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Democracy Activists Want to Bring Down Government, Claims Burma's Military - 2003-07-11

Burma's military government says United Nations efforts to foster political reforms in the country are not working because democracy activists want to bring down the government. The government says the armed forces must continue to play a role in leading the country.

A government newspaper says Burma has not seen political reconciliation because democracy activists, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, have the "misconception that only when an authoritarian system has been eliminated can democracy prevail." The article takes a swipe at the United Nations and its envoy Razali Ismail, who has been trying to mediate talks between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi. The paper says that because the opposition wants to end the current government, no matter how many U.N. envoys come to Burma to discuss peace and reconciliation, "these goals still remain far away beyond reach." Mr. Razali brokered talks between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2000 that led to her release from house arrest and the start of a political dialogue that has now collapsed. Aung San Suu Kyi is now back in detention; she was arrested in late May after her supporters clashed with a pro-government group. Most other leaders of her National League for Democracy also have been arrested, and the NLD's offices have been closed.

Friday's newspaper report says the delay in reforms is the result of the opposition's desire to "bring down the present government in a show of force."

The military has ruled Burma for more than four decades. In 1990, the NLD overwhelmingly won a national election, but the military never allowed it to take power. Instead, it imprisoned most of its leaders and confined Aung San Suu Kyi to her home for most of the past 13 years.

The government recently mounted a media campaign against Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters, in part because many Western governments have said they will tighten economic sanctions against Burma unless she is freed. The editor of the online Burmese paper Irawaddy, Aung Zaw, says the government is trying to blame the democracy leader for the country's problems.

"They step up the diplomatic offensive, trying to discredit Aung San Suu Kyi, and showing that there were meetings and they had met her secretly and that they were sincere in restoring democracy and to answer a political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi," he said. Aung Zaw says he hopes the effort shows the government is desperate, particularly because even its neighbors have been critical of its crackdown on the opposition. In an unprecedented move last month, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, called on Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters.