Support groups discuss for Democracy Dawn in Burma
“Burma today is a ghost of the dreams of its people. Far from advancing in step with the rest of the world, it has in fact, regressed to a point where people are dying from the abuses of an oppressive regime.” said the statement.
Manila, December 15: Leaders of civil society organizations, parliamentarians, members of the academe, media practitioners, Burmese democracy and ethnic activists coming from the ASEAN region, Australia, Europe, the United States and the Indian sub-continent participated at a three-day conference on Burma held in Manila in Philippines from December 13 to 15.
Titled as “Democracy Dawning”, the conference discussed the issues relating on the current situation in Burma and the solidarity activities in the region for the people of Burma to achieve democracy. In the press statement released today, the participants said that they expect to heighten awareness and focus more attention on the plight of the long-suffering Burmese people.
Titled as “Democracy Dawning”, the conference discussed the issues relating on the current situation in Burma and the solidarity activities in the region for the people of Burma to achieve democracy. In the press statement released today, the participants said that they expect to heighten awareness and focus more attention on the plight of the long-suffering Burmese people.
The participants also criticized the governments in the region for their current policies on Burma. “The nations around the region must intervene on the side of the Burmese people”. They have called on the Burmese military junta to immediately release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all the political prisoners and to make the on-going talks between the junta and the National League for Democracy transparent in order to transform it into a genuine dialogue.
“What we have seen in the past one year are the secret talks with Aung San Suu Kyi who is under house arrest. It is essentially secret talks between the military regime and its hostage”, said Debbie Stothard from Altsean-Burma based in Bangkok. She was speaking at the press conference held this morning at the Sulo Hotel in Manila.
“The Philippines has a good experience of democratization. We are trying to draw your experiences to get support for the people of Burma”, said Janelle Anne Saffin, Member of Parliament from Australia. “I think it is very clear that the democracy movements have to support each other. It will be very difficult for the Philippines to remain a proper democracy if it is isolated within the region. It is in the interest of the Philippino democratic movement to help and to work together with the other democratic movements in the region”, said Axel Queval from the Jean Jaures Foundation in France.
The conference, attended by total 29 participants, was jointly organized by Mizzima News Agency, Jean Jaures Foundation in France, and Demokraxxia from Philippines and Democratic Progressive Party from Taiwan. It was inaugurated on December 13 with the keynote address by Member of Parliament (Philippines) Teodoro L. Locsin. In his keynote address, Mr. Locsin stressed that the time for democracy in Burma had come.
Philippine Congress man Mr. Teodoro L. Locsin giving a Keynote address
BURMA: A FORGOTTEN LAND AT A CROSSROADSAfter his visit to Burma in January 2001, UN Special Envoy, Mr. Razali Ismail, surprised Burma watchers by exposing, for the first time, that secret talks between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the State Peace and Development Council (the SPDC) which had started in October, 2000. This news provided a ray of hope to those who witnessed the harsh repression against the National League for Democracy (NLD) since the beginning of 2000. Many NLD offices were forced to close down, NLD members were forced to resign or were subjected to intimidation, harassment and arrest. The NLD, the vanguard of the democracy movement, was nearly paralyzed. In September, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s attempt to travel up-country was obstructed by the military and later she was placed under house arrest and marginalized.
Though there has yet been an official announcement by the SPDC about the not-so-secret talks, its tactical change, especially in the field of international relations, has become more obvious in 2001. The visit of the UN Special Envoy was followed by the visit of newly appointed UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur, Mr Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the EU Troika, senior officials from the U.S. and UK, and the High Level Team of the International Labor Organization (ILO). An abrupt change from the position of “confrontation” to “engagement” affirmed the regime’s willingness to improve their image in the international arena.
Factors which may have coerced the SPDC to improve their image to the international community include the strengthening of the EU Common Position on Burma (in the wake of the deteriorating political and human rights situation), and the strong resolution of the ILO Conference which called for sanctions in response to the systematic and widespread practice of forced labor. The economic down turn since 1998 is a direct result of rampant corruption and mismanagement by the regime which could at any time provoke civil unrest. Other domestic factors which might have initiated the regime’s change in position are: the erosion of a centralized military command as the center can no longer provide the necessary logistical supplies to regional commands to accommodate an oversized army, and; uncertainty as to when or whether the National Convention will finalize a constitution following the NLD’s withdrawal from the process in 1995.
