Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bertil Lintner’s Master Plan for Myanmar?

Journalist Bertil Lintner.
Following is the extracts from the Bertil Lintner’s latest anti-Burma article “Master Plan for Myanmar” one of his barrage against Burma's recent reforms on Asia Times online magazine on 10 February 2012.

“One theory goes that the administration is locked in a power struggle between military "hardliners" and "reformers", and that the latter, at least for now, have the upper hand. Several Western countries have apparently taken the policy decision that every effort should therefore be made to support the "reformers" and recent reform signals to ensure that Myanmar doesn't return to its old repressive ways.

The EU and US have expressed public views to that effect. On January 31, EU president Herman Van Rompuy said in a statement after a summit in Brussels: "I welcome the important changes taking place in Burma/Myanmar and encourage its government to maintain its determination to continue on the path of reform." The US State Department said the day before that it was "encouraged " by Myanmar's recent reforms, "including its decision to allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run in upcoming elections".

Others, however, suspect that the signs emerging from Myanmar's leadership reflects a well-orchestrated "good cop, bad-cop" routine to neutralize domestic opposition and win new foreign allies, especially among former critics in the West. Either way, Thein Sein's regime has so far skillfully played its cards in a way that few, probably even among themselves, could have foreseen. "Those in power are military men, not representatives of a democratic government. This is how they work," says a Myanmar national who has followed political developments for decades. 

In order to understand Myanmar's policy shift - and why the West has been so supportive - it is instructive to look back to the early 2000s. Then condemned and pressured by the international community, the ruling military junta announced in August 2003 a seven-step "Roadmap to Discipline-Flourishing Democracy." That plan called for the drafting of a new constitution, general elections, and convention of a new parliament which would "elect state leaders" charged with building "a modern, developed and democratic nation".

The "roadmap" was made public, but at the same time a confidential "master plan" which outlined ways and means to deal with both the international community, especially the US, and domestic opposition was also drawn up. The authors of that plan are not known but an internal military document written by Lt Col Aung Kyaw Hla, who is identified as a researcher at the country's prestigious Defense Services Academy, was completed and circulated in 2004.

The Burmese-language document, received and reviewed by this writer, outlines the thinking and strategy behind the master plan. It is, however, unclear whether "Aung Kyaw Hla" is a particular person, or a codename used by a military think-tank. Anecdotal evidence suggests the latter.

Entitled "A Study of Myanmar-US Relations", the main thesis of the 346-page dossier is that Myanmar's recent reliance on China as a diplomatic ally and economic patron has created a "national emergency" which threatens the country's independence.

According to the dossier, Myanmar must normalize relations with the West after implementing the roadmap and electing a government so that the regime can deal with the outside world on more acceptable terms. Evidently the internal thinking was that normalization with the West would not be possible as long as Myanmar was ruled by military juntas.

Aung Kyaw Hla goes on to argue in the master plan that although human rights are a concern in the West, the US would be willing to modify its policy to suit "strategic interests". Although the author does not specify those interests, it is clear from the thesis that he is thinking of common ground with the US vis-a-vis China. The author cites Vietnam and Indonesia under former dictator Suharto as examples of US foreign policy flexibility in weighing strategic interests against democratization.

If bilateral relations with the US were improved, the master plan suggests, Myanmar would also get access to badly needed funds from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other global financial institutions. The country would then emerge from "regionalism", where it currently depends on the goodwill and trade of its immediate neighbors, including China, and enter a new era of "globalization".

The master plan is acutely aware of the problems that must be addressed before Myanmar can lessen its reliance on China and become a trusted partner with the West. The main issue at the time of writing was the detention of pro-democracy icon Suu Kyi, who Aung Kyaw Hla wrote was a key "focal point": "Whenever she is under detention pressure increases, but when she is not, there is less pressure." While the report implies Suu Kyi's release would improve ties with the West, the plan's ultimate aim - which it spells out clearly - is to "crush" the opposition.

At the same time, the dossier identifies individuals, mostly Western academics, known for their opposition to the West's sanctions policy, and somewhat curiously suggests that "friendly" Indian diplomats could be helpful in providing background information about influential US congressmen.

The dossier concludes that the regime cannot compete with the media and non-governmental organizations run by Myanmar exiles, but if US politicians and lawmakers were invited to visit the country they could help to sway international opinion in the regime's favor. Over the years, many Americans have visited Myanmar and often left less critical of the regime than they were previously. In the end, it seems that Myanmar has successfully managed to engage the US rather than vice versa.

