FOR DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT IN BURMA
By Lian H. Sakhong
"Dialogue" in popular usage simply means "conversation
or talk". The original Greek word for "dialogue" meant "a form of
literally _expression in the form of a conversion between two or more
people". In Greek culture, dialogue was usually expressed in a "literary
or philosophical work, written in the form of conversation". One of such
examples is the "Platonic Dialogue" which revealed the "antiquity, dignity
and seriousness of the term dialogue and what it implied." In fact, the
word dialogue was one of the fundamental terms at the root of Greco-Roman
world, Judeo-Christian traditions and Western cultures. Sakowicz,
therefore, claims, "at the start of civilization there was conversation,
and there was dialogue"
In today's world, the concept of dialogue is no longer
contained within Western civilization; it has become a global phenomenon
within the civilization of humanity, a civilization without any boundaries
between East and West, North and South. Dialogue challenged "religions and
cultures to come out of security of their yards" in order to overcome
distrust and to attain liberation from fear. It has challenged all kind of
political doctrines which built "walls of prejudice" and created a culture
of "monologue". The task of dialogue in such context is to "oppose any
form of injustice" imposed upon society by dictators. In a democratic open
society, on the other hand, dialogue between political powers is necessary
for the normal functioning of a nation, since it keeps government from
abusing its powers.
As Pope John Paul II teaches us, "society cannot give
its citizens happiness which they expected from it, unless it is based on
dialogue." Dialogue also enables one to understand the past as well as
the future marked by a spirit of openness, and the "fruit of dialogue
always is reconciliation between people."
Dialogue in Burmese Political Context
In a new Burmese political culture, the term "dialogue"
becomes the key word to express the nature of the democracy movement and
the meaning of the freedom struggle, especially after 1994 when the United
Nations General Assembly passed a resolution, which called for a
"Tripartite Dialogue" in Burmese political context
means a negotiation amongst three parties: the military government known
as "State Peace and Development Council" (SPDC), the 1990 election winning
party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and ethnic nationalities,
the founding nations or national groups of the Union.
The essence of tripartite dialogue is "inclusiveness"
and "recognition" which, in concepts, includes all the major political
stakeholders, or conflict parties in Burma: military junta, democratic
forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic nationalities. Moreover,
the UN's tripartite dialogue resolution recognizes the 1990 election
results which have been denied by the military government for 14 years,
and recognizes the indispensable participation of ethnic nationalities in
the political transition and national reconciliation process in Burma.
The UN resolution also acknowledges the very nature of
political crisis in Burma which, in conceptually speaking, is a
"constitutional problem" rather than solely an ideological confrontation
between democracy and military rule or totalitarianism. It is not a
"minority" problem, or even an ethnic problem which some Burman or
Myanmar politicians argue can be solved later, once democracy is
established. The question of democracy, military rule and the
constitutional arrangement with special reference to the non-Myanmar (non-Burman)
ethnic nationalities-comprising close to 40 percent of the total
population-are intrinsically intertwined and cannot be solved one without
the other. This is the meaning behind the call for a "tripartite
Ever since the United Nations General Assembly passed
the resolution calling for a "tripartite dialogue" in 1994, "dialogue" has
become the grand strategy of the democracy movement in Burma. However,
this also raises the question of how does Burma's "armed resistance
movement" fit within the call for dialogue? Armed resistance has been the
main strategy-a self-defence response, and in reaction to repression and
atrocities-of ethnic nationalities of Burma in their struggle for
self-determination and political equality which began some fifty years
In this paper, I will argue that adopting dialogue as a
"grand strategy" does not mean the rejection of armed struggle or
"people's power", the latter being advocated so dearly by some elements of
Burman/Myanmar politicians in exile. Both armed resistance and "people's
power" are still important but they now play different roles. The crucial
point, however, is this: strategy may change as the changing situation
demands, and the tactics may change in accordance with the changing
internal and external politics but the ultimate goal shall not be changed
until and unless the goal itself is achieved. A strategy is adopted in
order to achieve a goal, and tactics are applied in order that the
strategy works; but the changing strategy and tactics shall not affect the
PART ONE: ULTIMATE GOAL
The Ultimate Goal of the Democracy Movement in Burma
What is the ultimate goal of democracy movement in
The answer to this question depends on how we analyse
the nature of political crisis in Burma. How do we perceive and analyse
the nature of Burma's political crisis, and how do we intend to solve its
problems? Should Burma be a unitary state or a federal union? How shall we
deal with the problem of power sharing and division of powers between the
central government and states? In short, how do we avoid the Burman/Myanmar
domination and ethnic separation-which are two very crucial issues that
has dominated and shaped politics in Burma, especially 1962? Are there any
means to live peacefully together in this Union? If the answer is yes,
then the next question is: how are we going to build a peaceful nation
Different actors answer this question differently, for
their goals are fundamentally different in nature. For the military junta,
the answer is "total domination", even "ethnic Myanmar domination of
Burma". For them, politics is nothing but power-i.e. power as a means of
"domination". In their attempt to achieve their goal, they have opted for
a strictly centralised government based on a unitary constitution, where
the Armed Forces-dominated by the Burman segment- can play a central role
in governing the state by, as they proposed at the National Convention in
1995, controlling 20 percent of the national parliament and as well state
and divisional assemblies.
The politics of "ethnic domination" actually is not a
new phenomenon in Burmese political culture; it has long been associated
with Myanmar ethnic nationalism that emerged from within the Myanmar
nationalist movements in the colonial period. As U Maung Maung observes in
his book From Sangha to Laity: Nationalist Movement in Burma, 1920-1940, a
main source of inspiration for the early Burman/Myanmar nationalist
movement were religion oriented as illuminated in the creeds, such as,
"Buda-Bata Myanmar-lu-myo" (To be a Myanmar is to be a Buddhist), in which
Myanmar ethnicity and Buddhism were inseparably blended together. When
Dobamaa Asi-Azone, one of the earliest anti-British national organization,
was founded, ethnicity (Myanmar identity), religion (Buddhism) and
language (Myanmar-sa, the language of the Myanmar or Burman) played the
central role: Nationalism was conceived in terms of race and religion.
Aung San, however, challenged such ethno-religious
brand of nationalism when he became Secretary General of Dobama Asi-Azone
in 1938. He criticized the notion of religious-oriented traditional
Burmese nationalism of "our race, our religion, our language", which he
said "have gone obsolete now". And he clearly states "religion is a matter
of individual conscience, while politics is social science. We must see to
it that the individual enjoys his rights, including the right to freedom
of religious belief and worship. We must draw clear lines between politics
and religion because the two are not the same thing. If we mix religion
with politics, then we offend the spirit of religion itself."
Although Aung San claimed that the Dobama Asi-Azone was
the "only non-racial, non-religious movement that has ever existed in
Burma", some elements of traditional nationalism, which blended Myanmar (Burman)
ethno-nationalism with Buddhism remained, it being the founding principles
of the organization when it was established in the 1930s, and this stream
was represented by such prominent figures as Tun Ok and Ba Sein. Thus,
while Aung San's policy, defined by an inclusive radical secular approach,
allowed a certain level of inclusiveness towards the non-Burman
nationalities, this very same policy caused Dobama Asi-Azone to split into
two factions in March 1938. A group opposed to Aung San's policy of
inclusion and secularism was led by Tun Ok and Ba Sein, and was thus known
as the "Tun Ok-Ba Sein" faction. The remaining majority faction was led by
Thakin Kodaw Hmaing and Aung San. Although each claimed to be Dobama
Asi-Azone, "they were in reality two separate parties".
