Myanmar’s hard-line military leader, Gen. Than Shwe, said Friday that he would meet with detained democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, but only if she stops calling for international sanctions. The announcement came shortly before special envoy Ibrahim Gambari was to brief United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on his visit to the country, which is also known as Burma, during a deadly crackdown on Buddhist monks and other pro-democracy demonstrators.
What the commentators said
Life is “back to normal” in Burma, said The Washington Post in an editorial (free registration). That means that “brutal repression” again reigns, as it has since military rule was imposed in the Asian country in 1962. Don’t expect the generals to really talk to their people. “They prefer to subdue them.” The United Nations Security Council will probably do a lot of talking, but it will probably stop short of imposing meaningful sanctions, as veto-wielding China doesn’t want to do anything to upset its economic relationship with the generals.
The “burden” is on the Security Council to do something about this, said Jared Genser in The Boston Globe (free registration). For years, the international community has tried a “mishmash” of sanctions and “constructive engagement” to get the military junta to inch toward democracy. But something clearly has to change. If China won’t go along, other countries should boycott the Beijing Olympics next summer. “Targeted sanctions” and a dedicated U.N. negotiator might just be able to help the Burmese people realize their yearning “to be free.”
Don’t underestimate the power of the monks, said Philip Delves Broughton in The Wall Street Journal. Buddhism is what holds Burmese society together. The generals have tried to use the religion to “justify economic and democratic deprivation” and legitimize their authority. Soldiers have raided monasteries and beaten, even killed, monks, but the junta knows it runs a great risk by cracking down. The monks—not the generals—are the “national conscience,” and that status will prove a powerful weapon in the “fight for Burma’s future.”
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