Situation in Burma critical, says exiled prime minister

 

BURMA IS in crisis, its exiled prime minister said in Dublin yesterday. Dr Sein Win, who was re-elected prime minister of the exiled National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) last week, said repression under the military regime has worsened.

Political prisoners are receiving longer sentences, he said, and even social workers are being arrested for carrying out humanitarian work.

Dr Win was attending the Members of the Parliamentary Union (MPU), four-yearly congress, held in Malahide, Co Dublin, over the weekend and funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Some 33 Burmese exiled MPs, making up the MPU, travelled from the US, Thailand, India, Norway, Australia and other countries to the seaside town to elect a prime minister and to discuss the situation in Burma. It was the second time the congress was held in Ireland.

The NCGUB was formed after the military regime in Burma would not allow elected representatives of the National League for Democracy to take power following the 1990 elections, when they won 80 per cent of the parliamentary seats.

The party’s chairman, U Tin Oo, was jailed and its general secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was put under house arrest.

Many members of parliament were also arrested and some became exiles, forming a government abroad and promising to dissolve once democracy and human rights were restored in Burma.

Dr Win said the Irish Government was very sympathetic to their cause.

The situation in Burma had become critical, he said; the economic situation was at its worst following the global recession and cyclone Nargis, which caused devastation in the country last year.

“The repression is very high with serious [prison] sentences given to MPs, also to activists and monks, and even to social workers because they tried to help the people in the Nargis,” he said.

Only half of the financial aid promised by the international community after the cyclone has reached Burma, Dr Win said, because donors did not trust the military government. There were issues with misuse and problems such as artificial exchange rates.

Aung San Suu Kyi, still under house arrest in Burma, is occasionally able to get a message out to the exiled cabinet.

Dr Win, who is her first cousin, said they understand she is in good health.

“The situation inside is very sensitive and you have to be very careful of what you say . . . but we believe she is in good health,” he said.

The military regime in Burma has said it will hold democratic elections in 2010. Dr Win said the process is not an inclusive one.

“What we are saying is ‘you release Aung San Suu Kyi, start talking and then make this process inclusive’ . . . up to now the military is ignoring the call,” he said.

He said the fundamental problem is not with the elections as such, but with the country’s constitution. It stipulates the country’s president must have military experience, must not be married to a foreigner, and the commander-in-chief of the army may stage a coup when he thinks necessary.

“Of course we have hope that things will change, but we don’t know how,” he said.

“It depends on the military . . . the only thing that is failing is a serious talk with the military.”

He thanked the Irish Government for its support and said Ireland could do many things to help Burma, including working with the EU to talk to Burmese neighbours “to make them convinced a solution in Burma is best for all of us”.

He also called on the UN to secure the release of political prisoners as soon as possible.