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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story



At the present time, your own party is becoming riven with defections and members are splitting away of their own volition.

"I don't think the expression riven with defections is quite right. We have had a few people leave - but they are working with the authorities and we can declare this with a clear conscience and very definitely. Apart from anything else this has been proven by the fact that an article came out in the government media supporting them. And that only happens to people who are working with the authorities. That's not very new either. And not very surprising either. Because not everybody has the staying power under the circumstances."

You think that is being fair to these people who have split? I'm sure that if someone sincerely decided that for whatever reason they wanted to break with you and they did, then the government press would still write about them.

"Well, they didn't break with us. What they did, what they were saying is that they were just trying to put suggestions to us as loyal members of the party. Now if you want to put suggestions to the NLD as loyal members, you don't send one copy of your statement to General Khin Nyunt as well. Their suggestions were addressed to U Aung Shwe and to Khin Nyunt. Now this is not the action of loyal party members wanting to, you know, make a suggestion."

They say as loyal citizens of the country they were addressing both sides of the impasse to try to seek a resolution.

"That is not what they said. They said they were loyal members of the party. They were simply putting up suggestions. That was what was said in their letter."

Is that true?

"Yes. In the letter written by a couple of them."

I have the letter here, as you say it is addressed to the NLD chairman U Aung Shwe and to Gen. Khin Nyunt.

"Exactly, now if you are acting as a loyal member of the party, what is the need to write to Secretary-1 as well?"

To try to break this impasse however you can. They say they just wrote the letter to try to get the two sides together, to get a dialogue going.

"Well, but they were giving suggestions to us. They were not saying to the SPDC that they should be less repressive. They were not suggesting to Khin Nyunt that they should treat the party in a fairer way. So this in itself indicates that this paper, this letter, is not balanced. If they were really thinking of the welfare of the country, then it's got to be a balanced approach. They could say to the NLD: well, you could be more flexible in such matters, and they must also say to the SPDC that you will have to be less repressive, you will have to stop throwing our people into prison, and torturing them and intimidating them."

I spoke to these three men who were behind the letter, the NLD men - Than Tun, Tin Tun Maung and Kyi Win. You regard them as basically traitors to the party for speaking out in this way?

"We expelled Than Tun from the party two years ago, because he was trying to create factions within the party. And U Tin Tun Maung and U Kyi Win were also close to U Than Tun even then. But since they were not the guiding force at that time, we did not take action against them."

Tin Tun Maung sounds reasonably persuasive and appeared sincere and not to have had his arm twisted by the regime into doing this.

"Well, of course, he would seem to be sincere."

And they did get the signatures of 25 NLD MP-elects at one point to sign this letter.

"Yes, but I think a lot of them have withdrawn their signatures."

Does this episode not indicate a latent feeling within the party that perhaps you should change your tack?

"No, no. Because what they are suggesting, at least as I understand from that press conference they gave where they were asked what their grand plan was because they said they had a plan to move things forward. And they answered that it was lower level talks. But that is so old hat for us, because as I say this was taken off in 1997 and put to one side. So what's the grand plan? It becomes nothing. Just lower level talks. And the SPDC had already indicated towards the end of 1997 that they were not interested in lower level talks."

People complain of your imperious manner. That you do not brook any dissent against your views within the party.

"Well, when U Than Tun brought out his paper two years ago, we actually had a very very thorough discussion with him. We invited him to discuss it with us - with the whole Executive Committee not just me. And if we brooked no dissent we would have kicked him out straight away. But we didn't. And we discussed the matter very thoroughly. And they were allowed full opportunity to express their views. And they were not able to come up with any justification for what they were doing, and they still went on trying to create factions within the party. So we took action against them under the disciplinary committee of the party. We do have rules in the party."

Might they form a 'third force' with other disaffected party members?

"No, I'm not worried in the least bit. Somebody asked me whether I was worried that they might form a political party. I said I would be very happy if they formed a political party. Because that would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were working with the authorities. Because only then would they be allowed to form a new political party."

New political parties are not allowed now?

"No, there are no political parties coming into existence at this moment. And what is also very telling is that they were given full facilities to go all over Burma to try to persuade other MPs to join them. And the great majority of our MPs are under virtual house arrest. Certainly they are not allowed out of town."

Bottomline: is the NLD disintegrating?

"No, no. Only people like that. I don't like to mention names, but some of this present lot were already wavering in 1996 when they were first placed under detention. It was enough to scare them. The first time we tried to hold a congress in May 1996, when all our MPs were taken in, some of those who signed this letter resigned as MPs then. And there were others who almost resigned then, but then they were encouraged to stay on. They were just nervous, they couldn't stand up to the pressure."

How do you feel about these people in the party who crack under the pressure?

"I don't particularly feel anything against those who crack under pressure, because it is difficult. And I think there are times when people are at a low ebb, their spirits are at a low ebb, and they feel they can't get on anymore. But what I don't like is the way in which they try to justify the fact that they cannot go on anymore in terms of their concern over the welfare of the people etc etc. I think I would respect them much more if they simply said, as some have said, we really can't take it any more. You know, we just want a bit of peace and quiet."

You lost your former party vice president and key adviser U Kyi Maung some time ago.

"Yes, he has effectively retired I should say."

I saw him yesterday morning, he feels that people like this should be allowed to dissent.

"To dissent?"

To express dissenting views from the party's mainline.

"Of course, they can express dissenting views. As I said, they can express dissenting views through the right channels, in the right way. But expressing dissenting views is quite different from writing to Khin Nyunt."

Some say you lost your key adviser when you lost U Kyi Maung. And that as a result you have never been as clear in your political thinking since then.

"No. U Kyi Maung was not my key adviser. He worked in a group together before with U Aung Shwe and VP U Tin U. They and U Kyi Maung were all in the army at one time. So they were one group as it were. And then of course there is the rest of the EC as well."

Your executive committee is getting pretty long in the tooth.

"Well, yes, the younger ones are in jail at the moment. Our younger potential EC members."


This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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