October 25, 2004
BURMA SHAKE-UP: RANGOON 'RECOILING DEEPER' INTO 'MELANCHOLIA'
** The ouster of PM Khin Nyunt means prospects for democracy are "slimmer than ever."
** Nyunt was "too reformist" for the "hardliners of the ruling junta."
** Many outlets urge ASEAN to "press for constructive change" in Burma.
** A minority of dailies call for "constructive re-engagement" instead of "isolation."
The 'bleak prospect of democratic reforms'-- Global papers agreed that former PM Khin Nyunt's departure "portends a turn for the worse" inside the "secretive pariah state." The "campaign for democracy is likely to hit a brick wall," lamented Thai writers. The independent Nation judged that "initiatives aimed at...a more democratic future are now virtually dead," while the moderately-conservative Bangkok Post said that "Burma's military leaders have no intention of handing power to a civilian government." Singapore's pro-government Straits Times saw an "end to the junta's half-hearted attempt at political reforms," which is "bad news" for Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition group NLD.
An 'intensification of internal conflicts'-- Observers labeled Nyunt's "political downfall" proof of "emerging divisiveness" inside Burma's military. The "more liberal and forward-looking" Nyunt sought to "actively promote national reconciliation," but President Than Shwe's hardliners rejected "political or economic reform." Burma's pro-opposition Irrawaddy noted that in the "dog-eat-dog world of Burma's military culture," reform is "bound to encounter resistance from the country's top brass." Several papers stressed the "strained" relations between Nyunt's secret service and Shwe's army. Other writers held a "power struggle over the nation's black market" responsible for the shake-up, including the profitable "spoils of drug trafficking."
ASEAN should be 'embarrassed'-- Calling for "new thinking on Burma," regional editorialists criticized ASEAN's "apathy and inattention" towards the "dictatorial pariah-state." Government-influenced Utusan Malaysia admitted attempts at "constructive dialogue...have yielded no results," while India's centrist Hindu demanded New Delhi "not acquiesce in the perpetuation of a military dictatorship." Britain's independent Financial Times blasted ASEAN for "cozying up to a group of merciless, greedy and economically illiterate generals." But a few dailies did admit that "democratic changes will not be initiated by outside pressure."
'Further isolation' would prompt more reliance on China-- Several Asian papers said engaging Rangoon would help it "eventually become more open and more democratic." Arguing against "interfering" in Burma's internal affairs, Indonesia's Suara Merdeka said ASEAN should let the Burmese "make changes by themselves." Other outlets warned that "the latest political shake-up is bound to increase Burma's isolation," plunging it "deeper into the Dark Ages." Japanese papers blamed Beijing's "increased economic assistance" for emboldening the "brutal regime." Liberal Mainichi stated that the "Rangoon junta has been able to ignore international calls for democracy because of China's economic assistance."
Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR: Ben Goldberg
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 40 reports from 14 countries over 20 - 25 October 2004. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
AUSTRALIA: "Generals Tighten The Screws"
The conservative Australian editorialized (10/21): "Tuesday's official press release from Burma's military government read like something out of 1984.... After 42 years of military dictatorship, Burma is a basket case, and the ouster and house arrest of the most open-minded member of its leadership group portends a turn for the worse. International monitoring groups rank Burma at the bottom of the civil liberties scale.... The closed economy is a shambles, and the World Health Authority ranks Burma's health system at 190 out of 191 nations.... Along with high-profile dissident Aung San Suu Kyi...another 1400 political prisoners rot in Rangoon's jails. Compared with our coalition of the willing partners Britain and the US, who maintain sanctions against Burma, Australia has taken a softly-softly line with the generals. This is because, unlike Britain or the US, we live in Burma's neighbourhood. The fact Burma has been allowed to remain in ASEAN is a worry, the fact it has virtually escaped censure there a bigger worry, and the fact it is due to take over the chair of the regional body in 2006 a disgrace. But Australia has observer status at ASEAN, and is courting the trade bloc for a free-trade agreement, making the Burma issue a tricky one for us. In addition, Burma is the source of most of the heroin that comes into Australia, blighting the lives of young Australians and their families. In order to try to maintain some purchase with the junta in Rangoon, we have rejected sanctions for expressions of concern.... Tuesday's lurch to the Right in Rangoon suggests that sanctions are having little or no effect, while inflicting great pain on ordinary Burmese. Meanwhile, Australia's policy of diplomatic fence-sitting--no sanctions, but no active engagement via aid and trade programs either--has achieved nothing. It's time for new thinking on Burma."
CHINA (HONG KONG SAR): "Why Was The Burmese PM Replaced Suddenly?"
Shihb Chun-yu wrote in pro-PRC Ta Kung Pao (10/21): "The suddenness of the news of the replacement of the prime minister, regardless of whether this was a case of retirement or dismissal, aroused all kinds of rumors and speculations about the political situation in Burma.... Khin Nyunt can be regarded as a seasoned political figure.... His power reached a new peak when he was officially appointed prime minister of Burma in August 2003. Not long after assuming office, he announced his 'road map' for building a democratic Burma, which was regarded as positive move both at home and abroad.... He is quite liberal in thinking and is quite open-minded on political issues. He is in favor of a modern approach in running the country and actively promotes national reconciliation.... In recent months, in particular, tendencies of an intensification of internal conflicts in the Burma government have aroused further disputes over the road map.... . In order to extricate Burma from a state of passivity in foreign relations, Khin Nyunt advocated negotiations on the question of Ang San Suu Kyi. His opponents within the Burmese government could not subscribe to this idea. They are adamantly opposed to Ang San Suu Kyi's return to the political arena.... Due to the lack of transparency, the outside world can only speculate on the real reason for Khin Nyunt's fall.... Burma 's Military Intelligence Bureau was earlier suspected of involvement in a smuggling and bribe-taking case in the border areas in the north.... Since Khin Nyunt has close ties with the military intelligence system, it is not difficult to image that he got himself entangled in the case. The possibility that his opponents had deliberately fabricated this incident out of the needs of political struggle cannot be ruled out. Khin Nyunt's departure has been confirmed by the Burmese authorities, but political stability, economic development and national reconciliation are the biggest expectations of the Burmese people. It is hoped that Khin Nyunt's departure will not lead to the intensification of political tremors, factional struggles and internal conflicts in Burma."
