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Speech delivered by Dr. Myint Cho, Director of the Members of Parliament Union (MPU)
at the Commemoration of the 1990 general elections in Burma organized by
the Committee for Democracy in Burma (CDB)
25 May 2002, Villawood, Sydney

Good evening distinguished guests, President of the CDB, ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to share our views on the 1990 general elections, the ongoing talks between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the military, and my response to the message from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Alexander Downer.

As you all know, twelve years ago this month, the military regime in Burma held a general elections, and the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory. Instead of transferring power to the NLD, the military tried to crush the NLD who called for a dialogue to solve the political problems. Instead of entering into dialogue with the NLD and allowing the elected parliamentarians to convene the People's Parliament, the military convened a stage-managed national convention with the purpose of nullifying the election results.

In response, the NLD and key ethnic political parties formed the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP) as a legitimate authorized body, acting under the delegated authority of 251 elected members of parliament in Burma and to which the MPU also extended full authority, to implement the election result. The military responded by placing over 200 MPs in detention, forcing over one hundred of the NLD MPs to resign from their duties, and putting the designated Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. Saw Mya Aung, and General Secretary of the CRPP U Aye Thar Aung in prison to effectively prevent the convening of the People's Parliament. A few years later, they also put Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under virtual house arrest again. As a result, the international community increased its pressure on the military to respect human rights and to enter into dialogue with the opposition.

In the mean time, the military desperately needed international assistance to solve Burma's critical economic and humanitarian problems. The military undertook a program to prolong its power by finding alternatives to crushing the NLD and ignoring international calls for political dialogue. The military had to allow the UN Special Envoy Mr. Razali Ismail to play in facilitating the dialogue on national reconciliation process. It also had to enter into the talks with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2000, while she was under virtual house arrest.

As far as we know, the talks did not happen spontaneously. They came about due to a combination of economic problems as well as domestic and international pressure. The decision by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to ask its members to review their relationship with Burma was an unprecedented move and greatly influenced the SPDC to engage in talks. As a result of these pressures, there have been some positive changes in Burma but at a very slow pace. The noted positive developments included: the cooperation extended by the SPDC to the Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the UN Mr. Razali Ismail, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and the International Labor Organization (ILO) missions, EU troika mission and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); the release of some 270 political prisoners; the relaxation of some of the constraints governing the operation of registered political parties, including the reopening of selected NLD branch offices and the halt of the negative media campaign directed against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. On 6 May 2002, the military released DASSK from virtual house arrest.

All parties in Burma and the international community have welcomed this development as providing a unique opportunity for a negotiated political settlement in Burma. But there is still a long road to achieving a democratic Burma as there are numerous issues that remain to be solved, particularly human rights abuses, humanitarian crisis, economic problems and the political deadlock. The most important of these issues is how to honor the 1990 general election results and how to negotiate a transition to democracy. To be able to solve these critical problems properly, a genuine political dialogue on national reconciliation is essential.

The NLD recently said in its statement, "Although the release of DASSK can not be considered as a democratic breakthrough, it has opened up an opportunity for the NLD, as well as other political parties, the nation and the people (including ethnic nationalities) to take further steps towards democracy and human rights. The release is an indication that the confidence-building phase between the NLD and the authorities has been completed. However, the result of the 1990 general election, national convention, drawing up of a state constitution, and other sectors such as politics, economy, social (health and education) and foreign investment are all policy matters that now need to be solved through negotiation. The NLD will continue to adhere to its original policies as long as the matters remain unsolved. The NLD is always ready and willing to cooperate with the authorities in order to resolve the country's political, economic, and social issues. The NLD approach will be flexible in these matters."

DASSK said that sanctions should be remain in place until the NLD have finished negotiating with the military. She also demands the military to honor the 1990 general elections result. We firmly believe that the NLD will not ignore the will of the people of Burma as expressed in the May 1990 general elections. Based on the election results, we reaffirm that the NLD led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has the mandate to form the Government of Union of Burma, and has the right to enter into a dialogue with the military and others, and to negotiate a transition to democracy. Based on United Nations General Assembly resolutions, we reaffirm that the dialogue partners in any future negotiations are:
" The NLD led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and election winning parties,
" The military led by the SPDC, and
" The representatives of ethnic nationalities.

It seems that recent positive developments demonstrated that the military is serious about its intention to negotiate a political change in Burma. However its commitment to bringing about an improved human rights situation and real political change is still questionable. The military has yet to ensure that the talks will develop further and that the human rights situation will improve.

We can be certain that the military has responded to both the domestic economic situation and international pressure to find a way out of its dilemma. At least they could be seeking to use the talks as a showcase to ease international pressure, gain legitimacy, and attract resources and consolidate their position. In such a sensitive period, it is very important that wrong signals are not sent and that there is coordination amongst the international players. Therefore, as long as there is forced labour in Burma, the ILO should continue to monitor the situation and seek to censure the SPDC for violating their international obligations. Similarly the UN Commission for Human Rights should continue to monitor and censure the SPDC for its systematic human rights abuses. Likewise, US sanctions and the European Common Position which are based on democracy, human rights and illicit drug production in Burma, need to be maintained until there are real improvements in these areas.

Here, let me take this opportunity to thank Mr. Downer and the Australian Government for their commitment to continue to call for the release of the remaining political prisoners, the ongoing re-opening of NLD offices and the opening of a substantive political dialogue with the NLD and Burma's ethnic groups. I also appreciate the Australian Government for providing humanitarian assistance to refugees in camps on the Thai-Burma border and funding a distance education project. But I don't agree with Mr. Downer that the Australian Government's human rights training programs can take human rights and democratic reform forward. Rather this will assist the military in developing a more sophisticated 'human rights' propaganda designed to disguise its gross human rights abuses, and to divert international attention, thus perpetuating military rule.

Moreover, it is worrying that Australian Government has agreed to provide more aid through Rangoon such as the announced nutrition, HIV/AIDS and human rights training programs. This has happened without full consultation with the rest of the international donor community. I fear that such unilateral initiatives could jeopardize the talks. Rather domestic and international pressure needs to be maintained in order to ensure that the talks achieve irreversible results and benefit human rights in practice.

I also request that the Australian Government not enter into any new aid programs through Rangoon such as training for members of the judiciary or any other programs. Until and unless there is substantive reform and acknowledgement of such on the part of the policy makers in Burma, the civil institutions in Burma, most particularly, the judiciary and government bureaucrats have no way to act with independence from their military rulers. All international efforts should concentrate on pushing for substantive and actual institutional reform.

Here I appeal to the Australian Government to closely monitor the situation in Burma and not to relax, or indicate the Government's interest in relaxing, any restrictions on the military, until a substantive dialogue on national reconciliation takes place in Burma.

In conclusion, I would like to request all of you to call upon the Australian Parliament and Government to continue to pressure the military to formalize the current talks into an official substantive tripartite dialogue on national reconciliation, and demand to:
" Unconditionally release all political prisoners including 19 MPs-elect;
" Immediately stop all human rights abuses;
" Cease all forms of forced labor;
" Cease all military hostilities in the non-Burman ethnic nationalities areas;
" Allow all political parties to engage in normal activities without restrictions;
" Repeal unjust laws and orders to foster an atmosphere conducive to national reconciliation.

Thank you very much for listening and let us continue our struggle until we succeed.