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'Facilitating Dialogue' by Harn Yaw

Subject:       'Facilitating Dialogue' by Harn Yawnghwe

 F A C I L I T A T I N G      D I A L O G U E

 by Harn Yawnghwe, Editor, Burma Alert,
 Member of the Board of Directors, FDL-AP

 Delivered by Dr Thaung Htun, Foreign Secretary
 All Burma Students Democratic Front

 Seoul, South Korea, 3-4 September 1995


To date, many policies to facilitate the democratization process in 
Burma have been proposed.  One way to classify them is by their 
approach to SLORC.

For example:

The Tough Approach  - This approach sees the issues involved in terms 
of right and wrong - SLORC is in the wrong and it should change or 
else tough measures will be taken against it.  No government to date
has adopted it.  

The Conditional Approach  - This approach includes that of most 
of the western countries - The European Union's Critical Dialogue,
the United State's Two Visions for the Future, Australia's Bench Mark 
policy, and Japan's requirement that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi be released 
before ODA assistance is resumed.  This approach does not see the 
issues in terms of right or wrong, but rather in terms of a commercial 
transaction - certain privileges are offered to SLORC(they can be aid, 
investments, trade, etc) in return for SLORC behaving in a more 
acceptable way.

The Friendly Approach  - This approach includes most of Burma's 
neighbours and ASEAN.  It does not look at right or wrong and it 
does not bargain.  Anything is acceptable as long as the relationship
is maintained.  With this approach, it is hoped that when the relation-
ship is strong enough, friendly advice can be given to straighten out
the wayward friend.  

Another way of classifying the various policies towards SLORC is by 
the organizations involved:

- World Bodies  - example, the United Nations,
- Regional Bodies  - example, ASEAN,
- Individual Governments  - example, Thailand, Japan, USA etc,
- Non-Government Organizations  - example, FDL-AP, Carter Centre, etc,
- Religious Organizations and Individuals  - example, U Rewata Dhamma

No matter how they are classified, the various policies have at least 
three things in common.  The first is that there is a basic and 
implicit assumption that something is wrong in Burma and that things 
need to be changed.  The second common point is that each approach 
assumes that there is a middle ground where both SLORC and the Burmese
democratic movement can meet.  The third common point is that none of 
these policies work.

This last point may seem very pessimistic and some of people may point 
to the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to argue that one or more of 
these policies has worked.  One cannot argue with success but one 
cannot dismiss the possibility that she may have been released in spite of 
these policies and because of a combination of factors which may or may 
not have had anything to do with the effectiveness of the policies 
being pursued.  This statement is not meant as a criticism of existing 
policies.  The various governments and organizations that have been 
working consistently on the behalf of the people of Burma should be 
thanked and encouraged. However, if one wants to bring about a dialogue 
that will eventually lead to democracy in Burma, one needs to examine
the various approaches critically in order to find a more effective way.  

The various policies have not worked because there is no middle ground 
on which SLORC and the democratic movement can meet.  One party wants 
democracy and the other wants a permanent role for the military in 
politics.  The two objectives are mutually exclusive.  There can be no 
middle ground.  One side or the other has to concede.  That is why, to 
date, SLORC has not responded to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's offer of a 
dialogue even with no conditions attached. 

SLORC is not ready to concede anything.  One glaring factor that may 
have been missed just because it is so obvious is the implicit 
assumption that something is wrong in Burma and that it needs to be 
corrected.  SLORC does not share this view.


As far as SLORC is concerned, there is nothing wrong with military
rule in Burma.  In the minds of the generals, democracy is equivalent
to anarchy, chaos and loss of control, which is not a desirable goal.  
SLORC also believes that whatever mistakes may have been made by the 
military in the past, the current SLORC leadership is capable of 
solving all of Burma's problems.  SLORC may have been very vulnerable
and uncertain of itself when it first emerged in 1988. But since then
it has found out that the international community is not a monolith.
In SLORC's estimation, there are many players involved in the 
international arena from governments to non-government organizations
to business concerns, many of whom can be bought for a price. SLORC
has very skilfully capitalized on the self-interest and limitations
of many nations and played off one country against another.

