764[Readingroom] news on Burma - 5/7/10
- Jul 4, 2010
- Is USDA handpicking ethnic parties?
- Censorship cause party not to compete
- DKBA, KNU held secret peace talks
- What stigma? Burma (Myanmar) draws energy-hungry neighbors
- Jade, jewelry show has good sales
- ‘No rallies, no slogans’ order shackles parties ahead of poll
- Burma clamps down on travelling monks
- We have enough money, USDP tells Australians
- Myanmar has 30 million eligible voters
- India trade dampens Burma sanctions
- China’s K-8 jets: A killer for Myanmar
- To be Burma’s president or army chief?
- Are activists the new Third Force in politics?
- Unmasking Than Shwe
- North Korean-provided missile, radar base said set up in Kachin state
- Myanmar-Singapore bilateral trade reaches 1.86 bln USD
- Myanmar-India bilateral trade up sharply
- The EC eyes a Kachin angle
- Prolonging the misery and postponing the inevitable
- Junta starts new censorship rules
- South Korea, Myanmar Agree to Jointly Develop Two Gas Blocks
- Deception and denials in Myanmar
- Suu Kyi’s lawyer warned on reporting
- Burma poll will entrench brutality
- UN ignores Burma junta’s drugs role
Is USDA handpicking ethnic parties? – Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Fri 2 Jul 2010
Signs have emerged that the Burmese military junta’s loyal civic partner, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), has taken on the responsibility of securing pro-regime voting blocs in ethnic minority areas ahead of the election.
According to several sources in ethnic states, the USDA has promised to provide funding for and assist in the establishment of pro-junta ethnic parties, while at the same time guaranteeing that the Union Election Commission (EC) will reject political parties that are related to cease-fire groups that have refused to comply with Naypyidaw’s Border Guard Force (BGF) plan.
This week, a newly founded political party in Kachin State, the Kachin State Unity and Democracy Party, has registered with the EC in Naypyidaw. However, sources in Kachin State and the Chiang Mai-based Kachin News Group have alleged that the new party chairman, Hkyet Hting Nan, and other party members are allied with the USDA, citing their cooperation during the referendum in May 2008.
It is widely believed that Burma’s ruling generals originally planned to allow political parties related to cease-fire groups and other independent parties to contest the general election. However, sources in Naypyidaw said the policy was revised after the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), decided in late March not to contest the coming election. Junta chief Than Shwe began by appointing Prime Minister Thein Sein as chairman of the new Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
“Last year, the government newspapers praised the former vice chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Dr. Tuja, for his involvement in forming the Kachin State Progressive Party to participate in the election,” said a source who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity. “But the tide has now changed for Dr. Tuja—the EC may not grant his party’s registration.”
In September 2009, two commentaries in the state-run The New Light of Myanmar heaped praise on Tuja’s steps to support the election process, and condemned other ethnic groups that opposed the election and the BGF plan.
“It is welcome news that negotiations will be made to reconstitute the KIO, which has returned to the legal fold, as a frontier force, and that six Kachin national race leaders, including Vice-Chairman Dr Tuja, have been allowed to resign in order that they can form a political party and run in the 2010 election,” one commentary said.
“Dr Tuja will build a brighter future for Kachin State by forming the Kachin State Progressive Party representing the Kachin nationals,” it concluded.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy recently about his election dilemma, Tuja said, “From what we have heard, the EC’s restrictions are somehow related to the transformation of the KIO to a border guard force under the command of the regime—and if that plan goes well, we will all be approved.”
Some sources have claimed that the USDA is also backing ethnic parties in other regions, such as Shan State, Karen State and Mon State, in a bid to win a majority of seats not only in the Upper and Lower Houses, but in the regional assemblies as well.
One source said that the USDA plans to back the All Mon Region Democracy Party, which is led by Nai Ngwe Thein, a former professor who is allegedly close to the USDA. During a recent interview with The Irrawaddy, Nai Ngwe Thein said that his party would contest the election because “it is an opportunity presented by the Constitution.”
Sources close to the Mon cease-fire group, the New Mon State Party, said that the USDA began planting their associates in Mon State in 2008-9 when many village heads were replaced by those loyal to the USDA.
Censorship cause party not to compete – Ko Htwe
Irrawaddy: Fri 2 Jul 2010
Burma’s press censorship board, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), is strictly censoring political news in weekly journals, causing the Peace and Diversity Party (PDP) to rethink its decision to participate in the coming election.
Col. Myo Myint Maung, the newly appointed joint-director of the PSRD, is strictly monitoring and censoring election and political news, said a Rangoon-based weekly journal editor.
For example, the PDP recently attempted to publish a party member recruiting announcement that read “Candidate Wanted ” in The Voice Weekly journal, but the PSRD excluded the announcement, said Nay Myo Wai, the secretary of the PDP.
On Thursday, the PDP wrote an open letter to the PSRD, asking how to proceed if the PSRD continues banning descriptions of their parties policies and activities in journals.
“If we don’t have free expression, I feel ashamed to participate in the election,” said Nay Myo Wai.
Because the PDP cannot accept PSRD censorship of political party news in the journals, within the next 15 days the PDP will review its decision to compete in the coming election, said Nay Myo Wai. The PDP’s final decision will depend on what the PSRD does during that period.
The PSRD announced on March 17 that registered parties can apply to the censorship board to publish material in accordance with the 1962 Printing and Publishing Act.
However, publications must conform to certain rules: they must not “oppose” the ruling State Peace and Development Council, must not make any attempt to criticize the armed forces and must conform to the law, the statement said.
The PSRD requires political parties to register before they publish campaign material, charging 100,000 kyat (US $100) and a 500,000 kyat ($500) as a deposit.
Although many registered political parties have permission to publish their own election-related materials such as pamphlets, journals and booklets, a large percentage face severe financial problems and so depend on Burma’s weekly journals to publish their party’s policies and activities.
