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Burma: a Key Test for Bush's `New Order'

PRESIDENT BUSH has called for a new world order that incorporates human rights and universal standards of behavior for all nations. It remains to be seen if the president is being sincere or if American foreign policy will continue its geopolitical business-as-usual as the Gulf crisis ends. If the president's actions toward Burma are any indication of his intent, the dictators of the world have little reason to fear pressures for long-lasting change.

On May 27, 1990, the people of Burma went to the polls to vote for the first time in more than 30 years. Despite impediments to free campaigning imposed by Burma's military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), voting went along smoothly with little fraud, violence, and intimidation.

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To the surprise of almost all Burma watchers, the major opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 392 of the 485 seats contested in the election. The political party most closely allied with the SLORC, the National Unity Party (NUP) won a mere 10 seats.

The fruits of the NLD's election victory proved to be short-lived. The SLORC has nullified the May election by issuing an edict declaring that the SLORC possesses all legislative, judicial, and administrative powers. Furthermore, 18 of the 22 members of the NLD's central committee, as well as scores of elected parliamentarians, are now imprisoned.

Two of these parliamentarians, U Maung Ko and U Maung Win, have died in prison. Diplomats believe U Maung Ko died from torture (his body was returned to his family with both legs broken) and suspect that U Maung Win may also have died from reasons other than blood cancer, which the Burmese authorities announced as the cause of death.

In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD's secretary general and daughter of Burma's independence leader, Aung San, has been held incommunicado and under house arrest for the past 18 months. Consequently, the NLD and all other political parties and organizations are largely dysfunctional. There are no real alternatives to the SLORC's iron rule.

In December, in an act that could be described as both courageous and desperate, eight of Burma's elected representatives fled to the Thai border to establish a provisional government called the National Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB). No government has recognized the provisional government.

Last October, the United States Congress passed a law imposing sanctions on Burma if it did not release all political prisoners; transfer political power to the elected representatives of the Peoples Assembly; take significant steps in eradicating the drug trade in Burma's portion of the Golden Triangle; and make basic improvements in the human-rights situation.

Burma has not complied with any of these conditions, though the US government has yet to impose sanctions. It has been more than two years since Congress has held a hearing on human-rights violations. Meanwhile, the torture of political dissidents and attacks on the ethnic groups that straddle Burma's border continue. Villagers are still being forced to work as porters for the army until they die of exhaustion, or are simply murdered in cold blood.

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THE United Nations has expressed concern over the complete disregard of human rights in Burma. In November, Sadako Ogata was sent by the UN to Burma to investigate alleged human-rights abuses. According to unconfirmed reports, Mrs. Ogata was unable to meet with any political dissidents; she saw only empty prison cells with recently whitewashed walls. It is believed that political dissidents who had been tortured were moved before she could meet and interview them. Ogata's findings are expected to be sub mitted to the UN later this month.

Fortunately, President Bush's reluctance to publicly speak out about the daily horrors in Burma is not shared by major human-rights organizations like Amnesty International.

Amnesty International is currently conducting a campaign to help bring to the world's conscience the plight of the Burmese people over the last two and one-half years. However, because of the crisis in the Middle East, human rights abuses in Burma and other nations have received little attention in the media.

The administration has gone on the record saying it is committed to fostering democracy and respect for human rights, but it seems to lack the political will to make good on its noble words. Saddam Hussein is indeed a barbarian, but Ne Win, the retired Burmese leader still believed to be in control of the army and the SLORC, is no less a barbarian.

It is time for the president to make good on his commitment to democracy. He should carry out the will of Congress and stop delaying the imposition of sanctions against Burma, unless of course the ``new world order'' is only intended to apply to our enemies in the Persian Gulf.

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