The Talks: A Two-Year Chronology
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BURMESE VERSION

The Talks: A Two-Year Chronology


By TONY BROADMOOR Sunday, February 1, 2004

Compiled By Tony Broadmoor

April 2000—EU adopts a stronger position against Burma’s military regime.

April 4, 2000—UN Sec-Gen Kofi Annan appoints Razali Ismail as the UN special envoy to Burma, replacing Alvaro de Soto. Razali Ismail was formerly the Malaysian permanent representative to the UN.

June 14, 2000—The International Labor Organization (ILO) levies unprecedented sanctions against Burma’s military government. The ILO censure comes in response to the regime’s repeated refusal to eradicate forced labor. The ILO orders all member countries to review their polices towards Burma. Although hard hitting, Burmese analysts feel the sanctions will be difficult to implement.

June 30, 2000—Razali Ismail makes his first visit to Burma. The visit lasts four days. He meets with officials from the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), leaders from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), and foreign diplomats. Despite Aung San Suu Kyi not being under house arrest at this time, Razali does not meet with her.

September 22, 2000—Aung San Suu Kyi is placed under house arrest again in Rangoon after attempting to travel outside of Rangoon. The regime had placed travel restrictions on her that forbade her from leaving the capital.

October 2000—Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly meets with SPDC members, including Maj-Gen Kyaw Win from the SPDC’s Office of Strategic Studies. The content of the discussion is unknown. The "secret talks" officially begin in Rangoon at this time. However, no news of the talks is released.

October 9, 2000—Razali’s second trip to Burma begins and lasts three days. He is able to meet with Sr-Gen Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi, marking the first time any special envoy has been able to meet with both leaders. Razali’s first two trips are seen only as fact-finding missions.

October 21, 2000—A five-member delegation from the ILO travels to Burma to meet with government officials. Their agenda is to discuss the regime’s compliance with the ILO’s earlier recommendations about forced labor

December 12, 2000—During an Asean ministerial meeting in Vientiane, Laos, Asean leaders and EU members express support for Razali’s efforts to bring reconciliation to Burma.

January 5, 2001—Razali returns to Burma for a five-day visit. The regime assures him that he will have access to Aung San Suu Kyi. Observers, still unaware that talks have already begun, say they hope that Razali can persuade the generals to agree to some sort of dialogue with the opposition. Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohammed leaves Rangoon just as Razali arrives. Analysts believe Mahathir was in Rangoon to persuade SPDC officials to clean up their reputation by involving the opposition in politics.

Razali meets with Aung San Suu Kyi, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, Foreign Minister Win Aung and a leader of the Karen ethnic group. Upon completion of the trip, Razali says he is satisfied with the visit.

January 15, 2001—The regime allows The Myanmar Times, an English-language weekly with ties to the government, to announce that talks between the government and the NLD have been underway since October. The announcement marks the first news of the talks. The story is released on the heels of Razali’s third visit to Burma. Despite the breaking news, reports of the talks in Burmese are not released for another six months.

January 24, 2001—The regime frees 84 NLD members from detention. This is the first major release of political prisoners since the talks began in October.

January 28, 2001—During a press conference after returning home from Burma, Malaysian PM Mahathir hints at a possible transition to democracy. In reference to Burma’s Sr-Gen Than Shwe, Mahathir says: "He is willing to hold elections eventually. When elections are held, people must understand that elections have limits. And not to use elections to undermine authority." Mahathir also defends Burma against allegations of forced labor by saying, "For a government that is poor it is a way of taxing the people—contributing the labor instead of money."

A Troika delegation from the European Union visits Burma for the second time to see if any progress has been made that would allow the EU to ease its sanctions. The EU delegation is comprised of senior officials representing the President of the EU as well as the European Commission. The group meets with senior members of the SPDC, senior opposition figures including Aung San Suu Kyi, religious leaders and representatives from Burma’s ethnic minorities. The first Troika mission occurred in July 1999.

March 1, 2001—Razali meets US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington, DC, where the two discuss Burma’s reconciliation process. A US State Dept press release says that, "[Powell] is encouraged by Razali’s reports that dialogue is moving forward but [the US government] is mindful that the Burmese regime continues to systematically violate the fundamental, basic human rights of its citizens."

April 3, 2001— Paolo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, makes his first visit to the country since taking the post. This is the first time in six years that the regime has authorized a visit by a UN special rapporteur on human rights. The visit is three days long and Pinheiro meets with both Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals. Observers feel the regime allowed the visit in hopes of polishing its tarnished international image. Pinherio says there is a "cautious optimism" in Burma surrounding the talks.

April 2001—The EU renews its sanctions against Burma, citing a lack of progress in the country’s reconciliation process. The EU has renewed sanctions every six months since first establishing them in 1996.

April 9, 2001—Japan tells visiting Deputy Defense Minister Brig-Gen Khin Maung Win that Japan is considering resuming aid to Burma to reward the regime for its national reconciliation efforts. Human rights activists and international governments condemn Japan for prematurely providing relief to the regime.

June 1, 2001—Razali’s fourth visit to Burma begins and lasts for four days. Razali is able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi twice. He also meets with Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt and Foreign Minister Win Aung.

Late June 2001—News of the talks is finally released in Burmese, six months after it first appeared in foreign-language media outlets around the world, including the Rangoon-based English-language Myanmar Times.

July 19, 2001—Aung San Suu Kyi does not attend a Martyrs’ Day celebration at Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda, setting off rumors that the talks have collapsed. Suu Kyi is barred from issuing a statement, but Foreign Minister Win Aung says that all is well with the talks.

August 24, 2001—Three Burmese pro-democracy groups issue a letter calling on Razali to begin mediating in the dialogue instead of simply facilitating the talks as he had been doing. Razali does not comment on the letter. The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS) and the Network for Democracy and Development (NDD) all sign the letter.

August 26, 2001—NLD senior party leaders U Aung Shwe and U Tin Oo are released from house arrest after nearly a year. The move comes just one day before UN special envoy Razali returns to Burma for his fifth visit. Aung San Suu Kyi expresses "great satisfaction in seeing that Aung Shwe and Tin Oo and the rest of the members will now be able to be active in their party affairs."

August 27, 2001—Razali returns for his fifth trip to Burma. He is able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi twice during the visit but is unable to meet with SPDC ruler Than Shwe. Razali claims at the time that the talks have entered into a new phase but refuses to elaborate.

August 31, 2001—Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw comments after Razali’s fifth visit that Britain hopes the UN special envoy can "inject even greater urgency into a process leading to national reconciliation".

Journalist Roger Mitton releases an article, "Remember Where You Read It First: Yes, there is going to be a settlement in Myanmar" in Asiaweek magazine, predicting that Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime will come to an agreement on a political transition by year’s end.

Late August 2001—Seven ethnic groups from Burma form the Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity Cooperation Committee (ENSCC) in hopes of joining the talks in Rangoon. Saw Ba Thin, chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU), heads the seven-member committee. Saw Ba Thin says: "We welcome and support the current talks between the SPDC and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Although we definitely want unity and peace in our country, we will fight together if the junta does not recognize our needs and attempts to crack down on us."

September 5, 2001—Thai Deputy Prime Minster Chavalit Yongchaiyudh claims a breakthrough in the talks is imminent after Burma’s Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt completes a visit to Thailand. Chavalit says the military has made an offer to Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD and that "We hope to hear good news soon if the other side accepts the proposal." Chavalit also says Khin Nyunt has been meeting Aung San Suu Kyi every two weeks for some time.

NLD spokesman U Lwin disputes all of these claims and tells the BBC that "there is in fact no dialogue process going on at present," and that "[The NLD is] waiting for the military to make an offer."

October 2001—The EU decides to renew its sanctions against Burma but says it will relax them if the reconciliation talks begin to yield positive results. The EU also agrees to allocate US $2 million for HIV/AIDS assistance in Burma.

October 18, 2001—UN human rights rapporteur Pinheiro cuts his second trip to Burma short due to an unspecified ailment. He says he hopes to return soon to wrap up the trip.

