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452[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 29/2/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Feb 29, 2008
    • 0 Attachment
      1. NLD dismisses referendum
      2. National League for Democracy: Special Announcement
      3. Referendum law excludes monks and bans dissent
      4. In Myanmar, a resistance hero on the run
      5. Twelve sentenced to seven years in jail for renovation of mosque
      6. Asian financial centers spotlighted in US sanctions
      7. Gambari wants 'Credible' Burma Roadmap
      8. U.N. Myanmar envoy demands junta 'reconsider' drafted constitution
      9. No Way, Than Shwe
      10. Burma's diaspora and the right to vote
      11. Mobile Phones, Radios Keep Resistance Alive
      12. India, Myanmar to go ahead with multi-modal transit transport facility soon
      13. Militarisation, violence and exploitation in Toungoo District

      NLD dismisses referendum - Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Thu 28 Feb 2008

      Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has dismissed the national referendum on the draft constitution, which is planned for May, because of its lack of legitimacy, according to a party statement on Thursday.

      The NLD, led by detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, said the draft constitution was "not inclusive and unclear," because the Burmese military regime had not heeded the calls of the international community and the United Nations.

      The statement also said that the planned national referendum would not be free and fair because the junta broke its promise to discuss the drafting of the new constitution with the representatives elected in the 1990 parliamentary elections.

      Thein Nyunt, a member of the Special Information Committee for the NLD who is also a lawyer, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday: "We want to point out that civilians don't agree with this one-sided referendum. It could affect national reconciliation."

      He added: "A national referendum is not free and fair so long as the junta retains decree 5/96."

      Decree 5/96 prohibits criticism of the national convention. By violating the decree a person could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison.

      Thein Nyunt said that the military regime lacked legitimacy because they didn't publicly distribute leaflets disclosing details of the draft constitution.

      However, the state-controlled press reported that the new legislation, announced on Tuesday, provides for penalties of up to three years imprisonment and 100,000 kyat (US $77) fines for offenders who distribute statements and posters or who make speeches against the referendum. It also bars monks and nuns from voting.

      The NLD won a landslide victory—with more than 80 percent of parliamentary seats—in multi-party elections held in 1990. After the election, instead transferring national power, the authorities detained the winning party NLD's leaders, including Suu Kyi, and subsequently placed her under house arrest.


      National League for Democracy: Special Announcement [Unofficial Translation]
      Thu 28 Feb 2008

      In the multi-party generation elections held in 27 May 1990, by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) (now State Peace and Development Council, SPDC), the National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory with obtaining 82% of majority in nationwide constituencies. Then, during the coordinating meeting of the SLORC and its State and Divisional Branches at the operational meeting room at the Ministry of Defense on 3 July 1990, the Commander-in-Chief again pledged as follows.

      "What would be the next step after the election? It shall be to write the constitution. As I mentioned on 5 July 1989, the SLORC will not write the constitution. We don't want to be an accused (in history)…Writing of the constitution should be done by elected representatives, coordinated with the election winning parties," Unquote.

      Again, the SLORC (now SPDC) issued statement 1/90 on 27 July 1990. The Paragraph (20) of that statement said as follows.

      "the elected representatives today are sole responsible to write the constitution for the future democratic country," Unquote.

      However, almost all of the Members of Parliament-elect are not allowed writing the draft constitution of the Union of Myanmar 2008.

      The authorities also haven't made its draft constitution public yet as of today. However, the authorities have already formed the "Commission for Holding Referendum for the Approval of the Draft Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar 2008." When we looked at the Commission, we found that Chairman of that Commission is the same person who chaired the Chairman of National Convention Working Committee, which in instrumental to lead and adopt the fundamental and detailed principles from National Convention, and the Commission to Draft the State Constitution 2008. Furthermore, some members of that Commission are also delegates of the National Convention and members of the Commission to draft the state constitution.

      That was against the advice and demands of international organizations, including the United Nations. All responsible persons should be included in the process of drafting the state constitution and the transformation of the nation. The one-sided act of the authorities not only harms the national reconciliation process but also cannot be accepted by the people.

      According to the decision made by CEC meeting on 27 February 2008

      Central Executive Committee
      National League for Democracy
      Rangoon


      Referendum law excludes monks and bans dissent
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 28 Feb 2008

      The Burmese government's newly-approved referendum law has banned monks and prisoners from voting, and made campaigning against the referendum punishable by up to three years in prison.

      The Referendum Law for the Approval of the Draft Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar of 26 February 2008 sets out the conditions for the national referendum due to be held in May.

