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541[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 26/9/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Sep 26, 2008
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      1. NLD ordered to withdraw statement
      2. Than Shwe's gambit
      3. Sustained effort from all quarters needed in Burma
      4. Statement on the One-year Anniversary of the Saffron Revolution
      5. Conversation with 'Man of steel'
      6. Myanmar opposition vows to continue fight for Aung San Suu Kyi
      7. U Win Htein re-arrested after release
      8. Freed political prisoner tells of prison abuses
      9. India's support for Burmese junta pays off
      10. A year after protests, Burma's military remains firmly in control
      11. Aung San Suu Kyi's brave solo challenge
      12. CNA clashes with Burmese troops
      13. China to help fund Burma-Bangladesh friendship road
      14. Bago activists launch banknote campaign
      15. Burma still at bottom of list of world's dirtiest countries
      16. Freedom for U Win Tin but 2,100 political prisoners remain behind bars
      17. Myanmar opposition wants review of constitution
      18. Daw Suu's appeal finalized
      19. Burma's monks jailed, disrobed for challenging Junta
      20. The Burmese Junta looks to the stars
      21. Taking a deep breath - Ibrahim Gambari

      NLD ordered to withdraw statement - Htet Aung Kyaw
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 25 Sep 2008

      National League for Democracy leaders have been told by Burma's police chief to retract a statement they issued on 18 September calling on the authorities to form a constitutional review committee.

      NLD chair U Aung Shwe and members of the party's central executive committee were summoned to the interior ministry today by police chief Khin Yi and told to withdraw their statement, according to party spokesperson U Nyan Win.

      "The reason for the summons was the latest special statement-18 regarding the review committee," Nyan Win said.

      "[Khin Yi said] the contents of the letter amounted to inciting the public and that we could be liable to prosecution and told us to withdraw it," he explained.

      "We responded that we had reliable facts in the letter and that it was issued in accordance with politics and we said we could never withdraw it in any way."

      The statement called on the authorities to convene parliament and to form a constitution review committee with representatives of all relevant parties which should revise the constitution within six months.

      Unlike their previous declarations, the NLD's most recent statement called for the participation of army representatives, ceasefire groups, constitutional experts, ethnic nationalities and representatives of the NLD and other winning parties from the 1990 elections in the committee.

      Nyan Win said it was not made clear what action the police chief would take if the NLD continued to refuse to withdraw the statement.

      The warning comes shortly after the release of prominent NLD leader U Win Tin and as the party is making preparations for its 20th anniversary this Saturday.

      "The anniversary ceremony will start at 12 noon. The main thing is that the chairman will deliver a speech at the ceremony and a statement issued by the NLD will be read out," Nyan Win said.

      "As it is the anniversary, representatives from the outer regions are attending. Nothing special has been planned for the 20th anniversary," he said.

      "Important matters regarding the release of political prisoners such as U Win Tin will be addressed."

      U Win Tin and party chairman U Aung Shwe had a cordial meeting yesterday evening to discuss the party's future activities.

      Many grassroots supporters and activists excited by the release of U Win Tin are expected to attend the ceremony.


      Than Shwe's gambit - Aung Zaw
      Irrawaddy: Thu 25 Sep 2008

      The surprise release of a number of prominent political prisoners on Tuesday, including one of Burma's most famous detained dissidents, Win Tin, has many political pundits asking if the country's supreme leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, is finally ready to make further concessions to placate his international critics.

      It was not lost on anybody that the move came just as world leaders were gathering in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. The Burmese junta has often been censured by the world body for its egregious abuses, and it knows that the only way it can get itself off the hot seat is by taking some of the heat off of its domestic opponents.

      But even as Than Shwe was giving the order to release some 9,002 prisoners (just a few of whom were political detainees), his goons were rounding up other dissidents. Just two weeks ago, they finally caught one of their most wanted: activist Nilar Thein, who had been in hiding for more than a year, separated from her 16-month-old daughter and imprisoned husband because of her role in last year's protests.

      The release of Win Tin and a handful of other political prisoners is welcome news, but it isn't going to change the image of the Burmese regime, which still holds more than 2,000 pro-democracy activists and political leaders in its prisons.

      If Than Shwe wants to show the world that he is sincere about improving Burma's repressive political climate, he should set a timeframe for the release all of these prisoners and make his seven-step political "road map" more inclusive. But don't expect that to happen anytime soon.

      To understand what the regime is trying to achieve with this latest conciliatory gesture, we need to put it into the context of the junta's long-term game plan, which is to advance the road map by making it seem more credible in the eyes of the international community.

      The state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, hinted at this objective when it announced the "amnesty," saying that the release of the prisoners would "enable them to serve the interests of the regions and … the fair election to be held in 2010 … after realizing the government's loving kindness and goodwill."

      Besides trying to win support for the planned election, the regime may also be obliquely responding to the demands of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, without whose support the road map is unlikely to win much recognition among the junta's staunchest foreign critics.

      Although Than Shwe has so far shown no willingness to give in to Suu Kyi's appeal for an end to her detention, which was illegally extended in May, his decision to free Win Tin and a few other political prisoners may be a signal that some compromise is possible.

      For her part, Suu Kyi may also be sending more conciliatory signals to the regime. After refusing to accept food deliveries for several weeks from mid-August, she started accepting them again after the authorities agreed to allow her more contact with her doctor and her lawyer.

      Her lawyer, Kyi Win, told The Irrawaddy recently that Suu Kyi was planning to continue with her legal challenge to the junta's decision to extend her house arrest, and that she recently sent a letter to the regime as part of her appeal. Although he declined to disclose the contents of the letter, he indicated that it showed she was willing to set aside some differences for the sake of progress in resolving certain issues.

      Some political observers believe that Suu Kyi requested the release of political prisoners, including Win Tin, who has been held in Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison for the past 19 years. Suu Kyi has repeatedly called on the regime to free the 79-year-old veteran dissident, and was no doubt delighted to hear of his release and his determination to continue with his struggle.

      But even the ever-defiant Win Tin, a left-leaning political activist and former political editor of the Hanthawaddy newspaper, said that he bore no grudge against the regime. That was a smart move, as it keeps the door open for future dialogue that could lead to further prisoner releases.

