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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 22/1/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Activists believe people power is still strong enough to topple junta 2.. Burma tightened the rules for INGOs 3.. Army of the Faithful: A Buddhist monk
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 22, 2008
      1. Activists believe people power is still strong enough to topple junta
      2. Burma tightened the rules for INGOs
      3. Army of the Faithful: A Buddhist monk walks a fine line to protest crackdown in Myanmar
      4. Burmese regime attacks bloggers
      5. Western sanctions on Burmese gems and jades ineffective
      6. Local authorities demand extra taxes
      7. The China Factor
      8. India's pro-junta stand unlikely to change, say analysts
      9. A forgotten crisis
      10. Initiatives for Myanmar must include China, India

      Activists believe people power is still strong enough to topple junta
      South China Morning Post: Mon 21 Jan 2008

      Four months after the junta in Myanmar crushed the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years, activists haven't given up hope of overturning the regime. In the first of a three part series, Graeme Jenkins explores the challenges facing the underground pro-democracy movement.

      Myanmar's pro-democracy activists are weakened and on the run, but still believe people power can overthrow the military regime.

      Detained Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has met a government negotiator four times since protests were violently crushed in September.

      But in an interview this month, the most senior Myanmese democracy leader to escape arrest so far called the UN-backed process a sham.

      And he gave rare insights into the obscure world of Myanmar's underground democracy movement.

      The South China Morning Post met him at a secret location and can identify him only by his code name, Phoenix.

      He is the acting leader of the "88 Generation" group made up of people who led the demonstrations in 1988, when 3,000 demonstrators were killed by the military.

      He claims to be instrumental in orchestrating the latest protests, when thousands of monks took to the streets to demand political change.

      "Many people thought I was behind this," he said.

      After earlier demonstrations were disrupted by government thugs, "we thought of getting more power, and that power we can get from the monks. We started talking to the monks to show their support for our movement and to back us up".

      The talks between Ms Suu Kyi and the government were brokered by the UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari after the junta crushed the protests, killing at least 31 people and arresting hundreds in night-time raids.

      "It seems like a trap set by the government to buy some time from the international community," Phoenix said. "Mr Gambari is trying to come again, but I don't expect much of what he can do."

      Last Thursday, the UN Security Council upbraided Myanmar for slow progress on reforms since the protests, including dragging its heels on the release of political prisoners and in pursuing a genuine dialogue with opposition leaders. Mr Gambari said he had asked the junta if he could visit this month, but had been told mid-April was better.

      Phoenix said he welcomed international pressure on the regime, but cautioned that it was not the solution. "The answer lies within us, within the country. The problem is not that the government is strong, but the opposite - we are not strong enough."

      Yangon is a city gripped by fear. After the crackdown, locals try to avoid a foreigner's eye. No one wanted to get into a conversation.

      There are informers everywhere. Each neighbourhood has a government office with photographs of every resident, and where guests must be registered. "Even inside their families, people cannot talk loud," Phoenix said.

      The first protest by monks took place in the northwestern town of Sittwe at the end of August. Nearby, in a candlelit, windowless room, the Post recently met the leader of the Sittwe monks. Many of his followers have been dispersed by the clampdown and he shifts location on an almost daily basis to avoid arrest.

      "I am planning to try again to organise a demo. Wherever I go, I talk to my people," he said. "Whether it is possible or impossible to beat this government I don't know, but we must try. We will try very soon."

      Outwardly at least, Phoenix is more optimistic. "We have to take time to prepare for a big show sometime in the future," he said. "It may be six months or in a year or two."

      "With our movement, when it gets stronger and stronger, even some of the top [government] leaders may co-operate with us. We have some reliable information, some of the top government leaders are not very happy with what the police have done to the monks."

      But in a Yangon tea shop one of the many thousands of ordinary people who marched through the streets in September took a less sanguine view. "Our government are killers," he said. "The people are afraid again and they won't protest. They know they can't make a difference. They know they can pay with their life."

      *Additional reporting by Reuters

      Burma tightened the rules for INGOs
      BBC Burmese Service: Mon 21 Jan 2008

      Officials from the health ministry of Burma has summoned aid workers from international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) to Naypyidaw, new capital of the country, last week and warned to follow strictly the rules and to report detail of their field trips to the government.

      The new rules also required foreigners working for INGOs to accompany with a liasion officer from the ministry when travelling around the country.