While Kodaw Hmaing and Aung San opted for a
"non-racial, non-religious secular approach", Tun Ok and Ba Sein's
political convictions were centred on ethnicity and religion, namely the
Myanmar ethnicity and the religion of Buddhism. Moreover, while the former
pair advocated democracy and a Federal Union, Ba Sein and Tun Ok were in "favour
of a totalitarian form of national polity," and declared that
"totalitarianism would benefit Burma". They also "favoured the
restoration of the monarchy", an institution which was inseparably
associated with the state religion of Buddhism. Buddhism for them was
not just a religion but a political ideology as well. Thus, they could not
conceive of religion without a defender of the faith, i.e. the "king who
appointed and ruled the Buddhist hierarchy". They proposed the revival
of the monarchy as the best means of achieving independence.
As Tun Ok and Ba Sein had opted for the exclusion of
non-Buddhists and non-Burman/Myanmar ethnicities, under such slogans as
"one race, one blood, one voice," and "a purer race, a purer religion and
a purer language," they not only excluded non-Burman nationalities,
such as the Chin, Kachin and Shan, they even ignored the existence of
these nationalities and peoples. That was the reason why Ba Sein and his
fellow U Saw refused to sign the "Aung San - Attlee Agreement" and
rejected the result of the 1947 Panglong Agreement. And U Saw killed Aung
San, who invited Chin, Kachin, Shan and other ethnic nationalities to join
the Union of Burma as equal partners.
After Aung San's assassination, Ba Sein and Tun Oke
buried Aung San's policy of pluralism, ethnic equality and the secular
state. The legacy of "Ba Sien - Tun Oke" which advocates the
ethno-religious oriented Myanmar domination in Burma politics was kept
alive by Ne Win and Aung Gyi in the 1950s and 1960s. It continues with the
current military junta. In addition to General Ne Win and his military
successors, there are elements who even now maintain that non-Myanmar
ethnic nationalities claim for self-determination should be considered
only after democracy is restored. For them "democracy is first, democracy
is second, and democracy is third": so, the non-Myanmar ethnic
nationalities must "keep silent, follow the leaders, and obey the order".
It seems that history is repeating itself. During the
independence movement, the "Tun Oke - Ba Sein" faction of Myanmar
nationalists claimed that "independence is first, independence is second,
and independence is third" and they ignored non-Burman issues completely.
In contrast, Aung San came to Panglong in 1947, and invited Chin, Kachin,
Shan and other ethnic nationalities to jointly form the Union, a year
prior to independence. In this way, Aung San created a political
atmosphere in which all of Burma's nationalities could feel that they were
the founding members of the Union of Burma.
During the 1988 democracy uprising, while Aung Gyi and
other leaders rejected ethnic nationalities demands for self-determination
and federalism, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, like her father, met with
non-Myanmar ethnic leaders, and a meeting at the UNLD office, on 15 July
1989, they agreed to work together for "democracy and to resolve the
ethnic issues". Thus, the position of Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic
nationalities was that the questions of "democracy and the ethnic issues"
- which are inseparably linked with the "constitutional problems" - must
be addressed together in order for democracy to be restored. They cannot
be separated, for they hold the same value like the two sides of the same
Currently, Myanmar ethnic politicians in exile say that
"to solve these two problems [democracy and ethnic issues], we need
different approaches." Accordingly, they say: "we need to establish
democracy in the country first." They impatiently asks, "Why [can't we]
wait until we have democratic government? Why do we have to insist on
addressing the ethnic issue under a repressive military regime rather than
waiting to do so under a democratic [government]? Do the ethnic
nationalities believe that demanding their rights under military rule is
easier than under a democratic government?"
The main problem with such an argument is that they
cannot definitely proclaim their ultimate goal, and the sort of democracy
that they want to restore is unclear. For example, a former Burman student
leader has said, "We already have the 1947 constitution, which guarantees
democratic rights". A counter question that may be posed in response is:
do they want to restore the semi-unitary arrangement of the parliamentary
democracy system of the 1950s? Democracy can be, as Tocqueville warned us
a century ago, a "tyranny of majority" which only encourages the politics
of "ethnicity and ethnic domination".
For the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities, though they
want democracy, the typical Westminster-style majoritarian system of
governance is simply not an option. They have had enough negative
experiences of the tyranny of Westminster-style majoritarian rule during
the so-called parliamentary democracy era of the 1950s and early 1960s
under the 1947 Constitution, especially when the central government
promulgated Buddhism as a state religion in 1961. For them, the only
option is federalism with strong emphasis on self-determination,
decentralization, and inclusive representative system of all the people at
local, state and federal levels.
Similar to ethnic nationalities' position, Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi stand is that the current democracy movement is "the struggle for
second independence". In this way, she links current struggle for
democracy with the first struggle for self-determination-for both of them
are rooted in the "Spirit of Panglong" upon which the Union of Burma was
founded at the first place. Under her leadership, the NLD (National League
for Democracy) and UNLD (United Nationalities league for Democracy, an
umbrella political organization of all the non-Myanmar or non-Burman
political parties in Burma), issued a statement which read:
All nationalities shall have full rights of
equality, racially as well as politically, and, in addition to
having the full rights of self-determination, it is necessary to
build a Union with a unity of all the nationalities which guarantees
democracy and basic human rights.
Thus, we can conclude by saying that for the NLD under
the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic nationalities, as
represented by the UNLD, the ultimate goal of democracy movement is to
establish a genuine federal union based on the principles of political
equality for all member states of the union, the right of
self-determination for all ethnic nationalities, and democratic rights for
all citizens of the union. This policy has been adopted also by the ENSCC
(Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee) when they
launched the policy of "The New Panglong Initiative: Re-building the Union
of Burma" in 2001.
PART TWO: THE GRAND STRATEGY
Dialogue: Grand Strategy for Democracy Movement
As mentioned above, dialogue has become the grand
strategy for Burma's democracy movement since 1994. However, we must
remember that "dialogue strategy" is derived from the notion of a
non-violent struggle for democratic change, a concept advanced by Daw Aung
San Suu Kyi in 1988. "Dialogue strategy" cannot be separated from
"non-violent movement" - for the two holds the same value together.
The purpose of "dialogue strategy" is not only to
achieve the ultimate goal of the democracy movement, that is, to establish
a genuine democratic federal union through a peaceful transition without
bloodshed. It is believed that through dialogue competing interests can
interact in a non-adversarial way. In countries like Burma that are or
have been engaged in serious conflicts, dialogue can also act as a
mechanism to help prevent, manage and resolve conflict:
As a mechanism for the prevention of conflict. By
bringing various actors together for structured, critical and
constructive discussions on the state of the nation, dialogue can
result in a consensus on the reforms that are needed to avoid
confrontation and conflict.
As a mechanism for the management of conflict.
Dialogue can help put in place democratic institutions and
procedures that can structure and set the limits of political
conflicts. Democratic institutions and procedures provide mechanisms
for political consultation and joint action that can peacefully
manage potential conflicts.
As a mechanism for the resolution of conflict.
Furthermore, political dialogue can defuse potential crises by
proposing appropriate peaceful solutions. Democratic institutions
and procedures provide a framework to sustain peace settlements and
prevent the recurrence of conflict.
Likewise, the UNLD also adopted the non-violent
strategy when it was formed in 1988, and they declared that "democracy is
the only form of sustainable governance which guarantees for all members
of various nationalities, both individually and collectively, the rights
of full participation in their social, economic, and cultural development
and as well the ownership of resources available to all citizens of the
Union." Stable and enduring democracy therefore requires an active
participation of all the citizens¾as an individual citizens and collective
members of ethnic communities¾to build and renovate not only the
democratic institutions but also the structure of the Union itself, which
shall balance the different interests of nationalities for the common good
of all member states of the Union.
Since they believe in democratic principles and the
rights of full participation of all nationalities in the process of nation
rebuilding, both ethnic nationalities and democratic forces in Burma
demand dialogue as an integral part of political transition, not only in
the process of power transformation (from a military-controlled and
monopolized kind of power to a democratically ordered one), but which also
includes the restructuring of the Union into a federal system. Therefore,
in the processes of both power transformation and democratisation,
dialogue must be the main instrument for bringing all individual citizens
and collective members of ethnic nationalities of the Union together at
After the general election in 1990, it was generally
accepted that at least three levels of dialogue might be necessary to
achieve the goal of the creation of a democratic open society and the
establishment of a genuine federal union.
