Roundtable on Evolving Situation in Burma: International Responses



Roundtable on

Evolving Situation in Burma: International Responses


Saturday, 04 August 2012




Institute of Social Sciences

New Delhi, India


Organized by


Institute of Social Sciences     








Welcome Address


Dr. Ash Narain Roy


Director, Institute of Social Sciences




This is the second time we had an important meeting on Burma here in the  Institute of Social Sciences ( Delhi). Today we are here to discuss on the evolving situation inside Burma and the international response. All this has been possible because of the dramatic changes in Burma and the encouraging response from the international community.


Burma has definitely moved on towards democracy. These are only few steps. In fact all this ( meeting such as this) are signs of the change. In fact there are people who would say this is democratization. But President Thein Sein currently hold the upper hand and the situation continues to remain the same.


Many advice caution . Aung San Suu Kyi herself has said she can work with the President  but not necessary with the Government. Since taking office in March 2011, the former generals who make up Burma‘s first civilian government had release seven hundred activist , monks, and artist from prisons. Putting more space for direction towards democracy that Burma has not seen for decades . They have less media censorship and legalized members of the opposition party to come into the office. 


The momentum for reform is clearly led by the military force. But is it irreversible is the  question. But now the regime seems to be in good behavior, either not do anything that might derail Burma’s chairmanship in the coming ASEAN in 2014 which can delegitimize Burma government.


The real question is the parliament of 2015, whether it will be free and fair. Will the regime allow the National League for Democracy ( NLD) to form government? Some people believe that the release and triumphant return of charismatic Aung San Suu Kyi  to frontline politics makes a change. The international response inside Burma is quite positive. As we see a galaxy of international leaders visit; including Clinton, the Prime Minister of India’s visit and the World Bank has decided to resume aid. These are hopeful signs though there are many questions. This is where we stand today and the rationale for today’s meets. 




Address by


Dr. George Mathew


Chairman, Institute of Social Sciences




In the recent times the Institute of Social Sciences has been deeply involved in the developments taking place in the neighbouring countries of India :- Pakistan, Bangladesh , Sri Lanka, Nepal , Bhutan, even Afghanistan, when we talk about South Asia. But the most important historically and critically is Burma.


Shashi Tharoor when he came here in ISS, unlike a member of parliament, he critique the attitude and position taken by the Indian government. He was not saying everything was good about the government, he did say that India was not very practical.


Today I am happy that ISS and BCD has organized this meeting here and I consider this as the beginning of many important events to come in future.


I have a suggestion, that we must have a series of lectures on Burma - religion, culture, democracy, women , minorities. Getting scholars, outstanding professors, internationally reputed people to give a lecture. This can be advertised and that the lecture series can be organized here at ISS. 


Any country in transition is extremely critical and Burma is passing through that transition. We have to put in resources, thinking, planning to prepare for a better Burma. When we read the history of 40s and the early 50s that India passed through, we have to bring in all kinds of thinking not only one side of thinking. This helps us a lot. So this is the time to do that. And I hope that we also have active participation of friends, activist, thinkers and writers from Burma.


The other day I met a friend who said all over the world democracy is passing through a difficult time. So we cannot take it for granted that okay Burma has got democracy now, and everything will be over. No. Vigilance, we have to be alert. The other important thing is institution building, from day one we have to build institution.


India is at times is in chaos, with lot of crisis but somehow India survived because there are institutions – judiciary, free press, and so on and so forth. The point is institution building and that is the pillars on which we can build on democracy.


I am happy that the World Bank is coming back to Burma. Canada , the EU are coming in a big way to Burma. This are important because  of the many critical years of modern times  Burma passes through. It is therefore very critical and important  – the international community’s response.


When I see friends from Burma here in ISS, Delhi, I feel so thrilled – with a hoped they have struggled and they have reach a point , a critical point in history and our involvement more than the past is needed.   The ISS solidarity is with you.








Keynote Address


Ms. Debbie Stothard




BURMA 2010-2012


Euphoria over “reforms”
► lack of vigilance over key human rights issues
► uncritical acceptance of excuses & delays
► delay in legal reforms, haste in negative laws
► resurgence of conflict & other problems


Good news and Bad news


·         New Human Rights Commission, BUT  it refused to investigate abuses in ethnic areas


·         New “Elected” Parliament, BUT it…
*  refused to dissolve 11 laws named by the UN as being against international standards
*  brought in new laws that are repressive


·         Unlawful Associations Act (1908)


·         Emergency Provisions Act (1950)


·         Printers & Publishers Registration Act (1962)


·         Motion Picture Law (1966)


·         State Protection Law (1975)


·         Television and Video Law (1985)


·         Law Relating to Forming of Organizations (1988)


·         Law on the National Convention /Constitution (aka Law 5/1996)


·         Computer Science Development Law (1996)


·         Electronics Transactions Law (2004)


·         Sections 143, 145, 152, 505, 505(b) and 295-A of the Penal Code




2008: Quintana said laws not following international standards.


