Malaysia and ASEAN should support Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for a second multi-ethnic Panglong Conference to create a federal democracy in Burma to foster democratization and national reconciliation

Malaysia should play a leading active role in ASEAN to promote peace, democratization and national reconciliation in Myanmar as Malaysia, under the then Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, was responsible for Myanmar’s entry into ASEAN in 1997 despite ASEAN reservations and international criticisms on the ground that a policy of “constructive engagement” approach would pave the way for democratization and national reconciliation in Myanmar and security and stability in the region.

Thirteen years have elapsed but none of these objectives had been achieved.

Nine days ago, on 13th November, 2010, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was released after spending 15 of 21 years in detention under the Myanmese military junta, a release which was long overdue as the series of incarceration against the Nobel Peace Prize Laureatte should not have occurred in the first place.

With over 2,200 political prisoners still in detention in Burma, is Suu Kyi’s release a sign that the Myanmese military junta is ready seriously to address the challenges of democratization and national reconciliation in Burma?

After her release, Suu Kyi called for a second multi-ethnic Panglong Conference that is appropriate to 21st century concerns to create a federal system based on equality and democracy.

Suu Kyi’s father general Aung San who then represented the Burmese government reached an agreement with ethnic leaders from the Shan, Kachin, Chin and Mon on 12th February 1947, to accept full autonomy in internal administration for the ethnic-controlled frontier areas after independence from Britain.

The agreement, which was an outcome of the conference at Panglong, was never enforced due to the assassination of national hero Aung San in July 1947, just months before independence. However, many ethnic groups have continued to deem the Panglong Agreement as their bible of struggle for self-rule in Burma.

Malaysia and ASEAN should come forward to support Suu Kyi’s call for a second multi-ethnic Panglong Conference to create a federal democracy in Burma as an important contribution towards achieving dialogue, democratization and national reconciliation in Burma.

Malaysia, ASEAN, the UN Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary-General, the European Union, the United States and even China have been calling for tripartite dialogues in Burma among the military junta, the pro-democracy activists and the ethnic nationalities down the years and even decades, but they have not borne any fruit.

A second multi-ethnic Panglong Conference involving the Myanmese military rulers will turn a new page for Burma.

Although Suu Kyi has been released from detention, there has been increasing concerns not only whether she would be allowed to be fully active in legitimate political pursuits, but also about her personal safety.

There was an explosion in Mandalay with two injured following reports that Suu Kyi is planning to visit Burma’s second largest-city after her release.

Malaysia and ASEAN must send clear and unmistakable concerns to impress on the Myanmese military junta their responsibility not only to respect Suu Kyi’s freedom of speech, association and movement, but to ensure her personal safety – and that there would be no repetition of the Depayin Incident in May 2003 where about 100 of her supporters were killed and she herself was nearly assassinated when ambushed by junta-backed elements.

As part of the leading active role in ASEAN to ensure that Myanmar does not continue to undermine ASEAN’s good name and credibility, Malaysia should take initiatives on the following issues:

  • Immediate release of 2,200 political prisoners in Myanmar;

  • The military must declare a nation-wide ceasfire and end its offensive against ethnic civilians. Rape and forced labour, torture, the forcible recruitment of child soldiers and the destruction of villages must stop.

  • Withhold recognition for the Nov. 7 sham elections held in Myanmar; and

  • Support the proposal by the UN Special Rapporteur to establish a Commission of Inquiry under UN auspices to look into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Myanmar.

[Speech in the 2011 budget debate during the Foreign Ministry committee stage in Parliament on Monday November 22, 2010]

  1. #1 by DrZafar on Monday, 22 November 2010 - 10:33 pm

    The Elephants sometimes need to retreat one step backwards before thrusting forward
    Rather than calling second Pin Lone conference which is 100% sure to be ignored by the SPDC military leaders, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should persuade all the opposition including the Ethnic National Groups to give firm assurance to Generals that they are not a threat to them: their families, friends, business, property and UNION of Myanmar. Daw Suu should guarantee that she and those top leaders would defend the generals from PROSECUTION by any party in Myanmar as well as Internationally IF they start power-sharing by forming the INTERIM GOVERNMENT with all the stake holders.

