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Burma reform setback as moderate Prime Minister is arrested

20 October 2004

The sacking and arrest of Prime Minister and chief of military intelligence, Khin Nyunt, has diminished hopes of progress towards peace and democratic transition and led to fears that it may herald a new crack-down on the pro-democracy movement, political parties and minorities in Burma. The ousting of Nyunt, considered by some to be a relative moderate, by Burma’s military Junta is a setback for those pressing for the release of National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and progress towards political reform. According to Minority Rights Group International (MRG), sustainable peace and democracy can only be possible in the multi-ethnic, civil-war ravaged state by addressing fundamental minority issues and restoring rights guaranteed at Burma’s independence.

Nyunt’s recent efforts to prepare a National Convention to draft a constitution, which would eventually have allowed the possibility of leadership elections, may be one reason behind his removal from office by hard-line military rulers. Nyunt had also entered into talks with leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU), which has been engaged in armed struggle with the government since 1949. As highlighted by MRG in its 2002 report on Burma1, decades of warfare have left a devastating legacy in many Karen communities in Burma and the Thai borderlands, which they have been pushed into. MRG’s report also points to under-reported, gross and systematic human rights violations against ethnic minority civilians in Chin, Karen, Kayah, Shan and Rakhine states. Conflict and its human legacy in Burma have had disastrous affects on the civilian population:

  • Decades of conflict have witnessed casualty rates of at least 10,000 fatalities a year;
  • As many as 2 million internally displaced persons and refugees have been generated by combat;
  • Only one-third of the country has access to clean water and proper sanitation;
  • Maternal mortality ratios of up to 580 per 100,000 live births are amongst the highest in Asia;
  • Infant mortality rates of 200-300 per 1,000 live births have been estimated in Karen and Shan state war-zones;
  • Only one-third of children complete the basic five-year cycle of primary education;
  • One-quarter of children between 10-14 are in work and thousands of women and children are victims of cross border trafficking into prostitution.

At the end of September UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, fuelled hopes for significant progress when he talked of constructive discussions with the Burmese authorities, ‘which strengthened the sense of common purpose on how to assist Myanmar in making its process of democratic transition more inclusive and sustainable’. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) highlighted its concern over current developments, stressing that the authorities should demonstrate commitment to a peace-process and long-term democratization.

Calling for constitutional reform as an important step towards democratization and human rights, Minority Rights Group International stressed the vital need to end the ongoing conflicts by engaging in constructive dialogue with opposition groups and political parties. ‘The ousting of Nyunt, who at least seemed prepared to discuss proposals for a more democratic future and end to the conflicts, comes as a blow to these objectives and leaves the situation of minorities in Burma, once again, the cause for grave concern’ stated MRG spokesperson, Graham Fox. MRG calls on the authorities to release without delay all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues in the National League for Democracy.

Notes for editors

Download ‘Burma (Myanmar): The Time for Change‘.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].