845[Readingroom] News on Burma - 15/2/11
- Feb 15, 2011
- Burma Appears to Tighten Grip on Media
- Suu Kyi warned over sanctions support
- Sinopec JV finds large gas deposits in Myanmar
- Myanmar expected to cancel profit tax in April
- Burma benefits as UK targets aid money on fight for democracy
- ‘You’re now on the dead list’
- Myanmar’s parliament approves all 30 Cabinet nominees from president
- Germany wants to end EU Burma sanctions, activists say
- Burmese junta looks foolish
- Than Shwe to head extra-constitutional ‘State Supreme Council’
- Burma regime misses another chance
- Let’s move on from sanctions
- Military generals assume key ministries
- It’s the politics, stupid
- Suu Kyi: Young people should critique the judicial system
- Government to auction off 76 businesses
- Sanctions on Burma
- Youths must ‘get political’, NLD says
- Calls to lift Myanmar sanctions face challenges
- Will Myanmar’s strongman fade from political scene?
- India’s strategic interests in Myanmar: An interview with Shyam Saran
- The right way to help Burma’s democracy movement
- Suu Kyi’s Davos speech: A radical u-turn?
- A Parliament without debate?
- Media group criticises Parliament for lack of media access
Burma Appears to Tighten Grip on Media – Ron Corben
Voice of America: Mon 14 Feb 2011
Bangkok – The arrest in Burma of Ross Dunkley, the Australian publisher of the Myanmar Times, has raised fears of even tighter control over Burma’s media by the military.
Dunkly was was arrested in Rangoon shortly after returning from overseas last week. A pioneer in Southeast Asia news media, he founded the Times in 2000.
But there have been reports of a conflict over control of the paper.
Dunkley currently holds 49 percent of Myanmar Consolidated Media, which oversees the paper. The remaining shares are held by Tin Htun Oo.
A statement Monday from the Thailand-based Post Media, a sister company of Myanmar Consolidated, called for Dunkley’s immediate release after authorities failed to press charges. He reportedly was arrested for visa violations and drug possession.
His arrest may have more to do with control over the paper than crime, says Aung Zaw, the editor of The Irrawaddy, a magazine about Burma published in Thailand.
“What is clear is that there was conflict between Dr. Tin Htun Oo and Ross Dunkley; and now it is apparent they want to take over the whole Myanmar Times,” he says. “That’s why I think probably they will frame up the charges against him, which doesn’t surprise anyone.”
Dunkley’s initial partner in the pro-military paper was Sonny Swe, the son of former Brigadier General Thein Swe.
But Thein Swe fell from favor with the top leadership. Sonny Swe was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to prison in 2005. His shares were passed to Tin Htun Oo.
Burma, also known as Myanmar, has long been ruled by the military, which keeps tight control on the media and most aspects of the economy and public life. The country’s first parliament in 22 years was elected in November, but more than 80 percent of its members are either in the military or linked to it. And the parliament selected former Prime Minister Thein Sein to be the new president.
Aung Zaw says Dunkley had initially been hopeful that Burma’s tight media controls would ease. But he says those controls and the country’s politics meant the paper was always a risky investment.
“Ross … should realize Burma is a political graveyard for everyone,” he said. “Even he should realize how many journalists and reporters are being apprehended and spending time … in prison.”
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma says around 30 journalists and media activists are among Burma’s more than 2,000 political prisoners.
Dunkley also publishes the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia. Some journalists familiar with the operation say there are fears that the loss of the Burma paper could hurt finances at the Post. But the Post on Monday said that although its management is concerned for Dunkley’s well-being, the paper is running as normal.
Dunkley has been viewed as a media maverick and risk taker, after investing in Vietnam’s fledgling news industry in the early 1990s.
Reporters Without Borders in 2010 ranked Burma as 174th out of 178 countries in its annual press freedom index. Several media analysts in Southeast Asia say with Dunkley’s arrest points to tighter control over the media by the military.
Suu Kyi warned over sanctions support – Tim Johnston
Financial Times: Mon 14 Feb 2011
The Burmese junta has warned Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, that she and her party “will meet their tragic ends” unless they change their stance on the lifting of western sanctions.Ms Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy have called for European Union and US sanctions to remain in place, enraging the ruling generals, who appear to have hoped that last year’s elections would open a new era in international engagement in spite of allegations of wholesale ballot rigging.
“If Suu Kyi and the NLD keep going to the wrong way, ignoring the fact that today’s Myanmar [Burma] is marching to a new era, new system and new political platforms paving the way for democracy, they will meet their tragic ends,” said an editorial in the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar.
Ms Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the past 20 years under house arrest and was only released last November, after the elections. There have been a number of crackdowns on her party since they won a resounding victory in the annulled 1990 polls.