The PSRD routinely inspects and censors books, journals and newspapers. Any media criticism of the military junta is strictly forbidden. After the election laws were announced last month, the PSRD began banning comments and analysis, and censoring articles related to the election in local journals.
Burmese media were recently prohibited by the PSRD from reporting news regarding the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by Prime Minister Thein Sein, that related to USDP founders remaining in their government posts. Some journals were forced to publish a blank where these stories would have run.
By contrast, the USDP is allowed to run its own journal, the Nwe Thargi, without interference, said media sources.
Meanwhile, the PSRD has allowed a private Rangoon journal not to publish a junta propaganda article in the coming week.
A Rangoon-based editor told The Irrawaddy on Friday, “We welcome the news. In the past, the PSRD forced us to published propaganda articles without fail. Now we have one more page for a new section. But once a month or so we have to publish propaganda articles if the PSRD pass them to us.”
Another Rangoon-based weekly journal editor said the propaganda articles are a burden and nobody reads them.
Despite their strict rules and regulations and draconian censorship practices, the PSRD currently licenses the publication of 326 newspapers, magazines and journals in Burma, and a further 10 are expected to appear. Some selected journals close to key officials are profitable.
DKBA, KNU held secret peace talks – Lawi Weng
Irrawaddy: Fri 2 Jul 2010
Secret peace talks between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) were held in Kanchanaburi Province in Thailand in June, according to sources close to the KNU.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, a KNU source in the Three Pagodas Pass area, said, “The peace talks were held from June 17 to 23 in Kanchanaburi. Three leaders from DKBA and two from the KNU took part in the talks.”
The three DKBA leaders reportedly included influential Buddhist Abbot Ashin Thuzana; Col Lah Pwe, better known as Mr. Beard; and Saw Naw Tayar, a military official. Two KNU leaders, Gen Mu Tu, the commander in chief of the KNLA, and a KNU military officer known as Oliver, also took part.
David Takapaw, the deputy KNU chairman, told The Irrawaddy that he had no information about the talks. He said that the KNU district administration may have initiated the talks and did not have to report to headquarters until a substantive agreement had been achieved.
Chit Thu, the commander of DKBA Brigade 999, said on June 26 at a ceremony honoring fallen DKBA comrades that he favored a halt to the fighting between the DKBA and KNU. He made no mention of peace talks with the KNU at the ceremony.
Observers have said that the Burmese junta’s pressure on the DKBA to transform into a border guard force (BGF) may be pushing the DKBA to settle its differences and join forces.
The military junta has set a final deadline of Aug. 10 for the DKBA to join the BGF. Observers say that some higher DKBA officials favor joining the BGF.
Nai Kao Rot, the former deputy army chief of the New Mon State Party said that the junta’s Southeast Regional Command is monitoring the peace talks and watching the troop movements of the two groups.
Maj-Gen Thet Naing Win of the Southeast Regional Commander reportedly has ordered a government battalion in the Three Pagodas Pass area to observe the two ethnic groups’ activities.
“They are worried that fighting could break out during the election if the two groups join forces,” Nai Kao Rot said.
The DKBA joined forces with Burmese military troops to fight against the KNU after it split from the KNU and signed a cease-fire with the junta in 1995.
The DKBA and KNU also held secret peace talks early in October, but the talks failed and the two armies again clashed.
The DKBA, which was formed 15 years ago, now controls most of the Thai-Burmese border area previously controlled by the KNU.
The DKBA claims to have 6,000 troops and plans to enlarge its army to 9,000, making it Burma’s second largest non-state armed group. It has been accused of human rights abuses in its clashes with KNU forces and also of involvement in human trafficking along Thai-Burmese border.
The Burmese junta has put pressure on all ethnic cease-fire groups to transform their army into a BGF for more than one year. April 22 was the last deadline. Many ethnic groups remain defiant and refuse to accept the order.
What stigma? Burma (Myanmar) draws energy-hungry neighbors
Christian Science Monitor: Fri 2 Jul 2010
Activists who pressured Western companies to boycott Burma (Myanmar) are now preparing to battle Asian firms eager for Burma’s oil and gas.
Six months ago, a construction crew showed up in this sleepy Burmese backwater. Villagers watched the crew put down a black pipeline under their rice fields, on its way north to power-hungry Rangoon (Yangon), the old capital.
The pipeline opened June 12 to acclaim in Burma’s largest city, where households are lucky to get six hours of electricity a day. For villagers living on the pipeline route, the benefits are less clear. At a local store, the only power comes from an old car battery hooked up to a single bulb. Nobody has electricity at home. “The gas is not for us,” says a farmer.
But the villagers were lucky in one respect: Nobody had to move off their land to make way for the pipeline.
Elsewhere in military-ruled Burma (Myanmar), authorities have seized land for energy projects that are increasingly attractive to Asian oil companies unhindered by recent Western sanctions. When the wells are turned on and the energy is exported to richer countries, local communities are often left landless and in the dark.
The pipeline to Rangoon will give more Burmese citizens access to a gas field operated by France-based Total and US-based Chevron that, since 1998, had already been supplying 30 percent of Thailand’s electricity supply via a separate pipeline. Not only has the bulk of gas been exported, but Total and Chevron have been dogged by allegations of human rights abuses over the pipeline’s $1.3 billion construction. In 2005, the companies paid out-of-court settlements to plaintiffs in separate lawsuits alleging complicity in the abuses.
But that project pales in comparison to a new Asian-backed pipeline project that is much bigger and potentially more disruptive than any predecessor, according to US- and Thailand-based activists.
Chinese, South Korean, and Indian energy companies are investing in a gas terminal and an oil tanker dock at the Shwe Gas field in western Arakan state, from where two pipelines will be built to transport Burmese natural gas and imported crude oil to southern China. Construction began in late 2009 and is expected to complete in 2013.