Aung Kaw Hla's internal thesis is the first clear sign of dissatisfaction with the regime's close ties with China, which, in part, were forged because the West downgraded its relations with Myanmar after massacres of pro-democracy demonstrators in 1988 and other gross human-rights violations. More signs of a worsening relationship could be discerned in internal reports that began to circulate within the military in 2010.”

On the Asia Times’s comments page for that article I found one interesting negative comment among eight or more positive comments on the article on February 10. It said, “A student thesis of one Lt. Col. Aung Kyaw Hla becoming the Great Bertil Linter’s Master Plan for Myanmar. Is he real? Maybe he is running out of his so-called important sources from inside Burma. Nowadays, the important people in Burma know his liar trait of exaggeration and extremely negative views on Burma and avoid him.”

Next day I went back there to look for more comments and found that comment was gone, kaput, dead, removed, killed. The negative comment had lasted there just one day as the Asia Times seems to be ruthlessly removing any unfavourable comment on any of its online articles. Especially its star writer Bertil Lintner's.


Hsen Noung Lintner.
I first saw Bertil Lintner in late 1988 in one of his popular seminars in Thamarsat University in Bangkok just after the failed 8-8-88 Uprising. I had just come out of Burma still alive and disgusted and seriously frightened of my own people and my own country. But what Mr. Lintner said publicly there that day were more astounding than what I had witnessed back in Burma.

Soldiers in armoured-cars machine-gunning down the people standing on their varrenders in their own homes. Corpses piling up multi-layers on the streets of Rangoon. Rangoon was pure hell according to him but I didn’t see that in Rangoon. He didn’t see it either and he was enthusiastically relaying the second hand information of so-called eyewitness accounts.

I left his seminar on Burma that day rather disappointed. But my dismay didn’t end there. Over the years I have diligently read many of his books multiple times and found the consistent pattern of exaggeration and particularly nasty bias against my race and my country.

Burmese Government said his reports on Burma were groundless and based on wishful thinking. Even one Communist leader of CPB (Communist Party of Burma) once said that Bertil Lintner met Thakhin Ba Thein Tin (long-time CPB Chairman) at the border only once and later wrote as if he was told the whole long history of CPB by the Chairman himself.

For a very long time like 10 or 15 years I had had a nagging feeling of suspicion that somehow he might have a serious personal grudge against our Burma and us Burmese.

How could a white Austrian man supposedly a trained-journalist from a far away European country like Sweden have a personal grudge against a small country like Burma and her people who have been busy all these years slaughtering each others, let alone bother some insignificant foreigner from Sweden?

And believe it or not, I was right and one day I discovered his well-hidden personal background connecting him with a particularly nasty case of political kidnapping and brutal murder in faraway remote Shan Land during the violent chaos in the immediate aftermath of Ne Win’s bloody 1962 coup.

All through his politically-very-active Shan wife from Hsipaw (Thibaw) Hsen Noung Lintner who is the founder of SWAN (Shan Women Action Network) which in May 2002 released that particularly nasty “License To Rape – Rape as a Weapon of War” a truly inflammatory and extremely exaggerated report against Burmese Army, Burma, and the Burmese.

Disappearance of Thibaw Sawbwar in Burma (1962)

Late Hsipaw (Thibaw) Sawbwar Sao Kya Hsen and his American wife Inge Sargent (1954).

Following is short extracts from Inge Sargent’s book “Twilight over Burma – My Life as a Shan Princess” published in 1994. Inge Sargent was the Austria-born American wife of the last Sawbwar of Hsipaw Sao Kya Hsen (1924-62) presumably kidnapped and murdered by Burmese Army in 1962.

"If Sao did not see the guards through the bamboo matting of his hut, he heard them. They were posted at all four corners of the one-room prison, pacing back and forth. He knew he could not get away; any such attempt would give his captors a perfect excuse for murder.

Yet he had to find a way to freedom, a way to return to his wife and children. The morning would bring hope and maybe his release. Bu then the Prime Minister would have heard about his illegal arrest and would insist that the army abide by the law of the land.

It was right now, a time to gain strength for tomorrow. He stretched out on the bamboo mat, but sleep did not come. Mosquitoes were buzzing around his head, and Sao wished he had not given up smoking awhile back. He tried to meditate, which had always released his stress before. Tonight was different; meditation didn’t work. He was imprisoned, without charges, without even knowing why.

