Cablegate: Nld Status Report: Six Months After Assk's Release

Published: Mon 4 Nov 2002 09:03 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Summary: Almost six months after her release from
house detention, ASSK continues with a disciplined,
non-confrontational strategy to rebuild her political forces
while attempting to draw the regime into dialogue on national
reconciliation. She has succeeded in reviving NLD
leadership, reopening offices, and rebuilding ties with other
political entities, including ethnic groups. She has
traveled to various locations outside Rangoon, met with UN,
NGO and foreign officials, and refined her stance on
international assistance and other issues. While carefully
avoiding any direct criticism of the regime, ASSK has
expressed her dismay at deteriorating social and economic
conditions and consistently called on the SPDC to join with
the NLD in fostering positive change. She also continues to
press the SPDC for the release of all political prisoners,
and restoration of political freedoms for Burma's people and
its political parties. In sum, ASSK has kept the moral
pressure on the regime, while slowly but surely expanding the
political space for political parties and other members of
the opposition. However, she has been careful throughout not
to give the SPDC any reason to end the NLD's somewhat
increased liberties. End Summary
Building Trust, Rebuilding the Party
2. (SBU) The May 6 release of Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK), after
almost 19 months of house detention (reftels), was expected
to mark the end of confidence building and the beginning of
substantive dialogue on national reconciliation between her
party, the National League for Democracy, and the ruling
junta, the State Peace and Development council (SPDC).
Unfortunately, the SPDC has not responded to the NLD and
international community's calls for dialogue, political
reform, and the release of all political prisoners. It has,
however, released about 158 political prisoners since May.
At the same time, SPDC economic policies are creating greater
hardships throughout the country. The SPDC also began
arresting and sentencing political activists in greater
numbers than it had since confidence-building talks began in
October 2000. Altogether, about 45 persons were detained in
August and September, although about half of these were
subsequently released. Meanwhile, ASSK has maintained a
well-disciplined, non-confrontational strategy to rebuild her
political forces while attempting to draw the SPDC into
3. (SBU) In the first few weeks after ASSK,s May 6 release,
government officials harassed some of the individuals and
organizations that she visited. She was prohibited from
visiting government projects, UN organizations were warned
not to meet with her, and staff of an international NGO were
harassed after her visit to their project site. Discreetly
and patiently, ASSK worked with military intelligence (MI) to
address these and other actions that contradicted the
government's commitment to allow her freedom of movement.
4. (SBU) ASSK has also kept her own party under control.
She has prohibited any NLD criticism of the SPDC. The NLD
made no public mention of the limitations on her movements or
harassment of those with whom she met. When she traveled to
project sites and witnessed the desperate conditions people
live under she made no public criticism of the SPDC.
Instead, she cited the conditions as an imperative for the
SPDC, NLD, and others to work together to address the needs
of the people. Even when the SPDC arrested NLD youth in
Rangoon for carrying illegal literature and NLD leaders in
Shan State for "acts against the state," she did not speak
out except to insist that they receive legal representation
and due process.
5. (SBU) ASSK also avoided any public criticism of the SPDC
on human rights issues including the allegations of military
rapes in Shan State. Despite rumors of some grumbling within
the NLD over this conciliatory stance, ASSK has enforced
strict party discipline. As a result, there have been no
instances of lower level leaders or members publicly
criticizing the regime.
Pressure Builds for Action
6. (SBU) While ASSK has used the time since her release to
travel to five locations in states and divisions to reopen
party offices (now up to 66 out of 330) and rebuild party
organization, she has also had to contend with increasing
internal and international pressure for a change in the
decade old political stalemate between the NLD and the SPDC.
The international community viewed her release with optimism
and donor countries, the UN, and NGOs began positioning for
increased assistance to the country. At the same time, the
increasingly dire humanitarian crisis in Burma put pressure
on ASSK to agree to increased levels of humanitarian support.
With no real political progress, however, she has emphasized
that foreign assistance would be welcome only if it did not
directly benefit the SPDC and was carefully targeted and
monitored to ensure that it reached the people. Based on
this criteria, she has endorsed HIV/AIDS funding by the U.S.
($1m to international NGOs) and the U.K. ($15 million to UN
agencies and international NGO,s) and other discrete
assistance projects in the country.
7. (SBU) ASSK has also faced pressure from ethnic groups who
support the NLD but who want their interests represented in
any dialogue with the SPDC. Shortly after her release ASSK
met with ethnic leaders and convinced them that dialogue with
the SPDC must begin with the NLD and later, at an appropriate
stage, expand to include ethnic groups. She reassured them
that the NLD would be negotiating for all the people of
Burma, not just the NLD constituency. Special Envoy Razali
also advocated this approach, and encouraged ethnic leaders
to meet and develop common positions so they would be
prepared when tripartite dialogue began. As months went by
and the SPDC failed to initiate dialogue with the NLD, ethnic
groups became increasingly frustrated by the lack of
The CRPP: A Shift in Tactics?
8. (SBU) On October 23 the NLD and ethnic parties announced
the expansion of the Committee Representing the Peoples,
Parliament (CRPP), a Committee the SPDC views as a direct
challenge to its legitimacy. The CRPP, after all, had
declared when it was founded in 1998 that the SPDC was not
the legitimate government and that the CRPP would act as a
parliamentary body until the military allowed a return to an
elected government. Widespread arrests of Members of
Parliament-elect and political activists (some of whom remain
in prison) followed.
9. (SBU) The revival and expansion of the CRPP now (to
include leaders of four ethnic parties that received a
substantial number of ethnic votes in the 1990 elections)
appears to be a calculated move to consolidate ethnic support
behind the NLD, facilitate coordination among the ethnic
groups and the NLD, and prod the SPDC toward substantive
dialogue. Apparently, ASSK believes changed circumstances
will prevent another crackdown similar to the one in 1998.
She has demonstrated that she can maintain confidentiality in
her discussions with the SPDC, that she can maintain party
discipline to work constructively with the regime, and that
she enjoys the support of at least some ethnic leaders.
Apparently, ASSK hopes this will be enough to deter the SPDC
from initiating a new round of political arrests.
Next Steps....
10. (SBU) While there is no sign that the SPDC is yet moving
toward substantive dialogue with the NLD on constitutional
issues, deteriorating economic conditions and international
pressure for change may combine to spur the regime in that
direction. Special Envoy Razali will return to Rangoon on
November 12 and will likely call for the SPDC to follow
through on its earlier commitments to work with the NLD,
increase political freedoms, and release political prisoners.
The international community is also pressing the regime for
political reforms to address reports of human rights abuses
and the looming humanitarian crisis. Many here believe the
SPDC has backed itself into a corner with its poor management
of the economy. In any case, the NLD has continued to press
for change, albeit quietly.
11. (SBU) Looking ahead, however, there must be questions as
to how long the current disciplined dialogue will endure
without real progress on central issues. Unquestionably, the
continued confidence-building has been welcome. Given the
hate that has built up in Burma over the past 60 years, there
will be scope for additional confidence-building between all
the communities for at least the next several generations.
Nevertheless, unless all parties are soon showed a goal, and
a road map for democratic change, then even the small measure
of goodwill that has been built up between the government and
the opposition could be washed away. Both sides seem to
recognize this, but both must equally be willing to act on
critical issues. ASSK now is ready to act. We have seen no
indication, however, that the SPDC is willing to meet her,
even halfway.
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