November 5, 2001—UN Sec-Gen Kofi Annan calls on the regime to continue releasing prisoners and says that, "The national reconciliation process in Burma is at a crossroads" and "more much needs to be done to make the process irreversible".

November 8, 2001—After completing a thorough investigation of the alleged continued use of forced labor in Burma, the ILO dismisses claims from Burma’s government that the practice has been eradicated.

November 27, 2001—Razali returns to Burma for the 6th time in 18 months. Diplomats say this is a significant number of visits and will not be kept up unless Razali is confident he can resolve the deadlock. Razali has separate visits with Aung San Suu Kyi and Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt as well as other senior NLD leaders.

December 3, 2001—The UN releases a statement after Razali’s sixth trip has commenced. The statement says Razali is hopeful that "significant progress" towards democracy is coming and that Razali reportedly asked the regime to continue releasing political prisoners.

December 2001—International Non-Governmental Organization workers (INGO) in Burma tell The Irrawaddy that they have also been meeting with Razali during his visits. According to the INGO workers in Rangoon, Razali is looking for a project that the two sides can collaborate on in order to build mutual confidence. No news of this is reported.

December 2001—NLD leaders in Rangoon insist the talks are still only in the confidence-building stages due to the large number of political prisoners that are still incarcerated.

December 31, 2001—A total of 219 political prisoners have been released as of the end of the year. However, activists note that most of the prisoners had already completed their sentences or had never been officially charged.

January 9, 2002—Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung says that opposition members and foreign observers need to be patient regarding the reconciliation process. He also tells the BBC that the prisoner releases are proof that the process is continuing. He claims the military government will free all political prisoners when the time is right and that the time would come for Aung San Suu Kyi to be released from house arrest. He says the government does not want to be pushed from behind.

January 10, 2002—UN human rights rapporteur Pinheiro releases a 50-page report to the UN on his findings in Burma. Pinheiro is set to return to Burma the following month for another trip.

Late January 2002—Razali’s 7th trip to Burma is cancelled for unknown reasons but is reportedly rescheduled for March 3.

February 10, 2002—Pinheiro returns for an eight-day trip. He meets with Aung San Suu Kyi and Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt and also spends nine hours in Rangoon’s infamous Insein Prison, where he meets with aging imprisoned Burmese journalist U Win Tin and former university professor Dr Salai Tun Than, who was arrested in November for holding a one-man pro-democracy demonstration in Rangoon for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison. The human rights rapporteur also visits Mytkyina Prison in the Kachin State. Pinheiro is preparing to submit a report to the UN High Commission on Human Rights in April.

February 18, 2002—The ILO returns to Burma to see how the regime is responding to an ILO report from November 2001 that again condemned the regime for refusing to eradicate forced labor. The ILO body is blocked from visiting Aung San Suu Kyi during the visit. ILO officials are extremely critical of the regime upon returning to the ILO headquarters in Geneva.

March 13, 2002—The EU’s third Troika delegation arrives in Rangoon. The EU is in Burma to assess the country’s reconciliation process before reviewing its sanctions against Burma in April. The EU meets with Aung San Suu Kyi, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt and Maj-Gen Kyaw Win, among others.

March 18, 2002—The UN announces that Razali’s seventh trip has again been postponed. The cancellation was first attributed to a heart attack suffered by Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister U Khin Maung Win. The regime, however, releases a statement claiming the government was still too busy resolving the previous week’s alleged coup attempt by relatives of former Burmese strongman Ne Win.

March 21, 2002—Burma’s military government allows the ILO to post a liaison officer in Rangoon. The move comes roughly one month after the regime again denied a request by the ILO to establish a full presence in the country in order to better monitor forced labor in Burma. The decision to allow the liaison officer comes two months before the ILO is set to reviews its sanctions against Burma.

March 24, 2002—During an interview with the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA), NLD secretary U Lwin says that 142 NLD members have been released from detention since the talks began.

March 28, 2002—UN human rights rapporteur Pinheiro addresses the UN Commission on Human Rights. Pinheiro says the international community must work with the regime in pushing for a democratic transition. He calls for the release of political prisoners and specifically the release of Burmese student leader Min Ko Naing. He tells the UN that serious consideration needs to be given to an amnesty agreement for the country’s leaders.

Forty-four political prisoners have been released so far this year. Again, most if not all had completed their sentences or had never been officially charged. Burmese activists say the regime doesn’t deserve praise simply for releasing individuals who have completed their sentences.

April 2, 2002—The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) releases two new reports urging policy makers to reconsider their respective positions on aid to Burma. ICG says the reports are not motivated by the reconciliation talks in Rangoon.

April 4, 2002—The regime says it is considering releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. Foreign Minister Win Aung tells Reuters, "Oh yes, if possible, of course we will do that…. Suu Kyi will not be in her house for the rest of her life."

Today marks the second anniversary of Razali’s appointment to the special envoy post. Analysts feel the special envoy’s efforts have yielded little.

April 8, 2002—NLD leader U Lwin says the recent coup allegations in Rangoon have kept the reconciliation talks from moving beyond the confidence-building stages and into a real political transition.

April 11, 2002—The European Parliament calls for tougher sanctions to be levied against Burma by the EU if the reconciliation process does not show signs of progress in the next six months. The EU is set to review its sanctions against Burma later this month.

Australia forces a UN resolution to take a softer stance against the regime. The EU had been pushing for harsher sanctions against Burma, but Australia refuses to go along. Burmese activists in Australia condemn Alexander Downer’s government for "sticking their neck out for a rogue state".

April 19, 2002—UN Sec-Gen Kofi Annan says he hopes that Razali’s upcoming visit "will provide the [reconciliation] process with a fresh momentum to assist the two sides to develop their confidence-building talks into a more substantive dialogue in the near future."

Razali refuses to say whether he is satisfied with the reconciliation talks or not. He does say that national reconciliation will include releasing Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Meanwhile, human rights rapporteur Pinheiro states that Razali’s trip will "provide much-needed momentum" to the talks. Pinheiro goes on to say that, "Concrete results in this process are needed, moreover, if real and sustainable progress in the area of human rights is to be achieved." He also notes that since the talks began 263 political prisoners have been released.

April 22, 2002—Two foreign journalists claim that Aung San Suu Kyi has come to an agreement with the generals. Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy report in The Australian that Aung San Suu Kyi has agreed to abandon the 1990 election results and that she has joined an emergency committee alongside the generals. Burmese analysts describe the article as "Mittonesque", in reference to journalist Roger Mitton, who nearly a year earlier had incorrectly predicted an imminent breakthrough in the talks.

Japan resumes Overseas Development Aid (ODA) to Burma. Japan donates US $6.1 million for medical supplies. Japanese Ambassador to Burma Shigeru Tsumori and Burma’s Health Minister Maj-Gen Ket Sein sign the agreement. Analysts say the ODA is an attempt to secure future business deals with the regime.

April 23, 2002—Razali arrives in Rangoon for a four-day visit—his 7th visit since taking over as special envoy to Burma. International governments say that tangible results need to be evident after this visit. Observers say that international sanctions against the regime could be stepped up again if no visible progress is forthcoming. Possible punitive actions include the passage of US Senate Bill 926, which seeks to cut all imports from Burma to the US. Trade with the US accounts for over 25% of Burma’s total exports. Razali is scheduled to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi twice during the visit as well military leaders and NLD party leaders.

April 25, 2002—Razali says, after meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi and Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, that, "I’m hopeful there should be progress but I can’t promise when it will be." Razali also meets with NLD Secretary U Lwin, who says his meeting with Razali was beneficial. U Lwin tells reporters that: "[Razali] said there will surely be a new development very soon but said we have to go step by step. [Razali said] we have many good friends around the world."

The UN Commission on Human Rights accuses the SPDC of gross human rights violations and stalling on political progress. The BBC reports that Razali has hinted he might resign if he leaves the country empty-handed this time.