      Article 11 of the law states that all citizens, naturalized citizens and temporary certificate holders aged 18 or over will be eligible to vote in the referendum.

      However, a number of groups are excluded from the voting roll, including members of religious orders, people serving prison terms for any offence, and people who are illegally abroad.

      The law defines members of religious orders as Buddhist monks, nuns, novices and religious laymen, as well as serving members of Christian and Hindu religions.

      The Article 11 provisions would render political prisoners ineligible to vote, as well as the monks who played a leading role in last September's protests.

      Chapter 10 of the law sets out penalties for anyone attempting to disrupt the referendum, for example by voting more than once, falsifying ballot papers or tampering with ballot boxes.

      But it also outlaws "lecturing, distributing papers, using posters or disturbing the voting in any other manner…to destroy the referendum".

      This move is likely to criminalise the activities of many opposition activists, some of whom have called for a boycott of the referendum.

      Article 25 provides for a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine of up to 100,000 kyat, or both, for any violation of these restrictions.

      The junta announced on 9 February that they planned to hold a constitutional referendum in May, followed by general elections in 2010.

      The draft constitution was approved by the government's drafting committee on 19 February, but has not yet been made public.

      The planned referendum has already been criticised as a "sham" by opposition activists, rights groups and some foreign governments.

      The possible terms of the constitution have also come under fire after comments by the Burmese foreign minister U Nyan Win suggested that detained National League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would not be able to run for office because of her marriage to a foreign national.


      In Myanmar, a resistance hero on the run - Marwaan Macan-Markar
      Inter Press Service: Thu 28 Feb 2008

      Somewhere in the dilapidated city of Rangoon is a man on the run since August last year. He has sheltered in over 10 homes so far. But he expects to continue avoiding arrest by Burma's dreaded military or intelligence forces.

      When Tun Myint Aung shifts from one safehouse to another, he goes armed with two items that have become indispensable. They are a mobile phone and a portable, Chinese-made radio, to listen to such anti-junta stations like the Democratic Voice of Burma, based in Oslo, Norway.

      "The phone and the radio are very important now. I always take them wherever I go. They are next to me when I sleep," says Tun Myint Aung, in a voice with a hint of excitement, during a recent telephone interview with IPS from his current safehouse in the former Burmese capital. "Through them I stay in touch with people outside, my friends, and follow the news about events in the country."

      But his Tecsum shortwave radio has taken on added value in military-ruled Burma's current oppressive climate. "The radio has become a social weapon for me and for our movement," adds Tun Myint Aung over the phone, an act that could get him jailed. "It is how the messages against the military regime are broadcast by us and others against them."

      The "us" he refers to is the '88 Generation Students', a highly respected group of former university graduates who have been at the vanguard of peaceful protests against Burma's repressive military leaders. The group gets its name from leading a pro-democracy popular movement in 1988, which was brutally crushed by the military, leaving some 3,000 protestors dead.

      Till August 2007, Tun Myint Aung worked in the shadows of '88 Generation' leaders like Min Ko Naing, who to many Burmese is the most respected person in the country for his democracy crusade after Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate. But that month, the junta arrested Min Ko Naing and other prominent leaders of the group to curb the protests they called for after the regime raised the price of oil by 500 percent without warning.

      Tun Myint Aung, who will be turning 40 this year, had to flee his home to avoid arrest. It was an escape, forcing him to "run and run," sometimes having to spend nights on the streets with no place to hide, that has consequently propelled him to be a new leader of the '88 Generation'. With him at the helm are two other activists of the same group, also on the run, Nilar Thein and Soe Htun.

      His first month as a leader was overshadowed by the rage against the junta that poured on the streets of Rangoon and other cities in September. Tens of thousands of people, led by the countries maroon-robed Buddhist monks, staged peaceful protests. They raised a cry against the unbearable economic woes, the arrest of the '88 Generation' leaders, and the continued imprisonment of political activists, including Suu Kyi. But the junta responded with force, killing scores of demonstrators, including monks, and jailing hundreds.

      The events, since then, have proved as formidable: the junta recently announced plans to conduct a referendum in May to seek approval for a controversial new constitution. And mounting a political campaign against that plebiscite from underground is a challenge.

      "There are 11 organisations we are working with to inform the public that the new constitution was not drafted by the people's representatives. We are also warning that the referendum will not be free and fair," says Tun Myint Aung. "But if people want to vote, we are urging them to vote 'No'. They have to oppose the military's plan to get its political life extended legally."

