Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Self-criticism and Burma’s democracy movement

Aug 26, 2008 (DVB)–While there have been no tangible political improvements 20 years after the 8888 uprising, the thinking and ideas of the people have changed and there has been open and outspoken criticism of the government.

This change in mentality could be said to be the most significant sign of progress in the past 20 years.

But political analysts and journalists have said this level of analysis and criticism should not only be directed against the military government but should also focus on pro-democracy groups.

At the same time, some political activists are concerned that such open self-criticism within the democracy movement is tantamount to “airing one’s dirty linen in public” and is ripe for exploitation by the military government.

DVB’s Htet Aung Kyaw asked Irrawaddy editor Aung Zaw, political analyst Aung Naing Oo and elected National League for Democracy MP Khun Myint Tun how far they thought this culture of criticism should apply to the democracy movement.

Aung Zaw: “There are two parts to this discussion. In my view, the people inside Burma – despite the oppression – are daring more and more to express their opinions and are becoming more willing to say these kinds of things to the outside media such as the DVB or BBC radio stations. It shows how brave they are despite the massive oppression. I think this is positive.

“At the same time, there is more communication between those inside and outside. Before, when you made phone calls from abroad, as we are living outside the country, they didn’t know whether we were with the governments or the opposition or rebel groups. People didn’t dare to meet us or speak to us. But the line between inside and outside is becoming more blurred and that is a good thing.

“When we talk about criticism among the opposition and pro-democracy people, it is mostly personal attacks. When it comes to the culture of criticism towards each other, we are still weak in using facts and figures and lacking the skills to make the other side hear us out calmly.

“But at the same time, if you look at bloggers, the internet, websites and Irrawaddy publications, we have been looking at the weaknesses of the opposition almost constantly. But it is still weak. At the same time, we also see that this side thinks that they should be considerate to the other side. This is because people who are now working in these organisations were at one time involved in opposition groups themselves – they are ex-activists, ex-student leaders, ex-students of 88 generation. They have reined in their criticism and feel they should be more considerate.”

Aung Naing Oo: “My view is that if there is no criticism, there can not be much improvement. When it comes to criticism itself, it is not criticising with closed eyes. One should accept it when it is done appropriately and for the right reasons. In a word, it becomes necessary to have what is termed “critical thinking” in which we have to think properly, deeply, reciprocally. Therefore, at the 20-year point, if we say the movement has not been successful for one year, two years, three years, 20 years, it is necessary to think why it has not been successful. As far as this goes, we are in a position where have to employ other people to “air our dirty linen” instead of doing it ourselves. So we need to think about whether we cannot accept criticisms or can’t be bothered to listen because we don’t share our views.

“When it comes to the nature of conflict, if you see it in black and white, there can be no solution. But within this conflict, there are also shades of grey. Therefore, instead of just concentrating on the black and white, if one could look at other nuances, people, subjects, interests contained in the conflict more properly and inclusively, we will be able to understand and see the criticism within a wider context.”

But many political activists believe this kind of public self-criticism could serve as ammunition for opponents of pro-democracy groups.

Khun Myint Tun: “The main basis of democracy is transparency. The NLD has policies. The first policy of the NLD is openness, honesty and mutual respect. In order to be open, we must be able to criticise ourselves and our organisation. But this criticism has to be constructive. Especially among ourselves, we need to be disciplined and take care not to damage our unity.

“We have to accept it if it is done in a spirit of improvement and development, and we have to listen to it whether we like it or not when it is done in this way. This is because everyone has individual strengths and weaknesses. In order to build on our strengths and address our weaknesses, we need criticism from within our community. We should not just ignore these criticisms from our peers and do whatever we want. Criticism is necessary for individuals and for the country. But, it must not be excessive. For example, some people in the past have used the media to carry out political attacks on one another. This is not good. One thing that is necessary is to criticise logically from the top, within the framework of the revolution.”

How could one criticise within the limits of the revolution? By criticising the military government harshly and the opposition gently?

Aung Zaw: “In my view, compared to the past, [the opposition] has become thick-skinned. This habit has been developed inside and outside [Burma]. Those who are under the military government are pushing the issue imperceptibly. On the outside, those who were involved in the opposition groups and their sympathisers in the media are doing the same for the opposition groups.

“When we were writing in around 1996-97, they [pro-democracy groups] were rather touchy about it. We heard, ‘We will sue you’ and so on. Some armed groups even threatened our lives. But in this day and age, some are becoming quite thick-skinned. We are seeing more self-criticism. Within 20 years, we see that there are more people who are criticising themselves. Why did we lose? Where did we go wrong? What is happening to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? What is wrong with her strategy? What should the strategy of the NLD be? We are seeing these questions more than before.

“I think it is healthy, but as I said before: are we criticising the people, are we talking about the policies, are we talking with facts and figures, are we doing it in an acceptable way, are we talking like adults as much as we can? If we could increase that culture, if we could do that among ourselves, be more precise and behave like adults, there could be more maturity.”

Aung Zaw was himself threatened with a lawsuit ten years ago for saying in an editorial that an exile government was impracticable.

Aung Naing Oo: “There is severe criticism of the military government. If mistakes are made by opposition groups and activists and no one is allowed to point this out – this is not the right thing. If we talk about the faults of the military government while ignoring the faults of the opposition, it doesn’t bode well for our country’s future prospects. In 2004, I wrote an article saying that the actions of the military government and some opposition groups are quite similar and that it is quite worrying. For this, some opposition groups criticised me. ‘Why did you write this? This should not be written,’ I was told. Then, I asked them, ‘Was what I said wrong?’ – ‘What you said was not wrong,’ was the reply. ‘If it is not wrong, I will stand by my point,’ I said. Then, I faced a situation in which our relationship deteriorated. Therefore, if something is wrong, we need to point out the mistake for what it is.”

Khun Myint Tun: “It is useless to attack ourselves with chicken feathers and others with rakes. Even when we criticize the SPDC, we need to criticise it honestly on the basis of the revolution. It is the same when we do it to each other, but we have to avoid actions that could destroy our unity.

“In our view, during our revolution, if everyone in the revolution is an analyst and there are no revolutionaries and political activists, it will be useless. As we have people who really oppose, leaders and people who take responsibilities, we also really need people to watch and criticise these people. Just as in football we need not only coaches for footballers to instruct them, we also need the spectators.

“Whatever it is, we accept and welcome criticism. But, in the Burmese language, some people see the word ‘wayban’ [criticise] in a bad light. We welcome and accept it if it is done in the spirit of improvement. But in human nature, our subconscious doesn’t like criticism. I am the same way. In my subconscious, when someone criticises me, I feel that that person sees me in a negative way and so your conscience needs to accept the fact that you need to accept criticism.”

What is the outlook for the future?

Khun Myint Tun: “When it comes to the limits of freedom, many things have been said. Each person has a different idea of what the limits of freedom should be. But as we love freedom, we welcome free criticism. We must also practise accepting it. The more we can tolerate criticism, the more chance for the emergence of democracy, that’s our view. But the people [of Burma] regard broadcasters such as DVB as the voice of the revolutionary. As it is, it is necessary to allow the free expression of views within the boundaries of the revolution.”

Aung Naing Oo: “We are currently seeing people are criticising not only the military government but also the opposition groups. We also hear people criticising Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We are hearing endless criticism of the military government. Inside the country, there are some people whispering their opinions and others speaking out loudly. Some people are bravely expressing their dislike of the military government to the international newspapers.

“When we look back over the past 20 years, there has been considerable openness and I think that’s a very good thing. Instead of keeping it inside our hearts, if we can express it properly and openly, become more daring in our criticism and think carefully about the subject of criticism, and if necessary, make changes, then that will be a good basis for the future.”

Aung Zaw: “That is the weakness of 8888, I think. [The] ‘I know how to do it and I am right about everything’ [attitude]. I haven’t seen much in the past twenty years. I observe people examining where it went wrong, what could have been done with the right opportunities, how things could have been handled better and so on. I think this is good. It takes a certain time to reach the destination; 20 years is actually a fairly short time.

“We have to work harder to ingrain that culture in us, because, if you look at neighbouring countries, we can see that their sense of democracy is more mature than ours. Even then, people are still threatened with lawsuits, murder and so on for making criticisms. In these circumstances, how are we going to criticise each other? Are we going throw flowers at each other? Or as I said before, are we going to attack each other personally? Do we have the facts, the grounds? We need to think about that. We need to assess whether we are saying it out of love or out of personal hatred. If we can do that, we can reach our desired destination in the future.”

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

Burma's opposition politician attacked by unknown perpetrator


(Mizzima) - A political leader of the Opposition in Burma on Saturday was injured after he was deliberately tripped by an unknown man from behind.

