683[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 18/8/09
- Aug 11, 2009
- Suu Kyi gets 18 months under house arrest
- Regime reportedly divided over Suu Kyi sentence
- Suu Kyi supporters consider new tactics
- In Burma, carefully sowing resistance; Fragile opposition wary of confrontation
- The Lady lives
- Burmese Army equipped with new arms
- Suu Kyi is 'part of the problem': Goh Chok Tong
- Burma isn't broke
- It's time for the United Nations to take strong action on Burma
- CSW urges international community to intensify efforts on Burma
- Russia taking raw Uranium from Burma since 2007
- Burma Army beheads woman
- More Karen refugees flee to Thailand
- Burma's deadly course
- Censor Board alters requirements for presenting draft copy
- Monks question gov't use of personal photographs
- Su Su Nway put in solitary
- Increase in child labour in Arakan
- Thailand to import gas from Myanmar's M9 late 2013
- Total Chief: Critics can 'go to hell'
Suu Kyi gets 18 months under house arrest
Malaysiakini: Aug 11, 09 9:46am
Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to three years' jail and hard labour by a Burmese court today, but the head of the ruling junta commuted the punishment to 18 months' house arrest, a minister said.
The court sentenced her on charges of breaching the terms of her house arrest after a bizarre incident in which an American man, John Yettaw, swam to her lakeside house in May, an AFP correspondent in court said.
But Home Affairs minister General Maung Oo said outside the court that military ruler Than Shwe had signed a special order suspending the sentence and ordered that Suu Kyi should spend 18 months under house arrest.
Earlier there were speculations that the Burmese democracy icon faced a possible five-year jail term.
Officials said the release from hospital late Monday of a US man who sparked the trial by swimming to the Nobel peace laureate's house meant the judgment may now go ahead as scheduled at Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison.
Diplomats and Burma authorities had warned that American John Yettaw's treatment for a series of epileptic fits could cause the latest in series of delays in the nearly three-month-old trial.
Security was heavy around the prison late Monday but the status of Tuesday's hearing remained unclear overnight, despite the confirmation by an official source that Yettaw had been discharged from hospital after a week of treatment.
The 64-year-old Suu Kyi stands charged with breaching the conditions of her house arrest following the bizarre incident in which former US military veteran Yettaw swam across a lake to reach her heavily secured villa in May.
The court is widely expected to hand down a guilty verdict but the sentence remains a matter of speculation, with many diplomats in Rangoon predicting that she will be jailed or placed under house arrest for up to three years.
She has already been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years since Burma's ruling military junta refused to recognise her National League for Democracy's landslide victory in elections in 1990.
The case is proving to be a major headache for Burma's powerful generals, caught between growing international pressure to free Suu Kyi and what critics say is its determination to keep her locked up during elections due in 2010.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon last week pressed the regime to free political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, after convening a meeting of the "Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar".
A visit to Burma later this week by Democratic US Senator Jim Webb - the first US lawmaker to visit the country in more than 10 years - could further complicate the timing of the verdict, diplomats said.
Suu Kyi's lawyers have hailed the repeated delays as a sign that the judges have "serious legal problems" - but analysts say the real decisions are being made by reclusive junta leader Than Shwe from the bunker capital Naypyidaw.
Yettaw's illness after what the national police chief said was a campaign of religiously inspired fasting since his arrest in May made fresh delays possible in the case.
Burmese officials said at the weekend that Yettaw's health was improving and that he was "eating well".
The former US military veteran also faces up to five years in jail on charges of abetting Suu Kyi's breach of security laws, immigration violations and a municipal charge of illegal swimming.
Diplomats said at the weekend that Burma's regime was listening closely to its allies China and Russia, which have so far steered clear of saying that the trial is an internal matter and thereby granting the junta a free hand.
State media at the weekend warned "power-craving" opportunists to abandon their plans of "trying to incite riots under the pretext of Daw Suu Kyi's case".
Regime reportedly divided over Suu Kyi sentence - Min Lwin
Irrawaddy: Mon 10 Aug 2009
The delays in the court proceeding against Aung San Suu Kyi are caused by disagreements within the military regime over how severely to punish her, according to Burmese army sources.
Some generals - notably Gen Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, Secretary 1 of the ruling military council - are said to want to see her imprisoned. Others are reportedly in favor of a more lenient sentence for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who was being held in house detention until the start of her trial in May.
Among those who appear to be reluctant to commit Suu Kyi to prison is Gen Thura Shwe Mann, Coordinator of Special Operations, Army, Navy and Air Force, according to the army source - who told The Irrawaddy he wanted to see Suu Kyi sentenced "within the framework of the law."
Htay Aung, a Burmese military researcher based in Thailand, also said that some senior military generals are divided over the trial, with one faction keen to see Suu Kyi sentenced to a term of imprisonment, isolating her from the general election planned for 2010, and others wanting to apply the due process of law.
"The trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was postponed because some military generals wanted to consider it from a legal point of view," said Htay Aung. He thought international pressure on the regime also played a part in the postponements.
Tin Aung Myint Oo is close to paramount leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who promoted the battle-hardened hardliner to the rank of four-star general in late March.
The general is also close to Aung Thaung, minister for Industry (1), an extreme nationalist believed to be one of the masterminds of the Depayin massacre in May 2003, when Suu Kyi's motorcade was ambushed in central Burma. He is said to harbor a deep hatred of Suu Kyi.
Military sources suggest the rise of Tin Aung Myint Oo has intimidated a faction headed by the regime's No 3, Gen Shwe Mann, who has been groomed to succeed Than Shwe. Lately, the general has been in charge of national security and the coordination of army, navy and air force.
Shwe Mann so far is loyal to Than Shwe but rivals are closely watching his relationship with business tycoons and some Burmese scholars, army sources told The Irrawaddy. The sources also disclosed that Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, a close ally of Shwe Mann, has been sidelined in the power struggle with the Tin Aung Myint Oo faction. But so far Shwe Mann has saved the information minister from the sack.
Observers inside Burma say Aung Thaung and Tin Aung Myint Oo are working together with the police and ministry of interior to influence the outcome of Suu Kyi's trial.
Police Chief Gen Khin Yi and Minister of Home Affairs Maung Oo are close to the Tin Aung Myint Oo faction, and Khin Yi had been holding press briefings on Suu Kyi. It is believed that hardliners have instructed the police chief to concoct the case against Suu Kyi.
Last Friday, Gen Khin Yi claimed in comments to reporters that John William Yettaw, the American whose intrusion into Suu Kyi's home initiated the case against her, had connections with Burmese exiled groups.
The police chief also denied media reports that the regime had plotted with Yettaw. Speculation continues to circulate in Rangoon that Yettaw had received a large sum of money from regime leaders to intrude into Suu Kyi's home in May. It's also speculated that Aung Thaung collaborated with Than Shwe and Tin Aung Myint Oo to concoct the case against Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi supporters consider new tactics
Wall Street Journal: Mon 10 Aug 2009
With Myanmar's military government expected to sentence famed dissident Aung San Suu Kyi to further detention as early as Tuesday, some of her exiled supporters are considering new tactics to break a decades-old political stalemate in the troubled Southeast Asian nation.
Ms. Suu Kyi faces up to five years in prison for allegedly violating the terms of a government-imposed house arrest in May, when she allowed an uninvited American well-wisher to visit her lakeside home without state approval.
Myanmar officials have said a verdict will come Tuesday, though some analysts believe the decision may be delayed due to the poor health of John Yettaw, the American visitor, who is also on trial and has reportedly suffered from epileptic seizures recently. The verdict was delayed once before, after authorities in Myanmar, previously known as Burma, said they needed more time to review the facts in the case.
Whatever happens Tuesday, analysts and exiles expect the court to eventually find Ms. Suu Kyi guilty, resulting in further detention for the 64-year-old Nobel laureate after she already spent nearly 14 of the past 20 years under arrest. Such an outcome, combined with Myanmar's miserable economic conditions and the likelihood that Ms. Suu Kyi won't be able to participate in elections the government is planning for 2010, are prodding exile groups to contemplate new strategies, including seeking negotiations with Myanmar's military regime and possibly dropping some earlier demands that have blocked rapprochement in the past.
Ms. Suu Kyi's supporters have traditionally taken a hard-line approach towards talking with the junta, unless the regime agrees to free hundreds of political prisoners and recognize the results of a 1990 election won overwhelmingly by Ms. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party. The military ignored that vote and subsequently tightened its grip on the country, locking away opponents and drawing widespread condemnation for its alleged human rights abuses.
Last week, a group of senior opposition leaders including Sein Win, head of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, which describes itself as Myanmar's government-in-exile, announced plans for a new "proposal for national reconciliation" that involves negotiations with the regime. The proposal reiterates older goals such as the release of political prisoners and a review of the country's constitution, but acknowledges the need for dialogue with the military to make those goals a reality.
Other dissidents are pressing exile leaders to go farther and possibly drop calls for the military to honor the 1990 vote, if it helps advance the dissidents' other agendas, such as getting Ms. Suu Kyi freed. A wide array of exile groups including members of the NLD and the government-in-exile are holding a convention in Jakarta - a rare gathering of its kind - on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss further details.
"We're not only thinking about what we want, but what the regime can and cannot accept. It's a move back to the center," said Nyo Ohn Myint, a senior opposition figure who has been in exile in Thailand and the U.S. for 20 years. He said a majority of senior NLD leaders now support some form of compromise with Myanmar's military government, including possibly writing off the 1990 vote.
Mr. Nyo Ohn Myint said he believes Ms. Suu Kyi is also willing to compromise, including accepting some kind of role for the military in government, though it is difficult to confirm Ms. Suu Kyi's feelings so long as she is under arrest.
Many dissidents are focusing special attention on the regime's elections planned for next year. Initially, opposition groups vowed to boycott the election because they believed that no vote overseen by the military could be free and fair. But some dissidents have softened their positions in the belief that participating in a flawed election may be better than sitting out entirely.
"There is the danger that the main political activists or stakeholders like the NLD and major ethnic groups will be sidelined" if they don't in some way participate in the election, says Thaung Htun, the government-in-exile's representative to the United Nations. "We need to publicly propose an alternative."
Some analysts are skeptical that any new approaches from exiles will yield results. Dialogue requires participation on both sides, and the junta has given little indication in the past that it wants to negotiate, though some dissidents believe that may change if the regime is given face-saving options that allow it to claim the 2010 election is legitimate. The regime rarely speaks to the foreign media, Western diplomats or high-ranking dissidents, making it difficult to divine its intentions.
Myanmar's myriad exile groups have struggled to reach consensus in the past, and the latest discussions could easily break down over the details of how far to go with any national reconciliation plan. Many hard-liners still view any form of rapprochement as totally unacceptable, and they worry that any participation in the 2010 election could legitimize a government widely viewed as a military dictatorship.
"The Burmese are too divided to suddenly put all their history behind them," said retired Rutgers University professor and Myanmar expert Josef Silverstein in an email message.
Still, some analysts who follow Myanmar say the new approach at least offers hope of a fresh start after more than two decades of worsening economic and social conditions in the country. Many leading dissidents are now in their 70s and 80s, and a new generation of intellectuals, including some based in Myanmar, have been highly critical of their elders' refusal to negotiate with the regime in the past.
