Wed, Oct 17, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Myanmar reveals geopolitical goals

By Mira Kamdar

The world has been horrified by graphic images in the media of the latest crackdown by Myanmar's military junta. But the bullets and clubs unleashed on Buddhist monks have worked. The monks have retreated, and an eerie normalcy has returned to Yangon.

That crackdown continues under cover of darkness. When the sun sets in Myanmar, fear rises. Everyone listens half awake for the dreaded knock on the door. Any night, the military's agents can come for you, take you away, and make sure you are never heard from again.

In recent nights, the junta's henchmen have burst into monasteries, lined up sleepy monks and smashed their shaved heads against the walls, spattering them with blood. Scores of others, perhaps hundreds, have been carted off for interrogation, torture or execution. The nighttime assault on a UN employee and her family made international news, but hundreds of less well connected Burmese have been similarly abused.

For 45 years, Myanmar's people have been subjected to the junta's reign of terror. My father was born in Rangoon (now Yangon) long before the 1962 coup that brought the current regime to power. Afterwards, many of my relatives, prosperous Indian merchants who had been settled in Myanmar for generations, abandoned homes and businesses to save their skins as chaos enveloped the city, which was later renamed Yangon.

A relative who now lives in Bangkok, but who returned part-time to Yangon in response to overtures from Myanmar's cash-starved rulers, recalled those days: "We lived through hell. We never knew when we woke up each morning what would happen. People were being denounced left and right. They could just come and take you away and take everything away from you."

Those who couldn't leave Myanmar, or didn't want to, have lived with this fear ever since.

The US and Europe have issued strong statements condemning the crackdown and calling upon Myanmar's neighbors, especially India and China, to exert their influence on the regime. The response from both has been muted (as it has from Thailand, which also has strong economic ties with Myanmar).

China balks at interfering in the "internal affairs" of a neighbor from whom it gets precious natural gas and potential access to the sea. India, which "normalized" bilateral relations a few years ago, is reluctant to alienate Myanmar's military, with which it has worked closely to counter rebels in India's northeast who had been using the common border to tactical advantage. To this end, India has provided aid, including tanks and training, to Myanmar's military.

But the main reason for India's good relations with Myanmar's ruling thugs is the country's vast and still largely unexploited energy reserves, which India desperately needs to fuel its economic boom. India has invested US$150 million in a gas exploration deal off the Arakan coast of Myanmar, and India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp and Gas Authority of India have taken a 30 percent stake in two offshore gas fields in direct competition with PetroChina, which has also been given a stake.

India and China are simply doing what the US and European countries have done for so long: trump rhetoric about democracy and human rights with policies that serve their strategic and energy security interests. US relations with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are two examples, and the US' Chevron and France's Total, two of the world's oil giants, continue to do a brisk business in Myanmar, thanks to loopholes in the sanctions.

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