Since her release, Ms Suu Kyi has given mixed signals on sanctions. Speaking to the Financial Times last month, she said they should remain, but in a speech to the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos she called for increased investment.
“We need investments in technology and infrastructure. We need to counter, and eventually eradicate, widespread poverty by offering opportunities that will allow the entrepreneurial spirit of our people to be again fully harnessed through microlending projects,” she said in a recorded speech that made no mention of sanctions.
There is no sign that the sanctions, which include a ban on arms exports to Burma and also cover imports of gems, timber and metals from the country, plus visa restrictions on senior regime figures, are likely to be lifted soon.
The powerful Burma lobby in Europe remains implacably opposed to any such move, arguing that the only reason sanctions have not been effective is because they have never been implemented forcefully enough. But western powers have made it clear that they would reconsider their position should Ms Suu Kyi call for the restrictions to be lifted, in effect giving her a veto over the process.
“Sanctions are the only card that Aung San Suu Kyi can play in her negotiations with the generals: she can’t throw it away lightly,” said one Bangkok-based diplomat.
A recent NLD study concluded that sanctions were having relatively little detrimental effect on ordinary Burmese, removing any moral imperative to remove the measures.
In spite of the restrictions, there has been a flood of investment into Burma in the past 12 months. Although there is little reliable data, the Burmese embassy in Bangkok says there has been a marked increase in requests for business visas.
Much of the money is coming from China and Thailand. China is building a $9bn hydroelectric power plant and an oil pipeline that will eventually run from the Andaman Sea to Kunming in southern China. And Italthai, the Thai construction company, signed a $13.5bn deal to develop a port and industrial zone in the Burmese city of Tavoy with a rail link back to Thailand.
Sinopec JV finds large gas deposits in Myanmar – state media
Reuters: Mon 14 Feb 2011
Yangon – A Sinopec International Petroleum (SIPC) joint venture has discovered gas deposits in northwest Myanmar with a capacity of 2.1 million cubic feet per day, official Myanmar media reported on Monday.The international trading arm of China Petroleum & Chemical Corp (Sinopec), made the find in the country’s Mahutaung Region about 520 miles northwest of the country’s biggest city, Yangon.
A total of six test wells were drilled in inland Block D by the joint venture between Sinopec and the state-controlled Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, an official was quoted as saying in the Kyemon Daily, adding that tests on three more wells would be conducted.
(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Dhara Ranasinghe)
Myanmar expected to cancel profit tax in April
Xinhua: Mon 14 Feb 2011
Myanmar is expected to cancel profit tax and levy only income tax and commercial tax in the next fiscal year 2011-12 starting on April 1, the local weekly Messenger News reported Sunday.The change will be effective from the date in line with the emergence of the new parliament which is being set up after the Nov. 7, 2010 general election, the report said.
Currently, income tax applies to state-owned enterprises, cooperative enterprises and public-invested enterprises, while profit tax applies to individual private businessmen.
Profit tax has been levied on individual businessmen since it was introduced in 1976, troubling the businessmen as 50 percent were taxed on a profit of just over 300,000 Kyats (about 352 U.S. dollars), the report said.
The taxation is to be changed in the interest of businessmen. Instead, income tax will be applied, which levies 40 percent on an income of 2 million Kyats (2,352 U.S. dollars) and a minimum of 5 percent and a maximum of 200 percent with the commercial tax.
Myanmar has five categories of tax — commercial tax, stale lottery tax, stamp duties, income tax and profit tax.
Burma benefits as UK targets aid money on fight for democracy – Andrew Buncombe
Independent (UK): Mon 14 Feb 2011
British aid to Burma – the poorest country in South-east Asia – is to be sharply increased in an effort to help the country’s most beleaguered and to support the struggle for democracy.A review carried out at the behest of Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, has concluded the £32m currently spent in Burma should increase to a total of £185m over the next four years. Officials say the money will target grass roots organisations and other partners working there and not to the military junta.
“Britain has not forgotten the people of Burma, who have been silenced for too long. They have suffered under decades of dreadful economic mismanagement and human rights abuses as well as the ongoing threat of civil war and famine,” Mr Mitchell said in a statement. “The poorest in Burma must have a voice. We will build up civil society, local charities, village groups and their representatives to push for change.”
While the Coalition says the total budget for international aid budget is to be increased by 37 per cent in real terms, Mr Mitchell said last summer that he believed the money needed to be targeted more effectively. It is expected that the aid budgets to many countries will be sharply reduced or scrapped. India, a country where the economy is growing by more than 8 per cent and where Britain currently annually spends £280m, is one of those places where some believe aid should be halted. In contrast, the minister announced earlier this month that aid to Somalia is to be tripled, from £26m in 2010-11 to £80m in 2013-14.