The Jakarta conference was planned in part "to stay relevant to meet the criticism" that older dissident groups are too inflexible, said Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Macquarie University in Sydney. Dissidents are considering new approaches "probably because things are looking so dire" in the country, with little change in recent years, forcing exiles to look "for a new way," said Monique Skidmore, a Myanmar expert at the University of Canberra in Australia. "I'm pleased it's happening," she said.
In Burma, carefully sowing resistance; Fragile opposition wary of confrontation
Washington Post: Mon 10 Aug 2009
Dreams of revolution die hard in the silences of this city's monsoon-soaked streets.
Under cover of night, on a wet, deserted strip of jetty, a young opposition activist gazed toward the ragged lights on the opposite bank of the Rangoon River and talked into the wind that blew through a pair of coconut trees.
"I am not afraid, but I do not want to be arrested, not at this time," said the activist, 27, who had fled Rangoon days earlier, trailed by an intelligence agent.
A flickering neon bar sign caught the contours of his disguise - a baggy anorak, a pair of glasses, a hairnet to mask his thick, dark mane. "If I'm arrested, I cannot take part in demonstrations or campaigns."
On the run or under watch, Burma's semi-clandestine opposition activists have struggled to rouse action while their leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, languishes in Rangoon's Insein Prison. She is being tried on charges that she broke the terms of her house arrest when a U.S. citizen swam across a lake in May to visit her in the compound where she has been confined for 14 of the past 20 years.
For an issue as emotive as the fate of the leader whom Burmese refer to in whispers simply as the Lady, the general inaction has in many ways revealed the fragility of long-cherished visions of toppling the junta from the streets, born of memories from the mass pro-democracy protests of 1988. Some, such as the young activist, have ventured from remote village hideouts back into the cities to launch protests.
In the past two months, dozens have defied barriers and a heavy police presence to hold a vigil outside Insein Prison, where Suu Kyi is being held. Others have distributed pamphlets or photos of her, and some have tried to trigger spontaneous marches with what they call "flash strikes" - unfurling banners in crowded markets in the hope that people will follow.
But the disparate networks of the opposition have tried in vain to forge a united strategy, and their attempts to prompt a mass movement have fizzled in a society frozen by decades of oppression and poverty.
Although Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, won elections in a landslide in 1990, the ruling military junta invalidated the results, imprisoned opposition leaders and solidified its grip on power.
Two decades later, faith in the NLD's ability to bring the country closer to democracy has waned under its octogenarian caretakers. A few smaller groups have emerged from among groups of Buddhist monks, students or the aging leaders of the 1988 protests, with a shared goal of bringing change through nonviolent resistance to the one of the world's most repressive governments. But with many of their leaders arrested after the failed, monk-steered uprising in September 2007, the remaining activists operate illegally and from the shadows.
"All the organizations, they should be united. Some want to make strikes, some do not," said the deputy of a leading opposition network, a former political detainee who faces retaliation from authorities if his name is published. "We need more people; 100 to 200 people is not enough to make the whole country strike."
Wearing a starched shirt and longyi, the cloth wrap that substitutes for trousers, the leader sat in a downtown coffee shop, digging into a plate of fries. "I have so many different identity cards," he said with a grin. "Sometimes I am a teacher. Sometimes I am a student. Today, I am a teacher."
In the past year, 338 dissidents have been handed multi-decade sentences and have been scattered across Burma's network of prisons and detention camps, according to the Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors the Burmese detention system. Many were celebrated figures in the 2007 protests.
Still, some remain undeterred. With his torn jeans, red-streaked hair and silver jewelry, Moe Thway, 28, blends easily into the crowd of young people sipping iced lattes at a Rangoon cafe. Thway is a founder of Generation Wave, one of the most shadowy of the country's underground opposition networks.
The trial of Suu Kyi prompted him to risk his first trip back to Burma from Thailand since security forces raided his house in March 2008. He stayed only a few days to meet with his members. Even his mother did not know he was in town, because he was afraid he would endanger her.
"We cannot push the people. We cannot pull. We must lead if we want success," he said.
His trip back to Rangoon in June, at the height of Suu Kyi's trial, proved disillusioning.
"I see the depression. The eyes - they are hopeless," he said.
Since fleeing, Moe Thway has largely run the group's operations out of Mae Sot, a Thai border town. Two of his co-founders are behind bars. Another is in exile. Members still in Burma are subject to arrest at any moment. Authorities raided Thway's house in March 2008, arresting his younger brother and sentencing him to six months for charges that included illegal possession of "Rambo IV," a film that depicts Sylvester Stallone mowing down Burmese soldiers.
But working from Mae Sot allows Thway to coordinate operations in ways impossible inside Burma, also called Myanmar, where potential informers swarm, news is heavily curtailed and Internet cafes are ridden with spy software. Even with the widespread use of proxy servers to bypass censors, electricity regularly cuts out or the government shuts down the country's main Internet server as a tool of control. Land-line telephones are often tapped, and cellphones are used to track activists' movements.
Many opposition leaders say they see themselves as urban intellectuals with a duty to educate the wider population about civic engagement, particularly ahead of 2010 elections. The elections are nominally intended to implement a new constitution, but many critics have dismissed them as a sham. The opposition leader who poses as both teacher and student talked of his members melting into villages and factories, dressed as laborers and workers. "We talk to them about democracy. We talk to them about globalization, about human rights," he said.
Members of Generation Wave have encouraged friends and neighbors to head to workshops held on the Thai border that address issues such as human rights. The workshops, sponsored by foreign human rights groups or Burmese exiles, have yielded 1,000 graduates in the past five years, Moe Thway said. The challenge, he said, is getting graduates to overcome their fear and act back home on the lessons learned.
