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560[ReadingRoom] News on Burma 1/12/08

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  • bengseng@daga.org.hk
    Dec 1, 2008
      1. Trials and prison transfers continue in Rangoon
      2. Myanmar timber export market declines
      3. Toward a democratic change in Burma
      4. Burma and a task unfinished, considering the options
      5. A preventable fate: The failure of ART scale-up in Myanmar
      6. Bilin monks boycott government officials
      7. Monks on the run
      8. Forced labor for growing winter crops in Maungdaw
      9. Myanmar faces 24,000 AIDS deaths for lack of antiretroviral drugs
      10. Rebels welcome planned Thai-run drug free project
      11. Plight of abused Burmese women highlighted on International Day
      12. Interview with Mi Sar Dar, sole woman member of the NMSP Central Committee
      13. Residents of eastern Burma actively engaged in peaceful resistance
      14. Sole Myanmar protester demands activists’ release
      15. Myanmar calls for ‘duty’ to democracy after jailing 150 protesters
      16. Myanmar, India to cement economic and trade ties
      17. ASEAN members should stop deceiving themselves
      18. Army frames charges against ILO complainants
      19. Starving Chin people in need of food
      20. FEC slumps in Burma

      Trials and prison transfers continue in Rangoon - Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Wed 26 Nov 2008
      The Burmese regime continued on Wednesday with its program of sending newly convicted political dissidents to prisons in remote parts of the country.
      They included two Buddhist monks, Sandar Thiri and Kawvida, of Maggin monastery in Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township, who were transferred from Insein Prison to Buthidaung prison in Arakan State, according to reliable sources.
      A youth member of the opposition National League for Democracy, Thein Swe, and Sithu Maung, a member of the All Burma Federation Students Union (ABFSU), were transferred from Insein Prison to Sittwe prison in Arakan State, while a third detainee, Htar Htar Thet, was transferred to Pegu prison in central Burma.
      The five had been given sentences of up to 19 years imprisonment.
      More than 30 activists sentenced in the recent series of trials were transferred on Monday and Tuesday from Insein Prison to isolated prisons around Burma.
      The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) says that more than 100 of the 143 dissidents convicted so far have been sent to remote prisons.  By transferring the convicted dissidents to prisons far from Rangoon, the regime is making it difficult for family members and friends to visit them, isolating them still further from the outside world.
      Court proceedings continued this week against 13 members of the 88 Generation Students group, who have already been sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from three to five years.
      An ABFSU member, Dee Nyein Lin, who has already been sentenced to six and a half years imprisonment, also appeared again in court in Htantapin Township in Pegu Division on Wednesday. No additional sentence was pronounced, sources said.
      Court proceedings against 13 members of the 88 Generation Students group are due to continue on Friday. Sources say about 40 dissidents, including volunteers who distributed aid to Cyclone Nargis victims, are still awaiting trial.
      Burma’s best-known comedian Zarganar, who has received a sentence of 45 years imprisonment, will reappear in court in Insein Prison on Thursday, sources said. Court proceedings against two who helped him in his relief work, Zaw Thet Htwe and video journalist Thant Zin Aung, who both received 15 years prison terms, will also reappear in court on Thursday.
      On Monday, Kyaw Oo and Saw Maung, two members of the dissident group known as Generation Wave, were sentenced to eight year prison terms for offences under Section 13/1 of the Immigration Act and Section 17/1 of the Illegal Organization Act.
      The severest punishment handed out by the Insein Court in the current series of trials was 68 years imprisonment, imposed on the prominent Buddhist monk Ashin Gambira, who led the nationwide uprising in September 2007. Fourteen members of the 88 Generation Students group were sentenced to terms of 65 years imprisonment.

      Myanmar timber export market declines
      Thai Press Reports: Wed 26 Nov 2008
      Myanmar’s timber export market has apparently declined as international purchase power falls, triggered by the global economic crisis, reported the local Weekly Eleven News Tuesday (November 25, 2008).
      Quoting a recent paper reading session involving timber entrepreneurs, the report said that in Myanmar’s legal teak export market, India took up 38 percent, standing atop, followed by Europe with 20 percent and North America 10 percent.
      As such countries as India, China and European’s are facing economic crisis, Myanmar’s timber export market are also being impacted, it said.
      China stands as Myanmar’s largest consumer of tropical wood, while India lines up as the second.
      Some experts also viewed that along with the increased large- scale infrastructural construction in China, demand of timber would certainly be high giving rise to more opportunity to Myanmar’s timber export.
      Meanwhile, as the market prices of teak worldwide rises, the inclusion of teak in furniture shows remain with only about 5-10 percent, the paper reading session said, however, adding that the teak prices remain steady at 1.5-2.0 million Kyats (1,250-1,660 U. S. dollars) per ton.
      According to market survey, parquet was priced as 4,500 to 5,000 U.S. dollars per ton previously, while it is now quoted at only around 3,500 dollars per ton.
      Myanmar held furniture shows occasionally since 2004 to introduce the country’s value-added wood products to the world market since export of wood log is restricted and export of teak log by the private sector also banned since 1992 when the government enacted the Forest law.
      According to official statistics, Myanmar exported 399,596 cubic-meters of teak and 1.12 million cubic-meters of hardwood in the fiscal year of 2007-08 which ended in March, gaining a total of 538 million U.S. dollars of foreign exchange.
      During the year, timber stood as the country’s fourth largest export goods after natural gas, agricultural produces and mineral products.
      Myanmar is rich in forest resources with forest covering about 50 percent of its total land area.

