The Role of the Third Force in the Junta's Diplomatic Offensive

After listening to a commentary about Burma's election and new Parliament written by Dr Thant Myint-U, the grandson of the late UN Secretary-General U Thant, on the Voice of America, I was reminded of a comment given by Snr-Gen Than Shwe when I was serving at the Burmese Embassy in Washington, D.C. The junta chief, who used to be part of the military regime's Psychological Warfare Department, said, “Your organizing efforts should target family members of prominent people in order to compare with that woman.” “That woman” was, of course, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Linn Myaing, the then Burmese ambassador to the US, through his brother Kyaw Myaing and a female professor who emigrated to the US, was able to get in touch with U Thant's family members and sons of a minister who served for a previous government led by the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League in the 1950s. He could also contact Aung San Oo, Suu Kyi's elder brother, and his wife living in San Diego, California. The regime has used them in launching its diplomatic offensive against the international community and psychological warfare against Suu Kyi.
The senior general knew that those aforementioned people might not have forgotten their golden age in Burma, and so he brought them and their family members to Rangoon and treated them well. In return, the generals gained even more support from them than they expected. We smiled at them because they did not know they were being lured by the regime, which made them think that they were actual heroes who could save the country.
I would like to touch on the subject of how those family members were exploited by the regime at the UN. Actually, the regime's leaders did not understand much about international relations until 2000. They just did whatever they wanted in their county and didn't care what anyone else thought. They didn't pay attention to the international community or the image of their government in the international arena.
Than Shwe, whose way of thinking about such matters was particularly crazy, often pushed his fellow generals into tight corners. There were a number of cases in which regime officials were put in an awkward situation because of his lack of international knowledge. Than Shwe did not understand that the recruitment of child soldiers, forced labor and forced relocation of villages were prohibited by international conventions. He did not know which UN treaties the successive Burmese governments had signed and/or ratified. The then foreign minister, who was aware of those treaties, tried to explain these things to him, but he did refused to listen.
Since around 1997, Burma's human rights situation has attracted increasing attention at the UN. It was around this time that the senior general also started to think about how to tackle this problem. Consequently, a strategy for a diplomatic offensive was developed with advice from Joseph Verner Reed, a famous US politician and senior official, in order to garner support within the international community.
According to the plan, prominent Burmese people living abroad became major targets of the regime, followed by young Burmese intellectuals and non-Burmese scholars with an interest in Burma.
Family members of U Thant were considered the first target of the offensive. At the beginning, the regime was worried that it would not be welcomed easily by U Thant's family because they had actively worked for pro-democracy activists following the nationwide pro-democracy uprising in Burma in 1988, and the army had killed innocent civilians when U Thant's funeral turned into an uprising known as the “U Thant Affair.” The regime, however, did not face much difficulties in dealing with the family of the late UN secretary-general.
After the regime complimented members of U Thant's family on their significance in Burmese politics and in the pursuit of democracy, each of them reportedly visited Burma as guests of the state. It seemed that the regime thoroughly won them over, because on their return they did not appear to have any hatred towards the army. Indeed, ever since then, they have been speaking for the regime almost as if they have become its overseas representatives.
Following Reed's advice, since around 1997, Burmese ambassadors to the US, UK, Canada, Switzerland and France have been spending several months each year in New York, lobbying foreign diplomats on behalf of the regime during the UN General Assembly period from August to November.
However, there was a suggestion that lobby efforts for a government by non-government actors could be more effective, so the regime began to establish a “third force” around 2002 by combining its first, second and third targets.
Using U Thant's name was beneficial to the regime in its diplomatic offensive and advocacy efforts.
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