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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America


Nyo Ohn Myint is an ethnic Mon born in Rangoon . A former tutor at the Faculty of History, Rangoon University , he integrated with the opposition in 1988 in hopes of aiding in the replacement of 26 years of dictatorship with democracy. During the popular uprising in August of that year, Nyo met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and became her spokesperson. After the National League for Democracy (NLD) was formed in September, Nyo assumed duty as her political aid and bodyguard, NLD central youth leader and later, a central committee member. After the military intelligence made several attempts to capture him he went into exile in 1989, while remaining very active in the opposition movement. The following is a transcript of Maxmilian Wechsler’s recent interview with Nyo.

Please describe your present position and activities.

As head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National League for Democracy- Liberated Areas (NLD-LA) and a member of the National Council of the Union of Burma, responsible for the Foreign Affairs Department in Chiang Mai, I liaise with the ASEAN countries, China and India . I am also a consultant for the Burma Fund.

What are the roles of the NLD and the NLD-LA and the differences between them?

The NLD is not only a political party, it also represents the majority of Burmese citizens. After the May 27, 1990 multi-party general election, when the regime refused to transfer power to the NLD, we formed the NLD-LA. We believed that our organization could deliver the political messages to all ethnic groups for future national reconciliation, unity and understanding and also advocate (democracy in Burma ) to the international community.

How much support do both organizations receive from the people of Burma

The NLD received 82% of parliamentary seats in the 1990 elections. It was a landslide victory that meant the Burmese people said no to the military and yes to the democracy. As for the NLD-LA, it is difficult to say how many people support us, but I am sure there are many because they can judge what we achieve for the whole movement.

What is your view on the imposition of economic sanctions by the international community on Burma ? Does it hurt the government or is it the ordinary citizens who suffer?

In my view, more international pressure should be put against the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Since 1988 the regime has faced the international pressure, including economic sanctions, mostly from the western countries. But it would be more effective with regional participation. The sanctions harms the SPDC more than the people because they create a huge impact within the regime and are currently causing quarrels among the generals. The people have nothing more to lose from the regime’s mismanagement, corruption and wrong economic policies.

Despite pressure by the international community to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the SPDC remains defiant. How long this will continue?

The detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is no more than a part of the SPDC’s political tactics to keep her as a hostage. The international community must review their policies on Burma , as lip services alone won’t set her free! Their pressure alone wont stop the regime’s abusive nature. There should be more political coordination between them and two regional giants: China and India , plus Thailand and the rest of the ASEAN countries.

In June 2003, you have openly criticized the stance of some ASEAN countries on the detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Have there been any changes since then?

The ASEAN interest is mainly on economics. They do not want to disturb the SPDC politically as they want to show the grouping’s unity to the world. But they have now realized that the political crisis in Burma is not only internal but is also a regional issue.

What should be the role of China in regard to Burma ?

We have always considered that China should be neutral with Burma . I understand China ’s concerns about involvement of a third party, but our democratic movement won’t be directed against the Chinese. We will work and live peacefully with them. Ive always said that democratic Burma could provide more security for the region than the SPDC.

Have you observed any change in policies after the removal of General Khin Nyunt from all government positions?

The SPDC now plays a dangerous game with China and India . The state visit by Senior General Than Shwe to India last November intended to show that his regime could work with anyone. Deposed General Khin Nyunt was a man who could maintain the goodwill of regional countries more effectively than current SPDC generals.

Do you have any information on Khin Nyunt’s present situation? Will the SPDC put him on trial? What happened to his family?

I don’t know about his whereabouts and his status. But his removal from power increased the current power struggle within the SPDC, which can be described as the biggest split in the Burmese military history. He could face the bribery charges with which Burma s rulers usually charge their opponents. I am sorry for his family on humanitarian grounds, but he should also realize, in turn, how many families he made to suffer! I would like to ask him: How do you feel?

How many political prisoners has the SPDC actually released from jails?

As far as I know, less than 100 political detainees were freed, out of about almost 20,000. All of them must be released unconditionally, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi!

What are the actual objectives and effectiveness of the democratic forces inside and outside of Burma ?

It is a very simple answer; our main objective is to provide a better life, security and basic human rights for our people. They badly need a new political system that can provide them freedom. During our struggle for democracy, we all agree that the ethnic rights and other basic principles of equality are the keys to a peaceful future. We still have many challenges ahead and a long way to go to achieve our goals.  

Is the financial aid from foreign donors to the exiles sufficient? Has it been spent properly or just wasted? 

The financial aid to the democratic movement is not sufficient at all. Donors appear currently to be interested in the post-regime transitional period than in focusing on capacity building. Many donors feel that democratic movement could be a prolonged struggle, so they look to Burma ’s needs for humanitarian assistance regardless of any political considerations. A few programs are also just wasteful donor-driven projects because they focus on non-priority issues.

How do you see the role of the NCGUB? Are you satisfied with its leadership as representative of the world-wide opposition movement?

The NCGUB should focus only on the political issues and I would like to see them be more effective and efficient. Today, the opposition movement is not just a survival issue, and you have to prove that you can lead the movement. We can’t wait or think that the generals will change their mind and provide us with a democracy instantly. This is just a wishful thinking!


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