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748[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 8/4/10

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Apr 8, 2010
      1. Burma’s Suu Kyi ‘welcomes party boycott of polls’
      2. NLD Mandalay office closed
      3. Child displacement in Burma documented
      4. Burma Army setting up more barriers against Wa
      5. ASEAN MPs tell leaders to consider expelling Myanmar
      6. US agency accused of sanctions busting
      7. Myanmar party sorry for not bringing democracy
      8. Many won’t vote without NLD
      9. Burmese PM may lead political party
      10. Myanmar to escape censure at ASEAN summit
      11. An election in name only
      12. UK favors sending Myanmar to ICC, China says it’s sovereign, UN’s Ban defers
      13. Elections in Burma
      14. A message to the people of Burma
      15. Food imports to Wa state ‘blocked’
      16. ‘The regime is a political rapist’
      17. Ethnic council opposes junta electoral laws
      18. Five reasons why Burma’s elections are bogus
      19. Myanmar tightens formalities with passport application
      20. Inter-Parliamentary Union urges Myanmar to change election laws
      21. Burma’s opposition boycotts
      22. The same old road to nowhere

      Burma’s Suu Kyi ‘welcomes party boycott of polls’
      Agence France Presse: Wed 7 Apr 2010

      Burma’s detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi welcomes her party’s decision to boycott upcoming elections in the military-ruled nation, her lawyer said Wednesday.Senior members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) agreed last week not to register for the first polls to be held in two decades, after the ruling generals introduced a controversial new election law.

      The party would have been forced to oust its iconic leader and recognise the junta’s constitution if it had signed up, but now faces dissolution in less than six weeks for failing to do so under new legislation for the polls.

      “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she was very glad about the NLD’s decision,” said her lawyer and NLD spokesman Nyan Win after he met with the 64-year-old at her lakeside house. Daw is a term of respect in Burma.

      Under election laws dismissed as a sham by international critics, if the party had registered for the polls, due before the end of November, it would have been forced to part with Suu Kyi because she is serving a prison term.

      The Nobel peace laureate, who has been locked up for 14 of the last 20 years, had already told the party she was opposed to such a move.

      Suu Kyi also supported the party’s apology Tuesday for failing in its struggle for democracy and national reconciliation, Nyan Win said.

      In that statement, the NLD blamed the authorities’ crackdown and promised to continue peacefully in its fight for democracy.

      “We will firmly stand by our decision. We have our future tasks. But we cannot reveal them at this moment because of our country’s situation,” Nyan Win told reporters, adding that the party would work within the law.

      Burma’s election law nullifies the result of the last polls held in 1990 that were won by the NLD by a landslide but never recognised by the junta, which has ruled the country since 1962.

      The United States, which has led international criticism of the new election law, blamed the junta for the opposition’s decision to boycott, saying the regime had missed an opportunity.

      Amnesty International said Wednesday that Burma’s flawed election plans and “appalling” human rights record should dominate a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this week in Hanoi.

      The London-based group said Burma was violating Asean’s own charter enacted in December 2008 which commits members to ideals of democracy and human rights.

      NLD Mandalay office closed – Kyaw Thein Kha
      Irrawaddy: Wed 7 Apr 2010

      The National League for Democracy (NLD) Mandalay Division office closed on Saturday after local authorities applied pressure on the landlord, a member of the division’s organizing committee said on Wednesday.He told The Irrawaddy that the pressure to close the office began after the March 29 decision by the NLD not to register as a political party, and thereby face dissolution.

      “The authorities put pressure on our landlord not to provide her three-story house anymore, and they asked her to comply as soon as possible,” said Myo Naing, a member of the Mandalay organizing committee.

      All NLD offices across the country were closed by the authorities after the Depayin massacre in May 2003. The officies were only allowed to reopen on March 10, in preparation for the 2010 election, but only weeks later NLD members voted to not take part in the national election, citing its lack of fairness and inclusiveness, and saying that barring of party leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from party membership and voting was undemocratic.

      Myo Naing said the Mandalay office first opened in 2002 and the contents of the office have been moved to the home of a NLD member, who is also now under pressure from authorities.

      On Monday, the NLD executive committee in Rangoon organized a 17-member management committee to handle arrangements for the party’s possessions after it is dissolved, said Tin Oo, the NLD vice-chairman.

      According to the new electoral and party registration laws, political parties that fail to register before the 60-day deadline will be dissolved.

      Child displacement in Burma documented – Lawi Weng
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 7 Apr 2010

      In the ongoing military conflict in eastern Burma, children’s lives are scarred by death, destruction, loss and neglect at the hands of Burmese junta troops, according to a joint report by the Free Burma Rangers and Partners released on Wednesday.Based on the Thai-Burmese border, the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) and Partners released its findings in a report titled “Displaced Childhoods,” which chronicles conflict areas in eastern Burma
      A displaced family flees from Burmese government forces in Karen State. (Photo: www.partnersworld.org)

      According to the report, in 2009 alone there were about 112,000 villages in eastern Burma displaced due to direct or indirect actions by the Burmese regime. Children are particularly at risk in displacement, according to the report.

      >From 2002 to the end of 2009, the report said that more than 580,000
      civilians including more than 190,000 children have been forcibly displaced from their homes in eastern Burma. An estimated one to three million people live as internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout Burma. A third of these are children.

      The report documents how childhood is disrupted by violence, insecurity and poverty. Children are witnesses of and subject to arbitrary and extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, rape and sexual violence, forced labor and conscription as porters, recruitment as child soldiers and restrictions on basic and fundamental freedoms.