It is not the first time that the regime has initiated a change in perception. In Burmese history, the regime has changed when there was an economic crisis and its survival was at stake. During the economic crisis in 1974, the regime changed from the Revolutionary Council (purely a military body) into the semi-civilian Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) government. In 1988, when the BSPP was choked by the political and economic turmoil, it reinvented itself as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (the SLORC) which abandoned the socialist economy introducing a market-based economy and opened the country for foreign investment. However, it has only carried out half-hearted politico-economic reforms and the economic situation continues to deteriorate. Burma has never been able to escape from the vicious cycle of a superficial regime change, and the resulting failure of governance and poverty.
Taking account of the historical reinvention character of the regime, the direction of the ongoing secret talks between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the SPDC should be carefully monitored and all key players, domestic as well as international, should craft a strategy to create an atmosphere conducive for a substantive political dialogue leading towards a genuine transition to democracy.
After one year of secret talks, the military regime appears to be making half-hearted reforms with a minimum amount of compromise. No significant political agreement has resulted. The demands made by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for the release of political prisoners and the reopening of NLD offices - essential for confidence-building between the two parties - is being responded to very slowly. Out of approximately 1500 political prisoners only 200 political prisoners, including some MPs and senior members of the NLD, have been released. Significant political figures like U Win Tin (Central Executive Committee Member and strategist of the NLD), U Win Htein (Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal assistant) and Min Ko Naing (famous student leader of 1988 democratic uprising) remain in prison. To date, the NLD has been allowed to reopen only 25 offices in Rangoon Division and 11 offices in Mandalay Division out of around 350 offices nationwide. Despite being allowed to reopen, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma reported that, “unnecessary and discriminatory stringent restrictions continue to hamper the exercise of the party with regard to freedom of assembly, association, expression, information and movement.”
The general human rights situation in Burma has not improved during the talks. Unjust laws and orders that restrict fundamental freedoms and basic human rights of citizens remain intact. The regime continued hostilities in the areas of non-Burman ethnic nationalities. Burma remains as one of the thirteen pariah states, along with Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan, which has been under the scrutiny of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly and UN Commission on Human Rights. The recent session of the UN General Assembly deplored “the continued violations of human rights, particularly those directed against persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities and women in Burma.” The High Level Team of the ILO reported the ongoing systematic and widespread practice of forced labor and recommended the establishment of a long-term representation of ILO in Burma and the creation of an ombudsman.
The UN Secretary-General’s report to the 56th Session of the UN General Assembly, made the judgment that “the process is, however, still at the confidence-building stage and the present positive climate must lead to more positive results in the process towards national reconciliation and democracy. Much more needs to be done to make the process irreversible.” Given these considerations, the international community must be careful not to prematurely relax the existing pressure mechanisms before talks have reached the stage where they are irreversible and have developed into a process of genuine dialogue. The international community's strategy should be to support the talks by ensuring that no one gives ‘carrots’ without prior consultation. The timing of when to give a ‘carrot’ is critical. The international community should take further steps to advance and broaden the talks into a dialogue.
The Burmese democracy movement proposed the following set of criteria to measure the progress of the talks:
1. The talks cannot be deemed a "dialogue" until the following conditions are fulfilled:
The parties are able to talk as equals;
* The parties can select their own representatives;
* The parties have the same freedoms - of assembly, association, expression, movement, etc.
* The parties have the same access to media, information and resources;
* The talks deal with substantive political issues, and
* The parties make joint statements/declarations regarding the talks.
2. To facilitate the development of the talks into a ‘dialogue’ and to sustain the credibility of the whole process, the SPDC should schedule regular visits – monthly or bi-monthly – with the UN Special Envoy Mr. Razali Ismail.
3. Both the SPDC and Aung San Suu Kyi should enable the UN Special Envoy on his regular visits to report on the progress of the talks and hopefully the ‘dialogue’.
4. The ‘dialogue’ process must eventually include non-Burman ethnic participation in order to ensure a satisfactory political settlement and to avert a future constitutional crisis.
5. The ‘dialogue’ process must also include the non-ceasefire non-Burman ethnic groups.
Against the back drop of the talks, the majority of the key international players believe that these confidence-building contacts between the SPDC and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a small opening and the SPDC needs to do more to prove to the international community that they really are serious about national reconciliation and democratic transition in Burma. Some international actors have expressed that a 13-month period of confidence-building is long enough and it is time the SPDC comes up with a firm commitment in the form of a road-map for democratic transition, including a time frame within which steps mentioned in the road map have to be implemented. Otherwise these international actors will reconsider factoring in the talks between the SPDC and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when formulating their foreign policy approach toward Burma.
