TEN WEEKS after driving peaceful protestors off the streets of Rangoon and other cities, Burma’s reclusive and
paranoid military dictatorship is taking every precaution needed to perpetuate its jackboot authoritarian rule, including forcing people to grow nuts in a bizarre attempt to influence the pro-democracy opposition.
Visiting envoys have been scoffed at – the junta told the nine other memberstates comprising the Association of South East Asian States (ASEAN) that they could not receive a UN briefing on the internal situation on Burma. With the exception of the Philippines, Burma’s ASEAN colleagues caved in to the generals, going on to tell the visiting EU Commission delegates that no sanctions were needed against Burma.
The regime is headed by general Than Shwe. He and his clique of army bosses run the country as a fiefdom, with mining, road-building and forestry contracts the preserve of military-linked consortia. These cut deals with Chinese, Indian, Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean businesses, as well as oil giants Total and Chevron, financing the massive military budget keeping the junta in control.
There are other resources the generals turn to, however, to ensure absolute control. Deeply superstitious, the elites rely on astrologers and soothsayers for advice, as well as indulging a local type of voodoo known as yadaya, which aims to ward off ill-luck.
Such occult measures seek to neutralise Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest since her National League for Democracy won the 1990 elections, which the army then ignored.
According to the The Irrawaddy, a news magazine produced by Burmese exiles in Thailand, Than Shwe’s fear of Suu Kyi prompted his initiative to force Burmese to grow physic nuts, ostensibly to provide alternative fuel for the cash-strapped country. An overnight doubling of fuel prices was the original spark for the September protests, when thousands of Buddhist monks and civilians marching peacefully were met by army bullets and batons.
But there’s a less practical reason for military hardman Shwe’s nutty endeavour. Physic nuts are called kyet suu in Burmese, a combination of words that carry the astrological meaning of Monday-Tuesday. Suu Kyi’s own name has the astrological meaning of Tuesday-Monday. Than Shwe’s astrologer suggested that by planting kyet suu throughout the country Suu Kyi’s powers could be neutralized.
Shwe’s wife recently worshipped at her husband’s birthplace in central Burma, seeking support for her beleaguered husband’s hated regime. Apparently her efforts worked. After meeting ASEAN leaders in Singapore recently, the EU Commission delegation promised to forge ahead with trade talks. Despite imposing new sanctions on the Burmese junta, the EU dismissed the US view that trade and investment links with the 10-nation ASEAN bloc should be shelved until it pressures Burma to reform.Show