Written by U Ne Oo on 1997-06-04

The Dialogue in Burma

cannot be held without Aung San Suu Kyi

There has been report of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi offering to stay out of dialogue in Burma; possibly in the notion that SLORC might make compromise with National Leagith National League for Democracy in the absence of DASSK. I believe that such an offer of DASSK to stay out of dialogue is not in the best interest of the democracy movement. One reason for that is the National League for Democracy has always been identified, both inside and outside of the country, with the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. In addition to that, she appears to be the most knowledgeable person regarding with democratization amongst current Executive Committee of NLD. It therefore will be inappropriate for Daw Aung San SDaw Aung San Suu Kyi to take a relatively unassuming role in the dialogue.


It is well known to all of us of the struggle of National League for Democracy and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Among the three founders of NLD - U Aung Gyi, U Tin Oo(Executive) and Daw Aung SAn Suu KYi - notably U Aung Gyi had withdrawn from party when things were getting difficult. It is Aung San Suu Kyi and the current NLD-EC who deserve the credit for maintaining the momentining the momentum and organization of the party. It must be noted that maintaining an opposition party - The NLD - under a very repressive regime like SLORC is by no means a small task. The courage and discipline of MPs as well as EC leadership are, therefore, most remarkable.

Her leadership role in the democracy movement, although may be repetitive to some other writings, also need to be clarified. The leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi are mostly referred to in politics as the "visionary leaders". Firstly, to her choice of resis choice of resistance to the military junta - the non-violent struggle. As I recalled, there was skepticism about such kind of resistance to military regime in 1989-1990, both by the Burmese and foreigners. Many Burmese, of course, heard of Gandhi and the non-violent resistance. However the majority at that time do not really believe such method can make a change or simply don't know how to start a struggle. I myself, at that time a Ph.D. student at the Adelaide University and intensely interested in, but an "on-looker" to the democ" to the democracy movement, do not have enough knowledge about such struggle and simply do not believe that such method may bring a change to Burma.

The first surprise to us was the election result of 27-May-1990. We know, at that time, Burmese people do not support the military regime. However, to yield such an un-ambiguous message of disapproval of SLORC by the Burmese people in such a way is quite unbelievable (at least, to me). This has led me to conclude that the result must be attributed to the non-violent method.on-violent method.

The superiority of such non-violent struggle over an armed resistance is clearly shown by such election result. The 1990 election result has made military junta illegitimate and has removed the military regime's legitimacy (Note here: the term 'legitimacy' is used in positive sense, as in the cases of governments in the democratic societies.). It is obvious that if the Burmese people were to stage a full-scale armed struggle beginning in 1988, they wouldn't achieve that much within two years. With this evaluatith this evaluation, I began to believe that there must be something of credible forces within such non-violent struggle.

Aung San Suu Kyi's choice of non-violent struggle is also quite timely for post-Cold War period. In Cold War politics, it might have been possible to search for military support to oust such regime. However, in the post-Cold War, the non-violent struggle seems to be the only way forward.(Her ideals and underlying motives in choosing non-violent method at that time in 1988 being reflected in the note by Philthe note by Philip Kreager in book "Freedom From Fear". As things turned out, the Cold War has ended soon after the 1988-events of Burma, and the World's Politics appears to become more in favour of a non-violent struggle for Burma.)

Her distinguished contribution to the Burma democracy movement in broader context is of the writings of the book, "Freedom From Fear". Her writings in these book are not only of inspirational to many democracy activists, but also shed some light on how one can tread the path of non-violence. Accon-violence. According to my perceptions, the two distinguished essays in that book, "In Quest of Democracy" and "Freedom From Fear", have adequately given one to the answers of where and how to start a non-violent struggle.