      Government also further limited the rules on collecting data and surveying in the country, it was said in the minutes of the meeting seen by the BBC.

      The new rules prohibit collecting information other than those related to public health.

      More than thirty INGOs are currently operating in Burma implementing health related projects.

      Army of the Faithful: A Buddhist monk walks a fine line to protest crackdown in Myanmar
      Winston-Salem Journal: Mon 21 Jan 2008

      Sagaing, Myanmar - In one of his most talked-about lectures, Buddhist monk Ashin Nyanissara tells the legend of a king who ruled more than 2,500 years ago. The king believed that spitting on a hermit brought him good fortune.

      At first, it worked like a charm, but before long his realm was annihilated under a rain of fire, spears and knives.

      Today's audiences easily find the hidden message: The assault by Myanmar's military government on monks leading protests in the fall looks like a modern version of the ancient monarch's abuse. And they hope that the ruling generals will suffer the same fate.

      In the recent crackdown, many monks were beaten and defrocked in prison. Human-rights activists say that several monks were among the 31 people the United Nations says were killed by the government.

      It was a traumatic wound to a mainly Buddhist society, one that forced a lot of soul searching among people who practice one of the oldest forms of the religion, which emphasizes critical thought and reasoning over blind faith.

      The stern-faced Nyanissara, a 70-year-old monk in owlish glasses and a maroon robe, is able to stare down generals with chests full of medals by stepping carefully through the minefield that makes free speech lethal here.

      Shielding himself with allegory, he crisscrosses the country giving lectures that draw on history and legend to remind people that rotten regimes have fallen before. As the generals try to crush the last remnants of resistance, he is cautiously keeping the fire alive.

      But he knows it isn't the first time in 45 years of military rule that the government has attacked monks who challenged its absolute authority. In at least four previous crackdowns, dating to 1965, the military rounded up thousands of monks, killing some, defrocking others, while closing monasteries and seizing property.

      Each time, the brutal repression outraged many people, but in the end they felt powerless to do anything about it, the crises passed and the generals continued to oppress with an iron fist.

      It's the nature of any government's leaders to "strongly test their political power. They don't want to lose it," he said in a recent interview at the International Buddhist Academy, which he founded in this riverside town with forested hills that the faithful believe Buddha walked on his path to enlightenment. "But in any faith, when politics and religion come into competition, religious leaders always defeat anything. Religion is the leader. Jesus Christ was killed, but which was more powerful? Religion or politics?"

      The institute sits in a valley beneath the Sagaing Hills, where hundreds of golden spires, called "stupas," rise like spiritual beacons from monasteries and pagodas that dot the hillsides, 12 miles southwest of Mandalay.

      The first monks to demonstrate against the government last year took to the streets in Pakokku, 60 miles southwest of Sagaing.

      Still trapped in the latest cycle of political turmoil, many of Myanmar's people are looking to Nyanissara for more than spiritual guidance.

      At midday recently, he had just returned from speaking to hundreds of the faithful in a village pagoda and was hurrying to leave for an afternoon lecture, a daily routine that keeps him on the move to meet the demand for his wisdom.

      Barefoot in a corridor of the university where student monks and nuns are trained for missionary work, Nyanissara ran a disposable razor over his tonsured head and down across his face and neck, removing the faintest midday stubble as he spoke.

      Then, flanked by young aides and walking as straight and sure-footed as a man half his age, Nyanissara got into his black sport utility vehicle, which sped on a 110-mile journey to his next stop.

      He draws large, rapt audiences wherever he goes, whether they are poor villagers crowded into small monasteries or city residents sitting in orderly rows on a side street.

      On a recent night, a few thousand people filled a street in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, sitting quietly as they waited for Nyanissara to arrive.

      When he emerged from his SUV, people bowed their heads to the ground as he made his way to a stage, where he sat cross-legged on a gilded chair as big as a throne.

      In large public gatherings such as these, when the generals' spies lurk in the audience and listen for any hint of trouble, his lectures often are built around the same lesson: Cruel rulers create bad karma. And they will suffer for what they have done.

      That's a moral not easily shrugged off by a government whose leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, is intensely superstitious: He consults astrologers to make important decisions.

      The ruling generals also churn out propaganda images portraying themselves as devoted Buddhists, receiving the blessing of sympathetic monks. If their faith is true, they know their actions will determine their next life in reincarnation's endless cycle of death and rebirth.

