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The week-long meeting of Tibetan exiles in Dharmsala, India, has inevitably drawn comparisons with the activities of Burma’s own exiled opposition community.

Tibet and Burma each have a government in exile. But some Burmese exiles and Burma scholars claim that while the Tibetan opposition in exile, led by the Dalai Lama, shows cohesion, the same cannot be said for Burma’s.

Criticism of the Burmese opposition in exile has grown recently, with complaints that it lacks unity and a united strategy, providing for dialogue between all groups.

One leading Burma expert, Mikael Gravers, associate professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, said there were naturally differences between opposition groups who have to act internally under constraint and those who can act more freely in the diaspora.

“They literally live in very different worlds,” he told The Irrawaddy in an email interview.

“In Burma, the repression is now as massive as ever seen,” said Gravers, author of National As Political Paranoia in Burma: An Essay on The Historical Practice of Power.“Thus, I think critics should consider if it is the failure of the opposition alone or the result of the repression which has silenced and split those who struggle for a change.”

In the late 1990s, there was a significant change in the Burmese exile movement with the formation of a Burmese government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB). Aung San Suu Kyi’s cousin, Sein Win, has led the NCGUB from the start. Observers say the NCGUB has yet to find a leadership role for the democracy movement in exile.

Apart from the NCGUB, there are several umbrella organizations within Burma’s exile movement, such as the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB), the Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB), the Members of Parliamentary Union (MPU). They fall out from time to time—most recently when the NCGUB failed to cooperate with the NCUB in its action against the Burmese junta seat at the United Nations.

A NCUB secretary, Aung Moe Zaw, said the Burmese exile movement played a supporting role in the pro-democracy struggle, while the Tibetan opposition was centered in exile. “The nature of Burma’s democracy movement and Tibet’s one are not the same,” he said.

Although different Burmese exile groups were working under a collective leadership for democracy, the movement as a whole had failed to engage the participation of all Burmese exiles, Aung Moe Zaw said.

Despite the impression of unity given by the Tibetan exile movement, the Dalai Lama’s strategy for Tibet, calling for autonomy and not independence, came in for criticism at the Dharmsala meeting.

Critics questioned this so-called “middle way.” Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, told The Associated Press ahead of the meeting: “We need to have a strategy. It’s the middle way right now. But that has been a failure.

“We have history on our side; we have truth on our side. We know the Chinese—there’s no way we can live under China.”

The Dalai Lama claimed at the end of the meeting that he had majority support for his “middle way path to the Tibetan issue.”

The meeting left open, however, the options of demanding independence or self-determination if China fails to grant Tibet autonomy.

China has occupied Tibet since 1950 and brutally suppressed a Tibetan uprising in 1959. The Dalai Lama fled to India and formed the Tibetan exiled government in Dharmsala.

In March this year, five months before the Beijing Olympics, Tibetan protestors, led by Buddhist monks, challenged Chinese rule. The uprising was crushed by Chinese troops—with the kind of brutality employed by Burmese security forces to suppress Burma’s own uprising in September 2007.