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Burmese Opposition Ready to Escalate Pro-Democracy Fight

Clancy Chassay, The Guardian UK

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 Rangoon - Members of Burma's battered and disparate opposition are growing disillusioned with the old methods of the pro-democracy movement and are seeking ways to escalate their armed struggle with the help of covert western support.


A young Monk in a remote village, Shan state, Burma. (Photo: Tamara Plush)

    "There is a very real debate among us about how to begin a more sustained armed struggle," an organiser of last September's failed uprising told the Guardian. "We are ready for that kind of action, if we can get the supplies and training that we need."

    View video report: here

    Speaking from exile in Thailand, Soe Aung, the chief spokesman for the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB), an umbrella group representing nearly all facets of Burma's disparate opposition, said he was witnessing a significant shift in the public attitude across Burma.

    "After the September uprising and then the terrible cyclone response, the anger is surging. Some are considering violent means … the Burmese people are not that kind of people, there has been a real change."

    Soe Aung spoke openly of how covert Western support, primarily from the US state department-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its subsidiary the International Republican Institute (IRI), had been fundamental to the success of the uprising.

    "The US is certainly doing the most for the opposition. There has been real success in training and forming an underground movement through religious organisations and monastic organisations. These provide the best cover inside Burma. The monks can spread their training very effectively."

    The NED describes itself as a private organisation but was created by, and remains accountable to, the US Congress. Set up under the Reagan administration in 1983, it has since played a leading role in influencing civil society and electoral processes in countries around the world unfriendly to US interests.

    According to Brian Joseph, the man in charge of the group's Burma project, the NED gave $3m (£1.5m) to Burma in 2007. "We would send more, but there is a limit to what you can do in Burma," said Joseph.

    Opposition activists both inside and outside Burma largely describe the improvements in political awareness and spread of information as a result of NED-funded projects, but also attribute them to the introduction of the internet to Burma in 2003.

    "We could see in September how the advances were utilised. It wasn't just the monks but a massive increase of awareness among Burmese of all types. This was thanks largely due to media organs, the Democratic Voice of Burma, satellite TV, and, of course, the internet," said Soe Aung.