The review, the full results of which are expected to be announced later this month or in early March, found that in Burma at least 16 million people live in desperate hardship. The junta, which recently oversaw controversial elections for a largely toothless parliament, spends just a tiny amount on services healthcare and education.
Officials said DFID will work with a growing number of community groups and aid organisations working “to promote a peaceful and democratic future for Burma from the bottom up” to try to address some of this shortfall. In particular, money will be targeted towards improving maternal health and reducing the threat of malaria, estimated to affect more than 8 million Burmese. In addition, they believe the money will support 225,000 children through primary school, help increase food production for 200,000 people and provide micro-finance to another 100,000. Money lenders in the country currently charge interest rates of up to 200 per cent.
The increased funding has been welcomed by campaign groups, which had been urging the department not to cut back on spending. They said, however, Britain could do more. “We would also like to see them be more creative in ensuring aid reaches the most needy, and not just channel large grants through UN agencies which face restrictions on their operations, especially in ethnic [minority] areas,” said Mark Farmaner of Burma Campaign UK. “DFID should significantly expand democracy promotion work via groups in exile which manage underground networks, as well as civil society in country, as there are strict limitations on what can be done in country.”
* The Australian publisher of an English-language newspaper in Burma has been arrested in what an associate suggested was a business dispute. The Myanmar Times editor-in-chief, Ross Dunkley, was in Rangoon’s Insein jail on charges of violating a section of the immigration law on overstaying a visa. The associate said his arrest coincided with “tense negotiations” with his Burmese business partners.
British aid in numbers
£32m Current British bilateral aid to Burma
£185m Intended aid to Burma over next four years
£8.7bn Total UK overseas aid budget this year, set to rise to £12.6bn by 2014
42% Share of aid sent to Burma spent on healthcare
$5 The total international aid spend on Burma per capita
$37m US government’s intended spend this year
‘You’re now on the dead list’ – Phil Thorton
Bangkok Post: Mon 14 Feb 2011
Reports of atrocities committed by Burmese soldiers against ‘convict porters’ destroy any slim hopes that the shift to a ‘civilian political system’ will somehow dilute the military’s absolute power.Aung is a small man, barely out of his teens. He shifts his bruised body, unable to sit or to find comfort or peace of mind. He’s full of half-spoken questions. Aung’s scared he might be sent back to Burma, where he was forced to work for the army after being jailed.
“I got 12 months, but it’s a death sentence,” said Aung. He hurts from a soldier’s bullet that smashed his arm and dropped him into a coma. He’s worried the testimony of the pains the Burmese army inflicted on his body will harm the family he has not seen for more than a year.
Most of all, Aung’s haunted by the memory of the battlefield sounds of torn bodies and the terrifying treks he made carrying mortar shells up mountains and through minefields for 15 days.
Aung’s journey to the front line started on Dec 31, of last year, when the Burmese army came to the jail where he was serving a 12-month sentence for fighting with his neighbour over a fallen tree they both wanted to use to make charcoal.
“We exchanged punches. I hit him with a rock. The police came, he paid a bribe, I couldn’t. I went to jail, he went free.”
Aung drops his head and mutters that not being able to be with his wife when she gave birth to their son had added misery to his sentence.
“She was eight months pregnant when I was put in jail. Every day I thought about them. I miss them so much, I’ve never seen or held my baby son.”
Aung had a month of his sentence to finish when soldiers took him and some other prisoners.
“No one volunteered. The guards told us we were going to the front to serve as porters for the army. Our names were on a list, we had no choice.”
Aung was transported in a convoy of army trucks that wound its way from upper Burma to the jungles and mountains of Karen State in the east. Their confused journey lasted five days. By the time the convicts got to the battlefield, their estimates of their numbers varied from between 800 to 2,000.
“The truck was crowded and there were many trucks. Our legs were shackled, we had to squat on our haunches with our heads bowed. We couldn’t see out or talk to each other. At Pa-an we were given blue uniforms.”
In Karen State, there are few all-weather roads capable of carrying heavy army trucks, weapons, munitions, rice and other food supplies to the ever-shifting front line.
International and regional humanitarian groups have compiled numerous reports on how the Burmese army creates its own operational support mechanisms to deal with this lack of infrastructure _ forcing civilian or convict porters to act as a human supply chain to the front lines.
In October 2007, the New York-based Human Rights Watch released a report that cited a “rare public statement” from the International Committee of the Red Cross, “condemning widespread violations of international humanitarian law”. Human Rights Watch said at the time that the Red Cross was concerned about the use of convict labour to support military operations. The report noted that ”thousands of prisoners have been forced to carry army supplies, undertake construction labour, and, in a practice called ‘atrocity demining’, forced to walk ahead of Burmese army soldiers to trigger potential landmines.”
