By Roland Watson
December 3, 2004
This past January Dictator Watch issued a press release about ethnic cleansing by the Burma Army in Karen and Karenni areas, which had the subtitle: Democracy in Burma: It's Now or Never! The announcement made three basic points: Burma is ruled by a gang of mass murderers; the people of the country can no longer stand this; and, we must have democracy this year.
It is now approaching the end of the year, so should evaluate our progress. The purge of Khin Nyunt and his subordinates in Military Intelligence was a very significant development, the most important event in the country since the Depayin massacre. The prisoner release was also significant, because of the freedom for Min Ko Naing and other political prisoners. Were this to be followed up by the release of all remaining political prisoners, and a sincere willingness by the regime to allow a true democratic transition, it would be extremely positive. However, we now understand, particularly in light of the extended house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, that the release was merely a diversionary tactic. It provided ammunition for the SPDC's supporters in Asean and elsewhere, and it also redirected the Burma democracy movement away from the opportunity that has been presented by the end of MI.
Prisoner release or no prisoner release, the country is still ruled by a gang of thieves and murderers. The Free Burma Rangers reported last week that on November 14th, the Burma Army sent four battalions into Hsaw Htee Township, Naunglybin District, Karen State, and that the soldiers burned houses, field huts and rice paddy in the villages in the township. In such an offensive villagers are subject to being shot on sight, and the trails around the villages are mined.
As of November 27th, 800 people had been forced to flee for their lives, with only a little food and clothing. Further, on November 30th, two other battalions attacked ten villages in Tantabin Township, Toungoo District, Karen State, and displaced an estimated 3,000 people. There are also reports, from individuals who were forced to porter for the Burma Army, that a similar attack is imminent in Ler Doh (Kyauk Kyi) Township, Naunglybin District, which is just to the north of Hsaw Htee. Lastly, two additional battalions are now active in the Mawchi area of Southern Karenni State, attacking sites there that are occupied by over 2,000 IDPs, and also laying new landmines. A full scale Burma Army ethnic cleansing offensive against at least 6,000 people is now underway in Northern Karen and Southern Karenni States.
The villagers, literally, cannot stand this - day-by-day and week-by-week they are being killed, but we still have some way to go to achieve democracy. This article will describe a strategy by which we can attain our goal (and the villagers' suffering can end).
The purge of MI is a major opportunity, which we cannot afford to ignore. There are actually many derivative opportunities now, which are revealed in the excellent October policy brief by the Burma Fund: Breaking the Curse: The Rise and fall of Military Strongmen and their impact on Democracy in Burma (see www.democratic-burma.com).
The Burma government's - any government's - domination by the military is inherently unstable. For Burma this instability is exacerbated by many factors:
- The purge of MI has left a power vacuum. The functions that Khin Nyunt and MI satisfied for the SPDC are now unfulfilled. It is likely that other elements of Burma's power structure will compete for these responsibilities (e.g., to oversee the ceasefire groups), including for the economic spoils that they enable. This has the potential to lead to serious divisions within the SPDC, beginning with increased factionalization in the Army's command structure.
- Military Intelligence cannot yet be ruled out. It would be surprising if such a significant and powerful apparatus gave up without a fight. Therefore, some form of retaliation should be expected in the coming months.
Both of these factors could propel assassinations or a follow-on coup, such as by Maung Aye against Than Shwe.
The power instability is also leading to economic instability, including through disruptions to trade and such steps as the issuance of new currency notes. Further, it has created democratic space. For the moment, democracy activists inside the country have less to fear, because the surveillance to which they are subject has been reduced.
The purge of MI has also had numerous diplomatic consequences. Khin Nyunt was responsible for the SPDC's relationships with the ethnic ceasefire groups, and he was also the point man for the support the dictatorship receives from China and Thailand. Similarly, he was the "soft face" of the SPDC that encouraged international proponents of engagement and dialogue. (He was the primary contact for United Nations Special Envoy Razali Ismail.)
In addition, because of the purge, the prisoner release, and Daw Suu's extended detention, the international mass media is finally beginning to pay attention to Burma.
What all of the above implies is that for the Burma democracy movement having a clear and effective strategy is now more important than ever. There are many different opportunities: to encourage increased division within the SPDC; to launch new resistance; to change the policy of engagement by China, Thailand, India, Japan and Asean; to end the diplomatic inertia of the United Nations and the European Union; and to attract increased media interest. We must keep our eye on the prize. Possible endgames to remove the SPDC and to install democracy include:
- Using reason and appeals to the Tatmadaw to do what is best for the country, to convince the junta to permit a real democratic transition.
Barring this, to:
- Create pressure on the generals so great that they choose to go into exile (e.g., in China).
- Accomplish the direct defeat of the SPDC through reinvigorated resistance, including renewed and strengthened armed resistance, or via a new popular uprising.
- Encourage internal divisions and conflict within the SPDC, including assassinations and a follow-on coup.
Please see http://www.dictatorwatch.org/articles/burmastrategy.html for the balance of this analysis. Also, I would like to repeat my offer to moderate Burma strategy forums for any interested groups, using the suggestions in the analysis as a guide.
( '? note: Roland has been the Burma watch person to go to! for many years, and is very dedicated to freeing Aung Sai Suu Kyi! ( '?