Thursday, October 11, 2007

What happened in Burma? October 10-11

It's 17:00 in Bangkok (16:30 in Rangoon)
  • Junta tortures activist leader to death
  • Opposition figure calls Western media naive
  • Laura Bush, savior of Burma?
  • Airlines forced to fly to Naypyidaw

Here are the details:
- The U.S. government demanded an investigation and threatened new sanctions against Myanmar's military regime after an ally of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi died in custody. Win Shwe, 42, a member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, died during interrogation after being arrested Sept. 26 in the city of Mandalay during anti-junta protests, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thailand- based rights group, said in a statement yesterday (Jurist, AP, Bloomberg).

- Kyaw Zwa Moe, managing editor of The Irrawaddy explained the "junta's game" to the Bangkok Post (Bangkok Post):

At the same time, it is another delaying tactic. Hours after the announcement, some diplomats and activists said the move was quite significant. If they did their research, they might find that it was "significant", but not for the reason they think. What kind of messages did the former liaison officers carry to Daw Suu Kyi? Nothing was ever seen, and that is another way of saying that they brought nothing. . . Appointing a liaison officer is nothing more than a diplomatic card to find a way to escape from the current political pressure, inside and outside Burma.

Yesterday I slammed the New York Times for paroting the Burmese junta's press releases and ignoring the real story.

- US First Lady Laura Bush appears to have made the struggle of the Burmese people for democracy her personal calling. She is has spoken with the UN Secretary General about Burma and published an opinion piece voicing her support for the Burmese in the Wall Street Journal.
Laura Bush, long a quiet supporter of democracy activists in Burma, yesterday called for the junta to stand down. "General Than Shwe and his deputies are a friendless regime. They should step aside to make way for a unified Burma governed by legitimate leaders," the American first lady wrote in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (Guardian).
Comment: It would be unwise to discount First Lady Laura Bush. This first lady has never before made a strong public stand in the midst of an international crisis. It's unprecidented for this first lady. And she's got influence. Whatever your opinion of him, the determination of her powerful husband -- in whatever form it eventually takes -- is the last best hope for the people of Burma. The fact Laura Bush has taken such a personal interest in Burma probably sends shivers down the spines of Burma's generals. The junta's paranoia is legendary. (Why else did they build Naypyidaw?) They know that her husband's specialty is regime change. Don't discount Laura.*

- To make matters worse (for the airlines) the generals have just decreed that from October 15 domestic airlines will have to fly daily to Naypyidaw, their half-built and sparsely populated new capital 240 miles north of Rangoon - even if the planes are empty. (Guardian)

Another thing to consider: Laura Bush is a bright woman. She understands that her husband yearns to do something positive before leaving office; she probably realizes that following Dick Cheney into another war -- with Iran this time -- is unlikely to prove a legacy-maker. On the other hand, bringing democracy to Burma could well be simple as embracing the Naypyidaw Option. Who knows? I would not say with any assurance that the solution to Burma's plight is a straightforward matter of bombing the junta's fortress in the jungle, just that it might be. And this gamble might well appear more attractive than any other to a president desperately looking to salvage his shattered legacy. Taking a tough stand on Burma would be a big gamble for the Bushes, but it could be the last best gamble they will ever see.

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