Over the years Sao had had a few collisions with the Burmese Army, always on matters of principle, but that was not enough to explain soldiers stopping his car today and forcefully taking him to this desolate army camp in Ba Htoo Town. He knew he would find no answer that night, not from the unresponsive guards outside the bamboo walls.

Shan State North Map of Burma.
He sat up, startled; somebody was inside the hut, right next to the mat, where he must have gone to sleep a few hours ago. Otherwise the night was still – he could not hear the guards anymore. The presence next to him belonged to a man in uniform. That much he could perceive in the dark hut. Was it someone trying to hurt or to help him? He had to keep still and remain alert.

“I am one of your guards, sir, but I belong to the Kachin tribe. My uncle was in your police force many years ago,” whispered the man in Burmese with a noticeable accent.
“Why are you telling me this?” Sao asked suspiciously.
“My comrades have fallen asleep, and I want to help you, sir.”
“Can you get me out of here?” Sao asked.
“No, sir, that is impossible. But I can deliver a letter to your Mahadevi in Hsipaw.”

There was no doubt in Sao’s mind that he should take this chance. He felt quite certain that nobody knew where he was, and message from him could be the key to freedom. And if this was a setup, he did not have much to lose.

On a page torn from his pocket calendar, he wrote a message to his wife, dated March 2, 1962. It read: “Liebling, I am in the army lockup at Ba Htoo Town. I am still OK.”

The Kachin guard lit a cheroot, a fat Burmese cigar, which provided a flicker of light. He also offered to supply an envelope and somehow get the note to the East Hall in Hsipaw. The soldier refused to accept the 100-kyat note Sao offered him; he said he took the risk not for money but because he too belonged to an oppressed hill tribe.

After the soldier stole away, Sao was alone again. This episode had raised his spirits and given him more hope than he had felt since he was ordered to step out of his brother’s car at the Taunggyi gate and taken into the army checkpoint station. He was wide awake again and his mind was racing, going over the day that had started with a routine breakfast at his brother’s and ended in an army lockup.

His sister-in-law had mentioned that his brother had been called away at four that morning to a meeting of the Shan Security Council. Despite the unusual hour, nobody had felt alarmed. After breakfast, Sao and his driver had started off to Heho Airstrip in his brother’s car.

Bahtoo Military Town is at the top end.
There had been a lot of military personnel on the streets of Taunggyi that morning, but it had not interfered with traffic until they arrived at Taunggyi gate, where all vehicles were stopped at an army roadblock. Several Burmese officers had rushed up to the car and asked if the Sphalong of Hsipaw Sate was present.

“Yes, I am Sao Kya Seng – what is this all about?”
“Please step into our guardhouse for a few minutes, sir,” one of the officers had said and opened the car door for Sao. As he entered the guardhouse, Sao had turned around and seen an officer motioning to the driver to head back to Taunggyi, with his master’s luggage but without his master.

Now, sixteen hours later, he was confined within Ba Htoo Town Military Academy grounds in the Southern Shan states, knowing no more than he did when all this had started. Whatever had happened to the Constitution of the Union of Burma if the army could detain a member of parliament, even for a day? The day’s events didn’t bode well for the Constitution’s future.

Sao could not allow himself to dwell on this subject any longer. Some additional sleep was necessary before he faced a new day, which would bring more stress and more danger, and maybe more hope. He directed his thoughts to his wife and children – to their laughter and to the happiness he felt when he was with them. He had to overcome this nightmare and find a way back to freedom.


Sao awoke to a concert of jungle fowl greeting the very early morning. It was four thirty, and the nightmare was still with him: the same army camp, the same bamboo hut, no windows, a door barricaded from the outside. He was still at the mercy of his jailers.

At that moment, Sao had one overriding desire: to go home, pack up his family, and move to the little mining town in the United States where he had spent the most carefree years of his life.

When he got out of this predicament, he would immediately search his files for the job offers that now and then still reached him from the placement office of the Colorado School of Mines.

He was now ready to pursue what his friends had long advised for his own personal safety and what his enemies had tried to promote for their own advantage: his departure from Hsipaw, even though it meant leaving the people who wanted and needed his leadership.

The sound of boots approaching his miserable hut brought Sao Kya Seng back to reality. The door was opened cautiously, finally allowing the first light of day to enter his dark room. A Burmese officer of the dreaded Military Intelligence unit, a smirk on his face, appeared inside the door.