This can be clearly seen in the case of SLORC using its friendship
with China to intimidate India into becoming a less vocal critic.
It can also be seen in the case of SLORC using Korean and other 
Southeast Asian businesses to motivate Japan to renew ODA assistance
in order to enable Japanese firms to join in the competition for
business in Burma.  American oil companies are also being held 
hostage with the spectre of lucrative contracts going to French and
other interests.  The most blatant case of SLORC manipulation, 
however, involves Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia.  When SLORC was
weak, it welcomed Thailand's friendship to shield it from 
international criticism and to open the door into ASEAN.  While 
Thailand expected to be thanked by SLORC as well as benefit 
economically from the relationship, SLORC had no such intentions. 

Contrary to Thai belief, SLORC did not look up to Thailand as an 
elder brother that could teach it valuable lessons.  SLORC had its
own agenda for Burma's traditional enemy and saw Thailand as a 
nation to be exploited.  Once Singapore and ASEAN became more open
to SLORC, the generals started to move away from Thailand. Now that
Indonesia is beginning to look favourably on SLORC, the generals are
even moving away from Singapore whom they consider to be too bossy.
They had only intended to use the island nation as a stepping stone.
As for Thailand, SLORC has found another use for it.  Building on 
pent-up frustration amongst Burmese refugees over Thailand's support
of SLORC and resentment against unethical practices employed by Thai
businessmen in Burma, SLORC has revived latent historical anti-Thai
feelings among Burmans to divert attention from the military.  The
Burman nationalism campaign is gaining momentum.  Trade along the 
long land border has come to a virtual standstill and a boycott of
Thai products has been launched by SLORC.  

Officials are even being told to avoid Bangkok as a transit point in 
favour of other neighbouring airports.  Therefore, as far as SLORC is 
concerned, instead of having to beg for assistance, it is now in a 
position to dictate its own terms to those wanting to benefit from 

>From SLORC's point of view, it has been able to turn around Burma's 
economic decline.  From a nation that had less than US\$15 million 
in foreign exchange reserves, the generals are very proud of the fact 
that they have now attracted over US\$1 billion in investments. The
fact that these investments will do little for the Burmese economy 
and the Burmese people is immaterial.  As far as SLORC is concerned,
the economy is a success story.  The generals are getting richer.  In
fact, the generals have never in their wildest dreams imagined how 
rich they could get from business propositions.  

>From the generals' point of view, the civil war is also a success 
story.  While none of the ethnic people are happy with the military 
cease-fires they have been forced to sign with SLORC, the Burmese 
military has never had such success.  With 15 groups agreeing to a 
cease-fire and the headquarters of the Karen National Union captured,
SLORC no longer has to fear that it will be defeated in battle.  As 
far as the generals are concerned, fighting may flare up again from
time to time, but it has at least bought the generals time and, in 
the meanwhile, they can get rich.

Politically, the generals are also very satisfied. Daw Aung San Suu 
Kyi's release has won SLORC an entry into ASEAN, Japan is on the 
verge of renewing ODA assistance and the rest of the world will wait
and see how things develop.

As for the Burmese public, the generals hope that the continuing news 
blackout on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will slow down any possible political 
development. Again, the generals have bought time to consolidate their 


Given SLORC's assessment of its position internationally and 
domestically, there is not the slightest possibility that SLORC will
of its own accord enter into a dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. In 
offering a dialogue, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, "We have to choose 
between destruction or dialogue" or words to that effect.  While her
statement reflects the opinion of the world community that Burma is on 
the edge of disaster, the difficulty is that SLORC does not share this 
view.  As outlined above, SLORC believes that it is doing well, that it 
is in control and that things can be worked out as the generals would 
like them to be.  

