Sunday, January 27, 2008

The China Factor

Bangkok Post, Perspective >> Sunday January 27, 2008

The China Factor

Diplomacy alone is not enough to compel China to play an effective role in resolving the situation in Burma - action from the global public is needed, writes MIN ZIN

A few weeks after the protests last year in Burma, a Chinese diplomat approached an influential Burmese advocate in New York and asked why the Burmese dubbed their protest the "Saffron Revolution."

"The diplomat was obviously quite uncomfortable with this particular name, which he whispered to me," said the Burmese advocate, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Chinese are very sensitive to the 'colour revolutions'," she added.

In the wake of successful "colour revolutions" such as Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution and Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution - victories of nonviolent democracy movements in post-communist countries - Beijing is anxious to prevent similar occurrences at home or among its neighbours.

Then a country in its own backyard triggered the "Saffron Revolution", and the military's subsequent crackdown captured the world's attention. Along with the crisis in Burma, China was drawn into the spotlight with unflattering coverage in international media, and diplomatic pressure increased to withdraw its support of one of the world's most odious regimes. Public outcry across the globe called on China to assume a larger role in helping to resolve the crisis.
However, contrary to common perceptions, China is not a patron that pulls the strings, and the self-isolated, delusive Burmese regime is not a puppet. In fact, China has limited sway with the junta's generals. The relationship runs in both directions. This complicates Burma's problems and their resolution.

Of course, China has more power and influence on the generals than any other country. It also intends to use that leverage to its own benefit.

According to Chinese diplomats, Beijing has been gradually changing its Burma policy since the removal of former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in 2004, and this has accelerated since the recent deadly crackdown in Burma. However, the diplomats warn that the policy shift should not be expected to be quick or dramatic. It will be slow and well-calculated.

"Than Shwe and Maung Aye are more intransigent than former dictator Ne Win, and they often do incredibly silly things," said a Chinese official during a meeting with a Burmese opposition activist. "China knows that Burma will not prosper under their leadership."

China's special envoy, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, was sent to Burma in November. He met with the junta's top leader, Senior-General Than Shwe, and asked the military "to resolve the pending issues through consultation, so as to speed up the democratisation process."

However, the regime responded that it will go at its own pace in the unilateral implementation of its "Seven-Step Road Map," according to a Western diplomat.

"The Chinese keep telling us that the international community is overstating their influence with the Burmese generals," said the diplomat. "Beijing says they don't have ability to tell the regime what to do."

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst living on the China-Burma border, disagrees with that interpretation.
"Persuasion, without power backup, will not work. The soft-soft approach should be changed. China must show the stick part of its diplomacy," said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

Tipping Toward Responsibility

At the present time, Beijing is clearly not ready to apply real pressure to the junta. It still believes that working to resolve Burma's problems is secondary to pursuing its principal economic and strategic interests.

But simultaneously, China would like to solidify an international role as "a responsible stakeholder."

The time has come for concerted international diplomatic pressure on China to tip the balance toward responsibility. China must consider the sentiments of Thucydides: An amoral foreign policy is neither practical nor prudent.

Protesters in Bangkok calling for an end to the brutal use of force by the Burmese military junta against its people during the crackdown last year.

At the same time, it should be obvious that the United States and the European Union cannot outsource Burma's transition to democracy to China, which itself lacks democracy.

The West's most powerful countries should coordinate with China to facilitate a real transition in conflict-ridden Burma.

However, diplomacy alone is not enough to compel China to play an effective role. Public action on a global scale is needed.

"China was very annoyed to see the wave of protests taking place outside its embassies in major cities around the world in the wake of the September protests," said Aung Kyaw Zaw. "More importantly, they were really worried when demonstrators linked Burma's cause with a 2008 Olympic boycott."

China is very anxious to prevent any negative effect on the Olympic games. The vice mayor of Beijing warned in October 2007 that any move to link China's role in Burma to a boycott of the 2008 Olympics would be "inappropriate and unpopular."

China's leadership might even accommodate its Burma policy and give more support to the UN's Burma mediation role if they sensed a possibility of real damage to the much-hyped gala this summer, even though it might be a tactical and temporal accommodation.

