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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

Policy Paper

Sanctions and the Junta

By Kanbawza Win

Nobody, in the right sense of mind would argue that "Sanctions" is the most effective weapon used by the international community to change the tyrannical regime in Burma. "Sanctions," also augmented Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's philosophy of non violent struggle against the dictatorial brass. But caution must be taken that nobody must underestimate the treacherousness, cunningness, craftiness and the ruthlessness of the regime. In the two decades, the Junta had already lured a good many prominent pro democracy leaders, ethnic fighters to his side by hook or by crook and many has fallen its trap. The clear strategy of the Junta to "Divide and Rule" within the ethnic forces with bribe and economic incentives has paid off handsomely, while it tries to divide the solidarity of the ethnic minority and the pro democracy forces with the "Maha Bama" (Myanmar Chauvinism) slogan have also met with success. As of today we can see that every ethnic forces are divided, if not splintered because of the generous offers of the army. Obviously business always overrules the conscience.

Last month, one of the splinter ethnic group surrenders to the Burmese army, under the banner of going into the legal fold. Of course the Junta is gracious enough to let that group to keep their arms, a sort of a trick to let this breakaway group to trust the army rather then their own kind. The other day, the Internet news of the "Irrawaddy," clearly outline the split in dominant major ethnic union, which forms the vanguard of the Burmese armed resistance. If that Union, which has keep the fire of resistance alive ever split, then most of the people of Burma may be prepared to bite the bullet for with them hope of overthrowing by armed resistance is gone. 

One of the most prominent leaders of an American based NGO, who is at the helm of lobbying the American Government to take drastic actions against the Junta has now surrender to the army and live a quiet life in Burma, even though his remnants continue to take a pro junta stance in their vain attempts to soften up the West and the pro democracy elements. Even leaders like him, who could sway the American University campuses from drinking Pepsi Cola and forced them to quit Burma, can switch sides it is no wonder, that other Burmese in Diaspora always switch sides.  Previous to that episode, some years ago, there was a prominent Burmese medical doctor from Japan who switches sides also. He now says quit and now lead a quiet life of persona non grata in his own native land of Burma. Hence it was no wonder, when a minister of the exile government switch sides and apposed the sanctions giving a lame excuse of National Reconciliation. At the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) on "Burma and Democracies in Transition", NCGUB openly declared that it would not seek economic sanctions against the regime. Obviously living in Washington and jetting around the world under the guise of lobbying for the pro democracy movement, for 18 years got tired of it and probably want to be a minister back home. In that case, he could have easily surrender himself quietly to the Burmese embassy but now his stunt declaration hit hard not only to the Burmese democratic community but also to the International community of donors, who now see themselves to be buffoon supporting the wrong group. Why washed the dirty linen in public, when every Burmese are endeavouring to cover up the misappropriation of the members of the Nga U Committee (A Burmese Socialist term for five member committee who claim to be Ministers)? Is it just to show that the people of Burma are not trustworthy and can easily betray the good cause?

Sanctions are bad for the People

Sanctions admittedly are bad for every one else but if a group of country imposed it on a particular country it explicitly means that something is very wrong and that punitive action is compel to be taken so that this particular country may remedied itself. It has a moral authority, which everybody recognizes. One cannot point out to a particular case such as factories workers of the clothing industry or the export of natural products such as teak and marine products, but has to be view as a whole. The punitive sanction pales in comparison of what the Junta has done to its own people and the country as a whole.

Not to mention the gross human rights violations, ethnic cleansing, exporting of narcotics, human trafficking, child soldiers, broken promises etc name whatever vice, the Junta will owns it, let us see what sanctions has effect on the people. The regime has put the following sanctions on its people

It shamefully declared that it is marching towards democracy and market economy and yet in 1997 July the Central Bank put sanctions and limits the foreign remittances of FEC (/FOREIGN Exchange Certificates) purchased by the Kyat to US$ 50,000 per month only. What kind of market economy?

The same year in November even thought the procurement of paddy through a tender bid system was declared to hoodwink the international community it was never implemented. Instead the compulsory sale of the paddy to the state remain as ever before. Is this not a sanction?

In December a notification was issued in which it mare hard currency the only means of payment in the conduct of border trade. The border trade, that has been going since time immemorial has been on the bilateral monetary agreement basis was shattered. Why sanctions on the local traders?

