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"Limited optimism" from former Norwegian PM

Oct 21, 2007 (DVB), Kjell Magne Bondevik is the former prime minister of Norway and founder of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights. He spoke to Moe Aye about the current situation in Burma and the responsibilities of the international community in resolving it.

What do you think about the current situation inside Burma?

I think we are at the crucial stage now. I was so impressed and moved by watching on TV all the people out in the streets demonstrating for freedom and for democracy and human rights, and to see the monks in the lead. I am sure that, sooner or later, Burma will get democracy, freedom and respect for human rights.

How long that will take is difficult to say now, and I'm so sad seeing that the junta have arrested all the people and detained all the people they have done in recent days.

So now it's very much up to the international community to put increased pressure on the regime so they can understand and acknowledge that they have to join in dialogue with the democratic movement.

Are you satisfied with the current international pressure on the regime?

I'm not satisfied, it could have been stronger. But it was promising that we got a statement from the president of the Security Council in the United Nations with a rather clear message, which was also supported by China and Russia. But the problem is that the international community are still split in their approach to Burma.

In the western countries we have more or less sanctions, targeted sanctions, but the Asian countries, ASEAN, they have the so-called constructive engagement policy and we know that countries like China and India have much economic investment and cooperation with Burma.

And this split has of course made it easier for the military junta to survive. So what I really now want to encourage the main international players to do is to coordinate their efforts, mainly through the UN, and I think it's a special responsibility upon China. They hold in many ways the key; if they try to make a stronger influence on the Burmese regime, I think they have to move.

As the Norwegian former prime minister, how you can pressure and advise the Chinese government?

As a former prime minister, and through the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights which I am chairing now, we organised an appeal, a letter to the president of China from 21 ex-presidents and ex-prime ministers, my colleagues, with three very clear points.

One is that we urge them to stop using violence against the peaceful demonstrators. The second was to release all political prisoners in Burma including Aung San Suu Kyi, the real elected leader of the country. And three was to join in dialogue with the democratic movement, the National League for Democracy, the ethnic minorities.

Did you get any response from the Chinese government?

I had a very interesting discussion with the Chinese ambassador to Oslo, to Norway. I have not got a response from the president of China so far.

So are you still optimistic about the future of Burma?

I am a limited optimist. I think sooner or later something will change and it was so promising that so many people now had the courage to demonstrate despite all the risks they took. And I think it's impossible for the regime to permanently crack down on this strong movement for democracy. But the uprising from inside Burma must be combined with stronger international pressure, and this combination can make the change.

At the moment, UN Special Envoy Mr Gambari is trying to make progress. Do you think his mission will be successful?

Of course I hope that he can contribute. I met Gambari last July, and I also talked with him on the phone recently, and he has very good intentions, no doubt. And I hope since he has access both to the junta leaders and to Aung San Suu Kyi that he can convey messages between them and facilitate dialogue, but that must not be under such preconditions which have been put by the junta. It must be dialogue on free conditions, not with these specific conditions.

As a former prime minister of Norway, what do you think the Norwegian government should do right now?

First of all I think the Norwegian government must coordinate their efforts with other like-minded countries and try again to encourage the main players; China, India and ASEAN. I have also encouraged Norway to strengthen the sanctions and also to try to find out if we could stop investments through the Norwegian Petroleum Fund of the companies which are investing again in Burma. But the main thing is that the big nations, especially in Asia, now use their influence on the regime. It's not enough to have engagement with Burma, it must be constructive.

From your experience, what is the best way to solve Burma crisis without bloodshed?

I think we must use the so-called stick and carrots policy , make pressure through political and diplomatic influence and targeted sanctions, but on the other hand also be willing to have a dialogue with the regime and to promise them that if they take concrete steps, irreversible steps towards democracy then we can engage with them. And then it's also possible later if we see that they are approaching democracy to have economic cooperation with them.

You are very familiar with Burma issues, you are friends with our leader Aung San Suu Kyi and you also already watched the situation inside Burma on the television. So what is your message to the monks, to the people and to Aung San Suu Kyi?

I'm so impressed and I'm moved by your commitment. I remember when I met Aung San Suu Kyi ten years ago I promised her and I committed myself to fight for her freedom and for the freedom of the people of Burma as long as it is necessary. And still it is necessary, and I want to encourage you to go on. And one day I think we can celebrate your freedom and we can welcome Aung San Suu Kyi to Oslo, Norway, to hold her Nobel speech. I want to assure the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi, all democratic forces and the monks inside Burma that here in Norway we will do our best and we will try to coordinate our efforts with the international community.

And I think it's also very interesting that religious leaders like the monks took the lead this time, and that also says something about how religion and religious leaders can play a positive role and religion can be a source not only for conflict, as it very often is, but also a source of reconciliation and peace.

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