Monday, August 3, 2009

Singapore Foreign Minister Challenged Over Burma Remarks

The Irrawaddy News

Remarks about Burma by Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo have raised eyebrows in Burmese exile circles.

In an interview with Singapore’s Online Citizen, Yeo made several incorrect statements about Burma, leading to questions about the depth of his knowledge of the country.

In the most blatant of the errors, Yeo said Burma had been ruled by the military since independence. In fact, post-independence Burma enjoyed democratic government until 1962, when Gen Ne Win’s coup introduced military rule.

Yeo was also incorrect in telling the Online Citizen that independence hero Aung San had created the law that a Burmese citizen who married a foreigner could not take political office.

The law could be used to bar his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi from ever becoming Burma’s president.

In fact, Aung San did not introduce the law. According to Burma’s first constitution of 1947, the president of Burma has to be at least second generation Burmese.

“No person shall be eligible for election to the office of President unless he is a citizen of the Union who was, or both of whose parents were, born in any of the territories included within the Union,” according to the 1947 constitution.

And to be a qualified member of parliament, the constitution noted that, “Any person who is under any acknowledgment of allegiance or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or citizen or entitled to the rights and privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power shall be disqualified for being chosen as and for being member of either Chamber.”

An application by Suu Kyi to be accepted as a candidate in the 1990 election was rejected on the grounds she had married a British scholar, Michael Aris.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was accused three things, one of them being that she was not qualified because she married a foreigner,” said Moe Zaw Oo, a leader of the National League for Democracy (Youth) in the 1990s who closely worked with Suu Kyi before she was put under house arrest in 1989.

In the Online Citizen interview, Yeo also said that the problems of Burma must not be oversimplified. They were very complex because of ethnic diversity, he said.

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