Pro-democracy activists in Burma want the Obama administration to reject the military junta's plans to hold elections from which they have been shut out this year.
In a series of e-mail interviews with The Washington Times, members of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's political party — National League for Democracy (NLD) — said the Obama administration must tell the junta it considers illegitimate a vote that excludes the pro-democracy opposition.
Following an extensive review of U.S. policy, the Obama administration has opted to use engagement and sanctions to deal with Burma's reclusive military leaders.
Win Tin, an adviser to Mrs. Suu Kyi and a founder of NLD, said from Burma that while the NLD welcomes direct engagement between the Obama administration and the junta, "I believe that a more assertive policy is needed."
Win Tin was a political prisoner in his country from 1989 to 2008.
"The military will not move toward a dialogue with the NLD and the [ethnic] nationalities unless the forthcoming elections are opposed by the international communities," Win Tin said.
Burma's military rulers have enacted election laws that force parties to expel members with criminal records, including political prisoners such as Mrs. Suu Kyi, who has been kept under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years. There are more than 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, according to Human Rights Watch.
Parties also are required to swear allegiance to the 2008 constitution, under which the military is guaranteed a quarter of the seats in the lower house of parliament and one-third in the upper house regardless of the outcome of the vote.
The laws forced NLD to choose to expel its senior leaders or disband. The party decided to boycott the vote, and the country's ruler, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, dissolved the NLD in May for refusing to register under the laws.
The government has yet to announce a date for the elections, but it is widely expected that they will be held Oct. 10 — 10/10/10 — given the junta's obsession with numbers.
Tin Oo, vice chairman of NLD, said from Burma that he is worried "the junta's plans to hold elections are a way of legitimizing the military rulers of Burma."
"I do believe that [President] Obama's administration should engage the junta with the strongest pressure," said Tin Oo, who was released by the junta in February after spending nearly seven years in prison and under house arrest.
Nyo Ohn Myint, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the NLD (Liberated Area), said from Thailand that the junta's first priority is "exclusion of potential opposition regardless of international condemnation."
He accused the Obama administration of having "very little interest" in Burma. "Burma is too complicated, and no politicians in the U.S. want to take a lead," he added.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss developments in Burma, said the Obama administration is "extremely disappointed by the recently announced election laws in Burma that have effectively excluded important political parties, including the NLD, from the political process and prohibited Aung San Suu Kyi from participating."
The official said while the Obama administration has initiated "a senior-level diplomatic dialogue with the Burmese authorities, U.S. sanctions remain in place." The sanctions continue to be an important element of U.S. policy and an "important source of leverage for influencing the regime's behavior," the official said.
Burmese opposition leaders also want the Obama administration to enforce financial and banking sanctions against the generals and call on the United Nations to investigate crimes against humanity committed by the regime.
Aung Din was one of the student leaders who organized a nationwide pro-democracy uprising in Burma in 1988. He was arrested by military intelligence in April 1989 and sentenced by a military court to four years in prison. After his release, he was terrorized by military intelligence and local authorities, who frequently knocked on his door in the middle of the night and scared off potential employers.
"I have had enough experiences about the brutalities of the military thugs who rule the country against the will of citizens of Burma throughout my life," said Aung Din, who is the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma in Washington.
Aung Din said had the NLD participated in the election, it would have helped the regime in its attempt to gain legitimacy.
"To our disappointment, the international community is divided on Burma, and even some democratic countries in [the] European Union are inclined to support the election although they know that it is not free, fair, democratic or inclusive," he said. "The most important thing we want is strong U.S. leadership on Burma."
Mr. Myint said Mrs. Suu Kyi sees the U.S. "playing good cop and bad cop … she clearly says that if U.S. accepts the current political development, no one can have any achievements."
"Washington should have a road map so that all parties can enjoy their future," Mr. Myint said.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.
Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.
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