      Toward a democratic change in Burma - Siri Mon Chan
      Kaowao: Wed 26 Nov 2008
      Burma is a multi-ethnic country. There are many ethnic nationalities such as Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Arakanese, Shan and Burmese reside in Burma. Southern Part of Burma was occupied by the British in 1824, and the whole Burma was colonized by the British between 1885 to 1948. Burma gained independence in 1948, and until 1962, it was under the political framework of liberal democratic parliamentary system. General Ne Win took power in March 1962, and until 1988 General Ne Win under the political system of “Burmese Way to Socialism” led Burma. In 1988, People Power movements (known as 8888, 8 August, 1988) has successfully dismantled the one party rule of Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP).
      At the time, it seemed that the February 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines was about to be repeated in Burma. People in Burma believed that the international community, especially the United Nations and western governments, would somehow intervene on their behalf, since the military-socialist regime had collapsed and the people had clearly expressed their strong desire for a change. Unfortunately before a transition to democratic system was successfully completed, Burmese military led by General Saw Maung staged a coup on 18 September, 1988, killing thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators.
      Since 1988, Burma’s neighbours and, other significant powers did not respond constructively to Burma’s political crisis. Despite the bloodbath, Burma’s neighbours and the international community did not act in a manner Burmese public expected. While western world and India condemned the massacre and froze or cut back on economic relations, neighbouring countries particularly China, Thailand, and Singapore, recognized the military regime, SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council).  Many Burmese believe, and still believe that if the international community, including Burma’s neighbours and the UN system, withheld recognition, the coup would have collapsed.
      In a bid to ease the tension in the country, the military government promised to hold a multi-party election on 27 May 1990, and in that general election, National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Su Kyi won a landslide victory (392 of 485- parliamentary seats). However, the military government still refused to hand over power to the democratically elected government. Instead , SLORC issued its Declaration No. 1/90 on 27 July, 1990. The steps set out in Declaration No. 1/90 followed the refusal of the army since 1988 to concede power to civilian under an interim constitution. Rather, the military government would hold a National Convention to draft a constitution. The timing of SLORC Declaration No. 1/90 was apparently intended to pre-empt the results of a meeting of  NLD parliamentary members held in Rangoon on 28 and 29 July.
      Responses from Other Asian Nations
      In 1988, India was highly critical of the SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council). But since Rangoon has played a very clever and successful game with the two regional rivals, China and India, SLORC was successful in manipulating New Delhi’s fear of a major Chinese military presence in Burma and obtaining Indian cooperation on a number of issues.
      In fact, since 1988 China was on of the a few countries that has exercised the greatest economic and strategic influence in Burma. Steady Chinese economic support to the SLORC, and then SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) gives the junta the confidence to crush the opposition, knowing that it can thumb its nose at foreign criticism and sanctions.
      The absence of criticism of Burmese military regime’s actions by neighbouring Southeast Asian governments and China has been underscored by cross border collaboration and assistance from Thailand and China. Expanding trade with these countries have been essential not only for economic growth but also for military government status.
      Japan’s policy of ‘quiet dialogue’ is essentially constructive engagement, but sensitively tuned to the reactions of Tokyo’s allies in the west. It is, in fact, the middle-of-the road brand of constructive engagement. Unlike western countries, Japan has insisted that its lines of communication remain open to military regime and that a Japanese economic presence – in the form of very limited foreign aid and private investment – is needed to prevent Burma’s isolation.
      India’s response to Burma has been complex. In the wake of 1988 political crisis and the SLORC’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, India was the only Asian country to express, through official channels, criticism of SLORC and sympathy for the democracy movement. The state-owned All-India Radio (AIR) broadcast strong criticism of the new regime in Burma, and Indian government welcomed Burma Student refugees with far greater hospitality than did Thailand.
      By the mid-1990s,, however, New Delhi initiated a more conciliatory policy toward its eastern neighbours. This was because, like Southeast Asian countries and Japan, New Delhi also feared Beijing’s growing influence over Burma and hence implement its ‘Look East Policy’.
      Responses  From the US
      On July 29 2003,President Bush signed into law the “Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act” a much stronger set of economic sanctions than the non-retroactive ban on American investments passed by President Bill Clinton in 1997.  The 2003 sanctions comprise four main components;
      1. an extension of visa ban on officials of the SPDC (the State Peace and Development Council) and the USDA( the Union Solidarity and Development Association),
      2. a freeze on the US assets of Burmese officials,
      3. a ban on financial transactions between American parties and “entities of Rangoon Regime”,
      4. an embargo on all imports from Burma to the US.
      Because most major economic enterprises, including banks, are owned by or closely connected to the SPDC, the measures were designed to hit hard at the military regime’s economic foundation in order to persuade it to release Aung San Suu Kyi and make genuine progress towards democracy.
      The purpose of US sanctions is two folds – (1) As a Symbolic Expression ( to express disapproval of the regime’s objectionable behaviour; giving moral support to the democratic opposition), and (2) As Behaviour Modification (to force the regime, through negative reinforcement, to change that behaviour).
      As a symbolic gesture, the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act was effective insofar as it helped focus international attention on Burma. But, the second dimension, behaviour modification, was not as effective as intended.
      It appeared that sanctions cannot work as ‘behaviour modification’ unless they are universally enforced. On the other hand, the Asian commitment to ‘constructive engagement’ since 1988 has also no positive impact on Burma either.
      The United Nations Response
      The United Nations system also did not work in favor of Burma’s change to democracy. Russia and China always vetoes resolution on Burma. On 10 January, 2007, Russia and China vetoes a draft UNSC resolution that would have urged Burma to ease repression and release political pressures. 15- member Council, France, Italy, Belgium, Slovakia, Ghana and Peru joined the United kingdom and the United States who put forward the resolution. But South Africa Joined Russia and China in voting ‘No’. Three other elected members, Indonesia, Qatar and Congo, abstained. A resolution that would set out key actions Burma rulers must take to reduce the threat to peace and security in the region and provide a better life for their people. The draft resolution also called on the regime to cease military attacks against civilians in ethnic minority regions. It also underscore the urgent need for Burma to allow international aid organizations to operate without restrictions.
      Without effective and constructive response there is no sign of military government making a move to a democratic change. The military regime went ahead with its referendum amidst the UN and international community’s calls to abandon after the devastating cyclone. The military regime claims that 92.4 percent of voters approved a military back constitution held at a referendum on 10 May 2008. The new constitution is widely regarded as undemocratic and unconstitutional as the 25-precent of parliamentary seats reserved for the military and the president of the country must have military experiences. Important ministries such as Defence, Internal Affairs and Border Affairs must go to the military.
      In conclusion, it is apparent that both sanctions and ‘constructive engagement’ policy are not a constructive response to the Burma’s political crisis since 1988. For any sort of policy to be effective, Burma’s neighbours and other significant powers need to work together. Perhaps with the United Nations in a coordinating role, to develop a unified policy that will reduce the military regime to play one country off another like playing between India and China with its fear game. Sanctions also cannot work  unless they are universally applied. On the other hand, the ASEAN’s commitment to ‘constructive engagement’ since 1988 has also no positive impact on Burma either.