      A mass movement against the referendum is also being discussed. "We want a nation-wide silent movement against the military. We have been contacting people in our network, through the phone and other ways, to get this message out," he reveals. "Our actions are to get as many people to lead this silent protest. That is how we have always worked. It is never been based on only one person."

      The anger that the new leaders of the '88 Generation' have towards the regime was displayed in mid-February, when they released a statement saying that the planned May referendum is a "declaration of war by the military regime against the Burmese people." Another has followed since, denouncing the Chinese government for "bankrolling" the junta and calling for a boycott of this year's summer olympics in Beijing.

      Despite the odds, Tun Myint Aung relishes his new role to lead the Burmese opposition from within the country. "It is a very heavy task that we have, but it is exciting," he says. "I am not depressed; I am eager to try as many actions as we can against the military. This is the way to help our people and to help my brothers, our comrades, in jail."

      Even the solitary hours that he sometimes has to endure to avoid arrest barely gets him down. For he has experienced worse: he was arrested in 1990 and jailed at the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon for three years. At the time, he was studying geography at Rangoon University. His "crime" was to be a protest leader in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Then, in 1998, he was arrested again and jailed till 2005. Once again, it was for his political activism.

      "I have not talked to my parents for many months; I cannot contact them, because our home in Rangoon is under watch by the intelligence," he admits, after a pause. "I miss that. I miss talking to my nieces and nephews. But they are used to not seeing me home"

      At times, however, the strain of struggling to remain free from the junta's grip leads to restless nights. "If I hear strange sounds on the road, too many dogs barking at night, I wake up," he says. "What is it?"

      And visits to a hospital or clinics are out of the question for him: "I cannot get sick. It is too risky to go to a clinic. I am always taking care of my health now."

      Yet there is a reason that weighs in his favour if he had to call on a doctor. His face remains a mystery to the junta; it had not been in the glare during the dissidents' public campaign. "It is fortunate. I avoided having my photos taken during the protests last year," says Tun Myint Aung.

      But that spell of anonymity may not last long, he concedes. "The junta wants to arrest all our leaders. I cannot foretell my future: if I go to jail or not."


      Twelve sentenced to seven years in jail for renovation of mosque
      Kaladan Press: Thu 28 Feb 2008

      Maungdaw, Arakan State: Twelve villagers of Thinn Baw Gwe (Kol Loon) in Maungdaw Township have been sentenced to seven years in jail by the Maungdaw High Court on February 24 for renovation of a mosque and Hafez Khana (Quaran memorial center), said a close relative of one of the victims on condition of anonymity.

      The villagers had renovated the village mosque and Hafez Khana after acquiring necessary documents and permission from the Commander of Nasaka area No. 8 of Maungdaw Township , three months ago.

      But, the Commander was transferred and a new Nasaka Commander was appointed to Nasaka area No.8, recently. The new Commander was not happy with the renovation of mosque and Hafez Khana.

      As a result, ten personnel of Burma 's border security forces, Nasaka, went to Thinn Baw Gwe village on February 10, and arrested 12 villagers and brought them to the Naska camp. Though, the villagers showed the documents and permission letter given by the former Naska Commander (a Major) but the new Nasaka Commander (a Captain) did not accept it, said a local villager.

      The arrested villagers were detained in Nasaka camp for 10 days. After which they were handed over them to Maungdaw police station. Later on, on February 25, the arrestees were produced in Maungdaw high court and sentenced to seven years jail each for renovation of mosque and Hafez Khana without permission. They were sent to Buthidaung jail, said a police aide from Maungdaw Town .

      The victims are identified as Hashim Ullah (40), son of Mogul Ahmed, Rahamat Ullah (30), son of Md. Yunus, Latif Mistry ( 50), Noor Mohamed (50), Sayed YUllag (40), Md. Rofique(40), son of Noor Ahmed, Nur Islam( 50), son of Lal Mohamed and five others. All the victims belong to Thinn Baw Gwe village of Maungdaw Township.

      Another 20 villagers including village Chairman Khobir Ahmed (50), son of Basir Ahmed are still absconding to evade arrest by Nasak and police, said another village elder.

      In Arakan State, one cannot renovate mosques, religious schools, houses even cow sheds without taking permission from concerned authorities. This is valid for only the Rohingya community.


      Asian financial centers spotlighted in US sanctions - William Boot
      Irrawaddy: Thu 28 Feb 2008

      The latest targeted sanctions by the United States against cronies of the Burmese regime are aimed at embarrassing East Asia's two leading financial centers—Singapore and Hong Kong, says a money laundering expert.

