'Bangladesh should give bipartisan support to the Burmese democracy movement'
The lack of knowledge and apparent lack of interest in Bangladesh about the atrocious human rights record and contempt for democracy of the ruling military junta in neighbouring Burma is shocking. Burmese opposition NLD leader, Tint Swe, explains to Ahmede Hussain why we should be more concerned with the goings-on next door and what we can do about it
Forum: What do you think Bangladesh, Burma's next-door neighbour, can do to improve the situation in the country?
Tint Swe: Bangladesh and all neighbours of Burma should join other international efforts which are rallying around the UN mechanism aiming for national reconciliation and democratic transformation.
Bilateral issues could be better resolved with a responsible government. Moreover, Bangladesh should pronounce that cross-border flow of refugees and small arms, illicit drugs, and grave diseases routed through Burma are a threat to the region, causing huge burden for a poor and highly populated country.
The Bangladesh government can also play a positive role at various international forums, including UN, ILO, IPU, NAM, Saarc, Bimstec, etc. to support democratization.
The Bangladesh embassy in Rangoon should have regular consultations with leaders of NLD (National League for Democracy) and ethnic political parties. Trade unions should take serious note of the forced labour issue being taken up by ILO. Human rights organizations in Bangladesh should join other international human rights groups in condemnation of rampant abuses committed by the Burmese army.
Bangladeshi youth, women and students should support the non-violent efforts being carried out selflessly by Burmese students inside the country. The Bangladesh media should take the example of the Thai media to cover news from her neighbours. Like parties in the United States, Bangladesh should give bipartisan support to the Burmese democracy movement.
We see that several multi-nationals are still doing business with the government led by the junta. What is your response to their activities?
Our position is that this is not the right time to do business in Burma because there is no trickle-down effect for the general population since the people are becoming poorer and poorer, though multi-national companies have been
doing business for nearly two decades.
The regime spent 3.91% of GDP on military expenditure, while health expenditure is only 0.61% and education expenditure only 2.22%. This shows that all revenue from foreign investments is fueling the military dictatorship.
To prosper, trade and business are required to support emergence of an accountable government in Burma. The people of Burma will never forget the negative effects of exploitation caused by unchecked and unpopular business deals with this regime. The people see that those who are doing business this time are supporting the regime. This legitimate fact should be seriously considered for long-term foreign policy formulation.
Do you think UN-led sanctions can change the situation?
At this stage we are not expecting or demanding sanctions from the UN, but we are seeking dialogue, and we regard the regime as a dialogue partner. We don't want the people to suffer more because of the bad regime. All actions must be conducive to a peaceful solution.
A combination of domestic and international efforts will have to change the situation. There are over a thousand political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi and 14 elected MPs. Therefore, while the people of Burma are struggling under tremendous oppression, we want concrete and effective action by UN and international players so that a political dialogue process will be opened among the military rulers, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi led democrats and ethnic political parties. It is also important to note that our call aims for peaceful change to avert utter devastation.
It is alleged that in the last few years China has been selling arms to the military government, which is using these against different ethnic minority groups. How do you perceive this?
It is not only China but also India which have become major arms suppliers of the regime which has been killing its own people. The growing exodus of ethnic minority people from the eastern border is because of the offensive by the junta using foreign military supplies. The army, which faces no external threat, is spending huge amounts of the country's scarce wealth for militarization.
Those arms supplier countries are like the regime because they ignore increasing poverty, degradation of education, spread of communicable diseases, opium growing, and illicit drug trafficking.
You may know that thousands of Burmese Rohingya refugees are living in different camps in Bangladesh. What is your interpretation of this issue?
We are equally concerned about refugees of all sorts in all countries. We are grateful to all governments and NGOs which take serious note of Burmese refugees. At this point, we would like to point out that outpouring of over a million refugees is the direct result of political repression, and an indirect consequence of economic mismanagement by the military regime. It is necessary not only to help the refugees, but also to remove the cause.
Many say that in a multi-ethnic country like Burma a monolithic totalitarian government is needed to rule the country effectively. How do you see the future of democracy in your country?
I completely disagree. A rigid regime can hold back some differences only for sometime. It does not mean long-term solution, and that will definitely bring about a worse scenario when rigidity is lessened. Totalitarianism will have to go. I know problems are ever-present, whoever rules a country. But morality should not be compromised at the expense of the people.
More importantly the ethnic peoples of Burma are not what they are portrayed to be by the military. During the years of struggle the question of building a genuine federal union has been agreed upon by those, inside and outside anti-dictatorial forces, who are stakeholders of the country.
It is a pity that outsiders are being deceived as per propaganda of the military elite of Burma. A wiser regime with a vision for the future can be worthwhile. But this regime has destroyed the country and future. The ceasefire agreements with various ethnic groups are only to be used for show, and are not allowed to be spoken about at the constitution writing.
All major ethnic political parties are branded illegal. The alliance of all ethnic parties, United Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD), has been disqualified. The leading ethnic party leaders are sentenced to over 100 years. Instead of education of the people about genuine union concepts, federalism has been illustrated as the cause of disintegration of the country.
Those actions would not be carried out by a democratic government. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the binding force. Once we restore democracy, I am confident that a peaceful union could be established after damage control measures.
Ahmede Hussain is Staff Writer, the Star Weekend Magazine. His last work, a novella called “Blues for Allah” has been published in Colloquy, Monash University's journal.