In May 1998, the biggest sanction notification came out limiting that 80% of the imports must be essential goods and that the government will not give permit to anyone who imports the other goods. The Military Government (a bumpkin in economics) with its small brain will decide which is essential and which are not essential goods. It completely destroys the export import scheme because that some year the foreign remittance was curtailed to US 20,000 per month.

In Jan. 1999 another tight sanction was declared again. 5% commercial tax was replaced by an extra income tax of 2% and an 8% on commercial tax to be paid by foreign exchange. What ridiculous thing to do that a Burmese cannot pay with the Burmese money to a Burmese government? This is quite a funny sanction.

Nov. 2000, the regime has been bled red of foreign exchange because of its idiotic economic policy and the Central Bank was forced to put on another sanctions by limiting the foreign remittance of FEC purchase by the Kyat to US $ 10,000 only.

Come March 2002 a hundred percent sanctions was imposed on the people of Burma as all foreign trading firms were revoked. The people including the traders again were forced to turn to the Black market.

By September, the sanctions became more tighter when all the traders were kept to Kyat one million per month. The aim was to destroy the petty traders. The country was reduced to a beggar status except the top brass and the cronies.

By this time the Junta has sensed that by these numerous sanctions, it has destroyed the middle class because it knows that if there is a violable middle class the country will slowly inch to democracy and that the middle class must be destroyed before it became too rich. So a new directive on sanctions was announced in April 2003. It let go the rice trading policy ending the state's direct purchase and ensuring free trade of rice beginning from 2004. But that was only on paper and was never implemented up to this day.

Very lately the Junta has started enforcing a 12% sales tax regulation on all the country’s restaurants, food stalls and teashops. Why take sanction on the poor people? Besides the internal sanctions on Trade, Foreign Exchange and essential commodities, there are burning of rice barns and villages, confiscating of lands without compensation. Currently there is the confiscation of vehicles smuggled in from neighbouring countries. Not to mention arbitrary arrests and the rapes committed by the Mudane Army, better known as Tatmadaw.

These are just a few instances of sanctions imposed by the regime on its own people and if I were to write all the 32 sanctions placed by the army regime, on its own people, there will not be enough space. Any person with the right of mind will admit these sanctions are very harmful to the people of Burma. Obviously a average man would ask the democratic government of the world to do something. Yet it is very paradoxical that the UB group is against sanctions. Are they really Yu Thwa Be (insane)?

Supposing sanctions are not implied to the Burmese regime, do you think that the people will be better off? Will the Junta says oh even our archenemy the UB is against sanctions we might as well released their leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? The many ills of the country like flesh trade, environmental degradation, narco production and the likes will continue to stay, as even in democratic countries where market economy prevails. The Junta is the root cause of everything befalling in Burma and yet the nasty group want to prevent the sanctions on the Junta? Logic seems to be missing.

Categorized Sanctions

There are three types of Sanctions. The first one is the economic sanctions which the West has imposed on Burma so that the policy of the regime may change and be more civilized. It was essentially a ban on trade. It take the form of tariffs or similar measures, rather than bans on trade. Well known examples of economic sanctions include the United Nations sanctions against South Africa, United Nations sanctions against Iraq (1990-2003) and the United States embargo against Cuba (1961-present). South Africa is the typical case study for giving sanctions credibility, though that is a contentious claim itself. On May 13th 1998, the United States and Japan imposed economic sanctions on India, following its second round of nuclear testing. The economic sanctions crippled the Iraqi economy during Saddam and much of Iraq’s infrastructure ran into disrepair from lack of materials and Iraq's capacity for aggression was all but destroyed. The initial purpose of the sanctions, and of all diplomatic sanctions, was to force Iraq's hand in cooperation with the United Nations and possibly cause a change in its previously aggressive foreign policy and abuses of human rights.

The second one is the Diplomatic Sanctions which the US and EU have imposed on the Junta and its cronies. They are unable to travel to these countries and their offsprings are also prevented from studying in these unversities (however by hook or by crook thear are seinding their children and the Burmese Diaspora in the West should work more to prevent this).

The Third aspect is the military sanctions, which can range from carefully-targeted airborne assaults by bombers and military forces as Israel has done in Osirak in Iraq during Saddam`s days. A less aggressive form of military sanctions could be the 15 year embargo on sales of F-16 fighter/bomber aircraft by the United States to Pakistan which ran from 1990 to 2005 in response to Pakistan's development of nuclear weapons.