      Richard Chilvers, a FBR spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, “We want to send a strong message that Burma must observe the rights for children because children are venerable in Burma. Particularly, children who are internally displaced.”

      He said that the international community must put pressure on the regime and on the United Nations to enforce international standards of human rights inside Burma.

      Saw Monkey, a videographer for FBR, said, “There is no peace, freedom and development in Karen State because of oppression.” He said that two children were shot dead and their mother was wounded in March in Ler Doh Township, Nyaunglebin District, in western Karen State.

      He said the woman was returning home with her two children when Burmese troops in Light Infantry Battalion 369 shot her 5-year-old daughter at her side and her 5-month-old, who she carried on her back.

      “The people live with fear all the time. Their life is always uncertain. Sometimes, when the army comes to a village, they have to run away. For children, they have to abandon their classes.”

      The Partners and FBR teams collected information from 200 people affected by displacement in Burma through community-based surveys and border interviews and conducted 82 in-depth interviews along the Thai-Burmese border between June and December 2009.

      The interviews included parents and grandparents as well as children from Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, and Shan states while living in junta-designated relocation sites, in cease-fire areas and in hiding. The FBR team surveyed more than 93 people from ethnic Karen and Shan communities, including 38 women and 46 children between July 2009 and January 2010.

      David Eubank, the FBR director, said, “The dictators have committed their lives, fortune and honor to keeping power. If we want to be a part of freedom in Burma by resisting the power of hate with love, we can do no less. We love the people of Burma and stand with them, this is our heart. We believed that oppression is morally wrong, this is our mind.”

      IDPs are typically forced to leave their villages, homes, farms and livelihoods with little advanced warning. The people find themselves in precariously unstable circumstances, lacking protection from human rights violations committed by the junta troops and in danger of further displacement with little access to the most basic necessities including adequate and sustainable food sources, clean drinking water, stable shelters, schools and healthcare facilities, according to the report.

      The Partners and FBR have called for a formal investigation through a UN Commission of inquiry to evaluate all allegations of international crimes committed against the civilian population in Burma, including crimes against humanity and war crimes.

      The groups said in a statement that according to the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, national authorities are responsible to prevent and avoid conditions that might lead to displacement of persons. Far from the fulfilling its obligations under international law, the actions of the Burmese regime have led to violent attacks on civilians, irresponsible development projects and widespread human rights abuses which have resulted in new instances of displacement throughout the country, according to the statement.

      Burma Army setting up more barriers against Wa – Hseng Khio Fah
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Wed 7 Apr 2010

      Burma’ ruling military junta has reportedly been erecting barriers more densely than ever against ethnic ceasefire groups, especially in the United Wa State Army (UWSA) as the latest deadline 22 April draws near, according to local sources from the Thai-Burma border.The activities reportedly started on 27 March, Armed Forces Day. Between Tachilek and Monghsat, a distance of 63 miles, there are no less than 20 Burma Army checkpoints, a local source in Monghsat said. “It is to monitor Wa’s movements.”
      [Burma Army checkpoint near Tachilek]

      At the same time, Tachilek authorities are also vigorously conducting inspection of the people in the town for a week. They have been checking from house to house including hotels and apartments from 22:00 until dawn, said a Tachilek resident.

      “They asked many questions. They checked our ID cards and questioned whether our cards are real or not. Some people staying in apartments got thorough inspection including their bedrooms.” she said. “We don’t’ know why they are so serious.”

      In addition, rumor is around that Naypyitaw is deploying three more Light Infantry Divisions (LIDs): Kalaw based LID #55, Pegu based LID #77 and Pa-an based LID#22 to the areas very soon. Tachilek area commander Colonel Khin Maung Soe himself was reported to have left the town to oversee the preparations.

      The situation seems if the Wa is still standing defiant to the Naypyitaw’s Border Guard Force program, a breakout of hostilities after 28 April is possible, a border watcher said.

      The UWSA and other ceasefire groups have been given a 22 April deadline to accept the Burma Army’s demand, and to face the consequences of their continued defiance by 28 April, when they would be declared as illegal organizations.

      According to a source close to the UWSA southern military region, the ruling military junta should accept the Wa’s latest counter proposal submitted on 1 April.

      “In the past, we said there should be no junta officers at the battalion level,” he said. “But now we are allowing it to have one officer to serve either as a commander or deputy commander at the battalion level.”

      ASEAN MPs tell leaders to consider expelling Myanmar
      Agence France Presse: Wed 7 Apr 2010

      Hanoi – More than 100 ASEAN lawmakers on Wednesday urged leaders meeting in Vietnam this week to impose sanctions on Myanmar and consider its expulsion for ignoring calls for free and fair elections.The legislators said leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at their annual summit Thursday and Friday should “urgently discuss” the election due to be held in Myanmar later this year.

      In a petition to the leaders, the parliamentarians condemned election laws unveiled by Myanmar’s junta which have been criticised as undermining the credibility of the vote, the first to be held in the country for two decades.

      Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Demoracy, has boycotted the poll over the laws, which would have forced it to exclude her from the party if it wanted to take part.

      “With the promulgation of these apparently biased laws… the regime has forfeited its best opportunity to show willingness to engage in an inclusive process of national reconciliation,” the petition said.

      The petition, endorsed by 105 members of parliament from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, was sent to leaders by the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), which lobbies for democratic reforms in the former Burma.

      “As Myanmar has thus far ignored ASEAN’s calls to reform… a new and more decisive course of action must be undertaken,” the MPs said.

      “ASEAN should immediately enact strict and targetted economic sanctions against Myanmar’s military government.”

