Universal hatred for dictators

It is refreshing to read an editorial (August 21) commenting on the folly of the so-called 'constructive engagement' policy adopted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

I am not too sure if Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a less authoritarian leader compared to the likes of Lee Kuan Yew and President Suharto, can stand up to the pressures of the business community and have a rethink about bringing the Burmese military dictators, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), into ASEAN.

ASEAN is very thin-skinned when it comes to human rights and political pluralism and cites ad nauseum its stand that the internal affairs of a country are sacrosanct.

Associating with and supporting a rogue regime like the SLORC only entrenches the dictators and hinders any political reforms the country is desperately in need of.

The rich natural resources of Burma have made it a target for economic colonialisation by our neighbours.

Over 30 years of misrule by the uncouth generals have frozen the country in a time warp, dragging it down to the least developed country status.

The end of the cold war has given multinationals a far greater say in pressuring their governments to be more receptive to dictatorial regimes in the name of profit. Bribing the generals is always cheaper than competitive tendering. The low labour costs will soon turn the country into a vast sweat shop for labour intensive industries. Burma suffers as the trickle of foreign investments keeps the dictators in power delaying political reform. The pillage of the nation's wealth depletes the resources needed for re-building the country and the choking off of institutional investors condemns the country to perennial third world status.

When the SLORC killed Leo Nichols, a close friend of the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the honorary consul for Norway and other Scandinavian countries, the lukewarm reaction by the European Union, could not have sent a more misleading signal.

The SLORC has been trying to marginalise Aung San Suu Kyi and pick out her aides and associates like so many sitting ducks. But the one thing that the Burmese have in common today is the universal hatred for their tormentors, the SLORC while supporting wholeheartedly Aung San Suu Kyi. The Burmese people have an inordinately long fuse.

The uprising in 1988 came out of the blue; thunder may strike again at the same place.

This time though the target will extend to foreign investors, whom the people see as the devil's disciple. Dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi is the only way forward for all parties concerned, even the mercantilists.