May 6, 2002—Aung San Suu Kyi is released from house arrest. The regime invites news correspondents from around the globe to cover the event. However, Burma's state-run press does not mention her release. The regime does allow The Myanmar Times to report on the release. Suu Kyi was detained in her home for 19 months.

May 10, 2002—Ethnic leaders in Rangoon tell The Irrawaddy they doubt the generals are any more sincere this time concerning national reconciliation than they have been in the past. "If they were sincere this time they would have announced the release in the papers. We don't know who to believe or trust," says U Khun Tun Oo, leader of the Shan National League for Democracy.

May 13, 2002—NLD spokesperson U Lwin says the NLD must be careful in their dealings with the regime this time so as not to prolong the reconciliation process. Regarding the continued dialogue, U Lwin tells The Irrawaddy, "We have been invited to the table, but we haven't received our invitation yet."

May 17, 2002—When asked whether an element of sincerity could be detected from the generals, or if there has been a noticeable change in the generals' attitudes during the 20 months of secert talks, Aung San Suu Kyi tells The Irrawaddy, "I think you have to say there is a change in their attitude; otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are. And as to the matter of sincerity, this is for time to give the answer."

May 20, 2002—Thailand's ambassador to Burma, Oum Maolanon, meets with Aung San Suu Kyi along with the Malaysian ambassador to Burma. Details of the discussion are not released.

May 22, 2002—The SPDC seals all borders with Thailand after bilateral relations take a nose-dive following a brief clash between Thai troops and soldiers from the UWSA and the Burmese military. Observers see this as the beginning of a campaign by the SPDC to steer attention away from the opposition and the country's reconciliation process.

June 15, 2002—Aung San Suu Kyi makes her first visit outside of Rangoon since being released from house arrest. She travels to Burma's Mon State on a religious pilgrimage to meet with Tha Myin Nya, a highly revered monk. Although not a politically oriented trip, analysts still see it as a test of Suu Kyi's "unconditional release".

June 19, 2002—Aung San Suu Kyi turns 57 today. However, there have still been no political breakthroughs or new political developments since her May release. Observers feel the regime has changed tactics for dealing with Suu Kyi. They feel the regime has now decided to simply ignore her, instead of persecuting her in the press as they did for years.

June 21, 2002—The first true test of Suu Kyi's political freedom begins today, as she embarks on a political organizing trip in upper Burma that is scheduled to culminate in a visit to Mandalay, Burma's second largest city. In Mandalay Suu Kyi is scheduled to meet with the SPDC's regional commander.

The visit will mark the first time Burma's military government has allowed her to visit Mandalay since the NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 election.

June 28, 2002—At the last minute, Suu Kyi's meeting with Mandalay Central Military Commander Maj-Gen Ye Myint is canceled. The SPDC does not give a reason as to why the meeting was called off.

July 1, 2002—Upon Suu Kyi's return from Mandalay, NLD leaders appear frustrated with the lack of developments since her release. NLD spokesperson U Lwin tells reporters, in reference to the political dialogue between the NLD and the junta, "It has not stalled because it hasn't even started yet."

July 20, 2002—Another political organizing trip by the NLD begins. Suu Kyi and other NLD representatives set out on a four-day tour of Burma's Mon State.

Late July 2002—The regime opposes attempts by Brunei to recognize Suu Kyi's release from house arrest at an upcoming Asean Regional Forum Ministerial Meeting, to be held in Brunei's capital. Brunei refuses to bow to the junta and the reference stays. The meeting is scheduled to begin July 29.

Burmese democracy activists are hoping that diplomats from the EU, the US as well as other Asean countries will press the junta on recent allegations of systematic rape as well as what appears to be a non-existent dialogue between the regime and the opposition.

July 26, 2002—The regime frees 32 political prisoners from detention. This is the first major release since Suu Kyi gained her own freedom in May.

August 1, 2002—The human rights record of Burma's military regime goes unchallenged at the 9th Asean Regional Forum Ministerial Meeting. Critics of the regime had hoped that diplomats could help jump-start the country's stalled dialogue process, while pressing the regime on recent allegations of human rights abuses.

After the meeting Burma's Foreign Minister Win Aung says, "Everybody seemed to appreciate what we are doing. I don't see any negative attitude toward us."

August 2, 2002—UN special envoy to Burma Razali Ismail returns to Rangoon for his eighth visit, and his first since Suu Kyi's May release. He is scheduled to meet with Suu Kyi, Sec-1 Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung and ethnic minority leaders as well as foreign ambassadors in Rangoon. The visit is to last for five days.

August 5, 2002—Japan's Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi ends a three-day visit to Rangoon. During her visit she meets with Sr-Gen Than Shwe, Khin Nyunt and Suu Kyi. Kawaguchi is the highest-ranking government official from an industrialized nation to meet with Suu Kyi since being freed in May, and the first Japanese foreign minister to come to Burma in nearly 20 years.

Kawaguchi advises Sr-Gen Than Shwe and the regime to promote dialogue with the opposition. Than Shwe vows to do his best but says he can't give "any concrete response at this point".

Khin Nyunt tells Kawaguchi that relations with Suu Kyi have improved considerably over the last 18 months. He also reportedly tells her that the NLD had "taken a very confrontational stand" for years but things had "changed for the better since talks began in 2000".

Although analysts are not surprised that the Japanese diplomat met with Suu Kyi, they feel it is a significant show of support for the democracy leader and the opposition movement.

August 6, 2002—At the conclusion of his visit, Razali tells reporters that his trip has been productive, and he expects reconciliation talks to begin within the next few months. He also says he will return in a couple of months.

Reuters quotes Razali as saying that both the government and Suu Kyi are making efforts "to try to discuss the necessary political and constitutional issues".

Agence France-Presse reports that Suu Kyi told Razali that her recent political organizing trips throughout the country convinced her to cooperate with the regime. Razali tells AFP, "[Suu Kyi] told me to make known that she is willing to cooperate with the government in any way that directly benefits all the people of Myanmar and in any way that would be conducive to the evolution of a democratic state."

August 7, 2002—Suu Kyi tells the BBC that dialogue with the junta would resume within weeks. She also says nothing would be ruled out before entering into negotiations. Suu Kyi says, "I don't have anything fixed in my own mind as to whether I would share or not share. We are not going to go into this dialogue with pre-conceived ideas."

However, she also says the opposition has become worried over the dialogue's slow pace and namely the slow release of political prisoners.

In a videotape distributed in Bangkok by Altsean-Burma today, Suu Kyi says, "The release of political prisoners is the most important thing for all those who truly wish to bring about change in Burma." And later adds, "We insist that the release of political prisoners is necessary if the process of reconciliation is to go forward to a point where it becomes truly irreversible."

August 12, 2002—The Karen National Union (KNU) calls on Rangoon to restart a stalled peace process that began in 1996. KNU Commander Gen Bo Mya urges the SPDC to enter into dialogue with Suu Kyi. However, he adds that reconciliation is doubtful if the SPDC and the NLD did not include the minorities in the talks.

August 16, 2002—Six NLD members are released from prison—including U Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP)—ahead of a two-day visit to Burma by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

August 17, 2002—An editorial in the Bangkok-based English language newspaper The Nation criticizes UN special envoy to Burma Razali Ismail for his involvement in business activities with the regime, while trying to facilitate the country's reconciliation process. The editorial reads: "Razali should have the courage to choose one or the other job….The UN's reputation is also at stake when the Rangoon junta makes use of him."

August 18, 2002—Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad arrives in Rangoon for a two-day visit. Despite requests by Aung San Suu Kyi to meet with him, Mahathir says he has no plan to do so.

NLD spokesperson U Lwin reiterates Suu Kyi's desire to see the Malaysian leader, and also says there is a possibility that she will meet with Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar; neither visit takes place.

Rangoon-based diplomats, however, report that Mahathir was willing to meet Suu Kyi, but that the Burmese junta vetoed the idea.

