Burma in a Stranglehold

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IT'S easy to miss events in a country like Burma - or Myanmar, Burma's new name - what with US troops unloading by the tens of thousands in Saudi Arabia. But Myanmar's unjust and undemocratic military regime continues to crack down in major cities and choke free speech and thinking - as it has for 30 years. Early this month, two students and two monks were shot to death in Mandalay for commemorating the Aug. 8, 1988 uprising when hundreds of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators were murdered in the streets. Not for nothing was Myanmar the first regime to congratulate China's leaders after the Tiananmen massacre. Some 10,000 political prisoners exist in Myanmar, according to a new Asia Watch study - and many are brutalized.

Whatever happened to the free elections in May? Didn't the Burmese people bravely vote the ruling National Unity Party (NUP) out of office, and vote in the National League for Democracy (NLD) by a margin of 80 percent?

They did. That's the tragedy. And they did so with 5,000 top NLD organizers and leaders under arrest. But change is not to be forthcoming - not as long as former dictator Ne Win and his military cronies continue to call the shots. The current Burmese government, headed by Gen. Saw Maung, now says the May election results will culminate in a national convention to rewrite the nation's constitution. Along with taking years, such a process is destined for meaninglessness, since the military can veto the new constitution anyway.

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General Maung's government is financing its military through the rapid depletion of the last teak forests on earth; NLD leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin U are under arrest; a free press is forbidden; students are brutally repressed. This is a regime no other nation should continue to support.

That was the substance of a bill passed by Congress this summer calling for US sanctions against Myanmar. President Bush has until Oct. 1 to agree to the bill, or offer an alternative. The 25 Western corporations doing business in Burma ought to reconsider. Diplomatic pressure needs to be placed on Thailand, which wants the issue swept under the rug. Civil government is a Burmese right.

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