Toward Democracy, Human Rights and Federalism

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Burma Situation Update, June-July, 2007

Friday, July 13 2007, 12:10 PM EDT
Burma Situation Update, June-July, 2007, Published By NCGUB

Unless the final convention session decides to drastically change the principles which have already been passed by the previous sessions, there is nothing that the new constitution can offer to the pro-democracy parties or the ethnic nationality forces which are seeking equal rights and self-determination.


Bringing Closure To A Long-Winding Process

The National Convention, the first phase of the seven-step roadmap of the Burmese military regime will convene on 18 July and convention delegates, mostly handpicked by the Burmese generals, are expected to pass the proposed "principles" which are to be included in the drafting of the constitution by a commission expected to be formed at the Convention.

Given that only a few chapters remain for discussion, the 18 July session is expected to be the last before the actual drafting of the constitution begins.

None of the major political parties which won the elections in 1990 attended the National Convention, a process which is strictly controlled by the generals to ensure that the constitution that emerges will enable the military to play "a leading role in the political future of Burma" -- one of the "six basic principles" that the military wants enshrined in the constitution.

Unless the final convention session decides to drastically change the principles which have already been passed by the previous sessions, there is nothing that the new constitution can offer to the pro-democracy parties or the ethnic nationality forces which are seeking equal rights and self-determination.

Lieutenant General Thein Sein, the chairman of the National Convention Convening Comm-ission and newly appointed prime minister in place of ailing General Soe Win, said recently that the final session will "thoroughly review all adopted basic principles, detailed basic principles, some amendments, additions and nullification to some of the points are to be made to ensure that the Constitution is free from flaws and weaknesses".

Lt Gen Thein Sein's comments drew both positive and negative responses from observers, political parties, and cease-fire ethnic nationality forces.

Since the generals have renege on their promises on numerous occasions, some view them with pessimism, saying that any changes made would only be superficial. "They would probably change the name of the capital in the constitution from Rangoon to Nay Pyi Taw. Don't expect much," said one of them.

The National League for Democracy, however, appeared to be cautiously hopeful. U Thein Nyunt, spokesperson on national convention affairs for the National League for Democracy, said: "We are interested in that. This is because we have the desire to cooperate within the National Convention and we have stated that the six basic principles, which the National Convention had set as its objectives, should be considered as issues for deliberation when drafting the Constitution and we said the same thing for the 104 detailed basic principles also. We have also stated that the process of constitution writing should have no strings, like the basic principles, attached to it. This is because we believe that amendments, additions, and nullifications should be made to these principles. Since the announcement is in agreement, at the fundamental level, with what we have been proposing, we are very interested in the matter."

The New Mon State Party (NMSP), a ceasefire group, which had withdrew official delegations and only sending observers to the previous National Conventions sessions, said it "did not place much hope" on the upcoming convention and that it was still considering whether to attend the convention because "the military regime did not treat proposals by ethnic delegates during previous convention sessions with proper regard".

NMSP Spokesperson Nai Aung Ma Nge said: "I feel that ethnic nationalities are showing less interest in the convention ... they feel that the National Convention neglects matters concerning national reconciliation. If we also look at the attendance, you will note that in 2004, the ethnic forces, including us, sent delegations with joint secretaries and central executive committee members as delegation, only the central executive committee members are attending the convention."

The Last Chance

The Burmese generals have one last chance to show that they have the interest of the country at heart. If they fail to act at the upcoming National Convention to win over the political parties and the ethnic ceasefire groups and decide to go it alone, problems will only be compounded for the nation.

The first major obstacle the generals are likely to encounter is from armed ethnic nationality forces. The regime has insisted that all armed groups must either disarm or be incorporated into either the Burmese Army or the police force once the constitution is ready. Main ethnic forces like the United Wa State Party, the Kachin Independence Organization, and the New Mon State Party which are sufficiently armed, are unlikely to give up their arms without a struggle. The generals are also unlikely to relent and allow ethnic ceasefire groups to remain armed without control.

