Written by U Ne Oo on 1999-04-20

Most of Burmese pro-democracy campaigners had little or no information about the personal hardships of ASSK and her family, until late last month on the news about Michael Aris's grave illness broke. After Michael Aris death, tributes by fellow Burma democracy campaigners were pouring in especially on Internetcially on Internet and various media. Michael Aris was a remarkable man who can face such the personal hardships with a great calmness and integrity. As an "admirer from a distance", I do not personally know nor had any contact with him. His death, however, has saddened me. I am outraged by the fact that Burmese generals manipulating the ASSK's family tragedy to their advantage. I am even more concerned about SPDC/SLORC's tendency to use any leverage to destroy its opponents, especially Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD.


As all of us are aware, the SPDC/SLORC since 1988 has mounted a relentless campaigns against Aung San Suu Kyi and her leadership, especially in connection with her marriage to a foreigner. In speaking of the truth, SPDC/SLORC has some point to contend on this fact. However, because Suu Kyi is the daughter of Burma's national hero, General Aung San, the Burmese public opinion on Suu Kyi has not changed. On the other hand, Suu her hand, Suu Kyi's commitment to Burma democratic cause that combined by her political work, in particular establishing and maintaining the National League for Democracy party, in its own right becomes respectable to the Burmese public. Adding to this respectability was various international awards, including Nobel Peace Prize, as recognition of her work. ASSK now has an enormous political profile, both domestically and internationally, that unmatched to her opponents.

From the SPDC/SLORC's part, ASSK's marrt, ASSK's marriage to a foreigner had been the biggest draw-card to attack Aung San Suu Kyi. No doubt, for the 'Propaganda writers' of the New Light of Myanmar as well as the Burmese generals, including junta's chief strategist General Khin Nyunt, the single focal point of attack on Suu Kyi's leadership is her marriage. Aung San Suu Kyi on her part has reportedly maintained her Burmese passport and citizenship despite living in Britain for many years. Undoubtedly, after the death of Michael Aris, SPDC/SLORC no longer have a founda have a foundation to attack Aung San Suu Kyi--a widow. In fact, both in SPDC/SLORC's eyes and in actual fact, Aung San Suu Kyi has now become politically invincible leader.

One objective for SPDC/SLORC's writing the constitution and holding a new election is to get rid of Aung San Suu Kyi from Burma's political scene. As we all know, the SPDC/SLORC laid down a guideline in writing constitution in order to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi in future political process. SPDC/SLORC leaders must have been hoping to excluoping to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi in a new election--i.e. after writing the constitution--probably on the ground of her marriage. With the death of Michael Aris, those Burmese generals' hope were also dashed. In fact, the SPDC/SLORC leadership now have no justifiable reason to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi from any future political process.


An alarming trend observed in recent years is the SPDC/SLORC leadership's unwillingness to reconcile with the opile with the opposition. SPDC/SLORC use almost any political space--some being made available for reconciliation with the opposition--in order to attack NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi. Some Burmese democracy campaigners complain to it as the shortcomings of the (politically) constructive engagement towards Burma(i.e. Burmese junta). In a constructive engagement, the international community may, for example, give some political concession to entice the junta to make a further reform. Unfortunately, this does not happen in dealing wi in dealing with the Burmese junta. Such a lack of success about constructive engagement for Burma probably lies not on the merits of the engagement itself. The failure, in part, rests with the international community's inability to backed-up such engagement with a proper leverage with a substantial political power. On the other hand, the political intransigence of the Burmese generals that generated by narrow mindness and non-openness can also be the problem.

One example of constructive engagement is the Aagement is the ASEAN membership. In this case, the international commnity has given some political concession to SPDC/SLORC to make further reform. The Burmese junta, however, is unable to use such initiative for further reforms. Whist the junta is making propaganda for its membership within ASEAN, the pressure on opposition has increased and failing to move forward on reconciliation.

If a man's judgment on others people's action is believed to be based upon his self image, there will indeed be an enormous gap for the Burap for the Burmese generals, including General Khin Nyunt, to enter any genuine political negotiation. This problem occurs because of the Burmese military clique's fundamental mis-understanding about politics and political processes (In Burma, that problem is not only confined to military establishment, I must say). To many of those Burmese, politics or political process is not being considered as that of mutual understanding and cooperation of the masses. But the politics is primarily considered as playing dirty tricks upony tricks upon its opponent and exercising power on the subordinate (Thu-myar-myet-khone-hmway-paw-zin-gyan-shout). With this kind of outlook on politics, any initiative--including the genuine moves for reconciliation--by the opponent will be interpreted by military as simply playing tricks.

Recent incident of the late Michael Aris' request to visit Rangoon is an example. Michael Aris' request for visit to Burma was considered by the Burmese generals as a possible trick by the opponents to publicise the cause of Aung Saause of Aung San Suu Kyi. Tragically, in this case, Michael Aris' request was a genuine one made in the desperate circumstances. It is a prime example of how Burmese generals will perceive any of their political opponent's words and actions as the tricks.

