Our message to the people
of Burma is that we are concerned about the continued difficulties they live
under, although there have been some signs of movement as a result of Prof
Gambaris visit. We are still far away from the type of opening that would allow
for a serious, legitimate national reconciliation process that is inclusive and
likely to stand the test of time, he said.
Prominent Burma's activists and more arrested
security forces have arrested two prominent anti-government activists a
Buddhist monk and a labor rights advocate, fellow dissidents said
The United States and other Western
countries deplored the arrests during a U.N. Security Council meeting, saying
they raised doubts about the ruling junta's sincerity in moving toward democracy
and cooperating with the United Nations.
News of the arrests came as U.N. human
rights investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was on the third day of a five-day
mission to investigate human rights conditions in the wake of the government's
violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September.
U Gambira, a Buddhist monk who helped
lead demonstrations in Rangoon that were crushed by the military junta, was
arrested several days ago, exiled Myanmar dissidents in Thailand
Su Su Nway, a prominent female
activist who has been on the run for more than two months, was arrested Tuesday
morning in Rangoon, they said.
U Gambira, also known as U Gambiya,
was a leader of the All-Burma Monks alliance, a group established to support
pro-democracy protests after small demonstrations began in August.
Monks inspired and led the movement
until it was crushed Sept. 26-27. The authorities began their crackdown by
raiding several monasteries in Rangoon in the middle of the night and taking the
Activists who have just arrived at the
Burma-Thailand border confirmed that U Gambira had been arrested, said Stanley
Aung of the Thailand-based dissident group National League for
"I am very worried about U Gambira,"
said Bo Kyi, head of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political
Prisoners. "I fear he will be tortured."
In an e-mail to The Associated Press,
Bo Kyi appealed to Pinheiro to meet with U Gambira before he leaves
Other dissident groups also reported U
Gambira's arrest, although details differed. Some said he was arrested Nov. 4,
the same day an article he wrote was published in the Washington Post. In it, he
vowed to continue the struggle against the military regime.
Another account said he lost touch
with colleagues Nov. 10. He has been active in publicizing his cause abroad,
apparently using a satellite phone.
Su Su Nway was arrested as she was
trying to place a leaflet on a building near a hotel in Rangoon where Pinheiro
has been staying, the NLD-LA's Aung said.
His account confirmed one given in
Rangoon by a Burmese official who insisted on anonymity because he is not
authorized to speak to the media. The contents of the leaflet were not
Pinheiro has said his mission is to
determine how many people were killed and detained in the crackdown. Burmese
authorities said 10 people were killed when troops opened fire on crowds of
peaceful protesters. Diplomats and dissidents, however, say the death toll was
The government acknowledged detaining
almost 3,000 people but says it has released most of them. Most of the prominent
political activists remain in custody.
In an address to the U.N. Security
Council, Burma's Ambassador U Kyaw Tint Swe insisted there "had been no further
arrests in connection with the demonstrations." He made no mention of Su Su Nway
or U Gambira.
But Britain's ambassador to the U.N.,
John Sawers, said Su Su Nway's detention "raises a question mark over the
regime's" assurances to U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari days earlier that political
arrests would stop.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad
denounced both arrests and said the junta must "release all political prisoners"
if it wants to show its commitment "to cooperating with the United
Gambari said that if the arrests were
confirmed, "it would be extremely worrisome because what we want to do is move
forward, not back."
Nevertheless, Gambari, who visited
Burma last week for the second time since the September turmoil, told the
Security Council he was making progress in nudging the junta toward meaningful
dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition. He urged the Security Council to
give his diplomatic effort time to succeed.
"On balance, the positive outcomes of
this latest mission show that the government of Myanmar, while stressing its
sovereignty and independence, can be responsive to the concerns of the
international community," Gambari said. "The situation is qualitatively
different from what it was a few weeks ago."
Su Su Nway, 35, was active in the
August protests of an oil price increase. She dramatically escaped arrest when
pro-government thugs broke up a demonstration on Aug. 28, an event captured on
video and shown on television around the world.
The September demonstrations, which
attracted as many as 100,000 people at their height, grew out of the much
smaller August protests.
After the Aug. 28 confrontation, Su Su
Nway went into hiding, but was reported to occasionally participate in more
protest activity. She had regular contact with the media until her cell phone
was disconnected in early September.
The Democratic Voice of Burma, a
Norway-based radio station run by Burmese dissidents, reported that on Oct. 27,
she laid flowers at the spot where Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai was shot dead
a month earlier by government security forces while he was covering the Rangoon
Su Su Nway served nine months in
prison in 2005-06 for her labor activism. She is also a member of detained
opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy
Pinheiro disturbed by Burma arrest:
The United Nations says its human rights envoy to Burma, Sergio Paulo Pinheiro
was disturbed by the arrest of a prominent labour activist, Su Su Nway.
The activist was arrested in Rangoon
on Tuesday as she put up anti-government posters near the hotel where Mr
Pinheiro was staying. A senior UN official said he expected the UN envoy to
raise the issue with the Burmese authorities.
Mr Pinheiro is expected to be allowed
to meet some of the detainees before he leaves Burma on Thursday.
-NLD spokesperson U Nyan Win told the
BBC that more arrests should be stopped.