Does this then mean that there is no hope for a dialogue or a 
transition in Burma?  

No. first, the generals have seriously miscalculated the mood of the
Burmese people and their determination to end military rule.  Second, 
SLORC has also seriously miscalculated the impact of Daw Aung San Suu 
Kyi's release.  They have been known to miscalculate in the past: the 
1990 elections being the most obvious example.  It is very likely that 
in spite of the many restrictions, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to 
re-vitalize the Burmese democracy movement and SLORC will find that it 
cannot control events.

This is where the role of the international community becomes critical 
if it is serious about facilitating a dialogue between Daw Aung San Suu 
Kyi and SLORC.  If the international community does not act or decides 
to wait and see, SLORC will have gained a tactical advantage and the 
chances for a dialogue will diminish.  

In trying to facilitate change in Burma, it must always be remembered 
that SLORC does not believe that there is a problem in Burma and that
it needs to start a dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to resolve it.
The generals will only enter into a dialogue if it offers them a 
tactical advantage.  SLORC will not enter into a dialogue unless the 
cost of not doing so increases significantly.  

Therefore, to bring about a dialogue, the international community must 
work to achieve two key objectives:

1. Increased personal safety and freedom for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and
2. Increased cost for SLORC of not entering into a dialogue.

These two objectives are necessary because SLORC does not see the need 
for, nor desire a dialogue.  In other words, conditions have to be 
created to make SLORC want a dialogue.  However, as the pressure on 
SLORC increases, the generals will be tempted to crack down hard on
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the democracy movement.  Therefore, the first 
objective is crucial.  Only when SLORC sees that cracking down on Daw 
Aung San Suu Kyi will be detrimental to its well-being, will it 
reconsider its options and decide on a dialogue. 

But when a dialogue begins, it will not mean that the generals have 
conceded to the demands for democracy.  SLORC will only enter into a 
dialogue to buy more time.  Therefore, the pressure cannot be let up.


To achieve the objectives that will bring about a dialogue which, in 
turn, will facilitate the process of democratization in Burma, the 
following possibilities are outlined for each objective:

For the first objective of  Increased Personal Safety and Freedom for 
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,  it is proposed that:

a) There be a De Facto Recognition of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as
   head of state -
- by ensuring that ambassadors accredited to Burma visit her regularly,
- by ensuring that official delegations visit her as a matter of 
routine, and
- by ensuring that visits of eminent persons are arranged at regular 

b) There be Widespread Dissemination of News and Views of D A S S K -
- by increasing coverage of Burma in the mainstream media,
- by increasing support for the Democratic Voice of Burma Radio in 
Norway, and
- by increasing support for other media in Burmese and ethnic languages.
c) There be Increased Support for Organizing Work at the Grass-roots Level -
- by trying to assist non-SLORC political parties in Burma,
- by supporting the democracy movement's political defiance program, and
- by supporting seminars and/or disseminating information on democracy.

For the second objective of  Increased Cost for SLORC of Not Entering 
into a Dialogue,  it is proposed that:

a) Support for the Burmese democracy movement be increased -
- by increasing support for the NCGUB's lobbying campaign,
- by facilitating the development of a forum for ethnic leaders,
- by facilitating the development of a future constitution,
- by facilitating the development of a future economic plan,

b) Support be Given to the UN Secretary-General's Mediation Efforts -
- by ensuring strong resolutions are passed at the UNGA and HR 
- by ensuring own governments fully back the UN Secretary-General,
- by ensuring all private mediation efforts complement the UN's, and
- by lobbying on behalf of the Burmese people and the UN.

c)Punitive Economic Measures Against SLORC are increased -
- by lobbying own governments to enact arms and economic embargoes,
- by lobbying the business and tourist community to refrain from 
  supporting SLORC, and
- by continuing to encourage boycotts and corporate withdrawal 

The above recommendations are by no means exhaustive and are only given 
to facilitate further discussion.