Change the Debate on Burma

Senator Jim Webb recently opined in the New York Times that we can't afford to ignore Myanmar (the official name of Burma since 1989). The senior Democratic senator from Virginia rightly calls for increased engagement with Burma, but for all the wrong reasons. Without knowing better, one could read the Senator's piece and believe the only problem with Burma is a blemished democratic process that lacks political openness.Such whitewashing belies the stark reality that over the past five decades of continuous military rule, ethnic minorities have abided widespread mass atrocities. Murder, forced displacement, slave labor, conscription of child soldiers, torture and rape comprise the military's arsenal of rights abuses inflicted against these non-combatants.The junta has leveled some 3,200 villages by destroying and looting all that sustains these rural populations. The military regime’s persecution of ethnic minorities has resulted in more than two million Burmese fleeing their country, and the flow of refugees continues. Last month another 5,000 Burmese fled to Thailand, and last week week some 30,000 have fled to Yunnan province, China.Imagine. Burmese are now seeking refuge in China!The Burmese do need outside help, as the Senator admits, but engaging with the current regime on the electoral process will only strengthen the hand of the military and ensure continued repression of ethnic minorities who make up one-third of the populace.

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