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Asean Affairs    20  October  2011

Is Myanmar for real?

 By David Swartzentruber

 AseanAffairs     20  October 2011

At a recent national day celebration at an embassy here in Bangkok, the defense attaché of an Asia-Pacific country approached me and asked “Do you think that the recent changes in Myanmar were real or merely intended to improve Myanmar’s bid to become chair of Asean in 2014?”

I am sure that many Myanmar observers and “experts” will be called upon to address that question in coming months.

After some thought, I told him that I felt Myanmar would do just enough to make itself “more acceptable” to the global community but those efforts would fall far short of the civil liberties enjoyed in other Asean countries such as  next-door Thailand. Basically the moves are  window-dressing to get the Asean chair.

The military remains in firm control and when one gets off a plane in Yangon, there are just too many soldiers walking around with rifles slung over their soldiers. If Myanmar really wants to change its image, perhaps that’s the first place to start.

Two recent events also substantiate my position.

UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said this week in his report to the General Assembly that, "Despite these positive developments (the release of 6,300 political prisoners), many ongoing and serious human rights issues remain to be addressed."

The Myanmar government’s suspension of the Myitsone dam project is another bold step taken by the new government. The dam is being financed by China and most of the power generated will be returning to China, with Myanmar receiving financial benefit but little electricity in a country where only 20 percent of the population receives regular access to electricity.

The suspension came one week after Myanmar’s minister of electric power said work on the dam would continue.

The dam was widely opposed because of the estimated displacement of 15,000 people and ecological damage to the Irrawaddy River. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has thrown her weight behind the Save Irrawaddy campaign, which appears to be gathering momentum.
However, suspension of the project does not mean the project will be abandoned.

A real change would also result in elections that allow more than one party to dominate the results.
How long will it take for that to happen in Myanmar?

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


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