841[Readingroom] News on Burma - 27/1/11
- Jan 27, 2011
- Myanmar lawmakers gather for opening of parliament
- Junta puts more state-owned properties up for sale
- Bargain basement Burma – if you have friends in high places
- Kasit to Suu Kyi: no support for dissidents
- Myanmar faces flak over rights record
- A parliament, but not as you know it
- Myanmar hides behind ‘democracy’
- Total denial in the face of wide
- End of an era, or beginning of a dynasty?
- Land confiscation emerges in area under new command
- US says ‘no’ to lifting sanctions on junta
- Is Burma finally poised for change?
- Shwe Man seen as pick to become President
- Burma’s path to privatization keeps armed forces in economic control
- A new government for Myanmar (Not)
- Time to lift economic sanctions
- Than Shwe threatens Coup d’Etat
- Political prisoners ‘given amphetamine’
- Farce follows tragedy in Myanmar
- Burma names military figures to sit in new parliament
- Myanmar parties join calls to lift sanctions
- Myanmar’s Suu Kyi gets Internet access
- China Unicom set to provide roaming service in Burma
- Sanctioning sanctions?
- Rules for parliament released
Myanmar lawmakers gather for opening of parliament
The Associated Press: Thu 27 Jan 2011
Yangon, Myanmar – Lawmakers in military-dominated Myanmar have been gathering in the capital of Naypyitaw for the opening of the country’s first parliamentary session in 22 years. The state-run New Light of Myanmar reported Thursday that 435 members of the lower house and 224 of the upper house will attend the opening in a massive new building constructed after the capital was moved from Yangon in 2005.
The legislators will be sworn in on Monday after elections in November that critics decried as a sham meant to perpetuate military rule. Five lower house seats remain empty because voting was canceled in five politically unstable contituencies.
Parliament last met in 1988 in Yangon before a military crackdown on pro- democracy demonstrations installed the current junta.
Junta puts more state-owned properties up for sale – Nayee Lin Latt
Irrawaddy: Thu 27 Jan 2011
Burma’s ruling regime has put another 76 state-owned premises and economic enterprises up for sale as it speeds up its privatization drive ahead of the formation of a new government sometime early this year.
According to reports in state-run newspapers, the sale includes premises belonging to 13 ministries and the offices of the attorney-general and the auditor-general.
An official from the Myanmar Privatization Commission (MPC) told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the current sale is part of the regime’s ongoing privatization process, but this time does not include any prime properties.
“If you look at most of what is available now, you will see beverage shops, theaters located in the outskirts of town, a sugar factory located outside of Rangoon, and so on. They are still available because no one wanted to buy them before,” said the official.
Many of the buildings are old and abandoned and will likely need to be demolished and rebuilt, he said.
“We don’t know who got all of the best properties or what price they paid for them, but they’re all gone now, so this is more like a clearance sale,” he added.
According to MPC sources, the privatization process, which started in 2008, is now 70 percent complete and will be accelerated in the coming months.
Last year, the regime sold 110 economic enterprises, 32 buildings, 246 gas stations, and jetties along the Rangoon River and in port areas to private companies.
Most of the transferred businesses were acquired by the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd, a military-run conglomerate, as well as businessmen with close ties to top generals, including Tay Za of the Htoo Company, Htun Myint Naing (Steven Law) of AsiaWorld, Zaw Zaw of Max Myanmar, Htay Myint of Yuzana, Win Aung of Dagon International, and Khin Shwe of Zaygabar Co Ltd—all of whom are on US and other Western countries’ sanctions lists.
Many other properties have gone to relatives of senior military leaders.
“Father and sons companies are very successful nowadays,” remarked one Rangoon-based business writer.
The regime reportedly plans to transfer 90 percent of state-owned enterprises to the private sector before a new government is formed this year.
Burmese economists dismiss suggestions that this will result in an improved economic climate.
“There will be a change in ownership, but it won’t make a difference unless businessmen are willing to consider the benefit of the people,” said one Rangoon-based economist.
Bargain basement Burma – if you have friends in high places – Joseph Allchin
The Guardian (UK): Thu 27 Jan 2011
Up to 90% of Burma’s state-owned industry will be transferred to the private sector. But who will benefit? As an “official” parliament will sit on 31 January for the first time since Burma’s original dictator, Ne Win, abolished the last, more legitimate one in March 1962, Burma’s minister of industry, Khin Maung Kyaw has concocted a bold economic move.
Maung Kyaw told local press earlier this month: “Up to 90% of state-owned industry will be transferred to the private sector as the country makes its transformation to democracy,” adding: “This doesn’t happen only in Myanmar [Burma]; other democratic countries also use the same practice.”