2010: Regime said  half of laws not in line with constitution, some would be deleted.


2011: MPs reject all proposals to repeal laws.




Conflict & displacement


·         TBBC: highest rate of new displacement in 10 years in eastern Burma (2010-2011)


·         New war in Kachin state: 75,000 displaced (Jun 2011- Jun 2012). The war & atrocities continue


·         Sectarian violence  in Arakan State: 104,000 displaced since
June 2012. Atrocities will likely continue with absence of intl monitors & refusal of neighbours to shelter


More displacement expected


         Arakan state: Nearly 1M Rohingya to be moved into deportation camps


         More displacement from land confiscation justified by new legislation, intensifying existing pressures (e.g. 63% of Families have lost land and livelihoods in the Ta’ang/Palaung area, Northern Shan State already)


         Increased push into “commercial agriculture” including illicit crops. (Since becoming MP under ruling party USDP in 2010, drug militia leader Kyaw Myint has expanded opium cultivation by 78% in Namkham township, northern Shan State).


Political prisoners, civil liberties


         Slow trickle of prisoner releases, but fresh arrests happening. Around 800 pps , with details of 444 confirmed.


         Media restrictions continue


         Religious freedom still curbed.


More good news, bad news


         There are new “progressive” laws J


         Peaceful Gathering and Demonstration Bill
* must have permission 5 days in advance
* must provide details about slogans & speakers
* can’t protest at factories, schools, hospitals, embassies, govt offices
* violators are subject to jail of up to one year


         Labor Organization Law
* slow to organize implementation
* might be manipulated like anti forced labor law
* still hostage to existing security laws


Parliament’s other new laws


         Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law Amendment Bill (Sep ’11)
Those convicted under laws (in past & future) such as the Unlawful Association Act are barred from voting for life.[1]


         Ward or Village-tract Administration Bill (Sep ’11)
Election of local administrators at the Ward and Village-tract level  controlled by regime officials.[2] This blocks democracy at the local level.


         FARMLAND BILL (Sep ’11)
Legalizes land confiscation for construction factories, power lines, roads, railways, pipelines, amusement parks, any project that regime says is of “national interest.”
President has power over use of land in any part of the country.
Newly-created agencies under Ministry of Agriculture & Irrigation will have jurisdiction over land-related disputes, farmers’ access to courts limited .[3]
Most official maps of ethnic areas show “empty land” where there are farms and homes.


[1] DVB (07 Sep 11) Political laws could equal lifetime ban


[2] Mizzima News (20 Sep 11) Ward, village-tract administrative chiefs to be appointed by superiors


[3] AHRC (01 Nov 11) BURMA: Draft land law denies basic rights to farmers






         Guarantees the military :


            * Art. 445 : immunity from prosecution


            * Art. 96, 188, 196, 216, 249 : main legislative & executive powers, through central govt, over land administration, natural resources, justice, health & education  (access to land & natural resources have been key factors of conflict & displacement in past 20 years)




         In 1990, 200 parties were registered, 97 ran in the elections


         In 2010, 40 parties were registered, 20 ran in the elections


         But there were more than 2x parliamentary seats in 2010!


         Parties that won 90% of seats in 1990 excluded.


         3,401 villages excluded, mostly in Kachin & Karen states




People’s                             National          National
                                          Assembly        Assembly        Parliament (joint)


     USDP (military ally)          60 %                58 %                59 %   


      Army-appointed                25 %                25 %                25 %


                                    85 %                83 %                84 %   




CABINET MINISTERS: 100% men, 86% military


         All 14 State/ Divisional Parliaments: Speakers, Deputy Spkrs USDP


         11 State & Divisions: Chief Ministers ex- SPDC/military


         MOST State/Division parlts met only twice in 2011 – some only for 10 minutes


April By-Elections


         48 Parliamentary Seats: (7% of the Parliament’s 659 seats)


         40 in Peoples Assembly


         6 in National Assembly


         2 in Division Parliaments (Irrawaddy, Rangoon)


         Vacancies because 42  joined the Cabinet, others were removed or died


         All seats were won by USDP


         NLD now hold 6% the seats. The struggle is far from over L.


Burma’s Parliament as of April 2012


(All Speakers & Deputy Speakers from USDP)


National Parliament
(Peoples + National)

Speaker: Khin Aung Myint
Dep Spkr: Mya Nyein


Peoples Assembly

Speaker: Shwe Mann
Dep Spkr: Nanda Kyaw Sar


National Assembly

Speaker: Khin Aung Myint
Dep Spkr: Mya Nyein



















Military appointed







Ethnic parties


11 %














<3 %









<2 %


















M+U In 2011
















Comparison of Burma’s National Budget (2011-2012 / 2012-2013)


(source: Asahi Shimbun, Myanmar Times, wires)



Overall (Billion)

Military (Billion)

Education (Billion)

Health (Billion)

2011-2012 (Kyat)

K 7600

K 1190

K 314

K 99.5

2012-2013 (Kyat)

K 13000

K 1878

K 638

K 381

Difference in allocation (Kyat%)





%of overall budget 2011-2012





% of overall budget 2012-2013






* Exchange rate Kyat 900 = USD 1


** Exchange rate Kyat 820 = USD 1


While the proportion of military spending in relation to overall budget has decreased, the military actually enjoys an increase of 57% in kyat or 73% in dollar terms.


