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Myanmar’s left on its own

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By Owei Lakmefa
WHEN a daughter of humanity, Aung San Suu Kyi  on November 14, walked out of house arrest after seven and half years imprisonment, not a few began a count down on the day  the Myanmar junta may throw her back in detention.

Her crime is that she wants the stone-age military that  has for 48 years usurped the sovereignty of the people to give way to popular democracy and the respect of fundamental human rights.

To us in Nigeria, Myanmar  is better known  by the way the British colonialists spelt the country’s name, Burma. That name  rang a bell across generations of Nigerians.

When I was a child, the ex-servicemen with medals on their chests were said to have fought in the ‘Burma War’ which meant they fought or served in Burma during the  Second World War.

It was in adulthood I understood that  the war in that country went quite badly for the British  who out of desperation fell back on its colonies like Nigeria and enticed or forced the enlistment of adult males into its army to fight in  Burma.

During the war, the British colonial forces crumbled ahead of the advancing Japanese who had most of the Burmese on their side.

These included the Burma Independence Army founded  by a group known as the Thirty Comrades led by the youthful Aung San, Suu Kyi’s father which fought on the side of Japan against Britain and its allies from 1942-1944 before switching  allegiance in 1945 to the British.

The position of the Burmese was quite logical and principled:  it made no sense for colonised peoples to fight for the colonial master in a war that may result in their independence.

But when it was clear that their new allies were no better, they switched sides to what appeared to be the better of two evils.

One major gain for Africans in the Burma campaign was that the veterans became major springs from which nationalists ideas and agitations for independence sprouted.

World leaders have for long condemned the military regimes in Myanmar, but  the will to force the military frankenstein  back to the barracks has been missing.

Even as Suu Kyi stepped out into freedom, powerful men across the world hailed her release: President Barack Obama called her “a hero of mine”,  while British Prime Minister, David Cameron  said she “is an inspiration  for all  of us who believe in the  in freedom of speech, democracy and human rights”.

But how come the powerful in the world cannot discourage the Myanmar  brutes from once again clamping  the innocent into prison, or  pressure the regime to let go the estimated 2,200 political prisoners it is holding?

Suu Kyi’s former employers, the United Nations (UN) through its Secretary General , Ban Ki moon  greeted her release with the words: “Her dignity and courage  in the face of injustice  have been an inspiration to many people around the world”.

U Thant was Secretary  to the  Burmese Prime  Minister before being appointed the country’s Permanent Representative to the UN. In 1961 he was elected the first non- Westerner  to be the UN  Secretary General.

Amongst the Burmese that worked with him during his 10-year stint as UN chief was a young lady: Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar is  perhaps the only country in the world that in practice, requires anybody aspiring for political leadership to sign up with the armed forces or be a close ally.

The army which seized the country in a 1962 coup by General Ne Win has called its regimes names it considers its primary programmes. One was  the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), another was the  State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Whatever name it bore, the Myanmar armed forces has continued to hold the country hostage, occupied most political offices, trampled human rights into the dust and defied world opinion.

The uncaring and unfeeling regime in that country is a probable reflection of what  Nigeria might have  witnessed had the General Sani Abacha regime  not come to a befittingly tragic end.

The Myanmar regime shows that even after the world has proclaimed the end of dictatorial  rule and the birth of liberal democracy,  humanity may still not take a decisive step to bring impunity to an end.

As we know, had nations and peoples maintained a principled position against Adolf Hitler, the tragedy that was the Second World War  might have been avoided. But a  policy of appeasement  merely propelled Hitler and he visited catastrophe on humanity.

Myanmar is another case where a rampaging junta has been left to roam and cause havoc which other juntas may copy.

The emergence of Suu Kyi was probably accidental; she had returned to the country to take care of her ailing mother. This coincided with the 1988 pro- democracy  protests in which the military  junta massacred  thousands of demonstrators.

She got swept along in the gales of the protests, and the visiting mother of two became a permanent resident of her home country, spending  15 of the last 21 years under one form of detention or another.

In May 1990, the junta held elections, the first in almost three decades, and the  National League for Democracy(NDL)  led by Suu Kyi swept the polls, winning 392 of the 489 seats; that is,  over 80 percent, and overall,  over 60 percent of the total votes cast.

But the military annulled the elections and threw her into detention.   The next year, she won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel Committee said  it “wishes to honour this woman for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means”.

But that did not move the Myanmar generals and nothing will move them unless there is a counter force. Humanity needs to  make concerted efforts as it did in the case of apartheid South Africa to restore the dignity of human beings and their basic political rights.

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