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Indonesia can push for major reform in Myanmar

Sumber: THEJAKARTAPOST.COM | Tgl terbit: Senin, 01 Oktober 2007

Indonesia can push for major reform in Myanmar

Peaceful marches and protests airing differing viewpoints are a foundation of any democratic society and the Myanmar government's violent response to peaceful demonstrations in Yangon violate the rights of its people by any international standard.

The week has seen an alarming turn of events in Myanmar. What started as peaceful demonstrations against economic hardships and repression lead by thousands of Buddhist monks, has turned into a showcase of force and oppression. Though the government's reaction has not yet reached the scale of 1988, when the military opened fire, killing 3,000 demonstrators, devolution seems imminent.

The Indonesian government must strongly condemn the Myanmar government and military's excessive use of force against the peaceful protests. Every action must be taken to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, and the death of innocent people who desire nothing more than the right to economic and political self-determination and a democratically elected government.

These rights have been denied the people of Myanmar for too long. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are guaranteed to all peoples by international human rights laws. This right may only be restricted in conformity with the law and only if such restrictions are necessary to protect national security, public safety, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others in a democratic society.

But these are not the only problems facing the people of Myanmar. Systematic rape and sexual abuse by the Myanmar army of ethnic women in Mon, Karen, Karenni, Shan, Kachin and Chin states have been documented by the UN and other agencies. Myanmar has the highest number of child soldiers in the world (70,000). And there is a threat the Myanmar regime will break ceasefire agreements with several ethnic groups.
The military has been involved in a brutal offensive against ethnic Karen (non-ceasefire) for many months. Other ethnic groups that have ceasefire such as the Mon, Some Shan and the Kachin are prepared for the Myanmar army to break its ceasefire agreements and restart civil war.

The deteriorating situation in Myanmar has significant ramifications for Indonesia and the region in general. First, there are reports the Myanmar regime is attempting to build a nuclear research reactor. Moreover, the increased risk of civil war and internal conflict discussed above may have reverberating regional effects, especially in the areas of human trafficking, asylum-seeking and migrant workers.
There are already 2 million Myanmar people in Thailand alone, most of them trafficked people, migrant workers, or refugees. More refugees are expected to leave Myanmar seeking asylum in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia as the political situation worsens.

Adding to the ordinary concerns that accompany trafficking, asylum seeking and migrant labor, is Myanmar's high rate of HIV. As domestic problems worsen the increased numbers of people trafficked, or seeking asylum abroad, may unwittingly help spread this infection to neighboring countries.
Myanmar also remains Asia's second largest producer of heroin/opium after Afghanistan. India and China have confirmed that drug addiction rates are highest in areas closest to their boarders with Myanmar. Similar result are expected to spread to other ASEAN countries should this drug production continue to flourish due to deteriorating socio-political conditions in Myanmar.
All of this suggests the deteriorating political situation in Myanmar is not one Indonesia can afford to ignore. Supporting democracy and good governance in Myanmar will not only help the Myanmar people, but will be a step toward addressing many of these other regional issues.

We applaud the Indonesian government's call for military restraint in Myanmar and its support for democracy in Myanmar now and in the past. Last year President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also visited Myanmar to talk with senior general Than Shwe. And Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda has made many statements to this effect, including recent statements supporting a non-violent approach to demonstrators. However, given the dire situation, this is not enough.

Indonesia, as a major political power in the region and a current member of the UN Security Council is in a unique position to be decisive and proactive within the Security Council concerning an issue in its own backyard. This is ironic because the Myanmar regime is on a program to emulate all the worse aspects of the Soeharto regime (and worse).

Indonesia should be working with ASEAN and other members of the UN Security Council to help deal with this issue. Many ASEAN countries have already felt the ill-effects of the problems of Myanmar, and if action is not taken now, the negative consequences may affect the entire region.

Clearly the Myanmar regime will not take Indonesia and ASEAN seriously if they are unwilling to exercise their muscle and leverage. The Myanmar regime has shown more concern for the UN Security Council pressures, having released several political prisoners (although not Aung San Suu Kyi or the ethnic leaders) earlier this year
We call on the Indonesian government to bring this issue to the forefront of conversations with other ASEAN countries.
We call on the Indonesian government to push the agenda with the UN Security Council, working collaboratively with other governments to exert maximum pressure on the Myanmar government.

There are at least five points Myanmar must agree to: avoid the use of excessive force and violent clashes with peaceful protesters; reiterate its commitment and intention to fully respect international standards involving freedom of speech and assembly; create a forum where the people of Myanmar can express their grievances free from the threat of violence; release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from her wrongful imprisonments; and take concrete steps toward instituting democracy in Myanmar, including fair and free elections.

Usman Hamid is the executive director of Kontras (Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence). Ari Bassin is democracy and governance consultant.

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