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Online Commentary
We Cannot Afford to Rest On Our Laurels
Kanbawza Win

The die is caste. The appeasement policy under the smokescreen of Constructive Engagement has been made bare by taking the chairmanship from the pugnacious Junta and the hypocrisy of the ASEAN leaders has been put to shame in the international arena. The punitive actions had made one step forward. Even as we observed Martyr's Day we recollect what our beloved Bogyoke Aung San has said to the British colonialist, "We are requesting independence peacefully in a gentle way if there is no choice, we will be forced to use other means" and now we have use the other means. Burma at that time, was lucky as the British were gentleman and see the writings on the wall relented to the demand but the Generals are rogues this other means is the only way. After one and half decades of persuasion, appeasement or rather the constructive engagement policy is no avail and now we have successfully and correctly used the punitive means. We have won a major battle in the diplomatic field against the ASEAN values of Constructive Engagement but the war is not yet won, there are many battles yet. Rest assured we could not rest on our laurels but will have to follow it up with more hard work, sweat, patience, understanding and most of all with Cetena (love).


ASEAN is first and foremost an economic grouping, which does not normally concern itself with democracy or human rights not to mention federalism. Most of the Indochina countries are alien to democracy and even the peninsular countries like Singapore and Malaysia are one party dictatorship and could hardly be called a democracy but in name. It is to be remembered that the Burmese generals also have a strong sense of their own dignity, and obviously the Generals are very worried that caving in to pressure and is seen by the Burmese people as a sign of weakness. Giving up the chairmanship has brought home the bare truth that after all these one and half decades the generals have been lying to the people. The chronic economic conditions will eventually provoke the people of Burma to take drastic actions. They have done this in 1988 to protest against the economic mismanagement and political oppression when U Ne Win declared Burma as the LDC (Least Developed Country) status in the world. The Burmese people's pride was hurt and brought the people to the streets and even though violently repressed, paved the way for the 1990 election. So also the giving up of the chairmanship will have serious ramifications and can be the beginning of people's power. 

The US and European Union had demanded that Burma either move toward democracy and release pro-democracy campaigner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or forfeit its turn at the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN and Burma has chosen the former meaning that they are afraid of this frail women, if compared to the 10 nation grouping.  This decision, even though, it will ease diplomatic friction with the West, the ASEAN countries are bound to support the Junta, as a way of showing their gratitude for strengthening the grouping internationally. However, U Nyan Win, the Burmese Foreign Minister, refusing to see the UN special envoy Razali Ismail, who had specifically flown in to Vientiane, just see him, indicates that the Junta does not care for national reconciliation or arbitration by the UN or other international bodies and is bent on its thuggish ways. Razali Ismail, had traveled to Rangoon more than a dozen time to push for national reconciliation and the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, himself has indicated that he is willing to travel to Rangoon proves, that it is high time to put Burma in the UN Security Council and take drastic action. This breach of protocol where Razali Ismail has never been denied such meetings at international conferences also proves beyond doubt that the Junta cannot be deal in a civilized ways and only forcible punitive actions remain.

The Burmese question has directly challenge the very core of ASEAN values of non-confrontational style that has been an existential exercise, underscoring questions about its declining importance and its long-accepted practices. The threat of boycotting by Western countries at the multilateral meetings led by Burma, tainting the entire association with that country's pariah status has given its sting. The entire people of Burma will now pour their gracious and heartfelt thanks to the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice whose decision of not attending this ASEAN meeting has driven home the message. In discarding the democratic values of the people and concentrating only on the economic aspects, the ASEAN has miserably failed in its hope of becoming a unified counterweight to China. Instead it is being insulted and is used by the Burmese generals that have conceded nothing of substance. This fact was known to the pro democracy Burmese for a long time and it is lamentable that the ASEAN understands it only one and a half decade later. Now it is left for them whether they will ever turn to the coalition of pro democracy and ethnic groups? If they are still bent on the trial and error method we are quite positive that more divisions between the democratic and undemocratic countries of the region lies ahead and the Junta will continue to haunt them perpetually. Will this damage control act of forcibly taking the chairmanship of the ASEAN work without follow up is still to be seen? 