The first step of dialogue is for a "breakthrough"
which will break the stagnant political deadlock; and the second step,
which is more important than the first level, will be not only for power
transformation but also to find a solution to the entire political crisis
and to end the civil war in Burma; and the third step will be concerned
with the entire process of democratisation and the restructuring of the
Union as a federal system.
Three levels of dialogue that will, in concepts, be
Pre-negotiation Talk or Talk about Talk.
Tripartite Dialogue (for power transformation/power
sharing, and to lay the foundation of the future federal union).
National Consultative Convention (for consolidating
democratic federal system).
The First Level: Pre-negotiation Talk
At the first level, Pre-negotiation Talk is needed for
the first contact between opposite parties (directly or through
negotiator/mediator) to discuss the "process" of negotiation, without
mentioning the "substance" or the "out comes".
In any kind of negotiation for transition plan, there
are always two components: the "process" and the "substance". The
"substance" is concerned with what the conflicting parties want to
achieve? What kind of outcome do they want to see through this
negotiation? What sort of political structure should be negotiated for
during the "process"? In short this is the substance of the solution
itself, or the goal of the struggle. "Process", on the other hand, is the
business of negotiation and dialogue, which focuses on the element of the
solution, that is, how to reach a solution? Both are important: without
the substance, process is worth nothing and without a good process the
substance cannot be achieved.
Pre-negotiation Talk, therefore, is needed to set up
the framework within which the "process of negotiation" is going to be
designed. Thus, the "Pre-negotiation Talk" should be chiefly concerned
Where and when the negotiation will take place (time
How to choose the representatives: that is, who will
participate in the process, and what shall be the method of
Agreeing on basic rules and procedures;
Dealing with preconditions for negotiation and
barriers to dialogue;
- A nation-wide ceasefire
- Freedom of assembly and meeting
- Free passage for non-ceasefire groups (for example!)
- Re-instatement of banned political parties
- Release political prisoners, especially Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Communication and information exchange;
Managing the proceeding;
The possible assistance of a third part;
Resource and financial assistance that will be
needed during the negotiation, etc.
The Second Level: Tripartite Dialogue
As mentioned above, political crisis in Burma today is
not just a conflict between totalitarianism and democracy. It involves a
protracted civil war that has consumed many lives and much of the
resources of the country for five decades. The root of civil war in Burma
is the conflict over power arrangement between the central government,
which so far has been controlled by one ethnic group called Myanmar or
Burman, and all the non-Myanmar (or non-Burmman) ethnic groups in the
Union. In other words, it is, as mentioned, a problem of constitution, or
more specifically, the rights of self-determination for non-Burman
nationalities who joined the Union as equal partners in 1947. Indeed, most
nationalities in Burma are now fighting against the military monopolized
central government for self-determination and autonomous status of their
respective National States within the Union.
In order to avoid further bloodshed and violence during
the political transition, the second level of dialogue must start almost
simultaneously with the first level of dialogue. Dialogue at the second
level shall be concerned not only with power transformation and sharing
but also with solving the entire political crisis in Burma. It should end
the five long decades of civil war by laying down the foundation of a
genuine Federal Union. The non-Myanmar (non-Burman) ethnic nationalities'
position is that without a genuine Federal Union there is no means of
ending the civil war in Burma. Without ending the civil war, there is no
means of establishing a democratic system. Thus, the participation of all
ethnic nationalities in the political transition is the most important
element in the entire process of democratisation and restructuring of the
Union into a federal system. Alternatively, it could be said that the
tripartite dialogue will serve not only as a platform for power
transformation but also as a means to end the civil war, which has
consumed so many lives and national resources over the last five decades.
Thus, dialogue at that level must be a three ways
negotiation, or a tri-partite dialogue, which shall include three forces,
namely the forces composed of the non-Myanmar nationalities, the
democratic forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the military junta. To
fulfil the demand for a tripartite dialogue, as called for by successive
United Nations General Assembly resolutions since 1994, the participants
must include in equal proportions the representatives of the 1990 election
winning parties, representatives of the SPDC, and representatives of
The Third Level: National Consultative Convention
As a tripartite dialogue is needed for power
transformation during the process of democratisation, another level of
dialogue is needed for "consolidating" a democratic federal system and
"ensuring" peace in Burma. That stage of dialogue can be called the
"National Consultative Convention".
In regards to this, the UNLD had adopted a policy of
national convention at the conference held in Rangoon, on June 29 to July
2, 1990. At that conference, all the members of the UNLD unanimously
adopted a policy of national convention that stated "in order to lay down
the general guidelines of a federal constitution which will serve as the
foundation on which to build a new democratic society for the future
Federal Union, a National Consultative Convention shall be convened,
similar to the Panglong Conference."
The UNLD consulted the issue of the National
Consultative Convention with the NLD, the winner of the 1990 general
election. On August 29, 1990, the UNLD and the NLD made a joint
declaration known as Bo Aung Kyaw Street Declaration, which called for a
"National Consultative Convention".
Similar to the Bo Aung Kyaw Street Declaration (but
within different political context due to fourteen years of political
deadlock), the ENSCC called for the "Congress of National Unity" which
will produce the "Government of National Unity", when they produced the
"Road Map for Re-building the Union of Burma" in the beginning of
The ENSCC's political "Road Map" stated: "in the spirit
of Panglong, we are committed to national reconciliation and to the
rebuilding of the Union as equal partners in the process. We believe that
in order to establish a stable, peaceful and prosperous nation, the
process of rebuilding the Union must be based on a democratic process
which includes the following basic principles:
A peaceful resolution of the crisis in the Union,
The resolution of political problems through
Respect for the will of the people,
The recognition and protection of the rights of all
citizens of the Union,
The recognition and protection of the identity,
language, religion, and cultural rights of all nationalities,
The recognition and protection of the rights of the
constituent states of the Union through a federal arrangement."
In lines with above principles, the ENSCC's political
"road map" recommends "a two-stage process to generate confidence in the
transition to democracy": A Congress for National Unity (two year term)
and Government of National Unity (four year term). The Congress for
National Unity, which in fact is a "Tripartite Dialogue", will draft a
"National Accord", according to which, the "Independent Constitution
Drafting Commissions" (for the Federal Constitution and State
Constitutions) and the "Government for National Unity" will be formed.
At a second stage of third level, the "Government of
National Unity" will conduct "a referendum", to be monitored by the
international community to ensure that the will of the people is reflected
in the new National Constitution. Following a successful referendum on the
new National Constitution, "general elections" monitored by the
international community will be held to establish a democratic federal
government at the end of the four years.
Some Obstacles to Negotiation and Dialogue Strategy
Since Burma's democracy movement, under the leadership
of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has chosen dialogue as the main strategy;
negotiation and compromise will become the methods that are employed to
achieve the objectives of the struggle. It is clear from the onset that
negotiations will undoubtedly require to compromise on many issues in
order to achieve a peaceful settlement. Actually, in democratic culture,
politics itself is a "process of compromise". However, a successful
negotiation can be defined as "compromise" without losing one's position,
compromise without sacrificing the "ultimate goal".
The leaders of both democratic forces and ethnic
nationalities should, therefore, mentally prepare for difficult and
painful compromises at tripartite negotiation, in order to solve the
political crisis in Burma in a sustainable manner. At Tripartite Dialogue,
at least three challenges can be foreseen:
The role of Armed Forces in future democratic Union
of Burma: The SPDC's Generals are demanding, as they have proposed at
the National Convention in 1995, that they should control at least 25%
of parliamentary seats, and also in state and division assemblies. Can
such undemocratic demand be accepted?
The 1990 election result: Can the NLD compromise
their hard won victory in order to form a Transitional Authority, in
which they need to include military and ethnic nationalities?