      The naming of 13 junta-linked business figures and companies earlier this week is a warning to third countries and financial centers that their US banking links could be in peril, says Peter Gallo, the chief of Pacific Risk, a Hong Kong-based consultancy.

      All the targets in the latest sanctions have banking links with Singapore, and at least one Hong Kong stock exchange listed company—China National Offshore Oil Corporation—is also involved.

      "This puts more pressure on Singapore, which has to be an embarrassment particularly as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is leaning on offshore financial centers," Gallo told The Irrawaddy.

      "Remember that although [these new sanctions] just apply directly to US financial institutions, any non-US bank that carry on doing business with Burma risks jeopardizing its corresponding banking relationship with the US., which just isn't worth it."

      Gallo believes the US Treasury, which is directing the

      sanctions, is playing a strategic game. This is the second listing of Burma-linked targeted sanctions in a month. The aim may be to slowly tighten the noose to make it difficult for the main junta-backed companies and their principals to stay in business.

      "This is unlikely to be the last action taken against Burma," Gallo says of the latest US action.

      One of the companies now facing sanctions and banking freezes outside Burma is Singapore-registered Golden Aaron, managed by Singaporean Cecilia Ng, the wife of Tun Myint Naing, alias Steven Law.

      Law heads up the Asia World Group, which is involved in developing the Chinese oil transshipment port on Ramree Island on the central Burma coast.

      Golden Aaron is linked with the Chinese state-owned oil and gas conglomerate CNOOC, whose ties extend across Burma—the latest deal being with Thailand's oil and gas explorer PTTEP to buy into a potentially massive gas find in the large offshore block M-9 in the Gulf of Martaban.

      Foreign investors who can buy CNOOC shares on the Hong Kong stock market might be wary of banking transactions that can so easily link back to the US and the sanctions net.

      Gallo, who distributes a newsletter to business circles with advisories on risk assessment and the dangers of tainted financial transactions, earlier this month warned that no one should have dealings with Burmese businessman Tay Za—labeled by the US Treasury Department as a "key financial front man" for the Burma regime—without "seeking appropriate professional advice as a matter of some urgency."

      Tay Za was placed on a targeted sanctions list issued several weeks ago by the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

      The Burmese tycoon, who heads up the Htoo Group, was recently bidding to buy cargo ships in South Korea.

      "The point is that more and more companies with business interests in Burma are going to get caught up in the sanctions," Gallo said.


      Gambari wants 'Credible' Burma Roadmap - Teruaki Ueno
      Reuters: Thu 28 Feb 2008

      UN envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari said on Thursday that he would urge the country's military government to take steps to make its roadmap to democracy "credible and inclusive" when he visits the country next week.

      "We would like to discuss with them how to make this process credible," Gambari told Reuters in an interview.

      A protester holds up a banner during a rally outside the United Nations information centre in Tokyo February 28. (Photo: Reuters)

      In a surprise move, Burma's ruling generals this month announced a referendum in May on a new constitution, to be followed by a general election in 2010. If held, the poll would be the first since a 1990 election whose outcome the military ignored.

      But opposition figures and some Western countries have voiced skepticism whether the junta will be willing to let the opposition compete in the vote or to relinquish power.

      "We would like to encourage them to take necessary steps to create the right atmosphere to promote a free and fair outcome which will enjoy support internally and externally," said Gambari, who plans to visit Burma in the first week of March.

      "We would like to encourage the government to try to make it credible and inclusive. There are many ways in which this can be done."

      He said he would urge Burma's military junta to free detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners to put the country on the path to democracy.

      "Because it will contribute to a positive atmosphere for the referendum and the elections," he said. "Her continued detention will continue to be a problem for the regime, whereas she should be part of the solution in terms of meeting challenges facing the economy."

      Suu Kyi would be barred from the 2010 elections because she had been married to a foreigner, violating the newly drafted constitution, Singapore's Straits Times newspaper reported last week.

      Burma's generals last held elections in 1990, but ignored the result when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent more than 12 of the past 18 years under some form of detention.

      Earlier this month, the military, which has ruled Burma in various guises since 1962, accused pro-democracy and dissident groups of trying to tear the country apart, and urged the public to back its "roadmap to democracy".

      Gambari said he saw no need for the Burmese government to amend the "roadmap to democracy" immediately.

      "I don't think at this stage people are asking for rewriting, but they are looking at some of the provisions that will really make participation more inclusive and the outcome of the referendum much more credible," he said.