      Burma and a task unfinished, considering the options - Saberi Roy
      Op Ed News: Wed 26 Nov 2008
      Burma and its political conditions are documented frequently in newspapers, websites and blogs across the world and the democratic movements in Burma are supported worldwide, yet despite all the social support, nothing concrete seems to be happening on the political front. An effective political and social agenda would be necessary for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the transfer of power to her political party. There are two possible options that could now be considered for the successful democratic transition in Burma. One is a political and international option of possible military action against the junta and the other is a social and regional option, a movement led by the Burmese people and these options don’t have to be mutually exclusive either. 
      The Democratic Voice of Burma has reported on monk leaders and student activists being continually imprisoned and given long term prison sentences. The junta has been cracking down on all forms of freedom of speech and human rights initiatives by monks, students, support groups and local people for allegedly ‘inciting public unrest’. Ironically though the Burmese junta itself is the greatest and only source of public unrest in the nation and has been holding on to power illegally and it is high time that the world leaders, the United Nations and other organizations take action against such a criminal government. There has been no definite and concrete action on the part of world leaders to free Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters and China and Russia have consistently downplayed the Burma issue as regional rather than an international problem. China and Russia seem to have their own political and diplomatic interests in maintaining a military government in Burma but this is against the interests of Burmese people and all supporters of democracy.
      Among the recent resolutions passed by the UN on the situation in Burma, the 28 February 2008 Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, reports on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar. The Report mentions that the UN General Assembly:
      1. Strongly Condemns the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators in Myanmar; and
      2. Expresses Concern on the systematic violation of human rights and fundamental freedom of the people of Myanmar.  The Report also calls upon the military government of Myanmar to:
      Participate in a dialogue with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Put an end to military operations on civilian targets; and Participate in a political transition process engaging in discussions with ethnic minorities, and other political groups including Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
      As of now it seems highly unlikely that the military government of Burma would engage in any form of dialogue with the UN or suddenly stop its abuse on Burmese people unless a very strong and strict joint statement is released by the UN and the world leaders to either free Aung San Suu Kyi and all other pro-democracy activists or face dire consequences.  Since the Burmese junta understands only the language of violence, maybe world leaders and the US should consider a military operation as a last option to free Aung San Suu Kyi and the other prisoners. Aung San Suu Kyi herself is a follower of Gandhian principles and has opposed all forms of violence in her political struggle.
      Yet the military junta does not seem to understand her language of non-violence, so there could be only two possible solutions:
      1. A Mass Uprising in Burma – by the people of Burma and this has to be considerably large and consistent until the junta is left unable to control the situation any further. The uprising by the people would need the support of human rights groups, religious groups and activists all around the world and there has to be a systematic call to this kind of revolutionary change. Strong regional participation by the Burmese people should be complemented by international support. This of course requires effective leadership inside and outside Burma and proper coordination of all Burmese democracy support groups and activists, so that there is a force of ‘collective action’. Violent resistance on the part of the junta is inevitable but this could be defeated if the collective action of the supporters of democracy is strong enough.
      2. The Military Option – This seems to be the only effective political and international option that could be considered as a last option if dialogues are no longer possible with the Burmese junta and if a social uprising also fails. US and other world leaders could use military force to oust the Burmese military government and hand over power to the pro- democracy movement of Aung San Suu Kyi. This again has its pitfalls as military action results in civilian deaths as well and this is one option that many supporters of democracy wouldn’t want.  Considering the need for peace and stability in the region, the first ’social’ path to democracy seems to be a better option and the Burmese people and international activist groups, are almost working towards it, yet the strong condemnation and action by world leaders and the UN are long overdue. It is hoped that the hushed and directionless speeches on Burma by world leaders and organizations including the UN, and the US and EU governments will be replaced by stronger and clearer statements with promise of concrete actions for democracy in the region.

