martial history.

What could be the remedy for the Southeast Asian nation, rich in natural resources like timber, minerals and natural gas? As long as the country forges ahead with the new constitution, which solely favors the role of the military in the public administration, it will be but old wine in a new bottle.

"We are desperately in need of 'agents' like liberal minded general David O. Abel, both in the military and civilian circles," commented an observer who wished to remain anonymous. Almost all liberal minded civilians are in exile or in prison.

In 1999, a newspaper quoted the military government as saying that the National Convention would go forward without the National League for Democracy (NLD) – who had earlier walked-out of the proceedings under protest in 1996. Burma, the official added, was going to be a democracy in its own way.

The international community has since continuously recognized the NLD's commitment to democracy. Yet, such recognition has not translated into productive "action."

It might be possible that Burma could first improve its economy within a framework of a slightly altered political forum. Under such a scenario, some liberal figures would be allowed to play a role, and changes in an improved economy would assist in fomenting pluralism in the political environment.

"In the future government of Burma after 2010, we do not need opportunist civilian politicians who would just sit back and seek personal gains from the status quo, but those who really dare to come out of their comfort zone and speak up to military officers on economic and social issues," added the observer. He also questioned the democratic credentials and self-complacency of some domestic elitist groups, mainly Burman in ethnicity, who seek to present themselves as the only viable alternatives to military officers.

However, the trick in Burma is that if the leadership was practically enlightened as in China and Vietnam, political pluralism can be kept waiting. But, Burma to date has lacked such political leadership.

In the present stock, only dogmatists are dominant. So are we going to see liberal -- not even fully, but partially -- elements in the government under the new constitution? Hope very marginally, because it is not in the nature of the military.

"Those 25 percent of seats in the future parliament, which the military reserves in both houses, will always vote as a bloc," the observer continued.

Even if Burma is fortunate enough, after the multi-party election is carried through, the key phrase in the coming years will be "economic rationality."

However, for that, can we be so optimistic about the already corrupted military reinventing itself in our country's future? Officials of the regime are already corrupt themselves in their morals, and they corrupt others along with them.

"Even if and when Burma is a liberal economy, rent-seeking will be really great and widespread," he said, adding that most resources would go into private pockets.

Still now, there are elements who are promoting the concept of "regime security," while the security of 53 million Burmese has been starkly neglected. And they try to expose themselves as an opposition or counterbalance to the military in a future so-called civilian government, if elected.

As generally expected, some businessmen are preparing to contest the 2010 election.

Most of these people will likely come from regime-friendly media and business circles. However, it remains to be seen whether there may be an altered scenario following the announcement of the electoral laws, which are anticipated in a few months time.

Many of these prominent elements are currently active, taking leading roles with the civic organization.

However, an even larger question still looms: Will any civilian government really be able to influence the direction of the country to become a free country broadly accepted by both Burmese and the international community?

Burma's history since 1962 has been filled with failure stories of "insider" civilian politicians who achieved little or nothing to change the mindset of the ruling military caste. Yale-trained Dr. Maung Maung who was President of Burma during the 1988 uprising is a telling example.

Veteran analysts therefore have cautioned that the possibility for reform within the proposed constitutional framework will be extremely limited. Hopes are slim because many of the older generation Burmese elites, educated in the West and employed in public administration, just gave their nod to all that the Army wanted at the National Convention.

Meanwhile, Burma's military has already suffered its own generation gaps, resulting in a very limited number of fresh, liberal conscious, new officers, mainly because potential successors have poor exposure to alternative ideas – reflective of a nation that is educationally handicapped.

Imagine it the other way around, liberally trained Burmese soldiers could create a competition among elites, which might lead to a radical solution if competing military personnel claim that they are the ones who most love Burma and care for its future.

Without a reliable new generation produced professionally, no segments of society,
including the Burma defense services, could survive. The Burmese military is already facing such problem.

Recently, Home Affairs Minister Major General Maung Oo said the next one-and-a-half-years would be important for the NLD's survival. So the NLD must be creative, seeking ways and means to be able to play a role in future political developments; this is why some political forces have come out to encourage the NLD to find a new way to integrate itself into the future processes.

