Another uprising in Burma: India left in the lurch
As we upload this ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW, international press is abuzz with the news that the Burmese military junta today broke up another uprising, said to be one of the biggest public demonstrations in Burma in a decade. Hundreds of protestors from all walks of life held demonstrations at various places in Rangoon to protest against the government's decision of 14 August 2007 to increase the fuel price. Beyond the rage over the rising prices, the demonstrations have been spontaneous and are expressions of people's disgust and frustrations against the military junta.
I. Quelling another uprising
With effect from 15 August 2007, the price of petrol rose from 1,500 kyat ($1.17) to 2,500 kyat ($1.95) per gallon, while diesel rose from 1,500 kyat to 3,000 kyat per gallon. The increase in the fuel price hit hard the common man. While many buses and taxis remained out of the street, those that ran charged higher fares. The working class suffered the most and many commuters were left stranded.
On 19 August 2007, over 500 people reportedly participated in the peaceful protests led by the 88 Generation Students group in Rangoon. Surprisingly, the military junta which has been infamous for brutal crackdown on any protest or sign of dissent against the government did not stop the protestors. However, on the late night of 21 August 2007, the authorities arrested at least 13 activists, including seven top leaders of the pro-democracy 88 Generation Students group in Rangoon on the charges of “undermining stability and the security of the nation”. Among those arrested were prominent student leaders - Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Ko Mya Aye, Ko Pyone Cho, Ko Jimmy and Ko Yin Htun. Others included five university students - Kyaw Ko Ko, Nyan Oo, Yar Zar Mon, Nyan Linn and Nyi Linn Oo.
Many others faced intimidations and threats. A key activist of the Myanmar Development Committee (MDC), Ko Htin Kyaw has reportedly gone missing since 17 August 2007 after the MDC announced its decision to launch street protests against the fuel price hike. It is not known whether he has been arrested or he went into hiding to evade arrest and harassment by the junta.
The arrests of the pro-democracy activists did not deter the people from coming out in open opposition against the military junta as was evident from today's reported massive rallies in Rangoon.
II. Vain efforts of the UN
The United Nations has been making vain efforts for the national reconciliation in Burma as Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest. Former Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General Ismail Rizali from Malaysia failed to make any breakthrough.
In May 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon appointed Ibrahim Gambari as his Special Advisor on Burma to garner the cooperation of the government of Burma and other concerned parties in making progress toward the restoration of democracy and the protection of human rights in Burma.
In July 2007, Mr Gambari visited China, India, Japan, Russia and several European countries to seek their support on Burma. Earlier this month (August 2007), Ibrahim Gambari also visited Singapore, Thailand, and is supposed to visit Malaysia and Indonesia before visiting Burma. Mr Gambari has been requested to broaden his consultations.
On 20 August 2007, a group of ASEAN lawmakers once again urged India and China to withdraw their support for Burma's military rulers since Burma failed to bring in genuine reforms. Charles Chong, a Member of Parliament from Singapore stated that ASEAN, China and India should form a “triangle of influence” to exert political and economic pressure on Burma.
III. India: Left in the lurch
The embargo on the Burmese junta from the European Union and the United States has been off-set by China, Thailand and India.
Thailand, now being ruled by the military junta, has almost become a pariah and it has its own credibility problem.
India which awarded the highest civilian award to Aung San Suu Kyi is even scared to raise the issue of her release – a demand echoed by most democratic countries in the world including those who do business with the Junta. In August 2006 India's then President APJ Abdul Kalam raised the issue of "well being" of Aung San Suu Kyi with General Than Shwe only at the tarmac of the airport when the General came to see off the President.
India has been providing largesse of funds and military aid to the Burmese Junta in the hope of getting oil, counter-balance China's influence on the junta and launch joint counter-insurgency operations to deal with insurgency in the North East India.
India's hopes are misplaced and it has been virtually left in the lurch by China. In late June 2007, Mr Eric John, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of the United States, held talks with Burma's ministers of Foreign Affairs, Culture and Information in Beijing, China. On 14-15 August 2007, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe held talks with the representatives of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing and the agenda of talks included Burma. This shows that Beijing has become the key interlocutor on Burma.
Yet, it is China to whom oil and gas have been sold by the Junta, which like all good businessmen sells to the highest bidder. On 16 August 2007, Burma confirmed to the Reuters that ONGC of India lost the bid to PetroChina to import gas from the A-1 and A-3 blocks off the Rakhine coast of Arakahan in Burma. The two blocks were operated by a joint venture comprising a 60 percent stake from South Korean Daewoo International, a 10 percent interest from Korea Gas Corp, and a combined 30 percent interest from India's state-run GAIL and ONGC Videsh.
India's hope of military cooperation from the Junta to counter insurgency in the North East India is also misplaced. Apart from alleged regular cooperation between the Burmese military and insurgents from North East India at the local level, insurgency problems of North East India are homegrown. India did help to crush the Rakhaine insurgency through “The Operation Leach” of February 1998 in which leaders of the Arakan armed opposition groups were massacred by a double agent from Indian military who hoodwinked the administration including the Prime Minister's Office but even that could not secure the gas from the Arakan for India.
The spontaneous uprisings that Burma is presently witnessing do not pose any threat to the military junta and the junta will crush the movement with brutality if it spreads beyond Rangoon or go on for a few more days. The situations will be volatile as Burmese junta will resort to increased extrajudicial killing, arrests, disappearances and torture. The public condemnation of the human violations by the junta by ICRC on 29 June 2007 is a clear signal of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.
There is nothing called “free lunch” in economics and "free dinner" in diplomacy. India must remember that there cannot be free “oil” either.
India must support the initiative of the ASEAN for national reconciliation in Burma. The foreign ministers of ASEAN in their summit in July 2007 expressed concern to Burma about its slow pace of change and urged it to "show tangible progress that would lead to a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future" and release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political detainees.
On 15 August 2007, the US State Department stated that Burma should be put on the agenda of UN Security Council for intervention. Russia and China which blocked the Security Council's resolution to put Burma on the agenda of the Security Council in September 2006 must also cooperate with the latest initiatives. After all, the junta will continue to offer its resources to the highest bidder.
After all, the junta will continue to offer its resources to the highest bidder.