If we look back at the Sanctions imposed on the Junta, first the US ban the American investment in Burma and later ban all the imports from Burma especially made by child labour and forced labour. Then it follow up with the diplomatic sanctions of the top brass and its cronies while five states and 17 cities paassed the selective purchasing law. On the part of the European Union it withdraw the GSP benefits on Burma and ban imports of arms from Europe. Canada excluded Burma from the least Developed Country status and stop the market  access initiative and like Europe withdraw the GSP benefits. Australia responded by Selective Purchasing law passed by Marvickcille Council in Sydney and of course there was a global boycotts of Burmese groups initiated by Human rights Organization.

It seems that the international community has tried almost everything except the military sanctions and this can be done with the passing of the UN Security Council resolutions. Hence is is the bounden duty, of every patriotic Burmese to support the sanctions as it is the only means which the Junta will respect.

Mahar Ba Ma Oak Su

The Burmese Junta shudder at the thought that the pro democracy movement and the ethnic groups would unite and become a united front. Hence, they tried their level best to divide them. They knew the ethnic people well and indirectly encourage the extremist or the racist, so that these ethnic forces would fall into their trap e.g. if a person cannot speak a particular ethnic language even though he belongs to that ethnic group, he is consider as a Myanmar/Burman and some even went to the point of declaration of independence proving that the Junta theory of "Balkanization" was 100 percent, correct. In this way, the Junta got the support of the international community especially, the neighbouring countries of India, China and ASEAN. These neighbouring countries knew that the Junta is very bad and harbour a pugnacious name, in the international arena but at least it can keep the country together and according to the late Chao Tzang's words, " These countries have no choice but support the Junta because there is no viable alternative choice lest the ethnic cauldron would pour into their country". Clearly these past two decades, the racist leaders of the ethnic resistance have successfully prevented the international community from giving help to the ethnic freedom fighters. So if it were taken by the horns as according to logic, these racist leaders are indirectly helping the Junta.

The people of Burma knows that no ethnic group would think in terms of the whole country, they are all for their respective ethnic group themselves and in the late 88 much hope was pinned on the Students whose philosophy thinks in term of the whole country and cut across the ethnic barriers. But as of today the student body of 20,000 has been reduced to 200 for reasons which I loath to describe.  

Even though most of the infighting and quarrelling students were from the Burman group, there are intelligent ones who realize that the treatment of the ethnic group towards them harden their resolved on the Maha Bama mentality. They have witnessed that the major ethnic union could have easily given them the arms they needed, identifies with them and fought the common enemy. But it doesn't turn out that way. Hence most of them chose to leave for a third country where they organize into petty groups and become Internet warriors. Here they blare out at the Junta with the Maha Bama tune.

The Junta on the other hand, at that time under the direction Bo Khin Nyunt controls the OSS, the think tank that fed the top brass, exploited the situation to the full and was able to completely separate the Myanmar and the Non Myanmar group among the resistance. It has paid out handsomely, the latest declaration of the NCGUB is but one of their fruits. Thus Dr Tayza Thuraya in his Burma Digest wrote,

"Some start to analyze why in the past 18 long years NCGUB has got so little to show as their achievement. On the other hand, SPDC regime is accusing NCGUB as co-conspirators for the bomb-explosions in Rangoon and other cities in Burma. And there also is a reactionary group of businessmen and academics with links to the regime. This reactionary group is claiming that they will engage with military regime and persuade military generals to restore democracy in Burma. Although their claims are just as credible as that tigers could be coaxed to eat grass, their engagement idea coupled with Burma’s newly discovered off-shore gas reserves has got attention and interest from the European Union, and causing pain in the neck for mainstream Burmese pro-democracy institutions.

The problem became more compounded when the Maha Bama group, adopted the appeasement theory, and began to speak out in the international platform such as the Wilton Park Conference and many apologists both Myanmar and Farang e.g. as Robert Taylor, Derek Tonkin and the likes made their presence felt. It seems that the real pro democracy group that all along has supported Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and those moderate elements of the ethnic forces would be marginalized or rough ride over. However, slowly but surely the truth came out. When the funding foundation discovered, the so call Research Group instead of implementing academic research works was involved in politics it stop the funding. But the big gap between the resistance leaders (both ethnic and pro-democracy groups) and the Burmese intelligentsia in Diaspora cannot be closed.

