An exclusive interview with President Thein Sein about the rapid transformation of Myanmar – a revolution in progress.
By Frederik Pleitgen; Berlin Correspondent for CNN
Public appearances by top German officials at mourning ceremonies for slain soldiers have become a sad new phenomenon in the country. Last weekend both Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg were on hand as the military and public bid farewell to four men killed in battle in Northern Afghanistan a little over a week ago. In his eulogy Guttenberg said, “it is in these times that we must ask you, the relatives of those who were killed, for forgiveness.”
It is the second time this month that Merkel and Guttenberg have had to attend such a ceremony. On April 2nd three German soldiers were killed in small arms fire in Kunduz province, then on April 15th four more died when their vehicle was attacked in Baghlan province during a patrol. The attacks came at a time when public support for Germany’s mission in Afghanistan are at an all time low, with up 70 per cent calling for a fast withdrawal from the country.
Researchers like Jan Techau from Germany’s Council on Foreign Relations believe politicians have long tried to avoid a debate on the use of military force in the country and now those lapses are catching up with them.
“The fact that we have a military but don't really like it, the fact that we send soldiers abroad to do horrible things but don't really appreciate it. This is a psychological predisposition of this country."
Techau and many others believe that psychological predisposition stems from Germany’s past, starting World War II, the crimes committed during the holocaust, and finally the total defeat. It has led Germans to become staunch pacifists, Techau says, who like their military but have never been prepared for the reverberations of the army’s actions in war zones.
Thus many of the German soldiers who are serving in Afghanistan feel a distinct lack of support from their population.
"The lack of support really worried me in the beginning, but now I have decided I want to go to Afghanistan, I don't need anyone's support, I don't care what other people say." That is what Norman, a German soldiers about to deploy to Afghanistan, whose full name we cannot print because of the army’s security policy told me shortly before deploying to Kunduz, the most dangerous area in Northern Afghanistan where Germany is leading NATO’s efforts. In the face of waning public support, Germany only pledged some 500 additional soldiers, as well as a reserve of some 350, late last year when the U.S. asked countries participating to increase their troops levels in support of ISAF commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s new partnering strategy, which saw America commit some 30 thousand additional soldiers.
Germany’s Defense Minister zu Guttenberg told CNN he knows he needs to do a better job of selling the mission to the public.
"We are trying to explain to our population what they are doing there, why they are doing it and what the key elements in Afghanistan are. It's quite important to be frank and clear and blunt."
According to Jan Techau from the Council on Foreign relations, German politicians need to start being more honest with their population now, otherwise the debate on German military power will come to them as casualties mount. Defense Minister Guttenberg made a start at the ceremony for the killed soldiers last weekend.
“In this day and wage we need to understand that more Germans will be killed abroad in Afghanistan and elsewhere,” he said speaking in a church in Ingolstadt in Bavaria.
The week before German Chancellor Merkel held a speech in parliament where she acknowledged the lapses of the best but also made a commitment not to leave Afghanistan unilaterally.
“The international community went into Afghanistan together and we will leave together. We won’t stay longer than necessary but we also won’t stay any shorter.”
German politicians have said the new strategy in Afghanistan which sees NATO soldiers partnering with Afghan units to conduct military operations and will see the expansion of foot patrols rather than riding in safer mine proof vehicle will mean more German soldiers will be harmed. At the same time the country is now realizing that for years it hasn’t adequately supplied its forces in Afghanistan with the gear they need to survive. In all of Afghanistan the German military has only eight transport helicopters and no gun ships. Meaning the troops have to rely on the U.S. army in case they get involved in heavy fighting.
This was the case on April 2nd when German soldiers were pinned down by insurgents in Kunduz and several wounded were medevaced out of the area by American helicopters as the Germans did not have adequate capacities of their own.
Last week the German Defense Minister presented Gen. McChrystal with medals of honor for the U.S. soldiers who risked their lives to save the Germans. Guttenberg acknowledged the Germans need to upgrade their soldiers’ capabilities. A difficult task at a time when most Germans want to see their soldiers leave the country as soon as possibly.
(CNN) - Thailand's prime minister said Monday that his government is working to achieve normalcy in the country amid massive opposition protests, but warned it will take "time, patience and cooperation" from all parties involved.
"We recognize that as every day passes by, the people of Thailand suffer, the country suffers, but we want to make sure that there is rule of law," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an interview set to air Tuesday.
"We will try to enforce the law with minimum losses and we will try to find a political resolution, but it takes time, patience and cooperation," he said, speaking from Bangkok. "We will do the best we can and try to move the country forward as soon as possible."
Thousands of anti-government protesters have brought Thailand's capital to a standstill this month as they seek to unseat Abhisit's government, which they say is illegitimate and undemocratic - accusations that Abhisit on Monday called "unfounded."
The demonstrators - known as "Red Shirts" because of their clothing - support Thaksin Shinawatra, who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, before he was ousted in a bloodless coup.
Addressing allegations that his government is illegitimate, Abhisit said Monday, "We assumed office under the same means, under the same rules, by the same vote of parliament as the two previous administrations" elected after the coup.
Abhisit emphasized what he described as his government's willingness to find a political solution to the crisis, but said resolution "must come at the right time for the country and serve the interests of everybody."
"We recognize the differences of opinions and we think we should take them forward, but they should be conducted under conditions where there's peace, where people are allowed to express their opinions, and not under force or intimidation by a small group of people," he said.
Abhisit has rejected a call from anti-government protesters to dissolve the country's parliament in 30 days.
"It just doesn't make sense," he said Monday of the deadline, adding other groups' political opinions must be taken into consideration before any such action is taken.
Some media and analysts in Thailand say civil war may be looming, with another group emerging called the "multi-colored shirts" who are urging the government to take tougher action against the Red Shirts.
Abhisit told Amanpour on Monday that he is concerned about possible civil strife and said "we have been at pains to point out to people who disagree with protesters that they should exercise restraint, and we will do all we can to make sure that no clashes occur between the two groups of people."
More than two dozen civilians and military personnel have died since protesters began occupying key tourism and shopping areas in Thailand's capital.
The deadliest clashes occurred April 10, and Abhisit said Monday that his government would cooperate with investigations into those deaths, "particularly as carried out by the Human Rights Commission, which is a neutral body."
He said the April 10 deaths appear to be caused by a group of people who call themselves "the Men in Black."
"We have a number of clips and evidence to suggest that the Men in Black were operating among the Red Shirt people," Abhisit said. "We have to get to the bottom of that."