Sao knew he had seen him before, a year ago, after four village headmen from Hsipaw had died while being tortured with electric current. When the commanding officer had explained to outraged local leaders that the rebellious Shans had to be taught a lesson, this officer had been present.

“I am Captain San Lwin, and I would like to ask you a few questions, sir,” he said as he stood with his legs squarely planted on the matted floor to assume an intimidating posture.
“As a member of Parliament, I demand to see Colonel Maung Shwe, the officer in charge of the army’s Eastern Command,” Sao said calmly.

After an awkward moment of silence, the Military Intelligence captain said, “That won’t be possible until you answer some of my questions. I want to help you. Please trust me. But, you must give me the information we need.”

“I have made my request and do not plan to make any further statements,” Sao said, turning his back to the captain, who was visibly annoyed. Having to return to his superiors without any answers guaranteed a loss of face.

“You will regret this,” said the captain as he turned around, swinging the door shut. It was dark again save for some thin rays of light that broke through the matted walls here and there. Sao heard footsteps disappearing into the distance.

Sao sat down on the mat that had served as his bed and made a serious attempt to meditate. He shut his eyes and concentrated on his breath as it streamed through his nostrils – on the cold sensations as he inhaled it, and the warmth as it was forced out again.

His efforts must have been successful, as he was startled when he heard a male voice next to him saying, “Sir, I am alone on duty till our replacements arrive in a few minutes. As I told you during the night, I am a Kachin soldier and I am loyal to my people, not to the  Burmese in whose army I serve. We Kachins respect you very much, and I wish I could help you.”

The door was a few inches ajar, so that Sao could clearly see the man, squatting on the floor next to him. He had taken off his boots, apparently in keeping with the tradition of showing respects, and his gun was nowhere in sight. His features, especially his long, sharply defined nose, confirmed his claim that he belonged to the hill tribe.

“What do you think you can do for me?” Sao asked.
“I could forward another letter to your Mahadevi by a different route than the note you gave me in the night,” the soldier said. “She must be anxious to have news of you.”

Without hesitations, Sao wrote a more detailed message on one of the pieces of paper he found in his pocket: “Liebling, I am writing this secretly/ I am being locked up in the army lockup at Ba Htoo Town at Lawsauk. Please ask Khin Maung Chone to request Tommy Cliff to use his influence to get me out. There is also Ko Hla Moe. Millie can help here. Miss you all. Conditions here are not clean. Hope to see you all again soon. Cheer up yourself! I am still OK.  Love, Sao Kya Seng.”

Thibaw East Haw.
On another piece of paper, Sao hurriedly wrote a similar message to his friend Jimmy Yang in Rangoon, asking him to contact Prime Minister U Nu with a request for help.

“Will you have these two letters delivered for me?” He asked the soldier as he handed him the addresses, scribbled on a page torn from his pocket calendar.
“I give you my word of honor, sir. And one more thing, sir. Please be careful. Do not trust your captors. They are evil.” With that, the Kachin soldier quietly backed out of the bamboo jail, shutting the door behind him.

A few minutes later, Sao heard that his guards were changed. One soldier, marching away, carried with him the only hope Sao had of communicating to the outside world what had happened to him after he left his brother’s house twenty-four hours ago. He had no choice but to wait, meditate, and see if this mission would succeed."

After receiving those hand-written notes in her dear husband’s own handwritings Inge Sargent never heard from him again. After two long years of forced house arrest by General Ne Win the new dictator of Burma, Inge Sargent and her two young daughters eventually escaped to Austria in 1965.

She even tried once to see General Ne Win in Berlin in 1967 when he was in Germany for one of his frequent visits to see famous German psychiatrist Dr. Hans Hoff for his ongoing mental illness. The bastard refused to see her, of course. He was the criminal directly responsible for the kidnapping and murder of her husband Sao Kyar Seng in 1962. 

Why was Thibaw Sawbwar killed? 

Ne Win's principal excuse for the 1962 Coup was the Shans' unified demand for secession from the Union of Burma according to the 1947 Panlong Agreement and 1947 Constitution. So Ne Win ordered the wholesale  arrest and long-term imprisonment of Shan political leaders including all Shan sawbwars. Thus the army's arrest of Sao Kya Seng on March 2, 1962.