August 19, 2002—Mahathir's visit ends after meetings with Sr-Gen Than Shwe as well as Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt. Mahathir and his 300-person entourage also hold extensive business meetings while in Rangoon.

Mahathir tells reporters in Rangoon: "While we uphold democracy and would like to see democracy practiced in a country, we are also aware the process must be gradual. We know from experience it is not easy to handle democracy. If we do not know how to handle it we will end up with anarchy."

Burma's military leaders also take the opportunity during Mahathir's visit to stress the need for gradual change. Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt says, "Such a transition cannot be done in haste and in a haphazard manner. The world is full of examples where a hasty transition from one system to another have led to instability and even failed states."

August 20, 2002—Aung San Suu Kyi tells The Irrawaddy that comments made by Mahathir Mohamad during his trip to Burma are unacceptable, and that the NLD is under the impression that the SPDC did in fact veto attempts by her to meet with Mahathir.

"We cannot accept the notion that if democracy is not tackled properly it could become anarchy," says Aung San Suu Kyi. "I think that sort of comment is patronizing to the people of Burma."

Opposition leaders inside and outside Burma echo the same sentiment, saying Mahathir is only interfering with the reconciliation process. Prominent Shan intellect and academic Chao-Tzang Yawnghwe says, "I think Mahathir is pushing for change or dialogue in Burma in his way, but his definition for democracy is not ours."

Suu Kyi also notes discrepancies between the SPDC, Razali and Mahathir regarding when the reconciliation process is set to begin again. Suu Kyi tells The Irrawaddy: "During his last visit, Mr Razali said he thinks the changes may take place faster, and that the negotiations may begin within weeks or within a month. There were some discrepancies between what Mr Razali said and what Prime Minister Mahathir and Sec-1 [Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt] told the press."

September 6, 2002—Thai Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Kraisak Choonhavan berates the Burmese junta in front of the Thai Senate for their treatment of ethnic minorities. Kraisak cites the report "License to Rape" and says, "Children and adults were tortured and killed without a reason….We have the names of the victims and Burmese soldiers responsible." Kraisak also blames Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for trying too hard to appease the junta. He says Burma would be a much more developed country without the regime.

Burmese Labor Minister Tin Win denies the claims saying Kraisak hates Burma and supports the Shan State Army.

September 8, 2002—An EU mission arrives in Rangoon for a three-day assessment of the dialogue process between the regime and the opposition, and to see if EU sanctions should again be extended. Carsten Nilaus Pederson, a regional director at the Danish Foreign Ministry, heads the four-member team. The group meets with Aung San Suu Kyi, NGO representatives and junta officials. This is the fourth official EU trip to Burma since 1999 and the first since Aung San Suu Kyi was released in May from house arrest. Details of their meetings are not disclosed.

September 15, 2002—Thai newspapers report that the Burmese regime is content on maintaining tensions with Thailand in order to slow the country’s reconciliation process. The report in The Bangkok Post cites a joint meeting between the army, the Supreme Command and the National Security Council where this opinion was offered. One source said, "The Burmese government doesn’t want peace. They are afraid of change, which can bring them down. So they have to picture Thailand as a threat to maintain their status."

September 18, 2002—Today marks the 14th anniversary of the junta’s 1988 coup. The US government releases a statement coinciding with the day and accuses the regime of failing to press forward with change. US State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher says: "Today is the 14th anniversary of the suppression of the people’s hopes for democracy, and the establishment of the military regime in Burma….We are disappointed that the regime has failed to follow through on steps toward national reconciliation after releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in May of this year. We encourage the regime to pursue substantive dialogue with the democratic opposition and to release all of the many remaining political prisoners unconditionally."

September 23, 2002—The junta announces it as released 18 more political prisoners, ten of whom are NLD members. It was the largest group to be freed since last year. Analysts note that the release was timed to coincide with Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung’s visit to the UN General Assembly in New York. A regime spokesman says: "The government of Myanmar will continue to release more individuals who will cause no harm to the community nor threaten the existing peace, stability and union of the nation."

September 27, 2002—Aung San Suu Kyi marks the 14th anniversary of the NLD by saying that she is willing to cooperate and work together with the regime to improve the lives of ordinary Burmese people. In front of 400 plus party members at the NLD headquarters she says, "We will never hesitate to cooperate with the armed forces based on sincere goodwill….It is high time we all worked for the country holding hands together."

October 2-3 2002—Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer arrives in Rangoon for a two-day visit. This is the first visit by a senior Western politician in years. The trip is billed as a fact-finding mission by the Australian government. Analysts, however, criticize the trip saying it will only unfairly boost the regime’s international image.

Downer meets with Aung San Suu Kyi as well as Sr-Gen Than Shwe and Gen Khin Nyunt. The Australian foreign minister quoted Than Shwe as saying, "The military is committed to reform in the democratization process with an increasing role for democracy and a lesser role for the military." Although he says the regime provided him with no time frame for reform.

He tells reporters in Bangkok after his visit that he told the generals that they must speed up the reconciliation process if sanctions are to be lifted and aid increased. "They said they are moving forward to democracy but that they need to have constitutional progress and constitutional reform."

Downer also asked junta leaders to participate in a human rights workshop that would be sponsored by the Australian government. Aung San Suu Kyi says she doubts the initiative will have any effectiveness.

October 4, 2002—In response to a September crackdown on democracy activists inside Burma, Western governments and human rights groups condemn the regime. The US government described the arrests of over thirty activists as a "significant step backwards". The statement goes on to say: "These arrests are inconsistent with the government’s stated commitment of political reform."

The US-based Free Burma Coalition, which lobbies businesses to sever ties with the regime, said, "These arrests indicate the generals have absolutely no plans to democratize the country."

US Senator Mitch McConnell says such arrests may lead the US into increasing its sanctions.

October 18, 2002—UN human rights rapporteur for Burma Sergio Paulo Pinheiro returns to Burma for his fourth trip. The trip is scheduled to last until October 28. Pinheiro is to meet with regime officials, Aung San Suu Kyi, NGO workers and political prisoners.

October 22, 2002—Pinheiro was tentatively scheduled to go to Shan State to investigate reports of widespread rape and abuse of ethnic minorities living there, but he abruptly cancels his trip citing time constraints. The regime had invited him to go Shan State, claiming they had nothing to hide. Human rights activists applauded his decision not to go, saying the junta would have made any investigation impossible and would have instead used the trip as a public relations move.

Some dissidents, however, said Pinheiro should have taken the opportunity to push the regime harder and called for a legitimate investigation

Pinheiro also meets with Aung San Suu Kyi today. He says after the meeting: "The prospect of dialogue is good. I do not want to elaborate on it. In fact, I have to keep everything confidential." He also says he told junta officials they "need to pursue negotiations for national reconciliation".

October 23, 2002—The EU agrees to extend its sanctions against Burma. The EU welcomed some steps taken by the regime but said they were unhappy with further efforts. They said the arrest of democracy activists in September was of "grave concern".

October 30, 2002—After completing his fourth trip, Pinheiro says it is "absurd" that the international community has chosen not to engage the Burmese regime or donate badly needed aid money until democratic reforms are in place.

Pinheiro says once a transition occurs in Burma many current government officials will remain in office—including judges, prosecutors and army officials. "I don’t understand the expectation that Burma would be different, that you would have a brand new state apparatus, brand new people, brand new minds that will be able to deal with human rights issues….Don’t expect instant regime change in Burma."

November 4, 2002—The Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) begins preliminary talks with the SPDC concerning a failed ceasefire deal from March 1995. The KNPP submits nine demands—including a need to resolve the country’s political stalemate with Aung San Suu Kyi.

November 11-12, 2002—The Kuala Lumpur-based Malaysiakini News Service releases two installments of an exclusive interview with UN special envoy to Burma Razali Ismail. Razali speaks candidly about his frustrations with the regime and the possibility that he will step down if immediate reforms are not taken. Yap Mun Ching conducts the interview, which occurred the previous week and comes the day before his ninth mission to Burma begins.