However, the Burmese opposition has so far failed to seize and exploit this opportunity effectively. During the peak of Burma 's "Saffron Revolution", The Washington Post labelled one of its editorials the "Saffron Olympics", highlighting the dynamics of an international campaign against the summer Olympics. But that effort has run out of steam.

"The Burmese opposition in exile cannot accelerate the campaign in a consistent manner," said Nyo Ohn Myint, the head of the Foreign Affairs Office of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area). "Our campaigners are going after ad hoc protests without a focus. We fail to form a wider coalition with other Olympic detractors. Unless we can launch a coordinated international grassroots action, China will not be swayed to our direction."

Beijing plans to start its Olympic festivities on 8/8/08, a date that is surprisingly similar to the 20th anniversary of Burma's "Four Eight ( 8/8/88 ) Democracy Movement."

Whether or not the heirs to the movement can make the most out of this coincidence remains to be seen.

Min Zin is a freelance journalist.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Burma Under Siege

Irrawaddy Online, Saturday, January 26, 2008

Burma Under Siege


After the September uprising, the Burmese junta regained control over opposition groups and activists, but whether it achieved a stronger strategic position remains doubtful.

A series of bomb blasts in the past two weeks demonstrates one of two things: the security issue is still potentially troublesome for the military or, if opposition charges are true, the junta itself was the source of the bomb blasts, which can be used to blame powerful, disruptive organizations.

There were four explosions within one week, killing at least three civilians and injuring five others. The first blast occurred on January 11 at the railway station serving the country's capital, Naypyidaw. It was the first incident of a bombing in the new capital.

As the bombs were going off, the regime and ethnic, armed opposition groups traded allegations.

The junta accused the Karen National Union (KNU) and an unspecified "foreign organization" of sending "terrorist saboteurs with explosives across the border to perpetrate destructive acts inside the country." Many observers believe the "foreign organization" was a reference to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

"They are not making this allegation lightly," said a well-informed source inside Burma. "No matter whether the allegation is true or not, it’s a well-calculated charge that is being interpreted within the military establishment in the context of U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman's recent call for the US to use its military capabilities in Burma."

The influential senator wrote an opinion piece in October 2007, suggesting the Bush administration should actively investigate US military and intelligence capabilities could be used to put additional pressure on the regime. Lieberman said, "We should be examining how the junta's ability to command and control its forces throughout the country might itself be disrupted."

But opposition groups and the media dismissed the accusation of a "foreign organization" involvement as a ridiculous charge. The KNU also denied carrying out any attacks targeting civilians.

The opposition speculated that the regime itself could be behind the bombings in the hope of raising a perception of threat against the military, offering an excuse to continue its crack down against known democracy activists and the KNU.

Some exiled Burmese analysts even point to bitter military intelligence members who were purged in 2004 for orchestrating the bombings. Theories abound.

Meanwhile, security has been increased in Rangoon, Pegu and other major cities. Local authorities in some cities even reportedly detained and questioned residents who had recently returned from Thailand after working there as migrants.

In fact, the bombings underscore the vulnerability of the junta's leadership, no matter the source.

Even if the regime uses the bombings as a justification to continue its crackdown against opposition groups, it underscores its fear of the opposition. If the bombings were self-inflicted and meant to shore up unity within the Tatmadaw (armed forces), it’s a sign the junta is unsure of the loyalty of officers and soldiers.

"It is less likely that the junta orchestrated the recent explosions," said Win Min, a Burmese analyst who studies civil-military relations in Burma. "I don't think the military would stage an attack in Naypyidaw, the capital they extol and take pride in. In fact, it is not necessary for them to use bombings to justify their crackdowns on the oppositions."

In fact, since 1988 the military’s image, in the eyes of the domestic public as well as abroad, has descended to rock bottom, while the opposition, including the armed ethnic groups, is seen as democratic freedom fighters.

The September demonstrations again allowed Burmese society to witness mindless killing and brutality directed against Buddhist monks and civilians. As result, the morale of the military, including some senior officers, is at its lowest ebb in years.

Moreover, the generals have pushed the limit of the international community including their regional supporters.
Under the current circumstances, the last thing the generals want is to be seen as weak.

An unfortunate consequence of this deep sense of vulnerability is that it hardens Snr-Gen Than Shwe's thinking. Under the spell of a bunker mentality, the military leadership will continue to dig in their heels and new reforms are less likely.

