How to ignore international pressure

Updated On: Dec 14, 2007

The Myanmar government is doing it again.

It has tried to conceal its lack of sincerity in political liberalisation by conceding on a minor issue. 

The government’s liaison officer, ex-Major-General Aung Kyi announced at a press conference, “We have made progress at the meetings,” referring to his three meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi. He did not explain what ‘progress’ there has been.

On the other hand, the government was confident enough to announce at the same press conference that the opposition party would not be involved in the drafting of the new constitution. This was confirmed by one of Gen Than Shwe's right-hand men, Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, the information minister. He said, “No assistance or advice from other persons is required.”

The government’s confidence is surprising given the publication of two reports which highlighted that the Myanmar government’s figures on the extent of September crackdown on protestors were grossly understated. Both reports by non-government organisation (NGO) Human Rights Watch and the United Nations pointed out that the death toll from the crackdown exceeded 30, thrice that announced by the government. Both reports said that the actual toll was probably higher.

The UN report also said that at least 4,000 people were detained, of which at least 1,000 were still in prison. The UN report was the product of a November 11 to 15 fact-finding trip to the country by its special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Paolo Sergio Pinheiro.

The report was criticised by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen who said, “Myanmar has been moving smoothly ahead.” He said, “If you just keep opposing and pressuring (Myanmar), how can it solve its own problems?” Instead, he urged the international community to “Leave them some space to work.”

Hun Sen’s call runs contrary to the domestic demands in most other countries. The United States continued its tough action on Myanmar. The United States House of Representatives voted for a stronger sanctions regime on Myanmar, passing the Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act 2007 on Tuesday (11 December). The bill bans the importation of Burmese jade and rubies into theUS, freezes the assets of Burmese political and military leaders and prevents Burma from using US financial institutions via third countries to launder funds of those leaders or their immediate families.  It also prohibits Burmese officials involved in the violent suppression of protesters from receiving US visas.

The sale of gems and other precious stones is an important source of revenue for the Myanmar government. However, the stronger sanctions are unlikely to hurt the Myanmar regime. A Myanmar gem merchant explained, “The demand for gems, especially jade, is sharply increasing at the moment… As long as we have Chinese customers, our gems and stones market will survive… Most of the jade, rubies, sapphires and other precious stones were purchased by traders from ChinaTaiwan and Macau.” 

Sadly, the Economist Intelligence Unit forecasted that Myanmar’s political and economic policies are unlikely to change in the coming year. This is despite the fact that the September brutal crackdown had initially resulted in widespread international condemnation of the Myanmar government. 

The United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, who was in Bangkok, warned that the international community’s patience was running out for Myanmar. He said on Tuesday (11 December), “I would like again to emphasis that the return to the status quo is not acceptable and is politically unsustainable.” Unfortunately, the Myanmar government is unlikely to take Ban’s comments to heart.   (12 December 2007)


Double Vision Over Myanmar Crackdown (Asia Times, 13 December 2007)

US House Approves Tough Sanctions Against Burma (Irrawaddy12 December 2007)

Influential Magazine Says Next Year More Of Same For Burma (Irrawaddy12 December 2007)

Update: Cambodian Leader Says Un Should Leave MyanmarAlone (Dow Jones, 12 December 2007)

Burma; Stubborn Junta's ‘Fire And Water’ Foreign Policy Stymies Diplomacy (Bangkok Post, 12 December 2007)

World's patience wearing thin: UN (The Nation, 12 December 2007)

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