      Win Tin and the other political prisoners who were freed on Wednesday are all regarded as "hardliners" in Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD). Win Tin is particularly well known internationally as Burma's longest-serving political prisoner. His release would not have been possible without careful consultation with Than Shwe, who must have calculated that it would bring him some political advantage.

      Now that Than Shwe has made his play, it is up to the international community to decide how to respond. Most notably, this raises the stakes for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has been contemplating a return visit to Burma sometime later this year.

      Ban's last trip to the country in May was a desperate bid to break the deadlock over the regime's refusal to allow international aid workers into the country in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. He succeeded in winning some degree of cooperation from the junta, but efforts to end the country's longstanding political impasse were put on the backburner. If he returns, he will have to address some of the political issues that have had such a devastating effect on the country over the past two decades.

      On the face of it, Than Shwe's decision to release a handful of political prisoners should make Ban's job easier, as it can be held up as evidence of progress. But just as no one was particularly impressed by his deal with the junta in May, which brought limited benefits to ordinary people but won no significant guarantees from the regime, critics are likely to decry any sign that Ban is prepared to settle for token gestures instead of insisting on real concessions.

      This means that the UN chief may be forced to push for nothing less than the release of Suu Kyi. Some pundits suggest that there is a real possibility that Than Shwe might even accept this demand, if the NLD and the regime can reach some sort of agreement on the upcoming election and amendments to the new constitution.

      Such a development would make the road map more inclusive and more credible at home and abroad, but don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen. Former senior intelligence officers who have worked with Than Shwe say that he is just up to his old tricks, and isn't likely to give in to any demands as long as he can string the UN along with empty promises and misleading signs of "progress."

      However this plays out, it is obvious that Burma's paramount leader is under intense pressure. Than Shwe does not make any move lightly, and now that he has released a handful of political prisoners, he will be watching the world's reaction carefully before he decides if it's necessary to take any further risks.

      The greatest mistake the world could make right now is to give Than Shwe any undeserved credit for his latest move. Only when he sees that the international community is serious about demanding real progress will he even consider releasing Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.


      Sustained effort from all quarters needed in Burma - Htet Win
      Mizzima News: Thu 25 Sep 2008

      If the Burmese people are to realize more auspicious times in the relatively near future, it will result from the sustained and directed efforts of various parties to the conflict, including Burma's political opposition, the United Nations and China.

      There have recently been several domestic initiatives aimed at getting the country back onto the path of democratization, including from the National League for Democracy - led by Aung San Suu Kyi and which won a sweeping electoral victory in 1990 - calling for a review of the military government's constitution.

      Further, the military government announced earlier this week the release of more than 9,000 prisoners, including veteran journalist and senior NLD member U Win Tin. This could be a good sign, leading to national reconciliation through a dialogue between the opposition and the ruling elites. Yet, the danger is that the release of certain political prisoners could be a public relations ploy on the part of the junta, a tactic undertaken on previous occasions to ease international pressure.

      It is noteworthy that U Win Tin strongly and immediately responded to his release by making the comment, "I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country." From such words it is obvious that Aung San Suu Kyi does not stand alone in the he continued fight for freedom and democracy inside Burma.

      To put forth a picture of improvement on the domestic front, the military government is strongly expected to release more political prisoners, in turn expecting to reap the benefits of engagement rather than more sanctions from the international community. Just late last week, the United Nations Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, called for more international pressure on Burma, expressing his acute disappointment over the heretofore frustrating response of the junta.

      But at this juncture, the UN is in desperate need of taking a stronger role on the Burma front, a move which all opposition sides are demanding. This became apparent with Aung San Suu Kyi electing not to meet with Gambari during his most recent trip to Burma.

      However, the United Nations envoy expects to meet all the primary players on his next trip, saying, "When I visit Myanmar the next time, I hope I will be able to see her, because she is an indispensable part of our mediation effort."

      By this strategy, the United Nations is gambling on an approach of sustained engagement with Burma's democratizations process, hoping that the international body's presence can insure a 2010 electoral process that is credible, free and fair. For example, it will hopefully be a good sign for the Burmese people if international monitoring teams are sent to oversee the voting.

      Neighboring countries, meanwhile, are engaging Burma's military regime out of economic interests, and this approach could also prove a catalyst to improve Burma in terms of politics as well.

      An economic platform would build trust between the isolated regime and international community, as long as regional neighbors pay due attention to the hardship the Burmese populace faces and to the efforts of world bodies and actors, including the United Nations, who are calling for the establishment of a meaningful dialogue to resolve the country's political ills.

      It is largely accepted that China must try again to come up with a solution for Burma's national reconciliation conundrum. In recent decades China has become not just economically strong but politically confident in world affairs. This is a key point, as it shows that China has the capacity to counter United States attempts to influence Burmese affairs.

      Plus, what can we expect from the United States, even after its November Presidential election? The United States' interest in Burma remains insignificant, and it is in the midst of its own economic problems as well as facing foreign policy challenges from countries such as Iran and North Korea.

      Recognizing this international atmosphere, an observer recently commented, "Myanmar's Asian neighbors should take their strengthened engagement with the military regime as an opportunity to open the door to real progress through an improved political environment that all Burmese people accept."

      The Rangoon-based observer, on condition of anonymity, added that political opponents are also lobbying influential Asian neighbors to be more active in Burmese affairs, as the center of global economic weight is shifting to the region, bolstered by players like China, Japan and India.

      "The military's continued blame on United States-led sanctions against the country is nothing but an unfounded excuse, it is because of the military's isolationism that we are going to crack," he concluded.

      However, the hope is that the ruling junta can be steered away from its isolationist path, and onto a road more inclusive of the interests of all Burmese citizens, through the sustained and combined efforts of those inside Burma in conjunction with both international and regional actors.


      Statement on the One-year Anniversary of the Saffron Revolution
      International Burmese Monks Organization: Thu 25 Sep 2008

      On the one-year anniversary of Burma's Saffron Revolution, the International Burmese Monks Organization gives voice to the monks and nuns inside Burma who have been silenced by a cruel military dictatorship. We vow to keep the struggle for freedom and human rights alive in Burma.

