Defections rattle Burmese embassy in US


Source from DVB, 15 July 2011

Burma’s embassy to Washington has been rattled by two defections of senior diplomats in an embarrassment for the military-backed regime which wants to show the world that it is evolving.

Kyaw Win, who had been the second-ranking diplomat at the embassy, told AFP in an interview that he had grown tired of waiting for change in his country and voiced admiration for pro-democracy opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kyaw Win defected on July 4. The embassy’s number four, Soe Aung, applied for asylum in the United States the following week; according to several sources, he made the decision as he was about to be escorted home as part of an investigation into the first diplomat’s defection.

The chaos at the embassy comes despite efforts by leaders in Burma to show a stable political transition. A ruling junta held elections in November and afterward officially handed over to civilian rule.

Western governments and opposition leaders believe that the changes are only cosmetic — a view that Kyaw Win said he quietly shared while working at the embassy.

“We said that the election would bring change but the election is already six months ago and it’s even worse than before,” said Kyaw Win, 59, a career diplomat who previously served in Brazil, India and Switzerland.

“I have for a long time argued with my kids, who are already grown up, who used to argue that the government won’t change. But I still believed that I could change it within the system,” he said.

“After 30 years, I should try to change our country from the outside and Washington is a good place to give pressure,” he said.

Kyaw Win would have been on the verge of returning to Burma for retirement. State Department officials declined to comment on the validity of his asylum bid, citing privacy rules for cases involving immigration.

President Barack Obama’s administration in 2009 opened talks with Burma after concluding that the previous policy of engaging the regime has failed. State Department officials have insisted that dialogue remains the best option, even though they have voiced disappointment with the results.

Burma’s embassy is believed to have played a low-key role in the talks, with the United States reaching out directly to the leadership in the capital Naypyidaw or working through Burma’s UN mission in New York.

The embassy, on a leafy backstreet of northwest Washington next to upscale old homes and the popular Textile Museum, had 14 accredited diplomats as of the beginning of the year, according to the State Department.

But the two defectors were considered among the most urbane diplomats of the military-backed government. The United States and Burma do not exchange ambassadors, the result of Washington’s protests after the junta annulled 1990 elections won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

“My view is that Aung San Suu Kyi is the only leader who has the people’s trust,” Kyaw Win said.

But he said he was not convinced that the National League for Democracy was effective. It was officially disbanded for refusing to register in last year’s elections, which it feared would be marred by fraud.

Kyaw Win said that many people in Burma recalled that the country was one of the most prosperous in Asia before 1962, when the military seized power.

“We know that change won’t happen within days. We know that it will take time. But we have to get into the right direction,” he said.

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