About 100 families have already lost their land to developers, who have paid them little or no compensation, says Wong Aung, a coordinator for the Shwe Gas Movement in Thailand, which opposes the project. Instead they are left to search for vacant land nearby where they can resettle. Many more living inland on the pipeline route face the risk of land confiscation and forced labor by security forces, Wong Aung warns.
“We’d like the companies to suspend the project until we have a democratically elected government in Burma where people can genuinely participate,” he says.
A highly prized pipeline
The Shwe Gas field is close to the border with Bangladesh and is operated by South Korean Daewoo International. The discovery in 2004 of large offshore reserves attracted India’s government, which proposed its own pipeline via Bangladesh. This plan bogged down over concerns by Indian officials that Bangladesh wasn’t a secure route, says Marie Lall, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London who has studied the project.
As India dithered, China swooped in with its proposal of twin pipelines in 2007. The first will transport gas from Daewoo-operated gas fields. The second is designed to carry some 442,000 barrels a day of crude oil, giving China an alternative route for cargoes from Africa and the Middle East, which must travel by sea through the congested Malacca Straits. Security analysts say Beijing wants to lessen its dependence on this route for its essential energy supplies.
The pipelines cross some 600 miles of Burmese territory, including mountainous zones and areas patrolled by armed militia. By contrast, the Burmese section of the Total’s onshore pipeline is 40 miles.
“It’s going to be the most complicated and hazardous terrain for a pipeline that China has ever encountered,” says Ms. Lall.
Activists gear up
In recent years, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has criticized Burma over the practice of forced labor by the military, government agencies, and private companies. Activists say local residents are often coerced to work unpaid on massive infrastructure projects such as road building and energy pipelines.
Steve Marshall, an ILO official in Burma, says he has proposed to the government that it informs local authorities and local communities along the pipeline route that such abuses won’t be tolerated. He says he has also discussed labor issues with Daewoo, the gas operator, but hasn’t given any direct advice on their project.
For activists who successfully convinced major Western brands like Nike and Pepsi to boycott the country in the late-1990s, and who shined a spotlight on the ethics of Western oil firms operating in the country, the onrush of Asian energy companies poses new challenges. Burma’s human rights record seems unlikely to deter China National Petroleum Corporation, the pipeline operator.
Activists say they are lobbying overseas investors and other stakeholders in Asia, Europe, and the US to insist on accountability in the project and ensure that the rights of ordinary Burmese are respected.
“There are creative ways to get companies to do the right thing,” says Matthew Smith, a spokesperson for Earthrights International, the Washington-based group that sued Total and Unocal on behalf of Burmese victims.
Jade, jewelry show has good sales – Nayee Lin Latt
Irrawaddy: Fri 2 Jul 2010
About 2,100 lots of jade have been sold at a special gems emporium at Myanmar Convention Center in Rangoon, which runs from June 25 to July 7, according to sources close to gem dealers.
Buyers inspect the jade stones offered for sale by the Burmese government at the annual gem show in Rangoon. (Photo: Myat Moe Maung/ The Irrawaddy)
A total of 11,500 lots of jade are being shown at the emporium and about 300 national and private jewelry companies have participated. This is the 48th jewelry event at the emporium.
“Most of the jade stones are own by the government,” said a jewelry merchant. “We sell jewelry.”
Another gem dealer said: “We can’t rely on domestic customers economically. But, many foreigners come to buy the gems when we have special show like this. Both private jewelery shops and the government benefit from the sale.”
Burma earned more than 400 million euros from the sale of about 7,000 lots of jade and gems at a gems emporium in March 2001, according to the Myanmar Convention Center.
CA billboard advertisement for the jade and gem show at the Myanmar Convention Center in Rangoon. (Photo: Myat Moe Maung/ The Irrawaddy)
Burma is one of the world’s most well-known producers of rubies, diamonds, pearls, sapphires and other gems.
Burma produced 32,921 tons of jade; 18,728 million carats of gems; and 754 kilograms of pearls and other gems in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, according to the government’s Central Statistical Organization. Gem shows began in 1964.
‘No rallies, no slogans’ order shackles parties ahead of poll – Marwaan Macan-Markar
Inter Press Service: Thu 1 Jul 2010
Bangkok – Burma’s military regime is giving its critics more ammunition, tightening its grip ahead of a general election this year by seeing to it that independent political parties are barred from chanting slogans, marching in rallies and displaying their party flags when they campaign.
Ahead of national elections for parliament – meant to set the foundation for a “discipline flourishing democracy” in the South-east Asian nation — the country’s latest restrictions aim to stamp out the customary colour, animated campaigning and slogan cheering that is the standard feature of pre-poll politics in the more vibrant democracies in the region, such as Indonesia and the Philippines.
These limitations were spelled out in a late June directive issued by Burma’s powerful Election Commission (EC), whose rulings cannot be challenged in a court ahead of the poll. The election date itself has not been announced.
Published in the local media, ‘Directive 2/2010’ reveals the lengths to which the EC has gone to protect the authoritarian order in Burma, also called Myanmar.
Declared taboo during the campaign are any speeches and published material that “tarnish” the image of the military-run state, its over 400,000- strong armed forces and the junta-shaped 2008 Constitution. Candidates have been warned to avoid public utterances that undermine “security and community peace.”
And even if the independent parties – only three of the registered 33 so far – yield to these shackles, they face even more challenges when they organise public meetings for candidates to address the estimated 27.2 million voters across the country.
The parties have to first seek approval from the EC and three different local authorities a week ahead of a planned meeting, specifying the building where it will be held.
In addition, their applications need to state how many people will attend each meeting and give a detailed biography and photograph of each speaker, as well as the exact time each speaker will begin and end speaking.
“This is blatant interference by the junta to try and control the outcome of this year’s election,” said Zin Linn, spokesman for the National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the democratically elected government that won Burma’s last general election in 1990 but has since been forced into exile. “Some of these restrictions are more severe than those in the 1990 election.”
That this election will be a “sham” is confirmed by the unlimited freedom enjoyed by the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Zin Linn says. “It is allowed to break all the limits placed by the EC on political parties. The junta is also openly encouraging people to support the USDP,” he told IPS.
The USDP, headed by the junta’s second-in-command, Prime Minister Thein Sein, is the political wing of the pro-regime Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).
But the USDA, which at one time declared that it had 18 million members, does more than serve as the social and welfare arm of the regime. Its members have been used to harass those with the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party led by pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
The NLD, which won the 1990 elections with a thumping 82 percent of the 485 seats in parliament, was forced to dissolve as a party after it announced in March that it would boycott the poll given the junta’s restrictions around the conduct of this year’s poll.
The NLD’s high-risk political gamble was in solidarity for Suu Kyi, who has spent over 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest, and the country’s over 2,200 political prisoners.
The poll restrictions come at a time when Burma’s military rulers have a greater stranglehold on the country than they had in 1990. That poll was held two years after a student-led democracy uprising was brutally crushed. Thus, the intervening years saw the regime at the time — in power since a 1962 coup – nurse uncertainty about its absolute hold over the country.
That political atmosphere enabled the 1990 poll to be held with “a bit more openness” than this year’s general election, says Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst living in exile in Thailand. “Political parties had 17 months to campaign and although there were restrictions, not all were properly enforced.”
“There was lot of intimidation against the NLD but no rules against parties that are as restrictive as this year’s,” he told IPS. “Election Day was very, very free and fair; vote counting was very transparent.”
That same poll saw some 230 political parties apply to contest the election, but only 93 vied for seats in the legislature on voting day. And although the military warned that the number of people at campaign meetings in townships could not exceed 50, NLD’s meeting reportedly drew between 300 to 500 people at times.
This time around, the junta appears determined to avoid a repeat of seeing a pro-junta party trounced at the polls, an attitude that has alarmed rights groups.
“The laws have been drafted with broad language as to what would constitute illegal or not,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Burma researcher for the London-based Amnesty International. “The powers vested in the EC gives them complete discretion and there is no appeal process.”
“There are three freedoms utterly fundamental for an election – the human rights for freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” he said in an interview. “We see these three freedoms clearly under attack this time.”
Burma clamps down on travelling monks – Min Lwin
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 1 Jul 2010
Suspension of passports for monks in Burma has begun amid suggestions that the Burmese government is attempting to block the influential community from going abroad in the run-up to elections.
Monks have also complained that the government’s passport issuing board in Rangoon is also refusing to extend nearly-expired passports and implementing restrictions on applications for new ones.
One monk told DVB on condition of anonymity that the new regulation required monks looking to go abroad to have the Dhamm?cariy? degree, which is equivalent to a Masters degree in the UK and awards status as a lecturing monk.
“Also there are three requirements when submitting the passport application: you must have the Dhamm?cariy? degree, you must have the sponsor’s letter and must have the approval by the religious affairs minister,” he said. “These are the requirements that cannot be achieved easily and are thus stopping the monks [from going abroad].”
The allegations were denied by Burma’s ministry of religious affairs. According to government statistics, there are some 400,000 monks in Burma out of a total population of around 50 million.
The community is highly revered inside the country, and rose to international attention after the September 2007 uprising in which hundreds of thousands of monks took to the streets in protest against military rule in Burma. A number were shot dead by troops, while hundreds more were forced to flee abroad.
According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), 252 monks are currently behind bars in Burma, some serving sentences of more than 70 years. Human Rights Watch said last year on the anniversary of the September 2007 uprising that monks were still subject to oppression, intimidation and surveillance.
Prominent exiled monk, Ashin Issariya (also known as King Zero), said that monks travelling abroad to study were seen by the Burmese government to be defying the ruling generals and were able to speak freely about what they had witnessed inside Burma.
“When [junta chief] Than Shwe visited Sri Lanka [in November 2009], he was boycotted by Burmese monks studying in the country, who refused to accept religious donations from him; he was very disappointed about that,” said Ashin Issariya.
The giving of donations to monks is seen as a symbolically important ‘merit making’ act within Buddhist tradition, and the refusal of this can carry negative ramifications, such as bad karma.
“[Than Shwe] also got the same treatment from majority of the Burmese monks in India when he visited there; the government believes that monks studying abroad are becoming more defiant against [the government],” Ashin Issariya added.
He said this was due to the monks gaining international exposure, “so [the junta] began enacting various restrictions to keep the monks from going abroad”.
We have enough money, USDP tells Australians – Ko Htwe
Irrawaddy: Thu 1 Jul 2010
A leading member of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has told visiting Australian officials that the newly formed party has sufficient finances because it has inherited funds from the junta-backed civic organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), according to a source who attended the meeting but who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity.
The remarks were made by Myint Oo, a leading member of the USDP, which is headed by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, and told to Australia’s Deputy Secretary of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Hugh Borrowman on Wednesday during their meeting in Rangoon.
The Australian Embassy in Rangoon would not comment about the meeting when The Irrawaddy contacted it on Thursday.
The meeting was also attended by representatives of three other political parties—the National Unity Party, the Democratic Party and the Union Democratic Party.
Myint Oo also told the Australian delegation that the USDP will provide the registration fees for some of their candidates, but that other candidates were in a financial position to cover the costs by themselves, the source said.
Parties must pay 500,000 kyat (US $500) for each candidate that it fields in the election.
Short on funds and with limited manpower at their disposal, several political parties in Burma are looking to pool their resources ahead of this year’s election. They say they are facing severe financial constraints that limit their ability to function effectively.
The USDA is a state-sponsored mass civic organization formed by the junta in 1993. It claims to have more than 24 million members nationwide, including civil servants and members of the military. The USDA Central Panel of Patrons include Snr-Gen Than Shwe, Prime Minister Thein Sein and other government ministers.
