A light into Asia’s heart of darkness

Discussion in 'West Asia & Africa' started by SpArK, Jan 17, 2012.

  1. SpArK

    SpArK SORCERER Senior Member

    Oct 24, 2010
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    A light into Asia’s heart of darkness​

    Visiting French foreign minister Alain Juppe, left, shakes hands with Burmese president Thein Sein during a meeting in Naypyidaw on Monday. France's foreign minister held talks with Burma's rulers during a visit to assess the regime's reformist credentials as Western powers weigh a possible relaxation of sanctions.​

    Burma is Asia’s heart of darkness — an enchanting land of pagodas, temples and jungles that has experienced the horrors of war and repression and been under siege by its own military for 50 years.

    Now, there are indications the country, also known as Myanmar, may finally be experiencing a dramatic new era of reform.

    Last Thursday, Burma’s government signed a cease-fire with the Karen National Union to end one of the country’s longest-lasting ethnic insurgencies. The very next day, it released 651 political prisoners, including the most prominent student, democracy and minority dissidents.

    In a matter of months, a pariah state, riddled with poverty and privation, isolated from the rest of the world and boasting an appalling human rights record, has finally opened the door to hope.

    The thaw started when a new military-dominated government came to power last March, after flawed elections in 2010. The new President, Thein Sein, a former general and prime minister under the military junta, promised political reform and an easing of repression.

    His government has released political prisoners, lifted censorship, met opposition leaders and encouraged international observers to visit.

    He has also tried to unshackle Burma’s economy, dramatically increased state pensions, reduced taxes, dismantled trade cartels, cut interest rates, adjusted currency rules and promised to review foreign investment laws.

    “Although there are still many uncertainties, one thing is clear: The reforms initiated since the new government took office in March are the most significant to come out of Burma in over half a century,” said Nelson Rand, a political consultant based in Bangkok, in a recent report for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

    “The country is at a critical juncture and for the first time in years there is reason to be optimistic about the country’s political direction.”

    The military has ruled Burma since a coup in 1962. The generals maintained their grip by wielding absolute power, crushing all dissent and dominating and nearly destroying the economy.

    Endowed with resources and once one of the richest countries in Southeast Asia, Burma is now one of the world’s poorest. The military’s experiment with “Burmese Socialism” turned it into an economic disaster zone.

    More than one million half-starved and frightened refugees have moved to neighbouring Thailand, Bangladesh and India, telling stories of mass murder, rape, torture and religious persecution.

    For decades, the tales of horror that leaked out were reminiscent of those that emerged from Pol Pot’s Cambodian killing fields.

    The possibility of change was crushed in 1990, when the military rejected general elections that overwhelmingly supported Aung San Suu Kyi, the charismatic daughter of Burma’s independence hero and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

    Aung San Suu Kyi addresses thousands of her supporters at her National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters on Nov. 14, 2010 in Yangon, Burma.

    Ignoring her demands for democracy, the generals dismissed the election results, banned opposition parties, jailed their leaders or placed them under house arrest and silenced dissidents through murder and fear.

    Ms. Suu Kyi spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest. She was only released Nov. 13 as Gen. Thein Sein sought to open a new dialogue on democracy and promised a transition from military to civilian rule. Throughout it all, she never wavered in her opposition to military rule. She has said she will stand for a seat in parliament during by-elections on April 1 and has hinted she could take a position in a new government, “depending on the circumstances.”

    Burma’s past isolation may account for the fact most outside observers cannot explain or account for the military’s apparent change of heart.

    In his inaugural address as President, Gen. Thein Sein spoke about tackling poverty, fighting corruption, ending armed conflicts and political reconciliation.

    Some experts suggest the reforms may have been spurred by the Arab Spring’s overthrow of authoritarian governments.

    Others note the need for change has been obvious since the 2007 Saffron Revolution, led by Buddhist monks and nuns, was crushed, only to be followed by the government’s mishandling of Cyclone Nargis, Burma’s worst natural disaster ever, in 2008.

    Two fishermen on a boat they repair in Kaunt Chaung near Pyapon in an isolated area only accessible by water.

    “While changes to the Burmese political landscape over the past year appear dramatic, the cause of the different moves and their likely impact remain contested, both within the country and internationally,” said Gareth Price, a senior research fellow with the Chatham House think-tank in London.

    “Evidence to explain the drivers behind the changes and the likely end-point is scant. The change in tone is unarguable, as has been an increase in access for both journalists and visiting politicians. But even if the trend is positive, the starting point is low, and in terms of concrete actions progress has been slow.”

    The generals may hope Western sanctions will be lifted and want to lessen their reliance on China. But they also have to worry about appeasing an obviously disgruntled population.

    “It is still the early stages of the reform process,” Mr. Rand said. “Skeptics point out that such progress could easily be reversed, which has been the case in the past.”

    Burma’s constitution, introduced in 2008, still entrenches the primacy of military rule, reserving 25% of parliamentary seats for the military and requiring three key cabinet posts — interior, defence and border affairs — must be held by serving generals.

    National Post
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    Minh likes this.
  3. Minh

    Minh Regular Member

    Jan 5, 2012
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    It's time for Myanmar to open up to the world just like Vietnam do not put all your eggs in one basket "China". Like they say competitions is good for consumers!

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