      "They have to be afraid they'll be coming back as cockroaches," wisecracked one Western envoy.

      Several of Nyanissara's lectures have been burned onto DVDs, with titles including "Last Days of Empire." The generals have arrested people caught selling them, but they are still widely available across Myanmar, also known as Burma.

      To most people here, the pain of seeing monks beaten up in the streets is more than just an insult to religious faith. To many, it's as if the military had harmed their own family, and the anger does not ease quickly.

      Almost any Buddhist with a son has watched with pride as his head is shaved to make him a novice monk in an initiation ceremony called shin-pyu, a moment as life-defining as a baptism, christening or bar mitzvah.

      It is a religious duty for Buddhist boys to become novice monks from 7, and most in Myanmar answer the calling, Nyanissara said.

      Nyanissara said that the region surrounding Sagaing is now home to one out of every 10 of Myanmar's 400,000 monks, robed legions that listen carefully to his lectures to see the right path ahead.

      "It's a very big army," Nyanissara said, and he laughed a little. But he wasn't smiling.

      Burmese regime attacks bloggers
      Irrawaddy: Mon 21 Jan 2008

      The Burmese military government has blocked blogger sites and redirected links on such websites. According to the Niknayman Blog, the military government has recently added more words in their Niknayman blog address. The added words are: "This is Myanmar," "NLD," and "stupid sucking blog." If people click on the Niknayman blog its webpage pulls up pornographic pictures and videos. The Niknayman blog was one of the most active blog sites during the September uprising and put up several pictures of the demonstrations and videos depicting how the military government cracked down on the peaceful protesters and monks.

      The Niknayman blog said that the military government has now also blocked the website of www.blogger.com and was also trying to slow down Internet speed so internet users could not access the blog and other websites.

      Western sanctions on Burmese gems and jades ineffective: expert
      Mizzima News: Mon 21 Jan 2008

      Western sanctions which imposes a ban on Burmese gems and jades does not seem to be working out. The recently concluded gems and jade auction in Burma's former capital Rangoon has proved that the sanctions, particularly a ban on import and export of Burmese gems and jade, have been ineffective, a Burmese economist said.

      Burma's ruling junta said it has sold off 357 lots of jade in an auction concluded on Saturday, the state run media New Light of Myanmar said. The 25th auction was attended by 281 foreign businessmen, the paper added.

      Dr. Khin Maung Kyi, a retired Burmese economist based in Singapore said the auction only proves that the junta is squaring off sanctions against the Burmese gems and jade import and export.

      "It is easy for the junta to sell the gems and jades as there are always prospective buyers or businessmen wanting them," Khin Maung Kyi said.

      Despite the western sanctions, the Burmese junta will always find a way out as the Chinese are keen to purchase these natural resources, he added.

      "I think the sanctions have little impact because even if the west bans import and export, the junta will always be able to sell it to China," Khin Maung Kyi said.

      Though the US and EU hardened its stance on economic sanctions including the ban on import and export of gems and jade following the Burmese military regime's brutal crackdown on monk-led protests in September, Burma has been regularly holding such auctions and is earning its much needed foreign exchange.

      The Burmese junta, however, did not reveal how much it has earned from the five day auction. A similar auction in November earned an estimated US $ 150 million.

      Local authorities demand extra taxes
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 21 Jan 2008

      Small traders in Twan Tay township, Rangoon division, have complained that local officials have been imposing additional taxes on them which they should not have to pay.

      Grocery store owners in the township said that tax administration officials have been demanding they pay an extra trading tax that should only apply to wholesalers on top of the standard sales tax.

      One store owner said that current regulations did not require small businesses to pay the additional tax.

      "According to tax law, you are only supposed to pay the trading tax if you are a wholesaler dealing in large quantities of goods," the store owner said.

      The store owner said that he knew another business owner who refused to pay the tax and suffered harassment by the authorities.

      "In the end, he told the tax administration officials that they could sue him if they wanted to and then they backed off," he said.

      Another shop owner said that the tax was an added burden on businesses that are already suffering.

      "The prices for basic commodities are getting high and the shops are not doing very good business, so these extra taxes are making our lives difficult," he said.

      "Some business owners do not even realise that they're not really supposed to pay the trading tax."

      The China Factor - Min Zin
      Irrawaddy: Mon 21 Jan 2008

      A few weeks after the September protests last year in Burma, a Chinese diplomat approached an influential Burmese advocate in New York and asked why the Burmese dubbed their protest the "Saffron Revolution."

