Burma at the Crossroads

U.S. Charge D'Affairs to Burma, Shari Villarosa and East-West Center President Charles E. Morrison

HONOLULU (Oct. 11) – Burma, one of the world's most repressive regimes, has only one way out of its current political crisis, according to America's top diplomat to this isolated Southeast Asian country.

"The only way forward is talks between the military (currently running Burma) and the protestors and democracy advocates," said Shari Villarosa, the U.S. Charge D'Affairs in Burma, during a presentation at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

Villarosa briefly left Burma for a series of meetings and consultations in Honolulu. She has since returned to Rangoon.

While the military has largely maintained control in Burma over most of the past 46 years, its time will eventually come, Villarosa suggested.

Shari Villarosa spoke at a public gathering at the EWC.

"I don't think you can achieve stability out of a gun barrel," she told the East-West Center audience.

The current protests in Burma, initially led by widely respected monks, were stimulated by long-term dissatisfaction with the military regime and specifically sparked by broad public unhappiness with a sudden rise in government-controlled fuel prices.

Change, said Villarosa, is inevitable in Burma.

But that change will not come purely by internal or domestic pressure.

"We're not the only ones saying things," Villarosa said of U.S. pressure against Burma's current leaders. "The way they are going is seen more and more as objectionable, even by their neighbors."

This is particularly true for China, she said, "which has been more critical on this crisis than ever before."

At the same time, she said, India (perhaps for its own strategic reasons, such as access to Burmese resources), "has been quiet."

Burma's military leaders, Villarosa said, don't seem to be in touch with the lives of ordinary citizens.

The fuel price hike, for instance, which might have made sense from some sort of national policy perspective, resulted in a spike in bus fares from around 20 cents a ride to 50 cents, out of reach for many workers. That led to protests not just in Rangoon, but around the country.
"There are uprisings all over the country," she said. "Everything's not O.K."

Meanwhile, the 400,000 member-strong Burmese army, the fundamental source of control for the current leadership, is plagued by desertions and internal dissent, Villarosa said.

"The leaders don't have a feeling for what it is like to be an ordinary citizen," she said.

"Change is going to happen in Burma, Villarosa said. " I just don't know when."

For further information, contact Karen Knudsen, Director of External Affairs at (808) 944-7195 or EastWestWire@EastWestCenter.org.  

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