Education and health do get a boost, however this falls short of the need created by decades of severe deprivation. The increase in overall budget is attributed to massive increase in infrastructure




         More commercial plantations


         Centrally controlled deals to exploit natural resources e.g. mining, oil & gas, hydro-power (dams)


         Big Money “Development” projects incl Special Economic zones, etc


         More resource-focused conflicts


         More land confiscation


         Mass displacement


         Local people may get poorer/hungrier


         More damage on environment


         Criminal elements linked to ruling party may increase illicit trade in drugs and people










Chair   Mr. Sumit Chakravarty


Editor, Mainstream








Mr. David Knaute


International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)


The FIDH is 164 member federation with its headquarter in Paris, our member organization ALTASEAN is working in Burma. We jointly work together on advocacy in various levels, working to bring networks with Burmese activist in Thai border , New York, EU , Geneva  and the UN to bring democracy in Burma .


The EU perspective on what is happening in Burma in the past years has been perceived as historical. Authorities and civil society deny that so much has been achieved. But according to FIDH some of our key demands have started to be implemented. The main and important one being the release of political prisoners. This is one of key indicator of the reform.   We are still working for demanding for the release of those who are still remaining in prisons.


However we still need to be extremely vigilante. EU and Asian NGOs have been running for years campaigning for establishment of commission of inquiry on crime against humanity happening in Burma. At that time we were hoping that the UN system will support the call .  EU support the process for commission of inquiry but it disappear. Then it tries to collide with the ongoing reform process. Our point of view is that we still need to keep the main message that was ‘impunity’ even if today the commission of inquiry is not on the agenda , what we feel is the necessity to fight against impunity, not only for past crimes but present crimes.


When Aung San Suu Kyi came to Europe in June for a tour to Norway , UK ,  she came for 3 days to France, we put before her our concern on the human rights  violations in Burma that has been happening for too long , that we speak of a new democracy in Burma, but there is still war in Kachin, the same in Arakan,  the situation still remain the same.  Some prisoners were released but many new people are arrested.


The rule of law is extremely weak in the country ( Burma) . When we talk to our government in Europe, to the French government, we have to tell them that we have to be extremely careful. They fully support us but in the recent times some of their decision has been too hasty. The suspension of sanctions against Burma came very quickly. We try to dialogue with the authority, but we failed to make then listen to our precautions. We told them that before lifting the sanction in Burma there has to be a clear bench mark. We need to know exactly at what conditions the sanctions can be suspended or lifted. We need to know the time frame for the release of all political prisoners, ask for an end to violence in ethnic areas. But EU didn’t really take into consideration our request. This was kind of a disappointment.


We will keep observing and put pressure on our authorities, our governments to make sure that their new interactions with the Burmese authorities are ethical specifically on the key issue of investment. When we talk of reforms we need to make it clear that  all changes involved in Burma and we need to strengthen their legal framework on investments. While US recently issued a new bill on investment, EU is in process to draft a new legislation.


UK and European international investment have some guidelines on investment in Burma. Recently Obama allowed license for US company  to invest in Burma even if it is destructive. This is contradictory because we believe that some sectors are destructive and cause violation of rights of the people.


In France there is a joke that in Rangoon the French embassy was a ToTo embassy; protecting the interest of the French government with the military.


We are disturbed that when Aung San Suu Kyi came to Paris , we question her on what  she mean by the France Government in ToTo can invest whatsoever it wishes.


We need to be very careful in our step toward collaboration with Burmese authorities. As EU NGOs based in Europe we try to work as much as possible with groups within Burma. That the new violations  in the reform process are  understood and taken into consideration by the international community.


In Maldives after 30 years of dictatorship, has a constitution ( 2008) and the new democratic institution has been established. Today in 2012, the reform process is in the brink of collapse. The dictator has placed his key associates in the name of democratic institutions including the human rights commission.


Indeed reform process is not  irreversible. We should make sure  that the reform process to take place in Burma are not irreversible. For that there need a real strategy of vigilance, mentoring so called civil society in Burma. We the international community need to pressure in not only creating a new government which changes from one to the next.






Ambassador Preet Malik


Former Ambassador to Myanmar


Our long association with Burma has been difficult, the India and Burma relation was below minimal. From there we have travelled a long way/ process. As we are discussing the world and the situation of the country Burma as of now, to my mind, there is no possibility of full national reconciliation unless there is an absolute understanding with the ethnic groups in Burma. This is an extremely complex issue.


I will go back to the very beginning of the process by which Burma won its independence. The British out of absent mindedness forgot all their commitments to the ethnic groups. Though they have managed within the geographical limits that they have defined for Burma with a low administrative presence of management systems leaving the ethnic areas largely to managed within their own traditional provincial systems.