The last sentence is perhaps the most telling and rich with deceit, for few economic schemes anywhere are shrouded in as much secrecy, or lack what the World Bank would term “conditionalities”.
Maung Kyaw is a military man, but one would assume that he knows, as Burmese economist Aung Thu Nyein told the Guardian, the largest recipient of state- owned assets is the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH).
Which, the economist adds, is a “parastatal” company “run by the military’s quartermaster general”.
So as the official dynamic of Burmese politics shifts and the military changes its clothes, it has not forgotten to empty the pockets first.
As Burmese economist Professor Sean Turnell notes: “This demonstrates how Burma is not a normal developing south-east Asian nation.”
The military, however, will not be the only beneficiaries. In their capacity as power-brokers they have developed a circle of business cronies. Business families who have built empires in the middle of an economy that was once the envy of the region and where now the UNDP estimates that Burma has a GDP in terms of purchasing power parity of around $881, compared with impoverished Cambodia’s $1,619.
Among these cronies, perhaps the most notorious is Lo Hsing Han, a former CIA ally from northern Burma.
Han’s empire was, according to Burma scholar and author, Bertil Lintne, built on heroin. “There is no other way,” the author notes in his seminal work on the drug trade in Burma, Merchants of Madness.
Han’s family owns the Asia World conglomerate, which has taken ownership of lucrative wharves along the crumbling Rangoon riverfront, where the remnants of this colonial city melt into the tropical air and the apathy of military rule.
Their other operations read like a Chinese state shopping list. From giant dams in the foothills of the Himalayas to a pipeline that will traverse the country, carrying Burma’s natural gas to China.
Such projects will light and power that country’s transformation, while Burma’s cities bathe in a darkness inspired by decades of mismanagement; Asia World are the prescribed sub-contractors.
This bold “privatisation” experiment, however, is not without its discontents, even within the military junta. In true Burmese fashion, a whisper has emerged that the energy minister, Brigadier General Lun Thi is not happy. From under his feet the crucial business of distributing fuel to the populace has been transferred to the junta’s cronies.
A handful of companies now run some 246 official, privatised filling stations in major cities.
Turnell points out that fuel prices are always politically sensitive, and were believed to be partly responsible for the popular uprisings in 2007 and 1988. As a result fuel prices were capped at roughly $2.50 a gallon for sale to the public while retailers buy the fuel at roughly $2.30.
Such margins provide little if any incentive to expand distribution and increase the number of stations in remote areas, resulting in rationing and long queues at official pumps and a flourishing black market petrol priceshave roughly doubled in some areas.
In all probability the companies themselves are involved in the black market, just to make ends meet.
Lun Thi, it is therefore believed, is waiting for the mess of fuel privatisation to blow up in the faces of the cronies and their military sponsor, Than Shwe, so that Lun Thi can then reclaimthe politically powerful role of fuel distribution.
Not only is the bidding for ownership of state-owned enterprises a closed process, but there is also a strong likelihood that such cronies would simply be told by the military what to do.
Such a modus operandi was elaborated in a WikiLeak. The cable not only showed the world the general’s desire to buy Manchester United but also speculated that he simply told this gang of businessmen to open football clubs, and in return gave them mining concessions.
While Burma’s state-owned enterprises are in a decrepit state, few apart from the state-run mining partnerships break even, and the natural gas revenues (the country’s most lucrative export) are alleged by the Turnell and others to be held in Singaporean bank accounts to be spent on one of Asia’s largest standing armies and murky weapons programmes.
And so in the middle of this economic upheaval, little seems to have changed on the streets, where a disgruntled black-market money-changer wades through Burma’s dual exchange rates. He mimes a noose around his neck to describe the economic tragedy of this mineral-rich country.
Kasit to Suu Kyi: no support for dissidents
The Nation (Thailand): Thu 27 Jan 2011
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that his government supported democratisation and national reconciliation in her country and would not support dissident groups against the Burmese government.
Kasit met Suu Kyi in a Rangoon hotel last Saturday to brief her on the Thai government’s policy toward Burma. Thailand supports a plan to end economic sanctions on Burma, he said.
Also discussed was the situation on the Thai-Burmese border. Kasit said Thailand no longer supported or sheltered any armed dissidents in the border area.
Thailand wants the Burmese military and ethnic minorities to end armed conflict and sit down together for national reconciliation, Kasit said.
“But Burma has to solve its own problems, and outsiders cannot intervene,” he said. “We will help Burma to gain peace and prosperity.”
Myanmar faces flak over rights record
Agence France Presse: Thu 27 Jan 2011
Geneva — Myanmar came under pressure in the UN human rights council on Thursday to speed up genuine democratic reform, as Western nations blasted “alarming” abuse and some Asian neighbours sought more change.
