Visits to Myanmar by United Nations Special Envoy Ismail Razali and Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi ended in hopes that change would take place. Unfortunately, however, Myanmar’s generals have shown no sign of turning their words into action, and the country’s situation continues to deteriorate. If the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, fails to honor its commitments, it will be exposed as deceitful and untrustworthy.

Almost every citizen of Myanmar has been victimized by the country’s military regime, and a few people have had their lives utterly ruined by it. To request that they sacrifice themselves once again by abandoning their bitter feelings and the right to demand the regime face judgment seems to be asking too much. But it would be best for both them and their nation if they forgive the regime’s wrongdoings. We need to reunite and reconcile for a practical reason: the lasting peace and prosperity of our nation.

Gen. Khin Nyunt, one of the most powerful generals, has said, “no one should try to impose their will or attempt to mold Myanmar in their image. … We will not be swayed by sweet words or bowed by threats.” And he also said that change will come from within and the process must be gradual.

Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, presented his findings at the 58th session of the commission of human rights on March 28. He has stated: “I continue to believe that there is a will within the SPDC to pursue a transition from political exclusion to cooperation with the NLD (National League for Democracy) and other components of society. The path taken, the pace followed and the means employed to effect a genuine political dialogue and democratic transition may be discussed — but the process continues, and it is vital that it continues. I think that Myanmar is destined to change.”

The United Nations and the people of Myanmar want to see this expectation of political dialogue realized. They collectively appeal to the regime to fulfill its commitment honestly and seriously.

It is disappointing that Khin Nyunt recently shunned a meeting with a visiting EU delegation. The delegation met with democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi for two hours. Suu Kyi wisely chose to stay neutral on the issues of Western aid and investment. It is up to Western governments to make a moral-based decision on whether they should lift sanctions. Such a decision must not be reached in haste. First, they should assess whether such investments would benefit the needy.

Nonetheless, aid aimed at improving education, eradicating drug abuse, addressing the HIV epidemic and other health problems, alleviating poverty and supporting environmental protection and conservation should be immediately granted.

The SPDC should not resist change by claiming that democratization will lead to anarchy if it takes place too rapidly. If the regime truly believes this to be the case, it should work with the NLD to lay the groundwork for change to take place in a manner that will both prevent instability and quickly alleviate the people’s hardship and suffering.

Suu Kyi recently said, “Our country will suffer greatly if the current dismal economic situation is not reversed.” Her remarks are accurate. Rising inflation has pushed the exchange rate of Myanmar’s currency to the dollar from 60-1 in 1991, to 350-1 in 2000, to 1200-1 at present. In the past 14 years, administrative inefficiency, mismanagement, widespread corruption and lack of developmental efforts tasks have taken a severe toll on the economy.

AIDS cases have increased a hundred-thousand fold during the regime’s tenure, and many children have been forced to leave school. While the guilt for this problem should be shared by both the SPDC and the people, history will hold the former solely responsible if it stubbornly refuses to cooperate with the NLD.

Suu Kyi has said she would cooperate with the regime on aid and assistance programs that benefit the people and promote the process of democratization. Although she said democratization is very important, I would say the immediate needs of the people must come first. If they are met, movement toward democracy will be inevitable. I would therefore like to appeal to both leaders to create a coalition governing arrangement as a first step, as was done in Cambodia a few years back.

In addition, the regime should not regard other countries as adversaries when they demand that it take action. Far from being enemies, they want to see the people of Myanmar gain freedom from want and fear.

The Japanese government and nongovernmental organizations should step up various aid and assistance humanitarian programs that will not only alleviate the sufferings and hardships of the people but also bind the two nations together in a close friendship that will accelerate democratization at a realistic pace.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to North Korea greatly encouraged the people of Myanmar. The world will recognize him as a maker of history in the 21st century. Nothing can happen without engagement. History has shown how individuals and groups with a genuine desire for reconciliation can make countries better places for all.

As I said in a previous article, Japan has a vital role to play in Myanmar: to help the regime and democratic forces reach a realistic common ground upon which they can reconstruct their ruined country.

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