When asked how the NMSP felt about the plan to disarm the ethnic cease-fire groups once the convention is concluded, Spokesperson Nai Aung Ma Nge said: "With regard to the plan to disarm the groups, I have to say that we must ensure that we will not be left without something concrete to defend our people or our nationals. If there are no guarantees to establish a federal union, we will have to seriously consider about disarming. It is something they should not do."

Beside the question of disarming ceasefire groups, one other dilemma the top Burmese generals are like to encounter is who among the younger generals can they entrust control of the army when they shed their uniforms and assume leadership roles in the pseudo-civilian administration which is bound to emerge. The top generals, known to have bickered over the appointment of commanders, with each favoring his own men, will now have to agree on the choice of the next Commander-in-Chief since that person will wield enormous influence, including the right to stage a coup, under the proposed new constitution. Will the next commander-in-chief remain loyal to the elderly civilian leaders who were once his commanders or will he treat them in the same way Than Shwe had treated the late General Ne Win? These are questions that are probably haunting the current senior generals.

Change in China's Outlook?

For decades, Chinese leaders have been consistent in their message about wanting a stable international environment because they believe that without stability China cannot be developed into a modern nation. This line of thinking seems to hold true for China's policy toward Burma also. China has given little consideration to human rights or political implications and has always cited one of Bandung's "Dasa Sila" or Ten Principles -- Avoid interference in other nations' internal affairs -- and almost always sided with and protected the Burmese generals at international fora. China's immediate interests and the generals providing China a "stable" neighboring environment it needs may have been the overriding factor in adopting this policy for many years.

In recent months, however, particularly following the decision to veto the Burma resolution at the UN Security Council together with Russia, China has lost its good image among the Burmese population at large, particularly among democracy and ethnic political forces. China is seen as crossing the line from its policy of "non-interference" and benign neglect of Burma's political problems to blatantly siding with the generals. This anti-China backlash from the UNSC veto is clearly something Chinese leaders do not want and it may also be the reason why China has decided to break out from its mold and getting involved in Burma's affairs, albeit in a very subtle way.

The brokering of talks between the Burmese cabinet ministers and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Eric John, Chinese leaders' meeting with several ethnic leaders, and Chinese official remarks following talks with Ibrahim Gambari, special envoy of the UN Secretary General, are all indicators of small steps being taken by China to ensure changes about to take place in Burma do not disrupt the stability.

According to news agency reports, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang, commenting on talks with Gambari said China "hopes that, as a neighbor, Burma will have stability, economic development and ethnic concord and harmony... and Burma's issues should be solved by the Burmese people themselves". He also confirmed China's appreciation for "United Nations' mediation work on Burma".

Qin Gang, however, indicated that "China believes that the situation in Burma does not constitute a threat to regional or international peace and security". In other words, China will oppose any UN Security Council action on Burma.

USDA Revisited

Controlling the country in a way similar to that of the late General Ne Win who had ruled Burma through the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) is what the current Burmese generals are aspiring to. Having served as commanders under Ne Win's military rule, Senior General Than Shwe and his cohorts understand that they need an institution or a political entity like the BSPP to fulfill that dream. The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) came into being in 1993 with that main purpose in mind.

That the USDA will play a leading role in the country was inscribed in a War Office's paper on "People's War Strategy" in 2000. Although the strategy paper was mainly aimed at organizing the people for a guerrilla war against superior invading forces, it nonetheless reflected the generals' plan for the USDA.

The War Office's "Manual for Application of People's War Strategy ... by the Director of Military Training Brig Gen Aung Kyi (now major general and deputy minister for labor) ... as instructed by Senior General Than Shwe" said, "We must make necessary preparations to crush any military invasion by deploying national defense measures based on the 'People's War Strategy'...If such an offensive were to be launched, the Burmese Defense Services, guided by the political leadership of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), will safeguard and defend the nation with the support of national reserve forces". [The guerrilla warfare plan, incidentally, is aimed at countering an imaginary invading force from the United States]

Today, the USDA, which claims to have almost 20 million members with military leaders, from the generals down, officially occupy leading positions as 'patrons' at different levels, is being nurtured for a leading role. USDA officials and rank and file are required to attend training of all sorts, given charge of managing localities, making decisions that local security and police officials have to implement, taken over commercial ventures, and organize the people into a fighting force. The people's war strategy manual says, "Police Forces, USDA members, Fire Brigades, National Red Cross members, family members of Defense Services personnel, war veterans, public service personnel, factory workers, peasants, members of Myanmar Maternity and Child Welfare Associations, Women Affairs Committees, and social and religious organizations--all of whom will be trained and organized as people's militias."