Patience Growing Thin
One night two weeks before he fled the city, the young activist on the jetty met with another activist in their usual spot - a cubicle-size, lockable back room at a nightclub plastered with fluorescent planets.
The elder activist, 48, said he had spent the better part of 20 years posing as a fish farmer or rice-paddy laborer. All the while, he has been recruiting opposition activists, spreading ideas about political rights and, in recent months, encouraging a signature campaign against the junta.
"I go to where the people are oppressed," he said. "It is impossible for them to express themselves."
Wispy-thin, he sat stiffly in a large red anorak and railed about the need to educate the rural population.
He was back among the fish farmers when news of Suu Kyi's trial prompted him to travel 50 miles south to Rangoon. The young activist knew him from his teenage years as one of several regulars at a tea shop who would lend him books that eventually converted him into a professional activist.
The older man's patience is now growing thin. In next year's elections, he said, "we need to use an armed struggle. . . . They use violence, and they don't care about international pressure."
On another day, the young activist and three others from separate youth networks talked about sources of inspiration - Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution, the anti-Slobodan Milosevic student movement in Serbia, South Africa's Nelson Mandela and India's Mahatma Gandhi. The conversation, which took place at a restaurant, quieted whenever a waiter hovered.
"To face a very powerful enemy, we need to be clever, we need to be peaceful and we need international support," said one, who introduced himself with a pseudonym.
Two weeks later, the activist returned to Rangoon smuggled in the cargo hold of a truck. He hoped to help coordinate the launch of a "yellow campaign," which aims to encourage Burmese to wear a color favored by Suu Kyi.
This time, he said, he was resolved.
"I won't leave," he said. "I will stay here and fight."
The Lady lives
Foreign Policy: Mon 10 Aug 2009
Twenty years after she was first put under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi is still the inspiration of Burma's would-be opposition.
On my first trip to Burma about a year ago, a young lawyer, in the cramped safety of an apartment that she shared with her aging parents, handed me a thumb-sized, silvery mug shot of a youthful Aung San Suu Kyi. "I could be arrested for carrying this," she said, with a touch with mischief. Then she buried the photo back into her cloth bag as fast as it had shot out.
Dissidence, visitors to Burma learn quickly, often begins with reverence for the embattled opposition leader whom Burmese refer to, in whispers, simply as "the Lady."
Aung San Suu Kyi burst onto the political stage almost by chance in the midst of 1988's mass student-led pro-democracy protests as the charismatic, eloquent daughter of Burma's martyred independence hero. In the years since, she has grown into a lone object of trust among Burmese, repeatedly credited as the sole figure capable of bridging deep divides - one fomented since a 1962 coup between the military and the civilian population, and the another between the Burmese majority and the country's restive ethnic minorities.
Far from diminishing her star, the military junta's two-decades-old tactic of repeatedly isolating her from the masses by confining her to house arrest has only served to amplify her status as a beacon of resistance.
Perhaps, paradoxically, that begins to explain the general inaction in the streets in response to a protracted trial that is part farce and part tragedy, a reminder both of the military junta's penchant for Kafkaesque distortions of justice and its intransigence in the face of widespread international condemnation. To the outside world, small glimmers of hope appeared in the rare invitations meted out on a select few days to a handful of foreign diplomats and well-connected local journalists to sit in on the proceedings. The verdict was due in late July but instead has been adjourned to August 11, a decision that comes as little surprise to Burmese who long ago learned to turn their gaze away from the repeatedly stalled proceedings in disgust.
Burmese, in short, haven't been fooled.
A small crowd of stalwarts from Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), have braved security forces and the likely risk of future arrest to hold a silent vigil outside the blackening walls of Insein prison, where the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has languished on trial for the past 2½ months. They are the most visible sign of activists in the ragged and diffuse semi-underground opposition who have otherwise struggled to foment demonstrations in the streets or spark small campaigns of symbolic protest. Some have distributed pamphlets or photos of Aung San Suu Kyi, and some have tried to trigger spontaneous marches with what they call "flash strikes," unfurling banners in crowded markets in the hopes that people will follow.
But a visitor would be hard-pressed to find these rare moments of defiance amid the silent, scarred streets of Burma's cities.
"People won't demonstrate because they are too afraid. But if you ask people who do they believe? Aung San Suu Kyi," a 27-year-old clandestine activist, code-named Sun Ray, told me. He had recently returned to Rangoon from his rural hide-out to launch a "yellow campaign" - in honor of a color he said was favored by the Lady - through his own semi-underground network. A few months earlier, he had splintered off from the youth branch of the NLD in part because of his belief that the party lacked force.
The NLD won a landslide victory in a 1990 election, but the ruling junta denied the NLD's right to take power, consolidating its stranglehold on the country, imprisoning NLD politicians, harassing NLD members and their families, and banning all other opposition parties. Two decades later, faith in the NLD's power to effect change has crumbled under the aging octogenarian caretakers who run the party from their headquarters in Rangoon. In the past two years, Burmese have watched them fail to take initiative or react fast during September 2007's failed monk-led protests and in the aftermath of last year's Cyclone Nargis, which killed an estimated 140,000 people while the junta dragged its feet.
But Aung San Suu Kyi's staying power manifests in the inspiration she offers to a new generation of activists who are tired of the stagnant politics of a rump NLD that in the past 20 years has brought them no closer to democracy. In her absence from the scene, she has endured as the rallying point for diffuse networks who have begun to displace dreams of toppling the junta from the streets with a bid to prepare the population for a day when the junta falters, through scores of projects in the cities and rice paddies that tread a fine line between social work and politics.
