As we Malaysians view pictures of the violent crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrations occuring in Burma, we are once again reminded about the brutality of the military junta which has denied democracy to its people and continues to detain at least 1,200 political prisoners for engaging in peaceful political activities and non-violent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association.
The last time Burma saw anything on this scale was during the popular uprising of August 1988 when demonstrations began among students and then gradually spread to monks and the public. These culminated in a national uprising on Aug 8, 1988, when hundreds of thousands of people marched to demand a change of government.
The government sent troops to brutally suppress the protests. No official investigation has ever taken place, but the best estimates suggest that approximately 3,000 people were killed as the demonstrations were crushed in September 1988. As many as 10,000 people were killed nationwide between March and September of that year.
We cannot allow the events of 1988 to occur again. We must demand that the Malaysian government speak up in support of democracy and condemn the military crackdown. It must call on other Asean members to put aside its principle of non-interference and urge the Burmese military government to address the peaceful political protests by Buddhist monks and civilians throughout Burma without violence. Asean must remember the harsh military action will only send hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries including Thailand and Malaysia as it has done in the past.
We must also call on China who has funded and armed the regime to play a crucial role in ending this crisis. China cannot wish to hosts next year's Olympic Games as the defender of such a despicable regime and we must urge the country to use its influence with the regime to exercise restraint and move towards dialogue. Other countries who have economic and military ties with Burma such as India and Russia must be shown that there will increasing economic problems and political instability as long as the regime defies the will of the people. They should back the democracy movement if it wants a stable, peaceful and prosperous Burma
I welcome the fact that the UN Security Council has called on the military junta to show restraint and is planning to send UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to the region. However, more action needs to be taken by the UN. A resolution should be passed immediately, condemning the violations, setting out specific benchmarks with specific deadlines. The benchmarks must include the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the release of political prisoners and the start of meaningful dialogue between the regime, the National League of Democracy and the ethnic nationalities.
We have been provided a critical opportunity to bring about freedom and democracy in Burma after decades of military rule. This struggle is being led by the monks and the people of Burma. We owe it to such brave people to stand with them in their hour of need and to use every possible tool available to open up the window for change.