Federalism: The establishment of Federal Union is
the ultimate goal, especially for ethnic nationalities. But, the SPDC
Generals maintain that Federalism equals "disintegration of the Union",
which they oppose. How could agreement be reached on this particular
issue? Is there any compromise possible with such opposing views?
In addition to the challenges that will be faced at the
dialogue table, there are a number of obstacles, partly because of the
misconception of dialogue itself. Some people think that a dialogue
strategy means only a "tripartite dialogue", which for the Myanmar ethnic
group in exile is too complicated and should therefore be bypassed
altogether. Htun Aung Kyaw, for example, said "tripartite dialogue at this
point in time will not offer the solution. Instead it will complicate a
situation." On the other hand, most ethnic nationalities leaders
envision the "tripartite dialogue" as similar to the negotiation at the
1947 Panglong conference. It might be suggested that dialogue as a
strategy should not be seen as a "One Time Event", but rather should be
seen as a long term process, in which "tripartite dialogue" is only one
step in a very long process.
A single main obstacle to dialogue, of course, is the
SPDC's unwillingness to engage in dialogue with democratic forces and
ethnic nationalities. Since they first came to power in 1962, General Ne
Win and his successors have never believed in a peaceful political
settlement. Their strategy has always been one of violent suppression, for
they only believe in power that comes from the barrel of a rifle. The most
effective tactics they employ are those of violent confrontations,
including civil war and urban killings. And they want their opponents to
play along accordingly, as they are masters of violence. In fact, violent
confrontation is the name of their game which they want to deploy at any
cost. On the other end, they refuse to engage dialogue because they know
and think that they are going to lose if they do.
One of the most disturbing excuses for the
unwillingness among some in the movement to accept the dialogue strategy
is that "SPDC is not sincere, and they are not going to enter into a
dialogue". Sincerity seems an inappropriate word in this regard, because
one cannot expect "sincerity" from one's opponent. It is obvious that the
Generals are going to use every brutal means that they can in order to
keep their power intact. Holding on to power at any cost is their ultimate
goal, and ethnic Myanmar domination through Tatmadaw is their dream;
violent suppression is the strategy they employ to achieve their goal,
torture and killing are the tactics they use, deception is the method they
apply, and avoiding dialogue is their escape. Surely, the junta is buying
time and weapons to keep their power. However, democratic forces and
ethnic leaders should know that therein lay their strengths and
weaknesses. Thus, it is essential to study their strength and weaknesses,
and analyze why they refuse to engage dialogue. What is needed to do,
therefore, is to create a situation-through coordinated local, national
and international efforts-whereby the junta will have to come to the
negotiating table, to see dialogue not as a danger but as a way to resolve
the conflict in Burma that has plunged the country into crisis.
PART THREE: TACTICS
Tactics: Non-violent Actions (Internal Pressures,
People's Power), Armed Resistance Movement, and International Pressures,
The term "tactic" is seldom used in this movement.
Instead, "strategies" is used interchangeably with "tactic". The misuse of
terminology can cause a lot of confusion and misunderstanding, as observed
by a Shan politician and leader, "A lot of time has been wasted in the
meeting debating which strategy to recognize and support and which to
discard or abandon, without a practical acceptable outcome for all the
groups because each group has its own strategies [tactics?] based on its
own political role, status and space which are different from one
As a matter of fact, terms like "strategy" and "tactic"
are dynamic words, not static or rigid, in terms of both theory and
practice. Armed Struggle, for example, can be the main "strategy" of
certain ethnic armed groups, but it has become a "tactic" for the entire
movement. Likewise, "economic sanction against the regime" can be the main
"strategy" of certain international Burma support groups, but they should
be only one of the "tactics" in terms of the entire democracy movement in
Burma. It is essential to look at the big picture of the entire movement,
in which all "strategies" and "tactics" are integrated in to a "Grand
Strategy". As has been pointed out, "the strategies of ENSCC, Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi's NLD, UNA and other democratic forces should be considered as
part of the Grand Strategy of the movement." The understanding of "the
Grand Strategy will create cohesion among the groups, who could
independently carry out their own strategy [tactic?], having in mind that
one's strategy is complimentary to others in the integrated GRAND STRATEGY
form, because all are striving towards the same accepted aims."
1. Non-violent Actions (Internal Pressures and People's
Since the 1988 popular uprising for democracy, the
struggle for freedom in Burma has usually been described as "non-violent
movement". The notion of "non-violent movement" was strengthen when Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Indeed, the
non-violent actions in 1988 represented the finest hours of Burma's
democracy movement, which remains today its greatest strength for the
struggle. Moreover, "non-violent action" is the most relevant tactic which
can easily translate into the grand strategy in order to produce a final
Some leaders and activists in the movement now
criticize "non-violent movement" as "passivity, submissiveness, and
cowardice." However, non-violent action, as Gene Sharp asserts, is "not to
be equated with verbal or purely psychological persuasion, although it may
use action to induce psychological pressures for attitude change;
non-violent action, instead of words, is a sanction and a technique of
struggle involving the use of social, economic and political power, and
the matching of forces in conflict." It is not submission or
cowardice, as Pundit Nehru once wrote,
In spite of its negative name it was a dynamic
method, the very opposite of a meek submission to a tyrant's will. It
was not a coward's refuge from action, but a brave man's defiance of
evil and national subjection.
The basic theory of non-violent action is that the
"political power of governments or dictators disintegrates when the people
withdraw their obedience and support". Based on this simple theory that
the political power of governments may in fact be very fragile, Mahatma
Gandhi challenged British colonial power, saying that:
You have great military resources. Your naval power
is matchless. If we wanted to fight with you on your own ground, we
should be unable to do so, but if the above submissions be not accepted
to you, we cease to play the part of the ruled. You, if you like, cut
us to pieces. You may shatter us at the cannon's mouth. If you act
contrary to our will, we shall not help you; and without our help, we
know that you cannot move one step forward.
Gandhi's theory of non-violent action is based on the
fact that "if the maintenance of an unjust or undemocratic regime depends
on the cooperation, submission and obedience of the populace, then the
means for changing or abolishing it lies in the non-cooperation, defiance
and disobedience of the populace." Applying Gandhi's theory of non-violent
action, Gene Sharp out lines the main characteristics of non-violent
action as follow:
In political terms non-violent action is based on a
very simple postulate: people do not always do what they are told to
do, and sometimes they do things which have been forbidden to them.
Subjects may disobey laws they reject. Workers may halt work, which may
paralyze the economy. The bureaucracy may refuse to carry out
instructions. Soldiers and police may become lax in inflicting
repression; they may even mutiny. When all these events happen
simultaneously, the man who has been "ruler" becomes just another man.
And he concludes, by saying that:
The human assistance which created and supported the
regime's political power has been withdrawn. Therefore, its power has
Since 1988, non-violent actions have applied in various
means and ways and it will continue to do so. The important factor,
however, is that the tactics of non-violent actions need to be able to
translate into a grand strategy, which will bring the final victory for
the movement. During the 1988 uprising, the movement employed the best
tactic of non-violent actions but did not have a grand strategy. The
movement, therefore, needs to learn lessons from both its successes and
2. Armed Resistance Movement (A.R.M)
Carl von Clausewitz, in his classic work On War, wrote,
"War is the continuation of politics by other means". His famous quote
leads to the discussions of those of "other means", that is, the military
strategy of winning war through force, but "it does not say how to achieve
the state's goal without war." In contrast to the Western concept of
war, ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu in his The Art of War suggested
that military strategy should be integrated into domestic policy and
foreign policy in a form of "state craft", which includes "looking beyond
conflict to its resolution, ensuring peace and system of interstate
relationships more profitable to one's nation."
