A Kinder, Gentler Junta

In an uncharacteristic show of cooperation, Myanmar's military junta is exploring the possibility of setting up a human-rights commission with Australian help. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which has ruled Myanmar since abrogating the overwhelming 1990 election victory of 1991 Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), "is accused throughout the world of gross human-rights abuses including rape and torture," reports the international news service Agence France-Presse of Paris. "It rejects all the al-legations and maintains that it intends to make democratic changes, although it avoids saying when .... The prospect of setting up a human-rights commission in Myanmar has puzzled some observers, who doubt the junta's sincerity."

Though Aung San Suu Kyi has been cool to Australia's initiative because she wants the SPDC to negotiate first with the NLD, "Canberra is pressing ahead because it is eager to break what it sees as the political stalemate in Burma," reports Hong Kong's centrist daily South China Morning Post. "The ruling generals have surprised their critics.... By going ahead without the approval of a woman widely regarded as an international icon of beleaguered democracy, Australia may be playing point man for Western governments that have grown frustrated over the failure of their policies of isolation."