      The United States says the referendum will be a sham conducted in a "pervasive climate of fear".

      The opposition National League for Democracy, which won a 1990 election landslide only to be denied power by the military, was excluded from the constitution-drafting process and is expected to push for a "no" vote.

      Gambari said it was not clear whether he would be able to meet Snr-Gen Than Shwe and Suu Kyi although he had asked to meet them.

      The UN envoy also urged Japan to boost its aid to Burma.

      "We want to encourage Japan to consider increasing the level of assistance," he said. "But all these have to be in parallel with developments on the political front."

      Japan suspended some aid for Burma after a Japanese video journalist was shot in a bloody crackdown on monk-led pro-democracy demonstrators in September.

      Japan has shown more willingness to engage Burma than most Western countries and is one of its biggest aid donors.


      U.N. Myanmar envoy demands junta 'reconsider' drafted constitution
      AP : 2008-02-28

      TOKYO, Feb. 28 (Kyodo) - U.N. special envoy on Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari urged the junta in Myanmar on Thursday to "reconsider" a draft constitution it compiled for a referendum planned for May calling for more freedom and said he intends to discuss the matter with Myanmar leaders in his visit to the country next week.

      Gambari said in an interview with Kyodo News in Tokyo that an early release of democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi should be indispensable to the future process of Myanmar democratization and opinions of her National League for Democracy should be more reflected in a future constitution.

      "We hope during my next visit to discuss with them (junta officials) and...try to persuade them to reconsider so that this constitution would be broader," Gambari said, noting he will visit Myanmar "next week."

      Gambari also urged the junta to ensure "freedom of political prisoners including Aung Sun Suu Kyi and opportunity for free expression of views." He also said the Myanmar authorities should allow the NLD to have offices open throughout the country as the party currently has an office only in Yangon.

      "All these will enhance the credibility" of the democratization process in Myanmar through events such as the referendum and general elections planned for 2010, Gambari said.

      Gambari said he will try to meet with junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe, chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, as well as Suu Kyi during his stay in Myanmar.

      On the fresh economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar by the United States earlier this month, Gambari said a two-prong "pressure and incentives" approach is necessary to urge the junta to promote democracy.

      "Even the Americans in announcing the new sanctions have also said they support the efforts of the secretary general and the security council to mediate the situation," Gambari said.

      On Japan's decision to refrain from following the U.S. move, Gambari said Japan has decided "that was not the route they want to go. I respect that."

      Gambari arrived in Japan on Tuesday, the last leg of his trip to Asia, and has met with Japanese officials including Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura.


      No Way, Than Shwe – Aung Zaw
      Irrawaddy: Thu 28 Feb 2008

      The Burmese military regime's planned referendum in May continues to draw mixed reactions. Its announcement yesterday that there are stiff penalties in store for those who oppose the referendum—on a constitution which nobody has seen—shows that the junta is not only holding its "road map to democracy" close to its chest, but is also intent on keeping its hands firmly on the steering wheel.

      Suddenly, after taking more than 14 years to draft the constitution, the regime's leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, has hit the accelerator. The road ahead may not be so smooth, however, so the aging hardliner is taking no chances. Between now and 2010, he has to ensure that nothing stands in the way of his efforts to enshrine military supremacy once and for all.

      On Wednesday, the Burmese-language Myanma Alin published a new law signed by the general. The state-controlled newspaper reported that those who make speeches and distribute statements and posters against the referendum will face sentences of up to three years imprisonment and fines of 100,000 kyat (US $77).

      There will be no independent body to monitor the referendum, raising fears that Burmese citizens will be forced to vote "yes" at gunpoint.

      It is clear that Than Shwe is hoping his road map will somehow get him out the mess that the regime has been mired in since its brutal suppression of the monk-led uprising last September. But ordinary Burmese would be only too happy to express their disgust at the junta's handling of the biggest demonstrations since 1988 by voting a resounding "no" to their constitution. So Than Shwe must make it clear to all that "no" is not an option.

      It has been 35 years since Burma's last referendum. In 1973, Gen Ne Win, who had seized power 11 years earlier, decided to legitimize his rule by calling on the Burmese people to endorse a new constitution based on his "Burmese Way to Socialism." The following year, basking in newfound legitimacy, Gen Ne Win became the country's civilian president and continued to rule until 1988.

      Winning "yes" votes in 1973 had been easy. Ne Win enjoyed the backing of veteran politicians and a significant portion of the population. The country was not in turmoil (though the army was struggling to suppress ethnic and communist rebellions in the mountains and hills), and the international community wasn't really paying attention.