Than Shwe's regime is now determined to entrench its power in non-negotiable terms.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Naming the Name

Bangkok Post, Perspective >> Sunday January 13, 2008

Naming the Name

Strategic use of due process will help prompt political transition in Burma, writes MIN ZIN

The political conflict in Burma has long been noted for its intractability. It is intractable not because it is irresolvable, but because it is resisting resolution. Of course, conflict in itself does not resist anything - people do. And the people of Burma know very well who the culprit is.

Buddhist monks and their supporters take part in a protest march in Rangoon on Sept 25, 2007, before the military regime's brutal crackdown.

"In Burma, Snr-Gen Than Shwe is an autocrat," said a well-known lawyer in Rangoon, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for her safety. "He is not responsible to anyone else for what he does. He alone calls the shots."
Her view is shared by Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) and a human rights activist. "Many foreigners I have met are not sufficiently aware of the real face of Burma's dictatorship," he said. "Than Shwe deserves a name that is loathed in international politics and media."

In this regard, the US government seems to have taken the initiative. A closer reading of the US State Department's latest press statement on Burma revealed a new trend of "naming the name."

"The Burmese regime, led by Than Shwe, continues cracking down on democracy activists for peacefully expressing their political beliefs," opened the statement dated December 21, 2007, regarding the regime's arrest of six 88 Generation Students group activists.

Instead of speaking about Burma's dictatorship in vague and faceless terms, the statement pinpointed the villain: "We deplore the regime's actions and call on Than Shwe to release all political prisoners."

Sources close to the US State Department said that the three-sentence statement was well crafted to isolate Than Shwe as the person solely responsible for what happens in Burma.

It was probably the first time that the State Department has pointed to Than Shwe as a culprit, said a lobbyist in Washington.

Several military analysts in Rangoon as well as abroad have said that there is growing resentment within the military toward the erratic behavior of Than Shwe and his family ever since the uncovering of his daughter's lavish wedding, and the harsh crackdown on the peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks in September.

Meanwhile, some experts have started floating the idea of going a step further- isolating Than Shwe and using the language of "justice and accountability" against him. They estimate that holding Than Shwe personally accountable for the regime's crimes against humanity may have a strategic impact in Burma's political transition. It might even help create a power balance between the junta and other potential partners in dialogue.

"Raising the prospect of justice and accountability for mass violations of human rights, along with corruption, can help to balance out the power difference and weaken the regime ..." said Patrick Pierce, a senior associate at the International Center for Transitional Justice. "The international community- the UN and Asean in particular- seems to be all carrot and no stick. There needs to be a balance."

However, the validity of the whole calculation will rest mainly on whether or not such strategic moves will encourage other generals to distance themselves from the aging Than Shwe, and facilitate some basic political and economic reforms.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military analyst living along the Sino-Burmese border, dismisses such prospects. "It will be counterproductive," he said. "Instead of being a positive incentive to other generals, these moves will give Than Shwe a chance to rally his hardliners by pointing out the common threat."

A Rangoon-based lawyer also noted that although Than Shwe is an autocratic supremo, he has plenty of hardline people around him. Any talk of a prosecution against him will deter potential political transition in Burma. Moreover, it will remind the generals of late opposition party leader Kyi Maung's reference to the "Nuremberg-style trial" against former military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt.

However, some activists argue that if there is no chance of political thaw under Than Shwe's autocratic leadership, why bother waiting in vain without accumulating pressure to remove him? They advocate any action that will target Than Shwe and his family.

Jared Genser, president of Freedom Now and co-author of the 2005 "Havel-Tutu Report" that calls for UN Security Council action on Burma, doubts the effectiveness of this strategy.

"Anyone can press for justice and accountability against Than Shwe under international law," said Genser. "But the problem is how seriously he will take such a threat. Ultimately it will only impact his behaviour if he believes there is a risk of being investigated, prosecuted and convicted. Unless that risk is real, we would be issuing an idle threat."
The effectiveness of the threat must be weighed not only in terms of the message, but also in terms of the agent who attempts to speak the language of justice to Than Shwe.

"Right now, Ibrahim Gambari, the UN's special envoy to Burma, is the only UN representative getting an ear - if that - and he is a political broker," said Pierce. "We need multivocality in the UN and in the international community. Others can and should play an effective role in raising the issues of justice and accountability if Mr Gambari deems it inappropriate for his role as a negotiator."