JAPAN: "Will Democratic Process Be Maintained?"
Top-circulation, moderate Yomiuri argued (10/21): "ASEAN members praised former Burmese Prime Minister Khin's presentation of a 'roadmap' for democracy, which proposes the convening of a national assembly tasked with drafting a constitution as a positive step toward civilian rule. The military regime led by Gen. Than needs to maintain the democratization process set by Khin. Should plans for the assembly be canceled, domestic discontent is likely to rise sharply and result in damaging Burma's neighboring ties.... Western nations are certain to apply further pressure on Burma in the face of the latest political upheaval. But, further isolating the country would likely prompt greater reliance on China. Burma's isolation and the growing influence of Beijing are set to become factors crucial to regional stability. Japan should maintain its unique diplomacy toward Burma and closely monitor the situation."
"Japan Must Draw Burma Into The International Community"
An editorial in conservative Sankei insisted (10/21): "The removal of Prime Minister Khin is likely to encourage Burma to form closer diplomatic ties with China, which has provided massive economic and military assistance to the Southeast Asian nation since the 1990s. By offering moderate economic aid in accordance with democratic reforms and improved human rights, Japan has taken a different approach from the West, which has imposed sanctions. It is now likely that the U.S. and E.U. will adopt a tougher embargo. In cooperation with ASEAN, Japan should encourage Burma to join the international community by offering industrial and technical assistance and providing advice on market economy practices."
"Chinese Assistance Encourages Junta"
Liberal Mainichi editorialized (10/21): "The Rangoon junta has been able to ignore international calls for democracy because of China's economic assistance.... Japan and Western nations have tried to limit their assistance, but China has been actively providing economic aid, chiefly for infrastructure projects such as road construction and power generation. The Burmese regime continues to seek help from Beijing, saying it is their 'true friend.' Neighbors, including ASEAN member states, have patiently encouraged democratic reform by encouraging the nation to join the international community. However, if China's continued aid results in emboldening Burmese military hardliners, such efforts are destined to become meaningless. Beijing must sharply curb its assistance in order to prevent undermining the efforts of neighboring countries. As a regional power and as a security council member, China must act with humility."
"Burma Becoming International 'Pariah'"
Business-oriented Nihon Keizai observed (10/21): "The Burmese military regime sacked reformist Prime Minister Khin just after the conclusion of an ASEM leaders' meeting, during which European members strongly condemned Burma's human rights record.... The latest political shake-up is bound to increase Burma's isolation. Gen. Than Shwe and other military leaders must listen to their people and the international community, and convincingly explain the dismissal of the moderate prime minister. They must also clearly state their plans for the long-standing agenda of democratization."
"Democracy Slipping Away"
Liberal Asahi said (10/21): "Japan occupied Burma during World War II and supported its independence from the British colonial rule. It has also been deeply committed to the nation's postwar reconstruction through aid and investment. Although it is understandable that Japan cannot act in the same way as European nations by applying strong pressure, how long will Tokyo continue to use its form of 'assistance diplomacy' in the face of the military regime's flat rejection of local and international calls for dialogue? The view of other Asian countries toward Japan's diplomatic approach must also be considered. We must thoroughly review our stance while taking into account Burma's future as well that of the entire Southeast Asia region."
"Political Battle Over Black Market Prompted Upheaval"
Top-circulation, moderate Yomiuri maintained (10/20): "The removal of Burmese Prime Minister Khin has offered a glimpse of the power struggle over the nation's black market. Rumor has it that businessmen belonging to Khin clashed with rivals associated with Maj. Gen. Myint Swe, No.2 in the regime hierarchy, over the trafficking of wooden products along the China-Burma border... The U.S. and E.U. have long maintained tight economic sanctions on Burma, but such efforts have been limited by the black market, which forms the backbone of the Burmese economy."
"Hardliners To Drive Burma Into Further Isolation"
Liberal Asahi observed (10/20): "The inauguration of hardliner Lt. Gen. Soe Win as Burma's new Prime Minister suggests the nation is moving further into isolation. Former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, a moderate who assumed the post only last year, was apparently sacked because his appointment did not help deflect criticism from the U.S. and Europe of Burma's military rule. Increased economic assistance from India and China is also seen as encouraging the junta to oust Khin, who served as a go-between for Burma and Western nations. The house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi seems likely to be further prolonged."
"Junta Loses Diplomatic Leader"
Liberal Mainichi argued (10/20): "The removal of Burmese Prime Minister Khin indicates the loss of a skillful diplomat who worked to strengthen ties with the nation's neighbors and bring the reclusive state closer to the international community. Hardliners led by junta leader Gen. Than Shwe are expected to strengthen relations with China, who has kept silent about the issue of human rights in Burma."