      Fifteen years later, faced with a nationwide uprising, Ne Win tried once again to hold a referendum, this time on a transition from one-party rule to multiparty democracy. But that referendum never happened. Ne Win saw the referendum as a way out, but it was too late. He finally quit in disgrace.

      Now, after almost twenty years in power, Than Shwe wants to hold a referendum to approve a military-sponsored constitution that the regime has been drafting since 1993.

      Than Shwe faces a very different situation from Ne Win in 1973, and he knows it. He is widely loathed, and his referendum wouldn't stand a chance of success if people were free to exercise their rights. Indeed, most Burmese probably made up their minds the moment the referendum was announced on February 9: No way, Than Shwe.

      Meanwhile, governments around the world remain ambivalent at best. In the West, some dismiss the referendum as a sham, while others reiterate the need for an inclusive, transparent process. Governments around Asia—most recently, Singapore and Indonesia—have also expressed reservations.

      But for Than Shwe, there's nowhere to go but forward. The country has hit a wall again, but that won't stop him from pushing ahead with his plans to entrench the military in power indefinitely.

      That means he will do everything possible to clear the road of obstacles. Anybody who stands in the way of the planned May referendum knows what they can expect. But with all the potholes in Than Shwe's "Burmese Road to Democracy," his efforts to drive the country into a permanent rut are going to be anything but smooth.


      Burma's diaspora and the right to vote - Christopher Smith
      Mizzima News: Thu 28 Feb 2008

      Should Burma's expatriate population be allowed to vote? If so, how may this be accomplished? For the throngs of Burmese citizens residing abroad, from the squalor of refugee camps to the high-rises of Manhattan, the question may at first appear uncontroversial.

      Yet the legal and logistical commitments to make this happen are not clearly laid out. Still, the final balance tilts toward the warranted inclusion of these disenfranchised populations.

      Let us initially assume, for the purpose of this exercise, that Burmese authorities approach these policy questions openly and objectively, with nothing but the best interests of the state and its citizens at heart.

      The right to vote for diaspora populations across the world varies from country to country, while in some countries such as the United States the right can greatly differ from state to state. In Germany the right to vote in the Federal Republic is forfeited if a person left more than 25 years previously. In Kenya last year there was no provision made for polling outside the country and no legalization of dual citizenship. Legislation in India guarantees the right to vote only to resident citizens.

      Afghanistan's 2004 elections, with vast international support, saw elections conducted in refugee camps inside neighboring states, possibly accounting for as much as 10 percent of the total vote. While in Liberia in 2005 a large portion of refugees and internally displaced persons did not vote as it would have required them returning home and posed a direct threat to their personal security. Bhutanese refugees in Nepal are scheduled to take part in that country's groundbreaking elections later this year.

      As can be seen, different governments have approached the question with differing criteria and solutions. What then do international standards infer with direct relevance to the case of Burma?

      Chapter 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that every citizen is entitled "To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors." Yet a 1996 decision by the Human Rights Committee ruled that it is justifiable to make the right to vote contingent upon residency, thereby leaving local electoral law to determine the meaning of residency.

      Ultimately the decision to unequivocally include refugee and exile populations in the electoral process, and with a nod toward what appears the dominant trend, rests on the motivation for the citizen residing abroad.

      As long as the impetus for the refugee or exile to leave his or her country was not one based entirely of free-will, and rather the result of coercion, force or threat, it can be argued that the populations in question desire to be able to return home and still see their allegiance with their native, as opposed to adopted, country. Here, there is more of a danger for those residing abroad for an extended period of time and geographically removed from Burma to be excluded.

      To paraphrase Salman Rushdie, exile is a dream of return. The same can be applied to those living in the refugee camps along Burma's borders. This vision and understanding must carry the day if the broad realization of Burma's diaspora to partake in Burmese elections is to be seen. Then it is a matter of finding a means to meet the objective.

      Here, commitment must be matched with resources on hand. In this year's United States Presidential primaries physical balloting stations were erected in over 30 countries worldwide, while the Democratic Party was able to boast that this is the "first ever online, worldwide U.S. election." Thai citizens, as is common with many nationalities, are able to cast absentee ballots through the diplomatic representation of their home country abroad.

      The method chosen for ensuring the participation of diaspora populations is, to a degree, reliant on technology and infrastructure. More advanced countries undoubtedly have an advantage in conducting such operations, while a country like Afghanistan relied on the international community to provide the logistics it could ill afford.