Aung says his life was in constant danger from landmines and crossfire as he carried heavy panniers weighing as much as 60kg up the steep mountain paths.
”I was a porter for 15 days. I was scared. We carried [panniers of] rice, large shells. If we were slow, they hit us with their guns or kicked us.”
Aung explains he was put in the firing line, used as a human minesweeper and as a pack animal to carry munitions, artillery and food supplies to the soldiers.
”Porters were ordered to walk in front of the soldiers. We were never told we were going to the front line. I was scared. I was ordered to carry 81mm mortar shells, 15 to a basket, up a steep mountain to the artillery positions.”
Aung says he was also ordered to stretcher injured soldiers from the front to a monastery at Palu.
”When a mine exploded, I saw the body blown skywards, there was noise, screams and lots of blood. We were told to keep walking, but everyone dropped their packs and fell to the ground. They threatened to beat us for stopping, but we didn’t care, we just fell.”
For years the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) has been reporting, documenting and conducting in-depth interviews with escaped convict porters that show the practice is systematic, widespread and in common use.
The KHRG reports say prisoners’ testimonies tell of ‘’serious incidents of human rights abuses occurring as standard practice, including use of porters used to sweep for landmines, deprivation of adequate food and medical assistance to porters and the systematic extortion of civilians at every level of Burma’s police, judicial and prison infrastructure.”
Aung says he saw both porters and soldiers killed and wounded. ”We used hammocks to carry three wounded soldiers. I saw a porter blown up by a landmine. We never knew if he lived or died. The soldiers told us nothing, but each day we had to walk past the blood.”
Aung says after 15 days he had had enough of being a front-line porter.
”I thought I would die if I stayed, either the soldiers would kill me or I would be blown up by a mine. A sergeant thrashed me because another porter escaped. I was beaten for not telling the soldiers. I knew I had to escape.”
Aung said he saw other prisoners beaten and tortured by the soldiers. On Jan 15, Aung was told he would be carrying mortar shells to the front line the next day.
”I knew there would be many mines and lots of fighting, I didn’t want to die. I was desperate. We made a plan to escape into the jungle and get across the river to safety in Thailand.”
Aung said their escape plan relied on the soldiers getting drunk.
”Most of the time the soldiers were drunk and that night they had a party to celebrate taking a Karen position. At about 11pm, about 13 of us ran away. I was with my friend and we crashed through the trees and bamboo. I soon lost contact with the others.”
By the time Aung had reached the Moei River, which separates Thailand from Burma, the soldiers had almost caught up with him.
”We were splashing across the river, hoping to get to the safety of the cornfields on the Thai side. We were told if we got to Thailand, we would be safe. The soldiers kept shooting at us even though we were on the Thai side. I was hit and knocked off my feet. My friend helped me to the cover of the cornfield. I bled all through the night. Next day I could not stand and I had a fever.”
Early the next morning Aung’s friend made contact with a Karen farmer who told a Thai soldier of the escaped convict porters.
”The Thai soldier helped me and took me to a hospital. He reassured me that the Burmese army could not hurt me any more. I was shot, but I was lucky I got away. If I stayed, I knew I would die for sure.”
Interviews with five more prison porters and two Burmese army deserters for this article add weight to Aung’s testimony that the porters were beaten by soldiers, fed poorly, tortured and forced to sweep for land mines.
109 LABOUR CAMPS
Restaurant owner Win claims he was jailed on trumped-up charges of heroin trafficking and sentenced to 10 years. He spent two years in one of Burma’s notorious labour camps.
”We were chained at the ankles while we broke rocks for roads. We worked six days a week, even when we were sick. I saw prisoners badly injured, some with broken legs and still not getting treatment. The food was little, rice and some swamp vegetable. If I didn’t work hard enough, the guards beat me. It was vicious. While I was there, three prisoners died, two under rock falls and one by sickness.”
One Burmese man, Bo Kyi, has made it his life’s work to make sure political prisoners are not forgotten. He is concerned about the abuse of convict porters. A founding member and now secretary of the Association Assisting Political Prisoners, Bo Kyi was jailed three times for a total of seven years and three months. ”In Burma there are 109 labour camps and 42 jails with more than 400,000 prisoners, and only 33 doctors and about 60 medics to treat them when they get sick. All prisoners, irrespective of their crimes, should be treated as humans _ animals are treated better than prisoners in Burma,” said Bo Kyi.
His main focus is political prisoners, but he also lashes out against the abuse of convict porters.