The ASEAN value of engaging the military regime is better than to ostracize it has gone to the grave even though the never-ending debate over whether the generals respond better to carrots or to sticks will go on. But giving up the chairmanship we could not imagines that the generals will behave much better and undergo a sudden conversion to democracy. Indeed, the junta looks more entrenched than ever and its internal and external critics do not seem to be making any headway while the life of ordinary Burmese is becoming ever more miserable. But the junta has been working assiduously since then to prevent any repetition of 1988. The authorities have clamped down particularly and ferociously on every one else. Nonetheless, there are some signs of unrest. In May, three big bombs exploded in the capital of Rangoon. The purge of the Military Intelligence have damaged the regime's spy network, and have a power struggle among the generals has started. The worsening living conditions, increasing government paranoia and growing popular resentment will simply breed greater violence. How do we take advantage of this will be the crucial aspect for the success of our noble cause? The Burmese intelligentsia seems to have the answer.

In Retrospect

After one and half decades of boisterously promulgating our esoteric cogitation and in articulating our superficial sentimentalities, psychological or philosophical observations, it is time for the self appointed Burmese Diaspora groups both in the peripherals and in the West to realize that they need some sort of central authority that would direct or at least show them of where they are heading? What I am thinking out aloud is, will there be a time when all the UB groups (claim to encompass all the pro democracy groups) the EN groups (claims to represent both the ceasefire such as the formidable Wa and non-ceasefire groups such as the Shan and KNU) and the LA groups (such as the NLD and the different strata of Burman groups in Diaspora groups based in the West) would ever agreed on a united front and present an alternative to the international community other than the military Junta? This will at least give the international community food for thought to help us in the final liberation of the country. I hope and pray that my wishful thinking would come true one day.

Scrutinizing as it is now, the resistance forces philosophy seems to have borrow from the Burmese army "We alone can do it". But this was shattered by a series of events e.g. the UB groups (NCUB and NCGUB) was tested when Tiger and Khun Hom declared an independent Shan government. If we don't recognized this Shan declaration why should we recognized the UB groups when NLD led by Daw Suu itself issued a statement on April 19, 2005, saying that they do not recognize any of the parallel government. The NCGUB, which is a provisional parallel government itself, is an un-elected unrepresentative one. So the hypothesis goes if we were to follow Daw Suu lead we might as well did not recognize theses UB group.

So also the EN groups composing of ENSCC and EN whose aim is to have a tripartite dialogue have little or nothing to show off their achievement. They are unable and unwilling to organize the ethnic intelligentsia or the youths and adopted the same attitude of working within their own circle. Knowing full well that if the ethnic nationalities did not throw their lot with the Myanmar/Burman democracy movement, the Junta may make a short work of these Myanmar groups and yet they did not widen their circle or do nothing except the media outlet.

The LA groups, seem to have adopted "the monarch of all they survey" attitude have little or no coordination among themselves and is very doubtful whether their contact with those of inside Burma have a meaningful strategy. Even if it is so no one knows of what they are really doing as like their counterparts in the other group cannot really shows any tangible result. The standard joke that if we put two Burmese in a cell, they will form three political parties seems to be still true today just by looking at their actions. It is human that every body aspire to be Bo Teza (General Aung San) but ended up as Bo Shu Maung (Bo Ne Win). Okay if that is the case am I criticizing every one else except myself?