The results of the 1990 election, decisively won by the NLD, could be a tool which it could utilize in order to gain a foothold in forward developments. Perhaps, the NLD should endorse a new political party, in low profile, to remain relevant and to continue to involve itself in the future political process.

Opposition forces are already weak, being unable to adequately oppose the new constitution. But they can still weaken the effectiveness of the implementation of the new constitution.

Politics is about aspiring to nominal things such as freedom, democracy and rights. The new constitution falls short of those basic things for the time being. No rational person is satisfied.

As long as there are accusations of violations of ethnic minority and political rights, then external forces such as the UN and some Western countries' encouragement for democracy in Burma will be reluctant to openly deal with the Burmese government, regardless of it being called civilian or military.

However, the truth remains that Burma is a low priority in the eyes of most Western countries. For example, the United States has more than enough allies in the region to offset China. Adding Burma to the list will not make a meaningful difference.

The junta understands this, and is thus proceeding apace with its own political process, designed to ensure that it reaps the vast majority of the political spoils. Despite repeated calls from opposition parties and the masses for a process of dialogue to address persisting differences and divides within Burma's political spectrum, the junta and its supporters look to be preparing to push ahead with the 2010 general election at all costs.

So, what is to be expected in the short and mid-terms? As elections draw near, the world community must make sure that it is endorsing a real opposition in Burma, with reliable democratic credentials, and not a sham opposition of seasoned politicians who entered politics for personal gain.

Some leading pundits and opinion leaders fear that Burma, after 2010, will withdraw into isolation if the ruling class does not get their way. Nevertheless, there is little chance that this worst case scenario will happen, because authoritarian regimes realize the costs of isolation in an increasingly globalized world. They will at least open up some space for their own elites. In Burma's case, most probably sanctions will also become irrelevant with the arrival of a new government.

International policy circles, therefore, should be prepared and start to think about how to respond to continued political repression and human rights abuses in Burma, while encouraging economic reforms after 2010. They must not forget there are over 2,100 prisoners of conscience in Burma's gulags and Burma's future parliament is the fruit of their sacrifice. Revolutions are rare in history, but we should not downplay the role of social movements.

In summary, Burma is possibly headed for a change in direction, where barriers to democracy are cautiously lowered. But, even though this might be – many new challenges will remain.

READ MORE---> Burma needs a pragmatic solution...

Imprisonment of two Burmese lawyers 'arbitrary': rights group

by Salai Pi Pi
24 November 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima)– A regional human rights body has condemned the Burmese military rulers for arbitrarily sentencing two lawyers, who were acting as defence counsels for political activists and called for their immediate release.

The Asia Human Right Commission (AHRC) during a consultation meeting concluded on Sunday called for the release of Burma's Supreme Court advocates Khin Maung Shein and Aung Thein, who addressed the complaints of their clients -- political activists arrested for anti-government protests last year -- to the court.

"The imprisonment of the two Supreme Court advocates in this case must be deemed arbitrary, and we the assembled jurists, lawyers and legal academics duly call for the immediate release of U Aung Thein and U Khin Maung Shein," AHRC said in a press release on Sunday.

A court in Rangoon's Hlaing Township on October 6, sentenced Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein to a prison term of four months on charges of contempt of Court after they submitted a complaint from their clients that states the defendant's desire not to cooperate with the court as they have lost faith in the judicial proceedings.

Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein, who have over 20 years experience as lawyers in Burma, were representing several defendants arrested in connection with the September 2007 protests and charged with criminal cases including three persons - Htun Htun Oo, Maung Maung Latt and Aung Kyaw Moe - and a woman, Htar Htar Thet, who were charged in five cases.

AHRC's Burma affairs spokesperson, Min Lwin, said Burma's judiciary system is being manipulated by the ruling junta and is used to intimidate political activists by awarding long prison terms while criminal cases could be eased off by bribing.

"The present judiciary system in Burma operates in the way were criminal cases could be defended by money but in terms of political cases, there is no mercy and the accused is awarded harsh penalty," said Min Lwin, who submitted to the AHRC's consultation meeting information on Burma.

