Than Shwe Wants To Be Remembered As Kim Jong IL And Not Pol Pot – OpEd


Pol Pot, Kim Jong IL and Than Shwe: The common denominator of these three men is cruelty, brutality, ruthlessness, and secrecy in a tyranny which simultaneously oppressed and starved its people to an almost unique degree to sustain their regimes. All of them have directly or indirectly killed from 1.5 to 2 million of their own citizens.

Pol Pot (actual name of birth is Saloth Sa) won a scholarship in 1949 to study radio electronics in Paris and became enthralled by writings on Marxism and revolutionary socialism and forged bonds with other likeminded young Cambodians studying in the metropolis, including Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, Khieu Ponnary, Khieu Thirith and Song Sen who were destined to become the notorious Khmer Rouge leaders. Returning from a secret trip to North Vietnam in 1967, Pol Pot took refuge in the northeast of Cambodia where he lived with a hill tribe and was so impressed by their simple, non-material way of life, that he imagined its to be a realisation of communist ideals.

Beginning on the day in 1975 when his guerrilla army marched silently into the capital, Pol Pot declared ‘Year Zero’ and directed a ruthless program to “purify” Cambodian society and no opposition was tolerated. Buddhist monks were defrocked and forced into labour brigades. In Phnom Penh, Pol Pot emptied the cities, pulled families apart, abolished religion and closed schools. Everyone was ordered to work, even children. The Khmer Rouge outlawed money and closed all markets. Doctors were killed, as were most people with skills and education that threatened the regime. The Khmer Rouge like the Burmese Tatmadaw (army) persecuted members of minority ethnic groups — the Chinese, Muslim Chams, Vietnamese and Thais who had lived for generations in the country, and any other foreigners — in an attempt to create a ”pure” Cambodia. Non-Cambodians were forbidden to speak their native languages or to exhibit any ”foreign” traits. The pogrom against the Cham minority was the most devastating, killing more than half of that community. The Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979, in which approximately 1.7 million people lost their lives (21% of the country’s population), was one of the worst human tragedies of the last century. As in the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian genocide, in Nazi Germany, and more recently in East Timor, Guatemala, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge regime headed by Pol Pot combined extremist ideology with ethnic animosity and a diabolical disregard for human life to produce repression, misery, and murder on a massive scale. Irrefutable evidence of “crimes against humanity, genocide, grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, homicide, torture and religious persecution.” were found by the UN. But the people of Cambodia were liberated when on 15th April 1998 in a small thatched hut in the mountains of northern Cambodia Pol Pot died at the age of 73 when the government troops were closing down on him and left the nation in trauma up to this day.

Kim Jong Il was born in 1941 in Siberia, when his father Kim II-sung better known as the Great Leader was living in exile; Kim Jong IL had a reputation as a spoiled playboy who vainly wore platform shoes to appear taller. After his father’s death in 1994, Kim Jong-Il managed to retain power (although he did not assume his father’s titles until 1997, when he was named secretary of the Communist party) was known as a Dear Leader. Kim Il-sung’s death on July 8, 1994 marked the first hereditary transfer of power in a Marxist, Communist state as even today his son Kim Jong Un took power as the Supreme Leader to complete the hereditary communist throne of North Korea and retain the Kim family dynasty. Seven senior officials – all high-ranking party officials or military figures will be guiding North Korea during Kim Jong Un’s early years in power.

During the three generations North Korea like Burma had become one of the most isolated countries in the world, with frequent famines and an economy in a shambles. Something like Burma’s Ye Kyi Aing and notorious jails of Insein and the likes, North Korea has a torture camps because Kim Jong Il needed them to terrify his destitute people into quiescence. Now, as his callow third son maneuvers to take over the world’s most shuttered state, it is worth reflecting on the staggering breadth of human rights abuses in North Korea. How they were used for so long to keep the lid on the North Korean people, and why many Westerners paid so little attention. Kim’s cruelty that was often overlooked partly due to the deceptive power of the images that found their way out of North Korea on TV and newspapers but mainly due to the nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that most effectively kept his government’s grotesque human rights record out of the popular imagination. Thanks to missile launches and nuclear tests, Kim endlessly made sure North Korea seemed really scary. And it worked. Neighboring states and the U.S. government became obsessed with containing his primitive nuclear devices and the missiles that might one day deliver them to Seoul, Tokyo, or San Francisco. To this North Korean diplomats would periodically participate in negotiations over nukes and missiles, but when it comes to concentration camps they would throw a fit and storm out similar to what the Thein Sein administration would react when mentioned that thousands of political prisoners were still under lock and key.