The crux of the argument is that since we have agree on the strategy of punitive actions (morally back by the West) what in Burmese we say Maha Byu Har we still to agree on the implementation i.e. Nee Byu Har. The mandate of the UB groups is to lobby for the Burmese cause with the heads of states and governments and no doubt they have started doing something with the West but so far have not seen them speaking to the Chinese, Indian or Russian and have little or nothing to show off their achievement in all these one and half decades. If they did not change their mindset and attitude their incompetence will go on forever, as long as they are closed to sound advice from the intelligentsia. They seem to be like the living dead and to give smart ideas to them will tantamount to flogging a dead horse.

The EN mandate is to work for a tripartite dialogue, yet it action seems to be in the doldrums, as they tend to look their colleagues not with the eyes but with their nose meaning that outside people are not worth their salt. Of course the dotage members are unable to change their mindset and it seems that the incompetence of the UB groups is well matched by the incoherence of the EN groups. If the EN group's goal is a tripartite dialogue supported by the UN, has they appoint their spokesman at the UN? They knew very well that the so call Burma representative at the UN will not lift a finger to help them in the ethnic cause being himself a Burman and yet the EN group did not do anything. Are they able to form their subcommittees? Or do they ever expel the erring members? What sort of democracy and federalism are we painting to the international community who are now scrutinizing every step of EN move when UB groups is impotent?

The LA group should undertake a leading role in contact the political parties, e.g. the Chinese Communist Party, India Congress 1 Party, etc and could not be confined to Western countries only, even though they chose to reside in the nice West. At the same time they must make sure that they contact the opposition parties of the respective countries for who knows it may became the government in the next election. The three pronged approach as Government to Government handle by the UB group, Party to Party by the LA group and of course peoples to peoples by the EN group and Diaspora groups, while at the same time must be able to synchronize all their moves e.g. if the UB group is going to meet the government of a particular country must synchronize with the existing and the sympathetic NGOs of that particular country e.g. talking with the Labour Government of Britain, need to synchronize with the existing prominent Diaspora community in Britain like Sayar AK, KZT, Burma Campaign UK etc. Do they ever care to do this kind of coordination? Or do they still adhere that we alone can do it?

Empirical Solution

What I am painting is that we must be pragmatic and practical. We desperately needs a central committee that will coordinate and cooperate with all sections not only the with these existing three groups but also of the media and the internet warriors who are fighting relentlessly with their pen and of course the grassroots inside and outside the country including the peripherals who are bearing the brunt of the Junta's offensive. At the same time we need to educate those of what is really happening and of our visions and the practical steps to achieve that goal. But the most crucial aspect is that we have to study and learnt valuable lessons in the course of our struggle and must be more broad-minded cooperating and coexisting with each other. One of our weak points is that we are unable to control our emotions and blasted out our esoteric cogitations unwittingly hurting our compatriots and the resultant is that instead of fighting the common enemy began to fight with each other and the goal is lost.

To give a more concrete example is the split in the ABSDF (where the people of Burma pinned much hope) ended more than ninety percent of their leaders landing in the West. The final conclusion is that the people did not trust them any more even if there are   individual leaders who tried to pick up the pieces together by forming groups of their choice. How can the people put their trust in them when these very leaders have reduced the 20,000 strong student worriers to a mere 200? So also almost every ethnic group has divided blaming each other but themselves and lamentably some of the divided groups join with the Junta reinforcing its argument that he alone can put the country together. The regime, an expert in the "Divide and Rule" policy will be always on the prowl to further divide us again either on racial, religious or geographical grounds.

In times like these when the Junta has suffered humiliations both at home and abroad, when it if is bereft of its intelligence group ending up with a palace coup, suffered humiliation at international gathering including ASEAN and the military have publicly acknowledged corruption, economic problems, disunity within the army and is at a loss of what to do, we could easily take the initiative and strike provided we are united and have a central authority to make a coup de grâce. It is high time to open up the minds of the so call leaders and be more pragmatic. They must throw off their fealty to the extremist and adopted a broad vision to incorporate the intellectuals and the intelligentsia. In other words they should endeavor to be born again leaders to lead the people in this sophisticated world and implement things expeditiously, so that the future generations of the people of Burma can live in harmony and history may not blame them for their incompetence and incoherence.