The agreement during Aung San was like that. One of the articles in that has set out the process between the British administration and the Burmese delegates led by general Aung San. The manner is such that,  if the frontier areas agreed that they would participate in the union of Burma, which was foreseen in the independent act. British were very keen that there should be a united Burma. They did not want the frontier areas to assume an independent entity because they didn’t had the desire to be involved in helping and continuing the administration of the frontier areas and also the China factor.


The Association which was sought ultimately through the process that came to be known as the Panglong agreement which defines the Panglong spirit , which President Thein Sein himself refer to, when he tried to put forward his agenda, how he bring about national reconciliation with the ethnic groups. The Panglong spirit was even stronger than the agreement, this categorically makes it clear that Burma could be a federal state and not a unitary state.  


The ethnic groups who participate in the discussions and negotiations with Aung San and the Burmese delegation at Panglong did arrive at which gave the kind of trust which they were seeking and which was translated by Aung San Suu Kyi. The seven principles he had define in the constitution making process which even categorically define federalism. This was unfortunately over turn because he and his colleagues were assassinated. U Nu who took over the responsibility regrouped the concentration and ultimately weaken the federal structure . This is reflected in the 1947 constitution which perhaps laid the fears of the ethnic groups by including within it the right to secede. The next step took place when the ethnic groups actually wanted to go ahead and secede because they were not satisfied of the process that was put in place from 1948 onwards. They were given 10 years period after which they have the right to secede, it is at that time that Ne Win’s coup takes place and rest is history.  


The 1974 constitution removed the right to secede and made Burma a totally a unitary state. The 2008 constitution the one that is now in place is also a unitary constitution and not a  federalism arrangement. President Thein Sein’s three point agenda which he declared in the Parliament categorically puts  the positions as follows


First ceasefires, second economic development and the removal of things on the ground associated with demand and production. The third possible amendments to the constitution which will be within the constitutional provisional of the 2008 constitution which effectively means unless the military agree there is no possibility of amendment.


Now what has happen is that there are ceasefires but this ceasefire has not contributed to stability and even today, we have a number of violations of ceasefires that have been signed. We have the Kachin issue in the north and in Arakan state. The issue therefore is will the Government of the day accept responsibility and bring about amendments that accept to ensure that you will have a federal structure in place? That will allow the ethnic states to have their own autonomous function?


We live in a Federal state in India and we are aware of the provisions under the constitution - centre and state govt. Of course there are areas where both can function, but will the present government in Burma be inclusive?. Here we come to the question that has been addressed by speakers, is this a genuine move towards a democratic structure? Is it a move which is carefully thought out which take it to account the 2014 ASEAN summit responsibilities ? To bring in a certain degree of economic development, remove sanctions or a little bit of both?.


Another element which has also been referred to is that the present government existence as an elected government comes to an end in 2014. In 2015 they will have an election. When they go for election will it be on par with what they did show when they permitted the NLD to participate, permit Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in parliamentary election process and allow them to get elected.


To what extent would this be parallel to what would happen in 2015 is a big question mark. But let not forget that this is also part of the national reconciliation process bringing in the political party which has won the 1990 election hands down was very much part of the process that led to the present regime. What is the reason for all this no one seems to know.  


But the military have put in place of what they would be doing. In the present situation therefore what I foresee is a  very complex system of negotiations between the ethnic groups, and the government of the day. There has to be a national stability in that country, a definite process by which several  amendments would have to be made in the constitution and it will also become as a test kit as to what are the degree of involvement of the armed forces in determining the pace and direction of reforms in the country.


Second aspect is where one has to take into account the fact that unfortunately if you look at the map of Burma , you will find that the ethnic states and the ethnic groups are in an extremely strategic position in geographical terms. Because they face the frontiers of Burma with Bangladesh , India, Tibet , China, and Thailand. It you look at this very carefully, way back in 1865 when the British were annexing, the whole of Burma , the northern Burma were not annexed . They negotiated an agreement  with   China. This agreement shows something very interesting. Not the agreement itself but the negotiating process. Simultaneously, there was a parallel of negotiation taking place between the British and Beijing on Tibet. The most important is China’s calculations at that particular point of time, they did not pay attention to what the British had put on the table where Burma was concern where they had offer the entire Shan state to China . The frontiers of Burma what they would have been if you remove the entire Shan state. They wanted to make sure that Burma remain as British Burma ( the colonial map)  but the British were not interested in Burma.  Chinese did not pay attention to it. Rather in fit of amnesias than design I would say the Shan state got into Burma.


Another aspect which we need to keep in mind is the fact that there were several negotiations between the British authorities in Burma and London with the Chinese on settling the demarcation. The entire demarcations could not be finished and could not be effectively put in place. Till independent Burma managed to negotiate with the Chinese, it brought in the 1964 border agreement. So what I am trying to put across is that this are issues that had been on the table, from almost time immemorial. In the Shan state they have an overwhelming presence historically.