Concerning his upcoming visit and the stalled dialogue, he says: "I am hoping to get the momentum moving again, and I want to understand why it has slowed down….They didn't give a time but they said very soon. I have been dealing with dialogues and diplomatic discussions on various issues all over the world for a number of years. In my understanding, ‘very soon’ would be like a couple of weeks or three to four weeks. It has been more than that….I am surprised seeing that. I can find no reason why there should be that much of a delay. There are always reasons, but the lapse is rather prolonged."

"If I step down it would be because it takes too much time, and if I think I am not going anywhere with the discussions. If it just goes on and on, I may decide to step down."

Razali says Aung San Suu Kyi has not compromised her stance by saying she is willing to cooperate with the SPDC. "The word ‘compromise’ shouldn't be used….She has seen that the Myanmar people are far behind their neighbors in terms of development….I don't think anybody would dispute that Myanmar may be some 30 to 35 years behind Malaysia. She really wants Myanmar to catch up with that and make up for the lost time. She told me that she is prepared to cooperate with the government in anything as long as it brings direct benefit to the people and it promotes the process of democracy."

During the second installment of malaysiakini’s interview with Razali, he defends his holdings in Iris Technologies and its investment in Burma saying there is no conflict of interest. Opposition and ethnic leaders have questioned his integrity since news of the joint-venture was announced earlier this year.

He says that if people see a conflict of interest he will leave the post. "I would be quite happy not to be special envoy, I have other things to do in my life. I was sort of shanghaied to do this job. If they don’t think that I am the right person to do it then they can always terminate the contract."

Razali, while defending Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, says other Asean countries are not doing enough for Burma’s reconciliation process. "As far as the other Asean leaders are concerned, as a Malaysian or even as a UN special envoy, I am somewhat surprised that they have not expended energy to that extent….In the case of Asean, while respecting the question of non-interference strongly, it is still possible to express your view on a particular situation. After all, we have common borders. There is mobility across borders and people move from one side to the other and there is also [migrant] laborers from Myanmar. There is also the fear of HIV spread, and the fear of the movement of narcotics, whatever their place of origin. So, all Asean countries, particularly the ones physically neighboring Myanmar, have the right to make known their views and hope that there will be peace, reconciliation and economic development."

November 12, 2002—Razali Ismail begins his ninth mission to Burma since taking the post in April 2000. Analysts see the five-day visit as a crucial step after Razali threatened to step down if real reforms were not taken. Razali is to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and opposition party members and is hoping to be granted a meeting with Sr-Gen Than Shwe.

November 14, 2002—A meeting takes place between Sr-Gen Than Shwe, Gen Khin Nyunt, Vice-Sr Gen Maung Aye and Razali. The meeting only lasts for 15 minutes, deflating some hopes that Than Shwe would announce some sort of planned reform. A second meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently touring Shan State, is canceled after the short meeting with Than Shwe. Razali does not comment on what transpired during the brief meeting. Than Shwe, however, reportedly tells Razali the regime is doing all they can.

The short meeting sparks a reaction from Burmese dissidents in exile, who say this shows the regime was never serious about reform. Chao Tzang Yawng-hwe, a Shan scholar, says "We can now see their true colors."

November 17, 2002—A government spokesman tells The Myanmar Times that Gen Khin Nyunt had assured Razali of "Myanmar’s earnestness on political evolution." The spokesman also told the weekly: "We feel as though the process is moving forward. Such movement can only occur at a pace with which we are comfortable….Much has been achieved already this year and people have to understand the process may be slow because it is complicated."

Razali says that although discussions are taking place they are not equivalent to dialogue. "I am always disappointed when there are no full results, but that’s the nature of my mission. I can’t expect good results all the time."

November 18, 2002—Observers blame the continued stalled dialogue on the lack of pressure put on the regime by the international community. Kavi Chongkittavorn, from the Bangkok-based The Nation newspaper, writes in a column that "It should surprise nobody that the junta leaders in Rangoon prefer to drag their feet further….They know full well that the global community, the region in particular, probably cares less about the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and the lack of democratic reforms in Burma since the war in Iraq and the threats from al-Qaeda networks are now the top agenda. If this trend continues, it is almost certain that the process of political reconciliation will be stalled."

"To reinvigorate concerted international pressure, Thailand must take the lead by abandoning the current myopic path of backing the junta leaders…With Thailand showing concern about the political process of its most important neighbor, its friends overseas would probably become less reluctant."

November 21, 2002—The regime claims to have released 115 political prisoners, the largest general amnesty since the talks began. Sources say, however, that only half of them were released because some refused to sign a document recognizing provisions of "Section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code" that states they must serve the remainder of their sentences if rearrested for engaging in political activities. Observers note that during Razali’s last mission to Rangoon, he allegedly urged Than Shwe to release a minimum of 200 political prisoners by year’s end.

Meanwhile, as some prisoners are being released, Rangoon law student Khin Maung Win, who was arrested in August for staging a political demonstration in front of Rangoon City Hall, is sentenced to seven years in prison.

November 22, 2002—NLD spokesman U Lwin says the release is inadequate and that the NLD "requested that the authorities release 400 political prisoners, including prominent figures, from both the NLD and other groups". He says that 111 party members remain incarcerated, including 16 elected members of parliament.

November 23, 2002—US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly berates the regime for its inadequate attempts at fostering national reconciliation. Kelly says the generals should "hang their heads in shame" over the ongoing economic crisis. Concerning the reconciliation talks he says: "We are at the point where, absent further progress, the process that has begun may well falter, an outcome that will cause the international community to reassess again its approach to the issue of democracy in Burma….If progress remains elusive, Burma must consider the possibility that other countries may join in measures with the US, such as a ban on new investment."

December 4, 2002—The Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP), an umbrella organization for opposition groups inside Burma, accepts two more political parties—including exiled Prime Minister Dr Sein Win’s party. Rangoon-based observers note the expansion of the CRPP is one of the more significant moves taken by the opposition since Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in May.

SNLD leader Khun Htun Oo said the expansion of the CRPP is part of a shifting strategy by the opposition. "It's a new way to break the current political deadlock," says Khun Htun Oo. "We should see the CRPP as a negotiating token."

He urges all political parties and independent MPs to join the CRPP in order to gain legal status from the regime. "The allowed expansion of the CRPP means all members are becoming semi-legal even though they were banned by authorities," adds Khun Htun Oo.

December 5, 2002—Former Burmese strongman Ne Win dies in Rangoon at 91. Dissidents to diplomats say his death will have no bearing on the country’s fledgling reconciliation process.

December 8, 2002—The Military Alliance Group, founded in May 1999, invites other Burmese ethnic groups to join. The group was started by the Restoration Council of Shan State, Karen National Union, Karenni Peoples Progressive Party, Chin National Front and the Arakan Liberation Party. An Alliance spokesperson said they are drawing up new military strategies and that they don’t want to see ethnic armies fighting against one another.

December 10, 2002—The BBC’s Lyse Doucet speaks with Aung San Suu Kyi on Talking Point, concerning the reconciliation process and status of the country.

"We are confident change will come—not as quickly as most of us would wish, but it will come," Aung San Suu Kyi says on Talking Point. She says she is hopeful that by this time next year progress will have occurred. And that "one of the most important things that has been achieved is that a number of political prisoners have been released. But there are hundreds still imprisoned for their beliefs—prisoners of conscience. Until all of them are released, I don't think we can say that we have made sufficient progress."

She tells on one Burmese dissident who calls to the program that: "The important thing is that we should be unwavering in our efforts, however long it takes us and however hard the road, we must be prepared to go all the way because what we are doing is not just for ourselves but for the future generations of Burma."

On sanctions: "We have not asked for further sanctions but neither have we withdrawn our support for sanctions because there is not yet political dialogue in place."