The circumstances on Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD that led up to recent time also need examining. Although the general public, only until recently, was unaware about Michael Aris's serious illness, the SPDC/SLORC certainly have had the knowledge about it and also the pressurso the pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi (NB: every phone conversation with ASSK were monitored by Military Intelligence Services). It appears that SPDC/SLORC had try to take advantage of this fact in order to expel ASSK from Burma. After the NLD demanded to convene the parliament in last August, SPDC/SLORC put all MP-elects under the detention and, then, the most serious campaign to expel ASSK was launched, with the knowledge that ASSK has been under pressure to reunite with her family. This is a rather disturbing exampleurbing example of SPDC/SLORC attempting to destroy its opponent whenever an opportunity arise. In this case, however, the SPDC/SLORC has grossly miscalculated ASSK's commitment to the cause of Burma democracy movement.

In sum, the Burmese generals' mistrust about other political leaders ( &the political non-openness), the narrow outlook on politics and the pettiness of mind are to be considered as the major obstacle for negotiation. Nevertheless, recent change in circumstances, hopefully, may force Burmese generals to retgenerals to rethink their stand on the opposition NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi.


We, the pro-democracy campaigners, must remind ourselves that, in a political movement, having a leader with a high and invincible profile is not enough. The democracy leaders who have genuine goodwill and understanding of general public can only be a starting point. Doing politics and engaging in political negotiation will require the plans and policies. Political negotiation is not simpion is not simply about two opposing leaders shaking hands. Following facts, therefore, may be worth examining for the pro-democracy campaigners and the NLD leadership.

(A) The NLD leadership must have a clear set of objectives when offering negotiation with SPDC/SLORC. In my personal view, forming an interim administration with the NLD(& CRPP) to take Legislative role and SPDC/SLORC to take Executive role presents the best possible solution. As such, the NLD leadership should clearly spell-out theirpell-out their intention on their moves on convening parliament. Part of the anxiety of SPDC/SLORC, which resulted in arresting the MPs last August, appears to be the NLD's possibility to declare an alternative government of Burma.

In my view, there will be no stigma for NLD making compromise with Burmese junta in this way. In changing a military dictatorship to democracy, there has to be some form of interim arrangement. For example, in South Africa, the ANC and de Klerk Government have to nment have to compromise before a full democratic process can be exercised. The development in Indonesian democracy movement is also worth noting. In Indonesia, the democracy movement does not attempt--except students-- to replace the Soherto regime with a completely new government. Soherto regime was replaced by a somewhat softer Habibi government whilst moving towards greater democracy. This can be considered as a shrewed decision on the part of Indonesian democracy movement. The point is that, as contrast to changing goveng government within an established system, the changing of political system will require to take certain intemediate steps.

(B) Political accommodation for ethnic minority groups should be made clear by the NLD. In politics, there is no substitute for a publicly agreed plan and policy when various political actors are involved. Holding trust on the goodwill and honesty of the NLD leadership alone is not sufficient to resolve the ethnic minority issues in Burma. The UN General Assembly recommending a tri-paending a tri-partite dialogue is a good start. It will be appropriate for the NLD leaders to guarantee to the ethnic minority leaders about the participation in drafting federal constitution.

(C) The U.N. contact group for Burma should be supported by NLD leadership. To my knowledge, there had been initiatives by U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson in 1995 and the Canadian Foreign Minister L. Anxworthy in 1997 to establish a U.N. contact group for Burma. The fact such U.N. contact group failed to get up from the ground, I sue ground, I suspect, is that whether there might be some objection by NLD leadership to have such contact group.

When we look around the world's trouble spots, such as Middle-East, former Yugoslavia or, of recent, Kosovo, there has to be an international contact group to deal with the crisis. One of the Burmese concerns might be that such contact group may become an avenue for foreign powers to interfere in Burmese politics. However, the truth of the fact is that we, the Burmese, must seek valuable advise and supporise and support from the international community as a whole. As long as we Burmese ourselves "know what we want" and able to make the political decisions, there can be no such thing as interference. I believe the U.N.Contact group is not only fashionable but also is a necessity for Burma.

Our Burma democracy campaigners and, especially NLD leadership, should be aware that current non-violent struggle in Burma is primarily the contest between the military power and other different form of powers, such as the , such as the powers of influence, legitimacy, truth and justice. The power of truth is an important one, but proven to be less effective with the Burmese generals. The Burma democracy movement must enhance its powers of influence through such international contact group.

(D) In dealing with SPDC/SLORC, the international community should prepare to marginalise the Burmese junta if it fails to make cooperations on following matters: (1) the U.N. Human Rights Special Rapporteur to visit Burma, especially to the Shan S to the Shan State, immediately; (2) unreserved cooperation be given in eliminating opium cultivation and drug production; (3) the unhindered access for non-governmental and humanitarian organisations to various parts of Burma, particularly to the Shan State and (4) to release all political prisoners, especially the MP-elects held in detention since last August.

With best regards, U Ne Oo


SPDC/SLORC, ASSK and NLD after the death of Michael Aris