BURMA: "One Down, Two To Go"
Aung Zaw commented in the independent, pro-opposition Thailand-based weekly Irrawaddy (10/21): "The sacking of Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt this week came as no great surprise.... The dismissal was the result of a power struggle between Khin Nyunt and Deputy Sr-Gen Maung Aye.... Legions of officers associated with the ousted PM have been detained. This is not a matter of health, this is a purge.... Than Shwe has been engaged in a balancing act with the two strongmen. But in the end, the junta chairman and armed forces commander in chief finally sided with Maung Aye.... Khin Nyunt’s expanding authority cramped the style of many high-powered army toughies. His workaholic tendencies and high profile allowed him to increase his influence to the point that several of Burma’s top brass felt their power endangered by the chief spook.... Sometimes labeled a moderate or a pragmatist, Khin Nyunt is considered among the least corrupt of Burma’s top leaders.... Aside from reforming and redefining the MI department, Burma’s remaining military leaders will have to tackle some sensitive issues, like dealing with the ceasefire groups which have expressed concern over the sudden leadership change in Rangoon.... But Rangoon analysts fear that Maung Aye’s past hostilities toward the ethnic minorities could resurface and rekindle armed conflict between the central government and the erstwhile ethnic insurgents. Full-scale conflict would be anathema to Rangoon, but military leaders need a modicum of instability in the country in order to justify and prolong its rule.... It is also likely that the sacking of Khin Nyunt will have minimal impact on the National Convention, tasked with drafting a new constitution, and the seven-point road map to political reform.... As it is considered the generals’ only viable exit strategy, the junta chairman will not backtrack.... So where does that leave opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi?.... Her safety could be in jeopardy.... But if Than Shwe is really driven by a desire to go down in history as Burma’s benevolent king...perhaps brighter days are ahead for the beleaguered country.... Burma’s dynamic duo, Than Shwe and Maung Aye, must make a move. They can plunge Burma deeper into the Dark Ages, or they can begin to work for genuine reform. But in the dog-eat-dog world of Burma’s military culture, they are bound to encounter resistance from the country’s top brass.... We will have to wait for the next chapter in the power play in Rangoon."
"General Maung Aye’s Putsch?
The independent pro-opposition Thailand-based weekly Irrawaddy declared (10/20): "Since being appointed prime minister in August 2003, Khin Nyunt had made no discernible progress. The economy remains moribund, the tough U.S. sanctions...remain in place, and the country maintains its pariah status. This situation is attributable in part to Khin Nyunt’s initiatives being undermined by others.... His seven-point road map to political reform...was derailed at the first stop—the constitution-drafting National Convention, convened in May, was adjourned indefinitely in early July. The ceasefire negotiations with the Karen National Union, conducted by his subordinates at the OCMI, were ignored by the Burma Army, which continued to attack Karen troops and civilians.... He has looked increasingly marginalized and ineffectual since the beginning of this year.... There have been recurrent rumors since 1998 of mutual antagonism between Khin Nyunt and (then) Gen Maung Aye, chief of the Burma Army.... On a personal level, Maung Aye has a reputation as a heavy drinker, while Khin Nyunt has a reputation as a workaholic and a teetotaler. Maung Aye had the troops, so why did it take so long to get rid of the spook? Realizing they have no mandate to rule and are despised by the population at large, the ruling generals maintained a united front.... There is no coherent answer, but this is not a coherent regime.... In a government where paranoia reigns supreme, just suspicion would have been sufficient motivation to launch preemptive action. That leaves Maung Aye and Than Shwe as the last men standing from the junta that took power in 1988. They will have to maintain control as long as they can or they risk a fate similar to that which befell their erstwhile colleagues and former superiors. The climate of fear within the ruling circle endures."
INDONESIA: "Myanmar And Generals' Hands"
Semarang-based Suara Merdeka declared (10/22): "Myanmar [ Burma ] is one of the ten members of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] which has so far been problematic because the military junta in power in the country is seen, particularly by its ASEAN partners...as having poor records on human rights and being anti-democracy.... ASEAN ought to be able to see the positive signals to step up efforts to democratize Myanmar, without being seen as interfering in its internal affairs. Pressuring action has thus far proven to be a boomerang only.... So, let Burmese people, in particular the junta in power, make changes by themselves."
MALAYSIA: "Myanmar Peace Plan In Soe Win's Hands"
Azlinariah Abdullah wrote in government-influenced Utusan Malaysia (10/24): "The ousting of [Burmese prime minister] Khin Nyunt, who had so far been seen as a reform figure in the military junta, shows that the attempts of ASEAN to have constructive dialogue with Yangon [Rangoon] have yielded no results. As the developments in Myanmar [now under Prime Minister Lt-Gen Soe Win] require attention from all of us, the junta government should never refuse to negotiate because such a stance can embarrass its neighbouring countries in ASEAN."
"Light Of Democracy Grows Dim Again"
You Zhi contended in Chinese-language government-influenced China Press (10/24): "Now that former Burmese Prime Minister Khin Nyunt has lost power overnight, ASEAN countries may not dare to easily make international pledges for Myanmar again, and there could also be some ASEAN member nations which simply distance themselves from Myanmar. The ray of light for the democratization of Myanmar has grown dim again."
"Democracy in Myanmar Becomes Bleaker"
Noraini Abdul Razak commented in government-influenced Utusan Malaysia (10/22): "Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, got its independence in 1948 and has been under a military junta since 1962. This short history shows differences between Burma and its neighbour countries, which apply democratic systems in their own governments.... The world, particularly the West, is now awaiting the mission and vision of [Prime Minister] Soe Win to reform the government system in Myanmar."
"It Is Fortunate To Be Malaysian Citizens"
Awang Selamat observed in government-influenced Utusan Malaysia (10/21): "What happened in Myanmar was not expected. The house arrest of the country's prime minister, General Khin Nyunt, is no small matter. It appears as if there exists a power struggle.... The general is someone who is very influential within the leadership of Myanmar. That he is under detention raises many questions about what is happening. The development is a slap in the face of all the efforts made to open up Myanmar and to put the country on the road to democracy. At the time when the effort to free Suu Kyi started to bring hope, this unexpected development arrived. This shows that some military leaders who do not want change and are not comfortable with the efforts to release the pro-democracy leader. The government media mentioned health as the reason for Khin Nyunt's removal. Some said it was because of corruption.... The reason appears to be one of politics. Myanmar possesses great development potential. However, it remains undeveloped. This is because it is not being developed correctly under the military leadership."
SINGAPORE: "Sudden Change"
Pro-government Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao said (10/22): "The sudden leadership change in Myanmar took the international community by surprise. Indications show that the recent political development in Myanmar could be more than a normal fight within the military government for reallocation of power. It might signify a drastic political divide between the former and present governments. As leader of the military-ruled Myanmar, former Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt had, since he became the prime minister, been pressured by the U.S. and the EU to develop a scheduled democracy roadmap for Myanmar. But while the West is still critical about General Khin Nyunt's effort to pave the way for a democratized Myanmar, here comes the hardliner Lt-Gen Soe Win rising to power and replacing General Khin Nyunt as the new prime minister.... We are afraid that such a political development might lead Myanmar forming a new, conservative and anti-western force.... Since Myanmar is an ASEAN member, the country's leadership change is of great concern to all ASEAN countries. When Myanmar applied to join ASEAN, the region thought that through engaging the military-led Myanmar with other democratic nations, Myanmar would eventually become a more open and more democratic country. This is the main reason why the ASEAN is willing to accept Myanmar into its big family amidst complaints from the West. However...such a sudden political development in Myanmar will further hamper the democratic process of the country. Our collective effort in trying to free detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi might also become relatively more difficult to achieve under the Lt-Gen Soe Win's military rule. Such a political development is going to hamper the diplomatic relations of Myanmar with the U.S. and the EU. As a result of this political ripple, ASEAN would also feel pressure from the international community. While we realize that a military government cannot be turned into a democratic regime overnight, we do hope that the ASEAN as a whole will not have to be pressured to interfere with the democratic process in Myanmar following the recent leadership change in this military-led government."
The pro-government Straits Times opined (10/21): "Poetic justice might be a common reaction to news that Myanmar's Prime Minister Khin Nyunt has been placed under house arrest in another of those periodic Yangon power jousts.... He had a hand in the on-off detention of the nationalist-activist Aung San Suu Kyi...the living symbol of a nation caught in a time warp. But closer inspection of General Khin Nyunt's known attempts to drag his country out of its self-inflicted isolation would point to his ouster as being a setback to Myanmar's emancipation.... He has been associated with reformist tendencies, or what passes for such in Myanmar. First, he was thought to have disagreed with his fellow junta generals over the handling of Ms Suu Kyi. Allegedly, he strived to have her released, but under stringent conditions.... Within ASEAN, he is credited with having tried to put a more acceptable face on Myanmar's hard political choices.... He has most recently tried to fashion a consensus for constitutional change via a national convention which is to involve all stakeholders.... On these yardsticks, Gen Khin Nyunt comes close to accepted notions of a conciliator. But the convention has been hobbled by the NLD's refusal to attend unless Ms Suu Kyi is freed.... But one cannot be categoric one way or another about Myanmar. Corruption and health reasons ascribed to the latest purge look like a cover for a serious falling-out among the leadership. About the only certainty is that Myanmar is recoiling deeper into its melancholia."
"Hopes Of Political Reform Dashed With PM's Sacking"
Lee Kim Chew stated in the pro-government Straits Times (10/21): "The sudden fall of Myanmar's General Khin Nyunt puts an end to the junta's half-hearted attempt at political reforms. The ousted prime minister and military intelligence chief is no democrat, but he alone in the ruling troika was at least amenable to engaging pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to break the country's political stalemate. Now that the regime's hardliners--Senior General Than Shwe, the Armed Forces Chief and Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, and Senior General Maung Aye, his deputy--have toppled him and taken full control, any hope of a breakthrough can be put in deep freeze.... On paper, there was a roadmap to democratic elections, ostensibly a bid to deflect mounting international pressure on the ostracised junta, which presides over a crumbling economy severely hit by Western sanctions.... With Gen Khin Nyunt's exit, the military regime has dropped all pretence at engaging the pro-democracy leader. His 56-year-old successor, Lieutenant-General Soe Win, ranks among the junta's top leaders who brand Ms Suu Kyi and the NLD as subversive elements fronting for the Western liberal democracies they despise.... His meteoric rise in the past year comes in the wake of the regime's increasingly bare-knuckled policy against the NLD.... Myanmar's military rulers stake their claim on power in the name of national unity and they have no time for their critics.... The upshot of the latest changes in the secretive military regime is that Senior General Than Shwe, backed by a like-minded deputy, has succeeded in consolidating his power to become Myanmar's pre-eminent leader. Democratic reforms are not on his agenda, and the track record over the past four decades shows that Myanmar's military strongmen had resisted change. The present junta looks set to carry on the tradition."
