International response to Myanmar's growing repression

Updated On: May 19, 2006

The symbolic move of Myanmar's administrative capital from colonial Rangoon to remote Pyinmana has acquired greater meaning, as the military junta charts a new wave of political insularism through consolidation of power and repressive tactics to wipe out its opposition.

Sources close to the State Peace and Development Council has revealed a reshuffling of military and government officials, as part of Than Shwe's consolidation of power. Myanmar's Prime Minister Soe Win will lose his position as chief of staff for air defence and will no longer hold any military post. New generals were appointed to six of the 13 regional commands, with most of the outgoing commanders given cabinet posts.

The military junta has also announced new plans to tackle its opposition by stepping up pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, and launching an offensive against the Karen National Union (KNU).  A weekend local and foreign press trip to a remote part of the Karen area (in eastern Burma) affected by the fighting - as part of the Government's attempts to counter growing criticism - has backfired, with international outcry over alleged reports of murder, rape and mutilation. Humanitarian organisations also claimed more than 15,000 Karen hill people have been forced to flee their homes since last year, marking the junta's most brutal offensive since 1997.

The worsening situation in Myanmar has elicited much response and pressure on the international community to act. On Tuesday (May 16), Free Burma activists launched a global protest outside the Myanmarese embassies in WashingtonDCLondonVancouverParisMelbourneTokyoNew DelhiBrusselsBangkokand other international cities.

A panel of six UN human rights experts in Geneva has denounced the increasing repression and called on the Burma authorities to stop the excessive use of violence.  UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, will also spend a three-week visit to Myanmar beginning Thursday (May 18) to deliver a "clear message" to the military regime that improving ties with the international community hinge upon its efforts to implement democratic reform and human rights, according to a UN spokesman.

The international ramifications of Myanmar's repression, prompting forced migration reports last week, and global protest this week, should bring reprieve and support for Asean, whose influence upon Myanmar has been impeded by regional politics and the policy of non-intervention. Gambari's visit may open the door to more concerted and coordinated action from both the regional and international communities.

Global protests planned Tuesday against Burma (Spero News, 15 May 2006
Myanmar reshuffles military, government (Channel News Asia, 16 May 2006
Burmese junta admits tribal attacks (The Australian, 16 May 2006
Thai, Tokyo protests target Burma (Bangkok Post, 17 May 2006)
UN, Thais 'must get tough with Rangoon' (Bangkok Post, 17 May 2006
UN to demand Burma end violence (Bangkok Post, 17 May 2006)