”I accuse this regime of crimes against humanity. There’s enough solid documented evidence on current political prisoners, past political prisoners and the abuse of convict porters. Prisoners who escape are often beaten to death as a lesson to other prisoners. They do not get proper funeral rites and are often buried with their chains on.”
Outside the small bare room in a safe house on the Thai-Burmese border that Win now calls home, children kick a football against a wall and play at war with plastic guns. Motorbikes roar pass and dogs bark after them _ normal weekend sounds.
Win studies his broken fingernails, calloused hands and scars before explaining how he was taken to the frontline.
”The army came for me at 4am on Jan 1 _ 75 of us were taken from our cells and put in two army trucks. We were told nothing but guessed we were going to the front line. I planned to escape.”
Win says that when they arrived at the front line it was chaos.
”There were about 400 prisoners going up and down the mountain in a continuous procession. The mortars were firing all the time. I was scared of the soldiers. They told us not to leave the paths and if we did get blown up by a mine, they would shoot us.”
Win says the soldiers kept the convicts under guard in Palu monastery for three nights.
”I helped carry their injured soldiers there. The monks had left. I ran away but they caught me after a couple of hours. I was beaten and my hands were tied behind my back. They rolled a thick bamboo pole up and down my shins, and told me if I ran away again, I would be killed.” Win lifts his trouser leg to show white scars, painful reminders of the beating he took from the soldiers.
”I was sent back to the front. We had to carry a 120mm mortar up to the top of the mountain. It took three porters to carry the barrel, two porters to carry the metal plate and two more for the legs.”
Win points to a plastic electric tea urn and says the mortar shells were about the same size.
”I could only manage to carry two at a time.”
Now 45, Win says he was not nearly the oldest convict porter.
”I saw some as old as 55 and others as young as 15.”
‘I THOUGHT I WOULD DIE’
Soe was given a 20-year jail sentence for murder.
”I was drunk and fighting. I knifed a man. I escaped but the police arrested my brother and said he would be charged instead. I turned myself in. I was sent to hard labour, breaking rocks.”
Soe, 28, worked at the quarry for five years before he was told he now belonged to the army.
”They said we were no longer convicts, but were now on ‘the dead list’ _ we no longer existed. I felt sad. I was owed 71,000 kyat [about 2,100 baht] for my five years working in the quarry, but our pay was taken by the soldiers.”
Soe says he was also forced to carry 120mm mortars and their shells up the mountain to an artillery battalion.
”Porters died, others lost legs. We carried them down the mountain. We buried the dead porters in 18-inch trenches, but you still see their faces. Dead soldiers were taken by truck to Pa-an. I heard that out of 800 porters, only 40 of us survived.”
The humanitarian organisation Free Burma Rangers (FBR) has 53 teams delivering emergency medical assistance to displaced communities in eastern Burma. In a report released in 2008, FBR documented a Burmese army operation in northern Karen State in which 2,200 convict porters were used.
FBR document that ”the Burma army used over 2,200 porters in this offensive and over 265 have been reported dead, many of whom were executed.”
FBR’s information was collected from, ”escaped porters, Burmese army deserters and villagers who have seen the bodies of dead porters”.
Win says the food was rotten and there were times the convict porters were not fed for two days.
”I had enough. I decided to escape. Two of us were sent unguarded to fix a generator. We ran and hid in the jungle until it was dark and then crossed the river. A monk told us the way. Once we got to Thailand, we hid in a cornfield for three days.”
Convicts interviewed for this story say they do not expect their plight is worthy of investigation. Most feel it is enough that they have escaped.
But abuses by the Burmese army have not gone unnoticed. Groups such as KHRG, FBR and HRW have built up an impressive amount of documentation _ eyewitness accounts, army orders and photographic evidence to support calls for a commission of inquiry into Burma’s human rights abuses.
In March of last year in his report to the UN Human Rights Council, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur for Burma, outlined a ”pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights which has been in place for many years”. Mr Quintana concluded that the ”UN institutions may consider the possibility to establish a commission of inquiry with a specific fact finding mandate to address the question of international crimes.”
The Human Rights Watch World Report for 2011 details the denials from Burmese ambassador U Wunna Maung Lwin to calls for an inquiry. U Wunna Maung said there were ”no crimes against humanity in Myanmar with regard to the issue of impunity, any member of the military who breached national law was subject to legal punishments there was no need to conduct investigations in Myanmar since there were no human rights violations there.”
In January this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva examined Burma’s human rights record as part of its first Universal Periodic Review. Burma’s delegation, led by deputy attorney-general Tun Shin, categorically denied state-orchestrated widespread, systematic and persistent human rights violations against the people of Burma.
During the three-hour review, many 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, were raised.
