In 2003, Zarni started to express publicly his deep disillusionment with Aung San Suu Kyi's leadership abilities and her policy of sanctions and boycotts. Zarni and a group of Western-educated Burmese dissidents explored alternatives to what they termed as "the sanctions and boycott orthodoxy." They came to the conclusion that economic sanctions and political pressure by Western countries on Burma was counter-productive and futile as long as China, India, Thailand and other Asian countries continued to do business with and provide political support to the ruling regime. Zarni and his Burmese colleagues renounced their long-standing pro-sanctions and pro-boycott policy in 2003.
During the aftermath of the Burmese junta's bloody ambush against Aung San Suu Kyi and her motorcade during an up country tour in May 2003, Zarni explored radical measures, including reviving and strengthening armed resistance in the country. According to Zarni, he was tasked by General Saw Bo Mya, the leader of the Karen National Union and the Chair of the National Council of the Union of Burma based in the Thai-Burmese border, with a secret mission to lead a small team of Burmese dissidents whose mission was to seek support from Western governments for the dissidents' armed resistance. Zarni stated later that the effort failed because of what he described as a leak within the Burmese dissident community.
Six months after the secret mission was folded, General Saw Bo Mya flew to Yangon in January 2004 where he made a highly publicized ceasefire deal with the Head of the Burmese Military Intelligence and negotiator General Khin Nyunt.
Meanwhile, Zarni and came into contact with what he described as the moderate elements within the military's inner circle. He launched a diplomacy initiative with a 100-page report "Common Problems, Shared Responsibilities: A Burmese Citizens' Initiative for National Reconciliation."
Following Zarni's change in policy, the staff and virtually all the group's supporters and funders left the Free Burma Coalition and founded the U.S. Campaign for Burma, which maintains the Free Burma Coalition's original mission and policies. The Free Burma Coalition is now largely moribund.
In March 2004, Zarni made a confidential one-day trip to Yangon to meet with deputies of the Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, including Brigadier General Than Tun, government spokesperson Colonel Hla Min, and Colonel Tin Oo. Zarni sought discussions on how to create political space and build confidence between moderate military officers and moderate dissidents in exile. However, Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and the entire moderate camp was later purged by military regime hardliners deeply opposed to Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese democracy movement.
Zarni renounced his political asylum in the United States and returned to Burma in October 2005 with the hope of building ties with members the ruling military regime to help open up the country. He described his position as one of "principled and strategic engagement" with the Burmese military junta.
Zarni's critique of Aung San Suu Kyi's policies has earned him notoriety. Most Burmese exiles and the democracy movement activists inside Burma maintain that economic sanctions and political pressure on the Burmese military regime remain the only feasible policy to achieve a restoration of democracy and human rights in Burma. Many have questioned Zarni's motives and his change of position to one of engaging the Burmese military junta. In 2006, Zarni was amongst the members of the military junta and junta supporters who were listed as "enemies of the democracy movement" in a publication circulated inside Burma. In an interview in June 2006 with The Independent, Zarni stated that American efforts to sanction Burma were useless because Burma's neighbors, especially China, would never agree to them.
Despite this criticism, Zarni continues to espouse his views within academic and policy circles. He has been sometimes quoted in and has written for the international print and broadcast media. In one interview with Burmese magazine (Irrawaddy) in 2009, Zarni confessed that he no longer believes that negotiating with the military junta for the restoration of democracy in Burma will be successful based on unfruitful experience with military officials in recent years. He advised people to be more cautious and aware of military junta's attitude and nature.
Zarni currently lives in Great Britain where he is a Visiting Research Fellow (2006–2009) at the Department of International Development at Queen Elizabeth House with the University of Oxford.
Read more about this topic: Maung Zarni
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