Burmese opposition move fails

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

In prompting a standoff with the country's junta that resulted in her being detained, Burmese democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi may have hoped to gain greater international condemnation for the Rangoon junta.

But her efforts appear to have backfired on her party, as she has helped hardliners gain the upper hand within the ruling military regime.

After detaining Ms. Suu Kyi, "the junta is learning that it can completely ignore the West's pressure, because its key allies like India and China remain behind it," said Chayachoke Chulasiriwongs, a Burma expert at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

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"Even Japan has been reluctant to put pressure on Burma. The fact that the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council, the junta's official name] was willing to treat Suu Kyi so harshly before the UN Millennium Summit, a major PR event, shows they just don't care about the West," Chayachoke said. "Suu Kyi's gamble has come back to haunt her, giving her headaches she didn't imagine."

"The SPDC will try to systematically destroy Suu Kyi's party [the National League for Democracy]," Chayachoke said.

"The regime now is planning to terminate the NLD by December, showing the hardest-line members of the SPDC have made their agenda the priority," said Aung Thu Nyein, a spokesman for the All Burma Students Democratic Front, a leading pro-democracy Burma group in exile in Thailand.

"They'll try to arrest all the energetic, young members of the NLD, leaving only older, weaker members operating."

On Aug. 24, Suu Kyi and a dozen supporters attempted to drive outside Rangoon, the capital, to attend a meeting of her party.

After military police prevented the NLD members from leaving the capital, they stopped in the suburb of Dallah and refused to move. Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest as military police raided NLD's Rangoon headquarters and seized what the junta called "incriminatory material" suggesting the NLD was planning terrorist acts. Since Sept. 2, a ring of riot police have guarded Suu Kyi's residence and the home of her deputy Tin Oo, preventing anyone from seeing her and reportedly manhandling the British ambassador when he attempted to visit Mr. Oo.

Trying to refute reports that opposition leaders are under house arrest, the junta on Wednesday released photos purportedly showing an aide to Suu Kyi walking in downtown Rangoon.

Several Rangoon analysts believe Suu Kyi, the1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, timed her attempt to leave the capital to coincide with what she perceived as divisions within the regime; and to show more moderate generals that they have to work with her to create a lasting political solution for the country and win favor from the West.

Last month, the junta's deputy minister for development, Zaw Tun, was sacked for denigrating the regime's economic management. At the time, diplomats in Rangoon said there was a growing fissure between more pragmatic generals led by intelligence chief Khin Nyunt and hardliners led by General Maung Aye.

The junta's crackdown on Suu Kyi and her party has brought censure from the West. Still, it appears that Suu Kyi's actions actually have strengthened hardliner Maung Aye's faction, since Burma's closest friends have said little about the crackdown, showing the junta that it can treat the NLD more harshly without risking its most important alliances, experts warn.

China, Pakistan, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, India, and Japan are Burma's key trading partners and suppliers of military assistance.

None of those countries have commented publicly on the junta's treatment of Suu Kyi. And Australia, the non-Asian nation closest to Rangoon, has refused to cancel its relationship with Burma's military rulers.

Burma has limited economic and political ties with the West, since many Western states imposed tough sanctions on Rangoon after the junta refused to recognize the NLD's overwhelming victory in free elections during the 1990s.

Senior General Than Shwe, head of the SPDC, is reportedly in failing health, and he may give way to a successor within the next two years. "The rivalry between Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt to succeed Than Shwe is really intensifying," Aung said. An analyst in Rangoon warned that if Maung Aye takes over, Burma, renamed Myanmar by the junta, could revert to the situation it was in before 1988, when it was completely isolated from the West and run by a leadership that did not care that the country was an international pariah.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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