Aye Thar Aung, a member of the 'Committee Representing People's Parliament', an opposition group comprising Members of Parliament elected in the 1990 elections, said he was purposely tripped by the man, who he suspects belongs to the military intelligence, while getting down from a bus in downtown Rangoon.

Aye Thar Aung said he was on his way to a barbershop on Saturday at about 1 p.m. (local time) and was getting off the No. 38 route bus, when he was suddenly tripped on the stairs of the bus. He fell on the ground and sustained injuries on his knees and palms.

"I lost control and fell down. I sustained bruises and injuries on my palms and on my right knee. I can't stand properly now but have no fractures. I am lucky not to have got a head injury," Aye Thar Aung told Mizzima over telephone.

While it was not clear who tripped him, Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) party said the person has been constantly following him wherever he went. Aung believes he belongs to Burma's notorious 'Military Affairs Security'.

"He is just about 20 years old and he has been following me all through," said Aye Thar Aung, adding that the person had purposely put forward one foot on the bus to trip him.

The 63 year-old Arakan leader said, he lodged a complaint at the Pazundaung Township Police Station, adding the man continued to follow him to the gates of the police station.

Aye Thar Aung said, the man reportedly told people in the neighborhood that he had been assigned to follow the politician.

"I heard that he told people in my neighborhood that he was unhappy with me for roaming around the city without any work, as he has to continuously follow me. I think he tripped me because of that," Aye Thar Aung said.

Burma's Opposition party members in recent times have been subjected to frequent attacks by unknown perpetrators. But the law enforcement agencies of the military government have failed to bring the culprits to book every time an opposition member has been attacked.

In June, an elected Member of Parliament, Than Lwin, from Madaya township of Mandalay division was hit on the face with a knuckle-duster by an unknown person.

Similarly, Tin Yu, a member of Burma's main opposition party – the National League for Democracy – in Rangoon Division's Hliang Thar Yar Township, had to undergo a minor operation where he received 21 stitches for an injury he sustained from a beating by unknown group of people in April.

In March, a Human Rights activist, Myint Aye (57) sustained head injuries from a similar beating by unknown people. Myint Hlaing, chairman of the Hlaing Thar Yar NLD was also attacked by unknown people the same month.

In February, political activists Moe Nay Soe and Phone Gyi from Taungup town of Arakan State in western Burma were also beaten up by an unknown group.

In all the cases, though the victims said they had lodged complaints with the police, so far there have been no reports of arrests or effort at finding the culprits.

MAI to hire F-100 aircraft for Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur flights

Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima)– The Myanmar Airways International, one of the few international airlines in Burma will hire a Fokker-100 aircraft from AirBagan, another airline, for its Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur flights.

MAI's Marketing executive in Rangoon told Mizzima on Tuesday that the company will hire a 36-seat F-100 aircraft from AirBagan on a three-month contract starting August end to November.

"Currently we are facing a shortage of aircrafts that's why we have decided to hire for a three month period. We will look for other aircrafts from December 1. In fact, we are filling in with aircraft from AirBagan while we are finding replacements," the executive said.

MAI, which operates international flights to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, had earlier hired a M-82 aircraft from Thailand's 12Go and used it for its flights from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur.

Sources said MAI will use the F-100 aircraft in place of the M-82 to operate flights between Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, as MAI has to terminate its contract with 12Go over problems related to insurance.

"We have to stop using the 12Go aircraft because of insurance related problems, which is not our problem. But since we do not want to terminate our operation, and as AirBagan agreed to hire out to us, we are going to use the AirBagan aircraft for the flights," the executive said.

AirBagan, which in June suspended its Rangoon-Singapore flights for three months, said they have agreed to hire its F-100 aircraft to the semi-government owned MAI.

But an official of AirBagan declined to provide further details of the contract between the two airlines saying she was not authorized to speak to the press.

AirBagan is owned by business tycoon Tayza, who reportedly has a close relationship with the ruling junta supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe.

Following the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in September 2007 by the military junta, Tayza was named one among the many cronies of the junta that supported its rule, by the United States and is among the list of people who are barred from entering the US.

Hit by the tightening economic sanctions imposed by the US, AirBagan n October 19, 2007 announced suspension of its flights between Rangoon and Singapore.

Angry Reaction to Samak’s 'Suu Kyi is a Tool' Remark

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese opposition politicians and some political observers and commentators have strongly rejected Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s description of Aung San Suu Kyi as a “political tool” of the West.

Samak made the controversial comment to UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari when the two met in Bangkok as the Nigerian diplomat was returning from his latest failed mission to Burma.

“Europe uses Aung San Suu Kyi as a political tool,” Samak told Gambari. “If it's not related to Aung San Suu Kyi, you can have deeper discussions with Myanmar [Burma].”

Samak also told reporters after meeting Gambari: “Efforts to engage the military regime would be more productive if Aung San Suu Kyi was left off the agenda.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) rejected the Thai premier’s comments as inappropriate.

“As the leader of a country, he should not give such comments about the political affairs of other countries,” said NLD Spokesman Nyan Win.

Nyan Win accused Samak of favoring the Burmese regime and ignoring the Burmese people.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, senior editor of the Bangkok English-language daily newspaper The Nation said, “I think Samak’s comment is ridiculous. And he has tarnished Thailand’s reputation as the chairman of the Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

“He [Samak] doesn’t even understand the situation in Burma. He has a very sadistic attitude in attacking whoever disagrees with him. Look at the manner he attacks the Thai media everyday.”

A Burmese ethnic leader, Cin Sian Thang, chairman of the Zomi National Congress in Rangoon, accused Samak of “insulting Burmese people.”

Cin Sian Thang charged that Samak “doesn’t support the formation of democracy in Burma.”

A well-known Burmese politician and former ambassador to China in the 1970s, Thakin Chan Htun, said in Rangoon that Samak’s remarks were based on Thailand’s business interests in Burma, which were more important to him than democratic reform.

Although Gambari failed to meet any top Burmese leader or Aung San Suu Kyi on his latest visit, the UN denied the mission was a failure.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s deputy spokeswoman,
Marie Okabe, said in New York on Monday: “One should not make a judgment on the process based on each individual visit.”

During his Bangkok stopover, Gambari urged Samak to continue his support for the UN mission to break the political deadlock in Burma.

Gambari is scheduled to visit Indonesia before returning to New York, where Okabe said he would report to Ban Ki-moon on his latest visit to Burma.

Samak's remarks on Burma do more damage

(The Nation) - The PM adds more salt to the wounds by openly endorsing junta's planned 2010 elections

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's recent comments on Burma were ridiculous, even bordering on absurdity. It showed his total ignorance of the situation, and worse yet, he seems to be completely blind to the ongoing efforts by the international community, especially the UN, to bring peace and stability to one of the world's most backward countries. His latest comments added salt to the wound created by his earlier remarks, which also tarnished Thailand's reputation as a democracy.

Samak showed sadistic tendencies when he started criticising the West for demanding that Aung San Suu Kyi be released from her 12-year-long house arrest. He has completely ignored the reality inside Burma, and even very foolishly observed that the West could have a deeper level of discussions with the junta if the opposition party's leader was not part of the scheme. Obviously Samak forgot that Suu Kyi and her party, National League of Democracy, won the 1990 elections by a landslide, but that the military junta refused to recognise their victory.

He also forgot that over the past two decades, the junta has imposed stringent rules over its citizens, building up a tight police state where the public is under constant surveillance. When the Buddhist monks and students took to the streets in September last year to rally against the junta, they were met with force. Asean came out with the strongest statement in its history condemning one of its members, but the junta remained unrepentant.

Now, the junta is moving confidently ahead in imposing its political roadmap on the Burmese people by passing a new constitution in May and planning national elections in 2010. Meanwhile, Samak continues to completely ignore Burma's hunger for democracy.

Thailand has had to support more than two million refugees and migrant workers escaping hardship and oppression in their country. The Thai administration obviously does not realise that making Burma a democracy would be beneficial because the people would want to return home. As the leader of Thailand, Samak should have understood that it is democracy that gave him power in the first place.

However, when he met UN special envoy for Burma Ibrahim Gambari, Samak ended up openly endorsing the junta's planned 2010 election, saying naively that he would talk the junta into allowing outside observers. Samak should have realised that there is no way anybody could influence the junta.

When the international community wanted to help victims of Cyclone Nargis in early May, the junta was recalcitrant. At first, it blocked outside assistance out of fear of intervention, whereas immediate aid could have saved thousands of lives. After repeated assurances by Asean, some international organisations were allowed in. Now, it appears that the junta benefited handsomely from the tricky foreign policy exchange regulations, which enabled the authorities to put millions in their pockets. It is uncertain how much money they have made off with, but the real picture will emerge soon. Already, the news has had an adverse effect on potential sources of assistance.