The Burmese delegation’s response was to claim, ”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.”
Myanmar’s parliament unanimously approves all 30 Cabinet nominees from president
Associated Press: Fri 11 Feb 2011
NAYPYITAW, Myanmar — Myanmar’s new military-dominated parliament on Friday unanimously approved all of the president-elect’s 30 Cabinet nominees.
Upper house lawmaker Phone Myint Aung said all of the names submitted by President-elect Thein Sein were approved, although the list did not indicate which position each would take in the Cabinet.
Thein Sein, who was elected president by parliament last week, was prime minister and a top member of the military junta that is handing over power to the new government. It is not clear when he and his Cabinet will be sworn in.
Most of the Cabinet appointees are former military officers who retired in order to run in last November’s elections — the country’s first in 20 years — and about a dozen were ministers in the junta’s Cabinet. Only four of the appointees are strictly civilian.
Critics say last year’s elections were orchestrated by the junta to perpetuate military rule. With one quarter of the seats in parliament filled by military appointees, and a large majority of the remaining seats won by a military-backed party, the army retains power.
The army has held power in Myanmar since 1962. Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the junta chief, is widely believed to remain in charge despite the change of government.
The party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which won the last elections in 1990 but was blocked from taking power by the military, boycotted November’s vote, calling it unfair. Much of the international community also dismissed the elections as rigged in favour of the junta.
Thein Sein, 65, now heads the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which won most of the seats in the elections. He has an image as a “clean” soldier who is not engaged in corruption.
Germany wants to end EU Burma sanctions, activists say – Thomas Maung Shwe
Mizzima News: Fri 11 Feb 2011
Germany with the assistance of Italy will push to have Burma sanction significantly weakened when the European Union’s Burma sanctions policy comes up for yearly review in April, according to the London-based advocacy organization Burma Campaign UK.Burma Campaign UK executive director Mark Farmaner told Mizzima, ‘Germany’s approach to Burma is shameful and unprincipled. They are solely interested in commercial opportunities in Burma and only pay lip-service to human rights issues’.
German President Angela Merkel. Activists say that the German government wants to alter the EU sanctions on Burma.
German President Angela Merkel. Activists say that the German government wants to alter the EU sanctions on Burma.
Farmaner and his fellow Burma activists across Europe aren’t alone in their assessment that Germany wants to lift sanctions against Burma.
A leaked US diplomatic cable disclosed by the Wikileaks website this month reveals that in December 2009 officials from the US state department were informed by their counterpart from the UK that three EU nations, in particular Italy, Spain and Germany were advocating that the EU begin ‘re-engagement’ with the Burmese military regime.
In the cable, Nigel Boud from the UK foreign office’s Asia section informed the Americans that while the UK supported sanctions, Germany and some other EU member states had ‘heard what they wanted to hear’ about the situation in Burma and therefore ‘have subsequently started discussions within the EU about relaxing the current measures’, made in reference to the EU’s targeted financial sanctions and EU-wide travel ban for the senior members of the military regime, their family members and their cronies.
Germany’s apparent renewed push to weaken the EU’s targeted sanctions against Burma comes in spite of explosive allegations made by a military defector last year that the Burmese regime used sophisticated equipment imported from Germany to advance both a top-secret rocket development program and an equally clandestine nuclear programme.
In a Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) documentary on Burma’s weapons programme that aired last year on Al Jazeera, Major Sai Thein Win, a former senior scientist in the Burmese military, detailed how the firm Deckel Maho Gildemeister (DMG) sent engineers to assist with the installation of specialized imported machinery in Burmese military-owned factories.
Sai Thein Win said DMG machinery was designed to make precision metal parts in the manufacturing of rocket and missile parts. In addition to DMG, the Burmese military had also bought equipment from the German firm Trumpf, including a specialized laser cutting machine designed to cut sheet metal quickly. The military engineer-turned-whistleblower escaped Burma with pages of documents and photographs of German engineers installing the equipment.
Diplomats from the German embassy in Rangoon visited two of the factories where the machinery was being used in 2007, 2008 and again in 2009, according to the DVD report.
Although Sai Thein Win’s testimony and evidence that the equipment was being used for non-civilian purposes was independently verified by former IAEA inspector Bob Kelley, it’s unclear if the German government has done anything to restrict the sale of similar weapon-related technology in thefuture.
A US diplomatic cable from 2009 marked ‘confidential’ but disclosed by Wikileaks and the Guardian newspaper in Decembers suggested that US authorities were concerned enough about the German exports to Burma that the issue was a topic of discussion between the state department and the German government in July 2009.