    Of course Daw Suu led NLD must be allowed to participate in a leading role.

    Who is going to give up the holy power when the Myanmar Military is at the upper hand and could rule the whole country firmly with the iron grip for about half a century?

    There is a fear factor of backlash by the people amongst them. Their grip of power is still very strong with the modernized, well equipped, 500,000 strong military.

    We do not want to witness further loss of innocent Myanmar people. We do not to witness our leaders detained again for another few decades? All of them are 60-70 already, even if wait another 5 yrs, we could not get their valuable contribution of guiding our country to leap forward.

    We especially do not want to witness our beloved Daw Aung San Suu Kyi rearrested or God forbid, assassinated and experience the fate of poor orphans.

    There is a saying_ The Elephants sometimes need to retreat one step backwards before thrusting forward to fight. In boxing, tennis, badminton and many games including Chess, in order to smash or giving a powerful stroke, or knocked out strike, we must know the footwork of retreating one step backwards.

    Once the elephant could start a trail, the road to democracy will be formed.

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 23 November 2010 - 8:29 am

    There is a moral argument put forth here: If Malaysia (under TDM) were responsible to champion Myanmar’s entry into ASEAN in 1997, Malaysia assumes the corollary moral responsibility to now support Suu Kyi’s call for a second multi-ethnic Panglong Conference to promote democratization and national reconciliation in Burma.

    This “moral” argument is more idealistic than realistic. Firstly what credentials do ASEAN leaders have to preach democracy when their own backyards are not exactly shining examples of it? Has Malaysia by our Federalism or “1 Malaysia” solved our multi ethnic problems between Malays, Chinese, Indians, Orang Asli Melanau, Dayak Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, kadazandusuns Kelabit to preach to Myanmar how to solve their Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan ethnic problems?

    Suu Kyi’s multi-ethnic Panglong Conference calls for a kind of federalism and decentralization that accords full autonomy in internal administration for these ethnic minorities in the frontier areas. This sends shivers to us. Might this not set a precedent for marginalised East Malaysian States to call for the same?

    I am sure that when Malaysian PM (Mahathir) – and Singapore- championed Myanmar’s entry into ASEAN, morality human rights and democracy there weren’t the first thing on their minds!

    It was economic interests. To Malaysia as the rest of ASEAN Burma is a goldmine for ASEAN’s extraction of natural resources. Our Petronas is interested – and presently involved – in extracting its offshore gas fields. Singapore was more interested in the huge market for weapons and expatriation of cash/funds from there! Mahathir was more interested to be seen keeping US and Western interest/influence out of Myanmar/this region and also champion of Muslim causes including getting the Junta to repatriate thousands of Muslim Rohingyas refugees from Bangladesh in 1992 as condition to join ASEAN!

    Not that there is anything really wrong about economic concerns. For one thing ASEAN is by original inception an economic bloc to exploit economic complementarities to enable this region to compete against other blocs like (say) European Union. Secondly, ASEAN’s admitting Myanmar allowed foreign investments from ASEAN to pour into Myanmar and helped the government there (Military Junta notwithstanding) contain political dissatisfaction over inflation and assist its ailing economy which otherwise in face of European & US trade sanctions might have otherwise collapsed causing people there more misery!

    The Military Mindsets there knew nothing beyond how to make corrupt moneys from Narcotic trade : so this opening of trade there by ASEAN and sending their FDIs there has widened their mental horizons and might have played a role to soften their stance to take baby steps towards restoring democracy of promulgating a Constitution, releasing icon Suu Kyi and having elections, rigged notwithstanding!

    As far as ASEAN is concerned it is balance between their anchor policy of political non interference, constructive/flexible engagement, priority on economic benefits with some regard to democracy and human rights. To go further and champion federalism/autonomy of ethnic frontier minorities sounds like crossing the line to interference with domestic political affairs of a member country.

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