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Democracy for Burma? -

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Exiled dissident and research fellow on Burma, Dr Maung Zarni, joins the program to discuss the
recent release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Transcript

TRACY BOWDEN, PRESENTER: Now to Burma, where there are celebrations surrounding the release of
pro-democracy leader Aung Sahn Suu Kyi.

The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, who's been locked up for 15 of the past 21 years by
Burma's military junta, regained her freedom just days after the country's first election in two
decades.

The junta was returned to power, but there's been widespread accusations of fraud.

Aung Sahn Suu Kyi has called for reconciliation and compromise, but the question now is whether she
can unite the fragmented Opposition and move the country's generals towards democracy.

A short time ago I spoke to exiled dissident and research fellow on Burma at the London School of
Economics, Muang Zarni, who was in Bangkok.

Muang Zarni, Aung San Suu Kyi has no official political status in Burma. To what extent will she be
able to mobilise the pro-democracy movement? What power does she actually have?

MUANG ZARNI, BURMA ANALYST, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, two parts to that question or two
parts to my answer. One is, you know, she is considered the leader of the public, and so it - you
know, you don't need to be certified or registered with the Burmese military regime to be the
leader of the public. And, you know, she is unparalleled in her popularity, the respect that she
commands from the Burmese public, not only from the international community.

And the other part, the power. I wouldn't call it a power. It's a dynamic - social, psychological
dynamic between Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese public. The more the public hates the Burmese
regime, the more the public pours its collective love onto Aung San Suu Kyi. So this is a dynamic
that needs to be understood as such rather than power over single individuals.

TRACY BOWDEN: Does the fact that she's been released suggest that the military regime no longer
sees her as a threat?

MUANG ZARNI: Oh, not at all. I think they may have considered or they may have miscalculated that,
you know, she is now less of a threat than she was when her party was still registered and "legal"
under the unfair and unjust Burmese laws. But I think there are a number of other factors that we
need to look at in terms of what prompted the regime to release her when they did release her on
Sunday. One is that it is, in my view, the tactical move on the part of the Burmese regime, in the
sense that it needed to give ASEAN and other Asian supporters and business partners such as China,
India, ASEAN to work - something to work with in their attempt to basically undermine the Burmese
Opposition as well as undermine the Western-sanctions regime.

And the other factor is that the Burmese regime is preparing to launch what they considered a Sri
Lankan-style zero sum assault on different ethnic minority resistance groups. And when the world is
busy focusing on Aung San Suu Kyi's release, what she might do, what her next program would be,
they are using that as a smokescreen to go after ethnic minority groups that are asking for ethnic
equality and federated union as opposed to unitary state that is in the hands of the Burmese
military.

TRACY BOWDEN: She's talked a lot about reconciliation, about being prepared to talk to the junta,
about being prepared to perhaps reconsider her support for international sanctions. Is that a
change in her approach? I mean, has she diluted her views?

MUANG ZARNI: No, I don't think she has either diluted or strengthened her views. I think Aung San
Suu Kyi's opinion or position has always been for dialogue and reconciliation and for resolving
differences between different stakeholders through peaceful means, and I think that's what she's
been recognised around the world for. I think she has made it abundantly clear, even after the
Burmese regime attempted and failed to basically get rid of her in the form of a mob attack in May
of 2003, she basically has taken the stance that she harbours no hard feelings, even against those
who attempted on her life. And so, you know, her position is that we need to start with a clean
slate among different stakeholders with different grievances and with different divergent views for
the sake of the public welfare and for the greater good. I think she made it clear that she wants
to listen to different people, including or perhaps above all the Burmese public what they think of
the sanctions and the impact, the royal sanction has played or has been playing in the Burmese
political development.

TRACY BOWDEN: Do you have any concerns about what might become of her if she becomes too much of a
headache again for the military regime that she might be detained again or worse?

MUANG ZARNI: Well, I think this may be her last chance to try to figure out the best strategy, to
try to win some of the more progressive soldiers from within the rank and file of the Army, as well
as to educate the public, to work with the public and to bring the public along with her without
necessarily triggering the regime's paranoid nervous system. I think there is always a possibility
of the Burmese regime trying to create an incident in which she will be killed by some kind of
mysterious accident or some kind of Burmese lunatics, you know, successfully getting rid of her,
harming her physically. And so I think there is - that is something that Aung San Suu Kyi herself,
as well as the Burmese public, as well as her international supporters, should keep in mind
constantly. If the Burmese regime considers her a serious threat and a serious challenge to their
power, which they are totally unprepared to give up, they would be, you know, prepared to do
anything to get rid of her. So that is also my greatest fear as a Burmese citizen who would like to
see Aung San Suu Kyi play a serious leadership role in rebuilding the country.

TRACY BOWDEN: So, would you say there's any cause for optimism amongst the people of Burma?

MUANG ZARNI: Optimism of the heart. In other words, as a Burmese, I would never give up hope. But
as an analyst, I am not terribly optimistic. I'm not even cautiously optimistic, because the
Burmese junta is approaching all problems as if they were enemies to crush military operations, to
accomplish, and basically they have a zero sum mentality and they have a militaristic world-view
that was rooted in the old and outdated feudal and militaristic systems of our history.

TRACY BOWDEN: Muang Zarni, thanks for speaking to us.

MUANG ZARNI: Thankyou very much.