Burma is Not Old Wine in New Bottle: President's Advisor

By The Irrawaddy 30 March 2012

Despite the new Burmese government being dominated by ex-military generals from former junta chief Than Shwe’s regime, the nation is now changing under the progressive leadership of President Thein Sein, says key Naypyidaw insider Ko Ko Hlaing.

The Presidential advisor defended the government from the criticisms of exiled opposition  groups who claim that the new administration is like “pouring old wine into a new bottle.”

“It is true that we have some officials who were leaders of the ex-regime,” Ko Ko Hlaing told The Irrawaddy during an exclusive interview in Rangoon this week. “But our setting and policy is changing. The landscape is changing. Now we have a Constitution, and will move forward in accordance with it.”

“Like in dramas, one actor can act different characters based on the role and so his performance can change,” he added.

Ko Ko Hlaing, a former army officer who once served under Thein Sein, said that Burma has seen many political developments within the past year, including Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi meeting with the president and building a degree of trust and understanding.

Suu Kyi, who leads the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, is even contesting a parliamentary seat in Sunday’s by-election, he added.

“We couldn’t imagine these developments a year ago,” said Ko Ko Hlaing.

Ko Ko Hlaing is one of nine advisors to Thein Sein. Three advisors were each appointed in the fields of politics, economics and legislation under the Myanmar Development Resources and Institutes, an independent research board.

He also said that the government is moving forward in dealing with ethnic armed minorities in order to finally achieve internal peace.

Regarding ethnic minorities, the government’s peace negotiators have been meeting with different armed groups and have reached a raft of ceasefire agreements, said Ko Ko Hlaing.

He explained that it is not easy to gain trust in a short space of time as the doubts of minority groups concerning the central government have been rooted for more than 60 years.

“It is most important that we rebuild trust between the majority Burman and ethnic minorities. We will work sincerely to build this trust. We are not using tricks,” said Ko Ko Hlaing.

Developments in ethnic areas are also important matters, he said, and it is necessary to make arrangements for war refugees who have been displaced for decades due to internal conflicts to finally be resettled. Opening industries and providing job opportunities, education programs and healthcare are also essential issues, said Ko Ko Hlaing.

He added that ethnic armed groups will not resist the government in military terms if they receive equal rights, including in the realm of politics, and Naypyidaw has plans to work patiently on this.

“The government will facilitate the needs and interests of civilians as it was elected by the people. They are employees of the people. They earn from tax money given by civilians,” said Ko Ko Hlaing.

A series of democratic reforms such the release of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, concessions on media freedom and political dissidents, and peace deals with ethnic armed groups have been made by the new government since it took office in March last year.