On April 29, Thein Sein and 26 ministers and senior officials formed the USDP to contest the election later this year. The Election Commission officially recognized the USDP as a political party on June 8.
Meanwhile, members of the USDA have been canvassing for donations for the new party. In addition, the USDA has recently offered small loans to many low-income workers and farmers around Rangoon, sources said. Stallholders who lost their businesses when Rangoon’s Mingalar Market was destroyed by fire last month have been invited to apply for loans from the USDP.
Two members of the Election Commission, Dr. Tin Aung Aye and Win Kyi, met with the Australian officials in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, according to state-run newspapers.
Myanmar has 30 million eligible voters
Associated Press: Thu 1 Jul 2010
About 30 million of Myanmar’s 59 million people will be eligible to vote in the country’s first elections in two decades, a report said Thursday.
The Immigration and Population Ministry collected data through the end of 2009 showing the population is now 59.12 million, the biweekly Eleven journal reported.
Of the total population, 30.74 million are age 18 or older, the journal said. Voting age in Myanmar is 18. Myanmar’s population was listed as 35.3 million in the last official census sponsored by the United Nations in 1983.
The population is growing by roughly 2 percent a year, the journal said.
The elections planned for later this year will be the first since 1990. Critics call the polls a sham designed to cement nearly 50 years of military rule. The junta has not yet announced an election date.
India trade dampens Burma sanctions – Francis Wade
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 1 Jul 2010
Burma’s trade with neighbouring India has seen a 26 percent increase in the past year while Singapore becomes a top destination for Burmese exports.
Statistics from both countries show that foreign interest in Burma’s economy is growing, despite sporadic attempts by the US and EU to pressure regional countries into boycotting the resource-rich pariah.
Trade with India reached US$1.19 billion in 2009-10, Xinhua news reported, but the country still lags behind Singapore, China and Thailand in trading partner rankings. Thailand currently provides the biggest crutch for the ruling junta, but China is rapidly becoming the main impediment to effective sanctions on Burma.
Naypyidaw and Beijing earlier this month inked a raft of new trade deals, including the controversial Monywa copper agreement, which will see Chinese weapons giant, Norinco, move in on one of Burma’s most lucrative mines.
Moreoever, the Shwe pipeline project which will carry oil and gas from western Burma to southern China is expected to net the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) up to US$30 billion over the next three decades.
Despite the US senate yesterday voting to extend an import ban on Burmese goods – a reaction to lack of progress by the junta on human rights abuses and drug trafficking – America’s interest in Burma remains controversial, with US oil giant Chevron able to continue its work in the Yadana oil fields.
The Yadana pipeline, which feeds energy-hungry Thailand, has been mired in controversy, and appears to require a 40-kilometer wide militarised security corridor through southeastern to protect the flow of gas.
Burma’s expansion of its natural energy sector has whetted the appetite of India, which is eyeing a US$5.6 billion investment in two major dam sites. Analysts have said the country is turning to Burma for its hydroelectric needs because of environmental and human rights concerns in India resulting from its own such projects.
The SPDC’s Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) notes that US$137 million worth of Indian capital had been invested in Burma’s oil and gas sector by September 2007; more recent figures show that India’s contracted investment in Burma in 2009-10 reached US$189 million.
China however remains the key funder of Burmese hydropower, and the drying of the Mekong river is partly blamed on Chinese dam construction. China’s reach into Burma is set to soar over the coming decade; already it has forced US policymakers to question the worth of sanctions in light of the rise of regional powerhouses who are willing to trade with the maligned regime.
China’s K-8 jets: A killer for Myanmar
Defense Industry Daily: Thu 1 Jul 2010
Burma’s air force relies heavily on Chinese weapons. A handful of Russian MiG-29s will grow to 30 in the wake of a 2009 order, but the rest of its fighter fleet is made up of Chinese MiG-21 (60 J-7s) and MiG-19 (12 J-6 and 36 Q-5) variants. Reports indicate that they are supported by about 6 Serbian Super Galeb trainer/ light attack jets, and 17 Swiss Pilatus PC-6/7/9 turboprop trainers that have been armed for counterinsurgency.
Recent reports indicate that some standardization may be on the way. In 1998, the Burmese air force bought K-8 Karakorum (export version of China’s JL-8) jet trainers and light attack aircraft, which are a cooperative venture between China and Pakistan. They are now stationed at Taungoo Air Base north of Yangon, and sources vary between 4-12 aircraft. In the wake of a November 2009 visit to China, Burma’s SLORC regime will be adding another 50 K-8s. As one might expect, this deal has a strong Chinese resource angle…
The K-8 jet trainer, also known as the K-8 Karakorum or the Hongdu JL-8, is a joint venture between China’s Nanchang-based Hongdu Aviation Industry Group (HAIG), and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in the 1990s.
The aircraft has 3 engine options. The most common by production quantity is China’s WS-11, a licensed copy of the Ukranian Ivchenko AI-25TL turbofan. Aircraft so equipped are reportedly designated L-11s. The AI-25TL reportedly delivers 3,600 – 3,800 pounds thrust, and also equips aircraft for most export customers. On the other hand, the WS-11’s Chinese provenance may be an advantage with the Burmese.
The jets can carry up to 4 under-wing pylons rated at 250 kg each. Options include fuel drop tanks, 23mm cannon pods, unguided rockets, unguided bombs, and even short-range air-to-air missiles.
According to Sino Defense, over 500 K-8s have been built since 1993. To date, it has been ordered by Pakistan (120), China (100+), Bolivia (6), Burma/ Myanmar (54-62), Ghana (4), Namibia (4), Sri Lanka (6-8, now 3-5), Sudan (12), Zambia (8), and Zimbabwe (12). A modified version is also produced by Egypt as the K-8E (120). Other reported orders include Tanzania (6), and a recent order from Venezuela (18, may soon become 40).
