774[Readingroom] News on Burma - 4/8/10
- Aug 4, 2010
- NDF leaders banned from polls for ‘treason’ prepare appeal
- Election to be in December?
- Burma’s FEC value drops
- Do not agree with India’s policy on Myanmar: Amartya Sen tells PM
- UN ‘working behind the scenes’ on Burma
- Parties ‘afraid’ of declaring policies
- India gives a big hug to Burma’s junta
- Don’t expect much from Burma’s election
- Opportunity slipping away on Burma
- Flaws and challenges of EU policy on Burma
- More reliance on Burma
- China’s largest stainless steel maker invests in Myanmar nickel mine
- Burma parties wary of US sanctions
- Myanmar’s 2010 elections: a human rights perspective
- North Korean FM visits Myanmar amid nuke concerns
- Leaked document reveals USDP tactics
- Thailand to sign Myanmar natural gas purchase deal
- DKBA battalions defect to KNLA
- India pledges millions in credit to Myanmar regime
- Burma army torches Karen village
- Censorship rule puts electoral laws, constitution off-limits
- India, Myanmar sign 5 pacts
- Than Shwe may free Suu Kyi before election
- Retaking power in Burma (Pt. 1)
- Retaking power in Burma (Pt. 2)
- Retaking power in Burma (Pt. 3)
NDF leaders banned from polls for ‘treason’ prepare appeal – Ko Wild
Mizzima News: Tue 3 Aug 2010
Chiang Mai – The Burmese junta’s electoral watchdog has warned the party that split from the National League for Democracy that four members of its central executive committee were ineligible to stand in the forthcoming national elections because of alleged past acts of treason. It is preparing to submit an appeal letter to the poll watchdog, a party leader has said.The Union Election Commission (UEC) chairman Than Soe in Naypyidaw named four National Democratic Force (NDF) top panel members: vice-chairman Tin Aung Aung, central executive committee member Tha Saing, political leading committee chief Khin Maung Swe and political leading committee member Than Soe, as subject to the ban as they were charged under Sections 121, 122, 124 of the Penal Code with high treason in 1990, central executive committee member Khin Maung Swe said.
“The UEC told us to submit an appeal letter to its chairman … so we have discussed the case with our lawyers but we’ve not yet fixed a date”, Khin Maung Swe said.
“The electoral commission told us that if we submitted the letter … the commission would review it and pass it to a superior authority”, Khin Maung Swe said. “We have already served long prison sentences on [the treason] charges, but the warning said we were never allowed to stand in polls.”
The four former NLD MPs were charged with acts of high treason against the state by allegedly attempting to force the current junta’s precursor, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc), to transfer power by establishing a parallel government after the NLD had a landslide win in nationwide elections in 1990.
After Khin Maung Swe had served approximately two years of his 10-year jail term, he was released under an amnesty set forth in Order 11/92. However, after two years he was rearrested and charged under section 5(j) and was sentenced to seven years in prison. His amnesty was revoked requiring him to also serve the remainder of his previous 10-year prison sentence. He was detained 16 years and six months during in his second imprisonment.
Section 121 defines high treason against the state and section 122 states that anyone who commits such treason will be sentenced to death or a life term. Section 124 defines the concealment of the high treason against the state, according to a jurist in Rangoon, the former Burmese capital.
Election to be in December? – Sai Zom Hseng
Irrawaddy: Tue 3 Aug 2010
Lt-Gen. Myint Swe of the Ministry of Defense told security officials on Monday to increase national security during December, according to military sources.A high-ranking military officer who took part in the meeting told The Irrawaddy, “In the beginning of this year, he [Lt. Gen Myint Swe] told us to prepare the extra security for October. But in the last meeting, he said to prepare for December.
A police officer in Rangoon said, “The election might be held in December. That’s why he gave instructions to us to upgrade security at that time.”
No date for the election has been announced.
In the 1990 election, political parties had 90 days to campaign before the polling date. It is unknown if that will be the case in this election.
A National Security meeting is held each Monday in Rangoon when officials from the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Home Affairs, police officers from Rangoon Division and officers from Special Branches (SB) attend a joint meeting.
In the 2007 Saffron Revolution, Lt-Gen. Myint Swe was believed to be the commanding officer who put down the demonstrations at the cost of many deaths and injuries.
Burma’s FEC value drops
Irrawaddy: Tue 3 Aug 2010
Burma’s Foreign Exchange Certificate (FEC) is reportedly becoming difficult to trade in the black market in Rangoon since its exchange rate has dropped and fewer people are buying it.According to black market sources, the prized US dollar in the domestic black foreign currency exchange market is getting high while the FEC has gone lower, forcing most of foreign currency dealers to stop buying the FEC.
One of the biggest dealers in Rangoon said the exchange rate between the FEC and the US dollar had almost no difference within the first half of 2010 and the FEC value was even higher during some months. However, the FEC value has now dropped about 100 kyat (US $0.10) compare to the US dollar, he said.
On Tuesday, one FEC was equivalent to 923 kyat in the Rangoon market while one USD was worth 1,005 kyat.
“I haven’t bought FECs since mid-July. I now trade only US dollars. The current rate is 1,005 kyat for one USD,” said another dealer in Rangoon.
Some dealers reportedly continue trading the FEC in the black market but they only pay a low rate when they buy since they have found it difficult to sell a large amount of FECs.
“I don’t buy many FECs now. If someone comes to sell, I will buy 500 maximum but only pay quite lower than the current rate. Otherwise, I will loose more money if its rate changes again. It seems like the FEC rate will go down,” said a dealer on 35th street.
In the past, the FEC was used to buy fuel at state-run stations and pre-paid phone cards sold by Myanmar Posts & Telecommunications and Htoo Co., Ltd., as well as in paying overseas telephone charges and other state-related taxes.
Business sources in Rangoon, however, said the benefit of using the FEC becomes limited since many changes have taken place. They said, for instance, people can no long buy fuel at the recently opened private stations by using FECs. Pre-paids cards are now available with Burmese currency.
“The FEC value has dropped because it is less useful. Another important factor is that businessmen don’t see the FEC as a strong currency,” said an official from the Central Bank of Myanmar.
Obviously, the value of the FECs has never gone up although the CBM has officially announced that it could be used in import-export businesses in lieu of US dollars.
According to business sources, many people like to buy US dollars and gold, and the flow of US dollars to border areas is still high.
“Dollar trading is not bad. More demand make less supplies available. If we have them, we can sell at higher price than the current rate. Some people will buy anyway,” said a Rangoon trader.
Traders in the Thai-Burma border area said one US dollar is equivalent to 1,020 kyat there while it is only worth 1,008 kyat in Rangoon. They said traders only buy dollars and gold since the border trade has been halted.
“While border trade is stopped, they may have converted their money to other strong valuables such as dollars and gold,” said a gold trader in Mandalay, who has connections with the border area.
Gold traders said the sale is going well with a steady price of 642,000 kyat ($655) for one kyat (.015 kg) of solid gold.
Do not agree with India’s policy on Myanmar: Amartya Sen tells PM
Press Trust of India: Tue 3 Aug 2010
With prime minister Manmohan Singh by his side, Nobel Laureate Prof Amartya Sen today said he did not approve of India’s policy on Myanmar.“I do not agree with your policy on Burma. In a democratic country like India, I can say this to the prime minister,” he said while giving a lecture on ‘Centrality of Literacy’ in New Delhi.
Singh, an economist like Sen, smiled when the Nobel Laureate made the comments.
Sen’s forthright comments on India’s relations with Myanmar came when he took the floor after Singh had addressed the function
The comments came close on the heels of India hosting Myanmar military ruler General Than Shwe last week.
Shwe faces global flak for not allowing democracy to take root in the country where pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been barred from contesting elections slated for this year. India has been engaging Shwe’s government maintaining that it was in its vital interest.
Sen also drew a distinction between the ideals of the late Chinese president Mao Zedong and the action of Maoists in India.
Mao had promoted basic education in China which augmented the economic development of the country. But the Maoists in India are affecting the basic education structure in states like West Bengal, Sen said.
Singh said literacy is central to social and economic development. No modern industrialised nation has less than 80 per cent literacy rate, he said.
Singh said the goal for his government is to make India literate and reduce the gender gap in literacy.
UN ‘working behind the scenes’ on Burma – Francis Wade
Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 3 Aug 2010
The UN has been forced to defend its record on Burma in recent days with the fallout from a leaked memo that slated Ban Ki-moon’s impact on the pariah state showing no signs of easing.The now-infamous 50-page report, written by Inga-Britt Ahlenius and leaked to the Washington Post in mid-July, said that the UN secretariat is in a “process of decay” after three years of “absence of strategic guidance and leadership” under Ban.
The comments were a parting shot from Ahlenius, who recently finished her post as chief of the UN’s anti-corruption agency, the Office of Internal Oversight (UNOIOS).
“We seem to be seen less and less as a relevant partner in the resolution of world problems,” she said, questioning the UN’s “capacity to protect civilians in conflict and distress…What relevance do we have in disarmament, in Myanmar [Burma], Darfur, Afghanistan, Cyprus, G20…?”
The secretary general used one of his first speeches as UN chief in January 2007 to urge for the release of Burma’s political prisoners, but since his last, and widely criticised, visit to Burma in June last year, he has barely mentioned the country in public.
Moreover, the UN is yet to appoint a successor to Ibrahim Gambari, the equally maligned UN special envoy to Burma who was reassigned to Sudan in late 2009. In January this year it defended the hiatus on reappointing an envoy by claiming that UN Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar was temporarily filling the role.
But it has again been forced to defend accusations in the wake of the leaked report that it has been lax on pressuring the Burmese junta to reform. One reporter asked Ban’s spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, on 23 July whether the UN had indeed accomplished anything on Burma, which is heading towards widely-criticised elections this year.
“We continue to work, as I also said to you before; the good offices [team] is not one individual, if you like, it’s people working behind the scenes,” he said. “Not everything that happens is in the public eye…Sometimes you see those results quickly, sometimes it takes longer. Certainly we’ve been very public about the need for credible elections in Myanmar.
Nambiar also responded to the Ahlenius report by saying that Ban’s work as secretary general had been “visionary” and that he had balanced his UN role with “providing truly global leadership.”
But critics have argued that his method of dealing in “soft power” has reinforced the growing influence of China within the UN, at a time when Western nations are in a face-off over China’s support for the Burmese junta. Ahlenius said that Ban was “spineless and charmless” and was “struggling to show leadership”, an accusation that has apparently rattled his office.
Parties ‘afraid’ of declaring policies – Ahunt Phone Myat
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 2 Aug 2010
A number of political parties registered for elections this year, including that of Burma’s prime minister Thein Sein, are reluctant to publicise their intentions in the media, candidates have claimed.The primary reason for lack of party publicity is the “climate of fear” that parties are operating in, said Win Naing, a nationalist politician who is trying to establish an election watchdog. He added that this would extend to voters unless conditions inside the country are transformed.
Some 39 parties have so far registered for elections this year, although they face significant obstacles to campaigning: election laws announced in May prohibit parties from boosting their profile via erecting banners and chanting in public. Moreover, any form of public canvassing can only be done once permission is granted by the Election Commission.
