Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 5 News List

ANALYSIS:Myanmar talks a farce, analysts say


Military-run Myanmar's latest round of talks with detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi were a sham aimed only at easing global pressure on the regime, analysts said yesterday.

The 62-year-old Nobel peace prize winner said on Wednesday that she was "not satisfied" with the talks, following her fifth meeting with a junta official since October.

The military appointed Labor Minister Aung Kyi to be a liaison officer to coordinate contacts with Aung San Suu Kyi following the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests in Yangon in September.

So far the talks have yielded no concrete results.

Analysts said Senior General Than Shwe, the junta's leader, never had any desire for serious dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, arguing that the talks were only set up to skirt global pressure after the September bloodshed.

"Than Shwe hates Aung San Suu Kyi and he hates what she represents," said Aung Naing Oo, a Thailand-based Myanmar analyst. "The talks were meaningless and going nowhere and this is exactly what the military wants. The government was talking to Aung San Suu Kyi only to show its gesture of goodwill to the international community."

That was also the assessment of Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Sydney's Macquarie University.

"The regime was only interested in talks with Aung San Suu Kyi only because of the events in September last year," Turnell said.

The protests, triggered by a sudden rise in fuel prices, escalated into the biggest threat to the regime in nearly 20 years after Buddhist monks appeared at the head of the rallies, galvanizing support.

But the security forces struck back in a crackdown that left at least 31 people dead and 74 missing, the UN believes.

"By holding talks, the regime was hoping to fend off criticism coming from overseas," Turnell said.

Even after the crackdown, the military has continued to tighten the screws on political dissidents, arresting a popular blogger, intensifying pressure on the media and bringing charges against 10 prominent protest leaders.

Amnesty International said last week that at least 700 people arrested in connection with the September protests remain behind bars, adding that Myanmar was already holding 1,150 political prisoners before the demonstrations.

Yoshihiro Nakanishi, a Myanmar specialist at Japan's Kyoto University, said the appointment of Aung Kyi alone underlined lack of serious commitment by the junta.

"Aung Kyi has no power in the government. If the regime was really serious about dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, it could have appointed a much more senior official," Nakanishi said.

"The whole purpose of talks was to ease international criticism" after the September crackdown, the Japanese academic said.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years in Yangon.

Her opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won general elections in 1990, but the junta has never recognized the result.

In protest at her continued detention, the party is boycotting the junta's self-proclaimed "road map" to democracy. The military claims it will lead to a new constitution and eventually to free elections, but there is no timeframe for the process.

The US, the EU and the UN have dismissed the road map as a sham because the NLD is not involved.

While voicing her frustration over talks with the junta, Aung San Suu Kyi urged the public to remain patient, adding she would tell "more when the time comes."

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