As one can readily see from the above list, the K-8 is in service with a number of rogue regimes. Chad may have faced supplier issues when it armed its Pilatus PC-7/9 turboprops, but its opponents in Sudan faced no such issues with their K-8s in Darfur and beyond.
The numbers bought by Myanmar make sense only if many of these aircraft are dedicated to a counterinsurgency role, where slower 2-seat aircraft are often more effective than high-speed interceptors.
Irawaddy reports that parts of the K-8 aircraft were transported by cargo ship from China, and are being assembled at the Aircraft Production and Maintenance Base in Meikhtila. It added that Burma’s main air base for maintenance, the Aircraft Production and Maintenance Air Base (APMAB) in Panchangone in Mingaladon Township, has been relocated to Nyaunggone, close to the regime’s Flying Training Base in Shante in Meikhtila Township.
The K-8 jet deal was reportedly brokered by Burma’s business/political tycoon Tay Za, a multi-billionaire go-between for the regime who is on the on the American, European, Canadian, Australian and Swiss financial sanctions blacklists for Burma. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the record of past sales establishes a conventional price between $5-10 million per plane.
In February 2009, “China’s Unusual Deals Working to Grow African Arms Presence” noted the tendency for China to arrange weapons deals as vehicles to secure cut-rate resources: Zambia using its copper resources to pay China in a number of military deals, Kenya negotiating to trade fishing rights for arms, etc. The deal with Burma, aka. Myanmar, is shrouded in secrecy, but related developments in country strongly suggest a continuation of that trend.
Burma is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, and its government faces widespread international sanctions as a result. In recent years, it’s estimated that over 100,000 people may have died in the country because the junta refused to permit international aid after Cyclone Nargis, and promptly significant amounts of the aid that was provided for its own use and/or sale. A long-standing series internal wars with ethnic groups like the Karens adds to the internal misery.
Now the junta faces an additional challenge: securing its portion of a 771 km/ 479 mile dual oil/gas pipeline to its backers in China. The $2.5 billion project, which will be 50.9% owned by China’s CNPC oil firm and 49.1% by the Myanmar junta. The pipeline will ship from the port of Sittwe/ Akyab in Malaysia northward across the country, entering China at the border city of Ruili in Yunnan province, and continuing on through China to the coastal province of Guangxi on Vietnam’s northern border.
While China’s economy has cooled as a result of the global recession, long-term, secure access to the resources needed to supply its growing economy is one of the regime’s top strategic priorities. When it’s complete, the dual-pipeline will give China an alternate route for Middle Eastern oil and gas that is not subject to naval interference around the narrow Straits of Malacca.
It will also serve as a convenient shipping route for Burma’s own oil and natural gas in Arakan state, and the Bay of Bengal. Chinese firms are very heavily involved in Myanmar’s energy sector.
As a side-effect, the combination of Burmese resources and a strategic shipment route for critical energy resources will ensure permanent and unwavering support from China for the Burmese junta, and blockage of future sanctions or international action against the junta.
As a point of comparison, the 60 km Yadana pipeline to Thailand resulted in a 40 km wide cleared “security corridor” around the pipeline, along with reports of forced labor, murder, and widespread rapes by the junta’s forces. The new Chinese pipeline is much longer, and also far more important to a much larger partner country. Reports indicate that the Myanmar junta has already devoted more than 10,000 front-line soldiers (a reported 44 battalions) to clearing the new pipeline’s path.
To be Burma’s president or army chief? – Khin Maung Tint and Aung Moe Zaw
Irrawaddy: Thu 1 Jul 2010
Halfway through 2010 and the date for Burma’s election has not yet been set. The signs seem to suggest that two years after the first announcement the regime will call a snap election, if they call anything at all.
The election, when or if it is held, will bring change. It will change the leadership within the army and it might even stir conflict within the ranks. Even such a limited cosmetic change appears to be a cause of great angst for Sen-Gen Than Shwe. And that’s why he hesitates.
In Burmese politics today, the chief of the armed forces is the one who holds absolute power. Snr-Gen Than Shwe is No. 1, and he will hold on to power with an iron grip. As long as he has power, he will use it to achieve his goal. His words, as a Burmese proverb goes, can kill the fire.
According to the Constitution, in post-election Burma, the army chief will continue to be the major power holder. Than Shwe has the power to choose: to be president or army chief.
Than Shwe, now in his late-70s, could find the choice difficult.
According to the seniority system in the Burmese army, Vice Sen-Gen Maung Aye should be the next chief of the armed forces, but Gen Thura Shwe Mahn could also be in line since Maung Aye is in his late 70s.
Lt-Gen Myint Swe and Lt-Gen Tin Aye of the defense ministry may also hope to be No 1.
What is clear in Burma is that there are many more generals who have dreams of being army chief than those who dream of becoming the country’s president. This is a direct result of the 2008 Constitution which was written to keep the army chief and his military clique in power.
If Than Shwe chooses himself as the country’s next president, will he be able to continue to control the army as late dictator Gen Ne Win managed to do during the Burmese Socialist Programme Party? The question is: Are his fellow generals loyal to him?
Will Maung Aye, Shwe Mahn, and Myint Swe continue to obey Than Shwe if he leaves the army to be the country’s president? Will enemies from within the army appear at that point? Than Shwe did after all bring down the former dictator Gen Ne Win and then, only six years ago, he put one of the most powerful men in Burma, Gen Khin Nyunt, behind bars.
There may be supporters of these deposed figures lurking in the background, ready to emerge when Than Shwe and his fellow generals take off their army uniforms.
Even though both the president and the next army chief will be selected by Than Shwe, he cannot be certain of the loyalty of the army chief.
Perhaps the election date has not been announced because Than Shwe cannot decide on the next army chief and the next president from within his own elite circle. The power to set the date is purely in his hands. There is no opposition to protest the date. There is no need for a sudden, snap election or for the lack of a decision.
