More than a dozen years ago, the people of Burma voted overwhelmingly to replace military dictatorship with democracy. The generals in Rangoon refused to abide by the results of the May 1990 elections, but promised an eventual transition to democracy. That promise has not been kept. Military rule continues. Human rights abuses are serious and widespread. And genuine dialogue between the military regime and Burma's democracy movement has yet to begin.
Burma's military rulers have made some grudging concessions. On May 6th, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, or N-L-D, was released from house arrest. She has been able to travel and meet with N-L-D members without the usual police state harassment. Seventy local offices of the N-L-D have been allowed to reopen. But more than two-hundred others remain closed. On November 20th, the military regime announced the release of one-hundred-fifteen political prisoners. But more than nine hundred are still in detention. There are credible reports that Burmese security forces continue to murder, torture, rape, rob, and arbitrarily arrest civilians, especially in ethnic minority areas, including the Shan [shahn], Kayah [kai-YAH], Karen [kah-ren], Mon [mohn], and Arakan [ah-rah-kahn] states.
While many Burmese lack the necessities of life, the country's military rulers squander taxpayers money on so-called "prestige" projects, including a nuclear reactor and advanced MIG-29 fighter planes. As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, James Kelly, put it, "Burma was once poised to be one of the most prosperous countries of Southeast Asia. Now its broken economy has trouble feeding itself. This is a man-made, not a natural phenomenon, and Burma's leaders should hang their heads in shame."
It's long past time for Burma's generals to talk in good faith with democracy movement leaders and begin the long-overdue transition to democracy. "We are at the point where, absent further progress, the process that has begun may well falter," said Assistant Secretary of State Kelly. For "without democracy, Burma is fated to experience a stunted future, one filled with opportunities lost at home as well as abroad."