Forcing the regime to give up its chairmanship is not only a slap on the Junta's face but also to the ASEAN members that have carried out their illogical constructive engagement policy all these one and half decades. But their remedy came a little too late and too little, as it will not prevent the US Secretary from coming to Vientiane or to change the US policy whose sanctions will be more biting as President Bush sign it. Now is the time for us to follow it up by this practical step of reorganizing ourselves. We can start simply by taking some representative from each group and the majority of its members must be from the active intelligentsia in Diaspora especially those who discipline is in Contemporary History, Political Science, International Relations and Incremental and Development Studies. It is true that the current leaders are able to grasp the situation as it is now but when it come to visions, options, hypothesis and the relevant background, including the steps to follow up, they lack miserably behind. We have so much of this Burmese intelligentsia especially in England, Australia, US, Canada and Nordic counties. We will have to approach them to be our consultant and after some careful choice should form the academic, activist, action (AAA) that will collectively guide, advice and warned these three leading groups. This group cannot afford to repeat the mistake like the TAN group that stays in the ivory tower and lost touch with the grass roots. These chosen activist academics must travel at least once or twice to the peripherals of Burma and see things by themselves and action should be taken whenever and wherever necessary. In other words they must be like a fish in the water and must be able to identify with the struggling lot.  This group must be able to marshal the Internet warriors and trained the moderator to differentiate ideas from personal attack. Coordinate with the Burma Media Association not only to include all the leading electronic and printed media but also to implement the theme of democracy, human rights and self-determination. Encourage setting up a Burma Round Table Conference in each major cities of the world.

They must be also in a position to draw up a foreign policy that will be compatible and support the domestic policy and our goal. If we are aiming for democracy, human rights and genuine federalism, what options do we have in deciphering the Foreign Policy? Greater say should be also highlighted in the economic policy when thousands of migrant workers are coming out of the country. What kind of economic policy and help do we plan for these migrant workers? If the NGOs are helping them how do we permeates our policy via these NGOs? For the moment we have the advantage of moral ground and how do we optimize for it. Also among the alternative, what is the best alternative taking into consideration of our Diaspora groups spread to every nook and corner of the world. However, the bulk is in the peripherals, how do we relate the two. Soon our Western border will be exposed to the Indian influence and both the ethnics and democracy fighter will have to bear the crunch, what will we do to counter it and most importantly how do we play off the two giant neighbours. It is here that historical facts, theories and experience of the intellectual came in. We cannot afford our cause to be like the ASEAN countries that take on the "trial and error method" without any knowledge of the Junta's psyche and rationale.

But most importantly to guide the three main groups especially the UB group and take effective measure on erring members and stop the infighting between themselves, it will have to compel the NCUB from forming another parallel government. No doubt the Burma group is the most boisterous group and must curtail them. If we endeavour to form the Central Committee and if the UB groups refused to cooperate (I am quite positive that the EN group and the intelligentsia will respond favourably) then it is high time for the EN groups to take the initiative and leave behind the boisterous Burman groups, who all think themselves to be little Bogyoke Aung San. Lamentably, this will be also the embryo of forming the Union without the Myanmar.

Some obstinate ethnic groups will have to be educated and convinced them that it is far better to be united than to fight it all alone, in other words the extremist must be rooted out. Verbally these ethnic nationalities may say that they are for unity but their action show it otherwise e.g. they refuse to let their children study Burmese language and would not be in a position to communicate with other ethnic nationals which explicitly means that they don't want to have unity with other ethnic nationalities but bent on the theory of "we alone can do it". The Shan declaration of independence is another classic example, we Shan want to be independent what in Burmese say Ta Go Gaung (saving its own skin) and let the fate of the other ethnic groups like the Mon, Karen, Chin, Arakanese etc suffer the consequences in the hands of the Burmese Junta. The unitary declaration of independence also reflects very badly on the EN groups which clearly paints the picture that they are not in contact not to mention all ethnic groups. These are just some of the challenges.

