In a massive show of force, troops marched through the new capital of Myanmar on Armed Forces Day (27 March) with Supreme leader, Senior General Than Shwe defending the need for a strong military “for its transition to a disciplined democracy”.
Reuters reported Than Shwe as saying, “Today, the Tatmadaw and the people are striving together for the emergence of a democratic state and these are tasks which need time to be implemented… We have conceived a plan so that our people can avoid the danger of facing a perilous solution that could lead to the country's annihilation." The military is apparently afraid that speeding towards democracy could bring on ethnic tensions, damaging Myanmarese society. The military also stated that the drafting of a new constitution is underway but no timetable for elections has been set.
This show of force and defiance followed the not so successful visit by ASEAN Envoy, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid, who when asked if he was satisfied with the democratic progress of Myanmar, was quoted as saying “Much more needs to be done for ASEAN to be able to convince the international community that there is progress made.”
The failure of Syed Hamid to meet Aung San Suu Kyi and to make any headway in his Myanmar trip, which was also cut short, reflected what had been whispered thus far - that the Burmese junta does not care about ASEAN. Mr Ong Keng Yong, Secretary-General of ASEAN has also alluded to the group’s failure to persuade Myanmar to make good on its promises for political reform. This is perhaps the reason why attention is now turn to China and India, Myanmar’s closest big neighbours who appeared to be courting Myanmar with an eye of its oil and gas reserves.
Mr Ong was further quoted in the Straits Times that “Myanmar feels that ASEAN is not in a position to dictate terms to them”, and hence it might be better to “ask our friends in China and India to be more persuasive”.
US Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has also exhorted China and India to pressure on Myanmar's military junta to improve its human rights. Admitting that US cannot bring about change alone, she noted that China wields enormous strategic and economic clout over Myanmar and India has also been courting Myanmar.
However, both countries have so far refused to chide the ruling junta in Myanmar, and the Myanmarese government appeared unfazed by all the international pressure to speed up democratic reforms.
ASEAN may ask China, India to prod Myanmar towards Democracy (Straits Times, 30 March 2006)
Myanmar defiant as capital goes on show (Straits Times, 28 March 2006)
ASEAN’s sad policy on Burma, (The Nation, 29 March 2006)
Rice urges India, China to do more on Myanmar, (Times of India, 29 March 2006) Myanmar junta leader says democracy cannot be hurried, (Reuters, 27 March 2006)