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Burma and the sounds of Rudd's silence

By David Calleja - posted Thursday, 18 June 2009

One of the most obvious truths in international politics is that Burma’s military regime has absolutely no interest in caring for the millions of people that reside within its borders. Next year, the crowning achievement of the junta’s chokehold on Burma will be complete.

The proposed elections set for 2010 amount to a circus act. General Than Shwe acts as the ringmaster. There are 50 million civilians on a tightrope and the military regime sways both ends of a rapidly fraying rope. The concerned international community are forced to watch from the stands, helplessly watching any impending disaster unfold. The safety net that may well prevent yet another massacre, in the form of intervention from China and India in publicly condemning the junta’s actions has not been cast.

And somewhere in there, Australia has also failed to demonstrate any leadershship.


For years, our governments have been asking for a more inclusive role in South-East Asia. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd now has the chance to showcase his regional leadership capabilities by succeeding where ASEAN and individual nations have failed.

Instead of showing genuine leadership and criticising General Than Shwe for his regime's treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi, the thousands of political prisoners in jail and millions of civilians living in fear of their lives, Prime Minister Rudd is adopting a WWJD ("What Would John (Howard) Do?”) approach.

The previous Prime Minister would have found solace in opting for the safer moral high ground and stuck to domestic issues that would have earned political points.

Having already referred to people smugglers as "scum of the earth" and telling the ABC’s Chasers War On Everything team to "hang their heads in shame" following a controversial skit, Prime Minister Rudd must feel that there is no political leverage in calling General Than Shwe exactly what he is - a bloodthirsty dictator in the mould of Pol Pot and Idi Amin.

Perhaps it is Prime Minister Rudd that needs to hang his head in shame for not being strong enough when it really counts by referring to the military leadership as an illegitimate regime or more plainly, brutal murderers.

What does he have to lose in stating the obvious? He may be referred to as an external destructive element by regime-controlled media, but that is expected of anybody disagreeing with the junta. He may also be risking his favoured status with Burma's ally, China, and asked not to meddle with internal affairs of another country.


Perhaps the cause for his silence is a belief that tougher sanctions against the regime without harming the victims will work. But let’s not get fooled again. At any moment, a sudden gust of madness could result in catastrophic circumstances and once again, just like in 1988 and 2007, we could be faced with the stench of innocent blood and lifeless bodies.

General Than Shwe and his regime have arrogantly tossed a bone to the international community by “unexpectedly” cancelling Daw Suu Kyi’s house arrest. However, the possibility of a lengthy jail sentence in Insein Prison is all too real. The junta's latest tactics of delaying her trial is part of their plan to phase Daw Suu Kyi out of the news. They are doing everything possible to prevent her from ever becoming Burma's rightful leader before a shot is even fired.

What does the regime really think that they will achieve, apart from an increase in numbers calling for their heads? When will they actually start acknowledging that their efforts to quell the silence through all violent means possible will not bring them any respect and do nothing to help their cause, which is being seen as the legitimate rulers of Burma? Thanks to Than Shwe’s xenophobia, two clauses in Burma’s constitution will prevent Daw Suu Kyi from ever assuming her rightful position as leader of Burma; her 13 out of 19 years under house arrest and her previous marriage to the late British academic, Michael Aris, who died in 1999.

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About the Author

David Calleja is a freelance writer who is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy Journal and Hack Writers. In 2008, he worked as a teacher and soccer coach in the Internally Displaced Persons camp based in Loi Tailang, Shan State, Burma. His writing focuses on human interest stories in Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. David has also worked as an English teacher in South Korea, China, Thailand and Cambodia. His video depicting the lives of families living on the grounds of Steung Meanchey Waste Dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, A Garbage Diet, can be viewed here.

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