At the same time we should indicate to the international community especially to foreign governments as what sort of approach should they take. As the "Economics" has pointed out that most countries, whatever their attitude toward the regime seems to treat Burma as a backwater rather than a pressing strategic concern. They seem to have forgotten that Burma is the world's second-largest producer of heroin. The greatest exporter of HIV/AIDS, refugees and other squeamishness to its neighbors. Its many rebellions are spilling into Thailand, India and Bangladesh. It hosts China's only military base on the Indian Ocean, and so plays a crucial part in the growing rivalry between Asia's two rising powers. It has big reserves of natural gas, which it already sells to Thailand and plans to construct a major pipeline to China.

We must show to the international community that the world needs to recognize that there is little hope of influencing the regime unless a more coherent policy can be found. The Western countries should try harder to persuade their allies in Asia that a better-run Myanmar is in everyone's interests. The United Nations should also play a more active part. At the moment, it is reduced to begging the regime to admit its special envoy, which is supposed to be “facilitating” a non-existent dialogue between the generals and the NLD opposition movement. Just as ASEAN should not hesitate to punish the generals, the rest of the world should not shrink away in negotiating with the regime. The benchmark policy would do the trick to spell out exactly what steps outsiders would like the generals to take, how quickly they should be taken, and what the consequences of each stage of compliance or defiance would be. For example, it might agree to restore full diplomatic relations if the Junta released Daw Suu. A drop in sanctions, should the Junta came up with some sort of a power-sharing deal with its opponents.         

Fox in Sheepskin

Time and action has prove beyond doubt that punitive strategy has been working slowly but surely, however we must not led our guards down against the proponents of Constructive Engagement especially those who are against Sanctions and America. Great care must be taken the home grown theoretician who always endeavour to soft pedal anything that is level against the Junta e.g. in the use of chemical weapons, Amnesty International report etc have their own hidden agenda. Even though these people may have discarded the Burmese value such as "Ta Loke Sar Bu Thu Kye Zu" meaning one should be thankful even if he had a morsel, will be finding ways and means to off balance our strategy.  Of course he will be back up by farang whom we jokingly label "Hta Mein Nar Kho Sar Dae Lu" meaning living on the dole out of the women's skirt (and yet at one time claims to be Extra Ordinary Plenipotentiary from the Court of St James) against this punitive actions. Great care should be taken, especially at a time when we were showing our solidarity with the British people, in face of terrorist attack these people are backing up a terrorist regime under the pretext of helping our noble cause. But we must also be magnanimous, they have got the right to say and write according to the dictates of their whims or their fancies may please. Only you have to read between the lines. I was surprised when one of the leading ethnic leader send letter to news agencies that because I am using the term as UB, ENs, LA which he consider to be untouchable, and that my article should not published. Such kind of jealously, backbiting and outshining each other should be left behind.

All these years suffering, persecution and hardship have invaded our lives and now with the success of the downfall of the Constructive Engagement a little breathing space has been granted. We knew that each pearl is formed by an oyster's internal response to a wound caused by an irritant, such as a grain of sand. Resources for repair rush to the injured area and the final result is a lustrous pearl. Something beautiful is created that would have been impossible without the wound. We have accepted every adversity enduring every pain, now it is time to learn what we should know and our grief will turn to gain.

So also without the appeasement policy such as this Constructive Engagement we will be taking easy and not united. Now let us be precious pearl. We should be fruitful in the place of our affliction and stay united and dedicated to our noble cause. For the success of our cause, let me take some lines from Mother Theresa 

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred.

Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish motives.

Do good anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable.

Be honest and transparent anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

People who really want help may attack you if you help them.

Help them anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.

Give the world your best anyway.


The views express here are solely the opinion of the author. (Kaowao's Editor)


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