At its meeting on October 8, 2001 the EU Council of Foreign Ministers expressed its ‘cautious encouragement’ with regard to the talks and improved political climate in Burma. However, it recognized that these contacts and positive developments could only be the beginning of a wider and deeper process, which should lead to a transition to civilian democratic government. The Council decided to extend the common position of the European Union for a further six months until 29 April 2002, and maintain the existing pressure mechanisms. The Council specifically stressed its readiness to accompany the deepening of the reconciliation process with humanitarian assistance and offered a package which includes positive measures such as assistance of 5 Million Euros for HIV/AIDS projects in Burma.
At a meeting with the UN Special Envoy for Burma in March 2001, the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Power said, “Although we are encouraged by this ongoing dialogue and recent release of political prisoners, we are mindful that the Burmese regime continues to systematically violate the fundamental basic human rights of its citizens. We urge the Burmese regime to move forward in its dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s democratically elected representatives”. The U.S. Administration has sent senior officials to Burma four times since the beginning of the year to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and have been closely monitoring the progress of the talks. In compliance with Executive Order 13047 of May 20, 1997 – Prohibiting New Investment in Burma - President George W. Bush transmits a periodic report every 6 months on Burma and to date, U.S. sanctions on new investment in Burma has been maintained.
In contrast, Japan expressed enthusiasm in rewarding the SPDC generals. When Mr. Razali’s visit was delayed in June and the news came out that the talks had stalled, the Japanese government approved an aid package of 3.5 billion yen for the reconstruction of turbines in the Lawpita hydropower dam in Kayah State as "a gesture of support for the secret talks”. Dr. Sein Win, Prime Minister of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, said, ‘Japan’s assistance to the generals at this time is both premature and wrong. Any form of aid and relaxation of international pressure at this time can only do more harm than good to the fragile state of the talks in Burma’.
In order to assist the success of the national reconciliation and democratization process in Burma, it is of utmost importance that the international community should not be divided. When the unity of the international community was demonstrated in the aftermath of the UN-sponsored “Seoul Meeting on Burma” in March 2000, the “secret talks” became a reality. All international actors need to clearly show the SPDC that they support the comprehensive strategy for a compromise solution and will act in concert to promote the development of a ‘dialogue process’ in Burma, regardless of their ‘special interest’ or ‘special relationship’ with the SPDC.
It is expected that Mr. Razali advised the SPDC of the skepticism of the international community and its willingness to see the talks progress during his sixth visit to Rangoon from November 27 to December 3. A major reshuffle within the ranks of the SPDC occurred just before his visit and many analysts have interpreted it as an attempt to consolidate power in the hands of the top trio, Senior General Than Shwe, General Maung Aye and Lt. General Khin Nyunt. There has never been such an opportune moment for the top trio to take a major political reform step if they wish since there cannot be any significant resistance now within the Burmese army. Mr. Razali noted at the end of his visit that he ‘was pleased that all parties remain committed to the process of national reconciliation and democracy [and] is hopeful that some significant progress could be achieved in the near future’.
As UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur said in his report to the UN General Assembly, “nothing can help better Myanmar than the building of an all-inclusive, accountable and transparent democratic process, which would be able to preserve and consolidate peace, national reconciliation and national unity”. It is our genuine hope that the generals in Rangoon will not let this opportunity pass.
By Dr. Thaung Htun (The author is the representative for UN Affairs of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, the government-in-exile formed by the elected representatives of the 1990 general elections.).
 The EU Council of Foreign Ministers meeting strengthened the Common Position on Burma by adding three additional measures: (1) freezing the funds of certain persons related to important government functions in Burma (2) publicizing the list of SPDC leaders and officials under EU visa restrictions, and; (3) prohibiting the sale, supply and export to Burma of equipments which might be used for internal repression or terrorism. (Council Regulation EC, No.552/97 of 24 March, 1997.)
 On June 15, 2000, the 88th Session of the ILO adopted a resolution on Burma, which recommends governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations to review their relations with Burma to ensure that they cannot in any way be used to perpetuate the system of forced labor.
 The National Convention was initiated by the regime to draft a constitution after the 1990 general elections with the objective to legitimize the leading role of the military in the future political life of Burma.
