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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Hardliners winning Burma debate

By Larry Jagan
BBC Burma analyst

Over the past few months, Burma's dialogue process between the Generals and Aung San Suu Kyi has begun to degenerate into a war of words.

Both sides have accused each other, though press conferences and statements, of intransigence and not being sincere.

But now the regime is taking the war a step further with a massive crackdown on the opposition National League for Democracy.

The very mention of her name throws the senior General [Than Shwe] into a fit
Asian diplomat, speaking of Aung San Suu Kyi

The latest moves highlight a broader split inside the ruling military over what do with Aung San Suu Kyi.

The crackdown seems to be an orchestrated campaign by hardliners in the army, like the country's top leader General Than Shwe, who are convinced that there is no need to talk to the opposition leader.

Other military leaders, though, have begun to realise that the country faces economic ruin and social unrest unless they do.

"Many key Generals - like the military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt - know the current political deadlock cannot continue much longer without dire consequences for them," said a western diplomat in Rangoon.

Many of these military leaders and senior government officials saw the start of the dialogue process more than two years ago as something which could be advantageous to the army's long-term role in the country's political future.

Than Shwe
Hardliners like General Than Shwe appear to have the upper hand

They know that the only way out of the current political impasse is to start political talks with Aung San Suu Kyi.

General Than Shwe, on the other hand, has no intentions of starting concrete talks with the opposition leader. For General Than Shwe, releasing Aung San Suu Kyi last year in May was an end in itself, not a step towards direct negotiations.

Military sources close to the general say he loathes Aung San Suu Kyi and refuses to have her name mentioned in his vicinity.

"The very mention of her name throws the senior General into a fit," said a senior Asian diplomat.

"During the Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) summit in Phnom Penh last November, Asian leaders like the Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi were advised not to mention her name during their bilateral meetings," the diplomat said.

Than Shwe has started to exercise total political and military power in the past year or so. This has created substantial unease among the country's other top generals. They have begun to see that the current lack of political progress is endangering their long-term survival.

In the meantime, "pragmatists" in the military who accept that change is essential - and who are grouped around intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt and the foreign ministry - are telling their Asian counterparts and diplomats in Rangoon that Burma is facing a major crisis in the coming months if there is no political progress in the dialogue process soon.

Aung San Suu Kyi's detention and the crackdown on the opposition seems to be an orchestrated campaign by the hardliners in the army.

"The army has been on alert for more than a week leading up to the violent clash in northern Burma," said a military source in Rangoon.

Khin Nyunt
General Khin Nyunt believes the junta must talk if it is to survive
The hardliners seem to have been looking for an excuse to delay talking to Aung San Suu Kyi and provide concrete reasons for ignoring the opposition.

This contrasts with recent efforts by military intelligence to restart dialogue with the opposition leader - at least at a lower level within the army than the top three generals.

"The two sides were going to meet after her return from Kachin state," said the NLD spokesman ULwin.

Now Burma's political process is at a crossroads. The junta's sincerity is about to be tested.

The pragmatists want to talk to the opposition leader but it seems the army and the hardliners are the ones in control.

If the hardliners have consolidated their position this would almost certainly mean the end of the dialogue process.


SEE ALSO:
Burma moves to stifle protest
02 Jun 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Concern over fate of Suu Kyi
31 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Burma jails activists
24 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Burma's Suu Kyi attacks junta
23 Apr 03  |  Asia-Pacific
You asked Aung San Suu Kyi
14 Feb 03  |  Forum
Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi
06 May 02  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Burma
24 May 03  |  Country profiles


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