A frequent response amongst the pro-democracy activists to whom I come into contact with in regards to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's leadership is total and unconditional support. It is, of course, helpful to give such support; but, in my pers but, in my personal view, a more informed and active support by grassroots to leadership are much more helpful. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself may be a "visionary". However, in a struggle, the grassroots people must be able to formulate plans so as to serve that vision. It is not healthy to be relying too much on the leadership on actions; the grassroots supports groups must make their own initiatives and take responsibility for every and any action. This will also ease pressures regarding the task of decision-making of the political the political leadership. The best way to do that is to increase communication & discussion among the groups and to stick to implementing best policy available.

The co-operation amongst grassroots support groups, especially outside the country, is the most important factor in carrying out the struggle. Making own initiatives and having sought co-operations amongst grassroots groups can also be considered as a form of "Self-empowerment". From a small local-refugee advocacy group to a larger political body, such as NDF, onesuch as NDF, one must try to make own initiative and sought co-operation amongst colleagues and supporters. By observing the campaigns carried out in recent period, it can be noted that we - the grassroots groups - are in a good form in such cooperations.


The support from international community is also important. We must continue to urge substantive actions from the United Nations and United States. It is up to the major powers to put substantive pressure on SLORC if and when LORC if and when they considered to be appropriate and ready. In the meantime, the National League for Democracy should be urged to prepare itself to develop into the best form of a government. Prodemocracy forces outside of the country can contribute valuable part in this regards: such as promoting transitional economic policies, alternative constitution etc. Hopefully, people who have the competence to do the work come out of the crowd.


Not surprisingly, current situation of tht situation of the National League for Democracy and SLORC in Power is quite similar to period of 1944-47, the AFPFL requesting from the British to transfer state power. General Aung San wrote in his "The Burma Challenge, 1946" with regards to power transfer as:

"The climax of every Revolution is the transfer of power. ..... power is not a thing to be seized today, and lost tomorrow. It must be firmly held and consolidated."

General Aung San's note ended with one notable advice: e notable advice: there can be no such thing as 'Revolution in one-stroke', i.e. things can only be done one step at a time. It is the time for the NLD to begin consolidating its power.

One psychological barrier for these NLD-ECs for consolidation of power is Burmese distaste for power combined with politeness. Burmese people especially do not like the 'power-mongers' and therefore some of NLD-EC/MPs may be reluctant to be seen as 'power-greedy'. However, these NLD-ECs should be more assertive in assuming their mandated role as andated role as elected representatives who must taken charge of the state power.

One other criticism frequently put forward by SLORC is Aung San Suu Kyi's marriage to a Briton. Such an issue - not that important to most Burmese - might have come into consideration in normal circumstances. However, current situation is a most extra-ordinary circumstances and therefore Aung San Suu Kyi should ignore such criticism from SLORC. Burmese people want to see Aung San Suu Kyi serving them in a government, whilst Suu Kyi cannot changeyi cannot change her marriage to a Briton; No Burmese wanted SLORC members to be in the government, whilst army personnel may have to be included in government - these are the kind of compromises that one must contemplate at this moment.

With best regards, U Ne Oo.




When Asean foreign mini When Asean foreign ministers begin their meeting tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur to finalise the admission of Burma, Cambodia and Laos into the regional grouping, they will find Burma's membership the most problematic.

Although the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has responded positively-to Burma's bid to join the economic and political bloc, its members are finding it increasingly difficult to justify their association with the intransigent Burmese junta and their decision to grant it membership this year.

The ruling State

The ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council's (Slorc) latest crackdown on the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) could not have come at a worse time and is a big embarrassment for Asean.

The news of the nationwide arrests of NLD MPs, members and their family members - more than 300 in total - broke on May 21, just one day after US President Bill Clinton signed into force an executive order imposing economic sanctions against Burma, and exactly 10 days before the crucial Asean meeting.

The sweeping

The sweeping crackdown took place less than two weeks after the May 7 to 10 visit to Burma of UN special envoy Alvaro de Soto, an assistant secretary-general for political affairs who was in the country to facilitate national reconciliation and dialogue.

Along with the clampdown, Slorc also tried to block the NLD from holding a congress to commemorate the party's ignored landslide victory in the May 27,1990 general elections and to work out its political programme and activities.