That sentiment echoed throughout my recent travels across the country, where the trial has otherwise met with a mixture of anguish and deep cynicism. The Lady might get five years or another year, Burmese residents told me, often with a shrug; she might be punished with another period of house arrest or a prison sentence (where exactly she might be sent if convicted is the subject of intense speculation in the Rangoon rumor circuit). They've grown accustomed to expecting the worst.
"The whole country is like a jail," a 60-year-old Buddhist abbot told me over tea one recent afternoon, as he wiped off the dust from his spectacles in the dry heat of his Mandalay monastery. "The trial is just political. We don't know about it." To Burmese, he said, it means very little.
Scarred by the memories of past street protests that ended in brutal crackdowns, and empowered last year in the aftermath of the cyclone, when countless Burmese took it upon themselves to dispatch aid to survivors, Burmese have come to accept a new pragmatism. Change, when it comes, will depend on a schism within the military leadership.
And the day the junta falters, "the Lady will lead. But we will lead too. We will organize at the township level," said a Rangoon doctor who recently founded an unofficial nonprofit organization that gathers a shifting crowd of 12 physicians for regular weekend trips to dispatch medicine and free clinical services in ramshackle villages on the outskirts of the city.
"For me, I still see her as my leader," added a 28-year-old woman who works as a teacher for a Rangoon nonprofit that runs courses on civic engagement and governance, "But I don't believe there is only one leader. There will be many individuals. I'm not just waiting for her."
Asked for her thoughts on Aung San Suu Kyi, however, she shut her eyes tightly and said: "Her dedication, her commitment. She left her life for it. I tried it. One day, to be in her shoes - I stayed in my room. On her birthday. It was too difficult."
Amid the shifting caprices of a regime that lacks any legitimacy in the eyes of its people, Aung San Suu Kyi endures as a constant whose ideas on nonviolent protest and what she calls "loving kindness" carry weight in a culture that is deeply intertwined with Buddhist philosophy. Activists, from the most hard-bitten firebrands to aging intellectuals, long ago assimilated that lesson.
On a recent afternoon, Sun Ray and three activists from separate youth networks traded talk about change at a restaurant. They spoke of inspiration coming from Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution; of Otpor, a Serbian student movement that opposed Slobodan Milosevic; of Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. Conversation hushed whenever a waiter hovered.
Ironically, Burmese acknowledge that Aung San Suu Kyi has yet to be tested beyond the burnishing confines of her prison compound. "If your only influence depends on you being a prisoner," she once said, in a conversation with Alan Clements recorded in The Voice of Hope, "then you have not much to speak of."
I learned of her inspirational power best on a dusty street of mango vendors in the city of Mandalay, where a physician brought out file after file filled with the records of patients he had treated through a nonprofit that has been closely watched by agents since 2004. Inside were snapshots of patients who might once have been sent to a carnival freak show - a baby with an eye the size of a football, a girl with an overgrown arm, a man lacerated with skin diseases. All were advanced cases of easily treatable diseases that had been left to run their course too far, he said, a sign of the degeneration of healthcare and the terrible poverty of rural Burmese who rarely think to see a doctor until they near death. The files, which fill an entire room, were the best assurance the group had to survive, said the doctor.
After a long conversation about the pathological distress of the country that carefully sidestepped direct political discussion, he walked me to the gate of his villa, and then stopped suddenly. Across the road, a sunset-drenched monk stepped gingerly into a crumbling pagoda.
"Have you read anything by Aung San Suu Kyi?" the doctor asked, fixing me hard. "She says to use your freedom to help the Burmese become free," he said. His eyes filled with tears. "We do what we can."
The author is a reporter who is working on a book about the struggle for Burma. She blogs at dawbobopwint.blogspot.com.
Burmese Army equipped with new arms - Lawi Weng
Irrawaddy: Fri 7 Aug 2009
The 400,000-strong Burmese army is now almost fully armed with locally manufactured MA-series weapons, according to several sources within the armed forces and rebel groups.
The sources told The Irrawaddy that the Burmese army - known as the "Tatmadaw" - had equipped all frontline battalions with MA1, MA2, MA3 or MA4 automatic assault rifles.
According to a weapons Web site, securityarms.com, the MA series was manufactured with the help of arms contractor Israeli Military Industries, and was designed similar to the Israeli Galil rifle.
The weapons are expected to be used in conflicts with ethnic rebel groups, in particular the Karen National Union, as the Tatmadaw seeks to extinguish the country's 60-year-plus insurgency. The Burmese armed forces have one of the world's most notorious records for atrocities and human rights abuses, such as killing civilians, raping women and conscripting children.
Since the 1950s, the Tatmadaw has traditionally employed German-made G-3 weapons. However, the G-3 assault rifle was considered too heavy for use in jungle warfare and, as the Burmese generals had endured decades of conflict with ethnic groups in Burma's mountainous border regions, they began manufacture of the MA series in 2002, presumably after signing a license agreement with Israel Military Industries.
The MA1 and MA2 assault rifles are shorter and lighter than the G3, but not as powerful, said the sources.
The MA3 is an assault carbine, basically an MA1 with a side-folding stock, and the MA4 is a grenadier weapon, essentially an MA1 equipped with a single-shot grenade launcher.
Sources told The Irrawaddy that the weapons were manufactured at several factories in Burma, but the main factory is reportedly called Ka Pa Sa No 1, and is situated near Rangoon's Inya Lake.
Sai Sheng Murng, the deputy spokesman of the rebel Shan State Army-South (SSA), said, "The MA1 and MA2 assault rifles are not heavy, so they are good for carrying to the frontlines. But they are not powerful like the G-3."
"The MA1s and MA2s are similar to our M16s. In fact, we can use their ammunition in our M16 rifles, but they cannot use our ammunition in their rifles," he said.
The Burmese army is one of the most battle-hardened forces in Asia, having fought almost continuously against ethnic insurgents and communist guerillas for more than six decades.