But, for Than Shwe and his clique, the decision is one that could determine their common fate. It is a dilemma of their own making, the very 2008 Constitution which they wrote and which could bring about their own demise, if the wrong decision is made.
One thing is sure now, they have to do something. Having proffered an election, they have to set a date. But the date will only be set after Than Shwe has decided whether to choose himself as the next country’s president and who to select to lead the army.
The decision may set off a course of events which could lead to Than Shwe losing his position to another dictator. He might then face the same fate as Gen Ne Win.
Holding proper talks with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would certainly have been a better path to choose for himself, his military clique and for the country as a whole.
* Khin Maung Tint and Aung Moe Zaw are the general secretary and chairperson of the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), which is a Burmese political party based in exile.
Are activists the new Third Force in politics?
The Christian Science Monitor: Thu 1 Jul 2010
The Burma election this year is widely expected to reinforce the junta’s power. But some nonprofits support the vote, and dozens of political parties are taking part, in hopes of chipping away at military rule.
Inside a humid room, rows of neatly dressed Burmese students are quizzing their guest lecturer. The class is Social Entrepreneurship and the topic is the European Union, where the lecturer comes from.
Why is Switzerland not in the EU? Why is marijuana legal in some countries but not in others? “Good questions,” the teacher nods.
The class is run by Myanmar Egress, a nonprofit organization that has become a one-stop shop for civil society activism in military-ruled Burma (Myanmar). Founded in 2006 by academics and businesspeople, it offers paid courses from Development Economics to Public Speaking Skills to Team Building. It also has a public policy research arm and conducts humanitarian relief assessments, while quietly extending into political education.
But the group also takes a conciliatory stance toward the unpopular junta, raising hackles among some democracy activists. It allegedly has close ties to the regime, and supports the controversial elections set for later this year, part of a seven-stage road map toward a “discipline-flourishing democracy.”
Critics say these elections, the first to be held in 20 years, will simply perpetuate military rule behind a civilian facade. The US has warned that voting is unlikely to be free and fair.
Some analysts have identified Myanmar Egress and other moderate groups as a new “Third Force” that seeks to steer a path between the regime and its opponents, including detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy is boycotting the vote.
Others doubt that Myanmar Egress is a force for democratic change because of its alleged close ties with the junta, says Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy, a magazine published in Thailand by exiled Burmese activists. “It’s a very controversial group of people. They appear to be supporting the regime’s road map and the elections.”
Tin Maung Thann, a co founder of Myanmar Egress, says it would be naive to expect a swift reversion to democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule. He argues that reform can begin at the margins, then move into the mainstream once the rules of the game are established.
Training young people in fields like rural development, and securing the best and brightest to study overseas, is one way to seed this change, he says. “We know how to create the (political) space.”
Unmasking Than Shwe – Simon Roughneen
Irrawaddy: Thu 1 Jul 2010
Mysterious, reclusive, brutal, misunderstood, superstitious, power-mad. These are words used to describe Burma’s ruling strongman, Sen-Gen Than Shwe. Less is know about this man than almost any other head of government, perhaps even less than Kim Jong Il, the apparently ailing ruler of North Korea and Than Shwe’s alleged nuclear collaborator.
Benedict Rogers’ new biography, “Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant,” is the first detailed study of the man whose iron fist rules Burma.
Question. Your book is being published as Burma gears up for what opposition and exiled Burmese are calling sham elections or military elections. Some voices in the international community, perhaps describing themselves as foreign policy “realists,” have are more positive on the process, saying that it could potentially lead to some sort of democratization sometime in the future. Does this square with Than Shwe’s way of seeing the world, and his vision for Burma in the future?
Answer. Than Shwe’s intentions are to safeguard his legacy and protect himself, his family and cronies. He has absolutely no intention at all of any meaningful reform or democratization. However, there can and should be a difference between what we in the international community do and what people inside Burma do. I have no respect at all for those in the international community who have a rose-tinted view of what these elections mean. All of us should be in no doubt that this is a discredited and illegitimate process. However, I do understand and respect why some Burmese feel that they have no alternative but to make the best out of it. Some Burmese will want to take part and some will not, and I respect both points of view. But in the international community we have to be clear that it offers no hope for change.
Q. In its latest edition, Foreign Policy listed Than Shwe as third from bottom in its “Worst of the Worst” ranking of dictators around the world. Does what you found out in the course of your research tally with such a ranking?
A. Yes, that sounds about right. I think it would think it is a pretty close race between Than Shwe and Mugabe for second place, behind Kim Jong Il.
Q. In practice, researching and writing a biography such as this must be very challenging, given that the subject is a reclusive, isolated, apparently paranoid dictator, hidden in his jungle capital. Can you tell us how you dealt with these obstacles?
A. In the introduction I am up front about the limitations of the book, that I could not get close to Than Shwe and his inner circle . However, I did have access to a number of army defectors who have known him and worked with him at various stages. I had access to international diplomats who had access to him and had dealings with him. While I would never claim that this is the definitive life story of Than Shwe, I can say that I have uncovered and brought to light a comprehensive perspective on the man, and one that has not been published to date. I have been pleasantly encouraged by the reviews so far. Bertil Linter can be quite a tough critic, but he has written a very generous review of the book and that is very encouraging.
Q. Allegations about Burma’s nuclear program hit the headlines recently after an army defector provided classified information to DVB, later broadcast on al-Jazeera. Are there more defectors waiting to tell their story, to tell more about how things are inside Burma? How is the mood and morale within the junta’s army?
A. Over the 10 years or so that I have been working on Burma, I have met many defectors. One defector who helped me a lot with the book is in touch with former colleagues inside Burma and the army. The mood inside the army is very much one of low morale and a desire to defect or at least leak information to people outside, which might in turn undermine the regime. The only thing holding back many potential defectors is the insecurity of their position in neighboring countries, particularly Thailand. If more was done by the international community to ensure that defectors could have place of safety, then more defections would happen and more information would come out.
