Myanmar: Kosovo, East Timor And 9-9-99



In Myanmar where 9 is an auspicious number, the much-hyped deadline of 9-9-99 for a popular uprising has passed. Both the military regime and the opposition movement have claimed victory. The government announced the neutralization of the immediate threat through a series of pre-emptive strikes by security forces against above-ground dissidents and so-called UG (underground) elements, before they could arouse the masses.

On the other hand, the opposition staked their claim on the fact that they had managed to rattle the junta and forced it to take extraordinary security measures in anticipation of a mass uprising.

Though 9-9-99 passed without confirming the worst fears of the government and the best hopes of the opposition, past events in Kosovo amd now East Timor will continue to haunt the powers-that-be in Yangon. The military is likely to read wrongly the 'lessons' of these two cases that led to intervention by 'Western' powers.

During the Kosovo crisis, the New Light of Myanmar carried Belgrade's pronouncements fully and highlighted the death and destruction caused by NATO. The bombing of the Chinese Embassy elicited several essays supporting conspiracy theories about deliberate attack by the United States. Two of the authors of such commentaries are believed to be the Minister of Immigration and the Minister of Foreign Affairs (both former intelligence officers).

As for East Timor, it was stated that the people of Myanmar 'fully sympathize with our Indonesian brothers [read ABRI]'.

To Myanmar's military leaders, both cases indicate the West's malevolent intent to destroy the three 'main national causes', identified as 'non-disintegration of the Union, national solidarity, and perpetuation of national sovereignty'. They are obsessed by the apparent disintegration of central authority and humiliation suffered by Serbian and Indonesian leaders and their military counterparts. Their hardline approach is reinforced by such interpretations and the rhetoric of self-reliance, that has been resonating in the corridors of power in Yangon, is amplified as a result. In their eyes, the United Nations (UN) has been utterly discredited and the carrot offered by multilateral financial institutions appears to be more of a poison pill.

All these factors render the possibility of third party mediation by the UN extremely remote and will, in all probability, sink the Australian initiative for a Human Rights body. Meanwhile the opposition, which seems increasingly to be encountering a compassion-fatigue syndrome, will have to contend with increasing diversion of Western attention, sympathy, and resources to competing exigencies in the Balkans and East Timor.

WATCHPOINT: Developments elsewhere do not bode well for Myanmar's political future.


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