THAILAND: "Thai-Burmese Relations Need New Thinking And Actions"
Thatthai Phonsit asserted in elite business-oriented Krungthep Thurakit (10/25): "The political change in Burma is not strange. It can occur any time when disputes arise over how interests are divided up. We must not forget that in undemocratic countries there is a lack of people's participation.... But given the political scene monopolized by the three persons, corruption probably is not the main reason for the coup. The main reason is probably a fear of power loss and of power being diverted to other groups.... As prime minister, Gen Khin Nyunt was more accommodating and engaged in negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi.... The latest coup completely destroys those hopes.... The past and present Thai governments base their relations with Burma on economic interests.... Very worrisome is that the Thai government's good intentions could further strengthen the Burmese military government's power to intimidate the political opposition.... Is now not the time for the Thai government to review its relations with Burma?.... Does Bangkok follow the world trend that regards human rights very highly? Or does it stay in an ivory tower and hand out money to neighboring countries and hope to reap benefits from them in return?"
"How Thailand’s Business-Oriented Diplomacy Damages Country"
Elite, business-oriented Krungthep Turakij said (10/22): "No matter what the real motive was for the ouster of Khin Nyunt, the fact is that the military trio (Generals Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt) had been collaboratively ruling the country before they broke up due to conflicts of interests.... The ouster had nothing to do with ideology or nation-building whatsoever.... The Thai government must make its position known to the world that its engagement in Burma’s affairs are neither based on telecommunications nor forest concessions nor other personal interests. To show his honesty, the Thai leader must withdraw both private and government projects from Burma until a clear picture of the country’s future is in sight.”
"It Is Essential To Pay Attention To Burma"
Moderately-conservative Thai Post opined (10/22): "The transformation in Burma forces the international community to focus on Thailand's neighbor once again.... The coup gives several countries concern that the hope for democracy in Burma , which was dim before, could be worse as long as the group now in power retains its mastery. The excuse given by the coup party is the usual allegation used to justify coups anywhere. Because the government was corrupt and lacked transparency, the military had to make changes. Only the government leaders have been changed, the system that brought them to power is left untouched.... The coup does not only set back democracy, but freedom and the direction professed by Aung San Suu Kyi, a great but powerless advocate of democracy, have been throttled as well. The coup reflects...the beginning of a new chapter of the military junta.... It sends the clear signal that Burma is not interested at all in how the world, particularly the West, may perceive it. As a result, certain superpowers have urged the international community to show stronger objections to the Burmese military government.... But it will be difficult for Thailand to make any decision given its desire to continue trading with Burma and given the long-standing position of ASEAN countries not to interfere in each other's internal affairs. Apathy and inattention to the political situation in Burma , which could stem from a desire to avoid conflict and negative impact on trade with Burma, is tantamount to neglect on the part of Thailand and ASEAN of the welfare of the Burmese people.... It is time that Thailand and ASEAN...pay attention to Burma and find ways to cooperate with it to bring about political and economic development."
"A Misplaced Bet On Khin Nyunt"
The independent, English-language Nation contended (10/21): "ASEAN has gone out of its way to protect Burma in regional and international arenas, believing--wrongly, of course--that peer pressure might in some way help transform this dictatorial pariah-state into an open society governed by the rule of law.... In exchange, the leaders of the military junta in Rangoon have exploited ASEAN’s creditability and good will and have stonewalled sustained international pressure for reform.... In a further irony, ASEAN continues to emphasize the process of national reconciliation in Burma, though without including Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate and leading local democracy advocate. What kind of thinking is that?.... If anything happens to this crucial Burmese voice in the days and weeks to come, ASEAN and the EU will only have themselves to blame.... To Thailand, the dismissal of Khin Nyunt appears to have a deeper impact. More than Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra would like to admit, of course, the personal connections and burgeoning business interests between the two countries have suffered because of events of the past several days.... The changes that took place in Rangoon on Wednesday will have far-reaching repercussions on Thailand’s policy towards Burma and the whole range of economic and trading arrangements between the two countries. The change of leadership in Burma could lead to attempts to further discredit Khin Nyunt, which may entail disclosure of all sorts of shady business deals that had been sealed with foreign leaders or businessmen.”
"Give Burma A Clear Message"
The top-circulation, moderately-conservative, English-language Bangkok Post noted (10/21): "The rise of hardliners in Burma is bad news for anyone hoping for national reconciliation and participatory government in the impoverished country. As an immediate neighbor with some leverage, Thailand must show the way in dealing with the new leadership.... Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra can help by opting for pressure rather than accommodation. The leverage he can apply lies in the controversial credit line of four billion baht that his government has extended to the junta in Rangoon for infrastructural development.... To press for constructive change in Burma, the prime minister could order a stop to any further disbursement of the credit line.... The prime minister should also drop Burma from the economic co-operation strategy he initiated last year.... He should also persuade other member states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to withhold economic co-operation with Burma until their commitment to political reform is shown. As a group, ASEAN must make clear that a Burma uncommitted to reform cannot chair the grouping in 2006 as scheduled.... Until the new leadership in Rangoon proves that it is committed to desirable change, the prime minister must resist any temptation to rally to them. Any telephone contact or visit would be taken as recognition.... The change in Rangoon is an opportunity for Thailand, and ASEAN, to come clean by putting people before private interests.”
