Thursday, May 28, 2009

Challenging the Regime’s ‘Big Lie’

The Irrawaddy News

The senior Burmese police officer Brig-Gen Myint Thein tried to get reporters and diplomats this week to believe that Aung San Suu Kyi was to have been released but the regime’s good intentions were stymied by the incident involving her uninvited American visitor, John William Yettaw.

"So within the existing laws, she was regretfully, inevitably charged," he declared.

No thinking person accepts Myint Thein’s sophistry, which recalls the German dictator Adolf Hitler’s famous line: "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it."

On the day Myint Thein came out with his own big lie, Asian and European Union foreign ministers, including Burma's traditional allies China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, concluded a two-day meeting in Hanoi with a statement calling on Burma’s junta to release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

However, this Asian way of "face-saving" has acted as a shield behind which the Burmese regime has been able to lie time and again, since the 1990 election which resulted in an overwhelming triumph for Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy—a victory the generals refused to recognize. They know very well that they have no shortage of friends—governments and individuals alike—to save their shameless face.

For example, at the European Union and China summit in Prague last week, China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said: "The most important thing is to stick to the principles of mutual respect and not interfere in each others’ internal affairs." He also urged the EU to “ensure that our bilateral relationship will not be adversely affected by individual incidents."

Unsurprisingly, in order to safeguard its business dealings with Burma and its unhindered access to Burma's natural resources, China accords its "respect" to the junta and promises not to “interfere” in its “internal affairs,” even though the regime has killed more than 30 peaceful demonstrators and imprisoned more than 1,000.

Across its western borders, Burma receives the same respect from India, wary about disturbing its relations with the Naypyidaw regime because of its interest in Burma's huge oil and gas resources.

India has indeed come a long way since it backed Suu Kyi and her opposition movement, even awarding her its prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Award in 1993.

But indifference to the plight of Suu Kyi is also found outside the borders of China and India, and some Burma observers are even linking the trial to calls for an end to sanctions against the regime.

Reacting to pressure for stricter European sanctions against Burma, Thant Myint-U, a Burmese historian and former UN official, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph: "Any effort to limit the humanitarian funding needed to help Burma's poorest people as a response to Suu Kyi's trial would be shameful and would lead directly to the deaths of thousands of innocent people."

Similarly, Derek Tonkin, former British Ambassador to Thailand and now chairman of Network Myanmar, commented in a press release: "The universal outrage and dismay which has greeted the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her two companions, Daw Khin Khin Win and the latter's daughter Daw Win Ma Ma, should not blind us to the fact that sanctions against Myanmar applied over the last twenty years have had no effect at all in inducing political reform. Indeed, they have only made matters worse."

The trial of Suu Kyi should not blind people, however, to the indisputable fact that the Burmese government’s criminal disregard for the welfare of its people has led to their impoverishment. This is the same government that fiddled while the Irrawaddy delta drowned, which imprisoned Burmese citizens who dared to help, adding to the more than 2,000 political prisoners now languishing in the country’s jails.

While it’s to be hoped that sanctions will be lifted once the regime allows an all-inclusive participation in Burma’s political and economic development, the punitive measures are not the cause of the country’s poverty. The blame is born entirely by the regime, its mismanagement of the economy and its lack of vision, or even more short of benevolence.

It’s a disgrace that some governments and individuals are still defending the military rulers of Burma and swallowing their lies. For two decades, the Burmese people have suffered while the ruling generals, their cronies, opportunists and their business partners from the neighboring countries have exploited the country's natural resources. That’s the simple truth—any denial is just a big lie.

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