Friday, 8 August 2008

Bush Warm, Knowledgeable on Burma, Say Activists

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK — US President George W Bush traded ideas about US economic sanctions on Burma, humanitarian aid after Cyclone Nargis and Chinese foreign policy during a private lunch with nine Burmese activists in Bangkok on Thursday.

“On China’s Burma policy, Bush said although the two countries cooperate with each other on many issues, the US and China have different interests in Burma,” said Win Min, a Burmese political analyst.

The activists told The Irrawaddy after the lunch at the US ambassador’s residence that Bush was very knowledgeable on Burma and the rest of Asia.

Bo Kyi, a joint-founder of the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners-Burma, said, “He understands Burma and Asia. He also talked about his concern for political prisoners in Burma.”

The US president came across as a likeable, warm person, said one of the luncheon group, who represented a cross-section of Burmese interests groups.

The hour-long lunch included Burmese exiles Aung Zaw, the editor of The Irrawaddy and a former student activist; Kyaw Kyaw of the Political Defense Committee; and Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst.

The activists said the meeting was also an expression of the president’s wife’s personal interest in Burma. First lady Laura Bush on Thursday toured a Burmese refugee camp on the Thailand-Burma border and visited a free medical clinic that provides services to refugees.

When asked about the possibility of a six-party talk on Burma, similar to that held on North Korea, Bush said it would probably not be possible in Burma’s case, said one activist.

Michael W. Charney of the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, asked to assess the meeting, said while it was a genuine expression of Bush’s commitment, it probably would lead to little change, partly because of his limited time in office.

“Certainly, it will help to keep some attention on Burma and to do so from within Thailand, which has of late been favorable toward the military regime in Naypyidaw. It helps to make the latter’s position a little more uncomfortable,” he said
It would be more meaningful if the dissidents had been talking to presidential hopefuls Barack Obama or John McCain, he said.

“We will have to wait to see if there will be any new US foreign policy initiatives that impact Burma, although I expect less change under McCain than under Obama.”

Analysts said the meeting was probably intended in part to balance out negative impressions from Bush’s participation in the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, which will be held on Friday.

In a related event, more than 100 former Burmese activists, journalists and others commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Burmese 8.8.88 uprising at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok on Wednesday.

Four former student activists: Aung Moe Zaw, Aung Naing Oo, Aung Zaw and Myint Myint San, as well as Toe Toe, an ex-Burmese migrant worker who was four years old in 1988, presented a panel discussion. Dominic Faulder, a journalist who has written on Burma since 1981, served as a moderator.

Aung Zaw, who was detained as a student activist in March 1988, said, “The 8.8.88 uprising was not event, not an uprising, but a process. It was a political process in history.”

He said that he would like to honor the spirit of the people who died in the uprising. “Our struggle, our destination continues,” he said.

A Burmese political analyst in exile, Aung Naing Oo, who was a student in the English department of the University of Rangoon in 1988, said he didn’t even understand the word “democracy” at the beginning of the movement. “My brother asked me what was the meaning of democracy, and then I had to look it up in a dictionary,” he said.

Reviewing the 20-year period since the uprising, he said it has been “20 years of hopelessness.”

Aung Moe Zaw, the chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society, said that in 1988 people had romantic ideas about democracy and freedom, and now, he said, “We have lost opportunities.”

Thee Lay Thee, a Burmese comedy team, also performed and showed photographs of the military regime’s crackdown in 1988.

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