As the US sweeps in to rescue an American from the clutches of the Burmese military junta, the woman the world really wants to see free, Aung San Suu Kyi, is left behind to her fate

Another American mercy dash, another US ‘prisoner’ released, but this time the gal was left behind.

As John Yettaw left Burma in the safe hands of Senator Jim Webb, the woman whose detention he was responsible for is left behind in the hands of the military junta.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘guest’ Yettaw had conveniently visited her home uninvited. Convenient for the military despot Than Shwe who was desperate for an excuse to keep the symbol of peace and democracy locked in her home until the next ‘election’ was safely passed.

After spending fourteen of the last twenty years under house arrest, Suu Kyi’s trial was a sham and everyone knew the verdict before it even began. Suu Kyi herself knew it would be a “painfully obvious” outcome. As obvious of course as the required tidal wave of condemnation from foreign democracies.

As Suu Kyi was sentenced to three years hard labour, reduced to eighteen months of further house arrest, Yettaw was given seven years for the bizarre visit he made, supposedly sent by God to warn the Nobel Peace Laureate that she was going to be assassinated.

So I suppose we should be feeling sorry for the bumbling, delusional Yank, but it's pretty difficult to do so as you see him safely whisked away in a private jet to Thailand, and then back to the sanction of the US.

Webb, who is the chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific affairs is no Bill Clinton, but he did manage to bring home the Yettaw bacon. It’s just that the person the world really wants to see free was allowed to meet with him for a brief time, but then locked safely away again.

Suu Kyi’s international counsel, Jared Genser, went public this week with a plea to the world about how to react to the plight of his high profile client. In the International Herald Tribune, he urged caution against focusing too heavily on Suu Kyi “to the exclusion of the broader situation in Myanmar”. He says she wants the focus to be on the suffering of the country’s 47 million people “under an authoritarian and inept junta”.

The point client and counsel are making is that even if this Yettaw excuse hadn’t swum in for the junta, the thousands of political prisoners would still be in prison, rape would still be used as a weapon of war against ethnic minorities, villages would still be destroyed at the junta’s whim, refugees would still risk their lives for freedom, and next year’s elections would still go ahead – all based on an illegitimate constitution.

Canada has taken the opportunity to stick one in the eye of Than Shwe with its decision to stay the deportation of a Burmese refugee who fled his home country after having been forced into the military as a child soldier. Nay Myo Hein was supposed to have been deported this week, but in a “compassionate gesture” the Canadians have seemed to accept he would not be facing a warm homecoming, given he not only escaped the military but has since been active in demonstrating against the junta.

Hats off to the Harper administration for that. However, the real work that needs to be done regarding the future of Burma is applying pressure on its neighbours who are protecting it in the interests of accessing natural resources.

China is perhaps the number one problem as it searches the globe for energy; it's also keen on Burma’s strategic access to the Indian Ocean. China is by no means alone, with India, Thailand and South Korea all trading with the junta. But when it comes to any vote at the UN for criticism or arms embargoes on Burma, China steps right up with its powerful ability to veto.

But once again Burma presents as a conundrum for those in the ‘West’ who see democracy as the panacea to all political and social issues.

Burmese historian Thant Myint-U accepts it is very easy to take sides in the good vs evil morality play currently underway, but really the West has missed the boat. He says years ago the West should have poured in aid as it did into Vietnam, find a way to end Burma’s armed conflict and develop its economy. Instead there was the demand for ‘regime change’. Sound familiar?

Thant U is not saying Burma should not be a democracy. What he is saying is that the reality of sanctions turns repressive regimes further in on themselves. He asks what the West’s reaction would be to North Korea if it decided to open up to tourism and foreign investment. Would Kim Jong-Il be told that is not possible until you are a nice clean democracy?

As President Obama has said of the myriad if issues on his plate, if it were easy it would have been sorted by now. So goes the case of Burma.

Nevertheless, it must be asked whether Senator Webb’s mercy dash has done more harm than good. The danger is by meeting with the regime and taking home the American citizen he has relegated Suu Kyi’s situation to a secondary role and, conveniently, that’s just where the junta wants it to be.

Comments (2)

by stuart munro on August 18, 2009
stuart munro

I agree on the subject of sanctions. Here in Korea, one of the early successes of the Park government was to normalise trade with Japan. Since the occupation of Korea in around 1904, Japan had not been Korea's favourite country. Nevertheless, they resumed trading quite quickly, and although there is still some lingering mistrust and resentment, trade, tourism and cooperation between the countries is now substantial.

I don't admire the North Korean regime. But every step it takes towards re-engagement with the world is probably a good thing, and should probably be rewarded, if we wish to see the prospects for their citizens, and for both Koreas, improve.

With respect to Myanmar, opening up to the generals might indeed marginalise Aung San Suu Kyi, but if her country were actually making significant progress I suspect that she would choose that over the status quo. Real leaders are satisfied with nothing less than the success of their country, something a number of serial sinecure seekers in Wellington will one day rudely discover.

by on May 08, 2012
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