The AHRC's criticism of the Burmese regime and call for the release of the sentenced advocates came during the Fourth Regional Consultation on an Asian Charter for the Rule of Law meeting attended by assembled jurists, lawyers and legal academics from throughout Asia in Hong Kong on 17 to 21 November.

"We express our grave concern at the state of the law in Burma, where, we have learned that criminal procedure has in many respects been completely abandoned such that parties to cases are denied their most basic rights and political interests and corrupt practices determine the outcome of trials," the AHRC said.

Burma's military rulers after having brutally suppressed protesters in August-September 2007, continued to crackdown on opposition activists by arresting them. And since July the regime began the trial of the detained activists and started handing down long prison terms of up to 68 years.

Prominent student leaders such as the '88 generation students' led by Min Ko Naing, were sentenced to 65 years in prison each while a prominent Monk U Gambira, who led the monks on to the streets in September 2007 was given 68 years in jail.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners- Burma, the junta during the past two months had already sentenced 189 dissidents including monks, members of Burma's opposition party – National League for Democracy - activists, students, lawyers, bloggers, poets, rights activists, a comedian and journalists for peacefully expressing their views.

Besides sentencing to lengthy prison terms, the government also transferred at least 60 activists to concentration camps in remote areas across Burma from Rangoon's Insein prison, a move that critics view as an act to distance them from their family members.

The AHRC, while calling for the immediate release of the two imprisoned advocates, deplored the junta's act and pledged that it will continue to pressure the military junta for free and open trials in Burma.

"The jurists, lawyers and legal academicians in AHRC pledged to mount pressure on the government in their respective countries to push the Burmese regime to refrain from consistence committing of human rights abuses and corrupt practice of the law," said Min Lwin.

READ MORE---> Imprisonment of two Burmese lawyers 'arbitrary': rights group...

Another changing of the guards for Burma's junta

by Solomon
24 November 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) – An official within Burma's Ministry of Information has hinted there has been a changing of guards within the top ranks of the country's military authorities during the last quarterly meeting held in the capital city of Naypyitaw.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there have been a few changes among the ranks of the military leaders during the last quarterly meeting, held between November 17 and 21, but declined to give details, saying the government will soon make a public release of the reshuffle.

"There have been some changes and promotions of military personnel, but we cannot say anything at this movement," the official said.

Burma's military leaders regularly hold quarterly meetings, the most recent one ending last Saturday, at which they reportedly discussed matters and issues facing the military and conducted a reshuffling within the ranks. In the previous quarterly meeting, held in June, the junta reshuffled nearly 100 positions.

"This time there are some changes in the military, because they [the junta] have to strengthen the Army, so three Major Generals have been promoted to Lieutenant Generals," said Win Min, a Burmese analyst based in Thailand.

However, Win Min said the reshuffling was insignificant and the quarterly meeting, which is the last for 2008, focused more on the junta's planned election for 2010.

"I think this time there will be less changing within the Ministries, they will do that in the next meeting," Win Min iterated.

The last reshuffling in the top brass of Burma's Army was in June, which gathered members of the State Peace and Development Council, powerful military commanders and heads of Bureau of Special Operations (BSO).

However, sources told Mizzima that retired BSOs, such as Major Generals Maung Bo, Ye Myint and Kyaw Win, were seen at the most recent meeting, proving that they are still members of SPDC's upper echelon.

Sources told Mizzima that the head of the junta, Senior General Than Shwe, wants to keep them in the mix in order to handle ceasefire groups, and particularly due to their role in persuading the nearly one-and-a-half dozen mainly ethnic rebel groups to disarm.

"Than Shwe and his generals may become members of a defense commission; something along the lines of the Chinese model," said a source in Naypyitaw of the potential political landscape following the 2010 election.

The junta has been preparing for such offices in the post-2010 era by requisitioning some Defense buildings in the capital.

Sino-Burmese-based analyst Mya Maung said the recently concluded meeting aimed primarily at preparations for the 2010 general election.

"For the 2010 election, the generals are focusing on security, home affairs and the police department," said Mya Maung.

