US Senator writes to support ARDA; Chee replies

December 10, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Letter from US Senator Mitch McConnell

United States Senate
Office of the Majority Whip
S-208, The Capitol, Washington, DC 20510-7012

7 December 2003

Open Letter to Asian Democrats:

Let me commend you and the organizers on this important forum on Burma for your steadfast commitment and dedication for democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Asia.

Despite the challenges and obstacles to freedom in your respective countries, you gather today in Singapore to discuss the political situation in Burma and to explore concrete ways that Asian democrats can support freedom in that country.

I take hear that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma will know from your actions that they do not stand alone in their struggle for freedom and justice. Your forum unequivocally demonstrates that Asian democrats stand shoulder to shoulder with Burmas courageous non-violent freedom fighters. I know you all will agree that the struggle for democracy and the rule of law in Burma indeed, throughout Asia, is one that all free people must share.

Your rejection of the status quo is refreshing. Too often, governments in the region find it expedient to characterize the repression and brutality in Burma as an internal problem that Burma itself must resolve. Such thinking is both wrong and dangerous. Unfortunately, ignoring the illicit activities if the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in Rangoon permits the continued export of HIV/AIDS, illegal narcotics, refugees and sex worker from Burma to neighboring countries.

Let there be no misunderstanding that the military junta in Burma poses an immediate threat to the entire region.

As Asian democrats, I encourage you to press your respective governments to take concrete actions in support of freedom in Burma. There is much that your governments can do to foster democracy in Burma, including ensuring that Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy and ethnic minorities are an integral part of political reconciliation efforts and that political and economic pressure is maintained on the military junta. To this end, Singapore can and should cease any and all assets of the SPDC that may be tucked away in financial institutions.

Again I commend you all for participating in this important forum. Please know that you have my support for your individual and collective efforts to further democracy and human rights In Burma and throughout Asia.

Sincerely,
Mitch McConnell
United States Senator

Dr Chee Soon Juan’s reply

9 December 2003

The Hon. Mitch McConnell
Senator
United States of America

Dear Senator McConnell,

On behalf of the members of the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA), I thank you for your letter dated 7 December 2003 in which you so stalwartly expressed your support for Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy forces in Burma as well as for ARDAs efforts to contribute to the democratization process there.

Unfortunately, the ruling SPDC has many good friends in Southeast Asia one of which is the Singapore government. While you gave us your support and wrote that Singapore can and should seize any and all assets of the SPDC that may be tucked away in financial institutions, the ruling Peoples Action Party (PAP) in Singapore has banned all public discussion of the matter.

I had applied for a police permit for a public forum (which the law requires in Singapore) to discuss the subject Democracy in Burma How can Asians help? The police rejected the application saying that the proposed event would be contrary to the public interest. There was no further explanation. I then wrote to the Minister of Home Affairs, asking him to reconsider the decision to ban the forum. I received an even more curt reply stating the my appeal has no merits.

We then organized a press conference in place of the forum. Among some of the graver issues which I raised were:

1. Singapore governments investments in Burma that Mr Robert Gelbard, former US Assistant Secretary of State, said have been tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han.

2. Allegations from experts on Burmas narco-trade that drug money is entering Singapore.

3. Reports from Janes Intelligence Review and other experts that arms are being sold by and/or shipped through Singapore to Burma.

Not only does the banning of the forum deny Singaporeans the right to free speech but it also prevents Singaporeans from getting information that can be used to hold Singapores ruling party accountable for its actions. The total control of Singapores media by the PAP, as evidenced by the complete black out of the issues that I raised above, further shows how the lack of democracy in Singapore brings succour to the dictators in Burma.

I hope that you will strongly register your concerns with the Singapore government for its undemocratic behaviour and continued suppression of the human rights of Singaporeans which, in turn, prevents us from helping our Burmese friends. I hope that you will monitor the repressive nature of the Singapore government and to use your good office to bring pressure to bear on the PAP to respect democracy and human rights. The collusion between autocrats in Southeast Asia is unacceptable to freedom-loving peoples all over the world. It must be stopped.

I thank you once again for your leadership and commitment to democracy in Asia and for addressing the issues confronting Burma because, as you so succinctly and impressively stated, the military junta in Burma poses an immediate threat to the entire region.

Sincerely,

Chee Soon Juan
Chairman
Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia
and
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party