Week 536 – 2007-12-02: Understanding Myanmar Relations
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 536
When there were many demonstrations led by monks in Myanmar, and when they were suppressed, public concern was expressed in various ways in Phnom Penh – including daily peaceful vigils in front of the Embassy of Myanmar for about a week, from 13:00 to about 15:00. Concern was expressed especially because of the prominent role of Buddhist monks in the present demonstrations. Also, in 1988, when the ruling military group was confronted with demonstrations, an estimated three thousand people were killed in the suppression of public manifestations of protest at that time.
On 3 October 2007, Prime Minister Hun Sen was quoted by the Voice of America as calling for an end to the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and monks, saying the ruling junta should “have maximum patience, not use force to crack down on the demonstrators, and to continue its effort for national reconciliation by solving these issues through respect of human rights, democratization, and peace.”
Then it was announced that the Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein would visit Cambodia, partly overlapping with the preceding visit of Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, the scholarly Nigerian UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who is mandated by the UN Secretary General “to continue to pursue the good offices mandate on Myanmar entrusted to the Secretary-General by the General Assembly… in order to support Myanmar’s efforts in implementing relevant General Assembly resolutions… [looking] forward to the continued cooperation of the Government of Myanmar and all relevant parties to the national reconciliation process, with a view to making tangible progress towards the restoration of democracy and the protection of human rights in Myanmar.”
There was, of course, the question: would these two visitors meet? They did not. And: what will be the position of the Cambodian government when meeting the visitor from Myanmar?
One newspaper expressed a pessimistic view, saying that the “Hun Sen Regime Has Many Dictators Visiting Cambodia,” adding with disappointment the expectation: “Government Does Not Support Sanctions against Burma and It Will Not Speak about Release of Aung San Suu Kyi.”
Such assumptions were not without reason, after high ranking representatives of the Cambodian government were quoted as having declared not to support any UN sanctions against the leadership of Myanmar, and not to raise the question of releasing the popularly elected political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest repeatedly since 2003.
In preparation for the visitor from Myanmar, major roads in Phnom Penh were decorated, as it is usual for state visits, with flags and banners over some streets. One of them read:
“Friendship and Solidarity between Cambodia and Myanmar”
It is probably not so difficult to define the meaning of “Friendship” in this context. But what is the meaning of “solidarity”? Solidarity between whom? Solidarity between monks in Cambodia and in Myanmar? Solidarity with the monks in Myanmar who were arrested – or are still under arrest? Or solidarity just between the governments? This too is probably not what the slogan wanted to express.
According to a recent report by Agence France Presse, Prime Minister Hun Sen “urged Myanmar’s junta leaders to continue fledgling talks with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi,” and that this dialogue should continue “for the sake of both sides.”
That the situation in Myanmar continues to be difficult is reflected in reports posted on the British Broadcasting Company website, in spite of restricted communication over the Internet. They express a generally subdued mood:
“Life is back to normal now, ‘normal’ being a total decline in every area. Poverty, fear, lack of human rights, that’s what’s normal here… The inflation rate is getting higher and higher. We expect that prices will go up because the economy is suffering from the political instability… There are two groups of people a small group determined to fight until they reach their goal and a huge number of people who wait in the dark and hope for salvation from outside.”
“The internet is back to normal, although they have banned sites like CNN, blogspot and Flickr. YouTube was also banned since someone uploaded General Than Shwe daughter’s lavish wedding.
“Life has changed a lot for many people. The place once full of hope is now shrouded with fear. Fear is everywhere and it’s stronger than before… With fear comes anger… The anger will go away only when there is true democracy.”
Democracy is not just an abstract concept. The YouTube video clips on the Internet, now banned in Myanmar, show the enormous gap in wealth between powerful political leaders, whose family celebrations display extreme material wealth, and the ordinary people, who struggle daily to find the means to survive and whose anger and poverty led to the demonstrations.