Some advocates suggest that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour could bring such messages of justice to the regime. In her recent statements on Burma, the UN human rights chief frequently cited international law and urged the military junta to abide by it. In her statement on Burma dated October 2, 2007, Arbour recalled the international community's "responsibility to protect civilians against serious international crimes," according to the agreement of world leaders at their 2005 summit. She also pressurised the Burmese government "to account publicly for past and on-going violations."

Of course, if a person of high stature such as Louise Arbour was able to engage in a justice and accountability dialogue, it would give more weight and leverage to other UN organs, including Gambari, in dealing with the junta. However, it would still be an uphill struggle in transforming these aspirations of justice into practice within the UN mechanism.

"Unfortunately, in the short to medium term, without any rapid deterioration of the situation in Burma,it is highly unlikely we will see the UN Security Council willing to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court," said Genser. "Beyond China and Russia's opposition, even the US does not currently support the ICC. I do not see any government on the Security Council with the political will and persuasive ability capable of making this happen any time soon."

Some observers are concerned that pressure will offer the Burmese regime an excuse to disengage from the UN. "Than Shwe would even be thinking about stopping all political cooperation with the UN if he felt like he was under siege," said a military source inside Burma.

However, the Burma Lawyers' Council, an exiled group which has persistently called on the international community to hold the military regime's leaders criminally accountable before the ICC for their past atrocities and recent crackdowns, refutes the notion that one may not have both criminal accountability and active engagement with the regime.

In their statement released on October 10, BLC cited the case of Sudan as an example and said "there is no dichotomy between active engagement with the principal parties and seeking accountability for the crimes committed by one or more of those principals."

Of course, any strategy needs to be carefully balanced with the domestic realities of Burma so that it will not become counterproductive. However, as all victims of oppression demand, truth must be sought and justice must be done.
"If justice could be achieved through a strategic ploy to facilitate transition, it would be better," said Bo Kyi.

At a minimum, the international community must make sure that nothing should foreclose the efforts to ensure accountability for gross violations of human rights.

Min Zin is a freelance journalist.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mission Impossible

Irrawaddy Online, Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mission Impossible


To the Burmese generals, accepting international mediation has become just another means of conducting the conflict as opposed to an option for settling it. In other words, it is a tactical maneuver.

In the wake of the protests in September last year, the regime accepted the mediation efforts of the United Nations simply because rejecting them would cause greater harm in the international arena. More importantly, the junta might not have wanted to upset relations with its staunch regional supporters.

It is hardly surprising that the Burmese government is defying the UN's attempts at mediation—it feels confident that it is successfully bringing the country back under control. Despite UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon repeatedly warning that a return to the status quo that existed before the September crisis is not sustainable, the present situation is heading all the way back to square one.

Ban is trying to revive his Good Offices’ mediation efforts and to dispatch Ibrahim Gambari to China and India before the end of January "to continue further consultations with Burma's neighbors," according to UN officials. At the moment however, the Burmese authorities have not even approved Gambari’s itinerary for Burma.

"As for Myanmar (Burma) itself, we don't have an exact date for Mr Gambari to go back there, although he does have an open invitation to visit the country," said Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman. "The question is about developing the right arrangements. We are keeping in touch with the authorities in Myanmar (Burma) to discuss when Mr Gambari may be able to return."

Burmese opposition party National League for Democracy sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General recently, expressing a readiness to accept Gambari's mediation efforts toward political dialogue and national reconciliation. "Though we cannot ascertain if Mr Gambari will be able to visit Burma during his trip to Asia, we urge the [Burmese] government to accept his visit and the resumption of the stalled political dialogue," said Nyan Win, a spokesman for the party.

However, some diplomatic sources within the UN spoke recently to The Irrawaddy and expressed doubts about the possibility of Gambari visiting Burma on this particular trip.

"He is more likely to come back to New York after visiting China and India," said a foreign diplomat at the UN who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Mr Gambari may not be able to give another Burma briefing at the UN Security Council after this trip, even though some council members will be expecting such a briefing in order to keep the Burma issue on board."

In fact, the UN envoy and other key international players realize that the momentum of the international mediation efforts toward Burma is now fading. They must try to reactivate the momentum and to prioritize a return visit by Gambari to Burma as soon as possible.