The Armed Resistance Movement (A.R.M) that all the
non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities in Burma engage is, in essence, different
from waging offensive war. The difference is that in offensive war,
military strategy is deployed in order to win the war by force. The A.R.M.
of Burma's ethnic nationalities has never applied such a strategy, but
holds arms only for defensive purpose. The similarity, however, is that
ethnic nationalities in Burma engage in civil war only because they are
unable to resolve the conflict through peaceful means. The A.R.M,
therefore, is, like any war, "the continuation of politics by other
None of non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities in Burma
believe that the armed struggle or A.R.M. is the end game. It is only for
self-defence. However, "as long as SPDC wages war on us", as one of CNF
(Chin National Front) leaders said, "killing our children in order to wipe
out our future generations, using rape as weapon of war against ethnic
minorities in the country, and applying religious persecution as the
method of destroying ethnic identities, especially against the Chin
Christians; our hands will be forced to hold arms in order to protect our
children, to defend our mothers, our sisters and our homeland, and to
uphold our dignity and identity intact."
It is, therefore, very clear that the dialogue strategy
does not reject A.R.M. altogether. It encourages A.R.M as an important
"tactical means" for the movement, as part and parcel of the pressures
that should be put on military junta to bring it to the dialogue table. It
is essential to build unity among ethnic armed groups, and support the
efforts of the NDF (National Democratic Front), the largest alliance of
Ethnic Armed Groups in Burma, and "Five Nations Military Alliance".
However, as Sun Tzu suggested, the long term goal of A.R.M should be "to
subdue the enemy without fighting", which he said is "the acme of skill".
The best military "strategy is not only to achieve the nation's aims
through controlling or influencing its sphere of influence, but to do so
without resorting to fighting."
According to Sun Tzu, the best military strategy is the
one that can subdue the enemy through negotiation and talk without
fighting; that is what we call in our context "dialogue" which will bring
a "win-win" solution to the establishment of a democratic government in
Burma. A stable and peaceful democratic Union of Burma will ensure
regional stability and world peace; it will no longer be a country that
produces all kind of narcotic drugs, HIV-AIDS disease, refugees, migrant
workers, etc., which cause many problems for our neighbouring countries
and international community as a whole.
War, including A.R.M, may sometimes be a necessary
evil. But, as Jimmy Carter said, "no matter how necessary, it is always an
evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by
killing each other's children." That's the reason why dialogue, not
war, is calling for by all.
3. International Pressures
As mentioned above, "dialogue" was adopted by the
democracy movement as a grand strategy, and it was based on the United
Nations General Assembly resolution of 1994. This indicates the fact that
international pressure is view as a very important strategic and tactical
factor. In the ENSCC's Road Map, the role of international community has
been strongly emphasized as follow:
We welcome and appreciate the concern of the
international community over the crisis in our country. We specifically
appreciate the leading role played by the United Nations, and the efforts
of the Government of Thailand to bring about national reconciliation. We
also appreciate the concern expressed by the international community, in
particular ASEM, ASEAN, Canada, China, Japan, the European Union, Norway
and the USA.
From the very beginning, the movement has adopted at
least three international pressure tracks, to put strong pressures on the
military junta to get it to the dialogue table. They are, One, lobbying
the UN, governments, regional blocs, neighboring countries such as China,
India, Japan, to bring about diplomatic pressure for dialogue; Two,
undertaking international campaigns, calling for sanctions, exposing and
condemning human rights abuses by the regime, exposing forced labor
practices, highlighting the plight of political prisoners, and so on; and
Three, calling for international mediation.
The role of International Mediation has been
highlighted by the ENSSC's Road Map, saying that "to ensure that the
transition progresses smoothly and on schedule, we request that the
international community under the leadership of the UN, Thailand, and
ASEAN continue to assist in the transition process". It is, therefore,
very clear that the "third party" involvement in this process is more than
welcomed. However, the exact role of third party intervention or
involvement still needs to be clarified, that is what kind of third party
involvement will be needed: Arbitration? Facilitation? Pure Mediation? Or
In this paper, I have explored: What is the ultimate
goal of democracy movement in Burma? What is the grand strategy that the
movement has adopted to achieve its goal? And what are tactics that the
movement has applied? I have argued that the strategy and tactics may
change in accordance with the changing political situation has demanded,
but the changing strategy and tactics shall not affect the ultimate goal.
The central argument in this paper is that the
fundamental issues of political crisis in Burma is not only ideological
confrontation between democracy and totalitarianism, but a constitutional
problem rooted in the question of self-determination for non-Myanmar (non-Burman)
ethnic nationalities who joined the Union as equal partners in 1947 at
Panglong. The ultimate goal of democracy movement in Burma, therefore, is
not just changing the government in Rangoon but to establish a genuine
democratic federal union, where various ethnic nationalities from
different backgrounds (ethnically, culturally, religiously,
linguistically, and historically, etc.,) can live peacefully together.
I have highlighted in this paper that since 1994, the
movement has adopted "dialogue" as the main strategy based on the United
Nation General Assembly's resolution which called for a "tripartite
dialogue". The main source of "dialogue strategy", however, is derived
from non-violent actions which the movement has taken since 1988, under
the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. As such, non-violent actions and
international pressures become the most important tactics in this
movement, which put the pressures on the military junta to bring it to a
I also argued that adopting "dialogue" as a "grand
strategy" does not undermine the "Armed Resistance Movement" which most of
the non-Myanmar ethnic groups are engaging in order to defend themselves
for more than five decades. As a matter of fact, the armed resistance that
all the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities in Burma engage in is a defensive
war. Moreover, they carry arms and waged an armed struggle only because
they are unable to resolve the conflict through peaceful means. None of
non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities in Burma believe that the armed struggle
or armed resistance is the end game. It is only for self-defence.
Strategically speaking, armed resistance or struggle
constitutes only a tactical means, a part and parcel of the pressures that
should be put on the military junta in order to bring them to a
Since the military junta is refusing to engage in
dialogue, it is essential to employ several tactics at once, to make sure
that the strategy works properly. All kind of tactics, such as,
Non-violent Actions (including Internal Pressures and the so-called
"People's Power"), Armed Resistance Movement (A.R.M.) and International
Pressures, etc., should be integrated into the Grand Strategy of the
entire movement in order to produce a final victory.
Lian H. Sakhong
Dr. Lian H. Sakhong is the Advisor of National
Reconciliation Program and Secretary General of United Nationalities
League for Democracy - Liberated Areas (UNLD-LA). He received a PhD from
Uppsala University, Sweden.
The Future of East Timor
by Michael Hodson
There was widespread joy amongst Australians in 2001 as
East Timor became the newest independent nation in the region. There was a
ground swell of goodwill towards our neighbour, and more than a bit of
self-adulation at the positive role Australia had played.
The extent of this reaction can in part be explained by
the guilt, rarely acknowledged, of Australia’s’ less than helpful role in
the previous 24 years of Indonesian occupation. Australia was the first
country to offer recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over the territory.
The death of five journalists covering the Indonesian invasion in 1975 at
Balibo was more an irritant to the Australia-Indonesia relationship than
an issue of justice for the victims. Even today the families of the five
men believe that the incident has not been investigated fully by the
Australia’s relationship with the former Portuguese
colony has often been a troubled one. In 1989 Australia signed the Timor
Gap Treaty that provided Australia with extremely favourable maritime
boundaries and a sizable share of Timor Sea oil and gas. The Santa Cruz
massacres in 1991 proved to be another testing time for Australian
diplomacy. The clash between outraged public opinion and continued support
for the Suharto dictatorship was a challenge, but not one beyond the
abilities of the Australian Government. What this did do though was to
raise even further the profile of the plight of the East Timorese among
the Australian public. This sharp relief between public opinion and
official policy was possibly one of the greatest in modern Australian
history. The difficulties for Australia’s’ foreign policy were highlighted
further with the arrival of over 1000 East Timorese asylum seekers who
fled the territory post-Santa Cruz. The government’s response was to delay
processing of asylum applications, and then in a shameful and farcical
episode, argue that Portugal would be the most appropriate place of
asylum, as internationally, Portugal was still recognized as the colonial
East Timor’s’ vote for independence and the subsequent
UN monitored transition to independence, reached its culmination on May
20, 2002, when East Timor joined the club of independent nations. On the
same day, the East Timorese PM, Mari Alkatiri, signed the Timor Sea Treaty
to replace the previous Timor Gap Treaty. While the name changed, there
was no substantial difference. This document determined the revenue
sharing in the joint development zone that is located in the Bayu-Undan
oil and gas field. Australia then delayed its signing for almost a year
until East Timor signed a further agreement that would allocate Australia
80% of the vastly richer Greater Sunrise field. As the delay progressed,
the project joint venture partners in Bayu-Undan made repeated public
statements arguing that if the delays went beyond a certain point, the
whole project would fail. This would be an insignificant loss for the
Australian economy, but for East Timor, primarily dependant on foreign
aid, the deal was crucial.
