Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sons of 1962 and future of Burma's political freedom

By May Ng
Tuesday, 08 July 2008 11:04

The Burmese Army grabbed political power in a coup on 2 March 1962; and Burma again lost its political freedom 14 years after independence, to the native military dictatorship instead of a foreign colonial power.

Within a few months, in a move to crush the students protest against the army takeover the Burmese military dynamited the Rangoon University Student Union building on 7 July 1962. And from the beginning the military dictators proved to be more ruthless and destructive than the foreign invaders.

During the 1962 crackdown, the army generals were no doubt confident that the last of students' rebellion has been extinguished, for good. But 26 years later, Ko Min Ko Naing and Ko Moe Thee Zun who were born in 1962, like many others in their generation, became student leaders of the 1988 uprising. The number of student protesters exploded from a few hundreds in 1962 to hundreds of thousands in 1988.

Ko Moe Thee Zun, the student leader in exile said that, in 1988 the military did not expect the student rebels to survive the harsh and difficult conditions in the opposition camps. But like the Karen, Shan and other ethnic organizations that came before them, after decades of trials and errors, the student organization led by Ko Moe Thee Zun has also matured into one more challenger to the junta's rule.

While the military's credibility as the saviour of the nation and protector of the people has diminished, the students' political commitment has earned respect and credibility. It became evident when the 2007 fuel price protest led by the '88 student leaders escalated into a full blown Saffron uprising last fall.

While the military generals are increasingly isolated in their citadel; according to Ko Moe Thee Zun, the difficulties experienced by the students in the jungles, since 1988 have helped Burman majority urban-elites gain greater understanding of the ethnic political movement. An invaluable common bond and respect has also been forged among the students and ethnic political oppositions to help shape durable peace in Burma, later.

The ethnic armed rebels, who were perceived to have been more concerned with the ethnic right of self determination instead of aiming for a larger political change, are finally evolving into more politically correct organizations after decades of violent conflicts with the military regime in Burma. The surviving armed rebels are no longer tainted with drug trafficking or political and ideological confusion. Their aim for a genuine democratic change, and, their support for Aung San Suu Kyi and the legacy of her father, has never been clearer.

China which claims to be rising peacefully has nevertheless unilaterally supported the military dictatorship in Burma. China's support for the Burmese regime has been devastating for the armed resistance in Burma.

However, since the end of the Vietnam War, long before the war in Iraq, armed conflicts alone no longer determine the political future of a country. After the cold war, many nations gained democracy through mass protests and peaceful political uprising, in places where civil wars have already ended.

The enormous military apparatus in Burma is a threat mostly to the military junta which has to feed and support such an enormous and costly apparatus that do not contribute to the wellbeing of the rulers or the citizens of Burma.

There is no need for such a large army even just to suppress the urban dissidents or the armed rebels. It is only for the psychological need of the generals. And it reflects the operational inefficiency of the Burmese military.

The end result of such great inadequacy is calculated to be in billions of dollars of losses for Burma. Within weeks after the Tsunami in December of 2004, the storm relief efforts received two and a half billion dollars worth of pledges from around the world. The United States alone provided 90 helicopters involving military assistance with 12,600 personnel and 21 ships, immediately after the storm.

Whether the people in Irrawaddy delta are barely surviving or not, Burma can certainly use such great outside humanitarian assistance.

Not only the regime's inability to overcome the distrust of outside powers, the military's inability to convince the world's of its sincerity toward helping its own people has also cost Burma dearly, by earning less than two hundred million dollars worth of pledges for a disaster as overwhelming as Tsunami of 2004.

The military's violent crackdown on peaceful monks and the regime's intentional neglect of Cyclone Nargis victims, have sparked a renewed call to bring the Myanmar government before the International Criminal Court, for committing crimes against humanity.

In addition, the UN Security Council has recently passed a resolution, condemning rape as "a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide," while the Burmese Army continues to use rape as a weapon of war against the ethnic minority.

It has been shown that the enormous private wealth can no longer protect the world's tyrants from prosecutions for the crimes they have committed. Jean-Pierre Bemba who is accused of committing atrocities in the Central African Republic in 2002, and the former Liberian president Charles Taylor who begins to stand trial in front of a special tribunal in The Hague for alleged war crimes in Sierra Leone, will join two former Khmer Rouge, ministers Ieng Sary, and his wife, Ieng Thirith who are being charged with war crimes and crime against humanity for their alleged role in Cambodia's 1970s genocide.

Aung San Suu Kyi has often said that politics is everyone's business and people should overcome fear to involve themselves in politics. Hillary Clinton said last January during her bid for presidency that, "some of us put ourselves out there against pretty difficult odds because we care about our country."

The Burmese struggle for democracy has come of age like the student leaders. For Burma to be able to move closer towards its democratic goal, the political, economic and military elite will all have to shed fear and come forward to bear their share of responsibility.

Burmese people can no longer sit back and play the role of virtuous sages. Blaming the military dictatorship founded by a postal clerk, and sustained by illiterate generals and their business cronies; is no longer sufficient. People should begin to take their own fate into their hands, instead of blaming others.

Kishmore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore wrote that Western principles of democracy, the rule of law, and social justice are among the world's best bets. And he continued that the world does not need to invent any new principles to improve global governance; the concept of domestic good governance can and should be applied to the international community.

And even if the above concept of democracy were written in an Asian language other than English, its fundamental value will not be lost to the people of Burma. The belief in democracy and freedom is fully supported by the Burmese Buddhist tradition as well.

Ashin Gambira the famous monk leader said in March, 2008 that, if the people no longer want to live under the cruel military dictatorship they will have to speak up and protest. Unless they resist the military rule with courage, absolute military power will continue indefinitely.

As Aung San Suu Kyi warned after the military crackdown on the monks last September, the Burmese people can no longer sit around and simply hope for the best. They must all begin preparing for the worst to come until the end of military tyranny in Burma.

The recent Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy delta has proven that the downtrodden people of Burma can still take care off themselves even with minimal outside help, and will manage to survive. There is no longer doubt if they have the power to change their future. The people of Burma can and must work together to end the military dictatorship. No one else can do it for them.

May Ng is from the Southern Shan State of Burma and NY regional director of Justice for Human Rights in Burma.

No comments: