The momentum to seek a solution to the crisis in Myanmar junta continues, and a glimpse of hope appeared in the horizon when opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was taken to the state guest house to have a meeting with the junta appointed liaison manager, retired general Aung Kyi.
The state TV showed a brief clip of the meeting which was said to last a little over an hour.
However, some critics remained skeptical of the junta’s intention and suspected that this meeting was only a tactical move by the junta in the face of severe international pressure. In recent days, in a reaction to the regime’s latest bloody crackdown on protestors, economic sanctions have been tightened by many countries. The United States (US) for instance, has tightened sanctions on Myanmar, specifically targeting individuals and companies who have close links to the military junta. For instance, the US blacklisted a Myanmar tycoon who is seen to be one of the main financial conduits to the junta, Tay Za. Tay Za started out in the timber industry but now runs a diversified business ranging from air travel, trucking to trade.
The foreign ministers from China, India and Russia met on Wednesday (24 October) in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, discussing amongst other issues, Myanmar. All three opposed sanctions onMyanmar. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned, sanctions, threats or other forms of pressure on the junta risked “aggravating the situation and generating a new crisis.” Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee concurred, saying, “The special envoy of the U.N. secretary general, the initiatives he has taken, he should be encouraged ... (but) there should not be any sanctions at this stage.”
Most of the ASEAN leaders also opposed sanctions. For instance, despite expressing frustrations with Myanmar, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak pointed out that sanctions would not be a solution, saying, “Asean will continue its efforts to find a solution. But realistically speaking, sanctions don't work since this would mean there would be no more influence from outside and, ironically, the junta would get stronger. Apart from that, there will always be countries which would surreptitiously beat the sanctions since Myanmar is such a rich country, with great potential for business.”
Nonetheless, the Malaysian government is concerned that the situation in Myanmar will worsen especially since refugees from Myanmar already formed the largest number of refugees in Malaysia. From 2003 to May 2007, Malaysia hosted 25,644 refugees.
The Indonesian President Yudhoyono sent a special envoy Lt. Gen. (ret) Agus Widjojo to Myanmar, proposing that the Myanmar military adopt the Indonesian model of democratisation. The Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono also commented that Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition movement would not be a credible alternative to the current junta, warning that premature democratisation would lead to ‘another Iraq’ with power struggles among the country’s ethnic minorities.
Notwithstanding the Indonesian government’s response of trying to engage the Myanmar junta, the Jakarta Post has been more critical. The Jakarta Post criticised the ASEAN leaders for inviting the Myanmarjunta chief Than Shwe to the ASEAN Summit in Singapore. It argued that since the Myanmar government was not interested in upholding democracy and human rights, the ASEAN Charter would be ‘meaningless.’
The host of the ASEAN Summit, Singapore is keen that the Myanmar issue will not overshadow the Summit. Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo is visiting China and Japan for informal consultations onMyanmar. Yeo has also discounted the possibility of expelling Myanmar from ASEAN.
In a seminar held in Singapore, Professor David Steinberg dismissed sanctions by the United States and Japan as ‘inconsequential’ adding that “This is theatre not policy.” He explained that sanctions would not make much of a difference to an isolationist regime. Nonetheless, he noted that there was a possibility of more future protests as the people became more frustrated with the government.
Amidst the regional governments’ responses, the United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari is planning another visit to Myanmar in early November. He seemed more upbeat about the prospect of change in the junta, saying, “I want to put it on record - during my last visit, a number of ideas that we put forward have in fact been implemented.” These included the lifting of a curfew imposed on the eve of the crackdown, the removal of troops from the streets, the release of detainees and the appointment of a liaison officer to kick-start the process of dialogue between the junta and Suu Kyi, and now finally, the first meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi. The question is whether these are too little and too late, or as critics of the junta would say, only tactical moves and not genuine dialogue for national reconciliation. (26 October 2007)
Suu Kyi holds talks with junta official (26 October 2007)
Myanmar Casts Long Shadow Over Upcoming Asean Summit (Bernama, 25 October 2007)
Sanctions no solution to Myanmar problem (New Straits Times, 25 October 2007)
Hurdles to Singapore Summit (Jakarta Post, 25 October 2007)
Myanmars top refugee list (New Straits Times, 25 October 2007)
George Yeo to visit China, Japanfor consultations on Myanmar (ChannelNewsAsia, 24 October 2007)
U.S. Targets Myanmar Tycoon (Wall Street Journal, 24 October 2007)
Foreign ministers of China, India, Russiaurge Myanmarto have dialogue with UN envoy (Associated Press, 24 October 2007)
'No reason' to think junta will skip Asean Summit (Straits Times, 24 October 2007)
Indiapledges support for UN mediation in Myanmar (Straits Times, 24 October 2007)
RI envoy discusses change in Myanmarwith generals (Jakarta Post, 23 October 2007)
Sanctions on Myanmargovt 'inconsequential' (Straits Times, 23 October 2007)