      "The diplomat was quite uncomfortable with this particular saffron name while he whispered to me," said the Burmese advocate, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Chinese are very sensitive to the ‘color revolutions'," she said.

      In the wake of successful "color revolutions," meaning the victories of nonviolent democracy struggles in post-communist countries, such as Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution and Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, Beijing is anxious to prevent similar movements at home or among its neighbors.

      Then, a country in its backyard triggered the "saffron revolution," and the military's subsequent crack down captured the world's attention. Along with Burma's crisis, China was drawn into the spotlight in unflattering coverage in international media and diplomatic pressure increased against its support of one of the world's most odious regimes.

      Public outcries have called on China to assume larger role in helping to resolve Burma's crisis.

      However, contrary to common perceptions, China has a limited sway with the junta's generals. China is not a patron that pulls the strings and the self-isolated, delusive Burmese regime is not a puppet. The relationship runs in both directions. This is what complicates Burma's problems and their resolution.

      Of course, China has more power and influence on the generals than any other country. It also intends to use that leverage to its own benefit.

      According to Chinese diplomats, Beijing has been gradually changing its Burma policy since the removal of former Prime Minister Khin Nyut in 2004 and the recent deadly crackdown in Burma. However, they warn that the policy shift should not be expected to be quick or dramatic. It will be slow and well-calculated.

      "Than Shwe and Maung Aye are more intransigent than former dictator Ne Win, and they often do incredibly silly things," said a Chinese official during a meeting with a Burmese opposition activist. "China knows that Burma will not prosper under their leadership."

      China's special envoy, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, was sent to Burma in November. He met with the junta's top leader, Snr-General Than Shwe, and asked the military "to resolve the pending issues through consultations so as to speed up the democratization process."

      However, the regime responded that it will go with its own pace for unilateral implementation of its "Seven-Step Road Map," according to a Western diplomat.

      "The Chinese keep telling us that the international community is overstating their influence over Burmese generals," said a European diplomat. "Beijing said they don't have ability to tell the regime what to do."

      Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst living on the China-Burma border, disagrees with that interpretation.

      "Persuasion, without power backup, will not work. The soft-soft approach should be changed. China must show the ‘stick' part of its diplomacy," said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

      However, Beijing is clearly not ready to go that far. It still believes that working to resolve Burma's problems is secondary to its principal economic and strategic interests in its relationship with the junta.

      But simultaneously, China would like to maintain its international role as "a responsible stakeholder."

      The time has come for concerted international diplomatic pressure on China to tip the balance toward the "responsible" direction. China must take up Thucydides' advice: an amoral foreign policy is neither practical nor prudent.

      At the same time, the United States and the European Union cannot outsource Burma's democracy reform to China, which itself lacks democracy.

      The West's most powerful countries should coordinate with China to facilitate a real transition in conflict-ridden Burma.

      However, diplomacy alone is not enough to compel China to play an effective role.

      Public action is needed.

      "China was very annoyed to see the wave of protests taking place outside its embassies in major cities of the world in the wake of the September protests," said Aung Kyaw Zaw. "More importantly, they were really worried when demonstrators linked Burma's cause with a 2008 Olympic boycott."

      The vice mayor of Beijing warned in October 2007 that any move to link China's role in Burma to a boycott of the 2008 Olympics would be "inappropriate and unpopular." China is very much anxious to prevent any negative effect on the Olympic Games. They might even accommodate their Burma policy and give more support to the UN's Burma mediation role if they sensed a real damage to the much-hyped gala this summer, even though it might be a tactical and temporal accommodation.

      However, the Burmese opposition has so far failed to seize and exploit this opportunity effectively. During the peak of Burma's "Saffron Revolution" in late September, The Washington Post labeled one of its editorials the "Saffron Olympic," highlighting the dynamics of an international campaign against Beijing's summer gala. But that effort has run out of steam.

      "The Burmese opposition in exile cannot accelerate the campaign in a consistent manner," said Nyo Ohn Myint, the head of the Foreign Affairs Office of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area). "Our campaigners are going after ad hoc protests without a focus. We fail to form a wider coalition with other Olympic detractors. Unless we can launch a coordinated international grassroots action, China would not be swayed to our direction."

      Beijing plans to start its Olympic gala on 8/8/08, a date that is surprisingly similar to the 20th anniversary of Burma's "Four Eight (8/8/88) Democracy Movement."

      Whether or not Burma can make the best out of this coincidence remains to be seen.

      India's pro-junta stand unlikely to change, say analysts - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Mon 21 Jan 2008

      India's "Look East" foreign policy favoring the Burmese regime is not likely to change soon despite appeals by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari, observers say.

      British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (R) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at an official reception ceremony at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi [Photo: AFP]

      Brown met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday and told him India has an important role to play in Burma's transition to democracy and an end to that country's problems.

      Brown told reporters on Sunday that China was "working resolutely" on how to use its influence with Burma—"and we will be looking at how we can persuade the Burmese regime."

      Gambari also told India's television station NDTV recently that the UN wanted India to do more, drawing attention to India's signing of a huge contract to build a port in Burma.

      Gambari said India was "a democratic country with true commitment to human rights. We also believe that a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Myanmar [Burma] would be an even better partner for India than what the situation is right now."

      Gambari said the best guarantee for India's investment was a peaceful, stable and democratic Burma. "What concerns us is not really their bilateral relations, but to use that, in our view, as an opportunity and leverage to help us by transmitting right messages."

      Win Min, a Burmese analyst based in Thailand, said India was second only to China in the influence it had over Burma. After China called for political changes following the September 2007 demonstrations, India then also openly talked about Burmese democracy.

      "Previously India did not talk about Aung San Suu Kyi's release and dialogue," Win Min said. "But during the visit to New Delhi by Foreign Minister Nyan Win India spoke out about her freedom and a meaningful dialogue, including ethnic issues."

      However, Tint Swe of Burma's government in exile, the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma, based in New Delhi, said India's Burma policy did not appear to have changed significantly even after the September demonstrations and regime crackdown. "So the international community such as [British Prime Minister] Brown and the UN should push India, as the biggest democracy, to press for real transition to democracy in Burma."

      India's "Look East" policy is based on economic ties with Southeast Asian nations, including Burma, a geo-politically important country for New Delhi.

      Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese political observer based on the Sino-Burmese border, said he didn't think India would change its pro-junta policy in view of its rivalry with China.

      "India might think the Burmese regime has become pro-China because India adopted a strong stand for Burmese democracy after the 1988 uprising," he said.

      UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has, meanwhile, convened the first meeting of a group of 14 countries, including China and India, to help him in his efforts to advance political change in Burma.

      The "Group of Friends of the UN Secretary-General on Burma" is a consultative forum for developing a shared approach in support of the implementation of the Secretary-General's good offices mandate.

      A forgotten crisis
      Washington Post: Mon 21 Jan 2008

      The United Nations pledged to act on Burma. Instead, it has allowed itself to be bullied and shamed.

      WAS IT only four months ago that the world was pledging to stand by the brave thousands who were marching peacefully for democracy in Burma? Was it so recently that the United Nations Security Council was proclaiming its readiness to promote reconciliation after those same thousands were swept off the streets and into prisons or unmarked graves?

      As the U.N. effort sputtered to a complete stall last week, it was impossible not to wonder whether those brave pledges were anything but a summer dream. While the movement of Buddhist monks and hundreds of thousands of sympathizers held the world's attention, the odious regime in Burma, a Southeast Asian nation of 50 million people, promised to engage in dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy leader living under house arrest and in near total isolation. It promised, too, to permit U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to send his special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, any time he wanted. But no dialogue has taken place, and the regime won't give Mr. Gambari a visa until April, if then. And the Security Council's response to this extraordinary insult to its mandate and prestige? Last week, it mustered, not without controversy, a statement of "regret" at the "slow pace of progress."

      Progress? Here's what's happened since Mr. Ban put his, and the United Nations', prestige on the line. More monks have been arrested. The death toll from the fall has yet to be made known. The regime raised the fee for satellite dish licenses from $5 per year to $800, or three times the average annual salary, so that its people — already impoverished by economic mismanagement and corruption — will be further cut off from the world. And meanwhile, Mr. Gambari flies from Asian capital to Asian capital, hoping that someone will put in a good word for his visa.

