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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Junta freezes out UN envoy 2.. A return to status quo is unacceptable: U.N. 3.. UN under fire for failure in Burma 4.. Myanmar s military junta rejects
    Message 1 of 6 , Nov 8, 2007
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      1. Junta freezes out UN envoy
      2. A return to status quo is unacceptable: U.N.
      3. UN under fire for 'failure' in Burma
      4. Myanmar’s military junta rejects proposed talks with UN diplomat, pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi
      5. UN envoy to meet detained Myanmar democracy leader Suu Kyi at end of mission
      6. Three NLD officers to meet with Gambari
      7. Myanmar’s junta points finger at other “similar” Asian nations
      8. Sporadic movements defying junta
      9. Anger fading over Burma
      10. China no sure bet on Myanmar
      11. Burma Global Action Network Announces Worldwide Protest of Total Oil
      12. Forced labor for road construction in Arakan
      13. Burma crises a symptom of Asean's flaws
      14. Burmese children bought and sold by army recruiters
       

      Junta freezes out UN envoy

      Rangoon - United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari was scheduled to meet yet again with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma on Thursday evening but has apparently been denied an audience with the junta's chief Senior General Than Shwe, diplomatic sources said.

      Gambari arrived in Burma last Saturday on a mission to hasten the country's national reconciliation process in the aftermath of a brutal crackdown on monk-led protests on September 26-27 that left 10 people dead according to official figures. Others say the death-toll was closer to 200.

      The special envoy was briefed Thursday morning by senior members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the main opposition party, in Naypyidaw, 350 kilometres north of Rangoon.

      Five leaders of the pro-junta National Unity Party (NUP) flew to Naypyidaw Thursday morning to also meet with Gambari who is scheduled to fly to Rangoon in the afternoon for talks with Suu Kyi before departing for Singapore, according to western diplomats and UN sources.

      It will be Gambari's fifth meeting with Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since May 2003.

      It seems unlikely that Gambari will be granted an audience with Burmese military supremo Than Shwe this trip, diplomatic sources said.

      During his six-day stay in Burma, Gambari has met only two senior members of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the ruling junta styles itself.

      On Tuesday he met with Prime Minister General Thein Sein and the newly appointed SPDC First-Secretary Lieutenant-General Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo.

      Gambari delivered a letter from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Thein Sein to pass on to Than Shwe.

      The special envoy is scheduled to return to UN headquarters on Monday when he will need to provide a progress report on his Burma mission.

      Gambari was sent to Burma on Ban's instructions to seek democratic reform, engage in dialogue with detained political opposition leader Suu Kyi and junta chief Than Shwe, and to seek the release of political prisoners and detained pro-democracy marchers.

      At UN headquarters in New York, Ban told reporters Tuesday: "I am concerned at this time about the lack of progress. He has not been able to meet with Senior General Than Shwe."

      There is great scepticism in Burma about the junta's desire to open a political dialogue with the opposition. Burma has been under military rule for the past 45 years.

      Under General Ne Win, who seized power with a coup in 1962, the country was virtually closed to the outside world for two decades as it pursued its disastrous "Burmese Way to Socialism."

      In 1988, after a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations that left an estimated 3,000 dead, the army discarded its socialist ideology but has maintained its wariness about the international community, especially Western democracies.

      Efforts by the UN to pressure the regime in the aftermath of yet another crackdown on its own people last September have thus far borne few results, observers said. (dpa)


       
      A return to status quo is unacceptable: U.N.
       
      Mizzima News : Thursday, November 08, 2007
       
      November 8, 2007 – United Nations Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has issued a blunt warning to Burma's military government that a return to the status quo of pre-protest Burma is unacceptable.
       
      Gambari "stressed that a return to the status quo before the crisis would not be sustainable, and suggested specific steps for Myanmar to meet international expectations in this regard," according to a press release yesterday by the United Nations Information Center in Rangoon.
       
      One measure proposed by the United Nations is the establishment of a poverty alleviation commission. The origin of the recent protests centered on rising fuel and energy costs, which cash-strapped consumers were unable to incur without serious hardship.
       
      However, as reported in the New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday, junta Information Minister, Brigadier General Kyaw San, told Gambari: "Instead of blaming and suggesting that a poverty alleviation commission for Myanmar only should be formed, you should play a leading role in organizing and persuading others to relieve and lift sanctions. In this way, the commission you suggested will not be required."
       
      In a further sign that Gambari will depart Burma without meeting with Senior General Than Shwe, the Special Envoy handed a letter addressed to the junta leader to Prime Minister Thein Sein.
       
      Gambari met with the Prime Minister yesterday, again stressing the necessity of an immediate dialogue between the government and opposition, specifically singling out the need to involve National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the process.
       
      Thein Sein reiterated that the United Nations mission to Burma continues to have the government's "full support."
       
      Originally scheduled to leave Burma today, the United Nations says that Gambari may remain inside the country until November 12th. Whenever he does leave the country, he will report directly to United Nations headquarters in New York, where he will brief the Security Council on the results of his mission.
       
      In a last minute effort to meet with Suu Kyi on this trip, Gambari is now said to be set to meet with the opposition leader today in Rangoon. Additionally, the United Nations reports that he will meet with "members of the Central Executive Committee of her National League for Democracy party, officials of the National Unity Party, and other relevant interlocutors, as well as the United Nations Country Team in Yangon."
       

       
      UN under fire for 'failure' in Burma
      Emma-Kate Symons, Mae Sot, Thai-Burma border | November 08, 2007

      PRO-DEMOCRACY leaders have lambasted the UN's "ineffective" human rights mission to Burma and its "failure" to protect persecuted monks and dissidents who have fled across the Thai border.
       
      UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon said yesterday that he was "concerned at this time about the lack of progress" during the visit to Burma of envoy Ibrahim Gambari.
       
      As the UN boss expressed frustration at the junta's obstacles to meaningful talks, democracy activists in Mae Sot, on the border with Burma, said they feared for their lives amid a Thai police crackdown on illegal immigrants.
       
      Nay Tin Myint, a prominent National League for Democracy leader, was a key figure in the 1988 student uprisings against the government. He spent 15 years in prison before escaping to Thailand just before September's anti-junta protests.
       
      Now designated a "terrorist" and an "enemy of the Burmese people" in junta newspapers, he said the UN mission to Burma was "just not effective".
       
      "Gambari should meet many, many opposition leaders, and the many monks who demonstrated, but (General) Than Shwe did not allow him," he said. "The UN Security Council should issue a strong resolution to the Burmese military.
       
      "The military rulers depend on China, so the world must persuade China to put pressure on Than Shwe. China could have way more influence."
       
      According to Mr Myint, Thai police have escalated their raids on illegal Burmese immigrants in Mae Sot since the September protests.
       
      He said the raids were at the behest of the junta, whose foreign minister has pressured Thai authorities not to offer refuge to activists.
       
      Mr Myint was speaking at a safe house in Mae Sot, where more than 30 people who had escaped since the September protests were living.
       
      "Inside Burma they call me a terrorist, and I will be killed if I return," he said.
       
      A Burmese Buddhist monk at the safe house, who escaped from Rangoon after leading the protests, said the UN seemed "powerless" to protect the Burmese refugees from police harassment and deportation.
       
      When the Burmese arrive in Mae Sot, the UNHCR tells them they cannot offer them protection, only the chance to apply for refugee status. This process can take years and even decades, given Thai authorities' unwillingness to co-operate.
       
      The Mae Sot Migrant Workers' Association chief, Win Ko Ko, confirmed that Thai police raids and demands for bribes had skyrocketed since late September.
       
      More than 200 people were hauled in daily for questioning and often brutal bodily drug searches, with dozens sent back over the border.
       
      Mr Gambari is on his second visit to Burma since the military sent in troops on September 27 to shoot, beat and imprison democracy protesters after weeks of anti-government marches, the largest in two decades.
       
      He has been trying to meet with military leaders and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but has been relegated to talks with Labour Minister U Aung Kyi, designated by the junta in October as liaison officer with Ms Suu Kyi.
       
      Mr Gambari was scheduled to have his meeting with the opposition leader and Nobel laureate late yesterday.
       
      The UN said human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro would visit Burma by invitation from Sunday.

      Myanmar’s military junta rejects proposed talks with UN diplomat, pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi
      Associated Press: Wed 7 Nov 2007 

      The military junta on Tuesday rejected proposed three-party talks that would have included pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying it refuses to bow to “big power bullies.”

      It also seemed likely that U.N. diplomat Ibrahim Gambari would leave Myanmar Thursday without having met with the country’s most powerful figure junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

      Seeking political reform and reconciliation between the ruling military and pro-democracy forces, Gambari had proposed a meeting among Suu Kyi, a regime representative and himself.

      Minister of Information Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan, quoted in the state-run New Light of Myanmar, said Suu Kyi had yet to respond to the government’s request that she refrain from calling for international sanctions against Myanmar earlier set as a condition for a dialogue between her and the government.

      In what observers said was an angry lecture, Kyaw San said: “I would like you to know that Myanmar is a small nation and if a big power bullies her … we will have no other way but to face this and endure.”

      Gambari was dispatched to Myanmar, also known as Burma, after the military stamped out pro-democracy demonstrations in late September by firing on the protesters. Authorities said 10 people were killed, but diplomats and dissidents said the death toll was much higher. Thousands of people were detained.

      During that visit, he was able to meet separately with both Nobel Prize winner Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, and Than Shwe.

      But Kyaw Hsan told Gambari Tuesday that the envoy’s earlier visit to Myanmar “did not bear fruit as we had expected,” and was followed by sanctions from the United States, Australia and the European Union as well as condemnation from the U.N. Security Council.

      U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern later Tuesday at the “lack of progress” in Gambari’s latest mission.

      Ban said he had instructed Gambari to get talks going between Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s leadership, seek the release of all detained monks, students and other demonstrators, and press the government to “take necessary democratic measures.”

      In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the U.S. wanted Gambari to be allowed to “convey his message directly to all the parties he wishes to see” so he could tell Myanmar’s leaders of “the need for them to change their policies.”

      Suu Kyi was treated for a minor ailment Friday and Saturday at her home by her personal physician, said a person familiar with her condition who asked not to be quoted by name because news about her is a sensitive topic.

      Rumors had swept Yangon that Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, was in ill health. But a spokesman for her National League for Democracy party, Myint Thein, said that “from looking at her physical condition it can be assumed it is not very serious.”

      Speaking to the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based opposition radio station, the spokesman blamed the problem on a lack of regular visits by her doctor. The junta allows virtually no access to Suu Kyi.

      Complicating Gambari’s visit is a rift between the regime and the world body. On Friday, the day before Gambari’s arrival, the junta announced it would expel the top U.N. official in the country, resident coordinator Charles Petrie.

      It accused Petrie of going beyond his duties by issuing a statement criticizing the generals’ failure to meet the economic and humanitarian needs of the people, and by saying this was the cause of September’s protests.

      However, the U.N. special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, announced Tuesday that he had been invited for a visit next week by the country’s military authorities.

      Pinheiro, who has been barred from visiting since 2003, said in a statement that he welcomed the invitation to make a five-day visit beginning Sunday.

      * Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.


      UN envoy to meet detained Myanmar democracy leader Suu Kyi at end of mission
      Associated Press: Wed 7 Nov 2007 

      A U.N. special envoy will meet Myanmar’s detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday, the last day of his frustrating mission to try to ease the country’s political crisis, diplomats said.

      But hopes for a breakthrough by the envoy Ibrahim Gambari dimmed Wednesday after the military government rejected proposed talks with Suu Kyi.

      Gambari has also failed to meet the country’s most powerful figure, junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

      The six-day visit is Gambari’s second to Myanmar, also called Burma, since the military killed at least 10 protesters in late September and arrested thousands of people. Diplomats and dissidents put the death toll much higher.

      He was sent to Myanmar to promote political reconciliation after the U.N. Security Council condemned the crackdown. He met with both Suu Kyi and Than Shwe on his previous visit.

      Gambari told foreign diplomats in Myanmar’s remote capital Naypyitaw that he would meet Suu Kyi in the country’s commercial center, Yangon, according to an Asian diplomat who attended the U.N. envoy’s one-hour briefing. The diplomat and his colleagues insisted on anonymity so as not to breach etiquette.

      Gambari did not mention any plans to meet with Than Shwe, the diplomat said.

      The U.N. envoy told the diplomats he met Wednesday with recently appointed Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein and a leading junta member, Secretary-One Lt. Gen. Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo the most senior officials to see him so far. But did not disclose details of the meeting.

      Gambari earlier had proposed a three-way meeting among Suu Kyi, a junta member and himself to promote political reform and reconciliation.

      “Currently, the tripartite meeting will not be possible,” Information Minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan told Gambari on Tuesday, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

      In talks Tuesday in Naypyitaw, Kyaw Hsan told Gambari that his earlier visit “did not bear fruit as we had expected,” and instead was followed by new sanctions from the United States, Australia and the European Union as well as condemnation from the U.N. Security Council, the newspaper said.

      “I would like you to know that Myanmar is a small nation and if a big power bullies her. … We will have no other way but to face this and endure,” Kyaw Hsan said.

      The minister said Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi had yet to respond to the government’s request that she refrain from calling for international sanctions against Myanmar, a condition earlier set by the junta for talks with her.

      Suu Kyi is under house arrest in Yangon, where the government blocks almost all access to her. The military rulers granted a rare exception to Gambari during his first visit at the beginning of October.

      Gambari is scheduled to meet senior members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party on Wednesday, a party spokesman said.

      In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern Tuesday at the “lack of progress” in Gambari’s mission.

      Ban said he instructed Gambari to urge the junta to meet with Suu Kyi, release all detained monks, students and demonstrators, and “take necessary democratic measures.”

      The U.N.’s account of the meeting with Kyaw Hsan and other ministers said they held “very frank and extensive exchanges” on all issues.

      In a statement released Wednesday, the U.N. said these included the need for a dialogue between the junta and Suu Kyi “to start without delay as an indispensable part of any process of national reconciliation,” as well as a lifting of restrictions on Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.

      The U.N.’s special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said Tuesday that he has been invited by the junta to visit Nov. 11-15.

      Pinheiro, who has been barred by the government from visiting since 2003, said the invitation “sends a positive indication of the desire of the authorities to cooperate with his mandate” to investigate human rights in Myanmar.

      * Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations in New York contributed to this report.


      Three NLD officers to meet with Gambari - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Wed 7 Nov 2007 

      The Burmese military government has told the National League for Democracy that three central executive committee members can meet with UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari on Thursday in Naypyidaw, according to the NLD.

      This handout picture provided by UNIC from Rangoon shows UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari (L) shaking hands with Burmese Minister for Labour and Minister for Relations Aung Kyi during their meeting in Rangoon, on 04 November. [Photo: AFP]

      NLD Chairman Aung Shwe, Secretary U Lwin and Nyunt Wai are scheduled to meet with Gambari, said  NLD spokesperson Nyuan Win.

      Gambari, who is scheduled to leave Burma on Thursday, is also expected to meet with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, with officials of the pro-junta National Unity Party, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross and other parties, according to a UN press release. He is also scheduled to meet with the junta’s Secretary 1 Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo.

      Prime Minister Lt-Gen Thein Sein met with Gambari on Wednesday morning and Gambari met with two junta ministers, Soe Tha of Planning and Economic Development and Brig-Gen Thura Myint Maung of Religious Affairs on Tuesday.

      Gambari had proposed a three-way meeting between Suu Kyi, a junta member and himself to promote political reform and reconciliation, but the junta rejected the idea.

