Friday, August 19, 2011

‘I don’t see openness in the government yet’

Friday, 19 August 2011 12:02 Mizzima News

(Interview) - An adviser to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, Atman Trivedi, met National League for Democracy General-Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday in Rangoon. He also met with representatives of the Friends of Democracy group including the All Mon Region Democracy Party, Phalon Sawaw, Rakhine Nationality Development Party (RNDP), Democracy and Peace Party, Democratic Party, Chin National Party, National Democratic Front, UDP and the National Unity Party. The Shan Nationality Development Party did not attend the meeting. Mizzima reporter Ko Wild interviewed RNDP General-Secretary Oo Oo Hla Saw on topics discussed at the meeting.
Q: What were the major topics of the meeting and what did you say to the US representative?

A: He asked us for our opinions on the current political situation, and we told him there was not much significant and had been no change yet. It was routine. Even in meeting with EU officials, we had frank and clear discussions. But this meeting was just routine.

Q: Did the discussion include US sanctions?

A: No, the sanction issue was not included.

Q: So what issues were discussed and was the meeting significant?

A: Nothing much was discussed. The nine political parties from our Friends of Democracy group outlined what we’ve done and said, and our efforts to stop the civil war, calling for a general amnesty and releasing all political prisoners, lifting sanctions, etc. We prepared a paper on these issues. Myo Nyunt of the Democracy and Peace Party presented a paper on behalf of us. The US representative asked for our opinions on the current political situation in Burma.

Because we are an ethnic political party, he asked about ethnic issues. I told him we didn’t have good relations with the government and were not treated fairly. I asked him if he thought we were pro-junta political parties because of our accepting the 2008 Constitution? Did you think of us as democratic parties? I said we had specific issues and problems in forming our parties. Our ethnic groups are the most oppressed groups in the country and the most underdeveloped groups. We formed these ethnic political parties to maintain our ethnic identity. We established  [political] platforms to raise our issues. We raise our voice firmly among our people and in the international arena. I told him that if he didn’t see us as democratic parties, he would be totally wrong.

He said our parties were viewed as democratic and that’s why he came to meet with us. I told him the US government didn’t show any sympathy for us, even morally, and that we didn’t see any constructive US policy directed towards us. I told him as an example, we asked for assistance from the US embassy and US officials to publish a small booklet, “Democratic Journal,” but they were reluctant to give us assistance. We had to try hard to get a little help. Then he asked what more assistance we needed from them. Capacity building or anything else, he said.

We also had a discussion on current politics in Burma. Most of us have the same opinions as Aung San Suu Kyi. We are the same. I told him the current situation was not too good. But at the same time, we see some constructive signs. They have met Suu Kyi. We welcome that, and we’re happy to see such meetings. Generally speaking, our views are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. We have a little hope.

Q: What were the serious issues you pointed out?

A: The issue of releasing all political prisoners becomes blurred. The people do not feel any change in their lives and do not experience any happiness. We understand it will take time, but they can do many things practically. They can implement things here and there. The ministers are like the ministers in the Burmese socialist government [under the previous government of General Ne Win]. They came and gave instructions. The working procedures and working styles between these new ministers and the BSPP ministers are the same–no significant change between them. This is disappointing.

In the media too, there are no changes yet between the current media and the BSPP-era media. You can see no change in media from 1988-2011. There are no development projects yet especially in the underdeveloped ethnic areas where the Shan, Rakhine, Mon and Chin live. We don’t hear anything about development in these areas.

Q: What are the immediate development projects the government could undertake now?

A: There are many immediate development works they could do here and there. There are political prisoners who are imprisoned for loving the country and loving democracy. They didn’t cause any harm to the country and society. There are many students behind bars. So they can release these prisoners of conscience. These kinds of things are not difficult.

The ethnic areas are underdeveloped. In Rakhine State, there are a lot of gas reserves. The government earned a lot of money from the sale of these resources. So they should have no difficulty in doing electrification work in these areas. They can do this work by building just one or two turbines. And then they don’t need to do so much poverty alleviation and eradication projects here. After getting electricity, the ethnic areas will develop faster. These are immediate development projects that they can do right now. There’s also education reform. These are just a few of the examples.

We see some constructive developments in the country, but at the same time there are still many disappointing delays. And as for stopping the civil war, stopping all offensives would not be very difficult. It’s simple.

Q: What else did you say about the current political situation?

A: I talked about our disappointments, but at the same time we can see some constructive points. We want to see honest, sincere and practical approaches from them. Now the government has invited three representatives from each political party to a workshop to be held in Naypyitaw. But we don’t know yet how much practical work might come from these workshops. So the situation in Burma is complicated and messy. We wonder whether they are just playing a political game. As a weak ethnic party, we worry about that. There are many immediate and hot issues such as the Asean chairmanship in 2014, civil war, poverty eradication projects, etc., as well as some points in the president’s address that was delivered on Wednesday. We had mixed feelings on all of these matters, some are good and some are bad. Some are rays of hope for us and some are still disappointing. We want to hear them say let’s work together on this new road and discuss things openly and fairly.

Now they are meeting with Suu Kyi. We are happy to see Suu Kyi starting to work with the government that she’s had problems dealing with throughout her life. They are developing an understanding. But what they will do and how they will implement things remains to be seen. Things are quite complicated and sensitive. In the past, we understood that the NLD would not contest in the election. They continuously challenged the government. Now the same people are cooperating with the government again. And in the meantime, a civil war broke out again. We have constructive views on all of these complicated and messy matters. We hope for the best, but I don’t yet see openness in the government.

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