      Myanmar should also be “immediately suspended from the grouping and its permanent expulsion earnestly considered” because it has failed to adhere to principles enshrined in the new ASEAN Charter, they said.

      Myanmar has in the past escaped collective censure by ASEAN because of the group’s policy of non-interference in members’ internal affairs.

      However, some ASEAN members have separately criticised Myanmar’s military regime and called for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release.

      US agency accused of sanctions busting – Francis Wade
      Democratic Voice of Burma :Wed 7 Apr 2010

      The US government aid agency USAID has denied charges levelled by a Burma campaign group that it is breaching US sanctions on the military-ruled country.The prominent Washington-based US Campaign for Burma (USCB) said in March that USAID funding of the ASEAN Competitive Enhancement (ACE) project, which looks to promote the tourism and textiles industries of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, was “not in line with US-Burma policy”.

      Burma is a member of ASEAN, but is subject to strict US trade and financial sanctions. A campaign to boycott tourism in Burma has received strong backing from various campaign groups, although this has not been factored into the US sanctions package.

      But USAID’s funding of the ACE remains a “violation” of US policy and should be challenged by Congress, USCB advocacy director Jennifer Quigley has told TTR Weekly travel website.

      “The spirit of [US Burma sanctions] was to keep American dollars out of the hands of the Burmese regime,” she said. “The way the Burmese tourism economy is structured, it is not a stretch to assume the regime would benefit financially.”

      USAID communications director, Hal Lipper, defended the charges by saying that ASEAN had requested funding to Southeast Asia “as a region”.

      One of the main arguments against tourism in Burma is that, with the majority of property and services owned by the ruling regime, tourist money would eventually find its way into government coffers. Moreover, rights groups have said that many tourist resorts and services were built using forced labour.

      Detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had previously urged tourists to stay away from the country whilst it remains under military rule, although this stance appears have softened in line with growing international engagement with the junta.

      The pro-tourism lobby argues however that interaction with locals, although often highly restricted by the government, can contribute towards pulling the country out of decades of isolation.

      Tourism currently only contributes to around 0.7 percent of Burma’s GDP, meaning that the boycott is largely symbolic and would have little tangible effect on the country’s economy. The impact of sanctions has also been lessened by Burma’s growing trade with ASEAN countries, as well as China and India.

      Myanmar party sorry for not bringing democracy
      Associated Press: Tue 6 Apr 2010

      Yangon – The party of detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday it was sorry it could not bring democracy to the country because of repression by the military government but it will continue its nonviolent struggle.The National League for Democracy last week decided to boycott the first scheduled elections in two decades. It said the electoral laws imposed by the ruling junta, which would prevent Suu Kyi from taking part, were undemocratic.

      In a statement Tuesday, the NLD said its leaders and the party members had sacrificed and worked relentlessly. The party “earnestly apologizes to the people” for its failure to achieve national reconciliation and democracy, due to arrests, repression, harassment and threats by the authorities.

      “However, the League will never turn its back to the people or to its struggle for democracy,” the statement said. “We pledge to continue to achieve our goals for democracy through systematic, peaceful and nonviolent means.”

      Myanmar, also known as Burma, which has been ruled by its military for 48 years. The government has touted the polls as part of a “roadmap to democracy.” Critics say the elections are a sham designed to cement the power of the military.

      The junta says it will hold the elections this year but has not set a date.

      The NLD statement said the electoral laws imposed by the junta for the polls are “unjust’ and “unrealistic.”

      The party’s refusal to participate is likely to undermine the vote’s credibility in the eyes of foreign governments and the United Nations, which have urged the diplomatically isolated junta to ensure all groups take part.

      Suu Kyi’s party won the last elections held in Myanmar in 1990 by a landslide but was barred by the military from taking power.

      Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has spent 14 of the last 20 years in jail or under house arrest.

      Many won’t vote without NLD – Khaing Thwe
      Irrawaddy: Tue 6 Apr 2010

      Rangoon––In an Irrawaddy survey involving more than 500 people in Rangoon, nearly half said they do not intend to vote in the upcoming election if the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), does not contest it.The Irrawaddy recently asked 520 Rangoon residents, both men and women, between the ages of 20 and 70, if they will vote in the election, even without the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD. Two hundred and fifty-two persons (48 percent) said they did not want to, while 198 persons (38 percent) said they will vote even if the NLD does not participate. The remaining 70 declined to answer or said they had not yet made up their minds.
      In the photo taken last year, pedestrians walk by wooden barricades with barbed wires in Rangoon. (Photo: AP)

      “I only support the NLD,” said a 54-year-old construction engineer. “I voted for the NLD in the last election in 1990. If the NLD doesn’t compete in this year’s election, I won’t have any party to vote for. I am not going to cast my ballot.”

      A 30-year-old woman said that she will not vote in an election without an NLD presence as she knows Suu Kyi’s party alone. She said that she does not know any other party and is not interested in them.

      “The election will be meaningless without the NLD,” said a student from the Government Technical College. “All other parties contesting the election consist of people favorable to the regime. So, I am not going to vote.”

      A majority of those who said they will not vote without the NLD participating thought the party had made the right decision in not registering for the election. Some said they had made the decision not to vote as a means of boycott, because they respect the NLD viewpoint and decision.

      “I don’t think the election will be successful if many people, like us, do not vote,” said a 28-year-old taxi driver. “People need to join hands and they shouldn’t go to the polling station.”

      Those who said they will still cast their ballots in the election, with or without NLD participation, had different reasons for doing so, according to our survey.

      “As a civil servant I have no choice but to vote. I won’t be happy if the NLD doesn’t compete in election and I will have to choose another suitable party and vote for it, but not the USDA [Union Solidarity and Development Association],” said a 53-year-old office worker.

      He added that the regime will force civil servants and military personnel to vote in the election, and could also arrange to mark their ballots the way it wanted.

      “If I don’t go to vote, the authorities will get the chance to use my ballot,” a female trader said. “I can’t let that happen, so I must vote.”

      “We should vote because it is our right,” said a teacher in his 60s. “We must express our opinion. Also, [the election] authorities will convert our votes into theirs if we don’t use them. I have thought about this and that’s why I believe we should all vote.”

      Most of those in favor of voting despite the NLD absence said they do not favor the opposition party decision not to register. Many said that people should vote in the election because during the 2008 constitutional referendum the election authorities had transformed unused ballot papers and advanced voting ballots into “Yes” votes.

      A 40-year-old businessman told The Irrawaddy he has yet to think about whether he will cast his ballot in the coming election, as there will be no NLD candidate. He said that he will make his decision based on the political situation at that time.

      “The political situation is changing all the time,” said an elderly man. “It will keep changing, so I can’t say yet if I am going to vote.”

      He said he believes the NLD was right not to register for the election, but that he was also concerned that NLD members would be driven out of politics due to the dissolution of the party, which would be a great loss for the people of Burma.

      “The NLD is the party that was elected by the people,” said a retired headmistress. “I don’t like the way the NLD members made the decision not to register for the election by themselves. I think they didn’t pay attention to public opinion. People want the NLD to contest the election and they will vote for them. The NLD would surely win again if genuine elections were held.”

      Burmese PM may lead political party
      Irrawaddy: Tue 6 Apr 2010

      Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein may leave his current post to head the new political wing of the government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), according to sources in Naypyidaw. Although Thein Sein reportedly wants to retire and is having heart problems, inside military sources said Snr Gen Than Shwe asked him to remain and head-up the new political party.
      Gen. Thein Sein listens through his earphones as he attends a retreat session at the 15th Asean Summit in Thailand last year. (Photo: Reuters)

      Several government sources said Thein Sein has been told to hand over his current house and other state-owned properties to the government. The new election laws forbid political parties and their candidates from using state-owned resources, although there is an exemption for resources officially allotted by the government.

      The rumor regarding Thein Sein’s future is spreading fast among government servants, dissident circles and observers inside and outside Burma.

      Thein Sein, who is known to be a trusted associate of Than Shwe (considered to be the patron of the USDA), was named prime minister in October 2007 and led the National Convention which resulted in the controversial 2008 Constitution. In 2001 he was appointed adjutant-general of the War Office and three years later was promoted to the Secretary-1 in the regime’s ruling council.

      Sources said two other high ranking officers and trusted aides of Than Shwe are expected to take leading roles in the future civilian government: Gen. Thura Shwe Mann, the joint chief of staff in the armed forces who is considered the junta’s No 3 in command, and Maj-Gen Htay Oo, the minister of agriculture and irrigation and secretary-general of the USDA.

      The 2008 Constitution grants 25 parliamentary seats to the military. It is not known if Thein Sein, Thura Shwe Mann and Htay Oo will run for the junta-sponsored political party as civilian candidates or be appointed to parliament as military representatives.

      Sources say two high level officers close to Than Shwe will not enter the political arena. Lt-Gen Myint Swe, head of the Bureau of Special Operations (5), and Maj-Gen Tin Ngwe, chairman of Mandalay Division, will reportedly remain in the military.

      The USDA was formed in 1993, and according to official documents has 24 million members, almost half the population of Burma.

      USDA members held 633 seats, or 58 percent, at the National Convention convened in 1993 to prepare guidelines for the new constitution. The guidelines were finally approved in 2007 and the Constitution was enacted in 2008.

      Opposition group observers say most USDA members are civil servants who were recruited by harassment and intimidation. It also includes teachers, students, business people and political activists.

      Many Burmese view the USDA as principally an instrument of the regime that carries out violent acts against opposition activists and civilians. The group has paramilitary members who perform surveillance and search for dissidents in hiding.

      USDA members played a key role in the bloody crackdowns during the 2007 uprising and in a deadly attack on Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade in 2003, in which 100 people were killed.

      In November 2005, Htay Oo publicly told USDA members that if necessary the association will be turned into a political party.

      Myanmar to escape censure at ASEAN summit: observers
      Agence France Presse: Tue 6 Apr 2010

      Hanoi – Myanmar’s widely condemned election plans will loom large at this week’s ASEAN summit, but criticism is unlikely from regional nations with their own flawed records on rights and democracy, observers say.The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit is being chaired by communist Vietnam, a one-party state that is accused of overseeing deteriorating human rights.

      Laos and Cambodia are other members worried about setting a precedent that would make discussion of human rights more acceptable within the bloc, said Christopher Roberts, from the University of Canberra, Australia.

      “I think that’s a central concern,” said Roberts, a lecturer in Asian politics and security.

      Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo has said he will urge members at the talks to call for a reversal of Myanmar’s electoral laws, which he said contravene the junta’s promises to embark on a “roadmap to democracy.”

      Myanmar’s opposition, the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, said last week it would boycott the ballot — the first in two decades — expected to be held later this year.

      Under the new electoral laws, the party would have to expel Suu Kyi if it wanted to participate because she is serving a prison term. The Nobel peace laureate has been detained for 14 of the last 20 years.

      Without her, the vote cannot be free and fair, say Japan, Australia and Britain. The United States blamed the ruling junta for the opposition boycott, saying the regime had missed an opportunity to move forward.

      Leaders of ASEAN’s 10 members are to hold their talks, a twice-yearly event, on Thursday and Friday.