Win Naing’s observations were echoed by Phyo Min Thein, chairman of the Union Democratic Party (UDP), who said that even Thein Sein’s party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), had remained quiet about their policies.
Another politician, Tun Aung Kyaw, who heads the Modern People’s Party, said however that it may be down to teething problems, given the relatively recent birth of the multiparty system.
“The people in Burma are also new to democracy and are not accustomed to the system,” he said. “Of course, there can be [communication] difficulties in the initial phases. But, we are in a globalization era, so we can expect gradual progress. Countries which are newly democratised usually face such a phenomenon.”
Instead, it is up to international media to initiate contact with reluctant parties, said Aung Zaw, editor of the Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine.
“Very few of them tried to reach us,” he said. “My personal view is that political parties and opposition parties inside the country need to get hold of the local media as well as the media outside the country and should report about what they are doing. They still need to do a lot more to publicize and establish lines of communication.”
He added that media inside and outside Burma face difficulties in getting reports from the constituencies inside the country in the pre-election period. This may also be a problem during the election period.
Around 30 million people are eligible to vote in the elections, out of a population of nearly 50 million. No date has yet been set, and candidates have warned that insufficient time may be given to effectively campaign prior to polling.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said last month however that progress had been made by the country’s Election Commission (EC) on the specifics of the voting procedures.
“The [EC] chairman and the commission members…defined constituencies, made lists of eligible voters, designated places for polling stations, and held discussions on electoral matters,” it said, but gave no further details on when the information would be made public.
India gives a big hug to Burma’s junta – Jeremy Kahn
Newsweek: Mon 2 Aug 2010
From Pyongyang to Khartoum, rogue regimes can usually find friends in Beijing–naturally. China is no democracy, so why would it worry about human rights where it can sell arms or drill for oil? This week, however, it’s not China but proudly democratic India that’s rolling out the red carpet for one of the planet’s most repressive dictators. Than Shwe, leader of Burma’s military junta, is paying his second state visit to New Delhi, and his hosts are determined to sell his government weapons and secure new energy deals.The two countries weren’t always so chummy. India used to welcome Burmese refugees and praise Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel-winning opposition leader who has spent much of the past two decades under house arrest. But India needs energy to maintain its economic growth, and Burma has massive natural-gas reserves. New Delhi is scrambling for its share before China snaps up everything. The United States and the European Union have long pressured Burma with unilateral economic sanctions. Now, however, India’s embrace of the junta, not to mention China’s ongoing support for the regime, is making that policy toothless. Unless the West can persuade Burma’s neighbors to join the protest, the junta will find that the world is not such a lonely place after all.
Don’t expect much from Burma’s election – Pavin Chachavalpongpun
Irrawaddy: Mon 2 Aug 2010
As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) met in Hanoi last week, one contentious topic, as predicted, was discussed: political development in Burma and its upcoming election—the first in the country in 20 years. The issue continues to deepen the already stark differences between Asean and the international community over what would be the most effective way to deal with the stubborn regime.While the international community has demanded a free and fair election and the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Asean has insisted on the engagement approach. Thus, it is likely that Asean will accept the legitimacy of Burma’s new regime without asking too many questions.
In Hanoi, the Asean approach was re-emphasized. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that there was a reasonable degree of hope that the election would be part of the solution to various issues in Burma.
Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan agreed. “Asean is very much interested in the peaceful national reconciliation in Burma and whatever happens there will have implications in Asean, positive or negative,” he told reporters.
Having long performed as a rubber stamp for the military regime, Asean’s current position does not seem to guarantee that, after the election, there will be real changes in the Burmese political system.
Asean has rejected the West’s approach, criticizing it for demanding too much from Burma’s junta and unrealistically expecting the election to completely transform the country from an outpost of tyranny into a full-fledged democratic state. Meanwhile, the West complained that Asean has failed to push for political reform in Burma and still provides a political sanctuary for its ruthless regime.
The different approaches between Asean and the international community have given the regime extra room to maneuver. The Burmese leaders have exploited such differences to their advantage, using the Asean approach to weaken the impact of Western sanctions. Unfortunately, this trend is set to continue, even in the post-election period.
Asean observers acknowledge that Burma’s planned election is part of a military-led transition that will install a new regime in Naypyidaw. They also believe that the new regime will be less repressive and more civilian in character, although not necessarily more democratic. This is simply because, according to Burma’s new Constitution, there will be a decentralization of power and the society will supposedly become more pluralistic. But critics argue that the Constitution was written to prolong the military’s political power and its promise to plant the seeds democracy is merely symbolic.
The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the governing body of Burma’s military regime, claims that the country is reaching the end point of the road map toward democratization and that the elections will be organized later this year, although the date has not yet been announced.
The SPDC may realize that a transition is inevitable. Sooner or later, it has to reposition itself to cope with the changing domestic and regional environment. As a result, the junta has chosen to initiate, and then dominate, the transitional process so that a large portion of political power remains in the hands of the military. Therefore, the ostensibly civilianized Burma could be considered a product of a political concession which the military regime has offered to the opposition and the ethnic minorities.
But this process will not be untroubled. Old problems will persist even after Burma installs a new government. Most of these problems concern the question of legitimacy of the new regime, which will undoubtedly be challenged by Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi has been barred from the election according to the Union Election Commission Law (UECL), which states that anyone currently serving a jail term is banned from joining a political party. The junta enacted the UECL primarily to exclude Suu Kyi from the transitional process. Her party won a landslide victory in the 1990 election, but was never allowed to take power. Today, Suu Kyi is still hugely popular. The junta has learned from the past and wants to ensure that it remains in charge.
Thus, to Suu Kyi, the electoral process lacks legitimacy. In response, her NLD party declared that it would boycott the election. And since Suu Kyi has been able to command the world’s opinion and is much respected in the West, the new military-backed government will have to work hard from the start to justify its existence in the face of various opposition groups inside and outside the country.
The new regime will also need to fix the collapsing cease-fire agreements which the SPDC has concluded with a number of ethnic groups over the years. As of now, the government’s scheme of establishing a border guard force (BGF) has not been completed. Under this scheme, ethnic armies would be downsized into several battalions. Each would operate under the central command of Burma’s army, or Tatmadaw, as part of the military’s consolidation of power.
But some ethnic groups have refused to be neutralized. It was reported that the majority of the 18 ceasefire groups, including the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest, have so far rejected the scheme.
In August 2009, heavy fighting between the Tatmadaw and the ethnic Kokang Army forced more than 30,000 refugees to cross into China, an incident that caused friction between Naypyidaw and Beijing. Initially described as part of a drug raid, the Tatmadaw’s attack on the Kokang served as a violent warning to other ethnic armed groups refusing to disarm and join the national army.
Similarly, in June 2009, thousands of refugees fled into the buffer zone inside Thailand when the Burmese army clashed with the Karen National Union (KNU), a group that has sought independence for the past 60 years. The civilianized regime’s urgent task will be to reorganize the power distribution so that peace with ethnic minorities can be guaranteed.
Should the world anticipate any significant change in Burma? Probably not. Asean is particularly excited about the upcoming election in Burma as it will conveniently vindicate its long-held engagement approach. In reality, however, with or without the election, the world will still live with the same old Burma—the one that has been opposed to democracy.
* Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at the Asean Studies Centre, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. The views expressed here are his own.
Opportunity slipping away on Burma – U Win Tin
The Australian: Mon 2 Aug 2010
IN the 20 years since Burma’s last free and fair election, it has become Southeast Asia’s poorest country.It has continued the world’s longest civil war, produces the highest number of refugees per capita in the world and is home to one of the highest numbers of child soldiers.Yet, major powers, regional governments and international bodies seem prepared to allow the election scheduled for this year, a hollow poll driven by the strategic needs of the military, to go ahead and for the military to be self-legitimised as the rulers of some 55 million Burmese.
Without a firm plan of action, this is exactly what will occur.
Last month’s summit of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi confirms this laxity. Despite much public cajoling and strong words behind closed doors, ASEAN has once again failed to offer a firm approach or a regionally approved and facilitated road-map.
While demands first formalised by ASEAN in 2003 for the release of the National League for Democracy’s Aung San Suu Kyi, remain in place, suggestions from some that she should be released and allowed to participate in the elections have been quashed by the military. And the possibility of a special ASEAN envoy to Burma was not pursued.
As such, these demands remain little more than paper tigers because they are not backed institutionally by ASEAN, nor is there any formalised process to move in any specified direction.
In the words of one senior ASEAN diplomat in Hanoi, reported in local media: “In the end, we (ASEAN) will probably end up being a big rubber stamp.”
Meanwhile, the US dithers on the sidelines, unable or unwilling to embolden its position. After taking months to review its Burma policy, it then sought to maintain a policy status quo; a combination of engagement and sanctions.
US engagement has faltered without a special Burma envoy and sanctions have limited effect because Burma’s close ties with China have tended to surmount economic barriers to trade and investment.
As such, the US position on the elections has fallen in with that of ASEAN – one characterised by stern words and lofty hopes but lacking the foundation of a solid plan of action.
For the UN, it has been more than a year since the special envoy for Burma has visited and one year since the UN’s Secretary-General spoke with us in person. Neither has been to Burma since Suu Kyi was detained yet again, following a sham trial last year.
The Burmese regime has been able to completely ignore and repudiate international and regional actors.
The proposed election will not lead to the reconciliation between various forces in Burma so effectively wedged apart by the military the international community so hopes for, and that the region so needs.
With this election, the regime is playing a zero-sum game. The goal is to completely crush all opposition parties and to completely exclude all relevant stakeholders in Burma’s supposed journey to democracy.
The exclusion of major political participants, from ethnic groups such as major Kachin parties to leading political figures denied access to the elections by virtue of being imprisoned (including Suu Kyi herself), is the ultimate in wedge politics, keeping the country on the edge of failed-state status and denying any semblance of reconciliation.
In effect, the election will lead to more chaos in Burma. Tensions will rise as a result of thwarted ambitions and the implications of poverty and the continued violations of basic human rights will possibly boil over.
Increased instability in Burma – an outcome no one wants, even Burma’s patrons in Beijing – is the most likely outcome.
The NLD called for a regional dialogue on Burma some years ago. We feel this should be driven by ASEAN, largely via the extended ASEAN Regional Forum, and should be conducted in Asia.
The goal of such a forum is to find ways the international community and the Burmese military can work together to initiate a sincere transition to democracy in Burma. The bottom line is to devise a plan of action. Without such a strategy, Burma’s elections will lead nowhere. They do, however, present an opportunity – one that the international community has so far failed to take.
* U Win Tin is co-founder of the National League for Democracy and was imprisoned by the military for 19 years
Flaws and challenges of EU policy on Burma – Javier Delgado Rivera
Mizzima News: Mon 2 Aug 2010
No credible international actor deems the forthcoming national elections in Burma as anything other than a mere act of pretence. Judging by the European Union’s (EU) latest statements on Burma, Brussels is no exception. Last February, the European Parliament (EP) concluded that under the present conditions, elections in Burma cannot be free or democratic. In this vein, the EP called on Naypyitaw to “take without delay the steps needed to ensure a free, fair, transparent and inclusive electoral process.”The ultimate desire of the EU is to see a political transition in Burma in which a democratically elected civilian government takes over from the current repressive rule of the junta. In order to push the Burmese military to get this process underway, the EU has since 1996 opted to go down the road of renewing and strengthening restrictive measures against Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and its cronies.
