Leading article: A dispiriting anniversary


The 60th anniversary of Burma's independence from Britain is very far from being the occasion for mutual celebration that it could, and should, have been. The country is in lock-down. The young Buddhist monks who led the protests against the repression of the military regime have been subjected to harsh repression themselves.

Apprehended and beaten in night-time raids, they have been dispersed to the far provinces or forced to flee abroad.

The flickers of hope that followed the intervention of the UN mediator and his meetings with the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, have long been extinguished.

Ms Suu Kyi is back under house arrest, unable to communicate with her party or supporters. The Burmese are now as far from enjoying the benefits of freedom and democracy as ever. One of their last links to the outside world has been effectively severed by the cynical expedient of an extortionate price rise on satellite dishes.

In successfully snuffing out the brave grassroots protests of this autumn, Burma's military rulers not only crushed the sense of national optimism that increasingly accompanied that movement, it also bucked what appeared to be a prevailing global trend towards greater, if imperfect, democracy.

We, along with many around the world, had hoped to see the Burmese junta ready, at very least, to make concessions on human rights and open talks with Ms Suu Kyi, who is, after all, the country's elected leader.

Instead, they chose to launch a brutal crackdown in the name of restoring order.

That decision only postpones the day when Burma's military is compelled to yield power. It also makes it more likely that the struggle, when it comes, will be more violent and protracted than it might have been, had the junta been prepared to sit around a table with Ms Suu Kyi and negotiate terms for its retreat from power. Almost as dispiriting as the defeat only temporary, we dare to hope of Burma's pro-democracy protests, however, is the speed with which the rest of the world has turned away its gaze. It is not easy to find out what is happening today, even in Rangoon, but the way in which the regime has managed to seal the country off from the outside world should be treated as a challenge, not an excuse for ignorance.

As the former colonial power, Britain has a greater obligation than most to take an interest in the plight of Burma's people and represent their cause in the international arena.

To leave the strong words to others, on the grounds that, as with Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Kenya, condemnation would be dismissed as the voice of nostalgic imperialism, is a betrayal of everything Britain should stand for.

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