Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cleaning up the Burmese yard

A few years ago, my colleagues made a trip to Yangon, Burma during their vacation. They asked me to join them. I was tempted, not having gone to that country. Burma would also have presented new experiences since it was the only country in that region that is still mired in the past. Others, such as Vietnam, its immediate neighbour, has since gone on to develop its country and people at breakneck speed. Cambodia has also opened up and Thailand has been hailed as the new destination for business under the Thaksin years, whether one likes Thaksin and his billions or not. Laos is the only other Indochinese nation that is still 'backward', although I am not certain why it is so.

The latest mass demonstrations by monks and students in Burma has brought a spark of hope that the Generals who rule Burma with an iron fist will turn back the years of isolation and deprivation and herald a new era run by, hopefully, more competent civil government that are directly accountable to its people. Apparently this is not to be. If students and monks are the only people willing to agitate for change, with Aung San Suu Kyi the only other visible symbol of hope, albeit an ineffective one for the past 18 years, then Burma deserves to remain under the iron-fisted control of the Generals. Given the poor state of the economy, these Generals know that keeping in control is the only way they have access to the better things in life for themselves and for their children.

The question is, why are the soldiers under them willing to risk life and limb, to the extent of killing innocent people, to prop up greedy, corrupt and oppressive generals who are not doing any good for the people of Burma? Has the entire military sold its soul to these corrupt 'Government-Generals'? They are the ones that really have the power to change. They can stop obeying their military masters and side the people. But no, they are like automatons who do the bidding of their masters to perpetuate their legacy and their livelihood. Perhaps this is the price to pay for rice on the table and a roof over their heads, given that the economy is in shambles and opportunities for alternative livelihood are scarce or even non-existent?

Burma's own adults fare no better. They would rather stand on the side to clap rather than join the team to agitate for change with real visible action. They have Philippines' people-power revolution as an example of what people can do to topple a corrupt government. That said, they still need the rank-and-file and leadership within to throw out the incumbent military government - the undeserving masters whom they serve. Right now, neither party is budging. Neither is willing to put life and limp on the line for the sake of their children and for their country.

The UN and Asean can do nothing beyond persuasion. The best that ASEAN, under Singapore's leadership, has done is to issue a strongly-worded statement against the Burmese government's brutal actions. This is a departure from its long-held practice of non-interference in member countries' affairs. But who are the UN and ASEAN that these Generals should listen to? Even the US refuses to take any action unilaterally this time.

Why should the rest of the world care at all what happens to Burma if the Burmese, except its monks and students, do not want to own the problem in their own backyard?


Free Burma! said...

Free Burma!
International Bloggers' Day for Burma on the 4th of October
International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.

James Chia said...

I watched a BBC live talkshow some time ago on the development of Burma. There was this Burmese caller now staying in US. She has a military family background. Her father and uncles are all from the military yet she felt very ashamed of it. She knows it's wrong for them to kill their fellow countrymen but they got to survive. If they oppose the leaders, they would suffer the same fate as the protesters. So for many of the soldiers, I think they feel they have no choice. Of course, that doesn't mean I pardon them for what they have done on the people.