Things Looking up for Myanmar?

Updated On: Nov 14, 2007

Aung San Suu Kyi is said to be “very optimistic” about the prospects of a UN-supported process for reconciliation between the military government and the pro-democracy parties, according to a report by Associated Press.

For the first time in three years, Suu Kyi was allowed to meet with the leaders of her political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Suu Kyi also met with the liaison Minister, General Aung Kyi. The NLD spokesman Nyan Win said in a statement after the meetings, “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she believed the ruling authorities have the will for national reconciliation.”

The statement from Suu Kyi raised hopes (again) of the possibility of change in Myanmar after UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari failed to meet with Senior General Than Shwe on his second trip. Gambari’s six-day trip to Myanmar ended on 8 November (Thursday). Gambari visited Singapore after his Myanmar trip and read out a statement from Suu Kyi which said that she expressed her commitment to “pursue the path of dialogue constructively.”

The contradictory actions of the Myanmar government have been seen by some as the ongoing attempt of the junta to delay further liberalisation. Professor Win Min of Payap University in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai cautioned that the military junta might be buying time with the apparent conciliatory moves. Ms Debbie Stothard of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma (Myanmar) agreed, saying, “The painful lesson of the past few years is that the regime is adept at dancing one step forward and two steps back. So it is important for Asean and the international community to keep up the pressure.”

The issue of Myanmar is likely to be a major one at the coming series of ASEAN summits. Gambari has been invited by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to attend the East Asia Summit to brief other leaders on the situation in Myanmar.  Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo is currently holding “informal consultations” with Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi on Monday (12 November) on the Myanmar situation. Like the Chinese, the Indians have been reticent in pressurising the Myanmar government. The Indian newspaper, The Hindu, suggested that the major powers, including IndiaChina and the United States should only play supporting roles to the UN.

Another UN diplomat, Paolo Sergio Pinheiro who is the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, arrived in Yangon on Sunday (11 November) to form “an objective picture” of the crisis. This is his first visit to Myanmar in four years after he cut short his visit in 2003. Then, he found a listening device in a room at a prison where he was interviewing political detainees. His findings will be reported to the Human Rights Council. The U.N. Human Rights Council condemned the September crackdown at an emergency session on 2 October and urged an immediate investigation of the rights situation in Myanmar.

In Japan, 600 people gathered at a park in Tokyo on Sunday (11 November), calling for democratisation in Myanmar. The rally was organised by a group of Japanese lawmakers and civil society organisations. Sentiments against the Myanmar government have been rising in Japan after the death of a Japanese video journalist killed in Yangon in September.

In Myanmar, some scale protests continued.  Some 50 students staged a short protest in Yangon's Botahtaung township on Friday (9 November), holding up pictures of Than Shwe with paintings of women's underwear superimposed on his head. They dispersed quickly before security forces arrived. Many of the monks who were involved in the September demonstrations remained in jails. Their plight was highlighted in an Associated Press report which pointed out that many monks had fled the country, leaving most monasteries with only the elderly. For these monks and the general public, life in Myanmarremains a struggle.  (12 November 2007)


A new wave of hope in Myanmar (The Hindu, 12 November 2007)

Where are Myanmar's monks? Many flee monasteries to escape junta (Associated Press, 11 November 2007)

UN Human Rights Envoy Visits Myanmar (Associated Press, 11 November 2007)

600 people rally in Tokyo to call for democratization in Myanmar (Kyodo News, 11 November 2007)

George Yeo visits India for consultations on Myanmar situation (ChannelNewsAsia, 11 November 2007)

UN envoy Gambari may meet Asian leaders in S'pore (Straits Times, 10 November 2007)

Hopes up after Suu Kyi meets party aides (Straits Times, 10 November 2007)

Aung San Suu Kyi Meets her Colleagues (Irrawaddy9 November 2007)

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