      Myanmar has always escaped formal censure from the grouping in the past and observers see virtually no chance of this meeting producing a joint statement criticising the Myanmar vote.

      “They are holding an election. Why are you complaining? This is the mentality of a lot of the ASEAN,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore (ISEAS).

      Although a big question mark surrounds the legitimacy of Myanmar’s next government, “not every regime in ASEAN is legitimate anyway,” he said.

      Thailand’s army-backed government, for example, is under pressure from street protesters demanding snap polls to replace an administration they say is undemocratic after coming to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote.

      The ASEAN summit comes just a few days after its host, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, held talks in Myanmar with junta leaders.

      An Asian diplomat said he expected Dung would have told the ruling generals that the elections will be under global scrutiny and “need to be credible”.

      But Dung would not have pushed the regime to allow Suu Kyi to run in the polls because Myanmar could then ask Vietnam to release its own prominent detainees, said the diplomat, who requested anonymity.

      Human rights activists say ASEAN’s longstanding principle of non-interference in members’ internal affairs also restricts its ability to criticise Myanmar.

      Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said Vietnam “has consistently resisted efforts to raise human rights issues within ASEAN.”

      The bloc’s diverse membership ranges from Communist Laos, one of Asia’s poorest nations, to the Westernised city-state of Singapore, the absolute monarchy of Brunei and the vibrant democracy of Indonesia.

      “I see a growing gap in the values within the ASEAN states”, which are divided between conservatives and those — often led by Indonesia — seeking change, said University of Canberra’s Roberts.

      The region is at a crossroads, said Yap Swee Seng, executive director of Forum-Asia, an umbrella for regional rights groups.

      Rapid economic development and rising education levels have created a strong middle class that is helping to push many countries — including Vietnam, but not Myanmar — from authoritarian-style rule towards more democratic systems, said Yap.

      “The people are demanding more and more participation in the decision-making,” he said, adding the issue is whether regimes will be able to adapt to those demands.

      An election in name only – Editorial
      Bangkok Post: Tue 6 Apr 2010

      Burma’s military regime has thrown aside all appearances of democracy and conciliation. Its new election law bans the opposition from participating in the coming polls. It gives special privileges to the military elite and their supporters.The junta has snuffed out an appeal against the illegal imprisonment of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, and announced airily that she will be locked up for the duration of the election.

      For these egregious actions, and for its general violence towards its citizens, Burma’s rulers should be ostracised worldwide, and punished if they step outside their country.

      Only a Burmese dictatorship could come up with an illogical plan that bars political detainees from the political process. Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Thailand intends to lobby Burmese authorities to make the elections more fair.

      Thailand hopes all Burmese can participate, and that the junta will come to its senses regarding the incarceration of Mrs Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

      The abhorrent state of politics in Burma is difficult to overstate. Last month the special United Nations envoy charged with investigating the country, said that charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity should be considered. Envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana issued a signed report that the entire Burmese junta, from Senior General Than Shwe on down, was guilty of “systematic violations of human rights”.

      One must never forget that Burma is, in fact, fully capable of conducting a civilised and democratic election. The army, under some of the very men who still hold power today, permitted free polls and a nationwide vote in 1990. Mrs Suu Kyi was locked up in the immediate lead-up and on polling day, but her National League for Democracy (NLD) won an overwhelming victory.

      That election proved that democracy is more than just one day at the polls. The NLD was never permitted to take its place in parliament, the army launched a brutal and often violent crackdown to divide and conquer the election winners, and hundreds were jailed as political prisoners. Having lost the election, the junta simply stayed in power.

      It is now trying to make its despotism legitimate with another election. The rules, of course, have changed. The army must win so no anti-military candidates can run, no dissidents can campaign, ward chiefs will keep track of just how each citizen votes.

      By the sham constitution, the farcical vote results will mandate that the army must always have a deciding voice in the government. To cap it off, any soldier or member of the regime who may break any political rules or laws will receive amnesty automatically.

      This is the election law which caught in Mr Kasit’s throat, as it should repel anyone who favours democracy. The election laws forbid participation and bring huge penalties including still more prison time for political dissidents. The regime members, however, are automatically off the hook. This is almost a dictionary definition of tyranny.

      The world cannot intervene in the internal affairs of Burma, but every nation and group can display its abhorrence of the Burmese dictatorship. Mrs Suu Kyi, the NLD political party and all non-violent political opponents of the government deserve full support.

      Right-thinking people must take sides. They can show support for the opposition and make it clear to the Burmese junta that the election or its result cannot be respected under current circumstances.

      UK favors sending Myanmar to ICC, China says it’s sovereign, UN’s Ban defers – Matthew Russell Lee
      Inner City Press: Tue 6 Apr 2010

      United Nations — Amid calls to refer the military government of Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, like Sudan was referred, UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told the Press on Wednesday that his country would support such a referral. But, he said, the Security Council lacks the unanimity necessary for such a referral. Inner City Press asked China’s new Ambassador to the UN Li Baodong what his country thinks of the Council discussing Myanmar’s election laws. “General elections in a country is a matter of sovereign states,” he replied, “and should be respected.” This principle, he said, applies to Myanmar.

      When Lyall Grant emerged to speak about Myanmar, or Burma, Inner City Press asked him about China position. We disagree, he said, noting that Myanmar is on the agenda of the Security Council, that it can instability that is a threat to international peace and security.

      But when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the media, Inner City Press asked him about Aung San Suu Kyi’s call on her National League for Democracy to not register for the upcoming elections, given how flawed the election laws are.