"The success of Mr Gambari's efforts largely depend on the readiness of China and India to use their leverage over the Burmese junta," said Dr Thaung Tun, UN representative of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma—effectively the Burmese government in exile. "China retreated when they really needed to apply pressure on Burma, even though they said they supported Gambari's mission."

After the September uprising and the subsequent military crackdowns, Gambari managed to garner regional consensus on Burma. Those who had kept saying that the Burmese issue was an internal matter—China, India and Asean—came to the consensus that the country really did have a problem, and that the ruling junta should cooperate with UN for the benefit of national reconciliation and democratization. "Mr Gambari has been dealing with a number of neighboring countries to see what contribution they can make in the process toward normalcy and democratization in Myanmar (Burma)," Haq told The Irrawaddy. "In his upcoming Asia trip, he will simply try to continue that process".

Of course, Gambari must hold China and India to their promise that they would ensure the Burmese regime’s full cooperation with the UN Envoy, especially given the situation that his access to the country is so uncertain. Otherwise, Gambari may face a similar fate to his predecessor, Razali Ismail, who ended his mission denied entry to Burma indefinitely.

The international community needs to be "more insistent with the junta that a special representative of the UN Secretary-General cannot be treated the way that the junta has treated Mr. Gambari,'' United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said late last month. "It's simply unacceptable," Rice added, referring to the way the Burmese authorities had undermined his entry to and movements around Burma last time round.

The outgoing US administration must surely realize its diplomatic constraints in pushing Burma at the Security Council in the face of harsh resistance from China. Contrary to a common misconception, Gambari's current mission is a non-binding mediation effort and he does not have any enforcement capacity. From the very beginning, the leverage he has wielded has largely lain at the mercy of military junta and, to a lesser extent, its key ally, China.

There is no other country in the region or within the Security Council that can initiate a credible alternative Burma policy to the current mechanism of the Good Offices’ role. Sadly, Chinese checkers is the only game in town.

The US Secretary of State recently said that Gambari's mission "needs more profile; it needs to have more vigor." However, she did not articulate how this could be done effectively. Unless the international community compels the Burmese junta to feel that the cost of rejecting the mission, the UN envoy will remain toothless.

Friday, January 4, 2008

60 Years On: Where did it all go wrong?

Irrawaddy Online

60 Years On: Where did it all go wrong?


Friday, January 4, 2008

During the struggle against British colonial rule, a young nationalist, Thakin Nu, once told his colleague, Than Tun: "You will be the Lenin of Burma and I'll be your Maxim Gorky."

When Burma achieved independence in January 1948, Thakin Nu (later known as “U Nu”) became prime minister while Than Tun was general secretary of the Communist Party of Burma. Unfortunately, Burma's Lenin and Gorky fell out and became arch-enemies. Then, civil war broke out. The irony of Burma's independence politics is that it started with a failed dream.

"We were all young and passionate then," said Thakin Chan Tun, a veteran politician who knew both U Nu and Than Tun. "As result, many of our key leaders took extreme stances in post-independence politics and, at the same time, weapons were easily available in the wake of WWII."

The CPB leadership declared independence to be a sham and “under cover of this sham, British imperialism would work a stranglehold on the defense and economic life of the country." Consequently, the CPB decided to launch an armed rebellion in March 1948 to achieve "genuine" independence.

"Dichotomous perspectives, such as genuine-versus-sham and right-versus-wrong is a dominant paradigm among the political oppositions of Burma throughout history," said Tin Maung Than, a famous Burmese writer and political analyst. "When they waged arm struggle, the CPB looked at politics not from a power dimension, but from an ideological perspective. They decided to disengage from the political mainstream."

It wasn’t only the communists—some of the ethnic elite also neglected power politics. They overlooked the reality of basic maturity in politics that you cannot always get your own way, especially in fragile and uncertain post-independence Burma.

A series of negotiations took place between Burman leaders and ethnic representatives some time before independence. The general consensus was to create four ethnic states: Shan, Karenni, Karen and Kachin. In the drafted constitution for the new union, a provision was also included for the possible formation of new states in the future. The Shan and Karenni were granted the right to secede after ten years if they were not happy with their status. The hardest nut to crack was the Karen issue. The designation and status of the Karen state boundary remained unresolved as Karen nationalists demanded Tenasserim, Irrawaddy and parts of Pegu Division.