The generals' target is for every township to come up with a 100-member people's militia unit and for all service personnel to receive basic military training. Each ward or village is to provide five persons who receive undisclosed, but described as "special" training. In some regions, villages are forced to provide the costs of training for the selected persons.

These five-person groups form the core force of the notorious "Swan Arr Shin" ("The Power Wielders") units which have been terrorizing the whole country, particularly the pro-democracy political activists.

Senior General Than Shwe and Vice Senior Gen Maung Aye realize the threat they face from a strong and independent military intelligence wing. They have learned their lessons from the days when the intelligence wing led by General Khin Nyunt controlled every aspect of life in Burma, including the military. Hence, since the purge of the military wing and dismissal of Gen Khin Nyunt in October 2004, the intelligence wing has been reformed into "Military Affairs Security" (MAS).

The spheres of influence of the newly restructured MAS have now been restricted with all civilian security matters being handled by the Police Special Branch and the USDA. The new MAS commander, Lt Gen Ye Myint, does not enjoy the unrestricted power that Khin Nyunt did.

This unexpected turn of events has provided the USDA to not only assert its authority over local officials but also take indirect charge of security in the whole country. Security for USDA officials, unfortunately, means threatening, intimidating, and persecuting democracy elements. USDA has played a crucial role in forcing NLD members to resign, closing down businesses of political opponents, and carrying out the dirty work for the Burmese generals.

Militant Role

Meanwhile, the 'combat wing' of the USDA or the "Swan Arr Shin" (SAS) has also been wreaking havoc on pro-democracy activists and leaders, whom all confidential official documents refer to as "enemy". The "SAS" paramilitary groups, similar to the "Brownshirts" created by Hitler, target NLD members, their supporters, democracy activists, and human rights defenders.

Many NLD members and supporters were killed and hospitalized during the violent assault by the "Swan Ahr Shin" at Depayin on 30 May 2003. Their latest handiworks include the attack on two human rights defenders at Okpon Village in Henzada, one of whom had to feign dead to avoid being killed. Both needed treatment at the hospital. Two human rights defenders and four supporters are now facing trial because they named USDA officials as leaders in the attacks.

The "SAS" have also been involved in blatantly ransacking homes of NLD members who refuse to give in to their demands.
On 27 May, thousands of USDA and "SAS" surrounded and blocked the peace march to Shwedagon Pagoda led by 88 Generation leaders. According to radio interviews with the 88 Generation Students, the "SAS" carried hidden weapons and were prepared to attack the peace marchers, which included octogenarians and pre-teens, and bloodshed was averted only because the student leaders decided to turn back and hold a rally elsewhere. Following the event, the "SAS" showed up en masse at the homes of the 88 Generation leaders to intimidate them and their families.

These unruly mobs are also behind the forceful abduction of NLD members, including John Humphrey Freedom Award Winner Su Su Nway and NLD Youth Wing leader Phyu Phyu Thin, who were taken away to interrogation centers and released later.

The USDA/SAS were also behind the attack on U Than Lwin, NLD elected representative of Madaya Township, who suffered a broken nose and an eye injury after he was punched in the face with a knuckle-duster.

Since the police force has become subservient to the USDA/SAS there is no one to enforce the law in Burma these days. The present situation also makes it obvious that the enforcers of "discipline" in the "discipline-flourishing democracy" envisaged by the Burmese generals will be the USDA and SAS.

In short, unless the generals' effort to legitimize military rule is prevented, the hounds unleashed by the generals are bound to get legal standing to terrorize the whole nation.

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