      We call for the United Nations and the international community to support the Burmese people in the following ways:

      1. back a comprehensive global arms embargo against the Burmese regime;
      2. insist on the release of all political prisoners;
      3. pressure the regime to allow freedom of all religion in Burma and to halt the harassment of monasteries and monastics in Burma.
      4. insist that the regime allow the ICRC full access to the prisons and labor camps.

      One year ago today, the world watched as Burma's military regime brutally cracked down on one of the most powerful, peaceful demonstrations of non-violence in recent times, led by Buddhist monks and nuns and numbering near 500,000 people.

      As we mark the one-year anniversary on September 26, 2008, the IBMO remains focused on our intent to free the Burmese people from the tyranny of a 46-year military regime.

      The Saffron Revolution was and is essentially not a struggle for political power. It is a revolution of spirit that aims at changing Burma from the inside out. With loving-kindness, we intend to change the hearts and minds of Burma's generals, returning them to their inborn Buddha nature.

      The religious policy of the Saffron Revolution is peace. Throughout Burma's history, when the country was in crisis, or when the people faced emergencies, religious leaders of all faiths have played key roles maintaining peace and stability in our society. The Saffron Revolution demonstrated this. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, monasteries again provided sanctuary, shelter, and hope for countless Burmese.

      • We remember the courage of over 100,000 monks and nuns who walked and marched in peace in 24 cities throughout Burma, chanting and praying for democracy and justice for the people.
         
      • We remember the valor of tens of thousands of ordinary Burmese who walked with them, encircling and protecting the monastics.
         
      • We remember the fearless symbol of overturned alms bowls and the monks' significant refusal to accept alms from the military regime. We celebrate the brave monks, like those from Pakokkhu, who still refuse alms from government authorities.
         
      • We remember the violent crackdown that left scores dead, monasteries raided and emptied, a Japanese photographer dead, and thousands arrested.
         
      • We speak for the monks who were beaten, killed, or arrested, and the nuns who have been arrested and sexually abused.
         
      • We give our voice to Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery, brutally raided by the Army last September, when two monks were killed, and many more beaten and injured.
         
      • We remember the thousands of monks who are still missing, some 212 now imprisoned or in forced labor camps, and others who were forced to disrobe and give up their vows for their own and their families' safety. We know that one year ago there were over 30,000 monks in Rangoon and now only approximately 6,000.
         
      • We are deeply concerned about the fate of our fellow monks, including U Gambira, and all political prisoners who languish in Burmese jails without proper nutrition and medical care, and with no access to a fair legal process. And for U Gambira's relatives who have recently been arrested by the junta.
         
      • We are deeply concerned that Buddhism itself is at stake in Burma, and monastic life is under threat. Today monks continue to be arrested, harassed, are under surveillance and unable to exercise freedom to carry out their monastic vows to alleviate suffering.
         
      • We give voice to U Thila Wuntha, the abbot of Marlayon Monastery, who was arrested on September 5 along with 19 of his monks after his monastery was searched and raided.
         
      • We respect and have concern for the well-being of Daw Aung Saw Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the last 20 years under house arrest. We salute her selfless dedication and determination to seek a democratic Burma.
         
      • We remember Maggin Monastery, Sasana Sippan Monastery, and others, which have been permanently closed in the past year. And we remember the former abbot of Maggin Monastery, who is prevented from collecting alms.
         
      • We know that the university monasteries currently house only 30% of the number of monks who resided there before the Saffron Revolution.
         
      • We grieve over a military regime that has no external enemy, yet maintains an army of over 400,000 soldiers, one of the largest in Southeast Asia, and that only uses arms against its own people.
         
      • We remember that currently there is a curfew in Rangoon for monks between the hours of 8pm and 6am, and that the regime is conducting midnight checks at monasteries. The monasteries are increasingly being surrounded by Army posts.
         
      • We are deeply concerned for the people of Burma, who live under a stifling regime where they cannot ask, even peacefully, for respect and common human decency without fear of beatings, torture, imprisonment and even death.
         
      • We remember that monastics and monasteries are essential to the fabric of life in Burma, and are not only at the heart of religious functions, but also serve as centers of education and culture, caring for HIV/AIDS patients and orphans.
         
      • We stand in solidarity with our Burmese brothers and sisters of all faiths who share our aspirations for justice.

      International Burmese Monks Organization (IBMO) (718) 426-3959
      www.burmesemonks.org 


      Conversation with 'Man of steel'
      Mizzima News: Thu 25 Sep 2008

      Mizzima reporter Phanida interviewed the man who stepped out of prison in prison uniform, who refused to sign the bond pledging not to be involved in politics, who refused to be released on grounds of age and poor health, who wanted to be released only on the ground he deserved to be released, a person who was imprisoned for over 19 years, on his opinion on the media, politics and his personal feelings.

      Q: How are you?

      A: I'm fine and feeling well. But I feel my health has deteriorated due to old age. Sometimes I feel pain in my surgical wound. The prison doctor said that I need eye surgery. But I refused eye treatment because they wanted to release me for treatment outside on their frail-aged-blind-disabled prisoners' scheme. But I must undergo this surgery now.

      Q: How do you view your release?

      A: I deserve to be released as I had to overstay in prison over and above my prison term. In fact, I can sue them, because I was sentenced to 20 years' in prison, according to the prison regulation and manual, I should have been released 4-5 years ago after serving 16 years. So, yesterday I didn't accept the manner of their releasing me, and stepped out of prison in prison clothes in protest.

      I could not accept releasing me under section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) (parole) after putting me in prison longer than I should have stayed. I could not accept it. Because prisoners can enjoy three months remission from every one year of prison term under the jail manual. Thus I ought to have been released after serving 16 years on my 20-year prison term. But I had to stay 19 years and 3 months. I was released in overdue time after serving my full prison term. But they wanted to release me under their scheme. I argued with them on this point the whole of yesterday.