 Statement by Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, 56th Session of the General Assembly, Third Committee, Item 119, New York, 9 November 2001
 “Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar”, resolution adopted at the 56th Session of UNGA, 30 November 2001.
 Report of the High-Level Team, ‘Developments concerning the question of the observance by the Government of Myanmar of the Forced Labor Convention, 1930 (No.29)’, GB. 282/4, 282nd Session of ILO Governing Body, Geneva, November 2001.
 Report of the Secretary-General, The Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, UN Doc. A/56/505, Agenda Item 119©, 56th Session of UN General Assembly, 24th October 2001.
 Burma/Myanmar Council Conclusions (General Affairs Council of EU), October 8, 2001.
 “Burma - Secretary’s Meeting With UN Special Envoy Razali” Press Statement of the U.S. State Department, March 1, 2001.
 “Text of the Letter from the President To the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate”, White House, November 21, 2001.
 “Japanese Reward for Generals premature”, Press Release issued by the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, 25 April 2001.
 “Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Encourages Development of Dialogue in Myanmar”, UN Press Release, UN Doc. SG/SM/8060, 3 December 2001.
 Statement by Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, 56th Session of the General Assembly, Third Committee, Item 119, New York, 9 November 2001.
Burma is a country situated in the Southeast Asia with an area of 676,551 square kilometers and the population of 50 millions. It is a country rich in human and natural resources with strong cultural heritage. It shares borders with Bangladesh and India in the west, China in the north and Thailand and Laos in the east. It has a 1,600 miles coastline at the Bay of Bengal and islands in the Andaman Sea. The people’s spiritual faiths also reflect the underlying diversity of history and culture, including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and varieties of animism.
Burma was once known as “Rice Bowl of Asia”, exporting both rice and oil. It held 80% of world’s teak reserves. The majority of the people, more than 75% work in agriculture.
It is a country where many indigenous people (more than 130 nationalities) are staying and speaking over one hundred languages. Each of these people belongs to one of three major racial groups: the Mon-Khmars, the Tibeto-Burmans and the Thai-Shans. The Chins, the Kachins, the Karens, the Mons, the Arakanese, the Shans, the Burmans are the major indigenous national races of Burma.
Burma was under the British colonial rule for more than one hundred years and Burma achieved its independence on 4th January 1948. From 1948 to 1962, Burma practiced a parliamentary democracy system under the premiership of U Nu. However, the newly democratic independent Burma was inherent with many political and economic problems from its history. As historian John F. Cady wrote, “the launching of the newly independent state of Burma was the preclude to the outbreak of a series of rebellions, which narrowly missed destroying the government of Premier U Nu within little more than a year”. With the political turmoil and lawlessness prevailing in the country, U Nu also failed to resurrect the country’s economy, which was devastated due to the Second World War. And at last, U Nu had to surrender the Army’s demand for state power in 1958 amidst the domestic instability as the military claimed that “the western parliamentary democracy as operated in Burma had brought the country to the very brink of disaster”.
Thus, Burma had an army rule as “caretaker government” under a democratic parliamentary system for two years. Although Burma returned to the democratic system in1960 after U Nu’s triumph in the elections, the Army which had already tasted the power staged a military coup on 2nd March 1962, overthrowing the democratically elected government and imposing an oppressive military rule.
The coup team, namely the Revolutionary Council, led by General Ne Win, abolished the constitution and suspended all the democratic rights. All the legislative, executive and judicial powers were vested on General Ne Win. The military used the gun to control the country according to their wishes, keeping a tight lid on political activity of opposition inside the country.
In 1974, the military regime transformed itself into a ruling political party, Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP). In fact, their guiding ideology was all-encompassing socialism meant for adjust with world political scenario prevailing by socialism at that time. Therefore, from 1974 to 1988, Burma was under the one party-dominated political system with so-called “Burmese Way to Socialism”. In this 14 years of socialist regime, Burma became one of the poorest countries of the world and in 1987 Burma was listed as a Least Developed Country (LDC) by the United Nations.
In 1988, due to the deteriorating economic situation of the country and oppressive rule of the one party rule, the people of Burma from all walks of life took on the streets, demonstrating against the government. On 8th August 1988 (8.8.88), the people of Burma from all strata of life participated in the nation-wide peoples’ movement. The peoples’ movement, which was mainly led by university students, demanded for political and economic changes in the country. The demonstrators demanded for abolishing of the present political system and for the restoration of democracy and human rights in the country.