      A preventable fate: The failure of ART scale-up in Myanmar
      Medecins Sans Frontieres: Wed 26 Nov 2008
      The situation for many people living with HIV in Myanmar is critical due to a severe lack of lifesaving antiretroviral treatment (ART). MSF currently provides ART to more than 11,000 people. That is the majority of all available treatment countrywide but only a small fraction of what is urgently needed. For five years MSF has continually developed its HIV/AIDS programme to respond to the extensive needs, whilst the response of both the Government of Myanmar and the international community has remained minimal.
      MSF should not bear the main responsibility for one of Asia’s most serious HIV/AIDS epidemics. Pushed to its limit by the lack of other services providing ART, MSF has had to make the painful decision to restrict the number of new patients it can treat. With few options to refer new patients for treatment elsewhere, the situation is dire.
      An estimated 240,000 people are currently infected with HIV in Myanmar. 76,000 of these people are in urgent need of ART, yet less than 20 % of them receive it through the combined efforts of MSF, other international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Government of Myanmar.
      For the remaining people the private market offers little assistance as the most commonly used first-line treatment costs the equivalent of a month’s average wage. The lack of accessible treatment resulted in 25,000 AIDS related deaths in 2007 and a similar number of people are expected to suffer the same fate this year, unless HIV/AIDS services - most importantly the provision of ART - are urgently scaled-up.
      The Government of Myanmar and the International Community need to mobilize quickly in order to address this situation. Currently, the Government spends a mere 0.3% of the gross domestic product on health, the lowest amount worldwide, a small portion of which goes to HIV/AIDS. Likewise, overseas development aid for Myanmar is the second lowest per capita worldwide and few of the big international donors provide any resources to the country. Yet, 189 member states of the United Nations, including Myanmar, endorsed the Millennium Development Goals, including the aim to “Achieve universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it, by 2010”. As it stands, this remains a far cry from becoming a reality in Myanmar.
      As an MSF ART patient in Myanmar stated, “All people must have a spirit of humanity in helping HIV patients regardless of nation, organization or government. We are all human beings so we must help each other”. Unable to continue shouldering the primary responsibility for responding to one of Asia’s worst HIV crises, MSF insists that the Government of Myanmar and international organizations urgently and rapidly scale-up ART provision. A vast gulf exists between the needs related to HIV/AIDS and the services provided. Unless ART provision is rapidly scaled-up many more people will needlessly suffer and die.
      Myanmar is experiencing one of Asia’s most serious HIV epidemics, yet the available care and treatment meets only a fraction of the needs. As a result people are dying unnecessarily, people who are desperate to live and contribute to their family, community and country. An estimated 240,000 people are thought to have HIV in Myanmar. Of these people, 76,000 are in urgent need of lifesaving antiretroviral therapy, yet less than 20% of those in need of treatment receive it.
      This is one of the lowest coverage rates for ART coverage worldwide. As it stands, MSF provides ART to more than 11,000 people, which makes up the majority of all available treatment countrywide. The Government of Myanmar and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provide ART to around 4,000 people. While there are a number of NGOs working in HIV/AIDS in the country, efforts are largely focused on the provision of care rather than treatment. Although well meant, care alone can only support people in dying, whereas ART can assist people to live. Having put significant resources into its Myanmar programme, MSF can no longer continue to scale-up ART provision, in the face of so little response by other actors. Therefore, it has had to make the painful decision to restrict the number of new patients it can treat. With few options to refer new patients for treatment elsewhere, the situation is dire.
      For the thousands of people unable to access free ART there are very few other options open to them. The cost per month of the most commonly used first-line ART in a private pharmacy in Myanmar is $29. This is far beyond the means of most people who on average live on $1.2 per day. Even if people can find a way to afford ART many often become indebted and are soon forced to stop. This leaves families not only with the trauma of losing a loved one, often the main income-provider for the family, but also with crippling debt.
      Alternatively, some patients are only able to source treatment irregularly, when finances allow or family and friends assist. This can lead to the rapid development of drug resistance.
      On the one hand, Myanmar has a weak and under-funded state healthcare system. The Government of Myanmar spends a mere 0.3% of its gross domestic product on health, the lowest amount worldwide. In 2007 the Government spent just USD$ 0.7 per person on health, with the 2008 annual HIV/AIDS budget estimated at just USD$ 200,000 in total. With growing revenue from oil and gas exports, the Government must invest more in its ailing health system and specifically HIV/AIDS care and treatment.
      On the other hand, overseas development aid (ODA) to Myanmar is the second lowest per capita worldwide, after India. Compared to some of Myanmar’s neighbouring countries it receives a tiny fraction of the ODA they do. Few of the big international donors, such as the Global Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Fund, and the President’s Fund invest in the Government health system out of concern over the effective use of funds. Whatever their reasons, there is a massive under-investment in assistance in Myanmar and it is the general population who are suffering and will continue to suffer unless this changes.
      Other international actors, including NGOs, who could fund HIV/AIDS treatment and care in Myanmar have been hesitant. This may be due to concerns that the substantial improvements in the Government health system necessary to facilitate an eventual hand-over of patients will not materialize. Alternatively, organizations may be put off by the challenges posed by working in a country like Myanmar, including official constraints and difficult bureaucratic procedures. In some areas of the country, such as Kayah state, MSF has not been permitted to start AIDS treatment. These legitimate concerns however should not dissuade organizations from providing assistance where it is most needed. MSF has proven that providing independent and effective humanitarian assistance to people in Myanmar is possible and more to the point critical if unnecessary deaths are to be prevented.
      MSF has provided essential healthcare services in Myanmar since 1993 and began a programme to support people living with HIV/AIDS in 2003. Since then, MSF staff has assisted thousands of HIV patients, working from 23 clinics, in five areas throughout the country. Services include counseling, testing, treatment of opportunistic infections, nutritional support, health education and most importantly antiretroviral treatment.
      At the time of publishing this report, MSF provides ART to more than 11,000 patients. Patients are selected independently, purely on medical grounds and without political interference. Medicines are distributed directly to the patient. Monitoring of the program is done at the level of the beneficiary; an essential element of the program that helps to guarantee that the population benefits directly from MSF’s services and that donor money is spent transparently.
      Having made an enormous effort to respond to the overwhelming need for ART treatment during the last five years, MSF can no longer take primary responsibility for ART scale-up in Myanmar. Pushed to its limit by the lack of treatment on offer by other care providers, MSF has recently been forced to make the painful decision to drastically reduce the number of new patients it can treat. With few options to refer new patients for treatment elsewhere, the situation is traumatic for both patients and staff.
      MSF calls for all sectors to urgently and rapidly scale-up lifesaving HIV/AIDS treatment in Myanmar, in the face of overwhelming needs. The public sector, through the Myanmar Department of Health (DoH), must take the lead and drive the scale-up of HIV/AIDS services, most importantly ART, with the support of international donors and organizations.
      During the last two years, the DoH has treated patients with ART in 22 hospitals around the country, treating an estimated 1,800 people. This covers just a fraction of the needs, but is a good basis on which to develop services. DoH is the only actor with long-term potential to provide sustainable ART nationally. At present some of the DoH ART sites have a limit of just 20 patients. Such low numbers are not cost-effective and make the initial investment in set-up, training and ongoing drug supply hard to justify unless numbers are increased considerably. Once a site is established there need to be ambitious plans set to expand care and treatment.
      DoH has shown signs of wanting to develop its services in HIV/AIDS and must be supported to realize these ambitions. Geographical coverage also needs to be expanded, in areas such as Chin and Kayah states, which have no ART programmess at all. In Kayah State, some AIDS patients are attempting to access treatment in neighboring Thailand, which makes them vulnerable to the development of drug resistance, since having to cross the border frequently means that reliable adherence to the medication is difficult.
      For those who are lucky enough to be able to afford ART on the private market, better advice and support needs to be available. Private practitioners are not always properly trained in prescribing medication for HIV/AIDS, which can cause serious problems for the patient. Therefore, proper training in HIV/AIDS care and treatment, supported by the provision of free-of-charge treatment, should be encouraged through the private sector.
      To make scaling-up possible the Government of Myanmar desperately needs to invest more in its health infrastructure and specifically allocate funds to tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis. Likewise, the international community needs to provide increased support similar to that allocated to HIV/AIDS programmes in other developing countries and in line with the needs.
      Alongside the Government of Myanmar’s need to redouble its efforts in scaling-up ART provision, it also needs to better facilitate the international community’s supporting role. Specifically, it should remove the constraints faced by NGOs which hampers them from implementing HIV/AIDS programs and ensure improvements in bureaucratic procedures such as the signing of agreements and import of goods.
      In the year 2000, 189 member states of the United Nations, including Myanmar, committed to working towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, including the aim to “Achieve universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it, by 2010”. As it stands, this remains a far cry from becoming a reality in Myanmar. It is the responsibility of all actors, national and international to stand-by their commitment to HIV sufferers in Myanmar and urgently scale-up HIV/AIDS services – most importantly ART, to put an end to the needless suffering and waste of life.

