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25.8.97/THE NATION
RANGOON -An American Burma watcher once said that Kyi Maung, 79,
the vice chairman of the National League for Democracy, is the
man most responsible for leading the NLD to its overwhelming
victory in the election in May 1990 while other NLD leaders were
in detention.
An elderly figure who cannot hide his fondness for good humour
and philosophy, Kyi Maung is widely considered to be one of the
most prominent members of the 10-strong NLD Central Executive
Committee which includes chairman U Aung Shwe, Vice Chairman U
Tin Oo, Secretary-General Aung San Suu Kyi and treasurer U Lwin.
At the outbreak of World War II, young Kyi Maung joined the Burma
Independence Army and later rose to the rank of colonel. But he
was forced into retirement while serving as the commander of the
Southwestern Command after opposing the military takeover of
"His pension is very small. It's only 1,000 kyats," said wife Daw
Kyi Kyi who offered part of their house for rent to a South
Korean family to support the family. One American dollar at the
market rate is currently worth about 230 kyat.
Kyi Maung, a veteran politician who was repeatedly imprisoned by
successive Burmese military rulers for a total of about 12 years
since his forced retirement in 1963, gave an exclusive interview
to The Nation at his house in a lane off Kaba Aye Pagoda Road in
Rangoon on Aug 14. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Has the July meeting between NLD chairman U Aung Shwe and Slorc
First Secretary Gen Khin Nyunt produced some results?
I think it was a step forward. They have never talked to us like
that day. It was very cordial. We considered the talk very
significant. It came from Khin Nyunt.
Will further talks include Aung San Suu Kyi?
We have told them that in future talks if they decide that they
should be meaningful - they cannot keep her out of the scene.
Their perception of her is completely mistaken - that she is
obstinate, strong headed. It is not true. She is quite
But the Slorc said Suu Kyi has repeatedly outmaneouvered the
other members of the Central Executive Committee of NLD?
It is not true. You could invite them to sit in our meeting while
we are having discussions. No, she is committed to going along
with the opinion of the majority.
They said in some cases the committee had agreed on something but
she suddenly changed the decisions?
No, no, not at all. I cannot recall such a situation. If she
does, I for one, would walk out of the committee. When we walked
out of the National Convention in November 1995, they presumed
that she was the instigator. Not at all. She did not utter one
word. Check it with Tin Oo. She did not even utter one word.
What happened?
She was new to the National Convention. She was released in July.
Problems had already arisen inside the National Convention. So U
Aung Shwe said the situation was unworkable there. It was
conducted like a meeting to present seminar papers. They were
comedies. We could not be there. We really wanted to discuss all
of these [issues] but we were never allowed to present our
agenda. They accused her of being behind us.
What about Burma's membership in Asean?
If the NLD had become the government in 1990, we would have
really wooed Asean to receive us.
Our objection to it was that Asean should delay Burma's
membership under such an unaccountable government. They are an
illegitimate government. We wanted them to be accountable. This
government does not recognise the popular vote On principle, we
are not against Burma joining Asean. The only thing we are asking
is to have its membership delayed until after there is a dialogue
within the country. That is the reason behind it.
As for trade sanctions, we do not want Burma getting poorer. We
want the democratic world to put pressure on them, ask them for
democratic change. That was the idea behind it. Now that
Burma-has became a member of Asean, we have to recognise the
facts and the reality. And we do. It is now up to Asean to
persuade them.
But how do you perceive the undemocratic nature of some Asean
countries like Indonesia for instance? What I'm trying to say is
that the Slorc is not alone in Asean. It has Indonesia as a
But Indonesia even has relatively a free press which allows its
people's voice to be t heard. But here? Don't only take Slorc's
nine years in existence. You have to add 26 years of military
rule in this country. [Slorc] is the continuation of the Ne Win
regime [since 1962].
But they say they are different from Ne Win. Under Ne Win the
economy was really bad. Now the economy is open. You can see
flights coming into Rangoon everyday. Cars and new buildings are
on the streets?
No, no, it is worse now. The price of petrol has been raised
seven times, 720 per cent last month. I had my own experience. I
sent out my boy to buy two bottles of ink. It costs me 300 kyat
for the two. I use fountain pens.
How much was it, let's say? five years ago?
If it was available then, maybe within the range of 20 kyat.
The Slorc is suggesting that the military could have 26 per cent
of the seats, permanent seats, in the future parliament in Burma
just as the Indonesian generals have?   I don't think it is going
to take place in this country because of the ethnic minorities.
We hear, maybe wrongly, but we hear that the ethnic minorities
would fight because 25 per cent of the seats would be applied in
their areas too. The Kachins, the Chins 3 are suspicious that the
Burmese would grow stronger.
How could we solve the stalemate in Burma?
The problem here is not very difficult compared to South Africa's
Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk. The situation here is very
simple if you get to the root of this. When Slorc took power in
1988, in the aftermath of demonstrations which they suppressed
violently, they said, "Alright, we're going to have polls." Then
they set up the date, one-and a-half years away.
But the problem was that once the election was held and the party
that won the majority was not theirs, they said we should draft
the constitution first. They refused to hand over power. They
established the National Convention only in 1992.
But then in the name of an open market economy and contacted
foreign businessmen. They became richer and richer. They started
to talk about keeping power. You can't compare this sort of
scenario with the Indonesian scenario. There you have [Indonesian
communist leader] D N Aidit who tried to stage a coup. I went to
school in America with Gen Ahmad Yani. He was a close friend.
Yani [Indonesian army chief in 1965] was killed during the coup
and Suharto came to power. It is a different scenario. Here they
are not keeping their original promises. These promises are their
You were arrested and harassed. You spent 12 years behind
bars-seven during the Ne Win regime and another five under Slorc.
Do you think you and your colleagues have the stamina to
go on? Have you ever been tortured?
No, no, not on old person like me. But by the same question, you
can ask Abel [Brig Gen David Oliver Abel, minister for National
Planning and Economic Development] whether he could stand the
stress? How long can he survive under the strain and the peace
pressure? [giggling] Thailand is different. It could find someone
who would come up with US$15 billion. Burma has great difficult
getting US$100 million.
In Indonesia I was told President Suharto has what is called the
Berkeley Mafia who advise him and work out the economy. But here?