ASIAN VOICES ON WAR IN IRAQ INCLUDE OPPOSITION, DILEMMA,

CAUTIOUS SUPPORT, TEA-TRADE WORRY

The East-West Wire will occasionally feature reports, observations, analyses and viewpoints on the war in Iraq from respected and influential Asian and Pacific Island journalists who have participated in East-West Center programs. Some of these pieces have appeared in the Asian media while others were written specifically for the East-West Wire. This Wire report includes contributions from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

1. SKETCHES, a column by Ana Marie Pamintuan, runs three times weekly in the Philippine Star. Below are sections of Pamintuan's March 24 piece. See her full column at www.philstar.com under OPINION.

PRICE OF VICTORY IN IRAQ: MUCH POST-WAR MENDING

International Community, Once Comfortable With American Might, Now Rankled by US 'Pugnacity'

MANILA (March 24, 2003) -- Even with coalition forces dying in this latest American-led effort to export democracy, global opposition to the war remains unchanged. The opposition is rattling governments that are otherwise supportive of the United States, including our own.

After the war the Americans and British will have to mend fences with the international community. Saddam Hussein may be a tyrannical madman and he may in fact be planning to arm international terrorists with weapons of mass destruction – the biggest fear of the Bush administration – but the way Washington has made its case for war has left many governments humiliated.

Bush has squandered nearly all the global sympathy and goodwill generated by the United States in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. There was the richest, most powerful nation on earth, badly wounded, dazed and grieving for the dead. The world waited for the inevitable retaliation, which arrived weeks later in Afghanistan, targeting Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Peace rallies notwithstanding, the international community after World War II has for the most part been comfortable with the projection of U.S. military might around the globe. Americans themselves admit slipups, such as their meddling in Vietnam. But in their overseas military forays, U.S. troops were generally not seen as conquerors. At worst they could be accused of paving the way for the entry of McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Britney Spears and Hollywood movies into formerly closed societies.

This time, however, there is a pugnacity in Washington's attitude that has rankled capitals around the globe. When you're acknowledged to be the richest, toughest kid on the block, you don't have to rub it in.

The post-war mess could be greater if coalition forces fail to find those weapons of mass destruction, whose existence in Iraq the Bush administration used as justification for this pre-emptive strike against a sovereign nation. Yesterday the coalition's military commanders admitted that so far they have not found any chemical or biological weapons.

Many countries, including our own, are bracing for intensified attacks by Islamists and other groups that have always been anti-American. American and British lives have been lost in this war and the death toll could be higher among Iraqis. Billions of dollars are being spent. But the cost of victory – financially and diplomatically – for the United States is going to be greater.

2. Amantha Perera is an editor at The Sunday Leader in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and an experienced reporter on terrorism and civil war in his country.

SRI LANKA DILEMMA: WAR ON TERRORISM HELPS PEACE TALKS BUT HURTS TEA TRADE

Even Muslim Parties Are Ambiguous

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (March 24, 2003) -- When U.S. and British missiles began slamming down on Iraqi targets on March 19, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were sitting down in Hakone, Japan, for the sixth round of peace talks. The delegates were hoping that a war totally beyond their control would not undermine their fledging peace negotiations. The U.S.-led war on terror following the 9/11 attacks has been one of the main holding points behind the success of the peace talks because of the international pressure on terrorists.

Just before the latest round of talks, the Sri Lankan navy sank a suspected ship used by the LTTE to smuggle in arms. The U.S. ambassador in Colombo, Ashley Wills, said the LTTE had violated the truce agreement, interpreted to be a subtle message to not rock the peace talks. The 20 years of bloodshed in Sri Lanka have claimed 70,000 lives.

It is with this backdrop that Sri Lanka watches the United States and its allies going to war. Ironically Iraq happens to be one of the largest buyers of local tea. Upsetting Iraqi sentiments would be a bloody blow to the tea trade. Within days of the commencement of the bombing campaign, Colombo tea markets recorded subdued sales.

On the other hand, given the context of the peace process, the government is hardly in a position to take an anti-war stance. Predictably, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reacted cautiously, telling his cabinet that Iraq should comply with all U.N. resolutions. Everyone from the foreign minister down has repeated the message.

The diplomatic tangle, however, does not compare to the havoc the war could cause on the economy. The second day into the bombing, the Sri Lankan parliament ratified emergency legislation to curb hoarding and artificial price hikes. Japanese special envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, warned last week that a protracted war in Iraq could throw a cold towel over the Sri Lanka aid meeting scheduled in Japan in June. The meeting is vital for the survival of the Wickremesinghe government, which is hoping for a commitment of $600 million. If the aid initiative fails, then Sri Lanka would have to brace for political bickering, possible elections and, in the worst-case scenario, a return to bloodshed.

The same ambiguous approach is reflected in Muslim parties. The Sri Lanka Mulish Congress, a partner in the government, reacted cautiously. Even the opposition National Unity Alliance did not take the hard-line stance some observers anticipated.

The most virulent anti-American reactions have been from the Marxist People's Liberation Front (PLF) and allied sections within the main opposition party, the People's Alliance. State intelligence units have linked the Iraqi Embassy in Colombo and the PLF.

Street protests have been minor given the scale they have reached in the past. Last Friday about 500 anti-war demonstrators took to the streets compared to the 250,000 protesters who converged in Colombo a week earlier to denounce the peace talks. 

All this, however, could change if the pounding of Iraq endures for weeks. The shorter the war, the better for the government here. The longer it takes, the more likely Sri Lanka will be included in the list of worldwide collateral damage.

3. This contribution comes from a Burmese journalist who asked that he not be identified.

BURMESE SHOW MIXED REACTIONS

YANGON, Myanmar (March 24, 2003) -- On the morning of March 20, CNN's breaking news about the war on Iraq was broadcast and many Burmese people gathered where satellite TVs were available – in Burma, satellite TVs are limited.

"We don't like Saddam Hussein. He's similar to our generals. But I'm worrying about Iraqi people. President Bush should try to assassinate Saddam," said a veteran journalist who is 75 years old.

The government-controlled newspapers emphasized anti-war news. After a coalition helicopter crashed, the news was immediately broadcast on TVs and printed in newspapers.

Many Burmese people do not pay attention to the war because they are living hand-to-mouth. But some support the war because it sets an example for other totalitarian governments. "I'm glad that the U.S. – the only superpower of the world – takes action itself. But Iraq is their prime interest," said a lecturer from a university here. "America should also take action on other oppressive regimes. If not, the attack on Iraq is unfair."

The East-West Wire is a news service provided by the East-West Center in Honolulu. Any or all of this report may be used with attribution to the East-West Center or to the person quoted.

For more information, contact Susan Kreifels at 808-944-7176 or EastWestWire@EastWestCenter.org

For a directory to all East-West Wire reports, see http://www.eastwestcenter.org/events-en.asp 

For daily news on the Pacific Islands, see http://pidp.eastwestcenter.org/pireport/text.htm 

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