Burma's rulers have announced that they will hold a general election as part of their roadmap to democracy and will allow the winning party to assume power and form a government.

But it has also maintained strict vigilance over opposition activists in the run-up to the election by arresting and sentencing activists to long prison terms. Additionally, the junta has also stepped up security measures in several towns and cities across the country where pro-democracy activists had led mass demonstrations in August and September 2007.

According to Mya Maung, in preparation for the general election, the junta is likely to change several positions within the military – with some personnel retired and others sent into the civilian government. Police units might also be transformed into paramilitary outfits.

"They [junta] are enhancing police forces for the suppression of any kind of protest that might erupt, while the military will be maintained to sustain the fight against ethnic rebels," Mya Maung said.

He said the junta has thus far expanded at least 16 to 18 battalions of police across the country, with over 400 policemen in each battalion.

However Htay Aung, a researcher at the Network for Democracy and Development (NDD), based in Thailand, said the junta during the recent quarterly meeting was likely to have discussed only a few important things such as the 2010 general election and the recent maritime boundary issue with Bangladesh.

"I think they [the junta] would have discussed important things such as the 2010 election, and the recent oil crisis between Bangladesh, and also about the economic crisis," Htay Aung explained.

It is likely that the junta decided who would form political parties for the 2010 election and who would remain in the distinct military apparatus, Htay Aung said.

However, he said changes within the military ranks in the quarterly meeting are normal and have little overall significance on the military structure.

(Additional reporting by Sein Win)

READ MORE---> Another changing of the guards for Burma's junta...

Eighteen More Political Prisoners Transferred

The Irrawaddy News

Another 18 political prisoners were transferred from Rangoon’s Insein Prison to remote prisons around Burma on Monday, and family members are struggling to confirm their loved ones’ whereabouts.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), 18 political prisoners were transferred to various prisons including Thaton Prison, Moulmein Prison, Kale Prison, Meiktila Prison, Myingyan Prison, Bamaw Prison, Taungyi Prison, Lashio Prison, Tavoy Prison, Paungte Prison and Tharawaddy prison.

Beginning last Sunday, many prominent political prisoners, including Buddhist monks, leading activists from 88 Generation Students, lawyers, a blogger and a poet, were transferred from Rangoon's Insein Prison.

Many family members say they still can’t locate where their loved ones have been transferred during the past week.

Aung Tun, the younger brother of leading activist Ko Ko Gyi, said his brother was no longer in Kengtung Prison in Shan State and his location is unknown.

Also human rights activist Su Su Nway is now in Kale Prison in Sagaing Division, according to Nyan Win, a spokesperson of National League for Democracy, even though Insein Prison authorities said she was transferred to Mandalay Prison last week.

Many families say the remote locations are causing added difficulties in visiting their loved ones.

Aung Thein, a lawyer who defended members of the 88 Generation Students was given four months in prison for contempt of court, is currently detained in a prison in Bassein, the capital of Irrawaddy Division.

His wife said, "I spent 10,000 kyat (US $8) to visit his prison last week. They told me they couldn’t allow me to see him due to National Day. I had stayed for two days but I didn't see my husband."

Meanwhile, the Burma Fund, a policy think tank of the exiled government, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, has released a report, "The Findings in the Open Heart Letter Campaign,” which is based on data compiled by the 88 Generation Student group before many of its members were arrested. The group initiated a campaign on January 4, 2007, calling on Burmese citizens to write letters describing their feelings about the social and political situation in the country.

Dr. Thaung Htun of the Burma Fund told The Irrawaddy: "By releasing this report, we hope the international community—and especially Asean—will give more attention to the situation in Burma because it is getting worse."

READ MORE---> Eighteen More Political Prisoners Transferred...

Asean Human Rights Moves More Talk Than Action

The Irrawaddy News
November 24, 2008

As the Asean summit draws closer, it has become crystal clear that the state will continue to reign supreme in the overall scheme of things in this regional grouping. On the eve of the Asean Charter entering into force on December 15, loud noises have been heard non-stop on the inevitability of making Asean a people-oriented community, especially in the area of promotion and protection of human rights. In reality, however, it remains a distant dream. Following the charter's enforcement, the most important mechanism that Asean will establish by the end of next year is an Asean human rights body (AHRB)—that much the ministers have agreed to. After all, the proposed body still does not have an official name.

