Getting to Know Burma’s Ruling General

Among Manchester United Football Club’s 300 million or so supporters worldwide are two Burmese men whose love of the game spans generations. One is a stout, bespectacled, betel nut — chewing septuagenarian, the other his favorite teenage grandson, and like many of their soccer-mad compatriots they stay up late into Burma’s tropical nights to watch live broadcasts from faraway England. So far, so normal. But knowing the grandfather in this touching scene is Senior General Than Shwe, the xenophobic chief of Burma’s junta, makes it seem all wrong. Rabidly anti-Western, yet pro-Wayne Rooney, is this the tyrant we know and hate?
a_shwe_1019 That English football is one of Than Shwe’s surprise passions might seem trivial, but it raises a serious question. With U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying on Sept. 24 that Washington would begin “engaging directly” with Burma’s military leaders after 20 years of American censure and sanctions, how well do we really know the junta? “We don’t understand it very well at all, although it’s not very easy to understand,” says Donald M. Seekins, a Burma scholar at Meio University in Okinawa, Japan. Trying to fathom the regime’s worldview doesn’t mean we condone its human-rights abuses; many believe that ongoing atrocities by the Burmese military constitute war crimes. But policies based on a flawed understanding of Than Shwe and his men will be ineffective or even counterproductive, warn Burma experts. Now, therefore, is time to get to know the generals — starting with the man his soldiers call Aba Gyi, or Grandfather. continue
Getting to Know Burma’s Ruling General

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