12/14/2004, 00.00
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Democracy, human rights and the economy in the twilight zone

At almost two months from the ouster of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, junta hardliners are getting stronger. Army is being purged and pro-democracy activists are being crushed.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Democracy, human rights and economy are now entering the twilight zone. The sacking of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt on October 19 has given hardliners in Myanmar's military junta the opportunity cleaning house, but this, for some analysts, is a prelude to disaster.

After charging the former Prime Minister with corruption, the chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, General Than Shwe, has launched a series of purges against more moderate elements of the regime who were close to Khin Nyunt.

As part of the house cleaning, most ambassadors have been recalled for a formal briefing; those linked to Khin Nyunt and former Foreign Minister Win Aung, who was also sacked in October, have been dismissed.

In November, state-run media reported the retirement of home minister Colonel Tin Hlaing and labour minister U Tin Win, but both were for all intents and purposes purged. They were the last of Khin Nyunt's supporters in the cabinet and the only remaining senior ministers who had close contacts with diplomats and international organisations.
In addition to being Prime Minister, Khin Nyunt was also military intelligence chief. After his fall, hundreds of military intelligence officers were detained, many charged with corruption. Diplomatic sources in Yangon believe that as many as 2,000 senior military intelligence officers are currently in detention. A few have been allowed to retire and others have fled the country.

Officially, the junta claims this is all part of an anti-corruption drive in the intelligence services. But a more likely explanation, according to Myanmar watchers, is an army purge by hardliners consolidating their grip on power.

The deposed Prime Minister was open to dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition. Now, it too must face the consequences of the military internal crackdown.

Some political observers believe that the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi will be further marginalised in the pseudo-democratisation process launched by the junta.

Ms Suu Kyi's house arrest has been extended by another year and among the recently prisoners released few were political prisoners.

Some observers in Yangon have asked whether the NLD should have joined the national Convention convened in April by the ruling junta in order to write a constitution instead of denouncing it as 'illegitimate'. According to them, it might have been better for the NLD to work from within the system and be part of the process. NLD leaders say that had the party joined in, it would have been excluded one way or another from the junta's roadmap to democracy.

With Nyunt's arrest, international pressures on the junta are mounting with negative repercussions on the country's economy, which has suffered from years of military dictatorship and international sanctions.

A western diplomat in Yangon explained that "Khin Nyunt and military intelligence were the glue holding the system and the government together." Military intelligence, he said, acted as a clearing house for the nation's commercial activities and controlled 100 per cent of the crucial border trade with countries such as China, India and Thailand.

Myanmar has substantial Asian foreign investment, especially in resources such as natural gas, but it is the lack of a clear domestic agenda which continues to plague the economy, the diplomat added.

Myanmar suffered a crushing banking crisis that began in February last year when 14 financial services groups operating outside government regulations failed to pay investors.


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