      They don't need to give me parole and remission since I have served the full term and more. I want to be released as a political prisoner. Our demands are releasing all political prisoners, convening parliament, and engaging in dialogue. So I told them I want to be released as a political prisoner in accordance with one of our demands. I told them I would not step out of prison if you release me on parole, I will step out of prison in prison clothes without taking any of my belongings in protest if you don't agree with my term. And then I wore the prison uniform from 6 am to 4 pm without having a bath and a meal. But I washed these clothes this morning and will wear it frequently.

      Q: How do you view the media now?

      A: The media's work needs dedication, concentration and it is a time consuming work suitable only for young people. I mean I worked in the media when I was just 19, worked daily for over 15 hours. Sometimes I worked from 7 a.m. to midnight. Now I find myself still eager to work in this profession when you asked me this question as I started this work when I was so young. But I think I cannot do this work anymore because of my old age. I'll write articles occasionally. Our era is over and I encourage you and your generation to continue this work.

      Q: What did you hear about the situation outside when you were in prison?

      A: I was kept in solitary confinement all the time in prison for 13 years and 3 months. I had only occasional secret conversations with my fellow inmates for just about 1-2 minutes each time. But I was not afraid and didn't care. I asked about the political situation outside when someone came to meet me during prison interviews. I knew about it to the extent these persons could talk about at prison interviews. Later I could learn more about the political situation when I could read some state-run newspapers and journals since a year ago. I heard about the referendum through these periodicals. The people of your age could not have experienced the referendum before. We had had such experience two times. In 1974, they held a referendum. They did as they wished to as usual, it's not strange. Because we could not hope being able to express our free will at the referendums held under the aegis of the military regime. We must do what they order us to do. We cannot accept this referendum in both form and content. Because we cannot accept the principle of military supremacy and military machinery in this constitution as they said, 'the military shall take the leading role in Burmese politics'. So we cannot accept this constitution.

      Q: Please tell me about some of your significant experience in prison?

      A: There was no so such significant experience. As I said before, I was kept in solitary confinement for nearly 20 years. I was allowed to stay outside my cell for about 2-3 hours a day only after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma. My daily routine was boring, having meals, napping in the daytime and sleeping at night. There's no significant life inside prison. But I could read books and articles. That's all.

      Q: How do you feel the change outside?

      A: Yes, I see significant change, I feel totally changed. I don't know something and I can't keep up with something. For instance, I've never seen the telephone on which I am talking with you. There were no mobile phones when I was arrested. Let alone, overseas calls, even for a local call in Rangoon, we had to talk loudly on the phone. All the technology, stuff, buildings have changed greatly. And also, the lifestyle, clothes, poverty and riches of the people have changed dramatically.

      But one thing remains unchanged; it is the military regime, the machinery of military dictatorship. The people have to do as they order, manipulate, dictate and restrict. I felt the whole of Burma seems to be a big prison before. And then I myself was put in prison. Even after 20 years, our country is still plagued by this machinery of military dictatorship. There's no change before and after 1988. In brief, there's no change in this regard.

      Q: What will be your future plan and political aim?

      A: I don't' have much to say about my political aims. As you know, I am a journalist and I worked only as a journalist. I worked in NLD for just 9 months. So I am a novice in politics. After spending 19 years in prison, I don't understand much about it too. But I would like to say only one thing. Throughout the time, when I was in prison and outside the prison, the democracy we had is not genuine democracy, just the democracy in uniform, democracy given by the military. We don't want this sort of democracy, democracy with an ogre's face. We want democracy with a human face. I must engage in politics anyway. I must do as much as I can to achieve restoration and promotion of democracy to some extent.

      Q: How do you feel after being released?

      A: I don't feel much. In brief and in summary, many died in prison, NLD members, U Thawka, U Tin Maung Win and student Maung Maung Lay. After that, U Kyaw Min and Com. U Tin Shwe died of poor health due to their prison life soon after being released. Similarly many from other organizations died too, for instance, U Khin Maung Myint. All of their lives were shattered and ruined. They suffered a lot. They did much for this cause. They are still suffering for it, for instance, Min Ko Naing and Zarganar. Now they are in prison again. I could not meet them. Many died and many suffered a lot. And some are still struggling for our cause. I don't see them being left in the prison. I'm feeling as if I am still in prison with them who are not yet released though I am outside the prison now.

      Q: Don't you want to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

      A: I think you must talk of releasing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She hasn't yet been released and I cannot meet her yet. I must meet her. On meeting her, there will be two parts, first politics and another personal. I must pay homage to such a person who is so smart and brilliant, and who sacrificed so much. I must see her in these two ways.

      Q: How do you view press freedom at home and abroad? What are the differences with other countries?

      A: It's been over 40 years without freedom. We can see many articles in journals but they are just black on white paper. As for the writers, there's no freedom.

      There are many differences in terns of press freedom with other countries. Even in Cambodia, there are many English papers. In Burma, we have only one state-run English paper. The journalists can write freely in Africa, South America and Europe. Our country is at the lowest level in this regard. I don't have sympathy and am not showing respect to those who are running these papers. But their writings are funny. They have to do as dictated. Even the editor cannot write grammatically correct Burmese. I was in this trade too and had to do as dictated like them. But when they told me to put something on the front page, I put it on the back page. In short, first their form is quite wrong, and secondly the content is funny and ridiculous. The third is lack of effort and struggle.

      Q: What would you like to say to media persons and pro-democracy activists?

      A: I have no authority anymore to talk about the media. At my age, I cannot do what the young can do. And I cannot see as the young see. So I don't want to say anything good or bad in this regard. But I'd like to say one thing which is the media is an essential part of a country. Frankly, the media is the lifeline in Burmese history. The journals and magazines are very important for the country. The journalists are highly responsible in terns of media ethics, spirit and technicality. So I'd like to say keep struggling and do as much as you can.

      As for those who are struggling for democracy, I'd like to say I'm just a novice in the political field. I was in politics for just 9 months so I'm inexperienced in comparison with other people. I'd like to say one thing which is the machinery of military dictatorship is still running over us like a steamroller. Thus all the politicians need to unite and cooperate. They must do the same work objectively with like minded people through coordination. They must work separately the work on which they have differences. I request all of them to work together hand in hand in unity with the aim of achieving democracy.