      “Currently, the tripartite meeting will not be possible,” Minister of Information Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan told Gambari on Tuesday, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

      Aye Thar Aung, an ethnic leader and secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, said on Wednesday that reconciliation dialogue should open and unconditional.

      “The junta’s conditions to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and delays in the dialogue process seem dishonest,” Aye Thar Aung said. “The junta’s appointing a liaison officer, ex-Maj-Gen Aung Kyi, might be the generals’ tactic to prolong the process for democracy.

      “The international community should not believe the junta’s lies about Burma’s democracy. We (Burmese) expect a UN binding resolution for democracy, if the junta keeps its hard-line stance.”

      An ethnic leader of Zomi, Cin Sin Thaung, also called on the UN Security Council to pass a binding resolution promoting Burma’s national reconciliation.

      “If Gambari’s trip is unsuccessful, the UN must think of the next step for Burma—it must be a binding resolution,” he said.


      Myanmar’s junta points finger at other “similar” Asian nations
      Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Wed 7 Nov 2007 

      Myanmar’s junta is ready to “endure” being on the United Nations Security Council’s agenda but warned the UN that it would “also have to handle the situations of the nations similar to or worse than Myanmar’s,” state-run media reports said Wednesday.

      That is what Myanmar Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan told visiting UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari in a recent dressing-down, according to The New Light of Myanmar.

      “If the Myanmar affairs are to be put on the UNSC agenda and the UNSC is going to handle them, the body will also have to handle the situations of the nations similar to or worse than Myanmar’s,” Kyaw Hsan told Gambari, who has been in the military’s new capital of Naypyidaw since Saturday.

      A transcript of Kyaw Hsan’s interview with Gambari was made public on state-run Myanmar television Tuesday night and repeated in the state-owned print media Wednesday.

      The UN has stepped up international pressure on Myanmar’s ruling junta since its brutal crackdown on monk-led protests in September, that left at least 10 people dead according to official figures. Others claim the death toll was closer to 200.

      “Even in the South Asia and South-East Asia, there are some nations in which the armed forces have to take over the state duties due to certain reasons, martial law is still in force, hundreds of people died when protests were crushed and hundreds of people including children were kicked when mosques were raided,” said Kyaw Hsan, in an apparent reference to Thailand and Pakistan, two close allies of the US.

      Thailand experienced a military coup d’etat on September 19, 2006, while Pakistan’s military-led government attacked a radical mosque in Islamabad in July.

      Kyaw Hsan warned Gambari that “if a big power bullies her with its influence by putting Myanmar’s affairs on UNSC, we will have no other way but to face and endure.”

      Gambari, who is in Myanmar on a mission to hasten the national reconciliation process, is coming under increasing pressure from his boss UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to show some progress.

      Gambari arrived in Yangon Saturday with Ban’s instructions to seek democratic reform, engage in dialogue with detained political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and military supremo Senior General Than Shwe, and to seek the release of political prisoners and detained pro-democracy marchers.

      At UN headquarters in New York, Ban told reporters Tuesday: “I am concerned at this time about the lack of progress. He has not been able to meet with Senior General Than Shwe.”


      Sporadic movements defying junta - Ko Dee
      Mizzima News: Wed 7 Nov 2007 

      In yet another act of defiance, groups of activists have begun to distribute anti-junta pamphlets in Rangoon, sources said.

      A new generation of activists calling themselves “Generation Wave”, came together on October 9. They have begun distributing anti-junta pamphlets and posters in Rangoon, as part of a new effort to revive the spirit of the people’s movement of September, which the military junta crushed.

      The new group, which operates undercover, have begun distributing posters and pamphlets that carry messages such as ‘CNG (Change New Government)’, ‘FFF (Freedom From Fear)’, and 88 generation student leader, now detained, Min Ko Naing’s poem titled ‘Bah Kah Tah’, in crowded places in Rangoon since October 15.

      “Our main aim is to distribute it among youngsters particularly those enjoying life at concerts or in other places, so that will come to realize that they have a duty to perform. We also want to remind them that whenever they see CNG, they will know that it stands for ‘Change New Government’,” Kyaw Kyaw of the Generation Wave told Mizzima.

      Meanwhile, reports said, another activists group called ‘Rangoon Division Peoples’ Movement Coordinating Committee’ on Tuesday began collecting the state-run news paper, Myanma Ahlin, and set them blaze saying the paper carries no news but only junta’s propaganda.

      Residents in Kyauk Myaung, Tarmwe, Hledan townships were seen throwing the Myanma Ahlin newspaper on the streets. And fences of some house had posters with the words ‘Than Shwe is lying’, a local resident in Rangoon told Mizzima.

      Another group known as ‘Freedom Fighter’ in Rangoon has also begun tying pieces of monk’s robes and pasting posters and words of defiance on roadside trees, sources said

      “What they [the group] do is that they tie pieces of monk’s rob on the roadside trees with some words defying the junta along with it,” a local resident, who is close to the group told Mizzima.

      Kyaw Kyaw of the Generation Wave said, if sporadic movements by activists continues at this rate another peoples’ movement, much bigger than the September protest, is likely to take place very soon.

      “In September, people were afraid. But this time the fear has been overcome by the bitterness, so we believe the movement will gain momentum and will be bigger than that of September protests.,” said Kyaw Kyaw.

      However, he added that if the small groups could come together and work in unison, the protest could gain more ground and was likely be bigger than that of September.

      “If all our groups could come together, it will be a big force. But what is happening now is that the groups are working according to their capacity. At this time, if there was a group of individuals as committed as the 88 generation student leaders, the movement could escalate. Now the junta does not really bother to listen to the voices of these small groups. But what we need is the junta to be afraid and the people should also rely on the activists


      Anger fading over Burma - Simon Tisdall
      The Guardian: Wed 7 Nov 2007 

      Only six weeks after Burma’s generals brutally suppressed pro-democracy protests, international outrage is fading and, with it, political and diplomatic pressure for change. Campaigners say the unrelieved plight of the Burmese people is again in danger of being forgotten. In some ways, repression has actually grown worse. Theirs was the “saffron revolution” that never was.

      Western diplomats say widespread condemnation of the junta, and additional sanctions imposed by the US and EU, Australia and Japan, have had limited but measurable impact. Following the violence in which up to 200 people died and unknown thousands disappeared into the night, the UN security council formally took up Burma’s case for the first time. It told the generals to stop killing and start a genuine national dialogue.

      The UN’s envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, visiting the country this week, and is expected to be allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the veteran pro-democracy leader held under house arrest, but not General Than Shwe, the junta leader.

      The regime meanwhile has appointed a “liaison officer” and offered conditional talks with the opposition. Some political prisoners have been released. And a UN human rights rapporteur, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, is expected in Rangoon next week, the first such visit for four years.

      Mr Pinheiro said yesterday he would demand unfettered access to Burma’s prisons and investigate how many people the security forces had killed. “If they don’t give me full cooperation, I’ll go to the plane and I’ll go out,” he warned. His threat doubtless has the generals shaking in their jackboots.

      “After 45 years of military government and several failed uprisings, it would be a little ambitious to think you can get instant results,” said a senior British official. “We’re trying to use the genuine shock and horror [over September’s bloodshed] to engage the neighbours, to get a political process and a genuine dialogue going that includes ethnic minority groups.”

      Despite these efforts, which they broadly applaud, activists say momentum has been lost as other crises, such as Pakistan, claim precedence. Mark Farmaner, of Burma Campaign UK, said the junta was engaged in a familiar game, playing for time, making minimalist gestures that looked positive but signified little, and “talking about talks” rather than real reforms.

      “People are still being arrested. The number of refugees is growing. Many people are still missing. Repression is at a higher level than it was before September,” he said. Despite talk of enhanced cooperation, the regime recently ordered the UN’s permanent representative to leave the country. Its sole meeting so far with Aung San Suu Kyi was, he said, devoid of any substance.

      “Ban Ki-moon [the UN secretary-general] should go there in person,” Mr Farmaner said. “We need a much higher level of engagement. It should be made plain to the junta that what they got away with in the past is no longer acceptable. And we need to set deadlines and benchmarks so we have a measure of progress.”

      Diplomats say further action at the UN is being discussed in the event that Mr Gambari returns empty-handed. But that may be stymied by China and Russia. The EU may also move to implement a ban on new investment, previously agreed in principle. But it too is divided, with export-minded Germany and Italy among the most reluctant. There are also differences between the US and Britain over offering incentives to encourage the regime’s cooperation, a course favoured by the foreign secretary, David Miliband.

      Burma was Mr Miliband’s first big challenge in his new job and he rose to it strongly. He energetically embraced the cause of reform - and threatened further measures if the junta did not cooperate. “It is vital that international pressure on the Burmese regime is maintained,” Mr Miliband insisted in an op-ed article.

      He was right, of course. But day by day, attention is drifting away. And six weeks is an eternity in international politics.


      China no sure bet on Myanmar - Bertil Lintner
      Asia Times: Wed 7 Nov 2007 

      United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari’s latest trip to Myanmar wholly failed to yield any results in pushing the ruling junta towards conciliation with the country’s democratic opposition. With the UN’s impotence, the international community will now look even more towards China to nudge the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) towards democratic change.

      There is a widespread perception that only China has the diplomatic leverage over Myanmar’s generals to force them to the negotiating table to discuss the future of the country with the political opposition. Yet it is still implausible that authoritarian China, despite its recent moves in places like Africa to improve its standing as a responsible global power, will any time soon champion democracy in a neighboring country of such strategic import.

      China is playing several different games in Myanmar, but following the West’s desired policies of encouraging more democracy is not one of them. The two countries share a long history of strained relations, memories of which have been slow to fade, even with their rapprochement in more recent years. For historical reasons China is not fully trusted by the generals in Naypyitaw, and even if Beijing applied more pressure on the regime to change its repressive ways, it’s not clear the junta would oblige.

      At the same time, Myanmar is of vital strategic and economic importance to China and it clearly does not want to jeopardize its still delicate relationship with the junta by joining Western boycotts, condemnations and calls for the emergence of more democracy. Some academic observers even argue that Beijing’s influence over the SPDC has been exaggerated.

      In a recent paper published by Griffith University in Australia, Myanmar scholar Andrew Selth argues that “[Myanmar] has always been very suspicious of China, and only turned to Beijing in 1989 out of dire necessity after it was ostracized by the West and made to suffer a range of sanctions”. China, the argument goes, “has not been as successful in winning [Myanmar’s] confidence as is often reported”.

      Proof of this is the fact that although China has provided Myanmar with between US$1.4 and $1.6 billion worth of military hardware since 1989, the regime has in more recent years turned to Russia, the Ukraine and even North Korea to diversify its arms procurement program and lessen its dependence on Chinese suppliers.

      China’s success in persuading North Korea to return to the six-party talks about dismantling the country’s nuclear program is often quoted as a possible model for a similar Chinese intervention in the Myanmar crisis. Yet it’s not clear that Beijing has the same sort of powers of persuasion in Naypyitaw that it does in Pyongyang. One crucial difference is that China and North Korea have been allies for decades and fought together against the Japanese in Manchuria in the 1930s.

      Later China helped the newly established Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War, where hundreds of thousands of Chinese “volunteers” fought alongside their Korean comrades and among the many casualties was even Chinese communist chairman Mao Zedong’s eldest son, Mao Anying.

      Historical antagonisms
      By stark contrast, bilateral relations between Myanmar and China have not always been smooth. From the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 until 1962, Beijing maintained a cautiously cordial but basically friendly relationship with the non-aligned democratic government of prime minister U Nu. Myanmar, then known as Burma was, in fact, the first country outside the communist bloc to recognize the new regime in Beijing.

      In 1954, Myanmar (then Burma) and China for the first time signed a bilateral trade agreement and two months later Chinese premier Zhou Enlai visited Yangon to hold talks with U Nu. In 1956, U Nu paid a return visit to China and the basic principles for a definitive demarcation of the 2,171-kilometer common border were agreed on. A border agreement was signed in 1960 and the situation was peaceful, although trade between the two countries then was negligible.

      After General Ne Win staged a coup d’etat in 1962, the Chinese, long wary of the ambitious and sometimes unpredictable general, began to prepare for all-out support for the outlawed Communist Party of Burma (CPB). The CPB had in the years immediately following independence been strong, but in the 1950s the insurgent group was pushed back to footholds in central Myanmar, notably the Pegu Yoma mountain range north of Yangon. Meanwhile, 143 Myanmar communists had also managed to escape to China - and, in the mid-1960s, they were sent down to the Myanmar border to survey possible infiltration routes.

      Anti-Chinese riots in Yangon - orchestrated by the military authorities to deflect public anger at a rapidly deteriorating economy - in 1967 provided a convenient excuse for the Chinese to intervene directly in Myanmar’s internal affairs. On New Year’s Day 1968, the first armed CPB units entered northeastern Myanmar from China’s southwestern Yunnan province. They never managed to reach the old units in the Pegu Yoma, but they built up a 20,000 square kilometer base area along the Chinese frontier.

      During the decade spanning 1968-78, China poured more aid into the CPB effort than any other communist movement outside of Indochina. Assault rifles, machine-guns, rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, radio equipment, jeeps, trucks, petrol, maps of the area, and even rice, other foodstuff, cooking oil and kitchen utensils were sent across the frontier into the CPB’s new revolutionary base area.

      The Chinese also built hydroelectric power stations inside the area, and a clandestine radio station, the People’s Voice of Burma, began transmitting from the Yunnan side of the frontier in 1971. Thousands of Chinese “volunteers” also streamed across the border to provide additional support to the CPB. Mao’s death in 1976, and more importantly, the return to power of the pragmatist Deng Xiaoping a year later, marked the beginning of the end of massive Chinese aid to the CPB.

      It was no longer seen to be in Beijing’s interest to support revolutionary movements in the region, but neither could the Chinese completely cut off the CPB, which still controlled most of the border areas inside Myanmar. Chinese support continued, albeit on a much reduced scale - until the hill tribe rank-and-file of the CPB’s army rose in mutiny in 1989 and drove the entire Maoist Burman leadership into exile in China. The CPB subsequently split up into four different regional armies based along ethnic lines.

      Battlefields and marketplaces
      Before long, however, all of them entered into ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar government, which also made cross-border trade possible for the first time in decades. It was also clear that China coveted Myanmar’s forests as well as rich deposits of minerals and natural gas. China became the first major country to show interest in Myanmar’s riches, and the Chinese, renowned for their ability to plan far ahead, had actually expressed their intentions, almost unnoticed, in an article in the official Beijing Review as early as September 2, 1985.

      Entitled “Opening to the Southwest: An Expert Opinion”, the article, which was written by the former vice minister of communications, Pan Qi, outlined the possibilities of finding an outlet for trade from China’s landlocked southern provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, through Myanmar, to the Indian Ocean. It also mentioned the Myanmar railheads of Myitkyina and Lashio in the northeast, and the Irrawaddy River, as possible conduits for the export of Chinese goods.

      At that time, those trade links were a remote dream, but the CPB mutiny four years later ushered in a new, more cordial era in China-Myanmar relations. First China supplied cash-strapped Myanmar with all kinds of military hardware at generous prices, including fighter, ground attack and transport aircraft, tanks and armored personnel carriers, naval vessels, a variety of towed and self-propelled artillery pieces, surface-to-air missiles, trucks and infantry equipment.

      By late 1991, Chinese experts were also assisting in a series of infrastructure projects to spruce up Myanmar’s poorly maintained roads and railways. Chinese military advisers also arrived in the same year, the first foreign military personnel to be stationed in Myanmar since the Australians had a contingent there to train the Myanmar army in the 1950s. And soon thereafter cross-border trade between China and Myanmar started to boom.

