Friday, 28 March 2008

Burma's leader urges citizens to 'crush destructive elements'

  • General says he will hand over power after election
  • Regime pledges free vote on draft constitution
Ian MacKinnon

March 28, 2008 - Burma's military leader yesterday urged citizens to join with the armed forces to crush "destructive elements" said to be trying to destabilise the isolated nation. During a rare public appearance, Than Shwe also insisted he would not cling to power at any cost but honour the victors of the general election due in 2010.

In a nationally televised 15-minute speech to mark the annual Armed Forces Day holiday, the reclusive Than Shwe, 75, made several references to May's referendum on the draft constitution that will pave the way for the poll.

Critics have denounced the draft constitution, part of the junta's seven-step "road map to democracy", as a ruse to consolidate the military's power. Opponents of the regime, such as the National League for Democracy, led by the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, were excluded from the drafting process, which took 14 years.

However, the information minister, Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, yesterday said the government would try to ensure a "free and fair" vote, though the new constitution was not yet fully published.

Before an audience of diplomats and senior Burmese military, at a venue in the new capital, Naypyidaw, Than Shwe confounded rumours of failing health by standing for an hour in the tropical heat to review 13,000 troops, police and fire brigades. He made no mention of the suppression of the uprising six months ago when at least 31 people died after soldiers opened fire on monks and pro-democracy protesters. But in an oblique allusion that betrayed fear of further unrest, he pressed the armed forces to "join hands with the people to crush internal and external destructive elements sabotaging stability and progress of the state".

He said the military leadership that had ruled Burma for 45 years now had "a sincere aim for developing the country without any cravings for power". He added: "The draft constitution has been completed and the constitutional referendum will be held in May. Handing over of state power can be done after multi-party elections ... in 2010."

The secrecy surrounding May's constitutional referendum, threats of imprisonment for anyone campaigning against it, and the rejection of a UN offer of international monitors and technical help, have fuelled suspicion over the legitimacy of the voting process.

Meanwhile an underground campaign against the plebiscite has been distributing leaflets and flyers. One T-shirt slogan passes itself off as a public health message, shouting "NO" with the word "smoking" printed discreetly beneath.

Gen Kyaw Hsan, briefing local media ahead of Armed Forces Day, insisted the new constitution, which reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military, was a good starting point. "Something is better than nothing," he said. "Having a constitution is better than having no constitution. Once we have something, we can improve it gradually step by step."

Source: The Guardian

Right thinking must lead to action on Burma


March 27, 2008 - It was Hannah Arendt who wrote that "Under conditions of tyranny, it is easier to act than to think." While none would accuse Burma's Saffron Revolution of being unthinking, the sense of those words hold true. There is a time when thoughts must give way to action.

Yet, just as this notion holds truth, so too does its reverse. That is to say, without the conditions of tyranny, it is easier to think than to act. This appears to be the position of many around the world, who have the privilege of remaining disengaged while seeing images of violence at a distance.

The historic events that continue unfold in Burma today, evolving from peaceful demonstrations late last year, have been detailed in a new report "Bullets in the Alms Bowl," produced by the Human Rights Documentation Unit of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, the country's government in exile.

No one can read this report and not feel their very humanity challenged by the presence of the brutality it documents. No one can say, "We were unaware." No one has an excuse not to act.

In asking for peace and dialogue toward a political settlement of the problems confronting this country, members of Burma's Buddhist community, the Sangha, have spoken for all their country and touched the whole world. They have galvanized world opinion and spoken to the very soul of our global community. All must hear them.

All must hear how the Burmese military government suppressed a peaceful movement centred on monks, a movement that carried no weapons but the firmness of convictions and courage.

The HRDU report documents the murders, the tortures, the late-night abductions, the house detentions, the arrest of family members of accused demonstrators, the list of actions designed to break the population, to discredit their agendas and to hold an ever tenuous grip on power.

There are given names, dates and times. Personal experiences are painstakingly unfolded. The gaps left by the dead, the detained, the damaged and the broken are poignantly identified.

The struggle of the Sangha and the Saffron Revolution is imbued with the deepest, resonant significance. Here is an outbreak of peace in the face of so much violence, an embodiment of hope in the face of hopelessness, a surge of spiritual values at a time of the most crushing assault on the human heart.

The world cannot ignore these cries and still maintain its sense of dignity and trust, nor can we as the world family maintain our hold on truth and freedom if Burma's peoples continue to be so ill-treated and oppressed.

In Burma, as in South Africa near the end of the apartheid era, a moment has arrived. It is a moment when the clock stops ticking, when the air stops moving, where sound is muffled, and where the mind stops spinning. This is a moment of clarity, a moment when the uncertainty of daily life disappears and a clear message overwhelms the senses. A moment when history stands still, awaiting the inevitable truth.

It is our duty, and that of the global community, to ensure that this moment is not lost. This is not a time for empty politics or grandiose schemes designed to divert the attention and reverse the momentum.

There are roles here for the United Nations (especially as another visit by its special envoy comes and goes without result), for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for specific countries such as China, India and the United States — for all interested in promoting the rule of law and human rights for all. The NCGUB has detailed these agendas and will continue to articulate them.

The Free Burma movement is not in victim mode, nor are we devoid of intent. Our goal is clear. But we cannot work alone and we call on the global community to read this report and to ensure that what it documents is consigned to Burma's past, not allowed to be a template for the future.

This is a time to realize our hopes and enact our dreams, for an oppressed Burma rests on all our shoulders, challenging and burdening the world. This is the time for a free Burma to be reborn, on the foundation of peace and forgiveness laid by its Sangha.

It is indeed Burma's moment. But it is also one for all peoples.

Dr. Thaung Htun is the representative for United Nations affairs with the Burma UN Service Office, National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.