The ruby success and the trade embargo spoilers
In reaction to restrictive election laws announced in March by the military regime, last April EU foreign affairs ministers extended by another year targeted measures against the junta. Sanctions are largely designed to curb the junta’s acquisition of military equipment and services, as well as to weaken business interests vital in fuelling the generals suffocating hold over the country. The restrictions include visa bans and asset freezes for key junta figures, their families, individuals associated with the generals, members of the judiciary and enterprises linked with the country’s top brass.
In particular, the EU’s ban on the import of Burmese gems regardless of where they are transformed, in conjunction with a similar U.S. initiative, has arguably prompted the closure of roughly 50 ruby mines. Although the true impact of this setback on Naypyitaw’s finances cannot be fully ascertained, Ivan Lewis, former British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, underlined that “the [mining] sector played a particular role in sustaining the military and their grip on power.”
The above may well embody the sole substantial payoff of the EU’s Common Position on Burma – the official designation of Brussels’ restrictions-based policy towards the estranged Southeast Asian country. In fact, for over 14 years EU sanctions have achieved little to nothing in terms of forcing Burma’s military dictatorship to open up. As an example, Piero Fassino, EU Special Envoy for Burma/Myanmar, has been unable to get permission to visit the country since his appointment in late 2007. In light of such plain disregard for the calls of the EU, chances are an EU request to send an exploratory mission to Burma in the build-up to the country’s elections remains likely to be ignored.
A further, and similar, example was the EU’s recent cancellation of a high-level visit to Burma after the junta rejected its petition to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. If Burmese authorities do not even allow EU representatives to meet the detained Suu Kyi, there is not much hope that Naypyitaw will pave the way for Brussels to nose around in the run-up to voting, let alone on polling day.
As asserted by the European Parliamentary Caucasus on Burma, a grouping of Members of the European Parliament critical of perceived weak EU policies on Burma, “other EU measures, such as the decision to take away Burma’s Generalised System of Preference trade status (back in 1997), visa-bans and the freeze of some 70,000 Euros in assets, are more symbolic than effective.” Burma’s generals long ago transferred their assets to financial safe havens such as Switzerland or Liechtenstein – non-EU states. More importantly, the resulting lessened trade links between the EU and Burma have not hit the junta in any significant way, as the Burmese military is far from relying on European investment to drive and boost revenue. By trading and investing in Burma with little or no restraint, countries such as China, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore decisively spoil any EU intentions of debilitating the economic muscle of the military regime.
Aware of such a decisive hindrance to EU policy on Burma, last February the EP urged the governments of China, India and Russia “to use their economic and political leverage with the authorities of Burma/Myanmar.”
The EP call, however, proved to fall on deaf ears. In early June, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao went to Burma to meet Senior General Than Shwe and other leaders of the junta. On this official visit, Wen Jiabao signed a series of cooperation agreements with the dictatorship, deals devised to heavily invest in Burma’s natural resources. The EP’s plea went on to call on governments to “stop supplying the Burmese regime with weaponry and other strategic resources.” But the EU’s nonexistent leverage on China was evidenced once again when in mid-June Burma watchers brought out the news of a recent purchase of 50 Chinese fighter jets by the generals.
The EU will keep failing in its efforts to encourage substantial reforms in Burma unless key international and regional players agree on a common stance towards the repressive junta. As this does not seem likely to happen any time soon, if ever, the current EU line of promoting democracy in Burma is cursed to trip over the same stone again and again.
Perils and promises of policing out of the box
Nonetheless, the EU still has room to manoeuvre if it is to streamline its approach to Naypyitaw. As pointed out by Renaud Egreteau, Research Assistant Professor at Hong Kong’s Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, “one of the main flaws of the EU investment ban lies in its non-retroactivity.” This implies that all EU companies already investing in the country prior the 1996 launch of the EU Common Position on Burma are not affected by the ban. For instance, this allows French oil giant Total to keep on feeding Than Shwe’s dictatorship with massive revenues. The EU should look to bridge this gap, although Paris would certainly pull its weight to remove such a proposal from the table.
Given the poor performance of EU policy on Burma, European policymakers and officials would be better off if they seriously consider the revision of their Common Position. Yet, two paramount obstacles fly in the face of such a recipe. First of all, the EU does not really know what else can be done beyond regularly renewing its targeted sanctions and stating its exasperation towards the lack of compromise by the Burmese junta. Secondly, it may prove all too burdensome to come up with a rethought out policy on Burma and have the EU agree on it. The varying, and in some case competing, tones existing amongst the 27 EU member states would make any attempt to revitalise the European position on Burma an insurmountable challenge.
Regional alliances, certain flaws in EU policy on Burma and the complexity of the EU decision-making process are not alone in hindering the effectiveness of the European approach to Burma. Brussels must also realize that the junta sees no gain from giving in to EU appeals for democracy and human rights. As University of Canberra’s Dr. Christopher Roberts rightly pointed at the June 24th Asia-Pacific Roundtable, “the EU has not placed benchmarks for the removal if its sanctions.” If Brussels seeks to persuade the Burmese generals to listen up, it may at least contemplate the incorporation of some incentives in its sanctions-based policy.”