It is obvious that Samak's stance on Burma will have huge ramifications on Thailand and its standing in the global community. Samak has always been quick to jump on any chance that would help him maintain power, even if it means serving as a front man for a convicted criminal liked Thaksin Shinawatra. Whether or not Samak can continue as prime minister in the weeks ahead, he has already created enough ways to further isolate Thailand. Worse yet, it would further affect the role of the Asean chair over the next 16 months.

With such a strong endorsement of the Burmese junta, it is now possible that some of the Asean dialogue partners would seek to boycott the meetings scheduled in December in Bangkok. Perhaps we should expect more diplomatic disasters if Samak continues as prime minister.

Reports of Daw Suu Kyi’s refusal of daily food supplies creating serious concern

Kuala Lumpur, 27 August, ( The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) has expressed its deep concern over reports claiming that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been refusing her daily food supply since 16 August 2008.

AIPMC Steering Committee based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in a press release said, “If these reports are confirmed to be true, then this is a serious concern for all. We strongly call on ASEAN leaders to intervene in this matter and ensure that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is given the necessary attention, which is highly likely needed urgently.

Press release has urged that, regional and international intervention in this matter is exceedingly essential in order to ascertain the veracity of these reports, given that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is denied any access to her friends, family, colleagues, the media and effectively the world outside her home.

AIPMC has requested the ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan to immediately visit Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and to personally ascertain her health status.

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus has further urged for a comprehensive assessment of Daw Aung Suu Kyi’s health must be carried out as soon as possible. This assessment must include all aspects of her well-being. The Sec-Gen should also look into the reasons as to why she is refusing her food supply.

Further, the AIPMC has called on the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to travel to Burma and meet with Daw Aung Suu Kyi as soon as possible. Her obvious refusal to receive the UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his visit last week is an indication that his mandate is failing, AIPMC said

AIPMC is of the opinion that a visit by the Sec-Gen will ensure that the United Nations plays a pivotal role in not only solving this latest crisis but also succeed in re-opening tripartite talks in Burma.

The AIPMC has also has reminded to take this opportunity to remind the United Nations and ASEAN that the continued well-being of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is vital in achieving a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Burma.

- Asian Tribune -

U.N. Farce - Diplomacy comforts the dictators of Burma

(Washington Post) - IT HAS BEEN ALMOST a year since the world was stirred by thousands of Burmese monks and ordinary people taking to the streets to demand freedom -- and being bloodily crushed by one of the world's cruelest regimes. Governments everywhere proclaimed that such violence and repression could not stand, and they insisted that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon do something. Mr. Ban sent his special envoy on a mission with explicit goals: Secure the release of democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and help the National League for Democracy (NLD) to reopen offices throughout the country. The envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, just finished sixth fruitless mission to Burma, and it is clear now that U.N. diplomacy has become a cover for inaction, not a pathway to reform.

Aung San Suu Kyi performed an extraordinary act of bravery during Mr. Gambari's most recent trip. The daughter of Burma's independence hero, she led the NLD to overwhelming victory when the regime last permitted elections in 1990s. The junta refused to recognize the results and has kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the years since. Last fall the regime promised Mr. Gambari that it would begin a dialogue with the democracy leader and allow her to meet with NLD colleagues. But supreme leader Gen. Than Shwe reneged on even that meager concession, and she refused to see the U.N. envoy on his latest trip, even as he hobnobbed with one regime crony after another. Since Aung San Suu Kyi is permitted no communication from her confinement, we can only guess at what motivated this snub. But it is likely that the indomitable Nobel Peace Prize winner decided, even at the price of intensifying her own frightful isolation, not to give further legitimacy to a process that was only dignifying the regime.

Not surprisingly, as Than Shwe has intensified the crackdown in his own country -- and, let's not forget, refused international aid for victims of Cyclone Nargis this spring -- U.N. and other international officials have decided to blame the victim. The prime minister of Thailand, which cultivates its own ties with the corrupt regime, on Monday urged other leaders to forget about Aung San Suu Kyi. A fig leaf of international process comforts the regime, those who trade with it -- and those who give flowery speeches about democracy but resist action, such as an arms embargo. It is time for Mr. Ban to say that he won't allow the United Nations to be exploited and humiliated in this way.