“The human rights situation in Myanmar is alarming,” Sweden said in a statement to the 47-nation assembly as the council held its first regular review of Myanmar’s human rights record.
Western countries including Britain, France and the United States called on the military regime to free immediately more than 2,000 political prisoners, end impunity for abuse, and halt forced labour, arbitrary arrests and torture of critics.
US ambassador Eileen Donahoe warned of “ongoing, systematic violations of human rights” and expressed concern about reports of “hundreds of cases of torture of political prisoners.”
“We remain deeply concerned about the very poor state of human rights,” she added, warning that the elections last November were “neither free nor fair,” and “cannot be considered credible.”
Asian countries broadly welcomed steps towards democracy with the release of jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and steered clear of overt criticism of the administration.
But many neighbouring countries and key members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), including India, Indonesia and Thailand signalled that they also wanted more progress on democratisation and avoided acknowledging the elections.
“Myanmar stands at an important crossroads in its transition to democracy,” India said in a statement.
It underlined the need for “more inclusive, broad-based and expeditious” reforms and greater efforts “to address the major human rights concerns.
Thailand sought improvements in the country’s laws to “promote greater accountability” as well as more efforts to engage ethnic groups and deal with human rights.
“We urge the authorities in Myanmar to work to consolidate the gains achieved and ensure further positive developments,” said Thai envoy Kanita Sapphaisal.
However, neighbouring China voiced support for Myanmar and warned that “pressure and sanctions of a political nature will not produce solutions.”
Myanmar told the council it had “reached the final stages of its transition to democracy” with the convening of its new parliament next week.
The elections were “free from vote rigging, violence and any kind of intimidation,” ambassador Wunna Maung Lwin added.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch described the half-day debate as an opportunity to “put one of the most brutal and intransigent authoritarian systems in the world under the spotlight.”
“Burma’s human rights record remains deplorable, and forming a new parliament after sham elections in 2010 shouldn’t fool anyone,” said HRW’s deputy Asia director Elaine Pearson in a statement.
A parliament, but not as you know it; A far cry from real representation
The Economist: Thu 27 Jan 2011
Singapore – In the sprawling new capital of Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s enormous showcase parliament building awaits its first legislators. After a general election in November, the military government hopes that the opening of the bicameral parliament on January 31st, amid suitable pomp, will appear to usher in a new democratic era. Its first job will be to form an electoral college to choose a fresh president and two vice-presidents.
Also awaiting the legislators will be the new laws and rules governing their conduct, published with rather less fanfare on January 11th and running to 17 bound volumes. These give a better guide to what might be expected of the new parliament than any pronouncements by the regime. According to those who have seen the rules, MPs may not, for example, simply ask a question. They first have to submit the question to the director-general of the lower house ten days before a parliamentary session, after which it will be vetted to ensure that it does not reveal state secrets, trouble international relations, or undermine the “interests” of the state. Should the poor, defenceless question survive that mangle, the speaker of the lower house still has the right to reject it, with no appeal.
Members themselves have been warned not to bring “cameras, radios, cassette players, computers, hand phones, and any kinds of voice-transmission or recording devices” into parliament on opening day. And no citizen should even think of turning up to sample the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. Without the direct permission of the speaker, such an enormity would warrant at least a year in prison or a hefty fine.
Both the lower and upper houses will be dominated by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a proxy for the military government. The USDP won an overwhelming majority of seats at the election, in part because of a boycott by the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, released in November from house arrest. The NLD won the previous free election in 1990.
In both houses the USDP has nearly four-fifths of the contested seats. Meanwhile, the army has a reserved quota of a quarter of all seats in both chambers, as well as in the regional state parliaments. A military-controlled parliament therefore has the means to keep dissent to a minimum. The dictator, Than Shwe, could easily win the presidency should he want it. He may, however, prefer to stay in the background and pull strings.
Parliamentary opposition, such as it is, will come from two sources, the National Democratic Force (NDF) and the so-called ethnic parties, 17 of which won at least one seat, representing Myanmar’s diverse ethnic patchwork. The NDF is made up mostly of former members of the NLD who disagreed with Miss Suu Kyi’s call to boycott the election. They won a mere 16 seats, but have been talking a good game in the run-up to parliament’s opening. Khin Maung Shwe, a senior NDF official, argues that “although we have small numbers, we have a chance to use our voice on behalf of the people.” He says that the NDF will table three motions: an amnesty for political prisoners, a new competition law for business and a new law concerning rights to agricultural land.
Still, given the numerical and procedural odds against it, the opposition will struggle to make headway. Indeed, by taking part in a democratic charade, the NDF might merely provide a figleaf for the dictatorship. As it is, ASEAN, the ten-nation Association of South-East Asian Nations, is using the opening of parliament to argue for the lifting of longstanding Western sanctions on the grounds that the country has reformed itself. Mr Khin Maung Shwe rebuffs his party’s critics, arguing that the NDF is “neither a military puppet nor on a confrontational line”.