At the heart of the problem for East Timor lies the
issue of maritime boundaries. The previous agreement between Australia and
Indonesia had defined a joint exploration zone that granted Australia an
extremely favourable sea-bed boundary. The hope was that this could be
continued with East Timor. However, the East Timorese had in mind a
resolution more in line with accepted international practice, which in the
case of disputed maritime boundaries less than 400 miles apart, meant a
median line would be drawn maybe half way between the two. Under such an
agreement, almost all the oil and gas fields would belong to East Timor
and they would receive matching revenues.
Boundary negotiation was also delayed in 2002, but
finally commenced on November 12, 2003. East Timor has made it clear that
it believes the Timor Sea Treaty and other agreements are temporary and do
not prejudice final boundary negotiations. In March 2002 Australia
withdrew its recognition of the International Court Of Justice’s
jurisdiction to make determinations in boundary disputes and also withdrew
from the maritime boundary dispute resolution mechanism in the
International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The Australian view was
explained that such disputes were best settled through direct negotiation.
This is particularly true when there is a large, wealthy nation dealing
with one of the smallest, and poorest in the region. This action gave some
indication of what result Australia expected from an independent
determination made in accordance with international law. While Australians
generally ascribe to themselves the ethos of a ‘fair go’, this seems to be
a clear an example of bullying, greed and narrow self-interest.
Time is on Australia’s side in the negotiations over
maritime boundaries. East Timor has requested a time line for the
finalisation of these talks. Australia has thus far not agreed. As time is
critical for the East Timorese, Australia understands that every delay
strengthens its negotiating position. The East Timor Government may decide
to agree to a generous offer, from Australia’s perspective, as soon as
possible, ensuring the earliest possible payment of whatever revenues it
may be granted. In the meantime, revenues will continue to flow to
Australia. Whatever policies or principles may be invoked, this is
testament to the one over-riding principle that is understood by the
powerful – coercion works.
‘National interest’ is the usual explanation for such
morally disreputable policies. However in this case it would seem to defy
the Governments’ own recent logic. Military intervention in the Solomon
Islands and increased assistance to Papua New Guinea were made on the
basis of a potential ‘arc of instability’ to Australia’s north that would
open up the possibility of criminal gangs or terrorists basing themselves
in these locations. With a host of small nation states in the region,
Prime Minister John Howard stated that, “It is not in Australia’s
interests to have failed states in our region”. (1)
Even in the narrow context of ‘national interests’, the
current approach to East Timor is short-sighted and miserly, though
perhaps not unexpected given the briefly reviewed history above. As the
newly appointed regional “Sheriff”, according to the US President,
Australia’s foreign policy can be expected to resemble a scaled down
version of that practiced by the US - a vigorous protection of economic
interests, maintaining strong rhetorical commitment to human rights
standards and humanitarian issues, but ignoring them in practice when they
clash with higher priorities.
In light of the history up to 1999 and the
self-adulation over the eventual response after 24 years of occupation,
what has followed since is, perhaps, unremarkable. The miraculous
conversion theory was duly invoked - that our past deeds were a mistake
and that we now march bravely into a future where we are truly committed
to the rhetoric of freedom and human rights. As one Member of Parliament
noted at the time, Australia’s approach in the past had been “…quite
impervious to decency or humanitarian concern...totally focused on the
economic advantages...and our gains from the Timor Gap Treaty. I said then
that pragmatism is really only a euphemism for allowing practical
exigencies to excuse anything at all.”(2). But now, in our enlightened
state, our action “…constitutes a revolution in Australia's foreign
policy”(2). Pragmatism of this type is a reasonable summary of successive
Australian Governments’ policy on East Timor.
The current position on maritime boundaries seems
starkly at odds with this proclaimed change and the recently expressed
views on ‘failed states’. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced
that, “We will act to help ensure the stability and prosperity of our
neighbourhood”(3). Such lofty sentiment has, obviously, an alarmingly
short self-life. However, should our actions produce the outcome that we
should logically expect, a ‘failed state’, there is thankfully no serious
failure in policy. Every cloud has a silver lining, which in this case is
Australia’s’ new doctrine of intervention in ‘failed states’. This
presents the opportunity to ensure that such states are made to “…accept
the disciplines that global trade liberalisation imposes”(4).
What this means is well-understood - increasing
privitisation, economic austerity packages and a diminished public sphere.
In the part of the global trade system that Australia occupies, this
presents not inconsiderable opportunities. What the consequences may be
for the people of East Timor are uncertain. One thing is clear however.
Australian citizens have again the opportunity and the responsibility to
act in reducing the harm of Australia’s’ foreign policy where it will,
despite the “revolution”, continue to “excuse anything at all”.
1. John Howard, Prime Minister. Interview on Radio 3LO - 27/6/2003.
2. Kevin Andrews, MP. House Of Representatives, Australian Parliament -
3. Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Address to National
Press Club - 26/6/2003.
4. Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Address to UN General
Assembly - 24/9/2003.
Michael Hodson lives in Darwin, Australia. He is
involved in a local group, Darwin Refugee Action Network, focusing on
public awareness of refugee issues, including the recent situation of the
East Timorese asylum seekers.
[Source: zMag 17.11.03]
Human rights abuse in Aceh horrendous, says researcher
Indonesia's military occupation of the separatist province of Aceh has
resulted in grave human rights abuses and a humanitarian crisis, claims an
Australian researcher who spent five months in an Aceh prison.
Lesley McCulloch, a senior fellow with Deakin University in Melbourne,
was released from prison in February and has since been working among
refugees in Kuala Lumpur.
She and American nurse Joy-Lee Sadler were arrested for visa
violations, although the academic said it was because she had been
investigating Indonesian military and police corruption.
Indonesia launched its offensive in May after the collapse of
internationally mediated peace talks with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM),
which has been fighting for an independent state since 1976.
Last week, the government extended martial law for another six months
after rejecting calls for a ceasefire and a new round of talks by Japan,
the European Union, the United States and the World Bank.
Ms McCulloch said that while life in Aceh's towns was as normal as
could be given the occupation, the situation in rural areas was
Many males over the age of 14 had gone into hiding because the military
and police viewed them as potential fighters for GAM. Women were being
targeted, through rape and strip searches, to get to the men.
Food and medicine was in short supply and children were not being
educated in many areas.
Aid agencies were unable to work because they had been accused of
helping GAM fighters and the military insisted on distributing supplies.
"Civilians are suffering," Ms McCulloch said. "Targeting the women -
forcing them to strip in public and all the sexual abuse - is a way of
destroying the social fabric of society. The trouble is it creates more
anger and only strengthens support for GAM."
She compared the plight of Acehnese to East Timorese before Indonesia
ended its 24-year occupation in 1999. "Before being arrested, I saw
militias - I know they're backed by the military," she said. "Everything
that happened in East Timor is happening in Aceh."
The Malaysian human rights organisation Suaram and the Jakarta office
of the International Crisis Group said they had been told of such claims,
but were unable to verify them.
The executive director of Suaram, Cynthia Gabriel, said from Kuala
Lumpur yesterday that confirming Ms McCulloch's claims was impossible
because of a lack of independent information. Indonesia had banned
foreigners and journalists from going to Aceh.