But he was the only Shan sawbwar allegedly killed by the army that time for unknown reason. So why did the army and Ne Win persistently deny even the arrest and keeping him captive at Ba Htoo Military Town? The widely believed theory then was that somehow the young Thibaw Sawbwar was either accidentally killed by the MIS men during the interrogation/torture session or shot by the guards while he tried to escape. Since the army didn't want to admit his killing they also denied his arrest/kidnapping.

Followings are the extracts from the interview given by Inge Sargent to Khin Oo on 27 July 2003. 

KO: Your husband, the prince and MP, was murdered by the military government led by General Ne Win. In your book, you stated that he was killed after he had refused to collaborate with the government to fight against the Shan insurgents. Do you think it was the only reason why he was murdered? 

Inge: Good question. At that time, the Burmese military was getting stronger and stronger. They used KMT as an excuse to come out and I had never seen any KMT because Hsipaw was close to Mandalay, not to China. Ne Win did not like anyone but a “Yes man.” And Sao was not like that. He would speak his mind and was really the only one at that time to speak up to say what was wrong. The army command under Colonel Chit Myaing was partly responsible for his death. Chit Myaing, then the army commander in Larshio, knew that Ne Win did not like Sao and he was encouraging it. Chit Myaing was close to Ne Win and he was saying all sorts of things like I was the spy from the CIA after Ne Win had taken over in 1962. In several instances, Ne Win ordered that he wanted to have gambling officially in Shan state as he wanted the money. Sao refused to endorse it of course. That was something that Ne Win never forgave him for. There was already some tension and Sao would never do something that was against his principles and values. That was one of the reasons why the army suspected him of much more than he ever thought of. They suspected that we had guns and ammunitions and things that we wished we had (Laughs). 

KO: You mentioned the tension between the prince and General Ne Win when he refused to wait for his motorcade at the junction. Do you think this murder was in a way personal attack from General Ne Win? 

IS: Well, my interpretation is that Ne Win wanted Sao dead and people like Colonel Lwin, then Chief of MIS, knew that. They thought they were fulfilling Ne Win’s wishes because Sao was the people’s leader and incorruptible. When Sao’s murder occurred,  it was done by people who wanted to please Ne Win. It is possible that the MIS chief did it without Ne Win’s order thinking that was what he wanted him to do. I cannot say for sure because I was not there but I knew that sooner or later they would do it. 

KO: After your husband’s disappearance, you attempted to reach General Ne Win through his Austrian psychiatrist and other diplomats. Moreover, you defied the dictator and questioned his authority fearlessly. Given this situation, what do you think of him?

IS: I think he is a liar and coward though he is dead. I absolutely never had any respect for him and never will. For instance, Ne Win was treated by the Austrian psychiatrist and he told him that Sao was alive. Ne Win even produced a doctor who was supposed to be treating Sao. That was months after Sao was killed. Ne Win was lying to his psychiatrist.  (Laughs). So you just wonder how one could lie to his doctor and his doctor firmly believed Ne Win.  

KO: In your book, you mentioned that you did not find out about the death of your husband until Bo Setkya came by and delivered the news that he was killed near Ba Htoo Myo after several weeks of his arrest. The military government denied the fact that they detained your husband and killed him. When did you begin to accept the fact that your husband was murdered?

IS:  It was probably while I stayed in Austria. I was in Burma for two years after he died and I was supposed to be a CIA spy though I did not know what CIA was and I was watched (Laughs). Anyhow, after two years, in May 1964, I left mostly because I saw that I could not do anything to find out what had happened to my husband in the country. I went to Austria in 1964 and was employed by the Thai embassy. At that time, I tried every avenue I could to find out what had happened and it was during that time – after 2 years – that I began to accept Sao was dead. Before that I refused to accept it and believed in what I wanted to believe in. From Austria, I contacted International Red Cross, U Thant, Austrian Foreign Minister and Amnesty International for help. The military refused to admit that they had ever arrested Sao. Somehow, I realized that Sao was dead. He once told me that if something ever happened to him, he wanted me to take the children and leave to be with my parents in Austria.  Then he would find me if he was alive.

What Exactly Happened to Thibaw Sawbwar Sao Kya Seng? 

There are many versions of what happened to Sao Kya Seng back then in March 1962 and most has been dismissed as just rumours and guesses. But following was the most reliable of the supposedly confessed version of how Thibaw Sawbwar was killed unintentionally by his captors from the Burmese Army during his captivity. 

(To be continued ….)