The members of the High Level Panel (HPL) still have to deliberate on the appropriate name. The first draft of the terms of reference (TOR) was completed at the recent meeting in Bali and will be ready within weeks for consideration of the foreign ministerial meeting ahead of the summit in Chiang Mai. The content and mandate of this body is still under negotiation and it is going to be tough.

During the 4th roundtable discussion on human rights in Asean last week, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, the HPL chairperson, said human rights promotion and protection would be an evolutionary process given the differences of Asean members' diversities, stages of developments and political awareness. All Asean members, he reiterated, understand the importance of setting up an Asean human rights body as the world is watching closely.

"We have to deal with the reality—the region's diversity. But we are part of the global community. There are certain norms and standards on human rights that we have to observe and respect and promote. The Asean human rights body must conform to international standards and norms. Otherwise, we will not credible," he said.

Sihasek, who is currently the Thai envoy to the UN Permanent Representative in Geneva, expressed the hope that Asean members would be willing to engage the human rights body that would create moral clouts beyond the current mandate.

As the HLP is touching up the first TOR draft, several issues remain contentious. Asean human rights experts and civil society groups want the human rights body to give equal treatment to promotion and protection and make the mechanism more participatory. They have cried foul over the attempt to use the non-interference principle in the field of human rights. They argued that any violation of human rights within Asean should not be tolerated and the non-interference principle should not be used as a pretext for this.

Their question is: How can Asean as an organization promote its cooperation for the protection of human rights, when all member countries agree that the primary responsibility and jurisdiction in protecting human rights is with the governments.

According to a human rights scholar Dr Sriprapha Petcharamesree of Mahidol University, the proposed Asean human rights body is actually focused on promotion more than protection. The TOR has made 12 recommendations on human rights promotion and a few ideas for protection.

Apparently, the HLP members were more comfortable with the promotion activities such as raising awareness through various means such as education and capacity building and technical cooperation. Civil society groups want a mechanism that has a broad-ranging power to compile, investigate and write reports on the human rights situation in Asean member states. Given the current global financial crisis, they expected there would be more cases of violation of human rights that Asean needs to address.

Admitting that the Asean human rights body is not a panacea for all problems of rights violations, Sihasek expressed the hope that when the members reach the comfort level, human rights protection would be forthcoming.

"They would be more open to request for information, open to information sharing and engage in human rights with each other," he said.

Being the last region in the world to have a human rights mechanism, these civil society groups hope that Asean can draw valuable lessons from other regional organizations that have already established comprehensive human rights protection mechanisms such as in Europe, Africa, North and Latin America.

Within Asean, only Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are more enthusiastic about a more liberal human rights body.

For instance, they want to have members of the human rights body coming directly from an electoral process. But the rest of Asean members preferred government nominated persons, who are official or otherwise but they have to be "impartial".

As the Asean chair, Thailand could have done a lot better to improve the TOR but for the present political impasse that has produced undignified and ineffective leaders.

Taken together, they have diminished the country's overall bargaining power on all Asean-related issues. Worse, due to the government's incompetence and lack of urgency, as it stands now, Thailand might not be able to co-sign the over two-dozen Asean documents planned at the summit. Both Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and Foreign Minister Sompong Amornwiwat must take the blame.

Kavi Chongkittavorn is Assistant Group Editors of Thailand's English daily The Nation and this article appeared in The Nation on Monday.

READ MORE---> Asean Human Rights Moves More Talk Than Action...

A Coup Against Than Shwe

The Irrawaddy News

Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s hold on power in Burma is turning the country into a gulag. Even members of the armed forces, including many young officers rising in the ranks, know that Burma would be better off without him. But are they prepared to act on the growing dissatisfaction they feel as they watch the country slide into a black hole?

There is no doubt that many soldiers and officers believe that removing Than Shwe and other junta hardliners from power is the only way to end Burma’s misery. Members of the military have watched the gap between rich and poor widen to a chasm even within their own ranks, with ordinary soldiers struggling to survive while corrupt generals grow obscenely rich.