      More recently, China has provided Myanmar with low interest loans to help stabilize its weak currency, the kyat, and Chinese investment in the sanctions-hit economy is substantial. That’s particularly true of the energy sector, including a recent agreement to help build a gas pipeline from the Bay of Bengal which in future will be supplemented with an oil pipeline designed to allow Chinese ships carrying Middle Eastern oil to skirt the congested Malacca Strait. China has also helped Myanmar upgrade its naval bases on the mainland as well as on Coco Island, where in return it is believed to receive crucial intelligence information on areas where its vital oil supplies pass.

      To preserve and develop these budding relations, China wants stability in Myanmar’s political status quo, not regime change. In January, China - along with Russia - used its veto power to block a US and British-sponsored resolution at the UN’s Security Council, although a majority of its members had voted in favor. When the Security Council on October 11 issued a non-binding statement “deploring” Myanmar’s crushing of the recent pro-democracy demonstrations and called for political dialogue, China ensured that the stronger, original version of the statement was toned down.

      China’s deputy UN ambassador, Liu Zhenmin, limited his comments to hoping the statement would help a visit to the country by UN special envoy Gambari, adding that it was up to Myanmar’s government and people “to resolve this issue”. Evidently China does not want to alienate the generals in Naypyitaw. On the other hand, the generals now more than ever need Chinese support to fend off international criticism. Notably, Myanmar’s rulers found it necessary to send Foreign Minister Nyan Win to China at the height of the anti-government demonstrations in Yangon in September.

      According to the Chiang Mai-based Myanmar exile publication Irrawaddy, during his unpublicized visit Nyan Win met Chinese state councilor Tang Jiaxuan in Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of the Chinese government, to brief him on the situation.There have since been no known high-level contacts between Chinese and Myanmar leaders.

      But Asia Times Online has learnt that a colonel attached to the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, a known specialist in psychological warfare and counter-subversion, regularly meets with high-ranking members of the junta. The Chinese official’s role in Myanmar is not entirely clear, but his presence suggests a closer relationship between the two countries than some skeptics assume.

      On the other hand, the Chinese also maintain close relations with several former rebel groups that now have made peace with the government but have still retained their arms and different degrees of autonomy over their respective areas. The Kachin Independence Army in the far north of the country as well as the various components of the CPB’s former army, especially the United Wa State Army (UWSA) deal directly with the authorities on the other side of the frontier and have even been able to purchase arms and ammunition from China.

      The UWSA today is much stronger and better equipped than the CPB was during the last years before the mutiny. This has not been lost on the generals in Naypyitaw, nor have they forgotten that they once fought against the Chinese-supported CPB.

      Junta chief General Than Shwe spent time with the 88th Light Infantry Division in Kengtung in the northeast, close to the CPB front, and his deputy, General Maung Aye, served as eastern commander in the 1980s, also with the CPB as his main enemy. Maung Aye is especially reputed to be suspicious of China’s designs for Myanmar and if he were to any time soon take power from the ailing Than Shwe bilateral relations could suffer.

      * Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review. He is currently a writer with Asia-Pacific Media Services.


      Burma Global Action Network Announces Worldwide Protest of Total Oil

      ABITSU | November 8, 2007

      The Burma Global Action Network will be holding a protest of Total through faxes and phone calls on Wednesday, November 7th, during the release of Total’s third quarter earnings. (PRWEB) November 6, 2007 — The Burma Global Action Network will be holding a protest of Total through faxes and phone calls on Wednesday, November 7th, during the release of Total’s third quarter earnings.
      Total Corp. holds a 31.2% share in the Yadana natural gas project in Burma (also known as Myanmar). According to the Burma Global Action Network, Total pays large sums in gas royalties to the current military junta. Protesters are demanding that the corporation place these royalties in escrow for the legitimate elected government of Burma, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi. These funds are allegedly being pocketed by the military leaders.

      In addition to the escrow, protesters will also be asking Total to increase contributions to humanitarian efforts in Burma through accredited non-government organizations.

      Calls and faxes to the U.S. Headquarters office in New Jersey will be placed from 8 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (5:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time).

      A complete list of Total Offices can be found on an active Burma blogger site: protesttotal.blogspot.com, or on the Facebook site.

      Callers are being advised to speak to a live person within Investor Relations to register their concern, protesting Total’s activity in Burma and asking that they put the royalty money in escrow for the elected government of Burma or sell their stake in the Yadana project.

      U.S. Headquarters:
      Total American Services, Inc.:
      100 Pavonia Avenue, Suite 401
      Jersey City, N.J. 07310
      USA
      Tel.: +1 201 626 3500
      Fax: +1 201 626 4004

      Contact:
      Matt Fidanque
      Burma Global Action Network
      212-365-6943


       
      Forced labor for road construction in Arakan     
      Kaladan News : Wednesday, 07 November 2007 

      A road is under construction with forced labor of villagers since October 1 in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State , Burma , according to villagers of Kumir Khali (Lake Ya).
       
      The six mile long road will connect Myo Mi Chaung village to Kumir Khali village in Maungdaw Township . The road was badly damaged in heavy rain and floods during monsoon.
       
      The road is being repaired with the help of forced labor of nearby villagers by Nasaka Burma 's border security force.
       
      The Nasaka officer of area No (4) ordered the villagers to work in the road construction. Non compliance would mean a fine of Kyat 5,000.
       
      One member from each family is having to go to the construction site every day since October 1, said residents of Myo Mi Chaung village.
       
      "This is time for harvesting, so, time is very important to us. But, we have to undergo forced labor in the construction site," a villager said.
       

       

      Burma crises a symptom of Asean's flaws

      Singapore - Prominent human rights activists noted that there are many disturbing parallels between the crises in Burma and Asean.

      "Asean's inaction on Burma reflects Asean's institutional weaknesses", said Debbie Stothard of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma.

      It can be recalled that Asean came out with a statement expressing 'revolt at the violent crackdown', after the violent dispersals of protest actions in Burma.  Stothard said this statement is not enough and Asean can do more actions considering the influence that Asean countries can exert on Burma.

      She noted that "Burma, whose military is the largest consumer of fuel in the country, relies on petrol and diesel from Malaysia and Singapore. Thailand and Singapore are the biggest sources of Burma's foreign direct investments.

      Burma's military junta also relies on Singapore's financial services to store and move the wealth that they drain away from the country.  Indonesia currently chairs the United Nations Security Council, the body most feared and respected by Burma's military junta.

      Why can't Asean take decisive action to pressure Burma move towards freedom and democracy"?

      Stothard also said that Asean has failed to act on other burning issues such as the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines and the increasing violence in southern Thailand.

      "If Asean cannot deal with problems in our own backyard, how can we hope Asean to be truly responsive to the dynamics in the region?", Stothard declared.

      Rafendi Djamin, meanwhile of the Solidarity for Asian Peoples'Advocacy Working Groups on Asean and Human Rights, said that there is a gap between Asean policymakers and citizens.

      "The Asean policymakers fail to respond to the people's issues that is why people are indifferent to the Asean," Djamin said.

      Djamin challenged  civil society groups to push Asean to transform from a highly elitist to a more people-oriented institution.
      http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2007/11/02/regional/regional_30054708.php
       
      Burmese children bought and sold by army recruiters

      NEW YORK - Facing a military staffing crisis, the Burmese government is forcibly recruiting many children, some as young as age 10, into its armed forces, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

      Burmese military recruiters target children in order to meet unrelenting demands for new recruits due to continued army expansion, high desertion rates and a lack of willing volunteers. Non-state armed groups, including ethnic-based insurgent groups, also recruit and use child soldiers, though in far smaller numbers.

      "The brutality of Burma's military government goes beyond its violent crackdown on peaceful protestors," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocate for Human Rights Watch. "Military recruiters are literally buying and selling children to fill the ranks of the Burmese armed forces."

      Based on an investigation in Burma, Thailand and China, the 135-page report, "Sold to Be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma," found that military recruiters and civilian brokers receive cash payments and other incentives for each new recruit, even if the recruit clearly violates minimum age or health standards.

      One boy told Human Rights Watch that he was forcibly recruited at age 11, despite being only 1.3 meters tall (4 feet, 3 inches) and weighing less than 31 kilograms (70 pounds). Officers at recruitment centers routinely falsify enlistment records to list children as 18, the minimum legal age for recruitment.

      Recruiters target children at train and bus stations, markets, and other public places, and often threaten them with arrest if they refuse to join the army. Some children are beaten until they agree to "volunteer."

      "The government's senior generals tolerate the blatant recruitment of children and fail to punish perpetrators," said Becker. "In this environment, army recruiters traffic children at will."

      Child soldiers typically receive 18 weeks of military training. Some are sent into combat situations within days of their deployment to battalions. Child soldiers are sometimes forced to participate in human rights abuses, such as burning villages and using civilians for forced labor. Th

      (Message over 64 KB, truncated)
    • CHAN Beng Seng
      1.. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi s Statement 2.. Suu Kyi to Meet Party Colleagues 3.. Myanmar junta, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi edge toward talks... 4.. Small panty
      Message 2 of 6 , Nov 9, 2007
      • 0 Attachment
        1. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Statement
        2. Suu Kyi to Meet Party Colleagues
        3. Myanmar junta, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi edge toward talks...
        4. Small ‘panty’ demonstration held in Rangoon; anti-junta pamphlets, posters distributed
        5. Army officer flees under threat of arrest
        6. Top military leader shelves two disobedient commanders
        7. Tycoons with an influential father
        8. ASEAN not to impose sanction on Myanmar
        9. Exiled media essential to reporting events in Burma, say journalists
        10. EU appoints special envoy for Burma
        11. Burma’s junta plays the game, but always to win
        12. MUSCULAR MONKS; How Buddhism Became Force for Political Activism
        13. Over 1000 SPDC landmines on Karen State Highway
         

        Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Statement
        The Associated Press: Thu 8 Nov 2007 

        SINGAPORE: Following is the text of the statement by Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, released Thursday by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

        “I wish to thank all those who have stood by my side all this time, both inside and outside my country. I am also grateful to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, for his unwavering support for the cause of national reconciliation, democracy and human rights in my country.

        “I welcome the appointment on 8 October of Minister Aung Kyi as Minister for Relations. Our first meeting on 25 October was constructive and I look forward to further regular discussions. I expect that this phase of preliminary consultations will conclude soon so that a meaningful and timebound dialogue with the SPDC leadership can start as early as possible.

        “In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the Government in order to make this process of dialogue a success and welcome the necessary good offices role of the United Nations to help facilitate our efforts in this regard.

        “In full awareness of the essential role of political parties in democratic societies, in deep appreciation of the sacrifices of the members of my party and in my position as General Secretary, I will be guided by the policies and wishes of the National League for Democracy. However, in this time of vital need for democratic solidarity and national unity, it is my duty to give constant and serious considerations to the interests and opinions of as broad a range of political organizations and forces as possible, in particular those of our ethnic nationality races.

        “To that end, I am committed to pursue the path of dialogue constructively and invite the Government and all relevant parties to join me in this spirit.

        “I believe that stability, prosperity and democracy for my country, living at peace with itself and with full respect for human rights, offers the best prospect for my country to fully contribute to the development and stability of the region in close partnership with its neighbors and fellow ASEAN members, and to play a positive role as a respected member of the international community.”


        Suu Kyi to Meet Party Colleagues
        The Examiner: 2007-11-08

        YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military government announced that it will allow detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to meet her party's officials Friday, the first such meeting in more than three years.

        The announcement on state radio and television news Thursday came hours after U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari left Myanmar, saying he had made progress in his six-day mission to promote a dialogue between the junta and Suu Kyi.

        Aung Kyi, the government minister in charge of relations with Suu Kyi, will see her first to make arrangements for the meeting, state media said.

        Suu Kyi has been detained since May 2003, and has not seen fellow executive members of her National League for Democracy since May 2004.

        There had been signs that Gambari's trip did not go well, including his failure to be received by the junta chief, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, and the military government's rejection of Gambari's proposal of a three-way meeting involving Suu Kyi, a junta member and himself.

        The government invited Gambari to return to Myanmar, and he expects to do so in the next few weeks, said a statement posted on the Web site of the U.N. Information Center for Myanmar at the conclusion of the envoy's visit.

        The statement also said Suu Kyi, who has been detained continuously since 2003, has authorized Gambari to make a statement on her behalf, although it did not say when he would do so. Gambari met Suu Kyi for an hour just before his departure Thursday from Myanmar.

        The statement would apparently be the first message from Suu Kyi since she was detained, and would be the first chance to gauge her reaction to September's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and the U.N. mediation efforts afterward.

        "We now have a process going which would lead to substantive dialogue" between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi, said the U.N. statement.

        "The sooner such a dialogue can start, the better for Myanmar," said the statement, issued after Gambari departed for Singapore en route to U.N. headquarters in New York.

        http://www.examiner.com/printa-1036338~Suu_Kyi_to_Meet_Party_Colleagues.html?cid=tool-print-bottom


        Myanmar junta, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi edge toward talks...

        Trading goodwill gestures, Myanmar's junta agreed to let detained pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi meet with members of her party Friday for the first time in more than three years, while she said she was prepared for a dialogue with the country's military rulers.

        The developments, which came as U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari left Myanmar after a six-day mission, signaled some progress in defusing the country's political crisis. Gambari met 1991 Nobel peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for an hour Thursday.

        The statement was apparently the opposition leader's first since her latest detention began in 2003. It provided the first opportunity to gauge her reaction to the government's September crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators and the U.N. mediation efforts afterward.

        The announcement that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could meet fellow party leaders, made on the state radio and television evening news, came just hours after Gambari left Myanmar. The U.N. envoy said he had made progress in his mission to promote talks between the junta and the pro-democracy movement.

        "We now have a process going which would lead to substantive dialogue" between the government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, said a U.N. statement issued shortly after Gambari left Thursday afternoon but before the statements from the government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi were released.

        Gambari read Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's statement when he arrived in Singapore after leaving Myanmar.

        "In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the government in order to make this process of dialogue a success and welcome the necessary good offices role of the United Nations to help facilitate our efforts in this regard," said her statement.

        Gambari was sent to Myanmar by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a mandate to promote political reconciliation after the U.N. Security Council condemned the crackdown.

        Authorities by their own count killed 10 people, though diplomats and dissidents say the death toll was much higher. Thousands were arrested and the crackdown triggered intense international pressure to start political reforms and talk with the democracy movement.

        There had been some doubt that Gambari could make any headway after he failed to be received by junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe, and the military rulers rejected his proposal of a three-way meeting between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a junta member and Gambari.

        On the eve of Gambari's visit, the junta announced it planned to expel the main U.N. representative in the country for criticizing the government.

        Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained continuously since May 2003, and has not seen fellow executives of her National League for Democracy since May 2004. She has spent 12 of the last 18 years in government custody.

        State radio's announcement that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would meet fellow party leaders indicated she would first meet with Aung Kyi, government minister in charge of relations with the opposition leader.

        It will be Aung Kyi's second meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi since his appointment in the aftermath of the September crackdown, when the junta — officially known as the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC — came under intense international pressure to start political reforms and talk with the democracy movement.

        Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's statement described her first meeting with Aung Kyi on Oct. 25 as constructive. But she said she expected "this phase of preliminary consultations will conclude soon so that a meaningful and timebound dialogue with the SPDC leadership can start as early as possible."

        Several potential roadblocks stand in the way of further progress. The junta gave no indication it plans to free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or more than 1,100 other political prisoners, a major demand of Myanmar's opposition and the world community.

        Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said nothing about meeting the conditions set by Than Shwe which would lead to him meeting with her. These included her renouncing any support for economic sanctions imposed by foreign countries because of the junta's failure to turn over power to a democratically elected government.

        Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a 1990 general election, but the military refused to cede power, saying a new constitution had to be adopted first. It is still in the process of writing one.

        There are nine central executive committee members in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's party. One of them, her deputy Tin Oo, is also under house arrest. It was not clear whether he would also be allowed to attend the meeting.

        "Our leaders have repeatedly requested a meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and we welcome the development," said Nyan Win, a spokesman for her party. 'Daw' is an honorific used in speaking of older women.

        Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was last allowed to meet fellow party executives in May 2004 to discuss whether to participate in the junta's National Convention to draw up guidelines for a new constitution. The party declined to attend, complaining the process was undemocratic.

        The convention completed its task in September. It was the first step in the junta's seven-stage "road map" to democracy, which is supposed to culminate in free elections at an unspecified future point.

        Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made her first public appearance since her 2003 detention when she stood at the gate of her Yangon home on Sept. 22 as several hundred pro-democracy demonstrators were allowed to march past her house.

        http://www.dassk.com/contents.php?id=1463


        Small ‘panty’ demonstration held in Rangoon; anti-junta pamphlets, posters distributed- Wai Moe
        Irrawaddy: Thu 8 Nov 2007 

        About 40 people held a brief “panty” protest in downtown Rangoon on Thursday, holding pictures of junta Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s covered by panties, according to an 88 Generation Students member.

        The demonstration took place on Bo Aung Kyaw Street in the commercial district of the city, a witness said.

        “When security forces arrived, the protesters had already gone,” he told The Irrawaddy.

        Since late October, international activists have launched a “panties campaign” against the Burmese military government, playing off the superstition of leading generals who are said to fear being touched by women.

        Sources in Rangoon said a new activist group called the Generation Wave has been distributing anti-junta pamphlets and posters in different areas of the city.

        On Wednesday, anti-junta slogans appeared on walls in several neighborhoods, said a Rangoon resident.

        The abbreviations, CNG (Change New Government) and FFF (Freedom From Fear) have been spray painted on walls.

        According to one witness, “Protestors also wrote on walls that evil people who kill monks must die.”

        Young people also distributed anti-junta pamphlets in Thamine in Mayangone Township in Rangoon.

        On Tuesday in Sanchaung Township in Rangoon, copies of state-run-newspapers were burned in protest, according to another source, who said there were also small protests on city trains when people shouted out that people who kill monks must die.

        A member of the 88 Generation Students group told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that demonstrations may resume if the junta fails to resolve the current crisis.


        Army officer flees under threat of arrest
        Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 8 Nov 2007 

        A Burmese military officer who provided water to monks involved in protests in late September in Mandalay has fled his battalion after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

        Captain Win Htun Aung from light infantry battalion 3 in Mandalay handed bottles of water to protesting monks on 26 and 27 September.

        By the end of October, the military command headquarters had issued an order for his arrest, and so he ran away to avoid detention, according to military sources on the China-Burma border.

        Win Htun Aung’s current whereabouts could not be disclosed.


        Top military leader shelves two disobedient commanders
        Mizzima News: Thu 8 Nov 2007 

        The Burmese Military junta’s appointment of two of its commanders as deputy ministers on Wednesday is not to be understood as a promotion but rather a punishment for defying orders to crack down on monk-led protests in September, analyst said.

        Brigade General Win Myint is up for the post of Deputy Minister of Electric Power No.2 and Brigade General Tin Tun Aung for Deputy Minister of Labor, the state-owned The New Light of Myanmar reported today.

        “They (Win Myint and Tin Tun Aung) were kicked upstairs to become deputy ministers as punishment for not strictly listening and responding to Than Shwe’s order to shoot in Rangoon and Mandalay respectively ,” said Win Min, a Burmese civil-military analyst based in Chiang Mai.

        During the recent demonstration, Win Myint, the commander of Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 77 in Pegu, had been deployed to Rangoon. Tin Tun Aung, commander of LIB 33 in Sagaing, was on the scene in Mandalay. According to Win Min, both commanders did not open fire immediately as ordered.

        Because of the disobedience of the two commanders, additional troops were mobilized. “New LIB 66 based in Prome and LIB 88 based in Magwe were sent into Rangoon and Mandalay respectively overnight,” added the Burmese civil-military analyst. “The shootings and raids happened seriously in Rangoon, and to a much lesser extent in Mandalay.”

        According to Htay Aung, another Burmese military observer based in Thailand, there’s more fallout within the ranks of the Burmese government troops. The military head office has ordered to arrest Captain Win Htun Aung from Infantry Battalion(IB)(KaLaRa) (3) because he offered food and water to protesting monks in Mandalay.

        In disagreement with the violence used against Buddhist monks during the mass demontstrations, Captain Hla Win from Battalion 99 fled to the border. And London, a deputy secretary of the Burmese embassy resigned from his post.


        Tycoons with an influential father - Wai Moe
        Irrawaddy: Thu 8 Nov 2007 

        Being the child of a government official guarantees good fortune in military-ruled Burma. Nay Aung and Pyi Aung are the sons of the Minister for Industry 1, Aung Thaung, and in less than 20 years they have advanced to become well-to-do tycoons, controlling two companies with export-import monopolies in oil and gas products.

        Their rise to fortune ran parallel to the political advance of their father, which began in 1997.  Aung Thaung’s political career has an unsavory side to it, though—he is believed to have been behind the crackdown on the start of September’s demonstrations, including the Pakkoku monks’ protests.

        Apart from his father, who is one of junta leader Than Shwe’s most loyal supporters, Pyi Aung has another important patron— the junta’s No. 2, Dep Snr-Gen Maung Aye, who’s his father-in-law.

        The brothers, both in their forties, manage two companies: IGE Co Ltd, also known as IGE Pte Ltd, and Aung Yee Phyoe Co Ltd. The latter company has a monopoly in agriculture products and timber trading.

        IGE is the bigger company, established in 1994 and registered in Singapore since 2001. Its Burma headquarters are on Kabar Aye Pagoda Road, Rangoon, while its Singapore office has an expensive address on Shenton Way, an exclusive area of the city state. Nay Aung is a frequent visitor at the Singapore office.

        The name of Win Kyaing is given on the Internet as managing director of IGE Pte, although business sources say Nay Aung and his family are the real force behind the company.

        IGE’s Internet entry describes itself as one of Burma’s leading companies, functioning successfully in export-import trading and in nationwide government projects. After first of all trading mainly in steel, it has become a major supplier of substation and transmission line materials, oil and gas and accessories, and CNG filling stations for government projects.

        IGE also exports rice and imports machinery and spare parts for electrical generating projects, steel, fertilizer and chemicals.

        According to a report by The Associated Press in March 2007, IGE, along with the British Virgin Islands-based Rimbunan Petrogas Ltd, signed a deal for offshore oil and gas exploration with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. The contract was for the exploration of oil and natural gas in Block-A, off Burma’s Arakan coast.

        IGE also has its charitable side, donating 30 million kyat (about US $23,000) to the finances of the Burmese women’s football team. Tay Za’s Htoo Trading and Zaw Zaw’s Max Myanmar also gave the team money, but couldn’t match the IGE donation.

        Business sources in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy that Burma’s Economic Holding Ltd had come under the control of Aung Thaung’s industry 1 in 2004. Aung Thaung gave valuable government projects and export-import licensees, relating to automobiles, gems, palm oil, agriculture goods, oil and gas products, to his sons’ two companies.

        The family’s control of automobile import licenses gives them great influence in a country where it can cost up to Kyat 400 million (about $300,000) to import a luxury SUV like a Toyota Landcruiser.

        IGE and Aung Yee Phyoe trade chiefly with Asian countries, such as China, India and Singapore. Neither company is on the list of Burmese businesses targeted recently with increased sanctions by the US.

        Aung Thaung and members of his family are on the EU black list denying them visas for entry to most European countries, however.


        ASEAN not to impose sanction on Myanmar
        Xinhua General News Service: Thu 8 Nov 2007 

        Indonesia on Thursday confirmed that ASEAN countries would not impose sanction against Myanmar, Indonesian Presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal said here.

        The spokesman told a press conference after a meeting of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo at the presidential palace.

        During the meeting, they discussed the issue of Myanmar and the preparation of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore in the middle of this month, Dino said.

        “There is no tradition of sanction in ASEAN. So far, there have been almost no applying of sanction on ASEAN member countries. For this mater (Myanmar issue), ASEAN will not impose sanction,”he said.

        The spokesman said that it was expected that all member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Myanmar, will sign a charter of ASEAN that would bind all it members.

        Dino said that the Singaporean foreign minister had already visited Tokyo and Beijing before arriving in Jakarta. He will then continue his visit to New Delhi of India.

        The visits are aimed at seeking support from the countries in an effort to settle the dispute in Myanmar, he said.

        Indonesian President Susilo also stressed the importance to support the U.N. special envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari, said Dino.

        Gambari’s visit is part of a six-nation consultation tour of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, China and Japan to find a peaceful solution to the Myanmar situation.

        ASEAN countries comprise Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.


        Exiled media essential to reporting events in Burma, say journalists - Htet Aung
        Irrawaddy: Thu 8 Nov 2007 

        Burmese exiled journalists challenged the perception that Burmese democracy forces outside Burma were no longer relevant during a discussion on Wednesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok.

        In the discussion, “A Skyful of Lies or Telling It Like It Is,” Aung Zaw, the founder and editor of The Irrawaddy magazine, Toe Zaw Latt, the bureau chief of the Democratic Voice of Burma and Zin Linn, an exiled writer, talked about the role played by Burmese stringers, correspondents and citizen journalists, who voluntarily sent news and still and video images to exiled and international media groups.

        “Citizen reporters, stringers and correspondents working for The Irrawaddy, The Democratic Voice of Burma and other news groups bravely sent images and news from inside Burma using all the available technologies,” said Aung Zaw.

        “It was very encouraging,” he said. “Burmese people inside and outside the country worked very impressively during the recent uprising.”

        “They had no cover and protection, and they took a huge risk by sending out information.” Citizen reporters, he said, could face up to 20 years in prison if prosecuted by the Burmese authorities.

        It was important that the uprising and bloody crackdown took place in Rangoon, said Aung Zaw, where it was captured in on-the-scene images and reports that quickly spread around the world. He recalled that in May 2003, the regime attacked Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade in Depayin, a remote area in central Burma, far from cameras and journalists. No images and footages were available, and at least 100 persons died.

        Asked about the greatest challenges for exiled media, Toe Zaw Latt said, “The challenge is the severe arrests. We had a dilemma two days ago of whether we should air news sent by a wife whose husband was arrested because of giving us [DVB] news.”

        DVB showed video of the regime’s brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks and laypeople documented by its inside-Burma stringers. A Rangoon-based senior Burmese correspondent working for a foreign news agency told The Irrawaddy that stringers working for DVB and The Irrawaddy have “no cover”: “These kids bravely took footage and images during the shootings (in September).”

        Some Burmese reporters who were arrested and interrogated by special branch police officers and intelligence officials said they kept asking how images and information were sent to exiled media.

        ‘They didn’t realize that many images were sent from the Internet,” said a veteran journalist. The regime, days after the bloody crackdown, finally shut down Burma’s Internet connection.

        About the same time, The Irrawaddy’s Web site experienced a virus and had to be shut down for a few days. Since the beginning of August, the Web site has received millions of hits. It counted 39 million hits in October, about three times more than normal, according to Web site statistics.

        Radio stations outside of Burma also played a key role in reporting on the uprising.

        Zin Linn said: “Due to cheaper Chinese transistor radios, Burmese people knew what was happening in the country and radios played a major role in networking among different groups.”

        The BBC Burmese Service remained the top source of information among the four radio stations that broadcast news of Burmese affairs, he said.

        Aung Zaw said an obvious weakness in regard to Burmese exiled groups is the lack of a unifying plan and policy.

        “There hasn’t been one united Burma policy outside the country on dealing with the military regime,” he said. “The regime is able to manipulate and exploit different opinions between the West and Asean and Asean and China. They can survive because they know how to manipulate and exploit the situation.”

        “The word ‘compromise’ isn’t in the dictionary used by the military regime, and [Snr-Gen] Than Shwe won’t give up easily,” Aung Zaw said. “He will fight [the international community] to the last minute.”

        “As exiled media, we will continue to report critically and very independently until there is change in Burma,” said Aung Zaw.


        EU appoints special envoy for Burma
        Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 8 Nov 2007 

        Italian politician Piero Fassino has been appointed as the European Union’s special envoy for Burma, according to an EU statement issued on Tuesday.

        Javier Solana, the EU high representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, appointed Fassino to the post to coordinate the EU’s efforts to bring about positive change in Burma and support the efforts of United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

        “This appointment underlines the importance that the EU attaches to democratic change, reconciliation, the improvement of the human rights situation and development in Burma/Myanmar,” said the statement.

        Fassino is an Italian member of parliament from the Democrats of the Left party, and a former minister of justice.


        Burma’s junta plays the game, but always to win - Connie Levett
        Sydney Morning Herald (Australia): Thu 8 Nov 2007 

        When the new British ambassador went to Naypyidaw, the remote Burmese capital, to present his diplomatic credentials in mid-2006, he reportedly thought the meeting with Senior General Than Shwe went well. He found out otherwise, when he returned to Rangoon to read a very personal attack in the government-backed press, naming him and accusing him of violating diplomatic procedure by making contact with the main opposition group.

        This stage-managed game of diplomatic cat and mouse is one the Burmese generals know well and will happily play all day: appear to be conciliatory, lull the visitor and then snap back. There are often loose promises of evolutionary democratic change thrown in for good measure.

        In late 2005 the Association of South-East Asian Nations was under pressure to force Burma to quicken the pace on democratic reform, because it reflected so poorly on the whole group. The generals offered a concession on the eve of the leaders’ summit in Kuala Lumpur, inviting the Malaysian Foreign Minister, Syed Hamid Jaafar Albar, to visit the country as an ASEAN envoy and report back on democratic progress. The pressure on Burma eased immediately and ASEAN congratulated itself on its strong stand. Within days, during the summit, the junta extended the house arrest of the democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in a strong sign of defiance. When the Syed Hamid finally made the trip in March, the regime would only accept him in a bilateral capacity, he was refused a meeting with Suu Kyi and he cut the visit short by a day in frustration.

        This week there is a new mouse in the house. The United Nations special envoy, the Nigerian Ibrahim Gambari, is making the rounds in Burma, his fourth visit since his appointment in May 2006. His agenda is to create a dialogue between the generals, the so-called State Peace and Development Council, and opposition groups, including Suu Kyi.

        In late September, at the height of international furore against the regime’s repression of democracy protesters, the junta was persuaded, by the Chinese, to let Gambari visit. He met the senior general, he met Suu Kyi, and he left. The Burmese people watched with a jaundiced eye, after all, he is the seventh UN envoy to plead their case since 1990. The previous envoy, the Malaysian former diplomat Razali Ismail, quit in early 2006 after being refused entry for two years. He told Irrawaddy magazine: “It is best to conclude that I have failed.”

        So to Gambari’s latest efforts. Since his September visit, he has toured regional countries seeking consensus for his efforts and much was made of new concessions by the regime. Burma has agreed to let in the UN human rights expert Paulo Sergio Pinheiro after a four-year ban, and moved up the second Gambari visit from mid to early November. Signs of willingness to engage, say the optimists.

        Then came the snap back. As Gambari arrived, the internet was again barred and the junta said it would not renew the visa of Charles Petrie, the most senior UN diplomat in Burma. His office had issued a statement on United Nations Day expressing the UN’s “strong determination” to help the country address poverty and suffering, and their underlying causes. “The concerns of the people have been clearly expressed through the recent peaceful demonstrations, and it is beholden on all to listen,” it said.