More might be expected of the ethnic parties, as they at least have sizeable minorities in the seven state legislatures (out of 14) to which they were elected. Nonetheless, it is certain that the central government will want to keep a tight control over these assemblies too. The state parliaments will not sit in their regional capitals, as you might imagine, but in the parliament building at Naypyidaw.
The NLD, for its part, dismisses the parliament as a sham. Win Tin, a party official who was jailed for 19 years before being released in 2008, says that “the parliament is nothing. Whether inside parliament or outside, the situation is almost the same. You have no freedom of expression.”
Instead, Mr Win Tin says, the NLD can act “as a second government”. Although the NLD is still fighting in the courts to regain its legal status as a political party, forfeited because of last year’s election boycott, it realises it needs to be more creative in its opposition. One idea is to use the internet to create a sort of “online parliament”, where issues can be debated among those in opposition, both inside and outside the country. This week Miss Suu Kyi got her first internet connection. She has also been spending a lot of time visiting welfare and other programmes run by her party to try to rebuild it from the grassroots.
Despite government hopes that parliamentary sittings will sideline Miss Suu Kyi, evidence suggests that she remains as popular in Myanmar as ever. Indeed, the real test of the regime’s claims to be heading in a new democratic direction will come not in parliament but when Ms Suu Kyi tries to travel out of Yangon, taking her message to the rest of the country. That is when the regime has clamped down hard before, forcing Miss Suu Kyi to endure years of house arrest. Will it dare to do so again?
Myanmar hides behind ‘democracy’ – Alex Ellgee
Al Jazeera: Thu 27 Jan 2011
Myanmar’s new “disciplined democracy” doesn’t offer hope for any real democratic change.
As underpaid workmen make their finishing touches on Myanmar’s new parliament building, the junta edges closer to its long-calculated “disciplined democracy”.
When Than Shwe, the most prominent general, said the phrase during Armed Forces Day last year, shivers were sent down the backs of those inside Myanmar and beyond its borders who have fought long and hard for a “true democracy”.
Invitations to attend the January 31 opening of parliament have already been sent out to the recently elected MPs. And like everything in a country under the rule of a military regime, the grand event has a long list of rules, starting with a ban on recording devices.
Reading the recently released parliamentary laws, it is easy to gain an understanding of what the despotic leader, Than Shwe, meant by a “disciplined democracy”. Without the consent of “The Speaker”, no member of parliament is allowed to ask any questions during parliamentary sessions. In order to receive permission to ask a question, a letter must be sent 10 days before. The actual question itself is regulated under a law that states each MP must abide by the national cause – not doing so will get the question rejected.
Eighty per cent of the seats have been allocated to the regime-sponsored Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Most appropriately called the “Generals’ Selection”, the recent election involved rampant electoral fraud and intimidation, giving the USDP an easy win.
With such undemocratic principles and an unhealthy future ahead, what are the alternatives and how can Myanmar – also known as Burma – possibly achieve them?
Looking for change
Depressingly, the answer is that given the junta’s skillful ushering in of “disciplined democracy”, very little can be achieved in the near future.
As the MPs scurry into parliament in their traditional dress, realists will see a curtain closing on the pro-democracy movement. Despite the best efforts of countless Burmese dissidents and rebel soldiers, the regime has succeeded in creating Myanmar politics in dictator style.
Optimists, however, won’t see the convening of parliament as the final curtain. Hope for change was recently escalated by the release of National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Despite having spent thirteen of the last nineteen years under house arrest, a large chunk of the Burmese population has retained faith in her ability to save them from poverty and oppression.
Since her release, she has remained cautious and despite numerous interviews, has said very little. Her party has stated they are willing to review the NLD’s sanctions policy and continue to seek “national reconciliation”. Her courage, bravery and dedication to her people is unwavering.
But the problem does not lie in her ability or inability; the problem lies in the regime’s somewhat magnificent ability to gain such a grasp on a nation, despite such little public support. As Suu Kyi spent her days confined to her crumbling family mansion, the generals slowly built a new country in a way that not even she can shake from their grip.
Suu Kyi continues to seek dialogue with the generals, but it is very clear they have no intention to speak with her, and nor do they need to. It is obvious they feel confident enough to progress on their road to democracy without her interfering too much.
They have even benefited from her; her calculated release was just one week after the sham elections, just as reports of fraud were trickling out, attention was quickly diverted and pressure eased.
Recently I interviewed an elderly NLD member, who had worked with her for the last twenty years. When asked whether he felt that Suu Kyi now released can really change Burma, he replied, “She can only change the country if she is allowed into politics and given some power … unfortunately the generals will never allow this”.