When we look at this frontier, we also look at the potential of mischief; the relationship of the ethnic groups are not settled. The Kachins , the Shans, definitely if we take in the history of independent Burma , the period when the Chinese were providing materials , economical support to insurgencies, this not something that we  can ignore. So unless you have a settlement, on the basis of national reconciliation, you are not going to have stability, this is something one has to keep in mind.


Whatever is thought of by countries who are now looking on Burma as opportunity, on economic point of view, that includes India, then this basic issue we cannot ignore. For India, of course, we have our problems in the northeast of India, and you have space from time to time to insurgent groups inside Burma. There has been several occasion in the past when the Chinese have also played their card. Pakistanis when they were holding  Bangladesh , Pakistan played their card, and they continue to play their cards. India cannot ignore supporting the efforts of trying to help the authorities in Burma to arrive at a stable relationship with the ethnic groups.


As far as involvement on the economic side is concern any economy should first of all have  a major emphasis on social element and not just an economic point of view. We need to  build schools, Human Resources , public health , all this are social security.  The Indo – Burma or the Indo- Myanmar joint statement on the occasion of our PM ‘s visit there lays  emphasise on this particular point. So May I end on that note. I hope we have many more occasion to try and monitor progress and involvement , but at this moment I am not sceptical but I am not sure ,that everything is moving in the right direction. 






Dr. Tint Swe


Ex.MP National League for Democracy (NLD)


In connection to today’s theme ‘international response to Burma” , after those changes taking place in Burma for me and for us the Burmese our role has also changed and so our views should also changed. So we need to see things differently from the past 20 years. When it comes to international response I would like to give some my critical observation . This includes the government the NGOs , business community, My country Burma is something like, if not an emerging democracy, but an unexplained democracy.


So many players are coming in quickly. There are already three prominent players in Burma the Chinese , ASEAN, and then he West. They are coming in very quickly. And for us we have to be very very careful. I agree with human rights violations, the ethnic nationality rights, peace agreements in northern Arakan states. Yes all this has to be looked into.


But if you look at things some NGOs, some government mentors look at that situation  different from what we see. For that I will say Burma is not an international soil. It is a sovereign country. So we have to be careful about that. Another one is the new comers in Burma.


The approach between EU and the US is different. EU came into Burma very very early. When they knew about the new constitution , new election in Burma , the new regime EU come in very very quickly. They created a democratic forces in Burma. And they try to helped the democratic forces in Burma . Strategically this is wrong. You know Burma is still not a normal country. We are still struggling between black and white between good and bad. In a normal democracy whatever we say can suit the international community, Burma it is not. For those foreign players who try to actually help so call democracies are among the so called Whites. It cannot touch like the black one. So white has been divided. This are also known as the third force.  Strategically this is wrong.


The difference between the EU and US approach : whoever comes from America first see Aung San Suu Kyi. For EU this is secondary , they sidelined this. After lifting the sanction America eventually called on Aung San Suu Kyi , even President Obama. The EU never did so. This is the difference.


Japan business community is extremely excited to come to Burma and do business. They ask me questions such as what are the laws in the Parliament and so and so forth. Those are right question to ask. Those are real things to ask. They try to consult us.


For us with an inexperienced movement, Burma mystery makes a very intelligent adjustment or those multi players coming in Burma. 


We don’t need any body to decide things in Burma. That does not mean we don’t want  China, we want all good things from China, India or America, but we don’t need everything from other countries.


This intelligent judgement can be made shape when we rightly consult Aung San Suu Kyi first before going into any decision. Regarding India’s Prime Minister’s to Burma , I don’t see much media coverage in India– print or electronic. But I give credit to this visit.  I am always critical of the Indian government ’s relation with Burma but I give credit to this visit. I agree to the sectors where India is going to invest . But for us what we need is not exploitation.


What do we need? we need to build infrastructure , social and human resources.


I was asked by many friends when are you going back to Burma.  One of the changes taking place in Burma recently in the last two weeks is that for the first time in 20 years my interview was published in Burma newspaper. For me, a politician sentence for 5 years , I may go back , if not now , soon. But millions of migrant workers, refugees they are more important.  Infrastructure and job creation for those people are extremely important. You just come and start a factory that is not job creation. And not our wish either. Those are areas for investment.


India is proud of human resources, why not invest in education , IT. In Burma 60 percent are still farm workers, agriculture sector can be one investment.


Exploitation of this will not truly bring democracy . There should be job creation for the new generation. Those are ethical and responsible investment.


I am also cautious our regime, but also the international community as well. We have to open our eyes very wide. Not only watch the regime but also those new comers.  




Prof. Manmohini Kaul


School of International Studies


Jawaharlal Nehru University






No one can be an expert on Burma, the most complex country at the moment is a difficult country to understand. Today’s Speakers have talked about human rights , historical background, the ethnic problems and a variety of views.


What I found interesting was that so many things on this should happen, that should happen , this should be followed , ethical etc is talked about. This is a utopian dream to be followed in Burma and even in the world. We Indians can somehow understand this we face in a lot of problem when it comes to business , corruption and other bad practices , it is not an easy task , for a country whether democratic country or not.


