Editorial
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, June 16, 2024
Magazine

EDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE

Editorial


By The Irrawaddy MARCH, 1999 - VOLUME 7 NO.3


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(Page 2 of 11)

Aung San Suu Kyi’s remark that, "To make Burma a member of Asean at this moment is to encourage (the regime) to be more repressive," has come true. As a recent UN Human Rights report confirms, Burma’s human rights record and its treatment of the political opposition has worsened. The government has begun detaining members of the NLD and forcing them to resign.

The continued postponement of the EU-Asean summit dramatizes the expense Asean incurs for associating with Burma as well as the junta’s inflexibility. For over eighteen months, the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars of EU development funds has been delayed. The EU rejects a meeting with Burma and Asean rejects a meeting without Burma, placing the dialogue partners at loggerheads over how to deal with Burma. The EU has asked for some sort of gesture on behalf of the regime to demonstrate its seriousness about reform, but so far no substantial action has been taken.

The policy of constructive engagement has been that of appeasement without results as the Burmese government has had to provide little in order to maintain its position in the ranks of Asean. The time has come for Asean to take firmer action, but this may be more difficult than it seems.

The failure of the engagement of Burma has revealed a key weakness of Asean — that the necessity for consensus allows one inflexible member to dictate the course of action of the group. This was never a problem as all the members of Asean were willing to compromise. But now Burma refuses to play by the rules, putting Asean in a bind.

Thai Deputy Foreign Minister MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra explains, "There is no precedent for Asean’s acceptance of a new member whose internal affairs have such an impact on an existing Asean member."

Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan has started a dialogue of "enhanced" or "critical engagement" to address this problem, but the progress is moving at a glacially Asean pace. Burma is a political liability for Asean, which has produced more a burden than a benefit. How much longer and at what cost is Asean prepared to accommodate a regime, which seems unwilling to offer the slightest compromise?

It is time that Asean stop paying for the Burmese junta’s recalcitrance, and employ stronger measures in dealing with the regime if it continues to remain inflexible towards its political opposition.

 

Min Ko Naing "Conqueror of Kings"

Of all the leaders who emerged during the heady days of Burma’s pro-democracy uprisings in 1988, Min Ko Naing, the "Conqueror of Kings," stands out as perhaps the most heroic. Min Ko Naing is the nom de guerre of Paw Oo Htun, who was born in Rangoon in 1962, the year his country’s fledgling democracy fell to the dictatorship of General Ne Win. Now, after a decade in prison for his role in instilling a sense of political responsibility in a people long accustomed to oppression, his name still expresses courage, commitment and hope.

The formative years of Min Ko Naing’s political consciousness coincided with the final years of Ne Win’s direct control over Burma. As a popular, artistically gifted student at the Rangoon Arts and Science University (RASU), he was an active member of the arts club, where he enjoyed reading, writing poems and drawing cartoons, especially satirical ones. But as Moe Thee Zun, a close friend and fellow activist, recalled, "Our conversations went beyond the usual topics of poems and cartoons, and we began to talk about politics and the country’s future."

In a country where student unions were banned by law, Min Ko Naing and his friends were forced to discuss their political views in secrecy.



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