"If you consider the fact that we have been struggling for 14 years and you think of countries like South Africa where the struggle went on for decades. We can't say that it is taking too long. After all what we've trying to do is to change the whole course of the future of our country and obviously that is a very difficult task and the more difficult the task the longer it tends to take…. We are not at all discouraged. We would like change to come as quickly as possible but we are determined to go on struggling until change comes and we are confident that change will come—not as quickly as most of us would wish it to come—but it will come. And I think the more we all try to make change come instead of wondering when change will come, the quicker it will come."

She says that her visit to Shan State in November showed her that the country is committed to change."One of the happiest experiences of my visit to the Shan States was the realization that there is tremendous solidarity there. That although there's many, many different ethnic groups in Burma, we are all united in the desire for change. We are all united in the desire to make Burma a truly democratic union which is fit for all our peoples to live in."

December 17, 2002—Sr-Gen Than Shwe, while visiting Bangladesh, allegedly promises a return to democracy, according to Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shamser Mobin Chowdhury. The foreign secretary quotes Than Shwe as saying, "The military establishment has no intention to deny democracy to the Myanmar people, and state power ultimately belongs to the people. The present set up is a transitional arrangement."

January 1, 2003—British Foreign Office Minister Mike O’Brien releases a statement expressing concern about Aung San Suu Kyi’s treatment during her travels and calling on Sr-Gen Than Shwe to enter into a "serious dialogue" with the NLD and other opposition groups. He says "Burma cannot make progress until we see a real will for political reform from the SPDC."

January 2, 2003—The US criticizes the harassment of Aung San Suu Kyi by government-affiliated groups. "The United States calls on the Myanmar regime to ensure that all political parties can carry their message to the Myanmar people in safety," says US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "Political change is needed in Myanmar."

January 4, 2003—The NLD releases a statement on the 55th anniversary of Burma’s Independence Day. It says, "Today is the most auspicious, being Independence Day and is the most appropriate time for a dialogue between NLD and SPDC." In addition to reaffirming the NLD’s commitment to talks, the statement lists conditions that must be met before their commencement. The conditions include the carrying out of the 1990 election results, convening the National Convention, drafting a constitution and monitoring aid donations for transparency.

The NLD refuses to take part in an Independence Day flag-raising ceremony at People’s Park in Rangoon, calling the government-sponsored event "undemocratic." A message from Sr-Gen Than Shwe is read but it does not mention the talks between the regime and the NLD.

January 8, 2003—Aung San Suu Kyi holds her year-end press conference in Rangoon. She says, "We have clearly stated that there have been no talks to date but it is not because we are not ready. It is the authorities who are not ready." When asked about a government announcement that accused her of resorting to confrontation, she replies, "Regarding your question about the diminishing chances of dialogue, I think it is best not to speculate but to look at the hard facts. How sincere are the authorities in this matter? Judge from the events that have happened."

January 31, 2003—Two representatives from Amnesty International arrive in Burma and meet with Aung San Suu Kyi. The ten-day trip is the first official visit by the group. The representatives say they hope to speak to people from the government and opposition.

February 6, 2003—Aung San Suu Kyi is chosen by the Freedom Forum to receive the 2002 Al Neuharth Free Spirit of the Year Award. The entire US $1 million award goes to the opposition leader, marking the first time an individual has received the entire prize amount. Suu Kyi meets with Neuharth in Rangoon and records a videotape address to be played at the awards ceremony. She declines an invitation to attend personally, saying, "I will never leave Burma until I can return to this country freely." Her son, Alexander Aris, agrees to represent her at the event.

February 10, 2003—Twelve democracy supporters are arrested, including seven members of the NLD. Sai Nyunt Lwin, secretary of the Shan National League for Democracy, is also reportedly arrested for printing anti-government leaflets.

February 12, 2003—UN Secretary General Kofi Annan voices his concern at the arrests of the twelve opposition party members. He reiterates his belief that national reconciliation should begin with talks between the regime and Aung San Suu Kyi. A statement released by one of his spokespeople says, "For such a constructive dialogue to move forward, the opposition parties, including NLD, should be able to engage freely in political activities in Myanmar."

February 12, 2003—The Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, or CRPP, calls upon the regime to begin a dialogue with the NLD without pre-conditions. The CRPP releases its statement on the occasion of Burma’s 56th anniversary of Union Day.

Aung San Suu Kyi comments on the state of the talks during a Union Day ceremony at the NLD headquarters. She says, "We, on our part, are putting all our efforts to start a dialogue for the sake of national reconciliation." She then questions the regime’s commitment to the same goal by asking if they "really want such a dialogue."

In a message read during an official Union Day celebration in Rangoon, Sr-Gen Than Shwe urges Burmese to "strive in harmony, for the emergence of a state constitution that would pave the way for the building of a new discipline-flourishing democratic state." He also warns people to be aware of threats from "external and internal elements" who were "using various ways and means to constantly hinder and sabotage our development tasks."

February 13, 2003—The US State Department releases a statement calling on the military government to "engage in a real dialogue on constitutional issues." The statement also reaffirms US support of the efforts of UN special envoy Razali Ismail.

February 21, 2003—Aung San Suu Kyi faces jail after refusing to pay a 500 kyat (US 50 cents) fine imposed by a Burmese court. The case stems from an incident at her lakeside compound in May 2002 when Suu Kyi’s cousin punched her. The cousin, Soe Aung, filed charges against Suu Kyi because she reacted by kicking him out of the compound, where he also lived. The court ruled in favor of Soe Aung and told the opposition leader she had a choice between a week in jail or the fine. When she refused the fine, court authorities backtracked by postponing the jail sentence. Analysts in Rangoon say the decision is nothing more than an attempted smear campaign by the regime, because the charges were filed some time ago but the case not heard until today.

February 24, 2003—NLD spokesperson U Lwin says the talks do not depend on mediation or advice from a third party. He speaks in reference to a statement issued by the regime to the US, which invites the Americans "to join us in open constructive dialogue toward humanitarian, economic and political development." U Lwin responded by saying, "We don’t need anybody, US or whoever, for the talks. What is important is to have a will."

February 26, 2003—The Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB) releases a statement urging international organizations to suspend all forms of aid and assistance to the Burmese military government. It blames the regime for the banking crisis, saying that the "nasty catastrophe is obvious evidence that without political change and reform" the Burmese economy will remain "deplorable." Exiled workers and students who participated in 8-8-88 events formed the FTUB in 1991.

March 3, 2003— Paolo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, releases a report to be presented at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. He urges the international community to drop its high expectations for transition in Burma, and instead recognize the incremental changes taking place. "The people of the country should not be held hostage to a political transition," he writes. Pinheiro also stresses that "the policy option now should be engagement, not isolation."

March 6, 2003—The NLD and an ethnic Mon group in exile express concerns over the health of political prisoners. In separate statements, the groups say that long-term prisoners are suffering from disease due to food shortages and the inadequate treatment and medicine they receive in prison.

March 7, 2003— Radio Free Asia’s Burmese service interviews Aung San Suu Kyi. She says the Burmese people must rise above political divisions and work together for political reform. She also reacts coolly to the junta’s recent statement calling upon the US to join talks on the country’s political development, saying "instead of inviting an external country to give advice, it would be better to start negotiations ourselves." Regarding the likelihood of talks between the NLD and the military regime, Suu Kyi asks, "Does the SPDC really have the will to have negotiations with us or not?"

March 9, 2003—A piece written by Aung San Suu Kyi appears in Parade Magazine. In the piece, Suu Kyi focuses on the theme of freedom and talks of her interactions with students, women, and farmers, highlighting the desires of each group. She closes with an expression of optimism, saying the opposition is "firm in our faith that the will of the people will ultimately triumph."

March 13, 2003—Dissident groups commemorate Human Rights Day of Burma. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions and Patriotic War Veterans of Burma, both based in Thailand, issue statements urging the military regime to initiate meaningful dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi. "Burma’s political dilemma will ease with talk," says Sai Win Kyaw of the veterans’ group. "We don’t agree with soldiers as rulers and don’t like the way the Burmese army is used as a tool to crush its own citizens."