        It was a perfect opening for the generals. They hit back, claiming the statement “harms Myanmar’s image despite its all-out co-operation with the UN and gives the wrong message to the international community”. Now instead of talking about dialogue with opposition groups, Gambari is distracted by visa battles for UN staffers.

        Burma’s generals have no interest in a political evolution which does not keep them at the heart, head and hip pocket of the regime. In 1990 they badly misjudged the mood of the people when they allowed general elections and lost; in 2003, they were caught off guard by the public response to Suu Kyi as thousands gathered for her barely publicised rallies. This year’s explosion of support for the monks’ uprising is a reminder, if they needed it, that the public is not with them. So when the generals speak of moving towards democratic reform, expect diversions, not genuine concessions.


        MUSCULAR MONKS; How Buddhism Became Force for Political Activism - ANDREW HIGGINS
        The Wall Street Journal: Wed 7 Nov 2007 

        After evening prayers on Sept. 18, the abbot of a small monastery in Myanmar’s largest city convened the roughly 30 Buddhist monks in his charge. The bonds between secular and religious authority had broken, the abbot said. Then he gave the monks his blessing to take to the streets in protest.

        That meeting, one of many held in monasteries across Myanmar in mid-September, helped turn a sputtering campaign of dissent led by secular democracy activists into a mass movement led by Buddhist clergy. The country formerly known as Burma erupted in the biggest wave of antigovernment demonstrations in nearly 20 years.

        A boy monk walks from communal quarters to a shrine at the Shwe Bohmyint Pagoda, a Buddhist temple in the hills above Myawaddy, a town in the east of the country formerly known as Burma.

        “We wanted to stay out of politics,” says U Zawtiga, a monk at the monastery in Yangon, formerly Rangoon. But “how can religion thrive when the country is so desperate?” Mr. Zawtiga, active in the protests, fled Yangon after the military started shooting protesters on Sept. 27. He is now in hiding along Myanmar’s border with Thailand. His abbot, he says, has been arrested.

        The vanguard role of monks in the Burmese protests underscores a curious turn for a creed often associated with quiet contemplation. Unlike Islam and Christianity, Buddhism offers no clear scriptural mandate for revolt against unjust rulers. Rooted in nonviolence, a belief in rebirth and a conviction that salvation lies in the conquest of worldly desires, it has no tradition of crusades or jihad in service of an almighty God.

        Across wide swathes of Asia, however, Buddhism has emerged as a powerful spur to political activism. Motives differ from place to place. So, too, do the strands of Buddhism involved. But in each case, the faith has taken the lead in often noisy campaigns for change.

        The phenomenon extends from Tibet, where Buddhist monks have doggedly resisted Chinese rule, to Myanmar and several other countries of Southeast Asia, where monks have become a significant political force. Monastic activism has taken on a sinister tone in some places, particularly in Sri Lanka, where hard-line nationalist monks have formed a political party that wants all-out war against rebels of the mostly-Hindu Tamil minority.

        In China, meanwhile, a Buddhism-tinged group called Falun Gong has eclipsed a moribund pro-democracy movement as the Communist Party’s most determined foe.

        Buddhism should “not run away from society but reform society,” says Sulak Sivaraksa, a prominent Thai champion of Buddhist activism against poverty and injustice. Focusing on just meditation and the next life, he says, is “not Buddhism but escapism.” In 1989, Mr. Sivaraksa helped found the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, a group of Buddhist activists that includes some from Myanmar and also Tibet.

        Shocks of Modernization

        Christopher Queen, a Harvard University religion lecturer, says the trend began in the latter half of the last century, a time when the shocks of modernization and war prodded many faiths to become increasingly political. Some Roman Catholics embraced “liberation theology” and Muslims increasingly turned to political Islam. For Buddhists, though, activism has involved a fundamental re-reading of their generally quiescent creed.

        Buddhism holds that an individual’s lot in life is determined by actions — or karma — in previous lives. This offers hope that evil leaders will pay a price for their misdeeds in a future life but provides little impetus for immediate action. As a result, for much of its history Buddhism has tended to shore up the status quo.

        But Myanmar’s current plight demands action in the here and now, says Bo Hla Tint, a Buddhist and member of Myanmar’s government-in-exile. “We can’t wait,” he says. He adds that military strongman Gen. Than Shwe will face further punishment later — with rebirth as a stray dog or an animal raised for slaughter. Rebirth as a household pet, says Mr. Hla Tint, “is too good for him.”

        A big factor pushing Myanmar’s monks onto the streets is their own economic pain. Dependent on donations of food from an increasingly impoverished populace, monks are going hungry as public almsgiving declines. “If people are starving, how can they give to us? If they suffer, we suffer,” says U Kaw Thala, 48 years old, another Yangon monk now moving between safe houses in the Thai-Myanmar border zone.

        In contrast to secular activists, who are often easily silenced by arrests and intimidation, these faith-fired Buddhist campaigners have demonstrated tremendous stamina. Such perseverance is often helped by the fact that monks and nuns usually have no spouses or children to worry about. Activists also benefit from a loose but durable support network provided by their faith.

        Mr. Zawtiga, the Yangon monk, entered the monkhood at the age of 7. Now 39, he has lived in five different monasteries and has a network of contacts across the country. During the September protests, he traded information with old monastic friends and helped coordinate street protests. His parents are both dead. Two of his brothers are abbots.

        When the military started raiding monasteries the night of Sept. 26, Mr. Zawtiga took refuge at the home of a devout Buddhist. The next day, accompanied by two other monks, he traveled by bus to the border with Thailand. Local Buddhists gave him shelter and a set of orange-colored robes to help him pass himself off as a Thai monk. Burmese monks wear burgundy. Mr. Zawtiga stays in touch with monks in Yangon and elsewhere by cellphone.

        “Everybody knew the military would use violence,” he says. “This was not unexpected. We are not afraid.” Students and other pro-democracy forces, he says, have been severely weakened by years of repression but “the Sangha [Sanskrit for Buddhist clergy] is getting stronger and more organized.” Last week, more than 100 monks took to the streets again in Pakokku, a town in the center of the country. They chanted a Buddhist prayer associated with the democracy cause.

        One of the better-known demonstrations of stalwart Buddhist resistance is in Tibet, a Buddhist theocracy until China invaded in 1950. Its monks again defied Beijing last month by celebrating the U.S. Congress’s decision to award its highest civilian honor to the exiled Dalai Lama. Clashes were reported in several towns between Chinese security forces and monks.

        Persistence and organization are also hallmarks of China’s banned Falun Gong movement, a blend of Buddhism, Chinese folk religions and pseudoscience founded in 1992. After initially tolerating the group, authorities cracked down hard in 1999, branding Falun Gong an “evil cult” and arresting thousands.

        Since then, the movement has taken up politics with gusto, promoting a political tract called “The Nine Commentaries,” a denunciation of communism written in 2004. Falun Gong has no monks or clergy but, through a web of motivated and well-organized lay followers in Hong Kong and elsewhere, it continues to needle Beijing. A TV station and radio network run out of the U.S. beam anticommunist messages into China.

        Toughened Resolve

        The head of China’s state-controlled Buddhist Association denounced Falun Gong, but a few activist Buddhists rallied to defend the group. Among them was Xu Zhiqiang, a protest leader during China’s 1989 democracy movement who, after being released from jail, joined a Buddhist monastery. Buddhism, he says, offered him a sanctuary and also toughened his resolve.

        In 2004, Mr. Xu helped in a civil suit filed on behalf of an imprisoned Falun Gong follower. He says he doesn’t support Falun Gong’s reading of Buddhism but does support religious and political liberty. Last year, authorities booted Mr. Xu out of his monastery, accusing him of corruption and “improper relations” with three female Buddhists. He denies the allegations.

        Though often wary of Falun Gong’s sometimes cultlike behavior, secular Chinese dissidents voice admiration for its staying power. Democracy campaigner Wei Jingsheng, who spent 19 years in Chinese prisons and now lives in exile in the U.S., isn’t a believer but sometimes attends Falun Gong events outside China to show solidarity. At a big July rally in Washington, he looked out on a sea of anti-communist banners and said his own dwindling band of secular democrats “could never get a crowd like this.”

        Buddhists have moved beyond cloistered contemplation before. In medieval Japan, a time of political turmoil, monasteries ran their own armies. China, too, had warrior monks. Starting in the 13th century, China saw periodic rebellions stirred up by the White Lotus, a Buddhist sect greatly feared by rulers as a symptom of dynastic decline.

        Generally, though, Buddhism has tended to support established power. This pattern dates back more than 2,500 years to the religion’s founder, Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha or the “enlightened one.” A north India aristocrat, he found spiritual liberation — Nirvana — through meditation under a tree. Unlike Jesus and Muhammad, he didn’t challenge ruling elites.

        Roughly two centuries after Siddhartha Gautama’s death, King Asoka of India declared Buddhism a state religion. Since then, Asian rulers through the centuries have sought to emulate his example, supporting monasteries in return for the clergy’s blessing of their rule.

        Washington, struggling to beat back communism in Asia, also saw Buddhism as a potential force for stability. But in 1963, a Vietnamese monk set himself on fire to protest the anti-Buddhist bias of South Vietnam’s U.S.-backed Roman Catholic president, Ngo Dinh Diem. Eager to calm Buddhist anger, the U.S. helped topple President Diem.

        Even fanatical atheists have cloaked their rule in symbolism borrowed from Buddhism. In May 1975, shortly after their conquest of Cambodia, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and his lieutenants retired to a Buddhist sanctuary, the Silver Pagoda, to plot a murderous program that would result in an estimated 1.6 million deaths and include the slaughter of many monks. Pol Pot slept on a raised dais previously used to display a statue of Buddha.

        Burma, as Myanmar was known until 1989, has a particularly deep Buddhist heritage. According to Burmese tradition, the faith was first brought to the country by a mission sent by King Asoka in the third century B.C. When Britain seized Burma in the 19th century, loyalty to Buddhism helped rally resistance.

        Since independence in 1948, Burmese leaders have all sought to revive the ancient model of close bonds between monastic and state power. More than 80% of the population is Buddhist. U Nu, the country’s first prime minister, rebuilt temples and monasteries and, in imitation of King Asoka, held a Buddhist Council that brought together faithful from across Asia. After a 1962 coup brought the military to power, dictator Ne Win, a Buddhist inspired by Marx and Stalin, built two huge new pagodas — but also purged the clergy of monks suspected of disloyalty.

        Democrats tapped Buddhism, too. When students took to the streets in 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the democracy cause, visited Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda to call for an end to military rule. Monks joined the movement, which mushroomed into a peaceful mass uprising. In September 1988, the military crushed the protests. As many as 3,000 people died. Nine months later, on June 4, 1989, similar scenes played out in China, Burma’s closest ally. Hundreds and possibly many more died when the army launched an assault on Tiananmen Square to end student-led protests.

        In both China and Myanmar, democracy activists went into hiding, fled abroad or were jailed. In both countries, various strains of Buddhism helped fill the void as a vehicle for dissent.

        China worked hard to shore up the Buddhist bona fides of its increasingly beleaguered allies in Myanmar. Starting in the mid-1990s, it arranged several times to have Buddha’s tooth — a relic greatly revered by Buddhists — sent from China to Myanmar for display. Myanmar’s generals built a special sanctuary to house the tooth and invested in other Buddhism-related construction projects.

        The lavish spending on temples won over some monks but in general, ties between the state and the clergy continued to fray. Dissident monks set up the All Burma Young Monks Union to organize resistance to the junta. Ms. Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, reached out to elderly abbots and, while in detention, calmed her nerves by reading a book on the “liberation teachings” of Buddha.

        The deepening economic crisis of recent years hit monasteries hard, pushing even apolitical monks toward activism, says Mr. Kaw Thala, the Yangon monk now in hiding. He says he used to collect small donations of rice and other food from around 20 people each week. The number of almsgivers, he says, had dwindled to a handful by this summer.

        Meanwhile, soaring unemployment drove many jobless men to seek shelter in monasteries. At a monastery in the hills above Myawaddy, a town on the border with Thailand, a 44-year-old former professional kick boxer explained that he grew too old to practice his martial skills and couldn’t find another job. He decided six months ago to become a monk.

        Recent Protests

        Myanmar’s recent protests were initially triggered by an abrupt hike in the price of fuel on Aug. 15. Veteran political activists, mostly former student leaders from 1988, organized a series of small marches and delivered fiery speeches. Most were promptly arrested. The protests died down.

        In early September, security forces threw gasoline on the dying embers by manhandling a group of monks in Pakokku, the central Myanmar town where monks marched again last week. Rumors quickly spread of a bloodbath. Senior monks demanded an apology from the military. Officials ignored the plea.

        When a mid-September deadline set by monks for an official apology for the Pakokku incident passed, monastic anger bubbled over. At meetings in monasteries across the country, monks denounced the military’s failure to apologize and called for action.

        Mr. Zawtiga, the monk from Yangon who is now on the run, says discussion of the Pakokku episode dominated the meeting held at his own monastery on Sept. 18. The military “insulted our religion,” he says. “We can’t tolerate that.”

        URL for this article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119437972421684255.html   


        Over 1000 SPDC landmines on Karen State Highway
        kaowao: November 5, 2007
         
        Karen State: along the Kot Ka Rait and Tingun Nyi Noun highways the SPDC have re-planted over 1000 landmines in an effort to ‘clean up’ the highway. Sources from the Karen National Union (KNU) stated the SPDC started planting the mines two days ago.
         
        According to Officer General Hla Ngwe, “Three Burmese military groups have come together to replace further landmines in the north Kot Ka Rait area, along with Khi Mu Hta and Noe Poe villages.
         
        “On the 24th and 25th the KNU fought the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)-assisted SPDC.  Soon after their fighting it became clear that the SPDC planned to plant over 1000 landmines in the area between the 29th and 31st of October. These plans were communicated directly from the SPDC army groups Kha Ma Ya 545, 355 and 356,” added General Hla Ngwe.  “The SPDC didn’t design the mines carefully and they planted them in protest to the way we came and fought them, so they didn’t cover the mines; sometimes now we hear the mines blast from the jungle but it is difficult to discern who has set them off.”
         
        According to a Kot Ka Rait villager, “Whenever we hear bombs blasting in the jungle nobody dares to go and look at the situation, so it’s hard to say whether it’s villagers or wild animals stepping on the mines.”             
         
        On October the 25th and 27th the DKBA, assisting the Burmese Army Kha Ma Ya (545), fought the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and KNU in the areas now heavily laden with landmines.                                    
         
        Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) said, “In Karenni State in early October the Burmese Army increased landmines because they thought that the revolutionary groups were coming to attack them.”
         
        In Three Pagodas Pass on October 27th a land mine exploded at a DKBA head-person’s home.  One person was injured.
      • CHAN Beng Seng
        Friends, after a short break, we are resuming our update news on Burma. Thank you for your encouragements. -CHAN Beng Seng- ... 1.. Cyclone Nargis offers
        Message 3 of 6 , Jul 14, 2008
        • 0 Attachment

          Friends,

          after a short break, we are resuming our update news on Burma.
          Thank you for your encouragements.

