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The Burmese Way To Dictatorship

SINCE the fake military coup of September 1988 by Gen. Saw Maung, his ``Burmese Way to Democracy'' has been paved with a series of human rights violations making a mockery of the ostentatious promise of holding a free and fair election by May 27, 1990. Political subjugation, arrest, torture, and killing of dissenters have been continuing with no end in sight, without much international publicity. The current repression of dissent is identical to that of the 27-year-long dictatorial government of Gen. Ne Win, who followed his ``Burmese Way to Socialism.'' By issuing arbitrary orders and antisedition laws, the military regime has made sure that opposition parties or groups would not succeed in challenging its monopoly of power.

The historical traits of Burmese polity have resurged in policies that isolate the country from the rest of the world and stamp down any potential fire of protest. Intimidation, torture, arrest, and relocation of people away from the centers of discontent are the favored means.

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Urban dwellers have quietly been scattered from their homes to new locations in an effort to disorient them and stifle the desire for freedom and democracy. This has been done under the charade of boosting economic prosperity by giving a face lift to Rangoon, Mandalay, and other major cities. The practice surfaced internationally only recently in a New York Times report.

In essence, the ``Burmese Way to Democracy'' is a way of guarding the political throne of Ne Win, who continues to call the shots from behind the scenes. The main sources of demands for freedom have been checked by arresting major opposition leaders: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo, U Nu, and others. Universities have been closed for two years.

Meanwhile, vigorous military campaigns against minority insurgents have been launched using revenues derived from increased sales of Burmese products like teak, oil, fish, and gems. Funds for the purchase of military hardware have also come from covert deals with opium warlords in the famous Golden Triangle.

These warlords include the infamous figure Khun Sa, whose operations are well known to American officials and who has recently drawn public attention as a possible US indictment target. He was at one point arrested by Ne Win, but then released and left alone. Opium dollars became a steady source of financing for Ne Win's military campaigns against ethnic insurgents and for his stranglehold on the people of Burma. In fact, it's probable that planes and military gear given Burma through the US international narcotics-control program ended up being used by Ne Win against minority insurgents instead.

The ``Burmese Way to Democracy,'' like the ``Burmese Way to Socialism,'' has nothing to do with bringing democracy or social justice to the people of Burma. The two slogans are identical in their aim of masking the true aim of maintaining an authoritarian government in the hands of military commanders.

Neither the changing face of Europe nor the democratic winds blowing across the whole communist world have had any serious impact on the thinking of the military power-holders in Burma, now renamed Myanmar. If a nominal free election is held by May 27, it's very likely that the army-backed National Unity Party will be beaten. But Burmese communities at home and abroad fear that the military regime, sensing that danger, will postpone the election indefinitely.

From what is going on inside Burma, one could conclude that, in one sense, the current government is truly Burmese. Like its predecessors - the Burmese kings, the British, the Japanese, and other military governments - the present regime calls its violations of fundamental human rights ``the rule of law.''

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Historically, the democratic principles of freedom and of equality between the ruled and rulers, as understood in the West, have never been the Burmese way of governance - with the exception of the civilian government between 1948 and 1962. Today's ``Burmese Way to Democracy'' is a farce, applying military force in the name of freedom from undesirable foreign influences and imperialism.

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