However, the military responded the people’s desire with bullets and thousands of demonstrators, most of them were the students and youth, were killed on the streets of the country. The military headed by General Saw Maung took over power on 18th September 1988 by a coup and installed a military regime, namely State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Martial law was declared and various oppressive laws and orders were promulgated in the country. Thus, people’s movement for democracy was silenced by the repressive methods of the new military junta.
The students and youth who led the demonstrations became the target of the military government and most of the student leaders were arrested. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who emerged as the leader of the people’s democratic movement and founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD) was put under house arrest (from 1989 to 1995). Although the multi-party elections were allowed to be held in May 1990, the military regime did not hand over power to the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party, which won 392 seats of 485 parliamentary seats in the elections. Instead, more repressive methods were practiced to crack down the NLD party in particular and the democratic movement in general.
As Burma virtually turned into SLORC’s killing fields, many students and youth of Burma decided to leave the country and fight against the military junta from the border areas of the country. Many elected Members of Parliament who were able to escape from the arrest of military junta came over to the border areas of the country to join the students and youth in the fight against the government in Burma. These Members of Parliament grouped themselves and formed the government-in-exile, namely National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB).
After her release from house arrest in 1995, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi reactivated her party, National League for Democracy (NLD), which was virtually inactive due to the crack down of the government. She got the wholehearted support from the democratic forces both inside and outside the country. With this strong support, she leads the struggle for the restoration of democracy and human rights in Burma. The Nobel Committee awarded the 1991 Peace Prize to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in recognition of her personal courage and her commitment to democracy and non-violence.
In 1997, the junta changed their name into State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). During the last ten years, the military regime has stepped up its crack down on opposition political activists and members of National League for Democracy attempting to annihilate any political dissent in the country. According to Amnesty International, more than 1,000 political activists were sent to prisons in 1999 alone. Total 23 Members of Parliament are in exile, including five taking shelter in India. Despite facing severe repression, the NLD continues to be unwavering in its commitment to carry out its electoral mandate.
In September 1998, the 10-member Committee for Representing People’s Parliament (CRPP) was formed to work on behalf of the elected Members of Parliament. Since 1988, the international community at large has been putting political and economic pressure on the military rulers in Burma for democratic changes. The United Nations General Assembly, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the UN Human Rights Commission, the European Union, the International Labor Organization, among other international institutions and democratic countries throughout the world, have condemned the military junta and called for negotiations toward a peaceful democratic transition.
Press ReleaseTo: The News Editor
Re: Opening of Democracy Dawning
Burmese Confab in Manila Kicks Off
Leaders of Civil Society Organizations, parliamentarians, members of the Academe and Media practitioners coming form Asia, Australia, Europe, the United States started their three-day conference on the Role of Civil Society in Transition to Democracy in Burma.
The tone of the evnt, dubbed “Democracy Dawning” was set by Makati Representative Teodoro L. Locsin’s keynote address. In the paper he read, Mr. Locsin stressed that the time for Democracy in Burma had come. The aforementioned address was preceded by an emotional account on EDSA 2 of Kompil 2 lead convenor, Dan Songco.
The working sessions in the afternoon gravitated around a Burmese situation presented by veteran journalist U Thaung; Malaysian activist Debbie Stothard; Australian parliamentarian, Jenelle Anne Saffin; Shan leader Seng Suk.
Upon leaving the inaugural session, Mizzima News Agency Editor in Chief, Soe Myint, was quoted as saying that to his mind “Democracy Dawning was a turning point in the struggle for Democracy in his homeland in the same way that APCET was for the liberation struggle of the people of East Timor.”
Soe Myint, Chief Editor of Mizzima News
Shan leader Mr. Seng Suk
Media in BurmaBy U Thaung
Long ago the Burmese press was noted as "Asia's liveliest and most outspoken institute " by a western journalist. Throughout the Burmese struggles against British rule, all the political issues, movements, meetings, demonstrations, riots, rebellionsand even the revolutions were instigated, inspired, influenced and led by newspapers.
In 1948, when Burma was freed, 56 newspapers of many kinds leaped up, allbattling for development of democratic principles in the new republic. Inthe earlier time of independent Burma, the people were so united behind the party that brought freedom to them, that there was no large opposition crowd in the parliament. At that time, the " golden age " in the 1950s, the Burmese newspapers constructively played the role of " loyal opposition" to the government by sharply analyzing and questioning the official policies and activities. As the result of a loyal free press, Burma became a union, successful in economic, political and social fields.
