Apart from urging the junta to hold free, fair elections, the world should also keep it away from North Korea
After the initial four high-level contacts with the Burmese junta since last August, the US administration has been trying hard to engage the junta for two major reasons.
The first is to convince Burma that it would be in the country's as well as the regime's interest to hold an all-inclusive, free and fair election this year. The second, and an equally important, reason is to create a distance between the Burmese and North Korean regimes in terms of the sale of weapons and nuclear arms proliferation.
Washington believed its enthusiastic, softer approach would convince the junta that the planned elections should be carried out in a manner that is internationally acceptable and one that would help the regime join the global community.
So far, the regime has not yet set a date for the elections or given the world a peek at any electoral laws. It is clear that the enthusiasm for the elections is quickly evaporating, if not disappearing, within the administration. The junta has its own roadmap to follow and will certainly not pay attention to the guidelines being suggested by well-wishers in other capitals.
The irony of it all is that the junta is managing to successfully buy time to maximise on the outcome of its grand political strategy - staying in power at all costs without ever giving in. Most importantly, the junta leaders want to keep opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi away from all political activities prior to the elections. Her party won the elections in May 1990 by a landslide, but the regime annulled the victory and took over.
Therefore, it is commendable that women like Nobel Peace laureates Shirin Ebadi and Jody Williams, along with other well-known human rights activists, are working to highlight the extreme violence being inflicted on women living in Burma. Their call to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court should be supported because in the past two decades, the Burmese junta has committed lots of crimes against humanity, not to mention innocent people being raped and tortured. In fact, the junta is known for using rape as a weapon of war against minorities. Thus, the international community should join hands and work towards the noble aim of ensuring safety and freedom for all people.
As for the second objective, Washington also has so far been unable to distance the two rogue states that have not only normalised their relations, but have over the past few years intensified their cooperation on military hardware.
The Burmese junta wants the kind of lethal weapons from North Korea that will allow it to project its military might on neighbouring countries. The reports on Rangoon's efforts to become nuclear capable should be taken seriously, though at this moment it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for Burma to develop such capacity.
However, in say 10 to 15 years, Burma can very easily build up its nuclear capacity with assistance from other rogue states that are willing to sell their technology and know-how. Like many other new, nuclear-ready states, such as Iran, the governments in power know exactly how to hide their burgeoning nuclear facilities. The world, especially Thailand, should watch out and not be fooled by the junta.
US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell will be in Thailand next week, and might drop by in Burma if his planned itinerary is approved. If given the go-ahead, perhaps he will use this visit as an opportunity to tell the junta that time is running out and that it should stop dragging its feet in opening the door to democracy.