After the Burmese election of May 1990, the regime leaders refused to accept the outcome of the poll. Instead they chose to annul the election and impose dictatorial rule on the population. Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, has been subjected to continuous political harassment and has spent most of the last twenty years under house arrest in Rangoon. She perseveres and remains the enduring symbol of the Burmese people's struggle for democracy.
Throughout the past two decades, the democracy-loving Burmese people - including students, monks and nuns - have risked their lives at various times in the struggle against the brutal junta. But they have failed to shake the regime, which continues to be led by the eccentric and reclusive General Than Shwe. He is so powerful that nobody dares to report to him about the grim everyday reality inside Burma.
Even today, the general, who stringently follows the advice of astrologers, is still convinced the junta's self-reliance strategy will work in his, and its, favour. The military government has not heeded any attempt by the world community or the UN in helping to find a peace settlement.
Burma used to be the rice bowl of Southeast Asia. Following its independence from Britain, it was the first country in this region to experience a period of real democracy - albeit briefly. This is why the international community is so concerned about restoring democracy and a free society. Since the Second World War, the Burmese people have witnessed how their country has been ruined, its natural resources plundered, and its education system destroyed by the military rulers.
It is quite amazing how, given the evil nature of the regime, the Burmese people have continued to endure, hoping against hope that one day the junta will collapse.
Economic conditions have become even worse in Burma. It is not true that the global financial crisis has had little or no affect on the country's performance. The crisis is being felt on the streets in Burma. With food and fuel prices rising, the Burmese people could rise up again in protest as they did in September 2007.
It takes two to tango. So any solution inside Burma will require the cooperation of the regime. Reaching out to the generals is the right thing to do, but whoever is charged with that task must be mindful that they are heartless people as well as the world's greatest manipulators. They have broken promise after promise without shame, and are willing to see their people die first, rather than relinquish their grip on power. Witness their actions after Cyclone Nargis, when they refused to allow quick delivery of essential foreign aid to thousands of victims.
The junta leaders have not yielded one bit, and they continue with their business-as-usual attitude as if nothing matters. The seven-point "roadmap", devised by the regime in 2005, continues to serve as the template for political development. With a new constitution in place, the regime is now moving towards the next step of holding a general election next year. But this sham election will only serve the generals' wishes to cling on to power in one form or another.
The next few months will be crucial. There will be a meeting in Phnom Penh between Asean and the EU to work out bilateral relations. One of the key issues will be Burma. The EU has maintained tough sanctions against Burma, with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi being one of the principal EU demands. The international community, including Asean, has similar demands. But the two regional groupings differ in their approach.
Can the regime continue to ignore these calls and get away with its brutality as it has always done? Well, only time will tell. At the moment, some Scandinavian countries think that humanitarian assistance should be given to Burma, regardless of the nature of governing regime. The purpose here is to help the Burmese people, but such assistance would certainly benefit the regime in both the short and long run.
The Burmese leaders are buying time, knowing full well that the West lacks the kind of patience that they have and enjoy. The West's eagerness to help could backfire. We cannot repeatedly be fooled by the generals.