          -CHAN Beng Seng-


          1. Cyclone Nargis offers sobering lessons, says environmentalist
          2. Burma's security force's cash in on rain damage
          3. Burmese needs divide the aid industry
          4. Rise of factions roils relations within Burmese junta
          5. Monks are heroes in Burma
          6. When a disastrous regime continues
          7. Burma's declining basic education
          8. Thousands of Karenni IDPs hide in jungle
          9. World Bank will not support junta, says NLD
          10. Indian company to start drilling gas in Myanmar
          11. Most ceasefire groups undecided on 2010 election
          12. Prosecution alters charge against blogger
          13. Junta profits from growing gap in value of cash and FECs
          14. Forced labor widely used in road construction
          15. Why the generals are winning
          16. Sons of 1962 and future of Burma's political freedom
          17. Burmese generals surfing the internet
          18. Myanmar cyclone victims saved from traffickers
          19. An alternative road map is needed now
          20. China signs natural gas deal with Myanmar

          Cyclone Nargis offers sobering lessons, says environmentalist - Violet Cho
          Irrawaddy: Fri 11 Jul 2008

          A prominent Burmese environmental group has found a silver lining in the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis on May 2-3: a growing awareness among both government officials and ordinary citizens about the need to pay greater attention to the environment.

          "It was a blessing from the sky," said U Ohn, general secretary of the Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association (FREDA). "It was terrible that many people died in the storm, but this cyclone also provided an effective warning to the stakeholders to open their eyes to the environment."

          The Rangoon-based FREDA, one of the few local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) devoted to conserving Burma's forests, has been active in establishing mangrove nurseries and installing mangrove plantations in abandoned paddy lands in the Irrawaddy delta, which bore the brunt of Nargis' fury.

          U Ohn said that both officials and ordinary Burmese had long taken the environment for granted, but after Cyclone Nargis, they now know that they ignore nature's delicate balance at their own peril.

          "This is the direct impact of the failure to protect the environment, so if we are not initiating efforts to preserve our forests now, we will definitely face this kind of catastrophe again," he added.

          Burma contains some 34 million hectares of natural forest - the second-largest area in Southeast Asia after Indonesia - but deforestation in the Irrawaddy delta region has been catastrophic, with more than 20 percent of mangrove forests having been lost between 1990 and 2000, according to research done by the Washington-based non-profit organization Conservation International.

          Cyclone Nargis also destroyed many self-sustaining mangrove forests in the Irrawaddy delta, in addition to the thousands of trees - some of them nearly a century old - felled by the storm in the former capital, Rangoon.

          According to an official from the Department of Garden and Playground Parks under the Rangoon City Development Committee, around 531 of the more than 10,000 trees destroyed by the cyclone were more than 50 years old.

          The Rangoon-based weekly, 7-Day News, reported on Thursday that Burma's military government was planning to use the roots and branches of cyclone-downed trees collected in the Rangoon municipal area to make sculptures to be auctioned to local and foreign entrepreneurs.

          Meanwhile, the local journal Bi-Weekly Eleven reported government plans to plant more than 30,000 shade-providing trees in cyclone-affected areas.


          Burma's security force's cash in on rain damage
          Kaladan Press Network: Fri 11 Jul 2008

          Burma's border security force is engaged in a lucrative business following damage to the Maungdaw-Buthidaung Road due to heavy rains over the last two weeks.

          Nasaka personnel are carrying passengers on their motorcycles over a distance of five miles and taking Kyat 10,000 per head on the Maungdaw-Buthidaung Road . The Nasaka of Maungdaw town has been ferrying passengers as there are no cars plying on the road due to the damage. The Naska offers a 15 minute ride on their motorbikes to passengers. They have not reduced the charges although the passengers have complained to the concerned authorities, said a trader in Maungdaw town.

          The Maungdaw-Buthidaung road was badly damaged due to heavy rain over the last two weeks. It is 16 miles long of which five miles have been totally destroyed and vehicles are not able to ply on the road.

          Passengers are able to go up to seven miles by car from Maungdaw town and after that they have to travel five miles on Nasaka's motorcycles. And the rest four miles distance can be traversed by car again, said a passenger who went to Buthidaung Town from Maungdaw Town .

          Some bridges have also been destroyed from the seven mile point to the 12 mile point. Therefore labourers charge Kyat 500 to carry a 50 kilogram rice bag over the five mile distance.

          Communication problems on the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road have led to a price hike of essential commodities in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships. People are in dire straits and the authorities are not bothered, said ex-school teacher.

          Villagers from both townships are forced to repair the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road without any support from the government. This season is important for farmers to grow paddy.

          The road is a key transportation link between Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships. Every year during the rainy season the road suffers blockages and bridges collapse but the authorities neglect to repair them in time.


          Burmese needs divide the aid industry - Aung Zaw
          Irrawaddy: Fri 11 Jul 2008

          If the deadly Cylone Nargis helped create a greater humanitarian space inside Burma, it would be welcome news indeed. More aid and more relief workers should be able to enter Burma and assist the Burmese.

          John Holmes, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, has told a press conference: "The relief operation is proceeding. The access for international humanitarian relief workers has improved markedly over the last six weeks; though we are still working on that. But, I think, we have made distinct progress."

          Questioned about access to the Irrawaddy delta, Holmes said conditions had changed a lot and relief workers were being allowed to go there - "Not unlimited as we would like, but it is improving all the time. Access is improving and is being made easier."

          Cyclone Nargis and its aftermath are doubtless a mega challenge for every humanitarian group. UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), who have previously played only a limited role in helping the needy, can now sense that their post-cyclone efforts could be expanded beyond the delta.

          If the generals are smart enough to relate to UN and international agencies and open more doors to them, more aid will flood into Burma.

          Many INGOs are waiting for the opportunity to work inside the country and to have more access to the local population. INGOs engaged in a wide range of work have their own agenda in advancing their operations inside the country.

          Perhaps the opportunity now arises for the international community to create a space inside Burma to open up local communities and work with them.

          Despite a measure of optimism, shared by John Holmes, much skepticism remains about the regime's policy toward the UN and INGOs.

          Wider implications also come into play. Because of the attention claimed by Cyclone Nargis, it is feared that there will be less money available to help more than 100,000 Burmese refugees living in camps along the Thai-Burmese border. Some observers express concern that border-based projects and cross-border operations will be jeopardized.

          In recent years there has been a shift in the attention given to the plight of the refugees and in the flow of aid.

          Burma watchers say that after the Global Fund stopped funding the fight inside Burma against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 2005, bitter competition over funding developed between INGOS working inside and outside the country.

          The Global Fund, which had pledged US $100 million over five years, said it halted its Burma program because of increased travel restrictions inside the country made it difficult for aid workers to function properly, although political reasons were also reported to be behind the decision.

          The Three Diseases (3-D) Fund took over the fight to control Burma's three main killer diseases, but competition between the INGOs over territory and funding continues. Concern deepens that long-established humanitarian projects will be neglected and refugees and migrants will be left alone and unprotected.

          There has never been much love lost between groups working inside Burma and those outside the country. Border-based INGOs accuse those working within the country of allowing themselves to be compromised by the regime and even kowtowing to the junta, mixing politics and humanitarian concerns.

          There are even reports of rowdy INGO parties in Rangoon's luxury hotels. "My downtown hotel was packed with INGO workers and the bar was doing great business," one US philanthropist told The Irrawaddy. "There were young aid workers there who had never stayed in such a hotel and who seemed to forget why they were there at all."

          A similar scene has been reported by some visitors to the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot, which also has a lively night-life.

          The foreign aid workers and policy makers advocating Burma-based projects often accuse border-based NGOs of being narrow-minded, political, divisive and of exploiting local communities for religious and political purposes.

          They claim that those with vested interests want to keep refugees in the camps - security officials, rebel and political groups are anxious to maintain the status quo and even rice traders with lucrative deals to supply the camps.

          It is indeed ironic that while more than 2 million Burmese are living and working in Thailand, 100,000 refugees continue to live in the camps.

          Relief missions working within Burma insist that more assistance is needed there given the degree of poverty and the large population. Refugees in the border camps, they claim, are better off than people in the rural areas of Burma. Cross-border aid is just throwing water into the sand, they maintain.

          Although the division between the two groups doubtless has an impact on local communities who really are in need of assistance, there's no sign of a reconciliation of views.

          At the same time, cooperation and communication between Burmese living on the border and those inside the country have increased and intensified.

          Burmese have been traveling in and out of Burma, establishing contacts and building networks and making friends. Exiled Burmese have organized fund-raising ceremonies and contributed donations to causes inside Burma.

          Several influential Buddhist monks inside and outside Burma have cooperated in raising money to help people in the affected areas.

          Cyclone Nargis swept away the old divisions. There is no more "inside" and "outside."

          After all, Burma is a poor and crisis-torn country and a perfect place for "emergency cowboys", consultants, international foundations and the UN to work.

          For the past 20 years, relief workers of all kinds have been coming and going, but at the end of the day it is the Burmese who have to work to rebuild the country.

          The relief workers thrive on crisis. Cyclone Nargis and its aftermath will soon be no longer an emergency that warranted huge international aid. The aid machine will move on, propelled by many who are building careers on crisis management.

          They will leave behind the true crisis managers - the Burmese themselves, on whose shoulders falls the greatest weight of reconstructing their shattered country.


          Rise of factions roils relations within Burmese junta - Min Lwin
          Irrawaddy: Thu 10 Jul 2008

          On the surface, the high-ranking generals in the Burmese military junta appear to be united. But since a reshuffle in early June, speculation has been rife that the regime is undergoing a major realignment, with competing forces jostling for influence.

          There are persistent rumors that several of the former Bureau of Special Operations heads who were sacked in June are now under investigation on corruption charges. Some are even believed to be under house arrest, facing charges of high treason.

          Although international news agencies reported that around 150 officers were reshuffled, well-informed observers say the number who were reassigned or removed outright was probably closer to 400.

          It is believed that three powerful factions have now emerged, all of them loyal to Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who remains the commander in chief of the armed forces.

          The three factions are led by Gen Thura Shwe Mann, Lt-Gen Myint Swe and Lt-Gen Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo.

          Thura Shwe Mann, 60, is the third-ranking general in the military hierarchy, holding the title of joint chief of staff. He has been groomed to take over as commander in chief of the armed forces when Than Shwe sees fit to step down.

          Shwe Mann also has the lofty title of "Coordinator of the Special Operations, Army, Navy and Air Force" - a position that allows him to oversee all the main branches of the military, including the powerful Bureaus of Special Operations.

          Shwe Mann is seen as a protégé of Than Shwe. He is also close to several businessmen and scholars who have recently been involved in getting humanitarian assistance to cyclone-affected areas of the Irrawaddy delta.

          Shwe Mann's son, Aung Thet Mann, is involved in the fertilizer and rice mill business in the delta. The Shwe Mann camp has recently been releasing news that the general is business-minded and in favor of cooperating with the United Nations and the international community. His close friend and former classmate, Lt-Gen Soe Thein, was recently removed from his position as navy chief and named minister for industry (2).

          Another rising star is Lt-Gen Myint Swe, 59, who heads Bureau of Special Operations 5 (BSO-5).

          Myint Swe is an ethnic Mon who has played a key role in controlling security in Rangoon since the early 2000's. He is a distant relative of Than Shwe's wife, Kyaing Kyaing, and is known to be close to the senior leader. He was involved in several important operations against top leaders, including the arrest of former Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt, who was ousted in October 2004.

          Myint Swe has been seen in the state-run media more frequently since Cyclone Nargis slammed into Burma in early May, prompting observers to wonder if he is in line to assume a top commander position.

          Lt-Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo, the quartermaster-general who was named secretary-1 of the State Peace and Development Council in 2007, is the putative leader of a third faction.

          Burmese observers believe that Tin Aung Myint Oo was one of the regime's main opponents of foreign assistance and UN involvement in the Cyclone Nargis relief effort. He recently visited the Irrawaddy delta and was named deputy head of the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee.

          All three powerful generals have visited the affected area. Shwe Mann accompanied Than Shwe, while Tin Aung Myint Oo went with Maung Aye, the deputy commander in chief of the armed forces and army chief, along with other powerful commanders, including air defense department and intelligence chiefs. Myint Swe toured the affected area alone, giving "necessary instructions" to officials.

          Insiders have noted that all three are close to Than Shwe and his family, removing any likelihood of a coup against the top commander.

          Meanwhile, Maung Aye, the army chief, remains the second-most powerful military leader in the armed forces. Maung Aye was locked in a bitter fight with Gen Khin Nyunt, and Than Shwe benefited from the power struggle between the two. Now Maung Aye, who has little political ambition, is not a threat to Than Shwe.

          But if speculation about the emergence of three powerful factions within the top command turns out to be true, it is likely that further purges and changes at the top are in store.


          Monks are heroes in Burma - Tad Trueblood
          The Spectrum: Thu 10 Jul 2008

          They are more prominent in the villages right now, since the government has cracked down on them in urban areas, but they're everywhere in Burma. With shaved heads and flowing maroon colored robes (yellow "saffron" robes are worn elsewhere), Burmese monks are at the forefront of flood relief efforts and man the front lines of a not-so-quiet resistance movement.

          Boys as young as 7 can enter monkhood, and young men often join for a short time as a way to honor their families. Only about 15 percent of Burma's monks decide to make it a lifelong calling.

          There are about 500,000 monks in Burma, and they don't stay in isolated shrines. They live among the people, are supported by them and serve in many capacities. They also have a strong tradition of activism that has frequently crossed into the political sphere. They supported pro-independence groups during British colonial rule. In 1988, they supported a pro-democracy movement that was able to change the junta's leadership (after 3,000 people were killed) and wrested some reform measures from the authoritarian government.

          When an emboldened democratic opposition won elections in 1990 and the junta refused to step down, the monks "excommunicated" the regime by refusing all government donations. In Buddhist culture, the giving of alms (through the monks) conveys blessings and legitimacy. The government responded by tightly restricting activities of senior monks and making a clumsy PR effort to highlight the building of temples.

          In September of 2007, unrest surged again joined by thousands of monks. The protests initially were about poor economic conditions but morphed into demands for greater freedom. In successively larger marches, thousands of red-robed monks walked peacefully through the streets. The regime, however, eventually sent soldiers to violently disperse protesters (monks among them) and imprisoned many. Only a few deaths among the monks were reported, but numbers are disputed.

          The 2007 "saffron revolution" drove the wedge between the people and government even deeper, and for most everyday Burmese the bravery and dedication of the monks was highlighted. During the mass marches, students and regular citizens walked alongside the monks, forming human walls to protect them from soldiers' batons and bullets.

          The devastation of Cyclone Nargis in May (more than 80,000 dead and about 50,000 missing) and the despicable reaction of the government has increased the stature of the monks still further. While the regime refused to allow most foreign aid organizations in and turned away a U.S. military humanitarian task force, the monks have been at work.

          Again, they have refused donations from the regime (pointedly denying the junta any popular legitimacy) and are coordinating with donor organizations directly. Many donors are now only working with the monks to deliver aid.

          Fortunately, a second wave of deaths (from hunger and disease) has been averted. But across Burma, the credit goes to monks who stood with the people, died with them in the floods and mobilized to help them recover. The regime is more reviled than ever. It is the monks who have legitimacy.

          * Tad Trueblood has more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and the national security community. He blogs at www.thiscouldgetinteresting.com.


          When a disastrous regime continues - Nava Thakuria
          The Seoul Times: Thu 10 Jul 2008

          The devastating cyclone Nargis that struck southern Burma two months ago, has revealed to the world that it was even less disastrous than its military regime, which can ignore its own people in urgent needs and even could prevent and restrict relief from international communities for the hundred thousand victims of the disaster with the apprehension that it might create an atmosphere for another people's uprising in the country.

          Since August 2007, Burma continued to receive massive international media headlines. After 1988, it was for the first time, when hundred thousands Buddhist monks and common people of Burma came to the streets raising voices against the military regime known as the State Peace and Development Council. The movement was crushed by the military people and its thugs. Nearly hundred died and thousands were sent to jails, many of them are still behind the bar.

