Plot thickens in Myanmar

By the time the first part of this series was published, the plot thickened further in Myanmar. Here is what I wrote yesterday: So many loose ends in the regime’s accusations about the ethnic war and explosions raise the suspicion of a grand political scheme...The regime would not hesitate to use them as a pretext to unleash a wave of crackdown on democracy leaders.

By Suresh Pattali (Writing on the wall)

Published: Thu 30 Jun 2011, 9:24 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:50 AM

And while writing this article, shockingly ominous information trickles in from Myanmar that the state media has warned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi that her plans to travel outside Yangon to meet supporters could trigger riots.

The ethnic war seemed to have served as a double-barrelled gun, also sabotaging a nationwide political tour Suu Kyi was planning to undertake. The day after she said in a BBC lecture that the recent uprisings in the Middle East have given fresh hope to people in Myanmar, the new military-backed government on Wednesday warned Suu Kyi and her party to halt all political activities.

The Home Affairs Ministry has written to the Nobel Peace Prize winner saying her party is breaking the law by maintaining party offices, holding meetings and issuing statements.

“It is a chain reaction to what she said on the BBC. Her reference to the Arab Spring seems to have shaken up the generals. They fear that any spark to the simmering anti-Chinese sentiments will trigger an uncontrollable situation,” exiled Burmese leader Nyo Ohn Myint tells me, referring to the warning letter.

According to the letter seen by Khaleej Times, the regime said Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is no longer a political party. “If NLD chairman U Aung Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi want to do any social work, they could apply for NGO registration and the government will consider according to rules and regulations,” says the letter. So much so for the largesse for the regime!

“She has no assurance from the regime so far that there would be no copycat incident of the 2003 ambush on the Lady and her convoy. So she has decided not to make any ‘out of town’ trip until Martyrs’ Day on July 19.”

However, Nyo Ohn Myint feels the regime wouldn’t dare lock her up again. “Not right now, at least.”

Burmese, especially businessmen, are a known breed of nationalists and, unlike what the Western media believe, many generals harbour strong anti-China sentiments. At the 11th anniversary of the Eleven Media Group, CEO Dr Than Htut Aung launched war fires saying Myanmar’s Mandalay City will soon be swallowed up by Chinese activity.

“We are well aware which country will emerge as the superpower in the 21st century. We are not in a position to stand up in dignity near the superpower nation unless we have our own strength of defence. Our poor people would be helpless to respond to a wealthy and powerful nation just right next door. People will be trafficked. Girls would be sold out,” Dr Than lashed out, reflecting the anti-China tsunami emerging in the country.

“By selling out all the resources of energy, how are we to build the nation?” Dr Than asked, referring to the swelling resentment over China’s hydropower projects.

Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s decision not to meet iconic democracy leader Suu Kyi during his last visit speaks volumes about how keen New Delhi would be to capitalise on the strong anti-China sentiments.

In the meantime, there was a slew of visitors to Myanmar, including US Senator John McCain, European Union delegation led by Robert Cooper of Britain, UN envoy Vijay Nambiar and Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Foreign Minister Makiko Kikuta, ostensibly to keep the regime engaged.

On the outside, these visits by foreign leaders seem more like a fact-finding mission exploring the extent of change under the new civilian regime. The warm handshakes suggest they are keen to put any bad blood behind them and find out the possibilities of mediation between the regime and the Lady.

But behind the veil of diplomacy, the US seems to be more interested in getting to the bottom of rumours revolving around the regime’s nuclear ambition. Though Myanmar informed McCain that it has halted a peaceful nuclear programme supported by Russia, the revelation by the New York Times that the US Navy recently intercepted a North Korean shipment carrying missile technology to Myanmar obviously keeps the West on tenterhooks.

The NYT report said that after several days of using naval power and diplomatic pressure, the US was able to force Pyongyang to recall the ship, the MV Light, in late May. A similar shipment suspected of carrying missile parts successfully made it from North Korea to Myanmar last year before the US had time to interfere, says the report.

Quoting a defector from Myanmar, an army major and deputy commander of a top-secret nuclear facility who escaped the country with thousands of files detailing a nuclear and missile programme, ABC News also reported that with the help of North Korea, Myanmar has acquired components for a nuclear weapons programme, including technology for uranium enrichment and long-range missiles.

Are the bomb blasts, the government warning to Suu Kyi and the interception of the North Korean ship headed for Myanmar some isolated incidents? Analysts fear that if Kachin or other armed ethnic groups are actually behind the current explosions, they would pose a serious challenge to the fledgling civilian-led government. And if the regime is scheming, under the cover of the new ethinc war, to politically assassinate Suu Kyi by denying her the basic rights enshrined in democratic principles, the turn of events would bring the impoverished South-east Asian state back to square one.

Suresh Pattali is Khaleej Times Night Editor. He can be reached at

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