"Confusion In Thailand And Burma"
Economic-political Lok Wanni held (10/20): "Regardless of the rationale for the political change, there is a good chance that Burma under leadership of Gen Maung Aye or Gen Than Shwe...will become more closed than before. The Bangkok peace process and the drafting of constitution to build national reconciliation in Burma will probably stall, so will the effort to resolve the issue involving Aung San Suu Kyi.... The change in Burma , particularly the ouster of Gen Khin Nyunt, warrants close watch, as the coup party cited corruption...to justify its action.... The coup led by Gen Maung Aye will lead Burma to adopt a closed-door policy by ignoring international pressure and negotiations with ethnic groups and Aung San Suu Kyi.... Trade activities along the border will certainly be adversely affected; Burma has already imposed strict controls on goods.... Interesting is the rationale cited by the coup party. The party claimed corruption by intelligence units under Gen Khin Nyunt...as well as lack of transparency in telecommunication contracts with Thailand.... To justify the loans, the Thai government cited its policy of assistance of neighboring countries and claimed that the 4-billion-baht loan carried no risk of default because it served as guarantor. Regardless of the real rationale for the coup in Burma, any reference to Thailand will tarnish its reputation and, therefore, the Thai government must clarify the situation.... Meanwhile, the government must be ready to cope with tension along the Burmese border.... Thai foreign policy will be affected regardless of whether Burma chooses a closed-door policy or opens itself wider. Most important is that the Thai government must bear in mind the interests of the country and Thai people."
"Khin Nyunt's Ouster Creates Dark Cloud"
Larry Jagan held in the moderately-conservative English-language Bangkok Post (10/20): "The power struggle within Burma's military appears to have come to a head with the removal of Gen Khin Nyunt as the country's prime minister.... But so far details of the purge are sketchy.... On the face of it, this is a crackdown on corruption.... For months now, Than Shwe has been systematically reducing Khin Nyunt's power.... Over the past few years it has been clear that there was a growing division within Burma's military leadership on how to maintain the army's political role in the future and develop the country. It has largely been a rift between the pragmatists around Khin Nyunt, who believe that only by introducing some form of political and economic reform can the military preserve its position in the long run, and the hardliners--Than Shwe and his supporters--who believe that making any concession is a sign of weakness that would erode their position. But more importantly, the pragmatists, including the prime minister, understood the critical need for political and economic reform in Burma.... More significant changes are in the pipeline.... China will certainly be unhappy. They have been strong supporters of Khin Nyunt and had pinned their hopes on him being able to introduce economic reform. The future of Burma's national reconciliation process has also been thrown into doubt.... What is now more clear is that Burma's military leaders have no intention of handing power to a civilian government in the near future. Gen Than Shwe has made no secret of his intention to remain in control for at least another decade and will continue to remove any rivals within the army he fears may threaten to his ambition."
"Cloud Over Peace Pacts, Democracy"
The independent English-language Nation concluded (10/20): "The sacking yesterday of Burmese Prime Minister Khin Nyunt from the inner circle of the military junta has sent an eerie chill through the troubled nation--and region. Domestically, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her campaign for democracy is likely to hit a brick wall because Khin Nyunt, the man who opened communications between the junta and the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been sidelined. The generals who launched the purge against Khin Nyunt are the same people who spearheaded Suu Kyi’s arrest in May last year. Lt General Soe Win, who was named yesterday as Khin Nyunt’s replacement as prime minister, rallied the Union Solidarity Development Association in their brutal attack on Suu Kyi and her supporters in northern Burma last year.... The mob was a pet project of his boss, overall leader Senior General Than Shwe.... Thailand’s connection with Burma over the last three years has been largely defined by PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s 'personal diplomacy,' which basically meant having faith in Khin Nyunt’s ability to secure whatever arrangements were made. It was Thaksin who stuck his neck out for Khin Nyunt at the Asean summit in Bali last year.... Now that Khin Nyunt is out of the picture, the future of Thai-Burmese relations is likely to come under intense pressure.... Internationally, there are more repercussions. UN special envoy Razali Ismail, who relied on Khin Nyunt as his point of entry into Burma’s top political circle, will have to go back to the drawing board.... Initiatives aimed at giving Rangoon a more democratic future are now virtually dead with the departure of Khin Nyunt and former foreign minister Win Aung, who was ousted on September 18.... Win Aung allegedly warned senior diplomats some weeks back that Khin Nyunt’s position as premier was shaky--and yesterday his words were shown to be true."
BRITAIN: "General Confusion: Burma's Power Struggle Exposes Asian Policy Vacuum"
An editorial in the independent Financial Times read (10/21): "There was never any doubt that Burma was corrupt or that its generals argued over the spoils of drug trafficking and the sale of jade and timber to China.... What is surprising is that Asian governments ever advertised their policy of ignoring the wishes of the Burmese people and cosying up to a group of merciless, greedy and economically illiterate generals as a viable strategy for determining Burma's future."
An editorial in the center-left Independent read (10/20): "The arrest of the reform-minded Prime Minister of Burma, Khin Nyunt, yesterday has reminded the rest of the world of the brutality which exists in that secretive pariah state. It also demonstrates how distant is the prospect of democracy."
GERMANY: "Evil Signs"
Moritz Kleine-Brockhoff noted in left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau (10/20): "It does not come as a surprise that Burma's Prime Minister was ousted.... Nobody can really see behind the curtains of the junta. We can only speculate why he had to go. Apparently he was too moderate, given that he had announced a road map to democracy. But that was one year ago and certainly agreed beforehand. Maybe it was disliked that he respected the Peace Noble Prize winner Suu Kyi, whereas the dictator hated her. But that is no secrete. It is most likely the Nyunt has done something that is not publicly known.... If Burma will stay calm now it will mean that dictator Than Shwe has a firm grip on power. That means bad news for Suu Kyi and her opposition group NLD.... The dictator has been ruling for 16 years and the democracy movement is as defeated as before. There will be no change under him."