In October 1947, U Nu's cabinet offered the Karen a state that would have included the Karenni State, the substate of Mongpai, Salween District and some of the Thaton, Toungoo and Pyinmana hill tracts. However, the Karen National Union demanded much of the delta as well, including the whole of the Irrawaddy Division and Insein and Hanthawaddy districts. From the perspective of U Nu's government, the controversial demands made further negotiations impossible.

"U Nu failed to carry out Aung San's promises for the Karen people," said David Tharkapaw, a senior Karen leader and chief of the Information Department in the KNU. "U Nu was a Burman chauvinist. While trust between the KNU and U Nu's government was then weakened due to the mutual propagandas and vilifications, Gen Ne Win's private militias started attacking Karen villages. Then the Karen's revolution became inevitable."

As a result, the KNU launched an insurrection in January 1949. The Karen nationalist movement gradually receded from the center stage of Burmese mainstream politics, and the power of the KNU also dwindled over time. Some observers believe that the KNU should have pursued a more careful strategy than opting to compel the Karen people to an armed struggle for greater autonomy.

"The government's offer could then have been considered very generous by today's standards, but the KNU was not willing to compromise, and [became] increasingly militant," said Thakin Chan Tun. "It was a tragic story of missed opportunity."

In fact, idealism compounded with militancy—whether violent or non-violent—has been a major trait of Burmese politics. The concept of legal opposition, in terms of making compromises and enjoying inclusive participation, has never rooted itself in the country. Post-colonial conflicts in Burma proved that when the opposition tended to resort to violent means to achieve their absolute goals, the government moved to eliminate them.

U Nu's government was also unable to resolve the country's multiple crises and was even disparagingly called the "Six-Mile Rangoon Government" because various rebel groups controlled the suburbs of the capital, Rangoon.

U Nu, modeling himself after Burmese kings of the past, attempted to establish himself as a patron of Buddhism, but he never managed to make his ideal compatible with the daily realities of politics. His authoritarian and capricious leadership failed to lay the foundation for sustainable democracy.

"The appreciation and practice of parliamentary democracy in U Nu's era was superficial," said Dr Aung Kin, a Burmese historian and well-known radio pundit. "U Nu's willingness to give up the parliamentary government to Ne Win's caretaker regime in 1958 paved the way for the military to usurp political power forever."

When the military staged a coup in 1962, it nullified parliamentary democracy and vowed "to transform the society to socialism." However, Ne Win's Burma Socialist Programme Party simply fueled an already faltering situation. His idea of mixing Marxist, Buddhist and nationalist principles was an idiosyncratic mess, forcing the country to retreat into international isolation. The abject poverty and political repression of the BSPP eventually broke the tolerance of the Burmese public and a popular uprising calling for democracy broke out in 1988. The army responded with a massive slaughter of protesters and staged another coup d’etat. Gross violations of human rights have continued unabated ever since.

However, democracy as a renewed ideal was born. The opposition National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory in 1990’s multi-party elections. The opposition elite aimed for the absolute maximum—the full transfer of power to the elected party. However, perhaps similar to the CPB and KNU before them, they walked away with the absolute minimum of gains—and the continuation of military rule in a failing state.

Instead of treating elections in a post-conflict society as a guide to power-sharing, the opposition leaders, who held lofty confidence in their public support and democratic ideals in the immediate aftermath of the election victory, viewed it as a means of determining winners and losers.

"Political immaturity within the Burmese opposition derives from a lack of appreciation for power asymmetry," said Tin Maung Than. "We could not strike a balance between power and principle."

All these crises—starting with independence and the ethnic autonomy issue—remain unresolved. The socio-economic condition of the country is at its lowest ebb in its post-1948 history. A humanitarian crisis is looming and public discontent is at an all-time high. The prospect of national reconciliation or even a breakthrough in the political deadlock remains unlikely.

Following the 1988 military coup, U Nu—once the hero of independence and first prime minister of the union—cynically voiced his regrets over fighting for Burmese independence. Those bitter words he might have uttered out of frustration and despair, but it in many ways they reflect the 60-year history of post-independence Burma.