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Cozying up to Burma

The Editor,

It's been a busy time on the Burma scene. Second Prime Minister Hun Sen has led

a Cambodian delegation of ministers on a visit with General Than Shwe, leader of

the SLORC regime governing Burma, Amnesty International has issued a report calling

1996 the worst year for human rights in Burma since the bloody suppression of the

Burmese pro-democracy movement in 1988, the Burmese army has attacked ethnic Karen

positions along the Thai-Burma border causing over 20,000 refugees to spill into

Thailand (in addition to the over 80,000 refugees already there), the ASEAN-EU Ministerial

Meeting in Singapore has aired its concerns over Burma, and Indonesian President

Suharto has visited Burma - after Cambodia and Laos - on what has been carefully

characterized as, unbelievably, "nothing to do with Burma's inclusion to the

ASEAN fold" at some unspecified date in the near future (usually suggested as

July 1997).

In Tricia Fitzgerald's piece "PM strengthens Burma ties" in the Phnom Penh

Post (Feb 7-20, 1997), an unnamed high-ranking foreign affairs official is quoted

as stating: "We [Cambodia] need Burma to balance our relations with our larger

more dominant neighbors." But query, is it wise to cozy up to a generally recognized

authoritarian regime which has brutally suppressed all forms of democratic expression

and intimidated Nobel Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, students and the opposition

National League for Democracy into virtual submission? Regardless of one's political

persuasion, one has to admit that moving closer to Burma does nothing for Cambodia's

international position or stature vis-a-vis its "larger more dominant neighbors",

Thailand or Vietnam. In fact, strengthening ties with Burma only focuses more media

speculation on Cambodia's own political problems and human rights record.

Cambodia should seek membership in ASEAN independent or regardless of Burma's inclusion

or exclusion. The saying "you are judged by the company you keep" rings

true in this instance. Cambodia should resist ASEAN's decision to group Cambodia

and Laos' entry with that of Burma's. The latter is at a much different political

stage than the former two. What has happened to Cambodia's independent sovereignty?

Why is Cambodia being cowed into submission? Is this the price of admission into

ASEAN? Has Cambodia so quickly forgotten its own difficult past and struggle for

freedom and independence? Cambodia should not try to hide Burma's controversial entry

behind its and Laos' cloak. While Cambodia strives for its own independent and positive

(i.e., non-killing fields) identity on the world stage, why tarnish it with Burma's

own international public relations woes. The price of admission into the exclusive

ASEAN club is getting awfully high. Cambodia should take a principled stand and distance

itself from Burma, not embrace it.

- Francis J James, Phnom Penh.

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