Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Clinton’s Flawed Burma Message

The Irrawaddy News

Despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s insistence on her innocence, the learned support of her lawyers and the international community, it’s clear that the generals are determined to keep her locked up.

The final verdict in her bizarre trial in Rangoon’s Insein Prison will be announced on Friday, and security around Rangoon is being beefed up in readiness for possible protests.

Suu Kyi is charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest order by giving refuge to an American trespasser, John William Yettaw, and faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment if convicted.

Suu Kyi told her lawyers on the final day of the trial that the proceedings would show “whether or not the rule of law exists in the country.” The sad fact, however, is that Suu Kyi is fighting a losing battle in a country where the basic rule of law is not respected.

Analysts say the trial is politically motivated and is an attempt to exclude Suu Kyi from future politics and the 2010 election.

It is certain that the regime plans to hand out punishment to the Nobel Peace Prize winner and perhaps drag the court proceedings out still further.

High-ranking US officials recently said that Suu Kyi’s trial has complicated the Obama administration’s policy review on Burma. It is increasingly obvious that it’s a wrong strategy to tie the trial to a policy review and to a decision on whether to increase or renew sanctions on Burma.

Last week, at the Asean Ministerial Meeting in Phuket, Thailand, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made contradictory statements on Burma. She had earlier said that Burma’s relationship with North Korea would destabilize the region, and she offered incentives to the regime.

Clinton also said that if Suu Kyi were released, “this would open up doors for investment and for other exchanges that would help the people of Burma.”

It is naïve to expect that the regime would exchange Suu Kyi’s freedom in return for cash and investment. The regime leaders won’t compromise and such a deal is far from their thoughts.

It is safe to assume that the regime leaders are quite confident that they can weather the international pressure with the support of such friends as China.

According to a recent report from Burma’s Ministry of National Planning and Development, foreign investment jumped from $172.7m in the 2007- 2008 fiscal year to a current peak of $984.9m. The ministry said China accounted for 87 per cent of total investments—mainly in energy and natural resources.

With this level of Chinese support, Burmese rulers and their armed forces are assured of the financial and political backing to continue their crimes in the ethnic regions for decades to come. The oppressed people of Burma will continue to live in extreme poverty.

The regime’s ultimate goal is to remain in power as long as it can. Suu Kyi poses a real threat to the Than Shwe’s road map and his grip on power—and so do more than 2,000 political prisoners held by his regime.

Secretary of State Clinton should have learnt from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had earlier delivered a firm message to the generals, telling them to free Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, to make the road map inclusive, to work for national reconciliation and to ensure that the 2010 election is credible.

Clinton and Ban were each acting as temporary negotiators in Burma’s hostage drama, where the Burmese feel themselves prisoners in their own country. Clinton’s message, however, failed to strike the correct tone.

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