Some Positive Suggestions

Uncle U Kyaw Thein, founder of the first Burma Human Rights Organization in the late 1980s (ask Kyaw Thi Ha now residing in Vancouver for authenticity) before going back to Burma wrote a letter "If we were to get democracy by befriending these kind of people, I would rather choose not take democracy and will be a slave under the military government." This explicitly means that the so call democracy fighters are hell of a lot notorious for their dishonesty and betrayal. My experience of 18 years identifying with the struggling lot has also convinced me that with the existing mentality, this generation as a whole (there are very few who are well dedicated) has little or no hope. This is partly due to the fact that they are brought up under the BSPP philosophy. In other words our mentality, and rationale is still not fit for democracy. I have pointed out many flaws and many a time and will keep on doing so as it is a historical duty. Hence I have taking the liberty to train and educate the younger generation and instil them with the true sprit of sharing caring, peaceful coexistence, democracy equality, liberty and most importantly fraternity (real federalism). But we need a bridge between the existing old hags and the young blood.

Now that the gregarious and pugnacious declaration of not supporting the sanctions is out, I really think that it is high time to call a spade a spade. Let the UB group go. After nearly two decades it has been discovered that they are more of a problem rather than a solution. I am not saying that they should all be put into the lunatic asylum (as their name signifies) but give them reasonable pensions enough to put their body and soul together in Washington DC and retired. The exiled Prime Minister has often said in private that he did not want to do this job but has been forced upon him by circumstances and now that his daughter has passed the exam let him lead a quiet life of none-nity, together with the members of other UB groups. This will prevent them from making funny announcement affecting not only the Burmese cause but also offending the donors. Every Burmese must stop its microphone diplomacy.

The ethnic leaders both the ceasefire and non ceasefire should also follow suit and live a peaceful life with their loved ones and sing the old melody of "Wine, Women and Song". In the age of globalization it is time to give the cudgel to the younger generation. Candidly, most of the elites in the resistance movement are unrepresentative and un elected and are exploiting the name of the revolution.

Instead we should choose a much younger person that is are in the good books of both the democracy movement and the ethnic resistance, who is at least in touch with all sides. Frankly I think that if the Director of EBO is more in touch with the Maha Bama groups of UB such absurd announcement should not have been released, His vision of the long term struggle, expertise in dealing with foreign dignitaries, lobbying for funds, soft spoken gentleman, his dream of the federal democratic republic and support from both the ethnic and some democracy leaders were clearly outlined in the Indian Press.

After nearly two decades, many a Burmese intelligentsia has come out to the forefront, these people should be recruited and entirely a new group that will steer our struggle in the right course should be formed. That group should represent both the pro democracy and the ethnic groups and must be able to solidify the two movements. We have to recollect that the military came into power (1962) because the ruling authorities cannot solve the ethnic problem and hence the democracy movement started. The crux of the problem is ethnicity. The current ENC should do something practical to call in the Burman group and not just sit there hoping that one day they should pop up. But the most important aspects is that they did not lift a finger for the overthrow of the Junta, it was the Burman group that are yelling in the international arena, whether it is right or wrong. The amalgamation of the ethnic nationalities must also educate their young ones of what the Federal constitution is (All Ethnic International Open University invited them to come and give lectures but they never responded positively) and cannot give the lame excuse of very busy (not that they are very busy doing nothing). Why coiled up in their own cocoon?

The new group who will be at the helm of the ethno-democratic aspirations must be dynamic, vigorous and their leader must be able to take the movement into the long- term solution of National Reconciliation and cannot be smeared as involved in terror tactics. Even, Hezbolla, that is a very systematic social, political and fighting forces surpassing all the Arab governments has been accused of terror organization is unable to solve the Herculean Middle Crisis, we need a person who is free from all these kind of accusations for the real Democratic Pyidaungsu. It will be very painful to implement all these as many heads will have to be rolled but once the pus is taken out then the healing process will come slowly but surely. If the so called democratic leaders are dignified human being who really loves democracy and want to liberate the country from the clutches of the Junta and the ethnic leaders really care for their own people in maintaining their culture, traditions, way of life and values as well as if they sincerely believe in genuine federalism, they should voluntarily and gracefully retired from their enhanced positions. If they are fighting against the dictators they must proved that they are not dictators themselves too, for in a dictatorial regime the change always take place with bloodshed and a military coup. Let us witness a peaceful transition for status quo cannot be continue if we want to move ahead and let actions speaks louder than words.


(The views expressed here are solely the opinion of the author. Kao-Wao Editor)


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