Q. What specifically are the issues, challenges and dilemmas for a potential defector as he or she weighs-up such a momentous decision?
A. Thailand and other neighbors have an agreement with the regime to return any Burmese soldiers or officers they find, and this makes any defector vulnerable to deportation, and the consequences once he or she is returned to Burma. Otherwise, defectors who come out and are outspoken face attack, assassination or can be disappeared by agents of the regime, for examples in places like Mae Sot near the Thai-Burma border. Another barrier is the attitude of the international community, which has a more complex approach to defectors than other asylum seekers, and countries are generally much more reluctant to accept defectors. Strangely though, when people defect through embassies, it seems to be much easier than if some one tries to defect through Thailand for example.
Q. Than Shwe seems to be trying to re-brand his regime with allusions or references to Burma’s ancient kings and kingdoms, hinting at his own supposed links to a mythologized past. Is Than Shwe a reincarnation of Burma’s long-dead kings?
A. Than Shwe sees himself as a sort of warrior-king, a modern version of those figures from Burma’s history. For example, Burma’s kings liked to build and establish new capitals for themselves, something that he has replicated by building a new capital in Naypidaw, which of course means “Seat of Kings” in Burmese. Though of course he has other reasons for building the new capital—be that paranoia about another uprising in Burma, the need to hide military facilities, fear of an attack from a foreign power. As irrational as some of this might be, these are factors in his thinking.
Q. Can you tell us more about Than Shwe’s psychology of rule? He is rumored to be heavily influenced by astrology and highly superstitious. Is this the case?
A. Astrology is a factor, but it conditions his thinking more about the timing of events, the duration of prison sentences, for example, than it is an over-arching or guiding principle. Certain events are timed to run on given auspicious dates, but that does not mean that Than Shwe is merely a crazed superstitious tyrant, and we must not fall into the trap of stereotyping him or underestimating him. He is brutally clever and adept at divide and rule. Astrology is arguably more important in his wife’s way of thinking than in his own.
Q. How strong an influence is his wife on him personally and politically? Is she a Lady Macbeth figure or is that an overstatement?
A. First, the limitations of how close I could get to Than Shwe come into play here. I wasn’t a fly on the wall in their home, and that is an understatement! But she does have some influence, particularly when it comes to Aung San Suu Kyi. Daw Kyaing Kyaing dislikes her as much, if not more, than her husband.
Q. Can you tell us more about that dislike? Is it personal, political, or a mixture?
A. It is a combination. Politically she represents a challenge to Than Shwe, who sees himself as the elderly father figure in ruling his country. She is younger and upsets that patriarchal vision. She is also everything, frankly, that Daw Kyaing Kyaing is not: she is beautiful, internationally savvy, cultured, well-educated.
Q. As well as your role as East Asia specialist with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, you work closely with the Conservative Party in the UK, which recently returned to power. First, has Prime Minister David Cameron or Foreign Secretary William Hague read your book? Secondly, how do you hope it will influence policy in the UK and internationally.
A. Not that I am aware of, but I hope they will. The Speaker of the House of Commons has kindly agreed to speak at the upcoming UK launch of the book which I am looking forward to very much. I hope that the book will serve as a wake-up call for those who, as I said already, take a somewhat benign or falsely optimistic view of what the scheduled elections mean for Burma.
I also outline that I believe, like many others, that there should be a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity in Burma and Than Shwe’s role. In terms of British policy, I do not anticipate much difference from the previous government. William Hague has already shown a strong commitment to Burma advocacy while in opposition, inviting Zoya Phan to address the Tory Party conference, as well as speaking at her book launch in London. Both David Cameron and William Hague have met with Charm Tong. David Cameron’s chief-of-staff is a long-time friend of Aung San Suu Kyi. I think, however, that leadership on Burma will come from the Foreign Secretary rather than the prime minister, unlike under Labour where Gordon Brown spoke out on Burma himself.
I want to conclude by saying that I hope the book will dispel beyond doubt the myth that Than Shwe is someone we can just sit down and have a cup of tea with, and launch into a rational discussion of how to reform his country. He understands one word, one concept—that is force. I am not advocating nor do I believe in the use of military force, nor do I believe in isolating the regime. We have to remain aware of the nature of the man who rules Burma, and his unwillingness to listen to reason. The international community needs to come together on a strategic policy to bring targeted pressure and targeted engagement to bear on Than Shwe, including a commission of inquiry, and if my book can contribute to bringing this about, or at least a better understanding of why this is necessary, then it will have achieved something.
North Korean-provided missile, radar base said set up in Kachin state
Democratic Voice of BurmaWed 30 Jun 2010
Work has been completed on a new radar and missile base in northern Burma as army trucks reportedly travel the length of the country to deliver stockpiles of weaponry.
An army source close to the Northern Regional Military Command told DVB that missile launchers, including North Korean-made 122mm Multiple Launch Rocket Systems vehicles, have been moved into place at the Moe Hnyin [Mohnyin] base in Kachin state.
The base is operated by Rocket Battalion 603, and lies around 80 miles southwest of the Kachin state capital, Myitkyina, and equidistant between the Chinese and Indian border. Munitions, including trucks mounted with radar systems known as Fire Control Vehicles, were reportedly delivered from Rangoon over the course several month’s prior to the opening of the base in May.
Another radar base known as Duwun (Pole Star) has been opened on a hill close to Moe Hnyin. Two Russian technicians arrived at the base in early May via Myitkyina for a final installation and inspection of the equipment, the source said.
It is the fourth such base to be opened in Burma this year; two others are operational in Shan state’s Nawnghkio and Kengtung districts, while one was recently opened close to Mandalay division’s Kyaukpadaung town.
The reports will likely stoke suspicions about the contents of a cargo delivered by a North Korean ship, the Jong Gen, in April this year. Two months later, DVB released the findings of an investigation that had unearthered eviden
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