March 19, 2003—Paolo Sergio Pinheiro arrives in Burma for a week-long trip, his fifth mission since being appointed in 2000. He will reportedly be examining the lack of political prisoner releases as well as pushing for an independent assessment of allegations concerning sexual abuse of women in Shan State by the Burma Army. He is scheduled to meet with government authorities and opposition members, including Aung San Suu Kyi. NLD spokesperson U Lwin says he "is not impressed with [Pinheiro] even a little bit" and adds that the NLD "does not expect anything" from him during the visit. "We don’t see any improvements in the human rights situation since he took the position," he concludes.

March 24, 2003—A senior UN official tells the Bangkok Post that the Burmese regime is going to have to provide Pinheiro with some major concessions to avoid him resigning at the end of the month, after he is due to report back to the UN in Geneva. "There is every possibility that this may be professor Pinheiro’s last visit," says the official.

March 24, 2003—Pinheiro cuts his visit short after discovering a wireless microphone hidden under his desk as he interviews political prisoners in Rangoon’s Insein Prison. The junta had promised that he could go anywhere he wanted and interview anyone he chose in absolute privacy. After finding the listening device Pinheiro walks out of the prison immediately and lodges an official protest with the Burmese authorities. He tells journalists afterwards, "I think that was a very serious incident and my untimely departure is an expression of my anger and frustration." He was to stay for two more days. UN officials tell the BBC that Pinheiro hopes to return to Rangoon in May to complete his investigation.

March 26, 2003—In an interview with the BBC, Pinheiro, speaking from Bangkok, reiterates a UN demand that all of the estimated 1,200 political prisoners in Burma be released by the military regime. "It is unacceptable releasing prisoners drop by drop, because this is a cruelty for the prisoners, some of which are very old," he said. He also commented on the slow pace of the reconciliation process, saying, "I didn’t see any progress. We are in a very delicate position."

April 3, 2003—Aung San Suu Kyi leaves for Chin State, on her sixth trip to visit and re-open party offices outside of Rangoon since her release from house arrest in May 2002. The trip is expected to last ten days. NLD spokesperson U Lwin warns, "[Suu Kyi] might face harassment like she did on her last trip." Officials used a fire truck to disperse a crowd at a Suu Kyi speech in Arakan State in December 2002.

April 14, 2003—European Union foreign ministers agree to extend sanctions against Burma for another year. They also strengthen the arms embargo and increase the number of people subject to a visa ban, saying they can find no credible reason for the regime not agreeing to a return to democracy.

April 15, 2003—Burma’s ruling military government releases a statement hinting that it might be willing to engage in talks with the pro-democracy leadership. The regime says it has "complete trust" in the commitment of Aung San Suu Kyi to the "smooth and stable development" of the country. The statement adds, "It is only by working together and discussing problems in a constructive way, that the people of Myanmar can build a strong, united and developed nation." The NLD responds via spokesperson U Lwin, who says, "It is very encouraging. I really hope it expresses the genuine, sincere goodwill of the government."

April 21, 2003—UN special envoy Razali Ismail tells Reuters he is frustrated by the lack of progress in the dialogue in Burma and expresses concern that he has not been invited to the country in five months.

April 23, 2003—During a news conference at NLD headquarters Aung San Suu Kyi voices her strongest criticism of the regime since her release from house arrest. "They don’t want change, but change is inevitable," she says. "If the SPDC is truly interested in the welfare of this country, they should cooperate with the NLD. I’d like to ask why the SPDC doesn’t contact the NLD." Suu Kyi also tells the press that she was harassed by officials on her recent visits to supporters outside Rangoon.

April 29, 2003—Razali Ismail expresses frustration with the Burmese government’s reluctance to allow him to visit the country in order to jumpstart the dialogue process. "I am perplexed and disappointed," he said during a visit to Bangkok. "I thought I was a good friend to all parties so I really cannot understand why I am being denied access." UN officials say the ruling regime has invented a stream of excuses to rationalize why it is not a convenient time for Razali to visit.

Razali also comments on Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent criticisms of the junta, saying, "The dialogue now seems to be with the media, not the diplomats. The exchange should not be in the public domain but behind closed doors." A senior Western diplomat in Rangoon says that the dialogue is "becoming a war of words."

May 4, 2003—Two days before the one-year anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest, the military regime releases 18 political prisoners. Dr Salia Tun Than, a prominent retired professor, and 12 NLD members are among those set free. The junta releases a statement saying "health and humanitarian concerns" governed their choice of whom to release. It also says, "The releases are the latest in a series of efforts by the government to move Myanmar closer to multiparty democracy and national reconciliation." Almost all released were told they were prohibited from engaging in future political activities.

May 6, 2003—On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest, the US State Department releases a statement calling on Rangoon to make progress toward national reconciliation. It says, "It is past time for the people of Burma to enjoy basic rights and economic development. We call on the regime to take its own declarations seriously and move on towards the restoration of multiparty democracy." The statement also criticizes the regime’s treatment of prisoners and says the junta "has failed to work in good faith" with UN special envoy Razali Ismail.

On the same day, Dr Myint Cho of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma is interviewed by Radio Singapore International. He says that the dialogue remains stalled because the regime "has no real commitment to improving human rights or bringing about political change in Burma." He is also critical of the engagement policy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, saying, "We believe the only language the military regime can understand is international pressure."

May 6, 2003—Aung San Suu Kyi leaves Rangoon for a one-month trip to Kachin State, Mandalay and Sagaing Division. It will be her longest trip since being released from house arrest a year ago and her first visit to Kachin State since 1989. She and NLD chairman U Tin Oo plan to open several NLD offices in Kachin State.

May 15, 2003—Burmese government spokesperson Col Hla Min announces that the regime has given Razali Ismail permission to return to the country. He will arrive in Rangoon on June 6 for a four-day visit, his tenth since taking the post in April 2000.

May 16, 2003—The NLD convoy encounters nearly 300 members of the pro-junta Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA) just outside the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina. NLD spokesperson U Lwin tells news agencies that the group, armed with catapults and small objects such as bicycle nuts, tried to keep Aung San Suu Kyi’s vehicle from crossing a bridge into Myitkyina. "They were just showing their force, and our people suggested that they open the road," said U Lwin. "Finally they moved away." He calls the stand-off "the most serious incident" of Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip thus far. No injuries are reported.

May 17, 2003—The US extends its ban on investment in Burma for another year, and refuses to lift the national emergency designation on Burma. A notice signed by President Bush said that the actions and policies of the Burmese regime "continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, the national emergency…must continue." Burma’s military rulers respond by calling US fears of a threat from the Burmese government "odd" and "imaginary" and by asking the US join them in development efforts.

May 20, 2003—Sec-1 Gen Khin Nyunt, Burma’s intelligence chief, reportedly tells Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai that talks between the military regime and Aung San Suu Kyi will start within weeks. Surakiart announces the news to reporters after the pair meets on the Thai-Burma border near Tachilek. The Thai minister says that Khin Nyunt told him the date of the start of talks, but he does not disclose the details.

May 26, 2003—Burma’s military rulers deny reports of possible talks with the opposition. Military intelligence officer Col Than Tun tells reporters: "It could be an exaggeration by the media. I don’t think the General [Khin Nyunt] himself would have said that."

On the same day, NLD spokesperson U Lwin tells the Associated Press that a dozen vehicles full of USDA members came towards Suu Kyi’s car as she was entering a village in Upper Burma, where she planned to meet supporters. According to U Lwin, USDA members shouted at the crowds through loudspeakers: "Run for your lives, or you will have to pick up your own corpses!" He adds: "This is a most serious incident. These people are very rowdy. They bully the public and are extremely unruly."

May 30, 2003—The convoy carrying Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior NLD members is attacked by USDA members near Depayin Township in Sagaing Division. The regime reports that four people are killed and 50 injured. Witness accounts suggest that Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo sustained injuries and that many more people were killed. Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo are taken into what the regime calls "protective custody." All senior NLD officers are placed under house arrest, party offices are closed and the party’s phone lines are cut.