      Bilin monks boycott government officials - Naw Say Phaw
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 25 Nov 2008
      Monks in Bilin township, Mon state, decided during a recent meeting to launch a boycott against government officials and supporters by refusing alms from them and not performing religious rites in their homes.
      The monks, who are led by the abbots of Kyauktalone-taung, Three Pagodas and Kaylatha-taung monasteries, could not be reached for comment.
      But Aye Myint, a lawyer from Bago and leader of the Guiding Star legal aid group, recently visited the area and heard about the boycott.
      Aye Myint said he had found out about the protest when his relatives had asked the monks to perform a religious rite at their home.
      “It was only when they told the abbots that they were from the authorities that the monks agreed to come to the house,” Aye Myint said.
      “They also spoke to me because they found out that I was Aye Myint of Guiding Star,” he said.
      “They are boycotting the officials because they are still feeling aggrieved by the arrests and imprisonment of monks.”
      U Thuriya, the abbot of Kinywa monastery, told Aye Myint that the monks had decided not to perform religious rites at the homes of ward, village or township chairs, civil servants or members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association.
      The abbot said the decision had been taken in protest at the public humiliation of monks during last year’s Saffron Revolution and at the recent sentencing of monks.

      Monks on the run
      Mizzima: Tue 25 Nov 2008
      Due to intelligence units hunting for them, some activist monks who were involved in last August’s Metta Sutra reciting protest in Sittwe have gone into hiding, according to opposition sources.
      “More monks residing in Sittwe are feeling unsafe, with some already going on the run, while others have disappeared with no clue as to their present whereabouts,” said an activist.
      Sittwe, the capital of Arakan, or Rakhine, state in western Burma, is a hot place for protests, with monks on several occasions having marched through the streets demanding dialogue for national reconciliation.
      A few monks have left the country altogether, fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.

      Forced labor for growing winter crops in Maungdaw
      Kaladan: Tue 25 Nov 2008
      The Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) members are using forced labor of villagers in Maungdaw Township for growing onion, garlic and sun flower since last week.
      The villagers of Maung Nama village, Ye Twin Pyin, Gyikan Pyin, Nwah Yon Daung, Phur Wut Chaung, Bagona Nah, and Ngan Chaung villages have to provide labor to the TPDC members twice a week to till the land to grow winter crops.
      In every village, the villagers have to grow one acre of onion, one acre of garlic and two acres of sun flower, on a total four acres. Twice a week, a villager has to give a pair of draught cattle to plough the vegetable fields along with the people.
      The farm lands are along the Maungdaw-Bawli Bazar Road that were confiscated from Rohingya farmers for Natala villagers earlier. Now, the TPDC members are willing to grow winter crops for their own profit.
      At present, the arable farm for growing winter crops of Rohingya villagers are mostly confiscated by the authorities to grow pulse, onion, garlic, sun flower, physic nut ,rubber for the army camp and Natala (Model) villagers. If any one of the villagers wishes to grow winter crop, she/ he has to borrow farm lands from Natala villager by paying money.
      To grow the TPDC’s project crops, they will provide seeds, but villagers must nurture the seeds and nourish the plants with fertilizer with their (villagers’) labor.
      Besides, State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC) authority, especially agriculture department is forcing villagers to grow sun flowers, pulse and potato in Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships since the beginning of this month. So, Villagers have to grow crops for agriculture department once and then for TPDC authorities. As a result, they will have no time to work for their family members.