The cable revealed that during her time as Berlin Ambassador Susan Burk, America’s special representative for nuclear non-proliferation, spoke with German officials regarding ‘concerns about Myanmar’s nuclear intentions’. The cable which also summarizes her discussions with officials in Paris and London revealed that Berlin was the only place during her European tour where she specifically spoke about the Burmese nuclear issue.
The EU-wide sanctions, while barring European business dealings with some of the junta’s blacklisted cronies and their black listed banks, have not prevented many European firms from conducting business in Burma.
Burma’s lucrative natural resource industry, in which France’s Total has a major stake in the offshore gas sector, is largely exempted from the sanctions.
Loopholes in the sanctions have left space for several German firms also to participate in Burma’s extractives sector including FOSCE-Lorentzenstr, an engineering firm that participated in dam construction along the Upper Paunglaung river. Another German firm, Hannover Re, self-described as ‘one of the leading reinsurance groups in the world’ which deals with marine, aviation and other reinsurance programs designed for businesses, has a subsidiary that operates in Burma.
Despite the existence of EU sanctions, Germany is still a sizable trading partner with Burma. In December 2009, Myint Soe, the joint secretary of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told The Myanmar Times, ‘Among the European nations, Germany is one of our larger trading partners, even considering the sanctions.’
Last December the state-backed 7 Day News reported that Germany was Burma’s biggest trading partner in Europe during the period April-December 2010.
Enforcement of the EU sanctions that do exist is largely left up to member nations who may or not be interested in pursuing the matter. After the DVB allegations that German equipment was being used for military use first appeared, the German foreign ministry has repeatedly refused media requests.
Germany’s stance towards Burma is in sharp contrast with its statementw about Iran, the subject of numerous press releases issued by Germany’s ministry of Foreign Affairs over the past two years. The present German foreign minister and his predecessor frequently spoke out againt Iran’s alleged nuclear program and the government has supported continued sanctions against Tehran.
It remains to be seen whether Germany will have its way and the EU Burma sanctions are weakened or ended completely.
Mark Farmaner of the UK Campaign claims the government of Angela Merkel in Berlin is not concerned with the plight of the Burmese people. According to Farmaner, “If they really cared about ordinary people, they would increase their aid to humanitarian projects in Burma, which is tiny. Germany sets the bar for progress in Burma so low you have to dig down to find it.”
Despite repeated requests, the German Foreign Office did not provide comment for this story.
Burmese junta looks foolish – Bruce Loudon
The Australian: Fri 11 Feb 2011
NO one will be surprised to learn that Burma’s media have studiously avoided mention of the historic tumult sweeping the Middle East, with popular uprisings challenging the region’s longstanding and corrupt dictatorships.
Burma’s brutal military rulers, despite last November’s election that was supposed to usher in a transition to “disciplined flourishing democracy”, are once more confounding the hopes of those who naively believed the men in uniform were serious when they said things would change.
In itself, the ban in the government-controlled media on mentioning the clamour for freedom in Cairo, Tunis and elsewhere speaks volumes about the Burmese junta’s intentions.
Incredibly, the generals seem to believe that by keeping any mention out of the official media, the Burmese people will be kept in the dark about what’s happening and will not be inspired to reignite the mass popular uprisings seen in Rangoon and other cities in 1988 and the Saffron Revolution in 2007, which were ruthlessly put down by the military.
The ban is, of course, farcical. There may not be an internet cafe on every street corner, but the Burmese are savvy people. They know from the internet and radio what’s happening. They’re plugged into the social media. The result is that the junta, in its efforts to keep the shutters down on information, looks plain silly.
The generals, however, remain unabashed. They’re determined, after five decades in power shamelessly feathering their own nests, to do things their way rather than give in to any pressure at home or abroad for genuine democracy and real reform.
Thus, at last week’s first sitting of the new two-chamber national parliament — 80 per cent occupied by the junta’s proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, after a sham national election — the man elected to be Burma’s new president turned out unsurprisingly to be a general, albeit one who has doffed his uniform and now wears civvies.
Thein Sein’s main qualification is that he is a longtime adjutant to and gofer for the all-powerful commander in chief and head of the junta, Senior General Than Shwe, who is 78 and has been in control since 1992.
Thein Sein is slavish in his loyalty to Than Shwe. He is a career military officer who became a member of the junta in 1997 and prime minister in 2007, and he is believed to have no political agenda of his own. But he’s not the only general to emerge in a key role in the curious new world of the “disciplined flourishing democracy” from the election. Four of the top five figures appointed under the new system, it has now emerged, are generals.
Each of the two houses of the national parliament will be presided over by senior members of the junta. Of the two vice-presidents, one will be another member of the junta who is a general, while one will be a doctor from the Shan ethnic minority. All will be subservient to Than Shwe, with some analysts suggesting the junta chief will assume a role similar to that of Deng Xiaoping during China’s transition and remaining the real power in the land, pulling all the strings.