"Return To Ice Age"
Nicola Glass commented in leftist die tageszeitung of Berlin (10/20): "There is no question about it, but hardliners of the military junta have catapulted the country back into the Ice Age. The reconciliation process, which had been put on hold anyway, is about to collapse. It was predictable that Junta head Than Shwe will prevail.... One thing is clear: democratic changes will not be initiated by outside pressure. All sanctions imposed against the country have not resulted in any sort of liberalization of the impoverished country. The release of Suu Kyi in May 2002 was just part of the junta's tactic to keep the window open to the outside world. Change can only come from inside Burma. It is questionable whether this can happen peacefully, given that the regime replied to demonstrations with bloodsheds in the past. A coup by reformers, like the arrested Prime Minister, could be a solution."
ITALY: "Myanmar, Generals’ Showdown"
Leading business-oriented Il Sole-24 Ore held (10/20): "A long power struggle came to a dramatic end yesterday in Myanmar (former Burma) when the prime minister was removed from office and placed under house arrest on corruption charges. General Soe Win replaces Khin Nyunt: according to Burma watchers, Nyunt’s departure leaves the field open to some of the most hard-line military factions, while prospects for a political change are slimmer than ever and the hopes for a change in Nobel prize winner Auung San Suu Kyi’s situation, who has been under house arrest for years, are practically nil.... The news that 64-year-old Nyunt is under house arrest comes from neighboring Thailand.... But according to analysts, in a country that is full of corruption, this accusation is only a pretext to get him out of the way.... Other observers believe that Nyunt’s fall can be attributed to a war of interests, rather than differences over democracy, in a country in which the military has once again gained control of the economy.”
"The Burmese Junta Arrests The Premier And His Reform Plans"
Elite, classical liberal Il Foglio maintained (10/20): "It’s a classic--a clash between the secret service and the armed forces. Or, more simply, it was a clash between those who want to lead the country towards democracy and those who fear losing their privileges.... The army, acting under the orders of General Than Shwe...removed and placed under house arrest on corruption charges Premier Khin Nyunt.... At the bottom of this lie a power issue and the military’s fear of losing given privileges. We must draw an analogy with North Korea. In both countries the military and political leaders fear that any sort of liberalization would lead to a reduction of their status in order to make room for market logic.”
UAE: "Cocooned In Myanmar"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Khaleej Times maintained (10/21): "The departure of Khin Nyunt as the prime minister has yet again put the world spotlight on Myanmar. Nyunt, of course, was no liberal as many make him out to be. Yet, his exit does not bode well for the Asian country, which has been labouring under the repressive military junta for decades now. At least, the deposed prime minister had allowed hopes at home and around the world by unveiling his much-hyped roadmap. Khin Nyunt’s honesty of intentions behind the roadmap might not have been beyond reproach. But the deposed prime minister seemed to understand the importance of engaging the pro-democracy movement leader, the charismatic Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest for many hopeless years now. More important, he was not dimissive of world opinion. It is a shame that all around Myanmar, democratic changes are taking place. Its neighbours like Bangladesh and Thailand are opening up their economies for foreign investment in turn benefiting their people. Myanmar remains cut off and isolated from the world because of its terrible record.... The circumstances under which Nyunt was removed leave no one in doubt that the military junta led by the powerful Than Shwe has further strengthened its stranglehold over the country’s power structure. The West may make suitable noises over the state of affairs in Myanmar but it can do little to force Gen Shwe to heed world opinion. Elusive and mysterious Gen Shwe does not seem to care two hoots about the international community. The only way to persuade Myanmar to change for the better is by using the influence of its neighbours like China and Thailand. They alone can persuade the junta to free Suu Kyi and usher in democracy and transparency."
"Setback In Myanmar"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Gulf Today declared (10/20): "Myarnmar's chaotic politics has taken a further beating with the sacking and house arrest of General Khin Nyunt.... The dramatic development came amid reports of brewing political tension and even a likely coup attempt. Like his adversary, pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, the deposed leader has also been banished into detention.... These developments were not surprising because of a recent rise in political temperature in Yangon. After Khin Nyunt was shifted to the premier's job in August last year, he crossed the path of the military strongman, General Than Shwe. As the former head of the military intelligence, the deposed premier had been ranked third in the cabinet hierarchy.... His political downfall, which came after he was slapped with corruption charges, is a punishment for being too reformist to the liking of the junta.... Khin Nyunt's exit is a serious setback to attempts to strike a deal with the pro-democracy leaders. Yangon, an international pariah for thwarting democracy and rights violations, could now face the toughest sanctions since it rejected the 1990 election victory of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.... The sacking of Khin Nynut could be considered a reversal of the promise the junta had made in May on political reforms.... The junta has also become a thorn on the 10-nation Association of South-East Asian Nations since its admission to the bloc in 1997. Asean, which had hoped that the military would relax its grip, is embarrassed as Yangon would be chairing its meeting in 2006. The bloc had reposed faith in Khin Nynut, whom it found to be the reformist face of the junta. Despite his notoriety for brutal repression of dissent as prime minister, Khin Nynut had appeared to back the seven-point roadmap to democracy that was also endorsed by the UN.... But the hardliners, headed by Than Shwe, could not stand any such mellowness. The crackdown on Khin Nynut is a throwback to the earlier days of the brutal regime. It also reflected the emerging divisiveness among the military ranks with the hardliners gaining the upper hand."