      Myanmar faces 24,000 AIDS deaths for lack of antiretroviral drugs
      Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Tue 25 Nov 2008
      An estimated 24,000 people will die of HIV/AIDS in Myanmar next year unless the international donor community is willing to provide funds for antiretroviral drugs (ART), a medical group warned Tuesday. “Myanmar has about 240,000 people with HIV/AIDS, and of them about one-third need antiretroviral treatment without which they cannot survive,” said Frank Smithius, the head of Medecins Sans Frontier/Holland, which treats patients with ART in Myanmar. The groups is providing ART to 11,000 patients while the Myanmar government, the United Nations and other non-governmental groups are supplying another 4,000.
      “It’s not enough, when 75,000 people need ART,” said Smithius. “It is estimated by the UN and Myanmar government that 24,000 people will die if nothing is done in the next year.”
      Myanmar, which is run by a military junta that is condemned in the West for its atrocious human rights record and failure to introduce democratic reforms, is the second-lowest recipient of overseas development aid worldwide at 3 dollars per capita.
      The Myanmar government spends a estimated 0.3 per cent of its gross domestic product on health, one of the lowest rates worldwide.
      In 2008, it allocated the equivalent of 0.7 cents person on healthcare, of which about 200,000 dollars was allocated to treatment of HIV/AIDS patients, an MSF report released Tuesday said.
      The health care organization has been operating in Myanmar since 1993. It said it spends about 300 dollars per patient for ART in Myanmar, or about 3.3 million dollars to treat 11,000 patients.
      Smithius said it had no additional funds to treat the remaining 60,000 HIV/AIDS patients and called on the international donor community to assist in dealing with the pandemic.
      An estimated 18 million dollars will be needed to treat the HIV/AIDS patients currently deprived of antiretroviral treatment.
      International donors are often reluctant to send aid to Myanmar for fear the funds will be diverted to the government, which faces strict economic sanctions from both the US and Europe.
      “If we can guarantee that we have been able to deliver medicines directly to the patients, then there is no reason to not provide aid to Myanmar, and at MSF we can make that claim,” said Smithius.
      He said the group runs 25 HIV/AIDS clinics inside Myanmar and has government permission to import antiretroviral drugs tax free.

      Rebels welcome planned Thai-run drug free project
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Tue 25 Nov 2008
      A drug free project led by Thailand will be welcomed by the PaO National Liberation Organization (PNLO) that is active in the Shan State’s PaO-majority deep south, according to the group’s spokesman Hkun Hsoi Hto.
      “Our only request (to the Burmese Army) is that don’t use the project as a pretext to launch a military offensive in the area,” he said.
      The project was proposed to the Thai authorities during the April 29-May 1 visit to Bangkok by Burmese junta Prime Minister Thein Sein, according to the Bangkok Post. In response, Thai drug officials led by Pitaya Jinawat flew to Burma to inspect Banyen, also written Wanyin, 35 miles south the state capital Taunggyi, on August 12.
      On August 3, nine days before the Thai visit, the uneasy alliance between the Burmese Army and the rebellious ceasefire group Shan State Peoples Nationalities Liberation Organization (SNPLO) came to an abrupt end when the group was surrounded and forcibly disarmed at their main base at Nawnghtao, some 40 miles further south.
      For any crop substitution project to succeed, there are at least two
      pre-conditions, according to a Thai narcotics official: Peace and the local people’s dependency on opium for their livelihood.
      The actual situation at the ground level is still volatile, according to reports coming to the border. “We have already fought six times,” claimed Hkun Hsoi Hto, who is in charge of the political department.
      The junta-drafted constitution, approved in May, has granted self-administrative status to three townships in Shan State: Hopong, Hsihseng and Panglawng, where the PaOs are the dominant ethnic group. “The status is a sham, because we don’t enjoy any real administrative powers,” Hkun Okker, PaO leader and legal expert told SHAN. “We cannot even appoint our own head of local government.”
      The PNLO, formed on November 18, 2007, following the breakaway by a faction from the SNPLO on June 10, 2007, issued a statement on its first anniversary, saying it is fighting for the following political objectives: Anti-military dictatorship, Anti-big nation chauvinism, Democracy, Federalism, Equality and Right of Self determination.

      Plight of abused Burmese women highlighted on International Day - Lawi Weng
      Irrawaddy: Tue 25 Nov 2008
      The plight of women in Burma’s conflict areas and of Burmese women migrant workers who suffer exploitation and abuse was highlighted in statements marking Tuesday’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
      The Thailand-based Women’s League of Burma (WLB), which held events marking the occasion at several places along the Thai-Burmese border, urged the UN to put pressure on the Burmese military government to act to prevent sexual violence against women in conflict areas. The WLB also urged the UN to press the Burmese regime to investigate allegations of human rights abuses against women in ethnic areas.
      Than Zaw, secretary of the Bangkok-based Migrant Karen Labor Union (MKLU), drew attention to the plight of many Burmese migrant women employed as domestic workers who suffer physical and sexual violence and exploitation.
      Than Zaw said the MKLU dealt with about four such cases a month. Many abused women failed to report abuse because they feared deportation to Burma, he said.
      Human Rights Watch said millions of female domestic workers in Asia suffered sexual
      violence. Most of them were unable to seek legal redress because governments failed to enact laws to protect them.
      “There are countless cases of employers threatening, humiliating, beating, raping, and sometimes killing workers,” said Nisha Varia, Deputy Director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.
      In a message marking International Women’s Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said more should be done to enforce existing laws.
      “We need to combat attitudes and behavior that condone, tolerate, excuse or ignore violence committed against women,” he said. “And we need to increase funding for services for victims and survivors.”