      Myanmar opposition vows to continue fight for Aung San Suu Kyi
      Agence France Presse: Wed 24 Sep 2008

      Myanmar's pro-democracy party on Wednesday vowed to continue pushing for their leader Aung San Suu Kyi's release after several of her close confidants were freed from prison by the ruling junta.

      Seven dissidents from the Nobel peace laureate's party were among the 9,002 prisoners freed Tuesday in an amnesty that state media said was ordered so they could take part in elections promised by the ruling generals for 2010.

      The most prominent was 79-year-old journalist and activist Win Tin, Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner, who spent nearly two decades behind the bars of Yangon's feared Insein prison.

      National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman Nyan Win said that although they welcomed the amnesty, they would continue to fight for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last 19 years under house arrest.

      "We will send an appeal for her release from detention this week to the cabinet in Naypyidaw," Nyan Win told AFP, referring to the nation's capital.

      "We are always hoping for her release. There are still many long-serving political prisoners … All should also be released," he added.

      The release of Win Tin and the six other NLD members was immediately hailed by the United Nations, the United States and rights groups around the world.

      "We worked together to defend Win Tin's innocence and we are immensely relieved that he has finally been freed," press freedom organisations Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association said in a joint statement.

      "We hope other journalists and prisoners of conscience will also be freed and that Win Tin will be able to resume his peaceful struggle for press freedom and democracy in Burma," they added, using Myanmar's former name.

      Win Tin was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment on July 4, 1989 for acting as an adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi and writing letters to the then-United Nations envoy to Myanmar.

      Upon his release Tuesday, Win Tin, still dressed in a blue prison-issue outfit but looking strong and healthy, vowed to journalists that he would continue to fight the ruling generals.

      Human rights groups estimate that about 2,000 political prisoners are locked away in Myanmar.

      Aung Naing Oo, a Myanmar analyst based in Thailand, welcomed the release of Win Tin and other colleagues of Aung San Suu Kyi but said the move showed the junta believed its hold on power was secure.

      "I think the military is more confident now than before by releasing some key prisoners, including the longest-serving prisoner," Aung Naing Oo told AFP in Bangkok.

      "Maybe they think he's no longer relevant or can no longer muster support," he added.

      Myanmar's military government has said it will hold multi-party elections in 2010 but critics say the polls are just a way for the generals to solidify and legitimise their power.

      Other dissidents confirmed released Tuesday were Aye Thein, Khin Maung Swe, Win Htein, Than Nyein, Aung Soe Myint and May Win Myint.

      All are senior NLD members arrested for political activities and many were elected to Myanmar's legislature in 1990.

      Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a sweeping election victory in 1990 but the junta never allowed her to take office, instead keeping her locked away in her Yangon lakeside home.


      U Win Htein re-arrested after release - Naw Say Phaw
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 24 Sep 2008

      National League for Democracy member U Win Htein, who was released from Katha prison yesterday as part of a government amnesty, has been re-arrested, according to sources close to his family.

      Win Htein was arrested this morning and sent back to Katha prison.

      His family was informed of his arrest and told to come to Katha from Mandalay, where they had hoped to meet him.

      An unnamed official from Katha prison confirmed that Win Htein was back in the prison, but did not give a reason for his arrest.

      Win Htein, 67, a former captain in the army, was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment on 21 May 1996 and was released yesterday.

      He had previously been imprisoned from 1989 to 1995.

      During his two prison terms, he spent more than a year in Katha prison, another year in Mandalay and nine years in Myingyan.


      Freed political prisoner tells of prison abuses - Khin Maung Soe Min
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 24 Sep 2008

      National League for Democracy member U Aye Thein, who was released at noon yesterday from Kalaymyo prison, has spoken out about the mistreatment of prisoners he witnessed while in detention.

      U Aye Thein, 38, the Thabeikkyeen township NLD organising committee secretary, was one of a small number of political prisoners among the 9002 inmates released as part of a government amnesty.

      Although Aye Thein was arrested on criminal charges, he was placed among political prisoners in the jail and said he suffered mistreatment by the authorities.

      He said that he and other prisoners were kept in isolation in dark cells up until the time of his release.

      Pakokku township MP-elect U Hlaing Aye, who was transferred to Kalaymyo jail on 22 September, was also sent directly to an isolation cell.

      Aye Thein said he had also witnessed harsh treatment of other prisoners during his time behind bars.

      U Michael Win Kyaw from Kalaymyo, who was imprisoned for his role in the Saffron Revolution, was beaten up by prisoners serving criminal sentences on the orders of the prison authorities, Aye Thein said.

      On 5 September, Maung Win Cho from Kalaymyo township's Kokeko village, who had been imprisoned for two months on drug charges, was beaten to death in front of inmates to set an example, drawing protest from political prisoners.

      Aye Thein said he intended to report the incidents he had witnessed in prison to the authorities, NLD headquarters and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

      Several political prisoners including solo protester U Ohn Than, U Sai Nyunt Lwin of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, Ko Aye Aung, U Nyo Mya, U Aye Ko of Pyawbwe, U Kyaw Swe of Madaya and U Min Aung from Arakan State, U Ba Min and U Ba Thin from Kalaymyo are currently languishing in Kalaymyo prison.


      India's support for Burmese junta pays off - William Boot
      Irrawaddy: Wed 24 Sep 2008

      The Indian government believes its "strategic victory" in winning agreement to build two large hydropower dams on the Chindwin River is only the first of many such projects in Burma.

      "The Chindwin holds huge hydropower potential and we intend to further strengthen this relationship by going in for other such projects in Myanmar," Jairam Ramesh, India's minister of state for power and commerce, declared in the Hindu News newspaper.

      The Indian state-owned company National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) secured the rights to build a massive 1,200-megawatt hydrodam at Tamanthi, and a smaller 600-megawatt capacity system at Shwzaya in northwestern Chin State bordering India.

      These developments match in size and cost the biggest hydrodam projects planned by Thai and Chinese firms on the Salween River on Burma's eastern border region.