      How are exiled populations registered? Typically a prospective voter will need to prove residency and/or identification in the form of a passport or some other government administered document. Qualifications such as these might pose a distinct problem for persons who have lost their homes or those lacking proper government paperwork due to their having fled Burma. Some process of systemic documentation would have to be undertaken, and may very well necessitate the involvement of international actors.

      Refugee populations have been increasingly brought into the fold of elections in their home countries, from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Kosovo to Afghanistan. Though it is arguably within the legal right of the Burmese state to exclude some populations based on criteria such as how long it's been since they left the country or questions of dual citizenship, there are still swells of refugees and others whose Burmese citizenry, residency and/or desire to return can in no fashion be questioned.

      Now, let's momentarily discard with the presumption of best intentions for free and fair elections on the part of the junta.

      International law does not require that refugee and exile populations be incorporated into the electoral process. Though this may be a prevalent sentiment and is apparently inferred in most definitions of free and fair elections, there exists no clear cut legal mandate.

      According to a report sanctioned by the UNHCR, the successful inclusion of at-risk diaspora populations in the electoral process is generally linked to two fundamental criteria: 1) a significant involvement by the larger international community, and 2) momentum to achieve political change. At present this does not bode well for Burma's diaspora, near or far from home.

      But if the junta wants to reach out to millions of Burmese residing outside their native land, but longing to return, then provision should be made for their involvement in the electoral process, as it is the right thing to do; lest legitimacy of the process be only further denigrated. And once this will manifests itself, as witnessed in similar electoral scenarios, means can be found to overcome logistical obstacles.


      Mobile Phones, Radios Keep Resistance Alive
      ipsnews : February 28, 2008

      Somewhere in the dilapidated city of Rangoon is a man on the run since August last year. He has sheltered in over 10 homes so far. But he expects to continue avoiding arrest by Burma's dreaded military or intelligence forces.

      When Tun Myint Aung shifts from one safehouse to another, he goes armed with two items that have become indispensable. They are a mobile phone and a portable, Chinese-made radio, to listen to such anti-junta stations like the Democratic Voice of Burma, based in Oslo, Norway.

      "The phone and the radio are very important now. I always take them wherever I go. They are next to me when I sleep," says Tun Myint Aung, in a voice with a hint of excitement, during a recent telephone interview with IPS from his current safehouse in the former Burmese capital. "Through them I stay in touch with people outside, my friends, and follow the news about events in the country."

      But his Tecsum shortwave radio has taken on added value in military-ruled Burma's current oppressive climate. "The radio has become a social weapon for me and for our movement," adds Tun Myint Aung over the phone, an act that could get him jailed. "It is how the messages against the military regime are broadcast by us and others against them."

      The "us" he refers to is the '88 Generation Students', a highly respected group of former university graduates who have been at the vanguard of peaceful protests against Burma's repressive military leaders. The group gets its name from leading a pro-democracy popular movement in 1988, which was brutally crushed by the military, leaving some 3,000 protestors dead.

      Till August 2007, Tun Myint Aung worked in the shadows of '88 Generation' leaders like Min Ko Naing, who to many Burmese is the most respected person in the country for his democracy crusade after Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate. But that month, the junta arrested Min Ko Naing and other prominent leaders of the group to curb the protests they called for after the regime raised the price of oil by 500 percent without warning.

      Tun Myint Aung, who will be turning 40 this year, had to flee his home to avoid arrest. It was an escape, forcing him to "run and run," sometimes having to spend nights on the streets with no place to hide, that has consequently propelled him to be a new leader of the '88 Generation'. With him at the helm are two other activists of the same group, also on the run, Nilar Thein and Soe Htun.

      His first month as a leader was overshadowed by the rage against the junta that poured on the streets of Rangoon and other cities in September. Tens of thousands of people, led by the countries maroon-robed Buddhist monks, staged peaceful protests. They raised a cry against the unbearable economic woes, the arrest of the '88 Generation' leaders, and the continued imprisonment of political activists, including Suu Kyi. But the junta responded with force, killing scores of demonstrators, including monks, and jailing hundreds.

      The events, since then, have proved as formidable: the junta recently announced plans to conduct a referendum in May to seek approval for a controversial new constitution. And mounting a political campaign against that plebiscite from underground is a challenge.

      "There are 11 organisations we are working with to inform the public that the new constitution was not drafted by the people's representatives. We are also warning that the referendum will not be free and fair," says Tun Myint Aung. "But if people want to vote, we are urging them to vote 'No'. They have to oppose the military's plan to get its political life extended legally."

