Monday, May 25, 2009

Could Than Shwe be one of the ‘Plotters’?

The Irrawaddy News

Having brought Aung San Suu Kyi to trial, the Burmese regime is now on the defensive.

Last week, in a phone conversation with his Japanese counterpart Hirofumi Nakasone, Foreign Minister Nyan Win claimed the incident of the uninvited American visitor to Suu Kyi’s house was “trumped up to intensify international pressure on Myanmar [Burma], by internal and external anti-government elements” at a time when the US, Japan and some European countries were reviewing their policies toward the military-ruled country.

If that is really the case, the regime is directly playing into the hands of these “plotters” and “internal” and “external elements.” They should be happy indeed.

Since the arrest of Suu Kyi, the US has extended its sanctions against Burma and strongly condemned the regime’s action. Condemnation of her arrest and trial before a kangaroo court has come from throughout the world, with diplomats saying the international outcry is a positive development and must be sustained.

The irony is that by arresting Suu Kyi and putting her on trial, Snr Gen Than Shwe has boosted her image and highlighted the opposition movement.

Than Shwe was surely not surprised to see the world’s swift reaction and condemnation—the regime’s senior leaders in Naypyidaw are very much aware of the pressure. But moderate forces have been stonewalled. It seems that Than Shwe is determined to keep Suu Kyi in Insein Prison.

But Than Shwe’s scheme to extend Suu Kyi’s detention only undermined his effort to repair Burma’s relationship with the West. Than Shwe has again shot himself in the foot—with critics of the regime saying the momentum of international pressure should be sustained until the regime meets the world’s demands.

But is it too late for Than Shwe? Probably not.

To counter and deflect international pressure, Than Shwe can still implement some quick surprise tactics.

Instead of sending Suu Kyi to Insein Prison, Than Shwe could beef up security at Suu Kyi’s compound and show the world that her safety is guaranteed.

He could then have her uninvited visitor, John William Yettaw charged before an open court. If he hopes to repair in some measure the regime’s relationship with the West, he could suspend any jail sentence and deport Yettaw.

However, this is too complicated or sophisticated for a leader of Than Shwe’s confused logic to contemplate. He wanted to extend Suu Kyi’s detention before the current term expires on May 27, and was looking for a pretext. This is it.

In effect, the tall story of Yettaw’s swim and the trial of Suu Kyi have badly backfired for Than Shwe and the regime.

Ironically, Than Shwe was the one who helped “plotters” to intensify international pressure on the regime and gave a justification for an extension of sanctions. He also faces the thorny problem of winning legitimacy for the 2010 election and the resulting government.

More pressure is expected as Suu Kyi’s trial continues. The damage has been done. Instead of fixing the problem, Than Shwe has enlarged the wound and rubbed in more salt.

Nyan Win’s remarks to his Japanese counterpart are intriguing. Who was behind the intensification of international pressure and the justification of continued sanctions from the West? Did Nyan Win implicate Than Shwe as one of the plotters?

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