Friday, August 7, 2009

Hope for democracy lives on in Burma

Today is the 21st anniversary of the first popular uprising in Burma that was violently crushed by the country's military regime.The response was so brutal that even two decades later the Burmese people continue to live in fear. Thousands of people were gunned down like flies and despite the fact that more than two decades have passed, the junta hasn't let up on its brutal tactics.

August 8, 1988, commonly referred to as "8888", was the start of a long revolution for the Burmese people against an awful regime. More than 3,000 people's lives were brutally cut short for simply demanding a freer society and that the government cater to their needs. In short, all the people wanted was a decent government that could provide them with the basic goods and services. However, apparently meeting these needs was far too difficult for the military junta, so they responded with bullets and tanks.

Still, more than two decades later, the spirit of Burma's democracy shows no signs of waning. Young activists continue to work hard, putting their lives on the line to tell the world about the atrocities being committed by the government against its own people.

The "8888 generation" continues in its quest for political freedom and openness despite the great risks they face. Two years ago, Burmese people from all walks of life, together with thousands of Buddhist monks, took to the streets to once again call for change. They came face to face with the soldiers who, as video footage has shown, did not once hesitate in using violent means to crush the demonstration.
When the dust settled, there were reports that demonstration leaders, including saffron-robed monks, had been hunted down one by one, snatched from their beds and never seen again.As in the past, this wave of violence caused an international outcry and forced the UN Security Council to sit up and take notice. Still, progress has been slow.

Early last May Cyclone Nargis devastated more than 1.2 million villagers, and the international community responded with great sympathy and an influx of humanitarian assistance. Some of this aid arrived on naval ships, but as expected the junta preferred to see its own people rot to death rather than allow alien ships to dock on its shores to unload food and medical supplies. In fact, the ships weren't even allowed to enter Burmese territorial waters.

Asean hoped that it could use the incoming foreign assistance as a catalyst for some sort of political change. Yet the grouping and the rest of the international community learned that giving the Burmese junta the benefit of the doubt can be quite costly. No amount of pressure from Asean or even international sanctions has worked.

Economic rehabilitation and restructuring, as expected, have been used as tools to strengthen the regime's grip on power. Besides a generation of activists with an unwavering commitment to peace and national reconciliation, the 8888 generation also brought to the forefront Aung Sang Suu Kyi, one of Burma's best-known political prisoners.

Suu Kyi, currently being subjected to a farce of a trial, faces the prospect of going to prison yet again. However, the recent decision to postpone the verdict on her suggests that the junta is wondering how to deal with a case as sensitive as hers. In a country where every little move is analysed from top to bottom, the decision could be a cause c้l่bre.

The presiding judges said they had decided to postpone the verdict because they needed to review several "legal problems". Strangely, in a country where the judiciary system and the junta leadership are more or less two sides of the same coin, the idea of them reviewing legal problems might offer a glimmer of hope.Still, as the experience of Cyclone Nargis has shown, anybody who gives the junta the benefit of the doubt gets burned in the end.

A decade ago Asean was using words like regional integration as a justification to let Burma into the grouping. It was a nice way of saying we don't want to see them get too close to China.

Well, as the old saying goes, you reap what you sow. Asean now needs to step up and correct this mistake and do it by any means necessary.

By The Nation
Published on August 8, 2009

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