      A mass movement against the referendum is also being discussed. "We want a nation-wide silent movement against the military. We have been contacting people in our network, through the phone and other ways, to get this message out," he reveals. "Our actions are to get as many people to lead this silent protest. That is how we have always worked. It is never been based on only one person."

      The anger that the new leaders of the '88 Generation' have towards the regime was displayed in mid-February, when they released a statement saying that the planned May referendum is a "declaration of war by the military regime against the Burmese people." Another has followed since, denouncing the Chinese government for "bankrolling" the junta and calling for a boycott of this year's summer olympics in Beijing.

      Despite the odds, Tun Myint Aung relishes his new role to lead the Burmese opposition from within the country. "It is a very heavy task that we have, but it is exciting," he says. "I am not depressed; I am eager to try as many actions as we can against the military. This is the way to help our people and to help my brothers, our comrades, in jail."

      Even the solitary hours that he sometimes has to endure to avoid arrest barely gets him down. For he has experienced worse: he was arrested in 1990 and jailed at the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon for three years. At the time, he was studying geography at Rangoon University. His "crime" was to be a protest leader in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Then, in 1998, he was arrested again and jailed till 2005. Once again, it was for his political activism.

      "I have not talked to my parents for many months; I cannot contact them, because our home in Rangoon is under watch by the intelligence," he admits, after a pause. "I miss that. I miss talking to my nieces and nephews. But they are used to not seeing me home"

      At times, however, the strain of struggling to remain free from the junta's grip leads to restless nights. "If I hear strange sounds on the road, too many dogs barking at night, I wake up," he says. "What is it?"

      And visits to a hospital or clinics are out of the question for him: "I cannot get sick. It is too risky to go to a clinic. I am always taking care of my health now."

      Yet there is a reason that weighs in his favour if he had to call on a doctor. His face remains a mystery to the junta; it had not been in the glare during the dissidents' public campaign. "It is fortunate. I avoided having my photos taken during the protests last year," says Tun Myint Aung.

      But that spell of anonymity may not last long, he concedes. "The junta wants to arrest all our leaders. I cannot foretell my future: if I go to jail or not."


      India, Myanmar to go ahead with multi-modal transit transport facility soon
      IANS : February 28, 2008

      In a written reply to a question raised in the Lok Sabha, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Facility envisages connectivity between Indian ports on the eastern seaboard and Sittwe Port in Myanmar uggesting that this alternate route would facilitate the transport of goods between the eight north eastern Indian states and Myanmar, Mukherjee said that the approximate cost of the project is expected to be Rs. 545 crores.

      The time-frame for the project is five years from the date of actual commencement of the project, which will be after the Agreement and the Protocols are signed by the two Governments, he added.

      In another reply,Mukherjee informed the House that 460 Indian fishermen had been taken into custody by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) in 2005, 365 in 2006, 124 in 2007 and 22 in 2008.

      251 boats were similarly taken into custody between 2003 and 2005, 58 in 2006, 29 in 2007 and 4 in 2008. As per information available, 372 Indian fishermen and 342 boats continue to be in the custody of the Pakistan authorities, he said, adding that the fishermen and boats are mostly from Gujarat and the Union Territory of Diu and Daman.

      Since 2005, 1579 fishermen have been released by Pakistan, including those taken into custody before 2005. Government have been taking up the issue of the release of fishermen and their boats regularly with the Government of Pakistan, including at the highest level.

      He said that a Judicial Committee, comprising judges from India and Pakistan, has been formed to expedite the release of prisoners in either country.

      The Committee has been meeting over the last two days.


      Militarisation, violence and exploitation in Toungoo District
      Karen Human Rights Group: 15 /2/08

      While the SPDC leadership proposes dates for a constitutional referendum and eventual multiparty elections it nonetheless continues without the slightest hesitation the violent subjugation of villagers in northern Karen State. The area of Toungoo District is now saturated with SPDC troops and the local civilian population living under military control as well as those living in hiding are facing constricting options for their lives. The SPDC has continued to increase the military build-up of the area deploying more troops, building new camps and bases and constructing and upgrading vehicle roads to facilitate troop deployment and the stocking of army camps. In this context attacks on villages, arbitrary detentions, killings, forced labour and extortion have continued consistent with the regime's policy of civilian subjugation and in opposition to its claims of a potential return to civilian rule through the current constitution-vetting process.

      Download report as PDF [ 1.1 mb] http://www.khrg.org/khrg2008/khrg08f2.html


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