      Interview with Mi Sar Dar, sole woman member of the NMSP Central Committee - Rai Maraoh
      Independent Mon News Agency: Tue 25 Nov 2008
      Question: What does it take to elect women as leaders in the New Mon State Party (NMSP)?
      Answer: Party leaders will not elect a woman because most representatives are men. I am the only woman on the Central Committee [CC]. [Note: there are nine members in the Central Executive Committee (CEC), elected from 35 CC members in the party]. Women could only be leaders if men choose us. In the party, the members are majority men and a very few women. Electing women depends on the representatives at the Party Congress [held every three years, due to be held this December] and their opinions. We also have a plan with the Mon Women Organization [MWO] to report to the party leaders in the [CEC] about a potential women quorum in [CC] members in the election as a quota system to promote women participation in a compulsory ways. Will they [the representatives of Congress] follow a quota system? We also consider about it in [MWO] meeting but didn’t propose it yet. Even the [CEC] members have opinion to consider more women number in [CC], but it never achieved after the majority men representatives oppose about it. They did not like this quota system.
      Question: Why are male party members opposed to women leaders?
      Answer: They [male representatives] think women can’t be sustainable on the long-term political career [because they will quit politics to have families], and they think we have less commitment. They also discussed their opinions like this in the [previous] party conference. But I don’t know the details of the discussion in the previous conference and this opinion is still brought up in subsequent years until this coming Congress. The majority of [CC] members did not agree on a women quorum in the [CC] and they will oppose the same idea in the Congress again. They gave reason that women are not strong, less experience and cannot facilitate duties given by the party well. How do I respond to them when there is only a small number of women in the Congress?
      Question: What is your opinion on the recent election of a woman as the general secretary of the Karen National Union?
      Answer: It is great. I like it because the [KNU] wants to promote women, and women also can take responsibility like men. I think it is great because women also have experience and skills. Our leader will consider about it now because the KNU dared enough to offer high-level duties to women. It will be good if the number of women increase in leading roles. Our Mon women also will get a lot of moral encouragement even if many are not party members. I think I am not the only woman who supports this change in the KNU and it would be all Mon women.
      Question: What qualities should women work on developing so they can be leaders?
      Answer: To have experience in the leading role and to serve any duties. Accordingly to the complaints from the male representatives, sometimes women have problems with their families. Many female party members could not give full time to serve in the party and are busy with family life. That’s why they say they can’t elect women as a leader. Women must sacrifice full time if they would like to be a leader. They have to be committed, share their ideas, brave at speaking and brave in competition. Men also can get them to lead. If women give only a little time in their duties, other party members will not accept them as leaders. It also depends on work experience, but I don’t mean to they have to have about 20-30 years experience. It means to have some years work experience, progressive ideas and knowledge. The KNU chose woman as a general secretary because I think she has both work experience and progressive ideas.
      Question: What are the opinions of top level party leaders on the election of women leaders?
      Answer: Currently, there is only one woman member among 35 [CC] members. Why they do not choose women leaders? We should ask to clarify. But in this time, I think the [CEC, top level] members would like to have women in the political leading role and will encourage representatives at the Congress by pointing out the change in the KNU, because women are appropriate in a leading role. But it is very difficult to set up women quorum as a new law in the party because the current [CC] members can’t decide this alone. Every change must be decided at the level of a Party Congress and a majority vote by representatives. Women can participate at election as the same level like other representatives at the Congress. But it depends on the representatives and they will look the experience of women serving in the party for many years and how we are sacrifice.
      Question: What criteria are used to choose women leaders?
      Answer: There is no detailed principle for this. But as I said, they consider how many years they have served in the party. In MWO, the organization has [CC] members and [CEC] members. Both [CEC] and [CC] members can participate to be elected as NMSP [CC] members in the Congress. For example, at the Mon Education Department, if a woman is a Committee member in the Mon National Education Committee, she has a chance to compete in elections to be elected as [CC] members. Similarly in District Administration offices of the NMSP, if someone is in a District Administration Committee, she can be elected a [CC] member, but if she is in Township administration level, she may not have this opportunity.
      Question: What kind of experience is necessary for women to be elected to the Central Committee?
      Answer: They have to serve in the party at least 5 to 7 years. Most members in the District level administration, education committee, and health committee already had over 5 years experience. Some had over 10 years service and experience. If they are in the level of these committee members, they can be participated in elections to be [CC] members.
      Question: What is your opinion on the minority status of women leaders in ethnic political groups in general?
      Answer: Women have been less involved in the resistance movement since the beginning. Most women involved in the movement previously resigned from organizations. Recently, the NMSP has special battalions for female fighters, and women are serving several departments. But after they married, busy with family affairs, they resigned from the party. Women involved in less numbers since the beginning and later women resignation from the movement affected the current opportunities for women to have leadership roles. But it depends on the approach of each organization to promote the role of women. Currently women leaders are very few chances in all ethnic groups except the KNU. We can see some women leaders, but only in KNU.
      Quesiton: After the KNU elected woman as Central Committee member, the NMSP followed suit and elected a woman to the Central Committee. Recently, the KNU elected a woman as General Secretary. Do you think a similar development will be possible in the NMSP?
      Answer: It takes many steps to be General Secretary of a political party. The party will choose only after women become [CC] members of the party. For example, there are 9 [CEC] members in the party. First, the [CC] members elected these 9 members and then the General Secretary. Currently there is only me as a woman [CC] member. I couldn’t imagine being elected to the [CEC] because [CC] members will not elect me accordingly to my work experience. Therefore it is not easy to be elected as General Secretary.
      Question: What problems have you faced during your time in charge of the NMSP Education Department?
      Answer: Before I become in charge of the Education Department, I was involved in MWO as a chairwoman. But the party leaders had said they didn’t want me to take responsibility in MWO after I took charge of the Education Department because they would like me to do more at Mon education activities. I feel unhappy for that. I would like to be along with MWO as a woman even I took responsibility in Education Department. But they promoted me as a patron in MWO. I have many problems because Education Department have being spent too much expenses, and the administrative costs increase every year because it needs to promote for children and adults alike. The important thing is money. If you don’t have money, you can’t do jobs. And we depend on donors for funding. We know most of our people are not literate because they are missing education from the schools. That’s why we would like to do more. The problems is we don’t have money and we are not professional even if we serve in the Education Department. We try ourselves. We need more educated person to involve at education activities.
      Question: What are the strengths of the Education Department?
      Answer: Most children become literate, pass the high school standard and graduate from University in Mon State. At the border, some students can upgrade their education and some clever ones can attend universities with support of scholarship in foreign countries. Even though there are much problems with the operating of Mon National Schools, we can increase the literacy level in the rural communities.
      Question: What you would like to say to Mon women?
      Answer: I would like Mon women to try hard like women in other ethnic organizations. I would like them to get involved serving in every NMSP department, including the political section because then the party leaders can consider the role of women when they make decisions. For examples, there are no women in the justice department of the NMSP, it is hard to seek just and fair decisions for some criminal cases to women. That’s why I would like more Mon women to participate in the political activities, so one day they can become political leaders.