Like the Tatmadaw it steals much of this relief food that has caused severe malnutrition has caused cognitive impairment for millions and speculates that, even if reform were to come, the capacity of North Koreans to revive their country has been severely set back. The North Koreas like the people of Burma are desperately hungry and obviously hungry people do not have time or energy to cause trouble. Like the Army led Burmese Socialist Programme Party Kim could not stamp out the scrappy informal back markets that sprang up to feed the desperate masses, so his security forces have brutally co-opted the markets, extorting bribes from traders and, in the absence of a living wage from the government, using the money to feed and clothe their families, similar to what the Tatmadaw is doing now. If these -market traders do not pay up, they can be sent to jail under different pretext subjected to execution, torture, and starvation.

Should the Kim dynasty continue to resist the forces of change flooding in from China, the son will need all his family’s totalitarian tools in order to keep control? But, if Kim Jong Un makes some state accommodation to Chinese-led economic growth food shortages and poverty would likely ease. And there would be no need from him to perpetuate his father’s extraordinary era of cruelty. Kim Jong Il was equally elusive just like the Burmese despots Snr-Gen Than Shwe and still believed to be wielding power from behind the scenes. Both of them are tyrants and extremely dangerous person who not only starved their own people but threatened the security of the Asia-Pacific region and supported each other in crimes against humanity.

The friendship between the two countries started in 1970 didn’t last long, however, because in 1983 North Korean agents snuck into Burma and attempted to assassinate visiting South Korean president Chun Doo-Hwan in Rangoon, killing several visiting South Korean ministers in the process. Burma cut diplomatic relations with North Korea. But the next administration secretly renewed the ties with North Korea as early as 1999 even though Pyongyang never apologize Burma. After the Saffron revolution Gen Thura Shwe Mann made a clandestine visit to North Korea and signed a memorandum of understanding under which North Korea agreed to build or supervise the construction of special Burmese military facilities, including tunnels and caves in which missiles, aircraft and even naval ships could be hidden. North Korea has provided Burma with Scud-type missiles, missile parts, rocket launchers, other conventional weapons and underground warfare technology. During the visit of Hillary Clinton, she asked the Burmese leadership to stop illicit military, nuclear and ballistic missile cooperation with North Korea that violates UN sanctions on Pyongyang.

Men, like Kim Jong Il and Than Shwe gloat in oppressing their own people and helped each other to do the same. The gravest international worry regarding the Burma-North Korea relationship is that Burma is attempting to develop nuclear weapons with North Korea. Kim Jong Il got a free pass from the West for his most important legacy: state-sanctioned cruelty. Burma’s cruelty over its own people under Than Shwe is the same as North Korea under Kim Jong Il that was dominated by the armed forces
Than Shwe, pronounced (θáɴ ʃwè) in Burmese was born February 3rd.1933 in Minzu village, near Kyaukse in central Burma is a military leader and politician, who was chairman of the State Peace and Development Council from 1992 to 2011.The secret of his success is his very lack of charisma, flair, overt ambition or obvious talent, until he became the number one. He still pulls the strings from behind because control over promotions of officers and many soldiers owe their careers to him and feel indebted. In addition, he has been a skilled and ruthless manipulator, using divide-and-rule tactics to strengthen his power base and weaken his potential rivals, within and outside the armed forces as when he was officially in power.

