International Papers

A Close Shave in Burma

Where is Aung San Suu Kyi? asked U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, others at this week’s U.N. Millennium Summit, and the world press. The Myanmar military junta that threw out the 1990 landslide won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party appears to have “disappeared” the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

On Aug. 24, when Suu Kyi left her Rangoon home for party work in a rural area, government forces intercepted her en route. Refusing to turn back to Rangoon, she camped on the road for nine days before being forcibly returned Saturday. No one has seen her since, and telephone lines to her home have been disconnected. An International Herald Tribune op-ed suggested that Suu Kyi was provoking the regime into confrontations “to attract foreign headlines.” If so, the tactic has succeeded.

This week, the junta stepped up its campaign against the NLD, announcing that 24 of its members have “resigned” from the party. The junta also damned the foreign governments that inquired about Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders, declaring they were “interfering” in Myanmar’s internal affairs. (A surprisingly quote-light “interview” with Suu Kyi in the Times of London described the harassment of supporters: For example, the owner of the NLD’s headquarters building, an elderly diabetic woman with arthritis, “was jailed for a week without drugs as the military tried to force her to evict the party.”) The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the country’s official newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, compared Suu Kyi to “an ‘evil’ wandering female ascetic who had set out to destroy the Buddha through slander.”

The Australian government came under attack from human rights activists for giving human rights seminars to Burmese officials. They say the regime uses the program “to pretend it wants reform while intensifying repression of dissent.” Australia’s foreign minister, Alexander Downer, defended the U.S. $280,000 program in a Sydney Morning Herald op-ed, which contended that 10 years of isolation and sanctions have “led to no change whatsoever in the political situation, neither have they contributed to any improvement in the very grim human rights picture that is Burma today.” Downer declared that engagement does not equal endorsement, and decried assertions “that Australia is the only country engaging with Burma” as “pure myth. Burma is now a member of ASEAN, and as a member, Burma talks with the United States, with the EU, and with Australia, all ASEAN dialogue partners.”

A win-win election: The overwhelming victory of construction billionaire Rafik Hariri in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections Sunday was welcomed as a triumph of democracy. Despite the unexpected routing of Damascus’ favored candidates, Syria was surprisingly sanguine about the outcome. Several papers quoted the ruling party newspaper Al-Baath as saying, “Syria considers the Lebanese election results positive and optimistically welcomes them.” France’s Le Monde said, “Although the campaign was marred by vulgarity, personal attacks, and money, the results were not manipulated and show an increasingly free attitude by the Syrian protector.” The Daily Star of Lebanon declared four winners in the voting: Syrian President Bashar Assad, “for whom the Lebanese elections were as much a test of his own commitment to positive change and to liberal principles as they were a test of the Lebanese administration,” who allowed a free and open vote; Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, who made appropriate post-poll noises about behaving constitutionally; Hariri, who overcame a “vicious and libelous campaign”; and “democracy itself.”

The Jerusalem Post posited that Hariri’s victory “could signal an inversion of the power structure” between Lebanon and Syria. Since Israel’s withdrawal in May, Syria’s pretext for basing 30,000 troops in Lebanon has gone, but a hasty withdrawal would hurt Damascus, which relies on its satellite for prestige and financial support. The editorial declared, “It is incumbent is upon Beirut to smooth the transition by looking for ways to help increase investment in Syria.” Although Hariri, who was prime minister 1992-98, has the support of at least one-third of the legislature, the constitution empowers the president to name the prime minister after polling members, and since Lahoud is a bitter rival of Hariri’s, it is not yet clear if he will get the nod.

Some soldiers are more equal than others: The St. Petersburg Times reported Tuesday that families of Russian servicemen killed in the line of duty want to know why surviving relatives of the Kursk submarine crew are receiving 100 times the normal compensation package. The family of a felled conscript soldier not serving in a war zone would normally receive a settlement of 7,250 rubles ($260); the families of the Kursk crew will receive an additional 725,000 rubles ($26,000). A bereaved mother took pains to point out that it is the inequity she is unhappy with, not the size of the Kursk payments.

Betting on a bonza games: Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun was chagrined to discover that Australian laws permit Olympic athletes to bet on their own events. The paper reported that the Australian Olympic Committee failed to revise the Olympic Charter to prohibit competitors from gambling. An employee of Australia’s biggest sports gambling operation told the paper his company was opposed to athletes gambling, but his opposition was based less on concerns that athletes would throw their events in order to win big by betting on an unfavored opponent than on their having an unfair advantage. Fabian Caninzi said: “If athletes are allowed to place bets, they’ll have a better idea of who’s in form and who’s injured. They’ll be able to trade inside information not available to other punters.” (For more on the games, check out special pages from the Sydney Morning Herald and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation papers.)