Winds of change may be evident in one of the Worlds most isolated regimes, Myanmar nee Burma for many. Tectonic shifts in politics in the country were evident with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi meeting the President Thein Sein a former general for the first time on 19 August. This is seen as a major transformation as Suu Kyi the Nobel laureate has consistently opposed moves for reconciliation whereas the military junta in power till a few months back had kept her incarcerated for long. It is apparent that the both sides have reconciled to work a consensus though it may be too early to predict an overall transformation.
The stage was set after Suu Kyi and Mr U Aung Kyi, minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement agreed to reconcile differences. Suu Kyi also sought the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners. The four main points of the joint statement were as follows:
Both sides will:
- cooperate with the government for stability and development in the country to fulfil the necessary aspirations of the people.
- cooperate constructively for the flourishing of democracy in the country and better development in economic and social works.
- avoid conflicting views and focus on mutual cooperation.
- continue the meetings.
As a follow up, Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein attended a workshop in Naypyitaw in the Myanmar International Convention Centre. Suu Kyi also held a one-hour meeting with President Thein Sein on 19 August. Suu Kyi’s photos were prominently splashed in Myanmar’s newspapers for the first time. “From my point of view, I think the president wants to achieve real positive change,” Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters later. Thein Sein is seen by many as a softer face of the military and had been the Prime minister during junta rule as well. What is however encouraging is that Suu Kyi is amenable to dialogue with the government which she had resented in the past.
In related developments, UN rights envoy attended Myanmar's parliament and met senior regime figures as authorities allowed him to visit the country for the first time in more than a year. Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, spent a day in the capital Naypyidaw before heading to Yangon where he held talks with Aung San Suu Kyi.
Despite the glasnost, Suu Kyi gave the Rangoon-based People’s Era Journal the article about her trip to Bagan could not be published as the censor board did not permit the same. The 88 Generation Students group leaders Ko Ko Gyi and Htay Kywe who were imprisoned for leading a mass uprising in 1988 have also cautioned Suu Kyi to be wary of the government designs though they continue to support her as per a report published in the Irrawaddy quoting a relative of the leaders who met them in jail in Buthidaung in the Arakans.
The reconciliation pact which has been announced in a joint statement is encouraging news for Myanmar as the government and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have agreed to compromise on various issues and leave the path of confrontation to embrace cooperation and dialogue to work for national good. The overall import of this pact will be seminal and now it remains to be seen if the National League for Democracy registers as a party. This would indicate that Suu Kyi who had been resisting the new Constitution has accepted the same and will be willing to work through it. What the government side has agreed in return remains to be seen, but some political gestures would be necessary for Suu Kyi to justify the deal to her supporters. There would be more negotiations in the offing to work out a progressive pact by both sides which may open up Myanmar to the outside World with lifting of sanctions.
With a new deal signed between Aung Suu Kyi and government providing her greater political freedom there are hopes of a new dawn in Myanmar called in most parts of the West by its old name Burma. Suu Kyi has been the symbol of hope for the politically oppressed not just in Myanmar but across the World. The outreach by the new government in Myanmar is therefore a victory of sorts, even though this may be just the beginning of a new era of negotiations and parleys. Yet there is hope from the hard-line approach adopted by the military junta in the past. There are immense benefits of opening up of Myanmar for its neighbours as India and ASEAN who are keenly following developments there, a bit of push by them will also work wonders. Will these countries seize the opportunities to end Chinese domination of business and other facets in Myanmar remains to be seen?
The government is also pushing for peace talks with ethnic groups who have been on a war path for many decades now. The government is likely to form a body to deal with the warring groups that want to negotiate after increase in intensity of violence in the rebel dominated Kachin, Karen, Shan and Mon states since March this year when the new government with a civilian face assumed power.
The government seems to be open for talks not just with Suu Kyi but also the outside world. The moves for rapprochement come as Myanmar is seeking chair of ASEAN for 2014. Thein Sein told Parliament that the government has officially informed ASEAN that Myanmar is ready to take its chairmanship in 2014. Critics have accused Thein Sein of creating a facade of liberalization to prompt Western nations to lift sanctions imposed over the country's political and human rights record.
Naypyidaw is also embarking on an aggressive expansion of its military that includes purchase of fighter jets at one end and beefing up manpower through recruitment. Russia is believed to be close to finalising a deal for sale of 20 advanced MiG 29 fighter jets at more than $US570 million. More significantly Myanmar is reported to have rejected a Chinese offer of J 10 and FC 1 fighter aircraft. Meanwhile work has begun for construction on the Myanmar section of the Sino-Myanmar Pipeline. China and Myanmar signed an agreement to build the 2,806 kilometer Sino-Myanmar cross-border natural gas pipeline in March 2009. The pipeline is expected to supply some 12 billion cubic meters annually from Kyaukphyu to Kunming City in southern China's Yunnan Province with an investment of USD 2.54 billion and is slated for completion by 2013.
Myanmar's Rail Transportation Ministry and China's Railways Engineering Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding in April to jointly develop the China-Myanmar railway. Construction on the 20-billion-dollar rail link between the Myanmar's Chinese border and its western coast could begin as early as December.