INDIA: "No Room For Moderates"
The centrist Hindu editorialized (10/25): "The developments in Yangon last week resulting in the removal of PM Khin Nyunt do no good to the purported attempts to launch democratic reforms in Burma. Known as a moderate...Khin Nyunt...went so far as to engage the pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in dialogue. Although Senior General Than Shwe...retained full control before the easing out of Gen. Khin Nyunt and continues to call the shots, the replacement is all the more disturbing. Lt. Gen. Soe Win is seen as a trusted lieutenant of Sr. Gen. Than Shwe and the man behind the disturbances that led to the arrest of Ms. Suu Kyi last year.... As PM, Khin Nyunt offered some hope for those who believed that 'constructive engagement' with Myanmar would help in the phased restoration of democracy. That hope may have been dashed.... Six years ago, ASEAN admitted Myanmar as a member in the hope that such an engagement would gradually transform the junta into a passable form of government.... Yangon has taken full advantage of ASEAN.... Myanmar is expected to chair the ASEAN Standing Committee in 2006 and it is for the other member states to decide if the military dictatorship should be allowed the honour. The international community is expected to monitor developments in Yangon but there is very little it seems able to do to make the Myanmar Generals see reason and take the path of democratic reform. The disturbing changes have taken place on the eve of Sr. Gen. Than Shwe's visit to India.... India needs to formulate a clear and progressive policy on Myanmar. It should not accept or go along with these actions of the military junta and turn a blind eye to the continued suppression of the pro-democracy movement.... While wishing to maintain good-neighbourly relations with Myanmar, the world's largest practising democracy should not acquiesce in the perpetuation of a military dictatorship.... It is high time constitutional reforms, set in motion over a decade ago, were brought to a head and democracy restored in Myanmar."
"Suffocating Democracy In Myanmar"
Influential Hindi-language Rashtriya Sahara editorialized (10/20): "The sacking of Myanmarese Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and placing him under house arrest is bad news for all the world's pro-democracy people. Nyunt was not a sentinel of democracy, but...he was definitely a flickering ray of hope for democracy in Myanmar.... It is futile to raise any hope of liberation from new Prime Minister Soe Win who is General Than Shwe's crony. It was not possible to liberate Myanmar from the Junta regime.... After Khin, it is now the international community's turn to show some courage. The instability, human rights violation and inhuman military rule in Myanmar must not be tolerated.... Khin was the country's military intelligence chief and since last few months relations between the army and the military intelligence have been strained. The Junta regime said that the military intelligence was acting as Suu Kyi's broker.... Khin's removal is a case of human rights violation and suppression of the people's wishes.... The U.S. has immediately announced a few sanctions. All countries have severed relations with Myanmar , but that is no solution to the problem. What relief would it provide the Myanmarese by imposing sanctions for the sake of it and by severing relations? It would be better if all the democratic powers got together and intervened extensively through the UN.... Human rights violation and suppression of people's wishes cannot be allowed in the name of sovereignty. India, for being the world's largest democracy and the U.S...must think seriously about their role in this matter."
"Securing The Eastern Flank"
Ashok K Mehta wrote in the pro-BJP right-of-center Pioneer (10/20): "Senior General Than Shwe, the military supremo and President of Burma (Myanmar), will be in Delhi next week for the first high-level visit to India in decades.... His visit marks the culmination of a reversal of policy by India in 1993 to normalise and revitalise relations with the military junta, previously treated as a pariah.... The junta has ignored UN resolutions.... The struggle for power is the struggle for the symbol: Who inherits the mantle of Aung San -- the junta or Suu Kyi?.... The junta commands the loyalties of a 450,000 strong army backed by China.... Suu Kyi is a big threat to the SPDC which has defied UN resolutions, international pressures and sanctions, thanks to the support from China and divisions in the ASEAN.... Realpolitik and ground reality dictate that recognising Burma's strategic importance, India must cultivate the junta to regain space and time lost to China.... Sound national interest required a switch in policy designed to secure and sanitise our strategic eastern flank, check China's reach into the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, use Burma as a bridge to the east and to influence internal change in Burma. India would not like to see Chinese presence, significant as it is in North Burma and other regions, to cross the Chindwin river. China, on the other hand, is determined to access the Indian Ocean, especially for its land-locked Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, secure its sea lanes and passage through Malacca Straits and to check India's influence in Burma as well as in the Indian Ocean.... What should India do? When General Than Shwei arrives next week, India will pull out all the stops especially economic, technological and military.... The military-to-military relations are a key to India's military diplomacy to wean away Burma to the extent feasible from its dependence on China. The challenge for India is in influencing General Than and the junta to see the writing on the wall and initiate the process of restoration of democracy by releasing Suu Kyi while at the same time strengthening bilateral relations.... Constructive re-engagement and not isolation of the junta, therefore, is the way ahead. But so is patience."
BANGLADESH: "Change In Myanmar"
The independent, English-language Daily Star held (10/22): "Those that want to see the implementation of democratic reforms in Myanmar will have received the news of the sacking of Myanmar's prime minister Khin Nyunt with a great deal of dismay. The ousted prime minister, a more liberal and forward-looking person, credited with the formulation of the seven-point 'road map to democracy' was in favour of a dialogue with the leading opposition parties in Myanmar as well as for setting the NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi free. The unceremonious departure of a person who was third in the Junta hierarchy is indicative of not only an internal power struggle between the Myanmar strong man and hardliner Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt, but also of the bleak prospect of democratic reforms in Myanmar. The change has perhaps been brought about by Than Shwe's compulsion to forestall any challenge to his rule by the ousted premier, who was not only the prime minister but was also the head of, reportedly, the most powerful government institution in Myanmar, the military intelligence. The fact that a hardliner has replaced Khin Nyunt has in all likelihood put paid to whatever little chance there was of political reforms in Myanmar. Lt Gen Soe Win, the new Prime minister, is known to favour hardline posture against the NLD. Much of Myanmar's potential has been sapped because of its present political dispensation and reluctance of the junta to implement political reforms. It is our hope as a neighbour and well wisher of its people that the recent political change would hasten rather than hamper democratic reforms in Myanmar."
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