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Burma's Political Stalemate Appears to Move - 2001-12-21


The political stalemate in Burma appeared to be moving a bit closer to resolution as the United Nations intensified its mediation efforts between the military government and Burma's key democracy group.

At times, the long running talks between Burma's main democracy party and the military government of Burma appeared to be stuck in low gear.

U.N. special envoy for Burma, Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, had quietly encouraged the two sides to continue their delicate negotiations, sometimes directly between key leaders, at other times through intermediaries.

On one side - Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burma's independence leader and 1991 Nobel peace prize laureate. On the other, the State Peace and Development Council, which took power in a 1988 coup and refused to turn over power to civilians even after a 1990 election won by the NLD.

Key issues for the NLD: the release of all political prisoners, full freedom of movement for party members, and moving the talks beyond confidence building.

Among issues for Burma's military, preservation of Burma as a union, and assurances senior leaders would not face retribution as part of any transition to civilian rule.

Noted Burma watcher David Steinberg, the head of Asian studies at Georgetown University, describes what he says could be the key elements of a compromise: "A compromise which would essentially set aside the issue of the election of May, 1990 and try and move forward with some sort of agreed plan, which would give the opposition the freedom to operate as a real political party and at the same time assure that the military's goal of a united country under some sort of political arrangement would take place and that the military would protect its own interests," he says.

Mr. Steinberg says Burma's political history provides a precedent for a transition to civilian rule. A timetable, he adds, will be important: "A timetable which would say by [a certain] date we will do such and such, we will agree that the national convention will meet, with the NLD in attendance to consider the next stage in a constitution," he says. "That you would have a set of dates by which you could then gauge progress."

Thaung Tun is representative of the exile government at the United Nations. He speaks of room for compromise on the sensitive issue of the 1990 election result, and offers a reassurance to the military. "We have no objection to the role of the military in a democratic transition. So based on that concept, which has been agreed in the democracy movement, we can find some sort of creative means to acknowledge the results of the 1990 election without disrupting the national reconciliation process," he says.

At year's end, the U.N. General Assembly said it was cautiously encouraged by signs of progress, but urged the military to take urgent and concrete measures to ensure establishment of democracy. Here is how U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard summarized U.N. envoy Razali's latest visit to Rangoon: "Mr. Razali was pleased that all parties remain committed to the process of national reconciliation and democracy and he is hopeful that some significant progress could be achieved in the near future," he said.

In December, the military government, without mentioning specifics, said it is committed to creating, what it called, a functioning democracy. But there were new warnings of impatience from the NLD; any further delay, said Aung San Suu Kyi, could lead to undesirable negative effects.

Part of VOA's Year End Series for 2001

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