      Despite Burma's chronic electricity shortages, which lie at the heart of the country's underdevelopment, virtually all the electricity to be generated by these projects will be pumped abroad to India, Thailand and China.

      It has been estimated by some officials with Western human rights NGOs that the Tamanthi project alone would flood the town of Khamti on the border with India and force its 30,000 residents to move. An additional unknown number of people in more than 30 villages in the dam's flood area of about 7,000 hectares will also be forced to move, according to the German environmental group Urgewald.

      NHPC was described earlier this year by Urgewald's researcher Heffa Schcking as India's "ugliest dam builder" whose operations at home and abroad "have left a trail of ruined livelihoods and misery in its wake."

      Even within India the company had used terror tactics with armed staff to intimidate residents to leave dam development areas, say NGO officials.

      The Tamanthi hydrodam alone will generate more electricity than the rest of Burma currently can produce.

      Apart from the human displacement it is also likely to endanger Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, home to rare animals such as leopards and tigers.

      India's Ramesh sees it differently: "This is a major strategic victory for us," he said, according to the Hindu News.

      The Chindwin projects agreement follows a flurry of high-ranking visits between India and Burma in the last few months, which analysts say shows a warming of relations initiated by India in a bid to counter what the Indian government saw as a threat from China's growing economic and political influence with the Burmese junta.

      "This is the latest move closer to the ruling junta by India, flipping its previous pro-democracy anti-junta stance," said a European embassy political attaché in Bangkok speaking on condition of anonymity. "Europe had hoped for more support from New Delhi in international efforts to pressure the regime to change."

      The Chindwin deals overshadow the commercial coup New Delhi achieved in April when Burma's second in command, Vice Snr-Gen Mauang Aye, visited the Indian capital. That visit resulted in a US $120 million deal for India to modernize Burma's dilapidated west coast port of Sittwe and improve connecting river and road links to the port from India's adjoining Mizoram state.

      Before the Chindwin dams agreement was finalized last week, New Delhi

      had given Burma's government more than $80 million in loans and credits, and approval was given for an Indian company to build an aluminum factory in Burma.

      "Indian companies should be aware of their potential complicity in human rights abuses connected to these projects, and that they'll eventually be held accountable," Matthew F. Smith of EarthRights International's Burma Project told The Irrawaddy, commenting on the Chindwin hydrodams.

      "The government of India could do more for its country's long-term development and long-term regional interests by protecting rather than violating human rights abroad," Smith said.

      Indian state media have quoted NHPC officials as saying the Chindwin projects are estimated to cost about $3 billion. India will also build power transmission lines to carry the electricity generated over the border into its northeastern Manipur State.


      A year after protests, Burma's military remains firmly in control - Ron Corben
      Voice of America: Wed 24 Sep 2008

      A year after Burma's military crushed protests led by Buddhist monks, human rights groups accuse the government of continuing to harass of the clergy. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, experts on Burma see little sign of change in the country, despite the recent release of thousands of prisoners.

      A year ago this week thousands of Buddhist monks left their temples in Burma and led massive demonstrations against the military's mismanagement of the economy.

      This monk, at a demonstration last year, calls for a countrywide protest, and urges people go to the revered Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon.

      The protests began after the military dramatically raised fuel prices, which hit people hard in one of the world's poorest nations.

      They culminated with up to 100,000 people marching through Rangoon on September 24.

      Protesters call on the government to end the hardships the people face and to release political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house detention.

      But the military swiftly moved against the protesters. Many Burmese using mobile phones and cameras captured images of the military moving against the crowds and beating protestors. The images were soon sent to the outside world.

      Soldiers broke into monasteries and arrested hundreds of monks. Thousands of other people were arrested. The United Nations says at least 30 people were killed in the crackdown. The military government says 10 died. The protests were the largest seen in Rangoon since the military killed hundreds of protesters calling for democracy in 1988.

      Debbie Stothardt, spokeswoman for the rights group, the Alternative ASEAN Network, says last year's protests showed the bravery of the people.

      "It was a very inspiring situation because most people in the international community assumed that people in Burma where too afraid or too intimidated to stand up against the regime," she said.

      The world reacted with condemnation and calls for Burma to release all political prisoners. But efforts to impose tougher sanctions against the government died in the United Nations Security Council.

      And while most Western countries ban trade with Burma, its giant neighbors, India and China, continue to pay the military for Burma's natural gas, timber and gems.

      Burma's government says it has a "road map to democracy," including elections in 2010. But human rights groups and Burmese exiles say the election process and the new constitution are flawed because the military retains vast powers.

      Carl Thayer, a security analyst and Burma expert at Australian National University, says he sees little prospect for change.

      "They're pursuing their roadmap to democracy as they see it," he said. "There will be elections and they have a variety of political parties that are in a constellation backing the military regime with the regime mass organizations that will dominate the elections. But I think they can wait out international pressure."

      In some ways, life has gotten harder in Burma. In May, Cyclone Nargis killed more than 130,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. For weeks, Burma's government blocked international relief efforts. In desperation, people turned to the monasteries and private donors for shelter and food, only, in many cases, to be forced away by soldiers.

      This week, the government released more than 9,000 prisoners in what it called a goodwill gesture. Among them were at least seven political prisoners, including 78-year-old U Win Tin, who had been jailed since 1989. He declares he will continue to press for democracy.

      Rights advocates say Burma still holds as many as 1,900 political prisoners, an increase of more than 65 percent since July 2007.

      Some experts on Burma, however, do think last year's crackdown may have fired up public anger, which ultimately could erupt.

      Thayer at Australian National University says the bloody crackdown shocked him. And, he says, it may have shaken average soldiers in the devoutly Buddhist country.

      "Of course I don't think the average conscript inside the Myanmar military would be happy at how the monks were treated, to see the monks defrocked, to see some killed, others in prison - must be disheartening to them," said Thayer.

      Saw Steve is with the Committee for the Karen People, an advocacy group for ethnic Karen refugees from Burma. He says the crackdown hardened attitudes against the military.

