Mon 31 Jul 2006
Filed under: ASEAN,News,Opinion,Other
The situation in Myanmar is getting worse and the people of Myanmar are suffering for it.
On July 13, through a government newspaper, the Myanmar military regime made it very clear that it will not tolerate any movement towards democracy.
It made reference to the students who participated in the 1988 democracy movement, describing them as destructive elements and saboteurs.
The inexplicable move of the capital from Yangon to Pyinmana has also caused an enormous amount of hardship for the people.
The Government had to increase civil servants’ salaries 10-fold just to prevent mass defections.
Villages deemed too close to the new capital have been forcibly moved, uprooting many people in the process.
Punishment of ethnic minorities continues.
The latest offensive has forced tens of thousands of villagers to flee their homes and become refugees or internally displaced persons.
But I do not want to dwell on the negative. I wish to discuss some changes that can be made to Asean’s approach to Myanmar in order to make it more effective.
What should Asean do to bring change to Myanmar?
We have made it clear that we will not tolerate the present situation, but we have fallen short of saying what we should do next.
The Asean secretariat has expressed its disappointment but has claimed that we cannot expel Myanmar from the group because there is no procedure for doing so.
So what do we do about a member state that continually embarrasses us by thumbing its nose at all of our suggestions for positive change?
I propose the following. First, Asean must co-operate with the international community to support a sustainable and irrevocable transition to democracy.
It is becoming clear that Asean cannot alter the current situation all by itself. But saying that we cannot go it alone should not imply an abdication of all responsibility.
Asean can do more than throw up its hands and express frustration.
The grouping, or maybe individual member countries, can co-ordinate with other like- minded people, organisations and governments around the world.
We can bring together exiled politicians, refugee groups, parliamentarians, governments and international organisations to build the capacity for change in Myanmar and to prepare the country and the region for the difficulties of democracy and economic development.
We still have an important role to play in supporting global solutions, even if the Myanmar generals will not listen directly to us.
Second, we must engage with our important friends and neighbours – particularly India and China – on this issue.
These countries currently have significant business ties with Myanmar.
We must work to help the Governments of these countries see that they will be better off partnering with a free Myanmar.
The security of all of Asia is threatened by the trans-border flow of refugees, human trafficking, drugs, HIV and so forth.
We must explain to our friends that a bit of economic gain in the short term is not worth the long-term threats to security that it entails.
Moreover, as the history of Southeast Asia shows, trade opportunities will grow immensely as countries move to open political and economic systems.
We must share our own experiences with our neighbours to help them see this.
By supporting strategies that will restore freedom and democracy in Myanmar, all countries will be investing in their own prosperity.
Most importantly, Asean must not give up hope.
I would also like to remind everybody of the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi. She is still under house arrest, as she has been for over 10 years now.
She was not well recently; she was not even allowed to honour her own father, yet her spirit and resolve are unchanged. She is still committed to a peaceful solution.
If she can sustain hope despite all the hardship she has faced, we must do the same.
To reiterate what others have said before, we are not asking much from Myanmar.
We want to see Suu Kyi and other political prisoners released.
We want to see the Myanmar military cease all hostilities against civilians and ethnic groups.
And we want to see real progress towards an inclusive and sustainable national reconciliation.
Are these requests really so burdensome?
The theme of Asean’s 39th ministerial meeting is “the future”. Asean must realise that it will not be able to move into the future if it doesn’t change the present situation in Myanmar.
Datuk Zaid is the MP for Kota Baru and chairman of Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus