Myanmar mired in tyranny No change: Military rulers still suppress freedom and opposition, as witness Suu Kyi.

August 01, 1998

LAST NOVEMBER, in a palace coup, some generals in Myanmar (formerly Burma) overthrew colleagues and changed the name of their ruling council. Since then, they have tried to clean up the country's image of backwardness, corruption, tyranny and stagnation.

The sham of this was shown when the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi tried to travel from her house, where she is theoretically not under arrest, to visit political allies. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, whose party won the 1990 election that was overturned, was stopped at a roadblock. In protest, she remained sick in her car for six days, before police broke in and carted her back home.

Isolation, tyranny, drug smuggling and corruption have kept Myanmar, which is rich in natural and human resources and could have participated in regional development, one of the poorest countries in the world.

It is much worse off than those neighboring countries which have recently fallen from prosperity into recession. Myanmar's junta may claim to have moved from state socialism to a free market, but the claim lacks credibility.

The so-called State Peace and Development Council has ostentatiously increased opium interdiction and let in some foreign journalists. But it has gone on arresting intellectuals to quash dissent. Giving a little political freedom to the courageous Aung San Suu Kyi has fooled no one. She demonstrated how little it is.

Now Australia and the United States are properly urging United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to convince the generals to open a dialogue with the opposition leader. The daughter of the founder who led the country to independence of British colonialism 50 years ago, she gave up a comfortable exile to restart politics in her country.

Myanmar's neighbors and the world community should maintain sanctions and moral suasion until its rulers reopen universities, restore civil society, allow free speech and, then, give way to democracy.

Pub Date: 8/1/98

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