“His human right violations have been so numerous and consistent over the past years as to suggest that they are not simply isolated or the acts of individual misbehaviour by middle and lower-rank officers but are rather the result of policy at the highest level, entailing political and legal responsibility.” was the remarked given by United Nations Special Reporter Rajsoomer Lallah, on the situation of human rights in Burma. Cold and humourless he has a “plump, sullen face”. After ordering thousands of monks to be killed in the Saffron Revolution, he went into a deep depression, and refused to eat anything except chicken rice soup. Many soldiers owe their careers to him, just as he owed his to Ne Win. Only when he had reached the very top did he assert his own power, by putting Ne Win and his family under house arrest, He has built several power bases, notably the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA), a group of business cronies, the new capital, a new constitution and fake elections that will ensure military rule and protection for him and his family after his eventual retirement or death. An expert manipulator, who knows in playing people off each other, was not educated academically, but it will be a mistake to underestimate him or to think of him as mad or stupid. He is ruthless and brutal, but he knows what he wants and has shown a remarkable ability to get it. His very colourlessness and lack of flamboyance is the secret of his success.

The world already have mountains of evidence of the regime’s mistreatment of political prisoners, brutalization of democracy advocates, use of forced labour and child soldiers, and vicious campaigns against ethnic minorities, including systematic rape,  summary executions of civilians and destruction of entire communities. Satellite images conducted by AAAS (American Associations for the Advancement of Science) proves that the destruction of twice as many villages as Darfur where 25 the locations showed evidence consistent of destroyed or damaged villages. He has conducted a systematic organized campaign to force ethnic nationality out of their homeland villages proving beyond doubt that that human-rights abuse already documented by many international organizations was absolutely correct. During these offensives, the Burma Army attacks and burns villages, rapes, tortures, and kills people, destroys their sources of livelihood, and lays landmines to prevent their return. There are more than two million displaced people who are far worst than Zimbabwe and the Darfur region of Sudan.

He has conscripted tens of thousands of child soldiers some as young as age 10 were forcibly recruited into the army making Burma the largest child army in the world. To supply these attacks the Burmese military regime illegally utilizes forced labour. The attacks themselves violate a host of international laws, ranging from murder to illegal property. If the international tribunals can act on Rwanda Sudan and Yugoslavia why can’t they do it in Burma? Is it because Burma’s is strategically situated between China and America in the impending New Cold War? As the UN research documents clearly and authoritatively suggest that the human rights abuses occurring in Burma are not isolated incidents. Failure by the UN Security Council to take action and to investigate these crimes could mean that violations of international criminal law will go unchecked. This still does not include family’s greed and corruption, his grandson’s antics the influence of astrology, the drugs trade, the nuclear programme, arms purchases, biological and chemical weapons, relations with China, Russia and North Korea, the cronies, the succession, and the Cyclone Nargis.

Than Shwe and his old generals are now more focused on how to leave their ill gotten gains to their offspring and want to leave in the guaranteed Swiss banks as their predecessor Ne Win has done. But the Western sanctions have prevented them to do so. Hence they are pressuring the Thein Sein Administration to try his level best to lift the Western sanctions. Now Than Shwe seems to be obsessed in improving his prospects in the next life, apparently in the belief that piety will protect him from the karmic consequences of his actions. He seems to be hoping that death will catch up with him before the international courts do so. But as long as Than Shwe pull the string from behind especially controlling the army and did not stop an all out war in Kachin States using chemical weapons or make political settlement with the ethnic nationalities, the world should not relent its punitive actions and drive for the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI).

Obama administration backing of (CoI) into crimes against humanity in Burma has been greeted as a major breakthrough. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself has supported the move. Of course, it would be unwise to expect the establishment of a CoI into the regime’s egregious abuses over the past two decades to result in a cathartic courtroom drama anytime soon. Justice is a painstaking process, and many obstacles lie ahead. But the wheels have been set in motion, and it is up to all of us to see that they maintain their momentum. The CoI will have the power to refer the generals to the International Criminal Court to face prosecution for their crimes. Whether it exercises this power, will depend very much on the support of the international community as on the force of the evidence and hopefully will bring justice to the merciless? Meanwhile let Than Shwe dream of turning Burma into a global military power and a proud nuclear-weapons state having a vision of the people shedding crocodile tears at his demise before he joined his two comrades (Pol Pot and Kim Jong Ill.) in a hot place.

Kanbawza Win

Kanbawza Win is a political scientist based in Canada

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