June 1-2, 2003—Government leaders around the globe call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Officials from the US, UK, Canada, France, Australia, Japan, Thailand and numerous other nations express concern over the detention of the opposition leader. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says the recent events "underline the urgent need for national reconciliation" in Burma.

June 5, 2003—A new bill to increase sanctions and tighten the visa ban on Burmese military officials is introduced in the US Congress.

On the same day, Kyaw Win, Burma’s ambassador to Britain tells the BBC: "There is no evidence we are worried about sanctions. Not that we want them, but we are not afraid of them either because we have lived for 26 years on our own before, and we have very good neighbors around us and we can simply trade and exchange relations with our close, good neighbors. We have the two largest countries of the world on either side who are happily trading and exchanging all kinds of technical, transportation, security measures [with Burma] and we are living in harmony with all of them."

June 6, 2003— UN special envoy Razali Ismail arrives in Rangoon, unsure if he will be able to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been kept incommunicado at an undisclosed location since being taken into custody on May 30.

June 9, 2003—Razali reports that he is likely to see jailed Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi the following day, after intensive talks with the country’s two top junta leaders. Razali says there is a "strong likelihood" that he will be permitted to see the popular opposition leader before he completes his five-day mission to Rangoon.

June 10, 2003—Razali meets with Suu Kyi in Rangoon for 30 minutes. The UN special envoy tells reporters the opposition leader was "well and in good spirits" and that there were "no scratches on her face" and that she had "no broken arm." He reports that Suu Kyi gave him her version of the Black Friday clash in Upper Burma on May 30. "Now we have to work for her release from protective custody," he says.

June 11, 2003—The US Senate votes 97-1 to approve a new set of sanctions against Burma. If passed by the US House and signed by President Bush, the bill would ban imports of anything mined, made, grown or assembled in Burma; freeze Burmese government assets held in the United States; bar former and present leaders, their families and close associates from traveling to the US; and require the Treasury Department to oppose World Bank or International Monetary Fund loans.

June 16, 2003—The Association of Southeast Asian Nations breaks with a longstanding policy of not interfering in the internal affairs of member states and criticizes Burma over Suu Kyi’s detention. "All of us in Asean wish that Aung San Suu Kyi will be free to be able to do what she would like to do," Asean Secretary General Ong Keng Yong told reporters during a two-day meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Phnom Penh.

June 18, 2003—Aung San Suu Kyi spends her 58th birthday in detention. British Foreign Officer Mike O’Brien tells the BBC she is being held in the notorious Insein Prison, outside Rangoon. He does not elaborate how he discovered her exact whereabouts. Supporters worldwide mark Suu Kyi’s birthday with protests calling for her release.

June 25, 2003—Japan freezes all foreign aid to Burma to punish the military government for its detention of the opposition leader. The move comes two days after Senior Vice Foreign Minister Tetsuro Yano returned from a mission to Rangoon, hoping to secure Suu Kyi’s release. Japan is Burma’s largest aid donor.

July 5-8, 2003—The state-run New Light of Myanmar runs a four-part series of articles criticizing Suu Kyi and the NLD.

July 15, 2003—The US House of Representatives votes 418-2 to pass its version of the economic sanctions bill on Burma. The military rulers in Rangoon describe the measures as "weapons of mass destruction." Their official statement says sanctions threaten needed jobs and stop the flow of ideas.

Mid-July, 2003—Burmese envoys are sent to China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, India, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Japan, carrying letters that accuse democracy activists of trying to overthrow the government.

July 17, 2003—Thailand proposes a "road map" for democratic change in Burma. No details of the plan are given, but Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai says he proposed the idea during meetings with the junta. Surakiart says Bangkok would "like to see a clear cut plan that Myanmar announces to the world on its process to democracy, when it will release Suu Kyi and when it will have a constitution." Members of the military government do not comment on the plan.

July 20, 2003— Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warns that Burma might have to be expelled from Asean if the junta continues to detain Suu Kyi. Speaking in an interview with Agence France-Presse, Mahathir says: "We will have to examine every avenue before we can take such drastic actions…We are thinking about ourselves as Asean, we are not criticizing Myanmar for doing what is not related to us, but what they have done has affected us, our credibility."

July 24, 2003—Foreign ministers from Europe and Asia release a statement saying Burma should release Suu Kyi immediately and resume efforts towards democracy. The statement is issued after the Asia-Europe Meeting in Indonesia.

July 26, 2003— A commentary published in all three of Burma’s state-run newspapers says the country was deprived of a parliamentary democracy because Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy withdrew from a constitution-drafting process in 1995. If the NLD had not walked away, "there would not have been any political conflict, no problem of political prisoners, nor any refugee problem and a new constitution could have emerged since 1995-96 and so would have the parliamentary democratic administration," says the article.

July 27, 2003—Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung tells reporters upon arriving in Indonesia, "I can’t see a timeframe" for releasing the detained opposition leader.

July 29, 2003— US President George W Bush signs the Burma Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, enacting a host of sanctions aimed at promoting democracy in Burma and securing the release of Suu Kyi. The new law bans all Burmese imports to the US and freezes the US assets of Burmese officials and bans remittances to Burma. It also asks US representatives to vote against any major international loans to Burma, and expands visa restrictions to family members of high-ranking government officials and members of the Union Solidarity Development Association.

July 31, 2003— UN special rapporteur on human rights to Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, says his mandate may be in jeopardy unless the junta makes more progress on human rights. Pinheiro makes the comments during an interview with Radio Free Asia’s Burmese service. The continued detention of Suu Kyi and hundreds of other political prisoners complicates his discussions about improving human rights. "If I don’t see any development in the [political prisoner] situation, I will be obliged to revise my commitment to this mandate," Pinheiro says.

August 21, 2003—China’s State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan says his country’s leaders believe the domestic situation in Burma is an internal affair and the Chinese disagree with foreign interference in the matter. He makes the comments after meeting with Deputy Sr-Gen Maung Aye.

August 25, 2003—The ruling SPDC reshuffles its cabinet positions. Gen Khin Nyunt replaces Sr-Gen Than Shwe as Prime Minister. Than Shwe remains head of the armed forces and the ruling junta. Rangoon-based diplomats say it is unclear what impact the reshuffle will have on the detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

August 28, 2003—US sanctions on Burma take effect.

August 30, 2003—In his first public speech as Prime Minister, Gen Khin Nyunt spells out "The Road Map of Myanmar" designed by the ruling junta. The seven-point plan calls for reconvening the National Convention, drafting a new constitution and holding free and fair elections. No timetable for its implementation is given, but in his speech he warns, "It is very difficult to change overnight into a democratic state." He also blames the NLD for the collapse of the National Convention in 1996, saying: "The NLD turned away from the political path and took the attitude that it would do whatever it liked. Because of this, democracy, which was almost at hand, has become distant again."

August 31, 2003—The US releases a statement saying it has learned that Suu Kyi was on a hunger strike "to protest her illegal detention by [the] military regime." It includes no other details about her condition and does not identify the source of the information, saying only that it came from "credible reporting from our embassy."

September 1, 2003—The Burmese Foreign Ministry responds to the hunger strike claim by calling it "groundless." Its statement calls the US claim about Suu Kyi "an attempt to overshadow recent political developments in Burma, in particular the road map to democracy."

September 6, 2003—Officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross visit Suu Kyi to verify the US State Department report that she is refusing food. After meeting for about an hour, Red Cross officials confirm that the pro-democracy leader is "well" and not on a hunger strike, but refuse to release details of her location.

September 8, 2003—UN special envoy Razali Ismail abandons plans to visit Burma in mid-September. He urges the international community to give the military rulers more time to implement their new road map. Razali’s statement says the plan is the "right thing to do," and adds that Khin Nyunt deserves a chance to accomplish his goals. "We hope that this proposal is the precursor, the beginning of a healing process that will bring about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other parties," he says.

Information compiled from The Irrawaddy archives, wire services and UN reports.

UPDATED IN FEBRUARY 2004


 
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