It is entirely possible that some unknown faction within the armed forces is plotting the overthrow of Than Shwe and those loyal to him. We don’t know who they are or when they will strike; but we can be sure that if they did turn on their supreme leader, many others within the military would likely join forces with them.

If some bold young officers did decide to take matters into their own hands, it wouldn’t be the first time in Burma’s recent history. In 1976, Capt Ohn Kyaw Myint, a staff officer serving under Gen Kyaw Htin, then commander in chief of the armed forces, plotted to assassinate state leaders, including Ne Win and San Yu.

Along with other young officers who graduated from the Defense Services Academy, Ohn Kyaw Myint held clandestine meetings in the War Office to discuss the assassination of Ne Win, the strongman who first placed Burma under military rule.

Burma’s secret police eventually uncovered the plot and immediately set out to discover who the ringleader was.

On the evening of July 2, Ohn Kyaw Myint decided to seek asylum at the US embassy in Rangoon. Although he appeared at the US ambassador’s residence and explained his abortive coup plan, his request for asylum was rejected. The secret police finally caught him.

When Ohn Kyaw Myint and several other officers were put on trial, they became national heroes overnight. Army soldiers and officers who were interrogated in connection with the coup plot told Ohn Kyaw Myint and his group how much they admired them. The open trial in Insein was attended by many ordinary citizens who also expressed admiration for the young rebel officers.

The accused army officers openly attacked Ne Win’s “Burmese Way to Socialism” when they were placed on the stand. They lashed out at corrupt cadres and criticized the regime’s policies, which they said were driving the country into economic ruin.

Their testimony turned out to be quite prophetic: A little more than a decade later, the collapse of the economy triggered massive social unrest and led to Ne Win’s forced resignation. (Ironically, Capt Win Thein, one of the accused officers who lambasted Ne Win’s disastrous economic policies, is now a millionaire with close business ties to the current military leaders.)

Many junior officers were apprehended and jailed or forced to resign. Hundreds of army officers at the War Office were removed from their posts and regional commanders implicated in the coup plot were forced to step down. Gen Tin Oo, the former armed forces chief of staff who is now the chairman of the National League for Democracy, was among those who were thrown into prison for having knowledge of the coup plan.

Than Shwe, who was then a colonel and a loyal follower of Ne Win, escaped the purge.

Ohn Kyaw Myint was hanged for his part in the plot, but his name is not forgotten in Burma. Many still applaud his heroic attempt to get rid of the men whose stranglehold on power had slowly squeezed the life out of the country.

Why did the plot to assassinate Ne Win fail? Most have blamed it on the would-be coup leaders repeated postponement of their plans to carry out the plot. On one occasion, they called off their mission as they drove their army jeep on A.D. Road, where Ne Win and other top leaders lived, because they saw bird droppings on their windshield. They thought it was a bad omen and decided to abort at the last minute.

Today, activists say there is no shortage of young officers like Ohn Kyaw Myint in the armed forces. But many Burmese ask: Where are they? Perhaps past experience has taught them to be cautious (although Ohn Kyaw Myint’s case would seem to suggest that an excess of caution can prove to be deadly).

It is probably fair to say that these moderate forces within the military, whoever they are, are not necessarily supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi or the democracy movement. But they probably want to restore the army’s honor by doing its duty instead of trying to run the country.

Burmese in the past looked to the armed forces for protection from external threats, such as a possible invasion by the Kuomintang in the years after the Communists won the civil war in China, and from the multi-colored insurgents who threatened Burma soon after it won its independence from Britain.

The Burmese armed forces are now regarded with fear and contempt by ordinary people, a fact that troubles many officers who believe they are working in the service of their country.

But many Burmese know that there are still some genuine patriots within the ranks of the military, and believe that the only hope for their country is for one of them to finally break Than Shwe’s hold on power.

It may seem a remote possibility, but you can’t blame people for wanting to believe that there are still some within the ranks of the armed forces who understand the meaning of courage and decency.

READ MORE---> A Coup Against Than Shwe...

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