She has announced plans to help ethnic leaders coordinate a second Panglong Conference, which her father first held in 1947 between the various ethnics to gain independence from British rule.
While having the potential to bring the ethnics together, the generals would undoubtedly see it as a threat to their reign, and respond by imprisoning Suu Kyi and others involved.
If the generals feel as though Suu Kyi is gaining political momentum in any way, few will be surprised if she is returned to house arrest, as has been done three times before. Even worse, many of her supporters fear that any threat to the regime’s grip on power could ignite fresh plans for an assassination.
It was members of the new government who organised the Depayin Massacre, when intoxicated members of the USDP – formerly the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) – attacked Suu Kyi’s rallying convoy and killed over seventy NLD members.
For over two decades, activists have hoped for some miraculous event to occur which will topple the regime and allow the NLD to take power.
However, not only has such an event not happened, Than Shwe and previous leaders before him have only further entrenched an entire system of military rule, continually consolidating power on every front. Now this includes a political wing, the USDP!
And while the West rightfully convenes meetings on sanctions and discusses UN investigations into the junta’s human rights abuses, Than Shwe and his cronies dig deeper into their cosy, well-lit capital buildings in their jungle hideout, Nay Pyi Daw.
A dark future
Following the Saffron Revolution, the chances of another uprising are very slim.
The leaders are imprisoned and having seen monks and protesters beaten in the streets, few want to relive the nightmares with once again no rewards.
Others place hope in divisions in the top ranks – potentially spurred on by the threat of UN human rights investigations – but the rewards of being part of the regime are too great, and the willingness of Asian neighbours to confront the generals far too small. As a result it is highly unlikely we will see any military officials standing up to regime leaders any time soon.
Facing heinously undemocratic laws and greatly outnumbered, the pro-democracy MPs who will take their seats in parliament on January 31 offer little hope for dramatic change.
These politicians who made the bold move to participate in the election believe they can nudge gradual change over time – and potentially improve conditions in parliament for the promised 2015 election.
However, it is hard to change a regime that clearly doesn’t want to change. Therefore, it is easy to understand why the exiled activist community cannot accept working with the junta as the “best game in town”.
For many dissidents, working with the junta means accepting defeat, enriching their already wealthy pockets, disrespecting the work of over 2,100 political prisoners who are languishing in Burmese prisons, and allowing sanctions to be lifted in a country where forced relocation and labour is common practise.
But, as the current situation presents itself, even the idealists must ask what other viable choices remain.
As Suu Kyi slowly finds herself once again unable to achieve any solid progress, these few elected MPs who wish to change Burma may be the greatest current hope.
This is not a positive thing; little change can be expected to come from a parliament dominated by the military, which have a particular skill in flushing out nationwide dissent, let alone a few opposition MPs.
Already, these elected MPs have drawn up bills to propose in parliament and recently a statement from five ethnic parties called for a lifting of US- backed sanctions. The statement was later backed up by two other pro- democracy parties: the National Democratic Front (NDF) – a splinter group of the NLD – and the Democratic Party (DP).
Having been elected as MPs, their calls came with some weight and were also joined by ASEAN, though the NLD was yet to finish reviewing their anti- sanctions policy.
Suu Kyi is not the reason sanctions have been placed on the regime. Although obvious, it needs reminding that sanctions are due to the regime’s brutal treatment of pro-democracy forces.
Remove the sanctions?
Recently, commentators have been saying more focus needs to be put on the regime to change before sanctions can be lifted.
While that would be ideal, countless groups and countries have been trying for decades, with little progress. It is difficult to change a regime which is delusional to the extent they are convinced they know what is best for Myanmar.
The rewards from lifting sanctions would undoubtedly be enjoyed by the cronies and families of the generals, who have recently inherited all the country’s most valuable assets through rampant overnight privatisation.
It would also decrease international interest in staunch pro-democracy groups, and strengthen the Burmese military against ethnic armies who struggle for self determination.
It would, however, put the country on a slow and painful climb to a better economy. And while the regime has laid down a complex legal safety net, if they feel secure, then draconian laws will not be enforced, allowing “disciplined democracy” to advance gradually into a more healthy political system.
For two decades, potential political leaders have languished in dark prisons, ethnic minorities have died in jungle battlefields, and students have bled in the streets to bring democracy to the Burmese people.
Accepting the convening of parliament as the best choice for many is understandably unthinkable, but with the generals having so carefully crafted their precious Republic of the Union of Myanmar, major political change is highly unlikely.
That is not to say the international community should give up on their dream for a new Burma, free of oppression and poverty. Now more than ever, the regime needs pressuring, and exiled groups need support and direction to create new avenues, which will benefit Burmese society in the long run.