After a decade of prosperous democratic rule, the press was silenced abruptly by the emergence of military rule in Burma. The 1958 caretaker military government led by General Ne Win shut down two newspapers and seized one of the presses, imprisoning the editors. A huge concentration camp was built on a small remote island in the sea far from mainland to lock up those who uttered the word "democracy" for the nation. Many journalists and writers were kept in the camp, incommunicado from their families on the mainland. Later when the general and his army pursued a socialistic economic system, the free press was shattered by the nationalization of all the private printing presses, locking up even more journalists. A most horrible gust wiped out the light of Burmese journalism when the current military rulers staged a coup, shooting and killing thousands of unarmed democracy demonstrators 1988.
In spite of continuous heavy pressure by the army, the Burmese journalists are not daunted and struggle hard for democratic rights for the people, fighting as the saviors of their nation.
Traditionally, the idea of freedom was born with the beginning of the craft of Burmese Lettering. Because the written word started with the new religion, Buddhism, that encourages learning the truth to reach enlightenment. Burmese writings started around 1100 A.D. Though the religion came from neighboring India and the Burmese mainland is next door to China, Burmese writing was unique and different in almost every aspect from the letters of the two giant nations next door.
The earliest Burmese writings were inscribed about various subjects on stones. Many were the teachings of the Lord Buddha, some were records of good deeds done by kings, queens and the rich, and several are about the religious buildings. Many of the letters imprinted on these stones are still well-preserved.
A king in 1157 declared in his stone inscription " I, the freed will liberate those enchained." Thus, under the influence of free tradition and a high literacy rate enjoyed by the Burmese people, the modern day soldiers could not totally wipe out the Burmese peoples' will of freedom. Of course they could imprison the whole nation, but the idea of freedom was kept alive by the people. Planning a perpetual rule, General Ne Win built a state owned newspaper system to cheat the people. To win loyalty of the journalists many were conscripted in the party, The Burma Socialist Program Party. In this setting a new way of writing nicknamed "Support and Object" bloomed in the state newspapers. It was quite easy and effective.
Almost all the writings started with how the writer genuinely believed the movement launched by the great leader and his party was absolutely right, and later, at the conclusion of the article the writers used to urge to modify those initial claims, altering some and revolutionize others. The general and his soldiers did not understand that their own newspapers were simply writing against them. No wonder the never-ending rule of the general fell in disgrace after 25 years.
The current rulers were more brutal and started destruction of free ideas systematically since they took power after a huge bloodbath. The rulers, initially named the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), and then changed to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), increased the penalties of press laws. But when they took action against a journalist, they did not use press laws, instead accusing him of nasty criminal acts, so that the victim could not defend himself for his writings. Physical torture to the imprisoned writers and journalists was common. As the previous military government they ban public ownership of newspapers. Though they tolerated some selected privileges to print magazines and journals privately, a strict censorship tightly controlled anything that had to be printed, even on a copy machine. Thus, in short they controlled the free flow of information inside Burma completely.
Nevertheless, the Burmese military government failed to be in command of news flow out of Burma to the foreign press. Only citizens are permitted to work as foreign correspondents and even though they can manage to organize a controlled foreign correspondent club, news flew out easily through embassies in Rangoon soon after they happened. For that reason rigorous censorship is again done for the incoming printed materials, so that the Burmese might not find any news the army wanted to cover.
The Burmese are fortunate enough to learn the blacked-out news easily from foreign radios. Inside news of Burma are instantly revealed in the radio broadcasting stations. The All India Radio (AIR), Voice of America (VOA) and British Broadcasting Service (BBC) are three radio stations that are reliable news sources for the Burmese. Then in the 1990s two new radio stations, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) of pro-democracy activists from Norway and Radio Free Asia (RFA) of the United States came out and the eyes and ears of Burmese people became totally enlightened. News as well as comments thrived to them instantly for their consideration and the generals are quite unhappy about this situation, Furthermore there are many Burmese publications published by overseas Burmese renegades sprouted out like mushrooms to the four corners of the earth. As a result of the tyrannical military rule, thousands of young Burmese fled from their native land and had to settle in many nations that kindly harbored them. Those deserters could not sit silenced in a foreign land and they worked for restoration of democracy in Burma forming numerous political groups and the first thing they usually attempt is publishing a newsletter. Today the Burmese democracy forces abroad had even established a news agency for the purpose and more than twenty news magazines and three full-length newspapers in Burmese are published outside Burma and are smuggled into the country. The ruling generals are very unhappy with the clandestine publication and they act ruthlessly to stop them.