      Residents of eastern Burma actively engaged in peaceful resistance
      Karen Human Rights Group: Tue 25 Nov 2008
      Rural villagers in eastern Burma are actively resisting harsh military rule, says a new report released by the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) on Tuesday. Highlighting local non-violent resistance, KHRG argues, is crucial to ending international perceptions of rural residents as passive, without agency and justifiably excluded from aid administration and political processes.
      The report, titled “Village agency: Rural rights and resistance in a militarized Karen State,” documents a variety of tactics villagers employ to undermine the exploitation and restriction that punctuates daily life in the border areas. Though villagers often live under constant threat of violent retribution, the KHRG report indicates that villagers regularly undermine regime authorities through jokes and counter-narratives, as well as find ways to discreetly or even overtly avoid compliance.
      KHRG also argues that displacement should be understood as a preemptive, overt form of resistance, rather than simply a reactive coping mechanism. Rural residents “vote with their feet,” says KHRG, which both clearly stamps the regime as illegitimate and reduces the population it can control, and harness for exploitation and resource extraction.
      This “village agency,” as KHRG calls it, includes establishing hiding sites ahead of expected displacement, hiding food stores and covert agricultural projects, trading with residents of regime controlled areas in secret “jungle markets,” sharing resources and cooperating to provide community services.
      Though the tactics documented by KHRG are not rare, depictions of ethnic Karen residents of eastern Burma tend to focus on villagers as passive victims, caught in the inevitable cross fire between armed insurgents and an abusive military regime. Such depictions, argues KHRG, have “perpetuated the exclusion of [rural villagers] from the ongoing political processes which effect them” and can “promote inappropriate external responses to the situation in Karen areas.”
      Based on its report, KHRG makes a series of concrete recommendations, which can be separated into three essential categories: first, new efforts should be undertaken to support local civil society groups engaged in ongoing efforts to improve daily life, through assistance to both organizations that operate in regime controlled areas and cross-border organizations operating without government consent.
      Second, non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies and any other actors implementing support projects should do so with careful consideration of their effect on local resistance efforts. And third, the voices of rural villagers should be incorporated into academic and policy discussions, as well as journalism and advocacy efforts.
      Nai Kasauh Mon, director of the Thailand-based Human Rights Foundation of Monland, agrees with the push to recognize the agency of rural villagers. “Residents of the border areas, internally displaced people, they have the capacity. For example, in the Mon community, health workers, education workers and other people in the community work to help each other,” says Nai Kasauh Mon. “In reality, people use lot’s of strategies. But often the media only learns a little. They don’t always do in depth reporting. Something big happens, and they focus on that.”
      The KHRG argument for support of local-level civil society also appears to dovetail with the thinking of other Burma analysts and experts. According to David I. Steinberg, distinguished professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, developing local support networks will help pave the way for a more democratic and responsive government in Burma. A strong civil society network, Steinberg says, “widens the space between the state and society, giving people greater freedom from government control. Such pluralism is an important base on which more responsive and responsible governments can be built.”
      Ashley South, a Burma expert frequently tapped by the United Nations, concurs and argues that development of such civil society networks are a prerequisite to lasting change in Burma. “One consequence of Burma’s fifty year civil war has been the erosion of pluralism and democratic practices,” he argues, going on to say, “alternative forms of social and political organization…will be essential if any elite-led political transition in Burma is to be sustained, and positively effect the lives of people.”

      Sole Myanmar protester demands activists’ release
      Associated Press: Mon 24 Nov 2008
      A lone demonstrator staged a silent protest in front of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party headquarters Saturday demanding the military government free all student activists as the country celebrated its National Day.
      The holiday commemorates a boycott by Yangon University students 88 years ago in defiance of British colonial rule, a protest that inspired Myanmar’s independence movement.
      Although the government does not hold any public events to mark the day, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy regularly celebrates with a party.
      Before the celebration, party member Min Thein walked into the middle of the street in front of the party headquarters and stood silently with a placard reading, “Release Min Ko Naing and other political prisoners.”
      Min Ko Naing is a member of the 88 Generation Students group, which participated in a brutally suppressed 1988 democratic uprising. Along with many of his fellow former students he was sentenced to 65 years in prison this month for taking part in an Aug. 21, 2007, street protest against a massive fuel price hike by the government.
      Plainclothes police took videos and photos of Min Thein’s lone protest but did not arrest him during the minutes he stood silently.
      “I am expressing my feelings and I a

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