When we come to international responds in Burma on the evolving situation, first of all we all know that Burma is moving towards democracy and that Aung San Suu Kyi is back in action. This was welcomed by everyone,  including that she herself committed. The fact that she was allowed to travel abroad and her speeches have been remarkable, so articulately put I don’t think anybody would have spoken as well as she has. When we hear her speak in the British parliament it was  wonderful. She is absolutely clear in what she want for her country.


Now the question is we know about the reform that has been discussed , have not led to real democracy. But from the 2000 election to what has happened recently there has been a qualitative difference between the 2012 and 2010 election.  The fact is the question of easing sanction, now it’s a catch two-two situation for the western countries that if  you don’t ease sanction you eliminate the military leadership and the whole thing might be risky at the same time you give in and you know the situation is that everything is in the hand of the military leadership.


Don’t forget that the military can’t be so naïve, that the Army that has been in power for 50 years are they so easily going to give up everything for this idealistic reforms?. I have my doubt I am not pessimist but I think it is a little difficult for this. Another thing is the international response  that has been  positive with investors and business people going into Burma.


Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and that is what is being seen. We welcomed the visit of India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s to Myanmar, but he was accompanied by business people. If you see some of the report , lots of hope were  generated by the people companying the Prime Minister. They are very well known names. I feel this is very insensitive; they only look from the point of view of outsmarting the Chinese. Whom we know have animosity to the colonies of South East Asia.  How could have made such a remark .The military holds the economy and this has to be kept in mind . And too much investment will lead to corrupt practices


Aung San Suu Kyi has continuously appeal during her tour abroad that there has to be set  standards of accountability and transparency. Glad to see the US has responded to this appeal. Yesterday statement says they are not going to ease all sanctions.


The other issue is it is not a free and fair election we know , a nominal kind of democracy. What we need in true representative governance is legitimacy, accountability, respect for human rights, rule of law, cooperative to deliver all this. Cooperative are essential for the well being of citizens and good governance which is all missing. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party in the current process of reforms has been giving a major boost in terms of legitimacy to the current leadership. Aung San Suu Kyi also in her speech praised the President. These current reforms have helped her a lot. These are the criteria which the democracy does not fulfil.


One critical issue facing Burma, can ethnic problems be resolved ? the government has made gestures, it has signed ceasefire agreements, but this are long unsteady processes we have seen. One cannot also blame the ethnic groups, they have suffered the most under the most abusive authoritarian regime. And they continue to suffer. Those attitudes will not change overnight.


The interesting and positive side is what is happening to the Rohingyas ? had this country not been in isolation not many would have known what is happening to them. Now there are criticisms from human rights activist to muslim countries, fatwa being issued against Burma, this criticism from Asian muslim countries can be seen as a positive response.


The Vice President of Burma has recently visited Arakan State that means they are responding.


Now transition from military to civilian rule will only happen only when there is a change in constitution. That is what Aung San Suu Kyi has been asking for. And we all know that the military retains critical veto power, influence in government, society and resources,


Here comes the China factor, this is important as far as Burma politics is concern. There is rising anti China sentiment, due to corrupt Chinese. Is this  because of investors? Projects that are environmental and economically degrading ? But Burma and China will continue to have deep economic ties and trade linkages. 


Recently we have visitors from Burma and India is supposed to play the role of balancing Chinese influence there. India is also sending military parts and other equipments, building military to military relations, this is an alternative but not as strong as China. Lets not deceive ourselves. Now the worrying concern is the loosening of the civilian control over PLA in China. This will have an impact in the ultra nationalist and armed forces in Burma and this is something to worry about. Burma cannot be seen in isolation, we have to look at domestic factors and the impact of this events.


Another point of issue is the regional strategic landscape which is worrying. It reminds us of the cold war era. Everyone wants to take that space in this region. In the new regional order things seem different or seems rhetoric. The saddest part is ASEAN which was regarded as most successful regional organization in this apart of the world is no longer cohesive.


Looking at the recent role Cambodia in the recent meeting on South China sea. We can have two sides ; one pro America and one pro China. Although China’s diplomacy is working towards this kind of things, now its charm has given way to offence.


Burma will chair ASEAN in 2014, as part of ASEAN community, this exposure that led to its realizing to being a part of South East Asia, this was ASEAN ‘s constructive engagement which helped in breaking the isolation of Myanmar and acted as pressure group.


In the recent meeting on South China sea, a Philippine professor has said in her writing, that it is the fall of humty dumpty. This ASEAN weakness is not good for pro democracy movement in Burma. Now coming to the other critical issue is the US re emergence in this area. It seems there is rivalry with China. And they have strengthen their ties with their earlier partner - Philippines , that has become extremely aggressive , it is surprising of all the countries, and is willing to take on China. A lot of things are happening, what you see is not what is happening behind in Burma. 


