Another high-profile international guest to Myanmar – this time the British foreign secretary William Hague, popping over to congratulate the generals on being slightly less sadistically evil than normal. It’s a thorny question: should the west be so quick to legitimise the regime when it clearly has a long, long way to go to reach anything approaching an open, democratic society; or should it hold back and possibly miss an opportunity to gain some leverage there.
Isolation and sanctions did little to help the Burmese, but the danger at the moment is that the generals have managed to establish a discourse in the international community that a genuine reform process is under way in their country. As some critics point out in my story for The National today, that is misleading:
…”Nothing has changed in Burma’s power structure, which gives the military a leading role, and the right to seize power,” said Bertil Lintner, the author of several books about the country.
Meanwhile, the army continues to suppress ethnic minorities in the frontier provinces, which is rarely mentioned by visiting diplomats.
More than 30,000 people have been displaced since the military renewed its fight against rebels in Kachin state last June – a conflict that has been running for more than 50 years.
“The army has employed a brutally commonplace menu of abuses against civilians in conflict areas, including sexual violence, forced labour, torture and summary executions,” wrote David Scott Mathieson, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, in an article for Canada’s The Mark last month.