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United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and many world leaders have welcomed the recent release of 115 political prisoners from various prisons in Myanmar. At the same time, many leaders have voiced concerns about the more than 1,000 remaining political prisoners, human rights abuses and the lack of dialogue between top generals and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Nevertheless, it is quite a surprise to learn that U Win Tin, secretary of the National League for Democracy, or NLD, prominent student leader Min Ko Naing, and U Win Htain, Suu Kyi’s personal secretary, were among those released. If, in fact, these three influential men, who hold outstanding lifelong reputations, are no longer considered a threat or danger to the peace and stability of the country, as acknowledged by the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, then neither do the remaining prisoners of conscience pose a threat or danger. The regime should free all of them; the rewards of doing so await.

Suu Kyi has recently called on her counterparts, the generals of the ruling military regime, to immediately begin negotiations with her party, the NLD. She said it is time for the military, the political parties as well as the people to work together. She warned that needless delay could only harm the people. She has drastically softened her stand against the generals, choosing to remain neutral on whether foreigners should invest in Myanmar. She leaves the question of sanctions to the moral conscience of other countries.

Leaders of other countries should weigh Myanmar’s situation, taking into account various reports and Suu Kyi’s occasional speeches and interviews. Needed humanitarian assistance, however, should be provided urgently.

Both the ruling junta and Suu Kyi are aware of the increasingly severe situation confronting them each day, but the junta’s top generals often give only lip service and do nothing to change or improve conditions. Suu Kyi has no practical power to do anything for her fellow citizens. These obstacles can be overcome only by the concerted efforts of the regime and Suu Kyi-led forces. It is for the SPDC alone to show its sincerity through pragmatic action, not by repeated hints and promises that have never been fulfilled or followed up.

I am reminded of former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew statement in his memoirs about the achievements he oversaw during his tenure: “I hope they will know that honest and effective government, public order and personal security, economic and social success did not come about as the natural course of events.”

I am saddened and ashamed when I look over the 14-year performance record of my country’s corrupt, inefficient, incompetent and dishonest regime. In Myanmar there’s no personal security, no economic and social success — except for the regime and its close associates. There is public order under the threat of guns, torture and confinement. No one in the regime would like to take responsibility in initiating steps to mend the fence. I wonder how my country’s generals transformed from being normal people. Most folks would feel shame and fear for doing what is not right and for violating the teachings of Buddha.

The rule of the past 14 years has resulted in deterioration in many respects. High inflation, a thousands-fold increase in HIV and AIDS cases, the student dropout rate, the infant mortality rate, personal insecurity and lack of media freedom clearly attest to the regime’s failure.

One could doubt that the regime has any good intentions of keeping the union intact and developing infrastructures for the social and economic progress of the people. A severe imbalance between deterioration and progress exists. The most effective remedy is for the regime to move hand in hand with the Suu Kyi-led forces. It would be better to start serious dialogue with Suu Kyi, discussing which members of the new Cabinet should tackle the nation’s problems, etc.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly has said poppy cultivation in Myanmar dropped by 26 percent last year. Japan has provided buy-back alternative crops, such as buckwheat, benefiting the country and local farmers.

We hope that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s recent remark in Cambodia (about Suu Kyi’s significant role in the eyes of the world community) will have an impact on his counterpart, Senior Gen. Than Shwe. Because of the special bond between the two countries, Japan could help reach an honorable solution. The U.N. alone cannot effect drastic change. Even after two years of active engagements, the regime’s main task — to begin a serious dialogue — has gone nowhere.

Britain has recently given aid to the country in the battle against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Other European Union nations should engage the country and provide humanitarian assistance. The United States should rethink its ineffective punitive measures, including sanctions. There must be some channels left open to help the devastated people of Myanmar.

Suu Kyi has called out to her brothers, the generals: “The armed forces that protect the people and that are respected and admired by the people are very precious for the country. Similarly, a political party that always serves the people and the country is also very precious. If such precious organizations hold hands together to work for the people and the country, it will bring definite benefits.”

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