However, following the brutal suppression of student-led demonstrations in 1988, the United States and later the European Union imposed an arms embargo on the Burmese regime.
At the time, Burmese democracy activists and international sympathizers lobbied the West German government to prevent sales of G-3 weapons from the Fritz Werner arms manufacturing company going to the Burmese junta.
The German arms manufacturers registered themselves in Burma in the 1990s as Myanmar Fritz Werner Industries Co Ltd, an electrical and electronics company.
However, the photograph of a Japanese journalist, Kenji Nagai, being shot during protests in 2007 by a Burmese soldier holding what would appear to be a G-3 rifle, raised doubts as to whether local production of the German assault rifle was ongoing.
Despite the Western arms embargo, the Burmese military regime has no shortage of arms suppliers - Israel, Russia, Ukraine and China are reportedly the main players.
Meanwhile, recent reports have indicated that Burma has purchased nuclear material from North Korea and harbors ambitions of creating a nuclear arsenal.
Suu Kyi is 'part of the problem': Goh Chok Tong - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Fri 7 Aug 2009
Goh Chok Tong, Singapore's former prime minister and current senior minister, said on Thursday that Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is "part of the problem" facing the military-ruled country.
Goh told reporters at the Asia-Middle East Media Roundtable in Singapore that while the West sees Suu Kyi as the solution to Burma's problems, she is also "part of problem" because she believes she is the government, according to Singapore's Channel NewsAsia news network.
He also suggested Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), needed to seek a fresh mandate in the 2010 elections, saying that Suu Kyi should not dwell on the fact that her party's victory in the 1990 elections was not recognized by the junta.
"That was 19 years ago, that's history. If she realizes she has to be part of the solution, she has to offer some concessions, such as to publicly say that she would be in favor of the lifting of sanctions," Goh was quoted as saying in The Malaysian Insider on Friday.
On Burma's scheduled elections for next year, Goh said the junta should make sure that the elections were "fair, free and legitimate." He added: "The process must involve parties that oppose you as well. Aung San Suu Kyi must be allowed to participate."
The senior minister from the most developed country in Southeast Asia also said that military-ruled Burma's economy has enormous growth potential.
"Myanmar [Burma] has the potential to boom in the next 10 years and it can be like Thailand's today in 20 years' time," Goh said.
Responding to Goh's comments, Aye Thar Aung, the secretary of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP), an umbrella group consisting of parties elected in 1990, rejected the idea that Suu Kyi is part of Burma's problem.
"I disagree with Mr Goh Chok Tong because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has openly said since 1988 that she could negotiate with the generals for the benefit of the country. She has also said that believes the military is needed to resolve the problems in Burma," said Aye Thar Aung.
"Significantly, she also recognizes the importance of resolving ethnic issues. So she is still a key player in efforts to reach a resolution," he added.
The argument that Suu Kyi is "part of the problem" is not new.
In early 2003, a number of Burma analysts, citing claims in the country's state-run media that Suu Kyi was not willing to negotiate with the military, began to suggest that she had become an obstacle to political progress.
At the time, these analysts argued that Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt, a relative moderate among the ruling generals, should be regarded as the most important force for political change in Burma, not Suu Kyi. Khin Nyunt's ouster in October 2004 put an end to that idea.
But the debate over Suu Kyi's role in Burmese politics has recently been revived, with some Burma experts and international aid agencies saying that greater attention should be paid to the needs of ordinary Burmese citizens, rather than the plight of its most famous political prisoner. With the US and the European Union threatening tougher sanctions in response to Suu Kyi's trial on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest, the debate has intensified.
In a recent interview with Asia Times online, Burmese historian Thant Myint-U, a former UN diplomat who is currently a visiting fellow with the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, called Suu Kyi's strategy for reform "a gamble" that has not paid off.
He added that Suu Kyi's approach has come at "the increasing cost of other roads not tested and opportunities lost as well as the enormous effect sanctions and aid cut-offs have had on ordinary people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable in the country."
Meanwhile, Singaporean leaders, who are vocal advocates of engagement with the regime, have come under fire for being fundamentally ill-informed about Burma's political realities.
In an interview last Sunday with The online Citizen, Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo incorrectly stated that Burma had been ruled by the military since its independence in 1948 and that Suu Kyi's father, Aung San, had created the law that a Burmese citizen married to a foreign national could not take political office.
"The statements made by Singaporean leaders this week are undermining their own credibility," said Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of Altsean, the Alternative Asean Network.
The CRPP's Aye Thar Aung said that while regional leaders were welcome to play a role in resolving Burma's political standoff, they should try to learn more about the country to get a better understanding of the roots of its problems.
Burma isn't broke - Sean Turnell
Wall Street Journal: Fri 7 Aug 2009
The drawn-out show trial of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has once again focused attention on Burma and sparked discussion on how to engage the regime. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently suggested development aid as a carrot to coax the generals to talk. But contrary to popular belief, the junta isn't as poor as it claims to be.
Burma has emerged as a major regional supplier of natural gas in Asia-Pacific. At present, most of this gas is sold to Thailand, but new fields will shortly provide for vast sales to China. Rising gas prices and increasing demand have caused the value of Burma's gas exports to soar, driving a projected balance-of-payments surplus for this fiscal year of around $2.5 billion. Burma's international reserves will rise to over $5 billion-worth by the end of the year.
These revenues make next to no impact on the country's official fiscal accounts, however. The reason is simple: Burma's U.S. dollar gas earnings are recorded in the government's published accounts at the local currency's "official" exchange rate of around six kyat to a dollar. This rate overvalues the currency by nearly 200 times its market value and undervalues the local-currency value of Burma's gas earnings by an equivalent amount. Recorded at the official rate, Burma's gas earnings translate into less than 1% of budget receipts. By contrast, if the same gas earnings are recorded at the market exchange rate, their contribution would more than double total state receipts, and largely eliminate Burma's fiscal deficit.