      "It should not be like that. For us it is very sad. It doesn't show like the way to democracy," he said. "It is not the peaceful means. It's very terrorizing so it doesn't show the way to the peace and that will create more hostility."

      The military has ruled Burma for nearly 50 years, and the current government has been in power since 1988. It ignored the May 1990 election that gave a landslide victory to Aung San Suu Kyu and her National League for Democracy. Instead, it jailed, killed or forced into exile thousands of NLD supporters.


      Aung San Suu Kyi's brave solo challenge - Zin Linn
      United Press International: Wed 24 Sep 2008

      One year after Burma's horrific crackdown on the September "Saffron Revolution" led by Buddhist monks, the world remains at odds on how to pressure the military regime, leaving Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi without help in opposing the generals.

      With the United Nations toothless to compel improvement from the regime, the 63-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has to bring into play silent protests as a measure of breaking the political stalemate.

      The military junta of Burma showed no indication of cooperation with the international community in the midst of worldwide pressure for political change even following the bloody crackdown on the Saffron Revolution in September 2007.

      Then what of U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari? It is obvious that Gambari's latest six-day mission, from Aug. 18-23, to resolve the political impasse between the military junta and detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came to a complete standstill. His efforts to facilitate conciliatory talks between the junta and the opposition fell apart.

      The truth was, Gambari failed to have any meetings with Senior General Than Shwe, which means he obtained no significant message from the junta. The Nobel laureate was to meet with him on Aug. 20, but she did not "show up," because she did not want to give false hope to the nation. The junta supervised the agenda of the U.N. envoy, exploiting the occasion. Obviously, the lady did not want Gambari to be able to overstate his mission as a success. It was a strong protest against the junta and a clear signal to the people.

      After declining to meet Gambari, Aung San Suu Kyi also refused to meet her doctor and Liaison Minister Aung Kyi, who is in charge of mediating with her. She has refused to see anyone except her lawyer, U Kyi Win. Moreover, she has refused food supplies since Aug. 15. She has not accepted food delivered to her home for four weeks. But no one can confirm whether she is on a hunger strike, a question that has remained unanswered.

      The lawyer, U Kyi Win, has denied that she is on a hunger strike, saying Aung San Suu Kyi is demonstrating her dissent by living on less food. She is also asking for greater "freedom of movement" for the two women who assist her in domestic work. She has been demanding better conditions for her house arrest, including access to information, deliveries of private mail and monthly visits by her physician.

      Her party spokesperson, U Nyan Win, said that she had even asked for permission to have Internet access, but it was undisclosed whether the authorities considered her request. Her requests came in the midst of rare meetings with U Kyi Win to discuss a proper legal course against her unjust confinement.

      Some analysts assume there may be some mutual understanding between the authorities and the opposition leader. It seems that the Nobel laureate's latest protest is being kept as a low-key affair.

      The current concern about the limitless incarceration of Aung San Suu Kyi and the unlawful arrests of more than 2,100 dissidents in Burma is not merely a question of law and order, but rather one that is challenging the political aspirations of the Burmese people, who are overwhelmingly in favor of change.

      Summing up the situation, the lady seems unhappy about not receiving any reply from the regime in response to her suggestions for the reconciliation process that were given to the junta's liaison officer, Aung Kyi, in previous meetings. She is also protesting to be allowed to enjoy her fundamental legal rights. The Nobel peace prize winner has spent over a decade under house arrest at her dreary, lakeside home in Rangoon, allowed little contact with the outside world. At present, she remains unlawfully detained under Burma's State Protection Law.

      In fact, the junta should terminate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's detention right away because the junta is violating its own law. The law says that the duration of such restriction shall be kept to a minimum and only the most necessary restrictions on fundamental rights shall be implemented. The whole world is concerned about Suu Kyi's detention and has called on the junta to bring the situation back to normal.

      In brief, the lady is spotlighting the lack of law and order in the country. Looking back into the recent past, one can see many crimes committed by the military authorities. The most atrocious chapter of contemporary Burmese history is the assassination attempt by the Burmese military junta of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, and her entourage at Dapeyin in northern Burma on May 30, 2003.

      The violence committed by the Burmese regime at Dapeyin caused repercussions among the top generals of the junta. According to anonymous military sources, the plot was directly handled by Senior General Than Shwe without prior knowledge of Intelligence Chief General Khin Nyunt or the second-in-command, General Maung Aye. Then, there was also an argument about the incident between Khin Nyunt and Than Shwe. But Than Shwe played the game easily by demoting Khin Nyunt to the post of prime minister.

      Eventually, Khin Nyunt was sacked just over a year after he announced the junta's seven-step ''road map to democracy.'' According to some analysts, Khin Nyunt was no democrat, but he was behind the junta's abandoned policy of reconciliation with Aung San Suu Kyi and her party. It was visible evidence that there was a rising division within Burma's military superiors on how to tackle the question of Aung San Suu Kyi and how to defend the army's political role in the future Burma.

      There has been a rift between the pragmatists, who understand the need for political and economic reform, and the hardliners, who want to hang on to power regardless of the pressure for change from inside and outside of the country. While people believe that Aung San Suu Kyi plays a major role in Burma's national reconciliation process, the military chief Than Shwe has disregarded the reality.

      The lady knows that time is running out. So, her refusal to meet with the U.N. special envoy and the rejection of food supplies may not be a vague message. As she once told others to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, her current lone protest against the junta is a brave call - to stand up against the worst - to the whole nation, including the men in uniform who believe in a pragmatic approach to rebuild the ruined nation.

      (Zin Linn is a freelance Burmese journalist living in exile. He is the information director at the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma-East Office and vice president of Burma Media Association, which is affiliated with the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers.)


      CNA clashes with Burmese troops
      Khonumthung News: Tue 23 Sep 2008

      There was a firefight between the Chin National Army (CNA), the armed wing of the Chin National Front (CNF) and Burmese troops in Chin state, western Burma on September 16. A soldier of the Burmese Army was reportedly killed and another injured.

      The clash in which 30 Burmese soldiers and seven cadres of the CNA were involved occurred near Ramri village in Paletwa Township, around 10 miles from the Indo-Burma border.