"I'm reluctant to confirm or not confirm what's going on there," Ms
Gabriel said. "But people who have managed to escape speak of the
situation being very, very bad. They say there's malnutrition and a lack
of medical supplies."
Ms McCulloch's assessment is based on interviews with the 30,000-strong
Acehnese refugee community in Malaysia.
The International Crisis Group's Sidney Jones said her view from
talking to activists was mixed.
"That there have been rapes is unquestioned," Ms Jones said. "There is
also no question that the military has carried out executions, but there
have also been executions on the part of GAM and they've also taken
"We just don't get the pictures, though, from the people coming back
and forth from Aceh, of atrocities taking place on the scale of previous
The Indonesia military is the only source of information on the
province, where 12,000 people have been killed as a result of the 27-year
At least 1,000 people have died since May and thousands more have been
A military official said yesterday that troops had killed 16 suspected
rebels, including two women.
A court in the northern city of Lhokseumawe on Saturday sentenced rebel
leader Mustafa Ibrahim to 17 years in prison on charges of treason.
[Source: SCMP 17.11.03]
Cyber-terror crackdown sparks
civil rights fears
Singapore has enacted draconian legislation allowing
the government to give unspecified authorities power to take unlimited
pre-emptive action against suspected cyber-terrorists and computer
Free speech activists yesterday strongly condemned the
amendment to the Computer Misuse Act, claiming the government was using
the excuse of fighting terror to further erode civil rights in the island
republic. One MP likened it to an internet version of the state's Internal
Security Act, which allows for indefinite detention without charge.
Under the amended law, the home affairs minister can
authorise "any person or organisation... to take such measures as may be
necessary to prevent or counter any threat to a computer or computer
service" to defend "national security, essential services, defence or
foreign relations". Essential services are defined as those relating to
communications, infrastructure, banking and finance, public utilities,
public transport, and the emergency services.
Ho Peng Kee, the minister who introduced the final
reading on Monday, said the powers would be used "sparingly" but admitted
the only checks and balances were "the professionalism and objectivity of
our security agencies".
He claimed it was necessary to be vague, and to permit
action before any crime had been committed, because computer crime and
cyber-terrorism were evolving so rapidly.
"Instead of a backpack of explosives, a terrorist can
create just as much devastation by sending a carefully engineered packet
of data into the computer systems which control the network for essential
services, for example the power stations," Mr Ho said.
Penalties under the law are not specified, but anyone
who hacks into or defaces a website faces three years in jail or a
S$10,000 (£3,500) fine.
One MP, Ho Geok Choo, said the amendment was ambiguous.
"How does the police cyber-crime unit intend to differentiate between a
real intent to compromise our national computer networks and those that
are merely wild talk?" she said. "Indeed, it sounds very much like the
cyberspace equivalent of the Internal Security Act."
Singapore has detained more than 30 people under this
act since September 11, alleging they are members of the al-Qaida-linked
Islamist terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah. None has been tried.
James Gomez, a free speech campaigner and editor of a
forthcoming book on Asian cyber-activism, said the law was the latest and
harshest example of an emerging trend in the region. "The excuse of
terrorism has not only speeded up but also deepened the reach of
legislation," he said, highlighting the absence of civil rights safeguards
as the greatest concern."Who decides what's a sound and reliable source?"
he asked. "It's arbitrary and open to abuse."
The minister said cybercrime was increasing every year
in Singapore: the number of successful hacking attacks rose from 19 in
2001 to 41 last year. One network had faced more than 6,000 unsuccessful
attempts in a three-month period this year, he said.
[Source: Guardian 12.11.03]
Iraq and Vietnam
by Gabriel Kolko
There are great cultural, political and physical
differences between Vietnam and Iraq that cannot be minimised, and the
geopolitical situation is entirely different. But the US has ignored many
of the lessons of the traumatic Vietnam experience and is repeating many
of the errors that produced defeat.
In both places, successive American administrations
slighted the advice of their most knowledgeable intelligence experts. In
Vietnam they told Washington's decision-makers not to tread where France
had failed and to endorse the 1955 Geneva Accords provisos on
They also warned against underestimating the
communists' numbers, motivation, or their independent relationship to
China and the Soviet Union. But America's leaders have time and again
believed what they wanted, not what their intelligence told them.
The Pentagon in the 1960s had an uncritical faith in
its overwhelming firepower, its modern equipment, mobility, and mastery of
the skies. It still does, and Donald Rumsfeld believes the military has
the technology to "shock and awe" all adversaries. But war in Vietnam, as
in Iraq, was highly decentralised and the number of troops required only
increased, even as the firepower became greater. When they reached
half-a-million Americans in Vietnam, the public turned against the
president and defeated his party.
Wars are ultimately won politically or not at all.
Leaders in Washington thought this interpretation of events in Vietnam was
bizarre, and they ignored their experts whenever they frequently reminded
them of the limits of military power.
In both Vietnam and Iraq the public was mobilised on
the basis of cynical falsehoods that ultimately backfired, causing a
The Tonkin Gulf crisis of August 1964 was manufactured,
as the CIA's leading analyst later admitted in his memoir, because "the
administration was seeking a pretext for a major escalation". Countless
lies were told during the Vietnam War but eventually many of the men who
counted most were themselves unable to separate truth from fiction.
Many US leaders really believed that if the communists
won in Vietnam, the "dominoes" would fall and all South-East Asia would
fall under Chinese and Soviet domination. The Iraq War was justified
because Saddam was alleged to have weapons of mass destruction and ties
with al-Qaeda, but no evidence for either allegation has been found.
There are 130,000 American troops in Iraq now - twice
the number Bush predicted would remain by this month - but, as in Vietnam,
their morale is already low and sinking. Bush's poll ratings have fallen
dramatically. He needs more soldiers in Iraq desperately and foreign
nations will not provide them.
In Vietnam, president Nixon tried to "Vietnamise" the
land war and transfer the burdens of soldiering to Nguyen Van Thieu's huge
army. But it was demoralised and organised to maintain Thieu in power, not
win the victory that had eluded American forces.
"Iraqisation" of the military force required to put
down dissidents will not accomplish what has eluded the Americans, and in
both Vietnam and Iraq the US underestimated the length of time it would
have to remain and cultivated illusions about the strength of its friends.
The Iraqi army was disbanded but now is being partially
reconstituted by utilising Saddam's officers and enlisted men. As in
Vietnam, where the Buddhists opposed the Catholics who comprised the
leaders America endorsed, Iraq is a divided nation regionally and
religiously, and Washington has the unenviable choice between the risks of
disorder, which its own lack of troops make likely, and civil war if it
Despite plenty of expert opinion to warn it, the Bush
Administration has scant perception of the complexity of the political
problems it confronts in Iraq. Afghanistan is a reminder of how military
success depends ultimately on politics, and how things go wrong.
Rumsfeld's admission in his confidential memo of
October 16 that "we lack the metrics to know if we are winning or losing
the global war on terror" was an indication that key members of the Bush
Administration are far less confident of what they are doing than they
were early in 2003.
But as in Vietnam, when defence secretary Robert
McNamara ceased to believe that victory was inevitable, it is too late to
reverse course and now the credibility of America's military power is at
Eventually, domestic politics takes precedence over
everything else. It did in Vietnam and it will in Iraq. By 1968, the polls
were turning against the Democrats and the Tet offensive in February
caught President Lyndon Johnson by surprise because he and his generals
refused to believe the CIA's estimates that there were really 600,000
rather than 300,000 people in the communist forces. Nixon won because he
promised a war-weary public he would bring peace with honour.
Bush declared on October 28 that "we're not leaving"
Iraq soon, but his party and political advisers are likely to have the
last word as US casualties mount and his poll ratings continue to decline.
Vietnam proved that the American public has limited
patience. That is still true.
The real lessons of Vietnam have yet to be learned.
