'Now It is a New Era'

Although he was once a major figure in the regime of longtime strongman Ne Win, retired general Tin U, 67, has emerged as a key opposition leader in Burma in recent weeks. Still respected in military circles, the serious-minded ex-army man has gained a popular following for his forthright demands for the government to step down. Tin U was sacked as Ne Win's defence minister in 1976, accused of withholding knowledge about a plot against Ne Win and close aides San Yu and Tin Oo, with whom he is sometimes confused. Last month he joined in forming the dissident League for Democracy and Peace (LDP) headed by former premier U Nu, who was overthrown in Ne Win's 1962 coup. But Tin U broke with U Nu last week over his declaration of a rival government to that of Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) headed by President Maung Maung. Named by U Nu on Sept. 9 as defence minister, Tin U soon resigned from the LDP. On Sept. 11, the morning after Maung Maung announced that elections would be held, Tin U spoke by telephone from Rangoon with Asiaweek's Geoffrey Klaverkamp. Excerpts:

Is it true U Nu formed his provisional government without telling you ? Yes, the former premier has taken his powers back in accordance with the constitution of 1947, which has not yet been legally abolished. Our basic stand is that the present crisis has been going on with much bloodshed by students and people from all walks of life. Our intention is not to exploit this situation for our benefit. So we don't want to take any portfolio in [U Nu's proposed] cabinet. That is why we should stay away from the LDP.

Why do you think U Nu went ahead without your approval? He doesn't need any formal approval from me. He thinks he has the right to claim the premiership which was stolen 26 years ago from him by Ne Win .. Time have changed since 26 years ago. Now it is a new era. We were just forming a group to inspire the demonstrators to achieve their aims: the abolition of one-party rule, restoration of democracy in Burma and the forming of an interim government for fair and free elections.

What role will you play now? We have formed a no-political group of former military commanders and old comrades to inspire the demonstrators. Gen. Aung Shwe is our patron. He was ambassador to many countries and one of the prominent commanders of Burma. He doesn't want to take any part personally. The actual role [of leader] is played by me, but we are moving collectively.

What about the role of the military? I was very glad to hear President Maung Maung say the military will stay neutral. That means we are going to insist that they be above politics and not intermingle with politicans ... Most of the [top brass ] are members of the BSPP, so they should renounce their membership. At the same time they have to abolish the party organisation in the military. The commanders were very pleased about the government announcement [on remaining neutral]. Formerly the generals and army personnel were professional soldiers.

With the announcement of elections, has Ne Win finally bowed to the people's demands? He cannot oppose the consensus, what the whole country is demanding. I believe he is controlling the reins from the back, but that he has given in. [But whether he will agree to an interim government] is not very clear yet.

What are your feelings on dissidents Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Gyi? And would the people support U Nu in a new government? Yes. He is a venerable, honourable statesman. He is intelligent and bright. Aung San Suu Kyi's father was the founder of Burmese Independence but was assassinated before it was officially proclaimed. Now she is in a position to fulfill her father's dream. As an individual, I like her very much. Aung Gyi is also a prominent leader and fully conversant in economic affairs. All would make capable leaders of Burma.

Can a new Union of Burma be formed giving minorities autonomous rights ? This situation is very much open to the minority races. Some of them have rallied against the regime for nearly 40 years .. they didn't achieve their aims or objectives. Now they understand the people are opposing the government, so I think they will no longer fight for their aims. They can come to the table and we can talk about their affairs. One point is that they not withdraw from the Union.

Will Burma's international stance remain neutral ? Yes, yes. That is our long tradition in foreign policy. I think we will try to play an active role in no-alignment. We are a small country surrounded by very big nations. At the same time we want to make friends with our neighbours such as India, Thailand and China. We also have to make some kind of contribution to ASEAN. But we shouldn't stay alone or aloof.

Will you play any political role in the future ? No, no,no. I should like to stay out of national politics. If there's any crisis in Burma and if I'm still alive I will come back on the side of the people .. I am a quiet man and would like to continue studying law. I am still thinking of studying in England or some other country.


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