Any such carrots must aim to ease the repercussions that sanctions on trade and investment in Burma unfortunately do have on ordinary Burmese. Such incentives could come in the shape of a progressive launch of non-humanitarian aid and development programs, both currently suspended by the Council of the EU. The arrival of such aid may well entail the emergence of new business opportunities for a number of junta associates. This would in turn prompt the interest of the generals’ cronies in not allowing for the aid to be taken away, thereby unleashing a wave of opposition to the repealing of political gains.
Needles to say, EU incentives should only be entertained once the junta displays solid steps towards the irreversible democratisation of the country. However, regretfully, this is not what is happening in Burma in the run-up to this year’s general elections.
More reliance on Burma
Bangkok Post: Fri 30 Jul 2010
Thailand expects to buy more gas and electricity from Burma in order to secure supplies as domestic resources become depleted, says Energy Minister Wannarat Channukul.Thailand has been buying gas from Burma since the late 1990s. The Yadana and Yetagun offshore gas fields have an output of 400 and 565 million cubic feet per day (mmscfd) respectively.
In three years Thailand will begin receiving supplies from the new Sawtika Block or M9. PTT Plc, Thailand’s sole natural gas seller, will sign a natural gas purchase contract today with Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in Burma’s capital city Naypyidaw.
Under the contract, Thailand will receive gas from M9 at a rate of 240 mmscfd, equal to 2.4 billion litres of oil per day, by the end of 2013. Gas from M9 will mainly be used by the transport sector.
The PTT subsidiary PTT Exploration and Production Plc, the production operator of M9, hopes to gain exploration and production rights for Burma’s other new petroleum blocks such as M3, M4, M7 and M11.
Mr Wannarat said that if the two countries could agree on a plan, Burmese natural gas would serve demand in Thailand over the next 10 years as petroleum resources in the Gulf of Thailand gradually dwindle. Domestic reserves will last only another 23 years, he estimated.
Pornchai Rujiprapha, the permanent secretary of the Energy Ministry, said Thailand also hoped to buy more hydroelectric power from Burma’s Salween River. There is potential to build two hydropower plants on the river: the 1,200-megawatt Hat Gyi Dam and the 7,000-MW Tasang Dam.
In 2006, Sinohydro signed a memorandum of understanding with Burma for the US$1-billion Hat Gyi dam located along the Thai-Burma border. Negotiations over the shareholding structure of the project’s developer are expected to conclude in May next year.
Permsak Shevawattananon, PTT’s senior executive vice-president for natural gas business, said PTT had to seek more gas reserves due to a projected rise in Thai demand to 4,821 mmscfd in 2014 and 5,542 mmscfd in 2020 from 3,900 at present.
“Demand for gas is rising not only in power and industrial sectors but also in transport so we need to find more resources overseas,” said Mr Permsak.
In the future if nuclear- and coal-fired power plants cannot start construction due to community fears over environmental issues, then even more reserves would be needed, he added.
China’s largest stainless steel maker invests in Myanmar nickel mine
China People’s Daily: Fri 30 Jul 2010
Taiyuan Iron and Steel Group (TISCO) signed an agreement with China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group (CNMC) on July 26 to jointly develop the Tagaung Taung nickel mining project in Myanmar, according to an announcement on TISCO’s Web site on July 29.CNMC Nickel, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CNMC, was previously in charge of developing the Tagaung Taung nickel mine. After signing the agreement, TISCO will inject capital into CNMC Nickel to acquire a certain share in the increased capital stock.
The Tagaung Taung nickel mine marks the largest mining project in which China has ever cooperated with Myanmar. The mine has a reserve of more than 30 million tons of high-grade nickel ore containing some 700,000 tons of nickel.
The project, which will be in operation from 2011 to 2031, will attract an investment totaling 800 million U.S. dollars and produce 85,000 tons of nickel-iron containing 22,000 tons of nickel a year. In addition, the construction of mining, smelting and service facilities is well under way.
Nickel is a scarce strategic resource for almost all countries, and China is no exception. TISCO, the world’s largest stainless steel manufacturer, alone consumes at least 100,000 tons of nickel a year.
“As the most important raw material for stainless steel production, nickel takes up a large portion of production costs,” said Zeng Jiesheng, an analyst at MySteel.com, a steel market research and analysis firm.
TISCO said that the Tagaung Taung nickel mine project will greatly alleviate China’s nickel shortage and reduce domestic stainless steel producers’ risks from fluctuations in nickel prices, and it is actively carrying out mining projects in the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and other countries.
Burma parties wary of US sanctions – Nay Htoo
Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 30 Jul 2010
A number of political parties running in Burma’s elections this year have said that extended US sanctions will do little to affect the polls.Observers, including US and EU governments, have decried the country’s first elections in two decades as a sham aimed at cementing military rule in Burma. Some 38 parties have registered for the polls, but only one can seriously be considered part of the opposition, following the dissolution of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Khin Maung Swe, spokesperson for the National Democratic Force (NDF), which was formed from the ashes of the NLD, said that the sanctions will not force a change of the repressive laws that govern how parties campaign, and which can participate in the elections.
“I think it would be more beneficial for Burma if the international community pushes for a revision of the unfair laws, help to find a solution to make the elections free for everyone and [push for] the release of all political prisoners and allow them to join the elections,” he said.
The ban on imports of Burmese produce to the US was last week extended for another year after the Senate voted 99 to 1 in favour. Washington’s sanctions regime on Burma harks back to 2003 when former president George Bush enacted the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act.
Among the signatories was Jim Webb, the Virginia senator who has made two trips to Burma in the past year where he met with opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi. He however has said in the past that US sanctions on Burma were ineffective, a stance that drew the ire of members of Suu Kyi’s party.
The election laws announced in March appear to be one of several signs that the Burmese junta has shirked US pressure to tighten its grip on power. Aye Lwin, leader of the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics (UMFNP), who took a leading role in the anti-sanctions campaign in Burma, echoed the sentiment expressed by Khin Maung Swe.
