Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
07CHIANGMAI169
2007-10-19 11:59:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Consulate Chiang Mai
Cable title:  

BURMA ACTIVISTS CITE NEED TO "CREATE SPACE" FOR

Tags:  PREL PGOV PREF PHUM MARR ECON BM TH 
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O P 191159Z OCT 07
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0585
INFO RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0636
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 0024
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0021
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000169 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/19/2017
TAGS: PREL PGOV PREF PHUM MARR ECON BM TH
SUBJECT: BURMA ACTIVISTS CITE NEED TO "CREATE SPACE" FOR
PRO-DEMOCRACY OPPOSITION TO REGROUP


CHIANG MAI 00000169 001.2 OF 002


CLASSIFIED BY: Michael K. Morrow, Consul General, Chiang Mai,
DoS.
REASON: 1.4 (b),(d)



-------
Summary
-------

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000169

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/19/2017
TAGS: PREL PGOV PREF PHUM MARR ECON BM TH
SUBJECT: BURMA ACTIVISTS CITE NEED TO "CREATE SPACE" FOR
PRO-DEMOCRACY OPPOSITION TO REGROUP


CHIANG MAI 00000169 001.2 OF 002


CLASSIFIED BY: Michael K. Morrow, Consul General, Chiang Mai,
DoS.
REASON: 1.4 (b),(d)



--------------
Summary
--------------


1. (C) The outside world needs to create space for
pro-democracy forces inside Burma to recover and rise up again,
visiting DCM was told by Chiang Mai-based Burma activists.
Specifically, high-level personal diplomacy must maintain
pressure on regime leaders to ease the brutal crackdown, and
concerted international efforts should be made to document and
track political detainees. These measures can give opposition
activists the sense of "political space" and personal safety
they need to resume their push for democracy. Our contacts
urged the outside world to be mindful that the Burmese military,
despite low morale and growing recruiting problems, is held
together by the twin beliefs that: (a) it is the country's only
unifying force; and (b) if it relinquishes power, its leaders
will be punished for war crimes. During this meeting we were
struck by our contacts' focus on the needs of those inside Burma
rather than on exile groups' own roles and actions. End Summary.

--------------
Personal Pressure Better Than Sanctions
--------------


2. (C) Visiting Deputy Chief of Mission met over lunch October
18 with four northern Thailand-based Burma activists (protect
all). "Irrawaddy" Editor Aung Zaw made the case that the
pro-democracy movement inside Burma, despite being on the
defensive for now, has irrevocably changed the country's
political situation and there is no going back to business as
usual. To succeed, however, the opposition needs political
space to recover and rise again. The international community
can help create this space by pressuring the regime to ease its
heavy-handed tactics and by taking steps to give pro-democracy

activists the sense of relative safety they need to regroup.


3. (C) This can be accomplished in two ways, Aung Zaw said:

-- High-level personal diplomacy. Regime leaders are somewhat
responsive to direct, personal approaches by prominent global
figures such as Laura Bush, UNSYG Moon, and UN Special Envoy
Gambari. Aung Zaw opined that this type of pressure, along with
widespread global media coverage of the demonstrations, probably
limited the severity of the regime's crackdown compared to the
last major uprising in 1988, at least in terms of the number of
people killed. Economic sanctions on the other hand, while
appreciated for the symbolic value, do little or nothing to
alter regime behavior, Aung Zaw said.

-- Documenting and tracking political detainees. Aung Zaw and
the other activists said many opposition figures inside Burma
who are not already jailed are afraid to come out. They called
for concerted international efforts to document, track, and
freely visit all political detainees, as an important way of
letting them (and the regime) know they are not forgotten.

-------------- -
Burmese Military: Discouraged And Understaffed, But Still
Unified
-------------- -


4. (C) A growing number of Burmese military units are
undermanned due to low morale and recruiting difficulties,
reported Karen National Union Central Executive Committee member
Isaac Po and former 88 Generation leader Win Min. They cited
anecdotal reports that morale among officers had taken a beating
since the recent crackdown - in some cases getting grief from
immediate family members for their actions against monk-led
protests. Despite this, they said the military is held together
by:

-- a widely held belief that the military is the only unifying
force in a Burma that has long been beset by continuous
infighting among people of various ethnicities, religions and
ideologies; and

-- a widely held fear that relinquishing power would result in
immediate war crimes prosecutions and punishments for other

CHIANG MAI 00000169 002.2 OF 002


human rights violations.

-- fanciful supposition among some military elements that Burma
faces a threat of foreign invasion from the United States and
its regional allies.


5. (C) The number of known desertions by Burmese military
personnel is quite small, our contacts said. They commented
that previously reported mutinies in the Burmese military during
the height of the crackdown could more accurately be described
as inconsistent responses by field commanders to unclear
military orders. Field commanders were reportedly instructed
orally - not in writing -- to stop demonstrations by whatever
means they saw fit. Some understood this to mean shoot-to-kill,
while others used blockades and other less harsh tactics. The
result was a variety of tactics used by different military
leaders to halt the demonstrations - not mutinies.

--------------
Should The Opposition Leverage Ethnic Minorities?
--------------


6. (C) Win Min argued that the pro-democracy forces should be
talking to and soliciting support from Burma's armed ethnic
groups to create a larger military threat to the regime.
However, Aung Zaw responded that attempting to pool support from
the ethnic groups would only unify and mobilize the military
more. The KNU's Isaac Po agreed, noting that in any case the
ethnic military groups were defensive forces and had no real
offensive capability (an opinion shared, for example, by the
Free Burma Rangers, an NGO that provides humanitarian and
logistics support to ethnic groups in Burma).

--------------
Economy Worsens, Hatred Grows
--------------


7. (C) A notable difference between the current situation and
the crackdown in 1988 is the widespread and growing hatred among
the Burmese people toward the military regime, our contacts
observed. They cited this as a major reason why a political
line has been crossed and there is no going back. An
exacerbating factor is the significant worsening of the
country's economy in the past three to six months. Burma
Foreign Affairs Training Program Coordinator Christina Fink said
as economic hardship grows in Burma, the threat of a flood of
economic migrants into Thailand is of far greater concern than
that of Burmese political refugees. Yet all our contacts
acknowledged that current Burmese Army deployments across the
country make flight to Thailand difficult and perilous.

--------------
Comment
--------------


8. (C) We were struck by our contacts' focus on the needs of
those inside Burma rather than on exile groups' own roles and
actions. We also sensed the northern Thailand-based activists
were less despondent than they had been in the immediate
aftermath of the crackdown, and seemed more intent on girding
for what they believe will be many more rounds in the
pro-democracy struggle. Their message to us was clear: urging
specific actions by the international community to create some
breathing space for the pro-democracy movement to recover and
rise again.


9. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Rangoon and
cleared by Bangkok DCM.
MORROW