So the South China sea dispute where does it lead ? why is China doing what it is doing ? the relation between China and Zimbawe deteriorating, Korea and Japan as well. There are also  old rivalries, I never admire historical background , but the nationalist feelings overcome any other reasons however modern , or democratic it might be. This is also going to be the new situation in the region.


For India despite its influence in Burma , the above points are major emphasis. This should be seen as the backdrop when discussing democratization in Burma.


I conclude that the major decisive factor would be that the leadership is aware of the 2015 elections . They know the popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party and so the question is would they give the political space ? or would we see that it is all again going back depending on the leadership. Everybody is wondering the motive behind the change and in speculation. Now with a bit of caution, the key to future participatory democracy and economic development, which is sustainable lies in the hands of Aung San Suu Kyi. As her husband had written she never wanted things to become goddess of  personality , but ironically she has become one.


Even though when she was in prison , in 1990 the election was won by her party. Due to their hard work , but the international community consult her , she won the Nobels prize.


So for Burma without Aung San Suu Kyi and there has to be some kind of development of leadership institution.




                                                            Mr. C.S. Kuppuswamy


                                                            South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG)






On taking over as President in March 2011, Thein Sein in his inaugural address, revealed his plans for introduction of wide ranging democratic reforms for overall development of the country. Since then he has been assiduously implementing his plan despite the challenges faced by his administration from various quarters.


In an address to the nation on 01 March 2012, on completion of one year in office, he reviewed the progress and promised to introduce more reforms to bring in genuine democracy in the country.


International Crisis Group in its Update Briefing titled “Reform in Myanmar: One year on” dated 11 April 2012, has given an exhaustive account of the reforms introduced, the challenges ahead and the role and reactions of the various agencies.


The focus of the second wave of reforms to be introduced is on financial and economic changes and development of the country and the public. Privatisation of some key sectors, a new investment law, rule of law and safety of the public are all part of this second wave of reforms.


Why the Reforms?


It is not that the generals have become all of a sudden believers in democracy.  International pressure was mounting. They realized that the status quo cannot be maintained as sanctions were really hurting the country. There was a threat of an UN Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity.  They saw the change coming in the Arab countries.  Hence all these factors had their part to play for the reforms to be initiated.


The Government wanted:


·         To have the sanctions lifted


·         To offset the overwhelming Chinese influence by the US Presence


·         To end the country’s isolation and integrate its economy with global system.


·         To gain legitimacy beyond the borders of ASEAN, East and SE Asia




Luckily at this juncture at the end of last year (2011) there was a convergence of interests of both US and Myanmar.  US had realized after two decades that isolation and calls for regime change had not worked. The US changed its policy on Myanmar not out of concern for human rights and democracy but because of its strategic  interests and diplomatic concerns.  Obama was pursuing the policy of pragmatic engagement (enhancing dialogue while maintaining sanctions). In November 2011, President Obama after touring Asia made a series of announcements on increasing the US commitments in the Asia Pacific Region. Strategically there will be US presence at China’s underbelly. Then came the visit of Hillary Clinton to Burma and the rest is history.


“Clearly the US  Administration’s main intentions on Burma are to use Aung San Suu Kyi to resolve Burma’s politics cosmetically so that the US could further engage with ASEAN without losings face, to counter rise of China and to block Burma form becoming Asia’s another North Korea possessing nuclear Weapons”. Swe Swe Kyi-Universityof East Yangon.


International Responses




From February till July 2012 most of the sanctions have been removed except for the arms embargo


US ban on imports extended recently for another year..


 Derek Michell takes over as Ambassador




US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta hinted at the Shangrila dialogue in Singapore that military ties which broke in 1988 may be resumed.  Even a military attaché may posted.


Hillary Clinton meets Thein Sein in Cambodia and introduces him to US Businessmen.




UK prime Minister David Cameron visits Myanmar in April 2012—meets President Thein Sein  and  Suu Kyi.


In April 2012 EU suspends all sanctions against Myanmar for a period of 12 months except for the arms embargo.




In April 2012, eased sanctions to reduce the number of people placed in the list for financial and travel restrictions from 392 to 130.




President Thein visits Japan (20-24 April 2012).


 Waived the debt of 300 billion yen (US $ 3.7 billion).


Tokyo plans to extend around US $ 900 million in bridge loans to Burma to help the country repay its debts to the World Bank and the ADB.




According Myanmar the ASEAN Chairmanship for 2014


Hosting of the SE Asian Games 2013


Canvassing with the West for lifting of the sanctions




Suu Kyi attends the World Economic Forum in June 2012 where she warned investors against “reckless optimism”.


Thein Sein visits (22 to 24 July 2012)


Both countries renewed their commitment to Dawei deep sea port and Special Economic Zone in South Burma.


Three MOUs were signed during Thein Sein’s visit


(Thailand is the second largest investor in Burma.  Burma is Thailand’s energy lifeline)




PM Manmohan Singh visited Myanmar (27-29 May 2012)


 12 MOUs were signed during the visit, the major ones pertaining $500 mm line of credit, Airline services agreement and establishment of the Joint Trade and Investment Forum.