“We see that even a well-informed nation like the US is misled on Burma. If the US wants free and fair and clean elections in Burma, then they need to welcome and give moral support on the individuals and groups striving [for free and fair elections].”
No date has been set for the elections, although rumours have surfaced that they will be held in October. The only information from the government is that they will take place in the second half of this year. Candidates have complained that little time is being given for them to prepare, with constituencies yet to be announced.
“The parties should be given enough time for their structure formation, member recruitment and explaining their policies to the people. The US should emphasise issues like this and stress this to the Burmese government,” Aye Lwin said.
Myanmar’s 2010 elections: a human rights perspective – Benjamin Zawacki
OpenDemocracy: Fri 30 Jul 2010
Later this year Myanmar will hold its first national elections since 1990, when the National League for Democracy, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, won a resounding victory but was denied the opportunity to take office. In the two decades since that time, those elections have dogged the government of Myanmar both domestically and internationally. This year’s elections thus present an opportunity for the government to place 1990 firmly behind them, pursuant to its self-styled ‘Roadmap to Democracy’.The roadmap has not lived up to its name, thus far essentially leading the country in circles. Recent signposts include the announcements in February 2008 that elections would be held sometime in 2010, and that a new draft constitution had been completed. Three months later, in the wake of devastating Cyclone Nargis, that Constitution was supposedly approved by over 90% of the electorate, in a referendum characterized by voting forced or otherwise manipulated by the authorities. Then, in what can be seen as an elections-related move, last year Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested for violating the conditions of her house arrest, after an uninvited visitor trespassed on her property. Already detained for nearly fourteen of the past twenty years, she was subsequently sentenced to eighteen additional months—or just long enough to keep her out of the way on and before election day. This year has seen the promulgation of Electoral Laws—which declare the 1990 polls officially void—and the NLD’s decision to boycott the elections.
Ethnic minority political opponents
And these are just the most widely reported signposts, to say nothing of a situation that is less well-known but certainly no less critical to human rights in Myanmar and to the elections later this year. That is, the situation for Myanmar’s ethnic minorities—and the first of Amnesty International’s three main elections-related concerns.
The coming elections highlight a major challenge that has confronted—and confounded—every Myanmar government since independence more than 60 years ago: ensuring the assent, or at least the compliance, of the country’s ethnic minorities with its political program. For most of the last six decades, Myanmar’s rulers have used a combination of force and negotiation to this end. In the context of the elections, the government has alternately encouraged and warned ethnic minority political organizations to take part, with most remaining undecided or noncommittal. Myanmar’s government is struggling to ensure that those represented by armed groups still fighting with the army are either defeated or “brought back into the legal fold” before the elections. The army and allied militias have waged offensives against several armed opposition groups—as well as clearly unlawful attacks on civilians—from the Karen, Shan, and Kokang ethnic minorities. As a result, over 45,000 persons from these ethnic minorities were displaced during 2009 and the Kokang’s armed group was defeated.
The offensive against the Kokang is especially significant in the context of the Myanmar government’s newest strategy of converting the existing armed ethnic groups that have agreed ceasefires into Border Guard Forces (BGF) under army command. Offered pay, perks, and official legal status, roughly half of the groups have agreed, while the others—including the swiftly defeated Kokang—have refused. The elections will further clarify how the aspirations of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities will be represented: by armed insurrection, through non-violent political action, or both.
Indeed, as a February report from Amnesty International reveals—and in contrast to a prevailing international misconception—a significant part of Myanmar’s peaceful political opposition is made up of ethnic minorities. Over the past several years at least, Amnesty’s research shows that ethnic minority political opponents and activists have been systematically repressed by the Myanmar authorities. Among the human rights violations perpetrated against these individuals and groups as means of repressing political activity have been arbitrary arrests, unfair trials resulting in imprisonment, torture, and extrajudicial executions. As elections approach, this reality is not only of concern to Amnesty, but must be both understood and taken into account by the international community.
Observers outside Myanmar often divide opposition to the government between, on the one side, a political struggle led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, and on the other side, insurgency, carried out by a variety of ethnic minority armed groups. This perception over-simplifies the situation, understates the work done by peaceful ethnic minority political opponents, and ignores the high price they pay for challenging the government. In terms of party and electoral politics, a substantial portion of the NLD’s membership and leadership consists of ethnic minorities, while ethnically-based political parties have proven resilient as well. It is often forgotten that the second-most successful party in the 1990 elections was the Shan NLD, an ethnic minority party with similar aims to those of the NLD. Likewise in terms of political activism: the first monks to march in the 2007 ‘Saffron Revolution’ were ethnic minority Rakhine, while the campaigns against the draft constitution and referendum in 2008 were as vigorous in the ethnic minority states as in Myanmar’s central regions and urban centres.
Amnesty’s February report establishes that Myanmar’s political opposition is widespread geographically and ethnically diverse. It reaches two other conclusions: first, the number of political prisoners in Myanmar is likely to be substantially higher than the 2,200 figure currently in use—and about 10% of which is made up of ethnic minorities. This is because, while we have names for each of those 2,200 prisoners, Amnesty’s report reveals that there are certainly many more—anonymous—whose names we don’t know. Second, as elections approach, it is not enough that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners be released, that the NLD’s members and supporters be free to exercise their right to boycott, and that a human rights-friendly resolution be found to the Border Guard Force issue: authorities must also cease their repression of Myanmar’s ethnic minority political opponents. While these violations of human rights are unacceptable in any context, anywhere, in the run-up to national elections in Myanmar, attacks against the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association should be of immediate concern to the international community.