          But this time, the junta has been challenged by the nature. A tropical cyclone moved towards the Burmese land from the Bay of Bengal on the night of May 2 and it devastated the entire Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions of the country. The deadly cyclone Nargis also embraced three other divisions and states (Bago, Mon and Kayin) to kill nearly ninety thousand people and made another few thousands homeless. Nargis also left its trail of devastation on social infrastructures and killing thousands of livestock and also causing flood to paddy fields, which were made ready for Burma's primary crops (rice cultivation).

          According to the latest government information, the storm killed 84,537 people, leaving 53,836 missing and 19,359 injured. The United Nations estimates that Nargis affected 2.4 million people and directly made hundred thousands homeless. At the same time, over 300,000 water buffalo and cows died in Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon localities. More over, nearly 1,000,000 acres of farmland in Irrawaddy and 300,000 acres in Rangoon Division were destroyed. Over one million acres of fertile lands also were flooded with the salty seawater during Nargis.

          But the response to the disaster by its own rulers was very shocking. First the rulers couldn't provide immediate relief to the victims and then they tried to prevent (and restrict) the international aid for their very own people, who were in desperate need of food, medicine and shelter. Thirdly the junta went ahead with the referendum (in two phases) in the country with a number of pro-military provisions for their new constitution amidst all the chaos. Fourthly, the rulers extended the detention of the pro-democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for one more year that prompted harsh criticism from the international communities.

          "If a regime is challenged by the people, the rulers might have choices to deploy its forces and the SPDC did during last year's popular uprising. But this time, the junta has been challenged by none other than the nature (read cyclone). So what did military rulers do? As they can never go against the nature, they went against the innocent people! Have you heard of a government, which not only denied timely and adequate relief to those victims of circumstances, but also bent preventing the same from outside sources?," commented a Rangoon based political activist Win Naing (name changed).

          Answering queries from Asia Sentinel, Naing, a supporter of the pro-democracy movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, also added, "The military regime at Nay Pyi Taw always remained blind to the political power and they can go to all extends to maintain it. Hence they could ignore all the troubles faced by the cyclone victims. The SPDC chief Senior General Than Shwe got time to visit those victims only after international criticism surfaced in a bigger way. Mind it, they can easily sacrifice the people, but never tolerate international access (through the aid workers) to its common people."

          The callousness of the junta was also criticized by Suzanne DiMaggio, Director of the Asia Society's Social Issues Program (and former Vice President of Global Policy Programs at the United Nations Association of the USA) saying that ‘for nearly five decades, Burma's military rulers have systematically undermined the interests of their own citizens'.

          Referring to the cyclone Narigs, she stated that the junta-controlled news media failed to announce warnings about the approaching cyclone.

          "The entry of UN humanitarian personnel, has been delayed due to the government's refusal to allow aid workers into the country without first applying for visas. Moreover, the military leaders are dragging their feet on easing restrictions on the import of humanitarian supplies and allowing a UN assessment team into the country," she added.

          Similar views were expressed by a Burmese exile living in Europe, who claimed that nearly two million people, mostly farmers and their families, were still living in horrible situations. Talking to Asia Sentinel from London, Tyaza Thuria expressed his anger that the military regime was only interested in retaining its power.

          "Hence they have gone ahead with their plans for referendum (only to forcefully approve the pro-military constitution) and finally to install a puppet civilian regime after the 2010 polls," he asserted adding that the junta had done nothing for the rehabilitation for the cyclone victims. They did not also put any effort to warn the people about the deadly storm. In reality the junta just doesn't care about the people.

          The junta went with their own ‘roadmap to democracy', where the Army would enjoy the emergency power in need and could even topple an elected government (for the National security). Moreover seats will be reserved for the people with Armed forces background in the Parliament. The new constitution will also prevent Suu Kyi from contesting the election as she had married a non-Burmese (an Englishman).

          More to add it, the junta had extended the period of house arrest for Suu Kyi for one more year. The Nobel laureate had already spent five full years under detention since May, 2003. Hence the decision of the junta on Suu Kyi's detention invited prompt and harsh criticism from the world communities. From the United Nations to European Union and the United States to other pro-democratic regimes, all came out with stronger words of condemnation against the military regime.

          Mentionable that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon visited Burma and met the SPDC chief Than Shwe on May 23, days ahead of junta's decision (on Suu Kyi) and he had no other option than expressing regret on the development. He however commented that ‘the sooner the restrictions on Suu Kyi and other political figures are lifted, the sooner Burma will be able to move towards inclusive national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy and full respect for human rights'.

          Even the UN chief also invited criticism from various advocacy groups that he was silent about Suu Kyi's prolonged detention while discussing with Than Shwe in Burma. Of course, he made it clear, while talking to media persons in New York, that ‘his trip was a purely humanitarian one intended to save lives, not to press a pro-democracy agenda,'

          The Secretary-General also added, "I went there with a message of solidarity and hope, telling the survivors (of cyclone Nargis) that the world is with you and that the world is ready to help you."

          Nargis hit the country in a critical period of the year. The month of May in English calendar year brings the season for preparing rice seedlings, to be planted later. Like many South and Southeast Asian countries, rice is the primary crop (also the staple food) of Burma. The traditional rice plantation needs to be completed within the rainy season, more preferably by the July end. The harvesting time starts from October.

          Hence the May 2-3 disaster can put a heavy toll on rice production in Burma. The cyclone in one hand flooded the arable lands with the salty sea water, destroyed the already grown saplings and on the other hand it killed the water buffalos (also cows), which remained essential for the poor Burmese cultivators for ploughing. If immediate actions are not taken to support the farmers with tiller and fresh rice saplings, it can be guessed that Burma might face food crisis at the end of the year; Because the Irrawaddy (river) delta region produces most (almost 60 %) of the country's rice.

          Besides rice, the region also contributes in fish productions. The cyclone damaged most of the fishing ponds, hatcheries and shrimp farms of the area and it could add more people under poverty tag in the coming days.

          Meanwhile the UN Undersecretary-General Noeleen Heyzer issued a clarion call for supplying fuel (to run the power tillers) for the Burmese farmers. Heyzer had reportedly stated that this initiative was crucial for the affected Burmese farmers ‘to meet their planting season' to rebuild their livelihood.

          Earlier the Burmese Agriculture minister Htay Oo informed that they urgently needed diesel (it might be a volume of five million litre) to run around 5,000 power tillers. It may be mentioned that, understanding the real and immediate difficulties of the rice growers, many countries including China and Thailand donated the power tillers to the farmers.

          Burma, which was once known as the rice bowl of Asia, has slowly lost the volume of rice production. Four decades of non-governance under the military rule and disastrous economic policies of the junta has left Burma in such a pathetic condition that the farmers now lost their interest and motivation for surplus productions.

          Amidst all the troubles and uncertainties looming over Burma, Win Naing, who keeps a closer look at the political developments in the entire country, hopes for a major uprising in the country. And he has arguments what he and many of his friends are expecting.

          "The cyclone has taught the Burmese people that there is nothing like governance in Burma and they have to face all the problems with their own with outside supports. In fact, they come to realize the presence of outer agencies in a bigger way after the disaster. It will definitely enrich their optimism for a change," Naing argued.

          He also added, "During the saffron revolution (September, 2007), the Burmese people (over 80% of them are Buddhist) witnessed how their government could torture the monks, the most respected community in the country, to remain in power. This time, they have seen the cruelty of the government towards them. I apprehend try the junta will slip into a bigger trouble very soon as the regime has started losing its influence on the monks and the common people. We expect if it would happen little earlier!"


          Burma's declining basic education - Moe Aye
          Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 10 Jul 2008

          Former Rangoon University lecturer Daw Nyein Khet Khet has criticised the two-tier education system in Burma for denying children from poor families an adequate basic education.

          Among the schools in Rangoon under the administration of the military regime's Ministry of Education, many that are attended by the children of government officials or those from rich families demand sizeable fees and contributions from parents.

          The schools in which the children of the elite study and those attended by the majority of ordinary students differ significantly in terms of teaching, collecting money, quality of teaching, exam results and the percentage of students who obtain distinctions in their exams.

          DVB interviewed Daw Nyein Khet Khet, a former lecturer from Rangoon University's Burmese Department, to find out about the declining state of Burma's basic education.

          DVB: Why are there differences between schools in terms of exam pass rates and so on?

          NKK: Teachers in Dagon (1) and Latha (2) schools pay close attention to the students they are teaching. They also teach those students outside classrooms in return for high tuition fees. As a result, the percentage of children from those schools who pass their exams has grown.

          Because of the high exam pass rate, those schools became popular and later, the number of students who wanted to study in those schools increased. Competition for school admission also came about. Paying more money and making donations became standard in order for children to attend those schools.

          In Burma, particularly in schools at ward level in Rangoon, people have to at least make a donation to be able to send their children to schools. I would say such practice is a bad practice.

          As you know our country faces economic hardship, there are parents who cannot even afford a small amount of money for their children's education. As a consequence, children cannot attend schools and many have to drop out.

          I don't think investing a lot of money to be able to select ‘good' schools for primary education is a good indication to basic education. If teachers in those schools have better teaching skills, it is only because of the mismanagement of the government.

          Every school must have qualified teachers who have the same teaching skills. And the government has the responsibility to train them to be qualified.

          DVB: What do you think is the root cause of these differences?

          NKK: I think the main reason lies in the very low rate of pay for teachers. Because of that teachers have to take on teaching outside the classrooms - private tuition - to make ends meet.

          To earn high tuition fees, teachers try to pay close attention to their students. And so rich parents who want better attention for their children send their kids to schools where those teachers are available by spending more money.

          As for teachers who want to make more money, they prefer teaching in those schools and they seem to take effective care of the children's education only when they are in those schools. These issues are all interrelated.

          On 7 July 1962, university students called for national education. Basically, they called for teaching on democracy, asking the government to develop an international-standard curriculum that includes political knowledge students should be aware of. I would say they called for freedom of education.

          If we had freedom of education in our country, we wouldn't need to worry about the crisis we are currently facing in Burma's basic education system. Teachers' salaries and school expenses for our children would also no longer be a concern.

          Despite changes in the basic education curriculum to bring it up to international standards, the military regime still doesn't consider the rights of those who work in education and those of the students. It shows that there is no freedom of education in our country.


          Thousands of Karenni IDPs hide in jungle - Saw Yan Naing
          Irrawaddy: Wed 9 Jul 2008

          An estimated 4,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are currently hiding in the jungle near Hpasawng Township, about 94 kilometers south of the Karenni State capital Loikaw, according to a Karenni relief group.

          Daniel, a coordinator for the Karenni Social Welfare and Development Center (KSWDC), which provides aid to Karenni IDPs, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the villagers had fled their homes fearing attacks by the Burmese army.

          "More than 4,000 Karenni IDPs are now hiding in Hpasawng Township," said Daniel, who uses only one name. "It will be very difficult for them if they have to stay in the jungle for a long time."

          The Burmese army's Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 427, 428 and 337 patrol the area around Hpasawng and have clashed with Karenni rebels in the area six times so far this year, according to local sources.

          Some of the Karenni IDPs want to move to the Thai-Burmese border, but they fear possible attacks by Burmese troops along the way, said Daniel.

          Poe Byar Shay Reh, chairman of the Karenni Refugee Committee, said that more than 160 IDPs have arrived at Karenni refugee camps in Thailand's Mae Hong Son Province since the beginning of 2008.

          He said, however, that so far, none of the IDPs currently hiding in the jungle have reached the refugee camps.

          "None of them have arrived at the refugee camps, but we don't know if they'll start coming later," said Poe Byar Shay Reh.

          He added that some of the Karenni IDPs now sheltering in the refugee camps had fled their villages after being accused by the Burmese army and the ceasefire Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front of supporting the anti-government Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).

          The KNPP signed a ceasefire agreement with Burma's ruling junta in 1995, but the truce broke down after just three months when Burmese troops deployed on KNPP territory.

          There have been several failed attempts since then to restart talks, most recently in late 2004. However, the junta suspended all contact with the group following the ouster of Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt, who had masterminded a number of ceasefire agreements with ethnic rebel groups.

          Burmese military operations forced around 6,000 Karenni villagers to become IDPs in 2007, according to a survey conducted by KSWDC.

          More than 20,000 Karenni refugees are staying in two camps in Mae Hong Son Province, according to the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium and the Karenni Refugee Committee.


          World Bank will not support junta, says NLD - Khin Hnin Htet
          Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 9 Jul 2008

          The World Bank does not have any plans to provide the military regime in Burma with financial assistance, according to Dr Win Naing, a member of the National League for Democracy Information Committee.

          Dr Win Naing told DVB that a delegation from the World Bank met with five leaders from the pro-democracy party in Rangoon on Friday last week to explain about the financial institution's current policy on Burma.

          "They said they still stood firm on their policy of not giving any financial loans to the regime," said Dr Win Naing.

          "They also told us that they had been involved in the cyclone assessment process together with UN agencies."

          DVB has learned that the World Bank will submit their findings from the assessment to interested donors to inform their decisions on aid provision.

          "They said that based on their findings donors could calculate how to provide relief supplies to cyclone survivors," said Dr Win Naing.

          "They stressed that donors would not channel their support to the victims through the regime, but would instead provide aid through selected NGOs or agencies."

          In May this year, the World Bank's executive director Juan Jose Daboub told journalists that it currently did not have any plans to give financial support to Burma, which had lost USD 10 billion since Cyclone Nargis hit the country, because the junta had not paid off the previous debts it owed to the institution.

          According to AFP, Burma's military regime has not repaid loans borrowed from the World Bank since 1988.


          Indian company to start drilling gas in Myanmar
          Xinhua: Wed 9 Jul 2008

          An Indian oil company, the Essar, will start drilling test well at an inland block in Myanmar's western coastal Rakhine state to explore natural gas in the coming open season later this year, news journal 7-Day reported on Wednesday. The drilling will take place at block-L covering Sittway and Maungtaw regions of the state.

          Block-L stands one of the two blocks which the Indian company is to explore gas under a contract signed with the state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise in May 2005. The exploration on another block A-2 lying off the Rakhine coast will follow later, earlier report said. The Essar is another Indian company engaged in oil and gas exploration in Myanmar after the ONGC Videsh Ltd of India and the Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), both of which are being involved in similar activities since 2000 at Block A-1 and A-3 in the same offshore area in partnership with South Korea's Daewoo International Corporation and South Korea Gas Corporation. The consortium is led by Daewoo.

          Myanmar has abundance of natural gas resources especially in the offshore areas. With three main large offshore oil and gas fields and 19 onshore ones, Myanmar has proven recoverable reserve of 510 billion cubic-meters out of 2.54 trillion cubic-meters's estimated reserve of offshore and onshore gas, experts said, adding that the country is also estimated to have 3.2 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil reserve.

          Statistics revealed that foreign investment in Myanmar's oil and gas sector had reached 3.243 billion dollars in 85 projects as of the end of 2007 since the country opened to such investment in late 1988, standing the second in the country's foreign investment sectorally after electric power.

          In 2007, foreign investment in the oil and gas sector more than tripled to 474.3 million U.S. dollars compared with 2006, accounting for 90 percent of the total during the year which stood 504.8 million, according to the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development. More statistics show that natural gas topped Myanmar's exports in 2007-08 with 2.594 billion dollars, up 27.7 percent from 2006- 07's 2.03 billion dollars, representing 42.9 percent of the total exports during the year.


          Most ceasefire groups undecided on 2010 election - Saw Yan Naing
          Irrawaddy: Tue 8 Jul 2008

          Despite government pressure, most ethnic ceasefire groups are undecided on whether to disarm and form political parties to contest the Burmese general election scheduled for 2010, according to sources close to the ceasefire groups.