      “Let me answer tomorrow afternoon,” Ban Ki-moon told Inner City Press. Video here from Minute 7:34, UN transcript below. There will be a meeting of Ban’s Group of Friends on Myanmar, to be addressed by Ban’s chief of staff Vijay Nambiar. We’ll be there.

      Footnotes: On March 23, Inner City Press asked Ban’s spokesman to confirm or deny that Ban proposed a former Indonesian foreign minister to replace Ibrahim Gambari as his envoy to Myanmar, but that Than Shwe vetoed it. Nesirky said, “that’s the first I hear of it,” despite the report being included in an article Nesirky said was the only story alleging that Nambiar secretly traveled to Myanmar earlier this year.

      Inner City Press asked the UK’s Lyall Grant if the UK believe that a permanent replaced for Gambari should be named. His reply noted that Nambiar is only in the position on an “interim” basis. As Inner City Press has previously reported, the U.S. has said it prefers not naming a permanent replacement until after the elections, so that the person is “not stained” by the elections.

      From the March 24 UN transcript:

      Inner City Press: I wanted to ask in the run-up to this meeting with the Group of Friends of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has said that her party, the NLD [National League for Democracy], and other opposition parties, shouldn’t even register for the poll, that the election laws are flawed. I’m wondering; you convened the meeting, what’s your thinking of what the UN can do, given that the main opponent now wants to boycott it?

      SG Ban: let me answer tomorrow afternoon after I have convened the meeting of the Group of Friends of Myanmar. I need to discuss this matter with the ambassadors participating in that meeting. I will have a clearer answer, if you excuse me.

      Elections in Burma – Editorial
      Irish Times: Tue 6 Apr 2010

      THE DECISION this week by Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi, to boycott the country’s forthcoming elections was both inevitable and understandable. To do otherwise would have been to give political credibility to a profoundly flawed election and equally dubious parliament, and to repudiate both its own leader and its many jailed activists. The NLD decisively won the last election in Burma in 1990 – 60 per cent of the vote and 80 per cent of seats – but was prevented by the military from assuming power.Some of the opposition in Burma have until recently leaned towards participating, arguing that doing so would give them a platform, however limited. But the election, the date of which is expected to be announced any day, will be no exercise in accountability. In truth it is only a crude and implausible attempt to legitimise the continued rule of a brutal military regime.

      The parameters for the election are set by the 2008 constitution which entrenches military power by reserving 25 per cent of seats for the army, creating a strong new national defence and security council on which the military retains a majority, and vesting extraordinary powers in the commander-in-chief. It grants immunity to all members of the current regime for acts committed in the course of their duties and gives the military a veto on constitutional change. Reinforced by March 9th electoral rules, it also bans candidates who are or were in jail for political offences, requiring parties to exclude them from their ranks or face dissolution.

      Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the last 21 years in detention, has indicated she “would not dream” of entering the elections. And the respected International Crisis Group reports that “the main reaction of the populace to it and the forthcoming elections is indifference, rooted in a belief that nothing much will change”.

      Internationally the campaign to isolate the junta has been strengthened by a report and welcome recommendations by the UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana, who describes “a pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights” of civilians. The abuses, including killings, rape, torture, ethnic cleansing and forced labour, were the result of long-standing state policy, he said. He has rightly urged the UN to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma and to bring charges against members of the regime.

      A message to the people of Burma (unofficial translation)
      National League for Democracy: Tue 6 Apr 2010

      1. The National League for Democracy (NLD) was formed with a commitment to establish democratic system in Burma, which the people of Burma demanded unanimously during the 1988 nationwide pro-democracy uprising.Since its inception, NLD has consistently tried to; (1) Establish a true democratic government in Burma (2) Fully achieve fundamental human rights (3) Firmly lay the foundation of democracy to prevent the re-emergence of a dictatorial regime in the future (4) Perpetuate the Union with equality among all ethnic nationalities (5) Contribute for the peace in the world by improving the lives and development of the people and stability in the country of Burma

      To achieve these afore-mentioned aims, the NLD leaders and members have tried to achieve national reconciliation, a necessary and fundamental requirement of democracy, through a great deal of sacrifices. 2. In the 1990 multi-party general election, NLD won 392 seats out of 485 contested seats. This was a mandate given by the people of Burma for the NLD to lead them toward a democratic society. Therefore, the Members of Parliament-elect of the NLD aimed to achieve national reconciliation, convene the Parliament, and solve the problems in Burma peacefully. Hoping to realize meaningful political dialogue with the regime, NLD leaders and its MPs attended the National Convention, held by then State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), now called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). NLD MPs had participated in the National Convention process and tried hard to draft a democratic constitution. However, these attempts were not successful. SPDC refused to convene the Parliament with the elected MPs, and the rightful Parliament was never allowed to emerge.

      3. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of NLD, is deeply committed to solving the problems by peaceful means through meaningful dialogue. She has tried hard repeatedly to have a dialogue with the leaders of the military. She continues to call for a dialogue with the military regime while under house arrest. As soon as she was released from house arrest (in 1995 and 2000), she continued to call for dialogue.

      Aung San Suu Kyi escaped an assassination attempt in the Depayin massacre in 2003. Even so, she didn’t consider revenge and continued to call for the military regime to establish a political dialogue. In 2009, she was again given a prison sentence when an American citizen, Mr. John Yettaw, arrived at her house unwelcomed. She still continued to call for the regime to meet and discuss for the interest of the country. In her latest letter to Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of SPDC, she wrote that “she requests Senior General to grant a meeting to discuss for the lifting of economic sanctions”. To sum up, numerous attempts by the NLD leaders, members, and MPs-elect to establish a system of democracy in Burma and for national reconciliation were obvious, fully recorded, and have been ignored by the SPDC, rendering their attempts unsuccessful.

      4. Now, the SPDC issued a set of electoral laws, including the Election Commission Law, Political Parties Registration Law, Peoples’ Parliament Election Law, National Parliament Election Law, Region (or) State Parliaments Election Law, and by-laws, with the aim of holding elections in 2010. These laws are unjust, undemocratic and not in line with the basic characters of the law. Throughout history, peoples have built their associations and societies based on justice. When we compared these laws with the society of the people of Burma, we found that these laws are obviously not free and fair for our society. They are not in line with principles of democracy, such as distributive justice, natural equality, and political equality. These laws also go against universal ethics. Furthermore, forcing parties to pledge to obey and abide the 2008 Constitution is a violation of democracy and human rights. These laws ignore the demands of an all-party inclusive election made by the UN Secretary-General and the international community.

      5. Considering these facts, the Central Committee of the NLD met on March 29, 2010, and decided without objection that the NLD shall not re-register the party at the Election Commission, as the electoral laws issued by the SPDC are unfair and unjust.

      6. Standing by the people, the NLD has made persevering efforts for the emergence of democracy and national reconciliation while enduring arrests, punishment, intimidation, disturbances and all sorts of restrictions by the authorities. Nevertheless, all these efforts were to no avail as a result of one-sided suppression and annihilation by the authorities. The NLD would like to sincerely and earnestly apologize to the people of Burma for these vain attempts.

      7. However, the NLD will never turn its back on the people of Burma or on its struggle for democracy. We pledge to continue to achieve our goals for democracy through systematic, peaceful and nonviolent means, guided by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who said that “I would like to speak to the people of Burma that I will try as much as I can to continue an effort to achieve democracy in Burma.”

      As per decision made by the Central Executive Committee meeting on April 5, 2010
      Central Executive Committee National League for Democracy Rangoon
      National League for Democracy No 97(B) West Shwegondine Street, Bahan Township, Rangoon

      * Translated by US Campaign for Burma

      Food imports to Wa state ‘blocked’ – Ko Thet
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 5 Apr 2010

      Burma’s ruling junta has reportedly blocked the flow of food into the country’s volatile Wa state in a possible sign of looming hostilities against an ethnic army there.Tension has been high recently between the Burmese army and United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ceasefire group. The two are currently in talks over the transformation of the UWSA into a Border Guard Force.

      The 30,000-strong Wa army has so far refused to transform, raising concerns about the future of the already tenuous ceasefire it holds with the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The transformation would see it reduce troop numbers and come under direct government control.

      UWSA spokesperson Aung Myint said that the army “would accept” the transformation if certain conditions were altered, although did not elaborate on what these are.

      The two sides met on 1 April, where the UWSA was asked by Burma’s military security chief, Ye Myint, to submit a proposal regarding the transformation, to be enacted on 28 April.

      “It is hard to say whether there will be fighting right after 29 April or just later,” said Aung Myint. “Now the SPDC has blocked imports of food into the Wa state.”

      “There is no food shortage yet in the Wa state but it won’t be good for long if the blockade continues.”

      China has expressed concern about possible outbreaks of fighting in the Wa region, which is located in Burma’s northeastern Shan state and borders China. Last year, fighting between Burmese troops and a nearby ethnic Kokang army forced some 37,000 refugees across the border into China.

      “China is worried about a refugee influx and weapons smuggling problems on their side if fighting breaks out, and has expressed a wish to maintain peace and stability and see development on the China-Burma border,” Aung Myint said.

      The Wa army is predominantly made up of ethnic Chinese and is rumoured to receive financial and military support from Beijing. It is one of nearly 20 ethnic armies to have signed a ceasefire with the Burmese junta, although many of these now look increasingly fragile.

      The junta has threatened to use force against the UWSA if it finally rejects the offer, and the Wa told DVB recently that it was “preparing for the worst” should it shun the proposal.

      ‘The regime is a political rapist’: Win Tin
      Irrawaddy: Mon 5 Apr 2010

      Win Tin, a leading member of Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), likened the country’s ruling regime to “a political rapist” intent on destroying the party that has led the pro-democracy movement for the past two decades.“They want to strip us of our 1990 election victory so that we are like a 20-year-old girl, naked and exposed. We cannot allow ourselves to be raped,” he said in an interview with The Irrawaddy, explaining why the party chose not to contest this year’s election.
      Win Tin, a senior leader of NLD, attends the party’s central committee meeting at its headquarters in March 29. (Photo: AP)

      The outspoken critic of the junta said that the NLD wanted the regime to re-open a dialogue with detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi and review the Constitution. But he added that the chances of this happening were very slim.

      He also admitted that he and several other NLD leaders were naive to believe that the regime would introduce election laws that were flexible enough to allow the party to participate in the new polls.

      “The election laws made it very clear that the regime doesn’t want Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or the NLD to have any part in the election,” he said.

      The NLD decided last Monday that it would not participate in the election because it was required under a new party registration law to expel Suu Kyi and other members serving prison sentences. The party now faces dissolution for refusing to register for the election.

      Win Tin said that the NLD leaders will ponder their next move at a meeting next Monday. He also stressed that the party is counting on the international community to send a strong message to the regime that its handling of the election is unacceptable.

      “We know that they have limited power [to influence Burma’s political situation], but we want them to react and show that they know what’s really happening here,” he said.

      The US and the UN expressed regret last week that the NLD was forced to make a decision that now jeopardizes the party’s continued existence, but blamed the move on the Burmese regime’s draconian election laws.

      Meanwhile, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said earlier this week that “[the NLD] have every freedom to decide on their own affairs. So I honor and I respect [their] decision.”

      On Wednesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa visited Burma and told his Burmese counterpart in Naypyidaw that Jakarta expected the regime to “uphold its commitment to have an election that allows all parties to take part.”

      Win Tin said that NLD leaders wanted to see more reaction from the region and beyond. “We want China, India and the European nations to speak up,” he said.

      Ethnic council opposes junta electoral laws – Hseng Khio Fah
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Mon 5 Apr 2010

      The Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC-Union of Burma), a coalition of ethnic political organizations, announced yesterday that the council would not accept the Burma’s electoral laws as they were patently one sided laws drawn by the military junta for itself. The announcement was made after its five-day long meeting held from 27 to 31 March at an undisclosed place on the Thai-Burma border. It was attended by 35 representatives from 7 ethnic states: Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Arakan, Chin, Mon and Shan states.

      According to the council resolutions, the group will oppose not only the electoral laws, but also the military junta’s 2008 constitution which it says is undemocratic. At the same time, the group expressed its support for the National League for Democracy (NLD) on its decision on 29 March not to re-register as a political party.

      On the other hand, the council will not oppose or condemn ethnic organizations and individuals planning to contest in the forthcoming elections, or the people who will vote in the elections even though its position does not support the elections.

      The newly elected Chairman Tu Tu Lay urged all state representatives to prevent discord among those who are participating in the elections and those against the elections.

      According to a participant at the meeting, there are people, even though they are against the 2008 constitution, who has decided to contest elections.

      One of them is veteran Shan politician Shwe Ohn, who formed a new party; Union Democratic Alliance Organization (UDAO), last year saying if there are no opposition parties, the military junta’s candidates will win by acclamation.

      A former member of the defunct Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), who also shared the same view, said, “The military’s door is opening a little bit. We must try to pry it open wide with a few seats that we can win.”

      A former resistance leader said that ethnic people have been fighting against the junta for more than half a century, but they have yet to win, it is because they are fighting from the exterior lines. “It is high time we fought them in the interior lines.”

      The ENC was established in August 2001 as Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee (ENSCC). In 2004 it became ENC, a state based organization. Another ethnic alliance is the National Democratic Front (NDF), formed in 1976, by armed ethnic movements.

      Five reasons why Burma’s elections are bogus – Mac McClelland
      Mother Jones: Fri 2 Apr 2010

      This week, Burma’s National League for Democracy, the party of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, announced that it wouldn’t participate in the country’s first elections in two decades, which are to be held sometime later this year. Than Shwe, the general who heads the Burmese junta, insists that the contest will be “free and fair,” and despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, some outside observers appear to be buying the hype: ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said that the elections are “a new beginning,” and the New York Times ran a bizarrely rosy story about the country’s future. But the NLD boycott reflects what everybody in Burma already knows—that the elections are a farce.Let’s take a look at the aforementioned mountains of evidence:

      1. The government is already cheating. The military’s proxy political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, has spent millions currying favor with the populace by paving roads, opening free health clinics, and giving away high school tuition. This started before the junta announced the rules for participating in the election (or even a date; October is the rumor), effectively crippling other parties’ ability to start campaigning. When the government finally did reveal the campaign rules, they were so stacked against the opposition—for example, barring Aung San Suu Kyi from participating—that the NLD sued to have them revised. The case was rejected.

      2. Even if the generals don’t win, they could still “win.” In 2008, 92 percent of Burmese voters allegedly said yea to a constitution drafted by the junta. Never mind that the new constitution basically legalized forced labor or that the vote was held in the chaos following a cyclone that killed 140,000 people. Also, the last time the government held multiparty elections, in 1990, and lost to the NLD by a landslide, it simply declared the results void and kept Aung San Suu Kyi incarcerated.

      3. Even if the generals admit that they don’t win, they still can’t actually lose. According to the constitution, 25 percent of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military, and the current government picks the candidates for president. And in the event that parliamentarians do start exercising too much power, the military machine could always just reassert control of the state, as it did in the coups of 1962 and 1988. Than Shwe reminded the populace of this possibility last weekend when he made the wholly unveiled threat that the army can step into politics “whenever the need arises.”

      4. Bad guys will continue to hold the purse strings. The Times has cited the government’s decision to sell “a raft of state-run factories and assets to cronies in the private sector” as a sign of progress. But the reason the military is hastily selling off hundreds of state-owned properties—buildings, land, oil and hydro projects, ports, an airline—to its leaders and crooked friends is to guarantee that the country’s economy will remain in their grasp no matter what the election outcome.

      5. There’s the matter of rampant discrimination and war crimes. Don’t discount, as most Western media does, the millions of ethnic minorities inside Burma’s borders, many of whom will not participate in the elections (the rules of which were published only in Burmese and English) and some of which have armed insurgent groups threatening to come out of retirement in the face of election-related turmoil. Also rarely discussed is the full-on, horribly bloody war in the east of the country. These minorities’ continuing disenfranchisement and targeting for annihilation is hardly a move toward peace and democracy. A UN official and more than 50 US congresspeople have called for an investigation into the regime’s crimes against humanity, but a clause in the wildly popular constitution stipulates that the perpetrators cannot be brought to justice.

      ASEAN’s Pitsuwan may have cause for saying that the Burmese government’s decision to hold elections is a “step forward”—after all, that’s not saying much about a government known for its total disregard for political and human rights. But such falsely hopeful messages diminish the gaping distance between Burma’s current state and true democracy. Did the National League for Democracy have any choice but to sacrifice their chance to play along with the charade?

      Myanmar ti

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