News / Asia

Observers Doubt Burmese Government's Overtures

Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein pose for photos before their meeting at the presidential office in Naypyitaw, August 19, 2011
Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein pose for photos before their meeting at the presidential office in Naypyitaw, August 19, 2011

Burma's normally defiant authorities have in recent weeks been welcoming their domestic and international critics for candid discussions. They have also slightly loosened their iron-clad grip on the media, leading observers to speculate on whether authorities could be softening their hard-line position. Analysts and rights activists have welcomed the moves but have dismissed suggestions that it represents any substantive change.

The United States special envoy for Burma, Derek Mitchell, is in the country this week meeting with representatives of the military-dominated government, the political opposition and activists.

Mitchell's visit is his first as U.S. special envoy and the latest in a series of meetings between authorities in Burma and their critics.

In August, Burma allowed the visit of United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana.

He has been spear-heading calls for a U.N. commission of inquiry for possible crimes against humanity and was previously denied requests to visit.

Burmese President Thein Sein also met with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent almost two decades under house arrest for challenging military rule and was just released last year.

Both leaders described the talks as friendly.

Will Thein Sein be a reformer?

Carl Thayer is a professor of politics at Australia's University of New South Wales. He says the diplomatic moves by Thein Sein's government have raised hopes that he might become a historic reformer like South Africa's apartheid-era president, Frederik Willem de Klerk.

"It shows the president in a new light. People are debating whether he's a puppet of Than Shwe, the military man behind the scenes, or whether he's the F.W. de Klerk who is going to usher in a new period. I think we shouldn't be too premature in seeing 'the opening' occurring but we can see positive trends and then speculate as to the reasons for them,"

In recent weeks, President Thein Sein called for peace talks with rebel groups, invited political exiles who fled persecution to return home, and set up the government’s first human rights commission.

Journalists were for the first time invited to observe legislative debates.

Burma's strict censors also allowed some positive media reports about Aung San Suu Kyi and toned-down regular propaganda condemning the BBC, VOA and other western media.

Are changes real?

However, political analysts and rights activists point out military leaders have taken similar actions in the past only to reverse course when it suits their purpose.

At least one dissident journalist who took Thein Sein’s offer and returned to the country was immediately detained and questioned at the airport.

And authorities punished a local journal that published Aung San Suu Kyi’s first interview in years with a domestic publication.

Benjamin Zawacki, a Burma researcher for Amnesty International, says any hints of reform in Burma should be greeted with skepticism.

"And so, we've seen this before, perhaps as a concession on the part of the government, perhaps as a means of deflecting international criticism. But, it has not ever translated into real progress on the ground in human rights," said Zawacki. "And, I think the real measure of whether or not these moves on the part of the government are real or simply strategic or simply window dressing will be determined by actual events on the ground.”

Zawacki notes more than 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars in Burma despite ongoing international pressure.

'Polishing international image'

He says authorities are polishing their international image in hopes of getting western economic sanctions lifted.

Burma also wants to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014. It was previously pressured out of its turn in the prestigious role so as not to embarrass the regional group.

Burma has for decades been dominated by the military and its fight against ethnic rebels seeking autonomy. The result has been tight controls on society and one of the world's worst human rights records.

'Military still in control'

Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based author on politics in Burma, says the military is still firmly in control. He say only internal disobedience will bring about real political change. Lintner points out that dissent within the ranks was crucial for bringing down former military governments in South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

"And I cannot see Burma changing in any other way," he said. "As long as the military remains united, and they are very united, there won't be any fundamental changes of the present power structure in the country. And, certainly, no steps toward real democracy."

Elections in 2010 brought Thein Sein to power but were widely condemned as a sham designed to cement harsh military rule in the guise of democracy.

Even before the vote, the military-drafted constitution gave it a quarter of all seats in parliament. And the polls were marred by fraud and intimidation.

The main opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, boycotted the election because of unfair rules that banned her from running for office.

The NLD won Burma’s previous election in 1990 by a landslide but the military refused to give up power.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs