source : The Irrawaddy - By SAW YAN NAING
Burma’s opposition and ethnic group leaders do not believe that US Sen Jim Webb, who begins a three-day visit to to the country on June 4, will achieve any important progress for the people of Burma.
This will be the second trip to Burma within one year for Webb, who has played a key role in reshaping the Obama administration’s Burma policy.
|US Senator Jim Webb (Photo: Reuters)|
Webb’s first trip to Burma came in August 2009, soon after the US instituted a policy of engagement with the Burmese junta. He met Snr-Gen Than Shwe and imprisoned political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and also obtained the release of an American prisoner, John Yettaw.On the visit beginning June 4, Webb plans to hold a variety of meetings with government officials, military officials, business leaders and U.S. diplomats. It is unclear whether he will once again meet with Than Shwe and Suu Kyi.
Webb has been critical of US sanctions on Burma and is seen by some opposition leaders as supportive of the coming election. Several opposition leaders interviewed by The Irrawaddy indicated that Webb’s trip was more a positive sign for the Burmese regime than for opposition groups, ethnic groups and the people of Burma.
Win Tin, a leading member of the now-defunct National League for Democracy (NLD), Burma’s main opposition party prior to its dissolution by the regime on May 7, said he doesn’t think Webb will achieve any progress towards democratic reform in Burma, and doesn’t welcome the visit.
“He [Webb] doesn’t have good sympathy for Burma,” Win Tin said. “For me, I think it is unnecessary to meet him. Even if I have the chance, I won’t meet him because his work will not have a positive impact for Burma’s democratic movement and the people of Burma.”
“I also think it is not good for Daw Suu [Aung San Suu Kyi] to meet him,” he added.
Aye Tha Aung, A Rangoon-based Arakanese politician who is the chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy, said, “He [Webb] seems only to support the Burmese regime and ignores the democracy struggle the opposition groups and ethnic people have been fighting for.”
Aye Tha Aung said he does not think that Webb will help Burma because he believes the senator supports the upcoming election, which he said is not the solution for political conflicts in Burma.
Webb did not meet with ethnic leaders on his previous visit in 2009, and Aye Tha Aung does not think he will meet with them on this visit either.
Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), said, “We don’t expect much from his [Webb's] trip. There are not many positive results that can be achieved for the opposition.”
In contrast to Win Tin, however, Bo Kyi believes that Webb should not meet and talk with Burmese generals alone, but also with opposition groups and ethnic leaders in order to understand the political conflict in Burma. “He needs to meet with opposition groups and listen to them carefully,” he said.
Bo Kyi speculated that the regime might release some prisoners—but perhaps not political prisoners—during Webb’s visit so the junta can take credit for the event.
“The Burmese regime might grant some minor requests by Webb, but not significant ones such as the release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, 88 Generation Student leader Min Ko Naing and other political prisoners,” Bo Kyi said.
David Steinberg, a Burma specialist at Georgetown University, seems to agree, saying that the visit might be used by the junta to symbolically release political prisoners to show to the world that it is making some concessions prior to this year’s election.
In response to a question during a discussion on Burma at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, a Washington-based think tank, Steinberg said, “They may do this [release prisoners] during the visit of [Sen] Webb, because they know that he is a very important advocate of the change in the US policy.”
Thakin Chan Tun, a veteran politician in Burma, said Webb can urge the regime to take actions the US wants to see, but can’t influence Burma’s generals.
“Burma depends solely on the generals. They control everything. It all depends on Than Shwe,” Chan Tun said.