The motivation for this sleight of hand is probably to "quarantine" Burma's foreign exchange earnings from the country's public accounts, thereby making them available to the regime and its cronies. This accounting is facilitated by Burma's state-owned Foreign Trade Bank and some willing offshore banks.
Flush with these funds, Burma's military rulers have embarked upon a spending binge of epic proportions, including indulging themselves in the creation of a new administrative capital named Naypyidaw, or "abode of kings." They are also buying nuclear technologies of uncertain use from Russia and possibly from North Korea.
This kind of behavior is par for the course in Burma. The military junta took power in a 1962 coup and has consistently expropriated the country's output while dismantling its basic market institutions. There are no effective property rights in Burma, and the rule of law is weak. Macroeconomic policy making is capricious, unpredictable and ill-informed. The regime spends greatly in excess of its revenue and resorts to the printing presses to finance its spending, creating inflation. Most of Burma's prominent corporations are owned by the military, and the country is judged by Transparency International as the second most corrupt in the world.
Burma's fall from grace has been incredible to watch. The country was once one of the richest in Southeast Asia and the world's largest rice exporter. Today, Burma can barely feed itself. In 1950, the per capita of GDP of Burma and its neighbor, Thailand, were virtually identical. Today, Thailand's GDP is seven times that of its former peer, despite very similar religious, cultural and physical endowments.
The people of Burma are poor, but the regime that oppresses them is not. Changing this equation is the true key to economic development in Burma, and the outcome to which the efforts of the rest of the world should be directed.
* Mr. Turnell is the editor of Burma Economic Watch and an associate professor in economics at Macquarie University in Sydney.
It's time for the United Nations to take strong action on Burma
Women's League of Burma: Fri 7 Aug 2009
Women's Groups around the World Call on the UNSC to Prosecute Senior General Than Shwe at the International Criminal Court
7 August 2009
The Women's League of Burma (WLB) joined by sixty four leading women's organizations sent a letter to the Secretary General and members of the United Nations Security Council calling for the prosecution of Senior General Than Shwe at the International Criminal Court (ICC), and an immediate end to the longstanding impunity that has been afforded to the brutal military junta in Burma.
The letter states that:
Well-documented reports of past violations, continued systematic repression, and an incapacitated judicial system stand as solid witness to the necessity of strong international intervention. We call for the UN Security Council to start with a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the horrific campaign of terror by the military regime and to refer Senior General Than Shwe and his cronies to the international Criminal Court for all crimes including for the imprisonment of Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in violation of international law.
The Secretary General's historic Report on July 15, 2009 on Security Council resolution 1820 makes clear that gender crimes by the military in are covered by the firm legal mandates of Security Council resolution 1820. These include the rights to criminal accountability, the prohibition of any amnesty for the military, and in this case an ICC referral.
The report discusses in two places and these words speak volumes.
In Myanmar, recent concern has been expressed at discrimination against the minority Muslim population of Northern Rakhine State and their vulnerability to sexual violence, as well as the high prevalence of sexual violence perpetrated against rural women from the Shan, Mon, Karen, Palaung and Chin ethnic groups by members of the armed forces and at the apparent impunity of the perpetrators.
In , women and girls are fearful of working in the fields or traveling unaccompanied, given regular military checkpoints where they are often subject to sexual harassment.
Furthermore, in countries such as Afghanistan, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sierra Leone, the Sudan and Timor-Leste, the effective administration of justice is hampered not only by a lack of capacity, but also by the fact that some justice officials do not give serious consideration to reports of sexual violence.
In truth, although there has been documentation and identification of military personnel who have committed sexual violence, including relevant dates and battalion numbers, disciplinary or criminal action is yet to be taken against the alleged perpetrators.
Accordingly, UN Security Council resolution 1820 affirms the urgent need to end impunity and protect civilians in conflict and post conflict situations. Impunity for sexual violence committed during conflict perpetuates impunity and WLB calls on the Security Council to act on the mandate of UN Security Council resolution 1820 and halt the systemic use of rape and other sex crimes against the ethnic women of who have been brutalized for decades with no redress or reparations.
This letter is being issued to coincide with the open debates at the Security Council on the Secretary General's Report, and underscores that for the women of debate must lead to immediate action and the only access for justice for them is the ICC.
CSW urges international community to intensify efforts on Burma on 21st anniversary of regimes suppression of pro-democracy protests
Christian Solidarity Worldwide: Fri 7 Aug 2009
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling on the international community to unite to bring change to Burma, on the 21st anniversary of the military crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
On 8 August, 1988 several thousand Burmese pro-democracy demonstrators, led by students, were killed by the military as it launched a brutal crackdown on a movement that had grown throughout that year. Since 1988, the regime has continued to perpetrate gross violations of human rights, including the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war, the widespread use of forced labour, forcible conscription of child soldiers, the use of human minesweepers, religious persecution and extrajudicial killings. Over 2,100 political prisoners remain in jail while Burma's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has already spent over 13 years under house arrest, waits to hear the final verdict from her latest trial on 11 August, possibly leading to further years spent in prison.
As campaigners mark the 21st anniversary of the crackdown known as "8888″, CSW is calling on the United Nations, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union (EU), China, India, Japan, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom to work together to intensify pressure on Burma's military regime.