AP: TWO MYANMAR NATIONALS GET 27 AND 12 YEARS FOR SMUGGLING FALSE PAPERSJune 5, 2000
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Two Myanmar nationals have been sentenced Lengthy prison terms for smuggling dozens of forged seaman's Passports into Myanmar, state newspapers reported Monday.
Tun Myat Thu, alias Naing Lin Hset, was arrested at his house in an eastern suburb of Yangon with fake passports and government seals. He was sentenced to 27 years by the Yangon East District Court on May 31.
He confessed he had bought the documents and seals from Kyaw Soe Aung, a member of the anti-government All Burma Students' Democratic Front in Bangkok to sell in Myanmar, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.
The truth behind this AP news is that the accused are not smugglers of passports, they are smugglers of Burmese democracy newspapers. Unfortunately, he was caught red-handed with 500 copies of New Era Journals, printed in Bangkok.
In spite of harsh suppression, the flow of democracy newspapers and other publications are still continuing because there are big demand in Burma, and because of these publications and foreign radio stations at the front of the battlefield of public opinion, the idea of democracy is successfully winning. And to add to the forces at the victorious public opinion front, a new organization has come out this year.
The Burmese Journalist Association and the Burma Reporters Associations were organizations of Burmese journalists formed at the time of independence of the nation. The Burma Writers Association was older, formed during the War under Japanese rule. Those three associations were very powerful once. Even during the democratic days, some malicious politicians, occasionally tried to introduce suppressive laws for the press, and when it came to the parliament, these organizations had easily fought back straightforwardly and succeeded.
Those powerful associations and all Burmese political organizations were banned by the Revolutionary Government with a decree proclaimed for the defense of national solidarity in March, 1964. Since then there is no decent journalistic organization in Burma. It is obvious Burmese journalists needed an organization.
On this concept, the Burma Media Association (BMA) was formed on the 1st of January, 2001. Nearly one hundred Burmese or Burma-related journalists, writers and broadcasters from across the world joined the front. Based in the United States of America, BMA have offices in Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, Norway and Thailand. It is interesting to note that eighteen ex-prisoners of conscience who were once jailed in media-unfriendly Burma are leading members of the organization.
In fact, the BMA is an alternate of the fallen BJA, BRA and BWA organizations and intend to move their headquarters to Rangoon as soon as Burma is freed from military rule. Although BMA is not allowed by the ruling military junta to function in Burma today, BMA membership includes some journalists and writers who are currently living in Burma.
Of course their names are kept secret since the Burmese military junta would put them in jail for simply being a BMA-members. The BMA members inside and outside of the nation are working hard for a democratic rule in Burma and as they themselves are fighters for freedom, it is certain that the Burmese journalists will be able to serve their new librated land successfully in the future. The most essential task for the Burmese journalists after the liberation is to rectify the political history of Burma that had been in the wrong because the generals tried hard to rewrite the facts during their long rule.
Soon after his downfall, General Ne Win said, " It's time to write the true history of Burma " and urged the learned historians to do the task. Accordingly a thesis appeared in the controlled press that the failure of military rule in Burma was not because of the military leaders, but because of government officials above the rank of branch clerks, that took the implementation duty." The policy laid dawn by the military leaders for the nation are correct," it claimed. People were not happy with this theory, but no one dared to defy the hypothesis. A young woman, Aung San Su Kyi, then not a full bloom politician yet, stood up and challenged. " Burma the rich nation has turned into a least developed nation," she said. "It is General Ne Win who is responsible. The sufferings of Burmese people must blamed on General Ne Win, the military leader" The next day she was thrown into prison for six years. When she was silenced, the army started rewriting history. They first re-edited the Burmese Encyclopedia, taking out all the right movements of civilian leaders like U Nu from the book. They painted a totally false picture that the army had fought the Japanese and the British for freedom of the nation.
In the yearly books of the Burmese Encyclopedia they printed their pictures, visiting factories as if these were the great events of the years. The latest move is the appointment of Mrs. Ne Win, once a history teacher at the Rangoon University, to lead the Asian nation's task of historical heritage They are doing anything they can to portray themselves and the army as Saviors of the nation.
The responsibility of the Burmese in the future is simple. It is just to correct the wrongs.