So where does all this leave hopes for real change and genuine democracy? One sceptic this week summed up the first meeting of parliament in 20 years and the election of Thein Sein as being “the beginning of absolutely nothing new”. It’s hard to argue with that conclusion.
The generals have, of course, finally bowed to international pressure and freed the widely esteemed Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, a welcome development in an otherwise bleak scenario. She’s even been permitted an internet connection.
But her freedom came only after the election and after her party, the National League for Democracy, boycotted the poll — and has now been banned for having done so, while she, despite huge public support, has been out-manoeuvred by the regime.
The junta is unapologetic about any of this. With a new civilian president elected by a new parliament, it reckons it has done more than enough to be accepted as a genuine democracy, and that the West should now agree with the ASEAN nations and lift sanctions.
Even within Suu Kyi’s NLD, there is fresh debate on this issue, with the party calling for discussions with the US, the European Union and other nations “with a view to reaching agreement on when, how and under what circumstances sanctions might be modified in the interests of democracy, human rights and a healthy economic environment”.
Progress on human rights, the NLD says, is the key. Estimates are that the regime is holding 2189 political prisoners, including 254 monks and 397 members of Suu Kyi’s party.
Lifting sanctions, or not lifting sanctions, is clearly now going to become an issue for Australia as much as other countries. Not that the generals seem bothered, since the Western policy of isolating the country has been largely ignored by China, which is now the paramount influence in highly strategic Burma, and by India, which gladhands the generals as it tries to reassert influence in an area it maintains is part of New Delhi’s area of hegemony.
Will lifting sanctions help or hinder the cause of democracy and freedom? Will the long-suffering Burmese people be better off with or without sanctions? It’s not an easy call. But just as the generals did little to help their cause by holding a highly dubious election, so have they done little to instil confidence since the poll by so shamelessly rigging things in a way that the same old generals, after doffing their uniforms, have now been given most of the top jobs in the new “democracy”.
Than Shwe to head extra-constitutional ‘State Supreme Council’
Irrawaddy: Thu 10 Feb 2011
Rangoon—Although the Burmese military regime said that it will hand over state power to president-elect Thein Sein and the new government on March 15, junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe has now revealed that he will personally lead a newly created council called the “State Supreme Council,” which as its name implies will be the most powerful body in the country, according to sources in Naypyidaw.
Two bodies have now emerged in the new government’s administrative structure that observers say will have powers that reach—either directly or indirectly—above and beyond the powers of the new civilian executive and legislative branches. The first is the eight-member State Supreme Council, which is nowhere mentioned in the 2008 Constitution and will be led by Than Shwe. The second is the eleven-member National Defense and Security Council (NDSC), which is called for in the 2008 Constitution and will be led by Thein Sein.
“The State Supreme Council will become the highest body of the state. While it will assume an advisory role to guide the future governments, the body will be very influential,” said a source close to the military.
The members of the State Supreme Council will be: Snr-Gen Than Shwe, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, Pyithu Hluttaw [Lower House] Speaker Thura Shwe Mann, President-elect Thein Sein, Vice President-elect Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, former Lt. Gen Tin Aye and other two senior military generals.
As required by the 2008 Constitution, the NDSC will be comprised of the president, two vice presidents, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, vice commander-in-chief, and the ministers of defense, home, foreign affairs and border affairs.
Meanwhile, according to sources in Naypyidaw, Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council will hand over power to the new government on March 15. The sources said that army commanders, heads of the military’s Bureaus of Special Operations and retired generals are currently meeting to discuss the transfer of power to the new civilian regime in Naypyidaw, which will consist mostly of former generals.
According to sources close to the military in Naypyidaw, there is discontent among the military because the latest appointments of certain high-ranking military officials to major positions in the new government structure was apparently based on loyalty to Than Shwe rather than military hierarchy.
In particluar, Lt-Gen Thura Myint Aung was not chosen by Than Shwe as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and after complaining of being assigned the position of defense minister he was removed and placed under house arrest.
Burma regime misses another chance – Editorial
Voice of America: Thu 10 Feb 2011
Burma’s highest court has upheld a decision to dissolve the country’s leading opposition political party. Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with youths at the National League for Democracy (NLD) head office in Yangon February 8, 2011.Burma’s highest court has upheld a decision to dissolve the country’s leading opposition political party, which was outlawed last year for failing to register according to conditions set down by Burma’s ruling military regime. The decision leaves Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and thousands of other pro-democracy activists outside formal politics in Burma just as the regime claims to be moving the nation to civilian rule.
The high court took little time to decid
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