          For one month now, Burmese military authorities have been urging the ceasefire groups to surrender - in effect, lay down their weapons - and form political parties. An alternative option for the ceasefire groups could be to enlist their troops as special combat police, said the sources.

          Two ethnic ceasefire groups - the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) - have not yet responded to the request of the Burmese authorities, according to sources in Shan State.

          The editor of Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), Khuensai Jaiyen, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that no statement had been made as yet. The UWSA just want autonomy, he added.

          The UWSA has an estimated 20,000 soldiers deployed along Burma's borders with Thailand and China while an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 Wa villagers inhabit areas of southern Shan State.

          Another ethnic ceasefire group, the National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State, also known as the Mongla group, has been under pressure to decommission its weapons or serve as a special combat police unit under government command, according to a senior official of the Mongla who was quoted recently by SHAN.

          The Mongla group, however, have not replied to the military government's call for surrender, the article added.

          Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Sai Murng, deputy spokesman of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), said, "I think the ceasefire groups have only two options. One is to surrender and do what the regime says. The other is to fight back against the Burmese army."

          Meanwhile, Nai ong Ma-nge, a spokesman for the ethnic Mon ceasefire group, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), said, "We haven't decided as yet whether to be involved in the 2010 election. It is a major political change, so we have to wait for a decision from headquarters."

          The NMSP entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese junta in 1995.

          A source close to a Karen ceasefire group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), said, "At this moment, it is impossible for the DKBA to surrender and form a party. The DKBA has no interest in being involved in the political process. They will retain their weapons and maintain their development and business interests in Karen State."

          The DKBA is a breakaway group of the Karen National Union - Burma's largest ethnic insurgency group. The DKBA signed a ceasefire with the military government in 1994 after splitting from the KNU.

          However, an ethnic Kachin ceasefire group, the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), will reportedly lay down its weapons and participate in the 2010 election, said Aung Wa, a Kachin source on the Sino-Burmese border.

          The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which is based along the Sino-Burmese border, will also take part in the 2010 election, said Aung Wa. However, it was still unclear whether the KIO would agree to a surrender, he added.

          The KIO, founded in 1961, was one of 17 ethnic armed groups that signed a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta in 1990s.

          Recently, the Burmese regime published an article in the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar calling the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy in the 1990 general election "illegal," and calling for the party to run in the 2010 elections.


          Prosecution alters charge against blogger - Phanida
          Mizzima News: Tue 8 Jul 2008

          Author and blogger Nay Phone Latt, in custody for six months, was charged again under the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act under section 5(j), a switch from the previous charge under section 32(b) of the Video Act.

          "His case has been changed to section 5(j) of Emergency Provisions Act. The Special Branch (SB) of Police informed him about it in prison on July 2, he said. He was previously charged under section 32(b). The hearing is now fixed for July 16. But he also said that he will not be produced before the court on July 16 but will be remanded again," Aye Aye Than, his mother, who met him in prison yesterday told Mizzima.

          Under section 32(b) of the Video Act, he is facing a maximum of six months in prison but now faces a maximum of seven years in jail under the new charge under section 5(j) of Emergency Provisions Act, if convicted, the defense lawyer Aung Thein said.

          "The authorities and the law enforcement agencies do not respect and abide by the law. They changed the charge according to their wishes. They couldn't produce the accused before the court as they do not have a sound case. They have just changed their charge sheet again and again under different sections of different Acts. He has been in custody for long time," he said.

          The authorities arrested blogger Nay Phone Latt on January 29 and remanded him until today without producing him before the court and now they have changed their charge against him.

          High court lawyer Aung Thein submitted an application to the authorities on June 16 seeking an interview to get his client's instructions, but has not got it yet.

          Aye Aye Than said she had requested the authorities to let him have treatment for his eye disease.

          "He is suffering from eye disease and I requested the prison authority to let him have treatment. My son said tears come to his eyes at night and he cannot read books, his sole companion in prison. I worry about his eyesight. He must get proper treatment before it is too late. The doctor can prescribe him medicine and vitamins for his eye disease. The eye is the most delicate part of the human body," his mother said.

          Meanwhile another famous human right activist Suu Suu Nwe is suffering from high blood pressure in solitary confinement.

          "I couldn't meet her yesterday. I sent a food parcel to her through prison authorities. They said that prison meetings with family members are banned for violation of prison rules and discipline. Her blood pressure was 160-140 mm Hg when I met her last time on June 30, she said. Our family doctor prescribed medicines and we sent them to her through the prison authorities. We do not know whether she's got it," her elder sister Daw Htay Htay Kyi who went yesterday to meet her said.

          A heart patient Suu Suu Nwe hit her head against the brick wall after having quarreled with the prison authorities at the end of June. After that, she has been kept in solitary confinement in a prison cell.

          "I saw a notice pasted at the prison gate saying she had quarreled with the prison staff many times and made many complaints and argued with them so she was punished with 14 days solitary confinement," lawyer Khin Maung Shein said after visiting the prison on Friday.

          Suu Suu Nwe was arrested on 14 November 2007 in front of Myayeiknyo Hotel while she was into a poster campaign. She was then charged under section 143 & 145 (unlawful assembly), section 505(b) (inciting crime against public tranquility) and section 124(a) (committing disaffection towards the State) of the Criminal Code. She will be produced before the court again tomorrow.


          Junta profits from growing gap in value of cash and FECs - Min Lwin
          Irrawaddy: Tue 8 Jul 2008

          The growing gap between the value of the US dollar and Burmese foreign exchange certificates (FECs) - introduced in 1994 to ensure that most hard currency that enters the country ends up in government hands - is turning Cyclone Nargis relief efforts into a major cash cow for Burma's ruling junta.

          All international aid agencies working in Burma are required to deposit money for operating expenses in accounts at the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB). These deposits - usually made in US dollars - can only be withdrawn in FECs, which are technically equal in value.

          However, since Cyclone Nargis struck on May 2-3, the actual value of the FEC has fallen considerably, from slightly lower than the US unit to just over 80 percent of the dollar's black market exchange rate.

          According to members of Rangoon's business community, FECs now fetch just 965 kyat per unit, while the dollar is worth around 1170.

          Businessmen say the price of FECs started to fall in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, as Burmese living overseas began to transfer large amounts of cash into MFTB accounts to support the relief effort.

          After the junta finally decided to allow major international aid agencies to enter the country in late May, the FECs dropped further.

          "The demand for FECs [from international relief groups] increased, so the government just printed more," said a Rangoon-based economic observer. "This drove down their value, because now the currency market is flooded with FECs."

          Besides international organizations and foreign-owned businesses, Burmese employed abroad are also required to hold MFTB accounts to send remittances to their families in Burma.

          "I have to transfer my dollar salary to my MFTB account, but when my family withdraws the money in FECs, it's worth a lot less," complained a Burmese engineer working in South Africa. "Nowadays we lose at least 200 kyat on the dollar."

          A Burmese relief worker said that the more aid that flows into country, the less the FEC will be worth.

          "International agencies and overseas Burmese deposit US dollars for local purchases, but they can only withdraw FECs. The more dollars that come into Burma, the more FEC there will be in the market," said the relief worker.

          Economic observers pointed out that the government, which has been driving down the value of the FEC by printing them in large numbers, is now effectively earning a 20 percent "tax" on all aid coming into the country.

          According to figures released by the United Nations, US $134 million has so far been spent on the international relief mission in Burma, some of it used to purchase supplies and pay for services locally.


          Forced labor widely used in road construction
          Narinjara News: Tue 8 Jul 2008

          A large number of people in Maungdaw Township have been used as forced labor by local authorities on repair work on the Buthidaung - Maungdaw roadway since the road and bridges collapsed in heavy rains, said a resident from Maungdaw.

          He said, "We have to go do the road repair along the motor road after the authorities summoned 50 people from each ward in downtown Maungdaw through Rayaka, the ward councils. The forced labor began on Monday."

          In Maungdaw, there are six wards altogether, and each had to send 50 people yesterday to the locations where the road was damaged with their own mattocks and pickaxes to do repair work. They had to work from 9 am to 4 pm yesterday without pay.

          "We had to work there from 9 am to 4 pm without payment, but the authority did not provide any assistance with any food or drinking water during the work time. We brought our own food from our homes to the road repair sites," the resident said.

          A local source said the authority not only summoned people from downtown Maungdaw, but also a large number of people from rural villages located along the Buthidaung - Maungdaw motor road.

          A witness said, "I saw a large number of people leave for the 7-miles bridge in many vehicles from the central market to repair the road, and most people were day laborers from Maungdaw."

          According to another report, many wealthier families have had to pay 2,000 kyat to the ward council in order to hire a day laborer if they were unable to send someone from their own families to do the work.

          In Maungdaw's government construction department, there is no machinery such as excavators or dump trucks to aid the repair work, so authorities have used locals as manpower to do all the necessary tasks.

          The road constructed is expected by some to take as much as a year to complete by the people without any machinery due to the heavy damaged it sustained in the rains.

          According to a local source, many people from Maungdaw are preparing to work at the road construction today after the township authority summoned them to do so.

          The Buthidaung - Maungdaw motor road is a key transportation link along the western border and is central to the border trade with Bangladesh. Every rainy season the road suffers blockages and bridge collapses but the authority has neglected to repair such weaknesses as they arise.


          Why the generals are winning - Kyaw Zwa Moe
          Irrawaddy: Tue 8 Jul 2008

          This year is the 20th anniversary of the democracy movement in Burma. In 1988, a few small student protests against late dictator Ne Win's Burma Socialist Programme Party ignited the flame of democracy which quickly developed into the strongest uprising in Burma's history.

          The flame still burns, and the spirit of democracy - though constantly suppressed - lives on. But to accomplish the task of bringing democracy to Burma, the country needs more than a flame - it needs a wildfire.

          Twenty years may not be too long when one talks about changing a country's political system, but it's a long time in a person's life. Many democracy leaders, activists and sympathizers have died, knowing the country was still in the hands of totalitarian dictators.

          Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi once told me that we should be prepared for a "lifelong struggle" to restore democracy in Burma. Yes, it may take an entire lifetime, especially if the pro-democracy movement fails to unite into an unbeatable political force, one truly strong enough to overwhelm the powerful, ruthless military regime, which is intent on ruling Burma for decades to come.

          Over the past 20 years, many committed leaders and activists have joined the struggle, all willing to give everything they had. Their dedication was beyond words: no matter how many times they were imprisoned, they would rejoin the movement when freed. Many thousands of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, have spent most of the past 20 years in the junta's notorious prisons.

          During this time, the movement has lacked the one essential, most important factor: unity. The movement has never been able to gather everyone - leaders and average Burmese people - into one, united political force.

          After 1988, when political parties were allowed to form and contest the 1990 elections, more than 200 political parties mushroomed into existence. It was the first indication of a lack of unity in the pro-democracy movement. Even popular political figures such as former premier U Nu, Suu Kyi and former Brig-Gen Aung Gyi couldn't provide a collective leadership capable of uniting the disparate political groups opposing the regime.

          For instance, even the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, formed around three leaders, Aung Gyi, Suu Kyi and Tin Oo. Aung Gyi, who was chairman of the NLD, later broke away to form his own political party. He was followed by others.

          However, the people of Burma are smart. They knew there was a danger of diluting their voting power among the various opposition parties. They voted for the NLD, giving it 82 percent of the ballots cast.

          Unfortunately, the proliferation of too many political parties and organizations has become a trend in recent decades, not only inside the country but in the exiled community as well, often weakening the overall movement. Many groups are simply names, with no worthwhile activities.

          In the activist community, there's a joke that if two Burmese people meet, they will form three groups. First, each person forms his own group and then they both form a coalition group.

          It's a joke, but it captures a shameful truth. The pro-democracy movement lacks the discipline for unity and power.

          Recently, one of Burma's most respected monks, Dr Ashin Nyanissara, noted the lack of collaboration in Burmese society, saying there have been thousands of pro-democracy groups formed since 1988, but little unity. He's right.

          No matter what obstacles we face in the future, the chief priority for all pro-democracy leaders should be to build a single force capable of uniting the country around one goal: democracy.

          When asked what she wanted to say to pro-democracy groups in an interview with The Irrawaddy in 2002, Suu Kyi replied, "I have always wanted to see unity."

          In every struggle, unity can bring success and disunity can bring failure. All Burmese opposition groups must focus on unity. Otherwise, the flame of democracy in Burma will never burst into the wildfire that's needed to sweep away the military dictatorship.


          Sons of 1962 and future of Burma's political freedom - Ma Ng
          Mizzima News: Tue 8 Jul 2008

          The Burmese Army grabbed political power in a coup on 2 March 1962; and Burma again lost its political freedom 14 years after independence, to the native military dictatorship instead of a foreign colonial power.

          Within a few months, in a move to crush the students protest against the army takeover the Burmese military dynamited the Rangoon University Student Union building on 7 July 1962. And from the beginning the military dictators proved to be more ruthless and destructive than the foreign invaders.

          During the 1962 crackdown, the army generals were no doubt confident that the last of students' rebellion has been extinguished, for good. But 26 years later, Ko Min Ko Naing and Ko Moe Thee Zun who were born in 1962, like many others in their generation, became student leaders of the 1988 uprising. The number of student protesters exploded from a few hundreds in 1962 to hundreds of thousands in 1988.

          Ko Moe Thee Zun, the student leader in exile said that, in 1988 the military did not expect the student rebels to survive the harsh and difficult conditions in the opposition camps. But like the Karen, Shan and other ethnic organizations that came before them, after decades of trials and errors, the student organization led by Ko Moe Thee Zun has also matured into one more challenger to the junta's rule.

          While the military's credibility as the saviour of the nation and protector of the people has diminished, the students' political commitment has earned respect and credibility. It became evident when the 2007 fuel price protest led by the ‘88 student leaders escalated into a full blown Saffron uprising last fall.

          While the military generals are increasingly isolated in their citadel; according to Ko Moe Thee Zun, the difficulties experienced by the students in the jungles, since 1988 have helped Burman majority urban-elites gain greater understanding of the ethnic political movement. An invaluable common bond and respect has also been forged among the students and ethnic political oppositions to help shape durable peace in Burma, later.

          The ethnic armed rebels, who were perceived to have been more concerned with the ethnic right of self determination instead of aiming for a larger political change, are finally evolving into more politically correct organizations after decades of violent conflicts with the military regime in Burma. The surviving armed rebels are no longer tainted with drug trafficking or political and ideological confusion. Their aim for a genuine democratic change, and, their support for Aung San Suu Kyi and the legacy of her father, has never been clearer.

          China which claims to be rising peacefully has nevertheless unilaterally supported the military dictatorship in Burma. China's support for the Burmese regime has been devastating for the armed resistance in Burma.

          However, since the end of the Vietnam War, long before the war in Iraq, armed conflicts alone no longer determine the political future of a country. After the cold war, many nations gained democracy through mass protests and peaceful political uprising, in places where civil wars have already ended.

          The enormous military apparatus in Burma is a threat mostly to the military junta which has to feed and support such an enormous and costly apparatus that do not contribute to the wellbeing of the rulers or the citizens of Burma.

          There is no need for such a large army even just to suppress the urban dissidents or the armed rebels. It is only for the psychological need of the generals. And it reflects the operational inefficiency of the Burmese military.

          The end result of such great inadequacy is calculated to be in billions of dollars of losses for Burma. Within weeks after the Tsunami in December of 2004, the storm relief efforts received two and a half billion dollars worth of pledges from around the world. The United States alone provided 90 helicopters involving military assistance with 12,600 personnel and 21 ships, immediately after the storm.

          Whether the people in Irrawaddy delta a

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