      The encounter began at 6 am and lasted five minutes.

      "The clash took place unexpectedly when Burmese soldiers went out of the village (Ramri) and CNA cadres were about to enter the village," Pu Htet Ni, a spokesman of the Chin National Front said.

      According to the CNF spokesman, there was no casualty on the CNA side.

      The gun battle between Burmese troops and CNA cadres near Ramri village is the first firefight after Burmese soldiers attacked a CNA hideout near Zokhua village in Thangtlang Township in February this year killing a CNA soldier.

      The CNF was established in 1988 with the aim of wresting self-determination rights for the Chin people and to establish a federal Union of Burma based on democracy and freedom.

      The first round of peace talks between the CNF and Burmese military junta took place in Rih town in Chin state near the Indo-Burma border on March 2007. The second round of talks was initially agreed to be held on August 2007. But later, it was postponed.


      China to help fund Burma-Bangladesh friendship road
      Narinjara News: Tue 23 Sep 2008

      China has agreed to help fund the construction costs of a large stretch of the Burma-Bangladesh Friendship Road, the Bangladesh Communication Ministry said on Sunday.

      The announcement came during a visit of the Chief Adviser to the Bangladesh caretaker government, Fakhruddin Ahmed, to China last week.

      "There is positive response by China to construct almost 73 percent of the 151 kilometre Bangladesh-Burma Friendship Road," said an official from the Communication Ministry.

      The cost of 110 kilometeres of the road from Kyin Chaung to Kyauk Taw in Burma, that China has agreed to bear, is estimated at US $128 million. The road will be constructed in two phases. The first phase will include construction of 43 kilometers from Cox's Bazaar to Kyin Chaung; Cox's Bazaar lies 20 kilometers inside Bangladesh while Kyin Chaung is 23 kilometres inside Burma.

      Bangladesh will bear the US $27 million price tag for the 43 kilometres to be constructed in the first phase.

      Bangladesh and Burma signed a deal in 2006 agreeing to construct a trans-border highway. Bangladesh hopes its port city Chittagong will be connected with China's growing business hub in Kunming through the friendship road.

      Bangladesh officials said the road will boost regional cooperation by strengthening economic and trade relations with Burma and other Southeast Asian countries.

      Burma is also preparing for construction of the road and its authorized official, Western Command Commander General Thaung Aye, visited the western border town of Taungbro on Saturday to inspect the area where the road will be constructed.


      Bago activists launch banknote campaign - Naw Say Phaw
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 23 Sep 2008

      One-kyat banknotes printed with anti-government slogans were distributed in Gyopinkauk township, Bago division, yesterday morning as part of a campaign to protest the actions of the military regime.

      The notes bore a picture of Burma's national independence hero general Aung San and the slogans 'Down with the monk-killing military dictatorship' and 'Free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi', according to one of those involved in the campaign.

      "One-kyat banknotes with [slogans] and more than 150 pamphlets were scattered at 4am around the four cardinal points of the market, at Myomingaung clinic, the town hall, the municipal market and Leikpya Taung in the east," he said.

      "It was at the time that monks were collecting their victuals and when hawkers were selling groceries, so the monks and people scrambled for them as they bore the picture of general Aung San and took them away."

      When the authorities arrived on the scene, they confiscate the notes and pamphlets and tightened security and surveillance in the areas.

      The campaign member said the group was mounting the campaign in protest at the repressive actions of the military government.

      "Because they killed students, civilians and monks in 1988, and during Cyclone Nargis they ignored the suffering of the people and loss of lives and property and they forcibly conducted the referendum," he said.

      "And they cracked down on the Saffron revolution and killed the monks, and they are going to hold the election without the support of the people in 2010."

      In nearby Zeegone township, a market trader said customers had been using banknotes with slogans printed on them.

      "Market traders didn't notice it at first, we only found them the next morning when we were counting the money to pay it in," the trader said.

      "When I asked people around me such as raw goods sellers, they said they had also found this on 20 and 50 kyat notes," he said.

      "I obtained one 100 kyat note with the prayer, 'May Daw Aung San Suu Kyi be free as soon as possible' from someone who must want her to be freed. I also want her to be free so I kept it."


      Burma still at bottom of list of world's dirtiest countries - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Tue 23 Sep 2008

      Military-ruled Burma is still one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranking just ahead of Somalia and tied with Iraq for the second-lowest spot, according to the Global Corruption Report 2008, released by Transparency International (TI) today.

      A map showing levels of corruption around the world (Source: Transparency International)

      Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden shared the highest ranking as the world's cleanest countries, getting the top score of 9.3 on TI's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which ranks countries on a scale from 1 to 10. They were followed by Singapore, which scored 9.2.

      At the opposite end of the scale was Somalia, which has dropped from a CPI score of 1.4 last year to 1.0 this year. Somalia's slide meant that it was now regarded as more corrupt that Burma, which it tied for last place in 2007.

      Although Burma now shares second-worst status with Iraq, it has also become more corrupt since last year, according to the report. Burma's score has fallen from 1.4 to 1.3, placing it just behind Haiti at 1.4 and Afghanistan at 1.5.

      In a press release, TI highlights the fatal link between poverty, failed institutions and graft.

      "In the poorest countries, corruption levels can mean the difference between life and death, when money for hospitals or clean water is in play," Huguette Labelle, the chair of TI's board of directors, was quoted as saying in the press release.

      "The continuing high levels of corruption and poverty plaguing many of the world's societies amount to an ongoing humanitarian disaster and cannot be tolerated," Labelle added.

      In a press release dated November 1, 2007, TI singled out Burma for its severe violations of human rights, as well as its widespread corruption.

      "The United Nations Security Council as well as Burma's neighbors must increase pressure on the Burmese government to end massive human rights abuses and crack down on endemic corruption," the release said.


      Freedom for U Win Tin but 2,100 political prisoners remain behind bars
      Amnesty International: Tue 23 Sep 2008

      Amnesty International welcomes the release of at least seven prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, including U Win Tin who had been imprisoned for 19 years and was one of the longest-serving prisoners of conscience in the country. The fate of the other estimated 2,

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