Gabriel Kolko is professor emeritus of history at York
University in Canada and the author of Anatomy of a War, a history of the
[Source: The Age; 19.11.03]
IT is now 199 days since Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in
Baghdad, marking the fall of his regime and start of the hunt for
weapons of mass destruction. Since then no chemical or biological
weapons have been found - a fact highlighted every morning with the
Daily Mirror WMD-ometer.
Here are some other crucial numbers which tell the shameful story
of war on Iraq.
| US Helicopters that have crashed in
the past three and a half weeks
Journalists killed in Iraq
Italian soldiers who died in a suicide bomb attack on a police
station in Nasiriyah
the age of the youngest British soldier to die in the war,
Paratrooper Andrew Kelly of Saltash, Cornwall
Members of Iraq's ruling council
The percentage of Italians who believe the war was justified
average number of attacks on coalition troops every day
American dead in the war
Civilians who died in the 1991 Gulf war
Civilians one survey believes died in the battle for Baghdad alone
British troops involved in Iraq operations
Troops the Turkish government will now NOT send to Iraq after
Bombs dropped by allied forces during the campaign
Barrels of Iraqi crude oil which arrived in Jordan on Saturday, the
first since the war began
American troops involved in Iraq operations
Unemployed Iraqi men
Value of contract tenders put out for oil
business. US and UK companies are favourites for the deals
Cost to the British taxpayer of the war so far
[Source: Mirror 18.11.03]
detention, torture and extra-judicial executions
The following Urgent Appeal has been received from the
International Secretariat of OMCT requesting your URGENT intervention in
the following situations in the Philippines.
Brief description of the situation
The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed
by the Alliance for the Advancement in People's Rights (KARAPATAN), a
member of the OMCT network, of several cases of illegal detention, torture
and extra-judicial executions committed by the Army of the Philippines.
The first incident took place in San Dinisio Maddela, Quirino, Isabela,
and the second in Silio Pasto, Sani Isidrio, Mabini, Bohol, Philippines.
Both cases are related to the fight against the New Peoples Army (NPA)
According to the information received, 5 youths
(including a child) - Leon Punzillan (16 year old), Joana Marie Anacan
(19), Melchor Santos (23), Jasmin Agbauag (20), and Marcelo Tumbali (20)
were detained after an alleged encounter on November 10th between the NPA
and members of the 52nd and 53rd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army
(IBPA), under the command of Col. Rosete's 502nd Brigade. They were
brought to a military base called Camp Melchor, where a team of human
rights defenders and the victims' families attempted to visit them. It was
difficult for them to get access to the detainees and they were threatened
and had to wait for a long time before seeing the youths. They did not get
to see 16-year old Leon until November 25th.
On November 12th, KARAPATAN was informed that Joana and
Melchor were injured and had been brought to the camp's military hospital.
At 11:00 am, they visited Joana, who had a hip injury. During the visit,
they were constantly disturbed by unknown men in plain clothes who took
pictures of them. The team was also allowed to talk to Melchor at 4:00 pm.
He had reportedly been severely tortured and was forced into admitting
that he was a rebel. The team also wanted to visit Jasmin that day, but
they were told that she had been brought to the Philippine National Police
(PNP) in Echague and was then going be transferred to he PNP in Maddela.
Jasmin, however had remained in the camp throughout.
On November 13th, Jasmin's father was able to talk to
her, and she told him that she had been held in solitary detention since
she being brought to the camp on November 10th and that she had only been
allowed out of her cell on one occasion. Joana's parents were also allowed
talk to their daughter (at the military hospital), but they were guarded
by soldiers during the visit. She told them that the military forced had
her to sign a waiver indicating that the detainees were requesting to be
detained indefinitely at the camp. No information was available concerning
Leon and Marcelo at this time.
On November 15th, Melchor claimed to have seen Marcelo
in the camp, with bruises all over his body. The next day, Marcelo was
allowed to meet with his father and stated that he had been tortured by
soldiers. On November 17th, he was again placed into incommunicado
detention and the military said that he would be transferred far away and
charged. 16-year old Leon was finally allowed to see his parents on
November the 25th., but they were guarded by soldiers during their
The five detainees were reportedly charged on November
19th for "illegal possession of firearms and explosives" and "direct
assault". It was also reported that a "directive" would enable Colonel
Rosete to have custody over them during the time of investigation. The
detainees have still not been brought before a court and remain at the
camp, with access to the lawyers and their families often being
Separately, at around 2:00 am on November 19th, 8
members of the NPA came to the Asas family house in Silio Pasto, San
Isidro, Mabini, Bohol to drink water. They were then invited by Martiniano
Asas to spend the rest of the night there. At 5:30 AM, when the NPA
members were leaving the house, soldiers from the Philippines Army's
"Alpha Company" opened fire on the house. Martiniano's wife Bebiana and 2
of their 4 children were injured: Bebiana received a wound to the stomach
and her sons Junrey and Marvin were hit in the shoulder and head
respectively. After an exchange of fire lasting around 30 minutes, the
family was interrogated by soldiers. Others went to the back of the house,
where they saw two injured NPA members, with arms raised in surrender. The
soldiers reportedly stood over the men, Ronilo Cabacoy (20) and
Buenaventurado Potane (42), and shot them. They later justified their acts
by saying that they had to ensure that the rebels were not just playing
dead. The soldiers then ordered Martiniano's son Jerry (20) to carry off
the bodies on his cart towards the town centre.
The International Secretariat of OMCT is gravely
concerned by these serious human rights violations and urges the
guarantee the physical and psychological integrity
of all concerned persons under all circumstances;
to launch an impartial investigation into the
circumstances of these events, in order to bring perpetrators to
and to award reparations to the victims and their
OMCT recalls that the Philippines signed the Universal
Declaration on Human Rights and are a state party to the major Human
Rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child which
establishes minimum guarantees for detained children in its Arts. 37 and
40. The Philippines are also party to the International Covenant On Civil
and Political Rights which states in its Art. 6 (1), that "no one shall be
arbitrarily deprived of his life" and to the Convention Against Torture
and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which
prohibits torture under all circumstances.
Please write to the authorities in Philippines urging
guarantee the physical and psychological integrity
of the detainees, guarantee them access to family visits, appropriate
medical assistance and legal representation, and immediately bring them
before a competent and impartial civilian court;
order a thorough and impartial investigation into
the circumstances of these events, in order to bring the responsible to
trial and apply the penal and/or administrative sanctions as provided
provide adequate reparation to the afore-mentioned
victims and the families of the deceased;
guarantee the respect of human rights and the
fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national
laws and international human rights standards.
Her Excellency President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,
Office of the President, Republic of the Philippines,
New Executive Building, Malacañang,
Palace Compound, J.P. Laurel St.,
San Miguel, Manila, Philippines.
Fax no.: +632 929 3968,
Email: email@example.com or
·General Narciso L Abaya,
Chief of Staff,
Armed Forces of the Philippines,
Camp Emilio Aguinaldo,
Quezon City, Philippines.
Fax: +632 911 7783 / 911 7953
Angelo T. Reyes,
Secretary, Department of National Defense,
Camp General, Aguinaldo,
Quezon City, Philippines.
Fax: +632 911 6213,
Hon. Teresita Deles,
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process,
7F Agustin Building, Emerald Avenue,
Pasig City, Philippines,
Fax: +632 638 2216
Hon. Simeon Datumanong,
Secretary, Department of Justice,
DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura, 1004,
Fax: +632 521 1614,
Hon. Purificacion Valera Quisumbing,
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights,
SAAC bldg., UP complex, Commonwealth Avenue,
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Fax: +632 929 0102,
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or
Loretta Ann Rosales,
House of Representatives,
Chairman Comm. On Civil/Political Rights,
ax: +632 931 6288,
Ambassadeur Samuel T. Ramel,
Av. Blanc 47, CH-1202, Genève, Suisse.
Fax: +41 22 716 19 33
Please also write to the embassies of the Philippines
in your respective country.
Geneva, November 28th, 2003.
For more information please contact