Most importantly, all groups, both inside and outside Burma, must work together – and with the elected MPs – on both pragmatic as well as “idealistic” approaches, that use past work as lessons to learn from, but are not afraid to re-examine old positions in order to do what is in the best interests of the people.
Whatever good may eventually come out of parliament, the first day it convenes marks the beginning of the junta’s “disciplined democracy”, and will forever be a dark day for the Burmese democracy movement.
* Alex Ellgee is a freelance journalist based on the Thai-Burma border, focusing on Burmese politics and ethnic issues.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Total denial in the face of wide
Burma Forum on the Universal Periodic Review (BF-UPR): Thu 27 Jan 2011
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPP-B), Arakan Rivers Network (ARN), Burma Fund UN Office, Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC), Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), Emergency Act Team vs Backpack Health Worker Team, Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB), Foundation for Education and Development (FED), Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), Human Rights Foundation of Mon Land (HURFOM), Kachin Women’s Organization Thailand (KWAT), Kaladan Press Bangladesh, Shwe Gas Movement, Women and Child Rights Project (WCRP)Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva examined Burma’s human rights record as part of its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Burma’s ruling military regime sent a large delegation to Geneva, led by Deputy Attorney General Dr. Tun Shin, who categorically denied state-orchestrated widespread, systematic and persistent human rights violations against the people of Burma.
Throughout the three-hour UPR dialogue, States raised numerous concerns, including the issue of political prisoners, treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, and impunity for perpetrators of gross human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity. Despite well-documented evidence to the contrary, the Burmese delegation said that, “Accusations of rape against ethnic women are baseless, with the aim of discrediting armed forces.” They claimed, “The armed forces have a zero tolerance policy towards serious human rights violations, including sexual violence,” and that “There is no widespread occurrence of human rights violations with impunity.”
More than 2,190 people are languishing in Burma’s prisons for peacefully exercising their basic civil and political rights, but the Director General of Prisons Zaw Win said, “They are imprisoned because they have breached prevailing laws, not because of their political beliefs.” He even went as far as to claim that, “There are no prison deaths resulting from torture.” However, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma, a member of the Burma Forum on the Universal Periodic Review (BF-UPR), has documented the deaths of 146 political prisoners in detention since 1988, due to torture and denial of medical treatment.
Representatives of the BF-UPR, a coalition of fourteen human rights and civil society organizations, were in Geneva for the Review.
BF-UPR representative Aung Myo Min said, “The military regime’s dismissal of any criticism of its human rights record and their refusal to even acknowledge the abuses that are taking place underscores the urgent need for an international independent investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Establishing a UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry is an essential first step to ending the culture of impunity and deterring human rights violations.”
“Despite the claims made in the regime’s National Report to the UPR that the rights to freedom of religion and non-discrimination are guaranteed under law, Burma’s ethnic and religious minorities face ongoing persecution as part of a state policy of forced assimilation,” added BF-UPR representative Salai Ling.
In its National Report, the regime also claimed it is “bringing about balanced development… to enable the national races to enjoy the benefit of development”. BF-UPR representative Paul Sein Twa said, “The right to free, prior and informed consent is denied in Burma, so large-scale development initiatives like dams and extractive projects rarely benefit affected communities. They disrupt local livelihoods, and lead to further impoverishment. In reality such development projects have resulted in gross human rights violations, including mass displacement and forced labour, especially in ethnic areas.”
Meanwhile, it is deeply disappointing that all nine member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) chose to commend the regime on its 7 November elections as a positive development while failing to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in eastern Burma as a result of intensified armed conflict since the elections, which has caused thousands of refugees to flee into neighbouring countries. Their expressions of support on the implementation of the 7-Step Roadmap is also of particular concern, as the Roadmap fails to genuinely include all stakeholders in the country, and has resulted in a deeply flawed Constitution that enshrines impunity and fails to meet international human rights norms and standards.
The Burma Forum on the Universal Periodic Review urges the military regime to act now and immediately halt all human rights violations and accept the numerous recommendations made during the Review including: immediately and unconditionally releasing all political prisoners; reforming the judiciary; ratifying and effectively implementing all international human rights treaties; ensuring full rights to ethnic and religious minorities both in law and in practice; and in particular, the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry in line with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar’s recommendation, as proposed by the Czech Republic.
End of an era, or beginning of a dynasty?
Irrawaddy: Wed 26 Jan 2011
When the new Parliament convenes in Naypyidaw at the end of this month, some say it will be a political transition marking the end of decades of military rule in Burma—at least symbolically. However, the majority of Burmese people view the event as nothing more than an attempt by junta chief Than Shwe to maintain his hold on power and secure the wealth and influence of his close family members and loyalists in the name of “disciplined democracy.”