Development and Connectivity have been discussed at length.


PM meets Suu Kyi.  Discussed National reconciliation and how development can be more inclusive


India has conveyed its readiness to extend all assistance in the country’s transition to democracy by developing the capacity of democratic institutions such as the parliament, National Human rights Commission and the Media.




Has outwardly welcomed the US engagement with Myanmar.  However some think tanks have expressed their displeasure in various ways.  China has become cautious in their ongoing projects from the environment angle and by helping the local public by way of paying adequate compensation and providing educational and health facilities.


China has still the trump card with the Ethnic groups on its border.


China’s dominance over Myanmar will continue to be there.


World Bank and ADB


Both have opened offices in Yangon.


The World Bank has announced a US $ 85 million in grants for social work. The World Bank had not given any loans since 1987.




                                                            Mr. Vishal Arora


                                                            Senior Journalist


I have serious problems in the present reforms that has been showcased about Burma . There are three main reasons for concern. First is that there is something that is fundamentally wrong in the regime that is because of the constitution. The constitution is very important for me. The international community responding to reforms is overlooking the constitution, the provisions that are there in the constitution. As Kuppuswamy has said the decision to reform did not happen suddenly. It is a plan.


It did not certainly happen after the constitution was drafted. It is something that took place before   the constitution was drafted. So in that sense I don’t think that the scope of the reform is given in the constitution. This is how much the government is willing to go in terms of actual change in the country, having said that it is very clear that the government wants a dominant role for the military. We know that ¼ of the seats in the legislature are reserved or are appointed by the military. And because of which amending the constitution becomes problematic, almost impossible unless the military has the upper hand at the helm of affairs. Even in terms of the President appointment military has a major to play . And if you look at important portfolios in Ministry in the government , the home ministry , the law and order , minister for border affairs, the defence minister, these ministers were appointed by the military. 


In case of emergency it is the Commander in Chief who gets all the political power and this could be highly dangerous because I personally see clashes between President Thein Sein and the Military. If you also see the ethnic areas the President said that there should not be any attacks by the military but did the attack stop ? they didn’t stop it. Definitely his will was overruled by  the military in ethnic areas . If you look at provisions in the constitution which says that the President or the Vice President cannot have a blood relative , a brother  a sister or spouse who owes allegiance to foreign countries / powers . Now in the next elections if we are to take this into account, Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband is a British citizen and they have two children , so what happen now, how will this clause be translated ? It is discretionary but  depend on constitutional tribunal.


The second thing is that  I don’t see any  reattributed justice which I would like to see wholeheartedly.  If you look back at the institution of the military, they have committed serious human rights violations, they rigged the 2010 election, they implemented the new constitution through a writ referendum. What do we do with that ? Do we forget? Just because there is change?


In the same way, what about Rajapaksee in Sri Lanka , did we expect the same ? If he say let me do whatever I want to do, I have killed ten and thousands of people in the north and northeast. But I have a hope because the world forgets; just you should be willing to change, at any point of time and everybody will forget. This is what Narendra Modi in India does and hope to achieve that  everybody will forget all those Muslims that were killed . So it is really important that we set example in terms of getting retributive justice. The constitution very clearly says that you cannot prosecute the military or the regime people for any of the offence committed.


 The third is the ethnic issue , very recently I visited the Karen state from Thailand border and what I saw was absolutely no change on the ground. I mean if you talk to the Internally Displaced People in the Karen hills they say “yes we have heard about it on the radio” that is all they know about the reforms. In the places I have visited there are a kind of black rules that the army will shoot you on sight. If you speak to the Kachin rebels : the KNU or the KNLA they completely distrust the government and for the right reasons. They have said that this is not the first time that the government  is coming for a  ceasefire or for peace talks. They have had several such peace talks and each time what happen is that the government used the ceasefire agreements or peace talks to increase troops in their areas that they control, to increase supplies, including ammunitions.


 Most people there seriously think that the govt is preparing for a major military onslaught because there is absolutely no other reason why supplies and troops should be increase in these areas.  And also if you look at Kachin state for the last more than one year fighting is going on , more than 70 thousand people have been displaced there. In 1994 they had signed a ceasefire agreement with the government . After that what happen absolutely nothing just a status quo. In 2011 the ceasefire was broken and there was fighting and what they were demanding, and rightly so is to reverse the law. The government insist that first signed ceasefire and lets have peace and  then we will have development. Allow us access to the country ( areas) and then we will talk about political solution to your demands.


This require trust, how could they allow the military government  in areas to your areas without any assurance ? The constitution says otherwise, your actions says otherwise, then what can you expect ? Can we over look as the international community has done, after  lifting that sanctions  what is happening in the ethnic areas? The argument is everything takes time, but why don’t you also take time to lift sanctions ? what is the hurry ? It is perhaps the business group who are behind it and lobbying. So for these three reasons I am still highly sceptical about what is happening in Burma.




Compiled by Burma Centre Delhi