CSW's East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said: "It is essential that we do not simply remember this anniversary as yet another in Burma's tragic history of brutal oppression. The most fitting tribute the world could pay to those who sacrificed their lives would be to unite and take concrete steps to support the brave Burmese people in their struggle for freedom. We call on the international community, working through the UN Security Council, to prioritise the release of all political prisoners in Burma, including Aung San Suu Kyi. We urge countries with influence on the regime, such as China, India, Russia and members of ASEAN, especially Singapore and Thailand, to recognize the severity of the political and humanitarian crisis in Burma, which affects the whole region, and to act to bring about change. We call on the EU, including the United Kingdom, and the United States to work with Burma's neighbours to secure the release of political prisoners, the introduction of a universal arms embargo and the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity in Burma. These are the steps that are required if we are to prevent another 21 years of torture, rape and murder with impunity in Burma."
Russia taking raw Uranium from Burma since 2007
Kachin News Group: Thu 6 Aug 2009
A Russian firm has been taking raw Uranium from Hpakant areas in Burma's northern Kachin State since 2007, said reliable local sources.
Victorious Glory International Private Ltd. of Russia is taking the raw Uranium from the company's Uranium mines in Tarmakhan, Hongpa near Katai Taung, under tight security provided by the ruling junta, said eyewitnesses.
A local eyewitness told KNG today, the company's mining areas are fenced off with opaque covers and the Uranium is mined inside the mountain with sophisticated digging machines.
The raw Uranium is specially packed in sacks, which look like cement sacks. It is then transported to Hopin railway station in large trucks. Then the Uranium is transported to Rangoon sea port by trains for delivery to Russia, said sources close to the company and eyewitnesses.
According to eyewitnesses in Hpakant, the company has been excavating the raw Uranium from these areas since 2007.
The company signed an agreement with the ruling junta in Naypyitaw on February 15, 2007 for exploration of gold and associated minerals along Uru Hka River (or Uru Hka in Kachin) between Hpakant in Kachin State and Homalin in Sagaing Division.
One year before the two sides reached an agreement, Russian Uranium explorers arrived in the area, said residents of Hpakant. The movements of Russian miners are specially secured in the mines and outside by security forces of the junta, said residents of Hpakant.
The junta is constructing a nuclear plant in caves after tunneling into a mountain in Naung Laing in northern Burma, some 600 kilometres north of Rangoon. Five North Koreans worked there, according to South Korean media reports. A nuclear reactor from which plutonium can be extracted is also allegedly being built.
Two defectors from the Burmese Army testified recently that the junta has a secret nuclear weapons programme, which is being supported by North Korea and Russia.
Burma Army beheads woman - Hseng Khio Fah
Shan Herald Agency for News: Thu 6 Aug 2009
A local woman in Mongkeung Township, southern Shan State was beheaded by the Burma Army troops that have been launching a four-cut campaign since 27 July , according to villagers who recently fled to Thailand.
In the morning of 3 August, Nang Hsoi, 29, from Wan Kart village, Ho Khai village tract was arrested in her village by soldiers from Mongkeung based Light Infantry Battalion (LIB)#514 after falsely accusing her as the wife of a Shan State Army (SSA) 'South' fighter and collaboration with the SSA, said a local villager who asked not to be named.
"In the evening they [soldiers] took her to a bridge nearby the village, cut her head down and threw it into the creek," he said.
Two days before her death, over 10 villagers from Wan Kart, Wan Kawng and Wan Long village were detained on suspicion of being SSA spies at the army base.
The Burma Army that has been the four-cut campaign (cutting food, funds, intelligence and recruits to the armed resistance by local populace) had ordered villagers in Mongkeung, Kehsi and Laikha townships to leave their homes within 5 days, from 1 to 5 August.
Since then, at least 300 houses in the three townships were razed to the ground and more than 300 villagers were forcibly relocated to the town, said a source.
The campaign drive was led by the Mongnawng - based Military Operations Command (MOC) #2 command: Loilem based IB#9, and #12, Laikha based IB#64 and LIB#515, Namzang based IB#66 , #247 and LIB#516, Mongnai based IB#248 and LIB#518, Panglong based LIB#513, Mongkeung based LIB#514 and Mongpawn based LIB#517.
To date, 21 villages from Panghsang village tract and 9 villages from Wan Htee village tract in Laikha township alone were forced to resettle in Marklang quarter of the town.
During the drive some were beaten and some were reportedly killed, forcing many others to hide in the jungle, said another villager who is seeking asylum on the Thai-Burma border.
"There were some people who are hiding in the jungle preparing to seek refuge in Thailand," she said, "Many people will be coming soon."
Currently, about 10 people are seeking asylum in areas near Thailand.
During the last engagement on 15 July, the Burma Army's LIB 515 suffered 11 killed, 1 captured and 5 assorted weapons lost.
During the 1996-98 campaign against the SSA, 1,500 villages were destroyed and more than 300,000 in southern and eastern Shan State were forcibly relocated, a third of which had escaped into Thailand.
More Karen refugees flee to Thailand - Naw Noreen
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 6 Aug 2009
Around 200 Karen refugees have fled across the border to Thailand's refugee camps in recent weeks with many reporting continued forced recruitment into the Burmese army and militias.
According to a refugee who recently arrived in Thailand's Nu Poh camp, villagers were given the choice of either paying 150,000 kyat ($US150) or joining the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) militia, who have been fighting alongside Burmese troops.
"We have been already struggling for food and we can't afford to pay them," said the refugee. "And we couldn't go out to work for food as there are landmines surrounding our villages."
A spokesperson from the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP) said that 200 more refugees have recently arrived at three camps located in Thailand's Tha Song Yang district, in Tak province.
"Some said there was forced recruitment and labouring as well as extortion of money [from the villagers]," he said.
Some of the newly arrived refugees said the DKBA's Battalion 999 has been recruiting villagers in Karen state's Nabu township, citing security for the villages as the reason.
An official from Battalion 999 said that new
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