Boycott clouds gem show in
In recent years, gem
dealers from across the globe have flocked to auctions in Burma, where huge
piles of jade and chunks of unpolished rubies are put on display by a government
eager for hard currency.
But this time the Gems Emporium, which
opened Wednesday and continues through Nov. 26, is clouded by worries that the
global market for the colored stones, which dealers call some of the world's
most beautiful, may slump in the face of corporate boycotts and government
sanctions in the United States and European Union.
Some of the world's largest and
best-recognized jewelers, including Cartier and Tiffany, have told their
suppliers they will no longer buy gems of Burmese origin.
A bill in the U.S. Congress backed by
Jewelers of America, an industry association, seeks to bar the import of Burmese
gems that are polished or cut in a third country before being shipped to the
Gem dealers long accustomed to dealing
with the authoritarian government in Burma say business uncertainties, more than
moral imperatives, make them reluctant to buy Burmese gems.
Adisak Thawornviriyanan, director of
the Gems and Jewelry Traders Association of Chataburi, a province east of
Bangkok that is a major center for cutting and polishing Burmese gems, has taken
part in auctions for the past four years. But he decided to not to attend this
Gems Emporium, the first since the government's crackdown on demonstrators in
"We will wait and see if we can sell
our old stock, but I wouldn't dare buy more," Adisak said. "We don't know how
strong the U.S. ban will be."
The 27 countries of the European Union
agreed in October to ban the import of Burmese gems and timber. But Japan, China
and other major gem-buying countries have no restrictions.
Brian Leber, a jeweler based outside
Chicago who has been active in seeking to close down imports of Burmese gems,
compares them to the "blood diamonds" that were blamed for financing or fueling
civil wars in Africa.
"If the U.S. and the EU were to cease
buying all Burmese gemstones, I think it would take a huge chunk out of the
regime's pocket," Leber said.
Rubies are the most popular Burmese
gem in the United States, with official imports calculated as $87.4 million in
2006, mostly via Thailand, which is the main trading and polishing center for
Burmese gems. Unofficial imports of the gems, which are easy to carry into the
country, are probably much higher.
Leber says if the ban passed through
Congress, U.S. jewelers would be reluctant to stock rubies. Unlike diamonds,
rubies often have a chemical signature that allows gemologists to trace their
origin, sometimes with enough precision to determine the mine where they were
excavated, experts say.
Cartier, which announced its in-house
ban on Burmese gems last month, says it will conduct random checks on stones
"While this is not an exact science,
especially for smaller stones, laboratories are able to provide feedback on the
credibility of the supplier's claim," Katharina Feller Baignères, a spokeswoman
for Cartier, said by e-mail in response to questions.
Some suppliers have told the company
they cannot guarantee the provenance of their stones and have stopped submitting
any type of gemstones that can be found in Burma, Baignères said.
More often than not, rubies come from
Burma, which supplies about 90 percent of the pink and red stones on the world
market, especially the larger and most prized varieties.
"If it comes from Burma it has magic
to it," said Peggy Jo Donahue, a spokeswoman for Jewelers of America. "It's very
difficult and painful for a lot of gem dealers to think about not having Burma
as a source."
Donahue says partly because of the
blood diamond issue, jewelers are being "held to a higher standard," in
understanding the consequences of buying gems from certain countries or
"There's an expectation in today's
world that retailers will know more about their supply chains than they did in
the past," she said.
Jewelers of America, which represents
11,000 jewelry shops in the United States, about a third of the total, announced
its backing for a strengthened ban on Burmese gems on Oct. 9, two weeks after
the Burmese government's crackdown on protests by monks and
The bill was introduced Oct. 18 and
passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Oct. 31. It awaits approval by
the Ways and Means Committee before being submitted to the full
The bill bans the "importation of any
gemstone or rough unfinished geological material mined or extracted from Burma,
whether imported as a loose item or as any part or component of a finished piece
From the standpoint of the Burmese
government, the boycotts and sanctions are likely to mean lost revenue, though
that is not certain.
The state-run Myanmar Gems Enterprise,
which runs the semi-annual emporium, says gems brought in $296.9 million last
year, the third largest revenue earner for the government after fossil fuels and
Sean Turnell, an expert on the Burmese
economy with Macquarie University in Sydney, said countries like Japan and China
might make up for some of the lost sales - and smuggling will also mitigate the
effect of the boycott and trade restrictions - although the drop in demand from
the United States and European Union is likely to affect prices.
"There is going to have to be a
discount," he said. Smuggled rubies in the United States, he said, will "sell at
a discount because of the dodgy legal status."
Turnell also said the boycotts could
crimp the ability of generals and Burmese business executives to move their
assets out of the country.
In the absence of a stable currency
and with restrictions on holding dollars inside Burma, "gems perform a very
important function in moving personal assets around the deck," Turnell
Burma may have several months before
strengthened U.S. sanctions hit, if they ever do. With a busy legislative agenda
and Burma's crackdown on monks fading from the public consciousness in the
United States, there is a good chance the bill may not pass through Congress
That would please some gem dealers who
have based their businesses around Burmese gems.
Leber says he has received about six
threatening phone calls from angry dealers he knows.
"They called to warn me that I'm
messing with something dangerous and to back off or something bad could happen,"
"They're most likely blowhards," Leber
added, "but I've told several friends in the industry who they are, just in case
I suddenly disappear."