Electoral Laws and directives
As a matter of blanket policy Amnesty International does not take a position on elections: neither on whether they should or should not be held, nor on whether they are free and fair or otherwise. Rather, Amnesty assesses what governments do and not how they are formed—in this case, the past and ongoing actions of the government of Myanmar in preparation for elections later this year. One such action was the government’s promulgation five months ago of five Electoral Laws and four Bylaws. Provisions of these laws are in clear violation of human rights principles and standards, and when viewed as a group, clearly attack the three freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. These rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and their protection is indispensible to elections.
This comes as no surprise, for the 2008 Constitution, upon which the laws are based but which will not come into force until after the elections, itself allows for clear violations of human rights. Indeed one of the Electoral Laws provides that parties must declare that they will “safeguard[ing] the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar”. Among the more serious human rights aspects and implications of the Constitution include the President being effectively above the law; impunity for past crimes by government officials; and a total suspension of “fundamental rights” during indefinite and undefined states of emergency.
The Electoral Laws continue this trend, being discriminatory on the basis of political opinion, and violating other human rights. At the most basic level, whole segments of Burmese society are arbitrarily excluded. Those the laws disenfranchise include “persons serving prison term under sentence passed by any court”, “a person adjudged to be of unsound mind”, “a person who has not yet been discharged as an insolvent”, and “a person prohibited by Election Law”.
These categories are so broad in their potential definitions as to make exclusion from the voting lists highly subjective. Presumably it is the newly established Election Commission that is charged with determining who is “of unsound mind” and who is “prohibited by Election Law”. As for undischarged insolvents, economic or financial status should be no bar to full political participation. And perhaps of most obvious and central concern to Amnesty International is the provision disenfranchising “persons serving prison term under sentence passed by any court”. This includes the more than 2,200 political prisoners in Myanmar, many of whose convictions arose not from any recognizably criminal act, but rather are arbitrary and based on their legitimate exercise of rights. Though again subject to the interpretation of the Election Commission, this provision likely applies to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well.
Members of religious orders—including Myanmar’s estimated 400,000 Buddhist monks—are also explicitly barred from voting. While such has been the case since Myanmar’s independence, meaning that these new Electoral Laws do not per se disenfranchise them, this prohibition perpetuates discrimination based on their religion or status.
All of these provisions apply to standing for election as well, as do several additional ambiguously worded categories of those who cannot run. All are similarly discriminatory, and in addition violate the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and/or association.
For more, visit: http://www.opendemocracy.net/benjamin-zawacki/myanmar%E2%80%99s-2010-elections-human-rights-perspective
North Korean FM visits Myanmar amid nuke concerns
Associated Press: Thu 29 Jul 2010
Yangon, Myanmar — North Korea’s foreign minister visited Myanmar on Thursday for high-level talks that come on the heels of a U.S. warning against any cooperation between the two nations on nuclear technology.Officials and diplomats confirmed the arrival of Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun, who is on a four-nation tour and making his first visit to Myanmar since the two countries resumed diplomatic ties in 2007. The sources spoke anonymously because the visit has not been officially announced by the military-ruled government.
Few details are known about Pak’s four-day visit. He was scheduled to tour Yangon’s famed Shwedagon Pagoda before traveling Friday to the administrative capital of Naypyitaw to meet his counterpart, Nyan Win, and other senior government officials, the officials and diplomats said. The subject of talks has not been disclosed.
Myanmar and North Korea are two of Asia’s most authoritarian regimes, and both face sanctions by the West. They have had increasingly close ties in recent years, especially in military affairs, and there are fears that Pyongyang is supplying the army-led Southeast Asian regime with nuclear technology.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed concern at a security meeting last week with senior Asian officials about reports that North Korea had delivered military equipment to Myanmar, also known as Burma.
“We continue to be concerned by the reports that Burma may be seeking assistance from North Korea with regard to a nuclear program,” Clinton said. “We will be discussing further ways in which we can cooperate to alter the actions of the government in Burma and encourage the leaders there to commit to reform and change and the betterment of their own people.”
On his regional tour, Pak also visited Vietnam and Laos and was headed next to Indonesia, diplomats said.
Myanmar severed diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1983, following a fatal bombing attack during a visit by South Korea’s then-President Chun Doo-hwan that killed 21 people, including four South Korean Cabinet ministers.
Three North Korean commandos involved in the bombing were detained — one blew himself up during his arrest, a second was hanged and a third died in prison in 2008.
Leaked document reveals USDP tactics
Irrawaddy: Thu 29 Jul 2010
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) led by Thein Sein, the Burmese prime minister, has outlined a wide range of tactics—including the use of cadres of hardcore criminals—aimed at achieving a landslide victory in the upcoming election.The party’s documents, which were leaked to Burmese media this week allege that Burma’s last election in 1990 was rigged by the then election commissioners in favor of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
Assessing the current political landscape in the run-up to the election, the documents says: “Our party [USDP] does not need to compete with any main opposition party,” adding that small political parties are faced with various challeges and are ineffectual.
“Our party has been systematically set up for strength and unity that will assure us public support and hence a victory,” the document states.
The military regime created the USDP on April 29, when Thein Sein and 26 ministers and senior officials officially formed USDP out of the regime’s mass civic ogranization called the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which was disbanded.
The Election Commission recognized the USDP as a political party on June 8.
All USDA assets were transferred to the USDP early this month, raising complaints by political parties that this was a violation of the election laws.
Documents which describe the election as a “battle” sketch plans for the party’s election campaign.
Teams at the township level will consist of organization teams, support teams, reception teams, monitoring teams and transportation teams.
Team members with “cheerful, active, influential and other admirable” characteristic
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