Speculation has been rife that the new government will be headed by Than Shwe himself or one of his core loyalists, including Thura Shwe Mann, Tin Aung Myint Oo and Prime Minister Thein Sein.
Whoever becomes either president or vice-president, however, he will be required to declare all of his family assets, including land, houses, businesses, savings and other valuables, to the Parliament, according to the Constitution.
It is doubtful, however, that Than Shwe or his loyalists will ever disclose the full extent of the wealth they have acquired over the past two decades. But as Parliament prepares to convene on Jan. 31, it may be worthwhile to examine some of the evidence of their ill-gotten gains.
In this first in a series of reports, we look at the fortunes of the first family of military-ruled Burma, the Than Shwe clan.
Burma’s Ali Baba and his Family
It is said that Than Shwe believes himself to be a reincarnation of an ancient Burmese monarch. Whether this rumor is true or not, the junta chief has certainly styled himself in that way, for example by having his wife, children and his favorite grandchild take the most important seats at official ceremonies.
In keeping with this status, Than Shwe and his family have amassed enormous wealth. In part he has done this by treating Burma’s revenues from the sale of oil and natural gas as his own personal fortune. By recording these revenues at the official exchange rate (six kyat to the US dollar, in contrast to the real rate of 815 kyat to the dollar), he and his closest loyalists have been able to keep most of the money earned from the sale of Burma’s resources for themselves.
Most of this money has ended up in overseas bank accounts. Than Shwe has even assigned former Lt-Gen Tin Aye, one of his closest military loyalists, to manage these bank accounts. He has also reportedly bought several houses in Beijing and Shanghai with these secret funds.
But the Than Shwe clan’s pilfering of wealth is not limited to stealing from the country. Sources in the Ministry of Defense said that when Than Shwe’s wife, Kyaing Kyaing, and daughters make trips to other parts of the country unaccompanied by the senior general, the wives of regional military commanders have to present them with “diamonds, gold and valuable jewelery” on a tray.
“They take what they like most from the trays and leave the rest. But they never walk away without taking at least 200,000,000 kyat (US$ 245,000) worth of the precious stones and other items,” said a source.
The first family’s appetite for the finer things in life was already in evidence five years ago, when Than Shwe’s youngest daughter, Thandar Shwe, was showered with diamonds and other expensive gifts at her wedding.
These days, they are more likely to be seen plundering shopping malls. “They just point at any item they desire and the wives of the regional military commanders have to pick up the tab,” said the source.
Following in the tradition of Burmese monarchs, Than Shwe’s family controls the ownership of lucrative hand-dug oil wells in Magwe and Monywa divisions and also gold mines in Kawlin and Wuntho townships in Sagaing Division.
The licenses for operating those oil wells and gold mines have to be obtained from regional commanders. Since the average license fee for an acre of these gold mines or oil wells is 3,000,000 kyat (US 3,680), those working on those sites have to pay nearly one billion kyat ($1.2 million) annually.
It was Honda Tin Maung in Mandalay, a man often associated with the Chinese business group Great Wall in Burma, who bought licenses for those mines and oil wells.
Unsatisfied with ownership of several of the finest houses in Naypyidaw and Maymyo, Than Shwe’s family has also controlled state-owned houses and lands in the vicinity of Rangoon’s Inya Lake, alongside which opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi lives.
A few years ago, a residential compound on Pyay Road and near Inya Lake, whose ownership had been disputed in a legal family feud, was given to Khin Than Nwet, the wife of former Lt-Gen Tin Oo, who was killed in a mysterious helicopter crash in 2001.
When Khin Than Nwet refused to accept it, Kyaing Kyaing, Than Shwe’s wife, asked Tay Za, Burma’s best-known business tycoon, to grab the estate for her.
In Burma’s business circle, Tay Za is well known as an agent for the business affairs of Than Shwe’s family.
Than Shwe’s daughters have shares in Tay Za’s hotels in the popular beach resort towns of Chaung Tha and Ngwe Saung in Lower Burma. They are also shareholders in a hospital near Inya Lake named Kantharyar, which was sold off to Tay Za as part of the government’s recent privatization process.
Even Than Shwe’s favorite grandson, Nay Shwe Thwe Aung (nicknamed Pho La Pyae), has recently become a commercial broker. One of his money-making activities is helping companies to clear customs at the country’s ports, enabling them to illegally import goods upon receipt of a “tax” payable directly to him.
He is also known as a middleman between government ministers and business owners who wish to open new businesses on Rangoon estates. In one notable case, he helped a group of Indian businessmen, called Naing Group, to win permission to work on a large estate next to the Thai embassy in Rangoon, after they were earlier denied a permit by Rangoon’s mayor, Aung Thein Lin. In exchange for Nay Shwe Thwe Aung’s assistance, the Indian businessmen paid him 500,000,000 kyat ($610,000).