      Bush administration officials are pushing China, India and the Europeans to pressure the Burmese, but without much luck. China didn't even want Mr. Gambari to brief the Security Council. Japan, ever attuned to its commercial interests in Burma, recently resumed aid. South Africa, which has emerged under President Thabo Mbeki as a leading opponent of human rights in other countries, has sought to stymie U.N. involvement. There are options beyond pleading: arms embargoes, stricter banking sanctions aimed at the junta members and their relatives, and more. Whether they come into play depends on whether the secretary general and and leaders of nations that claim to respect the United Nations object even a little to its humiliation by a band of Burmese bullies.

      Initiatives for Myanmar must include China, India - Meidyatama Suryodiningrat
      Jakarta Post: Mon 21 Jan 2008

      Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo emerged from the last ASEAN Summit as "little Miss Sunshine" for her jibe against the Myanmarese. Other ASEAN leaders including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono were labeled ‘evil realists' for their approach to the junta.

      In hindsight, Arroyo's enlightened appearance — threatening to stall the ASEAN Charter if Myanmar did not release Aung San Suu Kyi — appears more to have been grandstanding than actually making a stand.

      The junta cannot be bullied by words, least of all from a country insignificant to its political agenda. Failure to ratify the Charter hurts Manila, not Naypyidaw.

      Neither do sanctions alone work on a boorish regime unfettered by international norms. Megaphone diplomacy pushes the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) further into a hermit like existence.

      Hypocrisy rules since nations who criticized ASEAN for engaging SPDC, had companies operating or investing in Myanmar's oil and gas sector. These included Australia, France and the United States.

      Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda in Jakarta last week reiterated Indonesia's intent to help "solve Myanmar's problems". His remark follows President Yudhoyono's initiative launched during the Summit.

      Jakarta should not condone continued repression in Myanmar, but neither should it abandon quiet diplomacy, the edifice of ASEAN diplomatic culture.

      Hassan in his remarks touched on the most important elements for a productive diplomatic effort: the inclusion of ‘major regional powers' — namely China and India — into the fold.

      No initiative on Myanmar could succeed without their full, active support.

      Instability brought on by sudden political change is unacceptable to neighborhood powers China and India.

      Beijing has visions of making its southern neighbor a client state. Myanmar is China's backdoor to the Indian Ocean, an energy deposit and a bypass to the Malacca Straits.

      India instinctively needs to counterbalance China.

      Delhi is quietly concerned that Beijing's influence is a precursor to outflanking India's North-Eastern defenses. Indian dominance in the Bay of Bengal will be challenged if China gains free access to Myanmar's southern coast.

      Hence without their support, Beijing and Delhi are as much of an obstacle to change in Myanmar as the ruling SPDC.

      There is room to convince both that rather than competing for the favors of a regime which is ultimately untenable, their long term interest is to work together for gradual change.

      China can be reminded of the growing spill-over of drug related issues affecting Yunnan province.

      Bringing Beijing into this initiative could in turn assuage Delhi's fears of Naga insurgency along the Myanmar border.

      It is imperative that SPDC is assured this initiative is not designed to encourage regime change, but instead creating space for, among other things, social (apolitical) organizations.

      This could ultimately be beneficial to the SPDC itself. Gradually widening the political space would create an air of legitimacy to the regime.

      In the initial phase, the United States and the European Union should not be engaged since SPDC's overriding suspicion is that Western criticism is geared towards a change of government in Myanmar.

      Political change must grow from within.

      Do not underestimate the role of social movements in Myanmar even in such a repressive political arena.

      The Four Eights democratic upheaval in 1988 gained momentum because social groups emerged to join protesting students. These groups survived despite military repression since 1962.

      Creating space for social groups in politically benign areas such as the environment, health and women's education, helps nurture civil society and keeps grassroots political consciousness alive beyond the politically antagonized opposition party (for example the National League of Democracy/NLD).

      It is time to hedge our bets beyond Suu Kyi's NLD which stands too close to the extreme for any negotiations for internal evolution (not revolution) to occur within Myanmar.

      A diplomatic initiative that works together with the SPDC, to carve out a greater space for social groups to conduct independent activities, will do much to alleviate the political impasse. The underlying outgrowth could widen the political discourse which slowly undermines the ideological foundations of authoritarianism.

      The collapse of dictatorships are not solely the result of human courage. Political and structural antecedents, namely a civil society, need to be created beyond simple elections and freeing political prisoners.

      Remember, it was not vaunted rights activists who brought down the Soviet Union, but the enlightened self-interest of politicians and empowered civic leaders.

      * The author, a staff writer with The Jakarta Post, is studying at Harvard University as a research fellow with the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

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