Although Asean members have played dembers have played down any impacts from the American economic sanctions on their relations with Slorc, they are aware that Burma could become an unwelcome source of confrontation between the grouping and its Western dialogue partners, especially the US.

They are also concerned that Washington's broadly-written economic sanctions could have far-reaching implications and might affect American participation in regional projects that extend from a third country to Burma.

With rising domestic opposition to Burma's admission, to Burma's admission, Asean governments know that their peoples are becoming more intolerant of Slorc's repressive behaviour and its aggression which is extending beyond Burma's border.

In Thailand, the public was shocked by the unexpected deployment of Burmese troops to protect the Burmese dredging of a disputed islet on the Moei River. Although top Thai officers promptly intervened to resolve the crisis, Burmese and Thai troops were at one time facing off just a few metres apart.

They are also upset that Slorc has been t that Slorc has been indifferent to the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Thailand - the largest Burmese community outside Burma whose presence has been a heavy financial? economic and social burden for the Thai public.

In Malaysia, the powerful Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (Abim) has accused Slorc of harassing Burmese Muslim communities to the extent of "ethnic cleansing" and of practising religious discrimination against Islam.

Abim?, whose founder and former president is the current actint is the current acting prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, has condemned Slorc for the alleged demolition of more than 30 mosques and other Muslim properties throughout Burma since March 16 this year.

Abim secretary-general Ahmad Azam Abdul Rahman called on his government to review its constructive engagement policy with Burma and to delay the country's entry into Asean.

Foreign diplomats in the Burmese capital and in Bangkok share a similar opinion that as the regional and international pressure mounts, and with Burma's mism and with Burma's mismanaged economy on the verge of collapse, Slorc is acting and reacting more irrationally.

They believe that some Asean countries are well aware that Burma's premature membership in Asean in the absence of democratic and human rights improvements could become a liability and no an asset for the grouping and could further alienate it from its key Western dialogue partners, especially the US and the European Union.

Slorc's intransigence, and refusal to compromise and open a dialogue with the NLD, stems frwith the NLD, stems from the tacit political and economic support it has secured over the years from key 'regional powers Asean, China and Japan, as well as their pledges of non interference.

Obviously, the regime is betting that it can, like in May last year when more than 260 NLD activists were arrested, survive the current international backlash against its crackdown on the NLD.

According to well-informed diplomatic sources, Slorc has retained "a very tough stance" on nearly all issues, particularly the refusal to hold the refusal to hold talks with the NLD.

Although the regime has agreed to let UN human rights envoy to Burma Rajsoomer Lallah visit the country "soon" - probably in September - and has already started talks with the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross on the reopening of its office in Rangoon, it has refused to budge on other issues.

The sources pointed out that the latest crackdown on the NLD was Slorc's reply to NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi's latest peace initiative. In her recent proposal to Slorc, the posal to Slorc, the Nobel Prize laureate agreed to stay out of any NLD dialogue with the ruling generals.

Suu Kyi has assured Slorc that the NLD was not seeking power and that the dialogue could be "unconditional?? and "secret" and be "talk about talk", "talk about agenda" or "talk about modality".

She agreed that she would stay out of the talks and let other top NLD leaders - U Kyi Maung? U Tin Oo and U Aung Shwe - participate in them. Asean countries have been informed of Suu Kyi's latest peace overture, according to terture, according to the sources.

Interestingly, while the NLD seemed to have softened its stance for the sake of national reconciliation, Slorc has- toughened its stance and increased its suppression of the democratic opposition.

Sources said Slorc had, during the recent meeting with UN envoy de Soto? blamed the NLD and Suu Kyi for the two tragic bombings in December and April that killed a number of innocent people including the eldest daughter of a top Slorc general.

Slorc's ignorance and disrespect of the Burmese and international calls for political reform and compromise should not go unnoticed. Moreover, its repressive behaviour and aggression against its people and Burma's neighbours should be punished and not rewarded with Asean membership.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Dialogue in Burma