The children and grandchildren of other members of the military elite are also involved in such shady deals, but Nay Shwe Thwe Aung always makes sure that he remains dominant among them. For example, in 2009, he ordered the closure of a coffee shop in Rangoon called “Seven Lekkers,” which was owned by Tay Za Saw Oo, the son of the junta’s fourth-ranking official, Tin Aung Myint Oo.
It is also known that he ordered his followers to physically beat Win Hlaing Htwe, the son of Gen Win Hlaing, a former director general in the Ministry of Defense, over a a tussle involving an estate in People’s Park near Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon.
On another occasion, he ordered police to arrest one of his former friends for writing something bad about him on Facebook while the latter was studying in a foreign country. In a similar incident in 2009, he was unable to order the arrest of another former friend for writing something negative about him on the Internet because he was studying in Singapore, so he had his ex- friend’s parents arrested.
“Before those arrests were made, a group of men went and threw stones at his friend’s house in Rangoon under orders from Pho La Pyae,” said a source.
When the parents of his friend were brought before him, Nay Shwe Thwe Aung ordered them to kneel down and pay respects to him and ask for his pardon for their son’s wrongdoing to him. Out of fear for their son’s personal safety, the parents did as they were told, sources said.
In another incident last November, a military captain working as the personal assistant of Foreign Minister Nyan Win incurred Nay Shwe Thwe Aung’s wrath by inadvertently blocking his car in front of the office of the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd, a business conglomerate controlled by the military. Than Shwe’s grandchild reportedly responded by ordering the officer to stand at attention while he lectured him about the code of conduct for civil officers.
More recently, Aung Thet Mann, the son of the junta’s third-ranking official, Thura Shwe Mann, had to give up an already booked VIP seat on a local Air Bagan flight to Naypyidaw when Nay Shwe Thwe Aung and his followers suddenly appeared on the same plane.
While Than Shwe’s daughters hold senior positions in foreign embassies (where they reportedly do little more than collect bags of money at the end of the day), his sons, namely Kyaing San Shwe and Tun Naing Shwe, own hotel businesses in Naypyidaw and control gas stations which have mushroomed across the country.
Tun Naing Shwe is also the owner the J-Donuts, a popular chain of donut shops, and a business partner of Myanmar VES Joint Venture Co, Ltd, a leading gems company.
“What’s really bizarre is that Than Shwe’s family believe that they’re entitled to everything they’ve got because of their good karma in the past,” said a military source.
Notwithstanding their belief that they are merely enjoying the fruits of their own merit, Than Shwe’s family members have also been careful to guard the real source of their privileges. That is why Kyaing Kyaing urged her husband last year not to retire from the military, and even asked Burmese Buddhist monks in India to talk him into staying in power when the couple made a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya last July.
Military sources said that Than Shwe is also wary of stepping aside to make way for a new generation of leaders. They say he doesn’t trust top-ranking officials like Tin Aung Myint Oo, and his greatest fear is a fate similar to that of his predecessor, Ne Win, who died under house arrest after his son- in-law and grandsons were accused of plotting against the current regime.
As the author of Ne Win’s eventual downfall, Than Shwe knows only too well how quickly trust can turn to treachery once a dictator begins to lose his grip.
The Burmese people will soon know what role Than Shwe intends to play in the future government, which is expected to be formed by the end of next month. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that Than Shwe will always go to great lengths to ensure his own safety and that of his family.
One sign that he is preparing for the worst is a recent report that he has established his own private security company to protect himself and his family. The company, Eagle Security, is headed by Thein Han, a retired colonel who was one of the military officers involved in the junta- orchestrated deadly ambush on Aung San Suu Kyi and her convoy in Depayin, Sagaing Division, in 2003.
Land confiscation emerges in area under new command – Hseng Khio Fah
Shan Herald Agency for News: Wed 26 Jan 2011
Farms and lands of local villagers in Shan State South’s Kunhing Township, have been reportedly confiscated for the use of local authorities under the recently installed regional command, according to local sources.
Totally about 300 acres, originally owned by 40 people in Nawng Ngeun village have been seized. The village is situated northeast of Kali sub- township, Kunhing, on the way to the Shan State Army (SSA)’s 7th Brigade’s Headquarters that accepted the junta-run Border Guard Force (BGF) program.
One acre for uncultivated land was paid Kyat 100,000 (US$ 120) while cultivated land was paid Kyat 200,000 (US$240).
“We knew that it is little money but we could not complain. They [the junta] said they would take it free if we did not satisfy with the amount they pay us,” a local villager i
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