Dictators in Burma have good friends in Singapore

December 17, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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The proposed event is likely to be contrary to the public interest, the police told Dr Chee Soon Juan, Director of the Open Singapore Centre, when he applied for a permit to hold a public forum last weekend entitled Democracy in Burma How Can Asians Help?

If the statement from the police sounded abrupt, the response from the Minister for Home Affairs was nothing short of arrogant. When Dr Chee wrote to ask the Ministry to reconsider its ban on the forum, all he got in reply was that his application had no merits. End of discussion.

Just in case anyone thought that the application was for a huge rally in front of parliament, it ought to be clarified that the application was for about 100 people to gather in a hotel function room without banners and placards (which are banned, by the way).

So what exactly is contrary to the public interest?

Could it be the fact that Dr Chee was going to ask questions about the statement made by the former US Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Gelbard, that: over half of [the investments from] Singapore have been tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han?

The Australian Special Broadcasting Services aired a documentary which painstakingly traced the investments of the Singapore Government in Burma to Burmese drug kingpin Lo. Yet, Mr Lo and his son move freely in and out of Singapore (Lo Jr has an office in Singapore but has been denied a visa to the US because of suspected drug activities). What is especially disturbing is that anyone caught with 15 grams of heroin in Singapore receives the death sentence. When the documentary was aired in Australia, the Singapore Government protested. But when the TV station invited Singapores High Commissioner and Prime Minister to rebut the allegations, the two refused.

Or could it be about the question that Dr Chee was going to ask about money from drug trafficking in Burma were getting into Singapore. Bruce Hawke, an author on drug trafficking in Burma, said: The entry [of money from drug trafficking] to the legitimate global system is not Burma but Singapore

It could also be Dr Chee asking uncomfortable questions about weapons being sold and/or trans-shipped to Rangoon, as documented by Bertil Lintner in Janes International Defense Review and William Ashton in Jane’s Intelligence Review, which the SPDC uses to inflict more brutality and misery on Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese people.

Not in the public interest? More like not in PAP’s interest. And true to form, the local media in Singapore completed blacked out these issues that Dr Chee raised at the press conference held in place of the banned forum.

Even crazier, one of the speakers whom the OSC had invited was an elected Burmese MP. The Singapore Government refused him entry. Also, when Cambodias opposition leader, Sam Rainsy (another speaker), was about to leave Singapore after the conference, he was held up by immigration officers and queried. Question: Would the Singapore Government dare to even contemplate doing this to Tom Daschle or Michael Howard or deny any member of US Congress or UK Parliament entry into Singapore? Has this anything to do with the fact the Mr Sam comes from a poor Asian country controlled by a fellow autocrat?

As long as Burma has friends like the PAP in Singapore, one thing is sure: the SPDC will continue to remain in (illegal) power.

The banned forum had wanted to discuss the question of how Asians can help in making Burma a democracy. Perhaps, the more appropriate question is how the international community can help Burma by focusing its attention on the SPDCs friends starting with the one in Singapore.

The PAP cannot continue to deny Singaporeans freedom and democracy because in so doing, it brings succour to other authoritarians in the region, in particular, those in Burma. This outrageous collusion must stop.

(Photo: Speakers holding a press conference in place of the banned forum: (from left) Debbie Stothard, Altsean for Burma; Tian Chua, Keadilan Party; Chee Soon Juan, Open Singapore Centre; Sam Rainsy, Cambodian Opposition Leader; Tsai Ming Dan, Taiwan Democracy Foundation)