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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 19/11/07

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Burma set to sign ASEAN rights charter 2.. Burma s Ruling General Vows to Follow Roadmap to Democracy 3.. China Calls on Junta to Speed Up Its Democratic
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 18, 2007
      1. Burma set to sign ASEAN rights charter
      2. Burma’s Ruling General Vows to Follow Roadmap to Democracy
      3. China Calls on Junta to Speed Up Its Democratic Reforms
      4. Six political prisoners, 75 others freed after UN rights expert leaves Burma
      5. Burmese opposition radio reports shuffling of prisoners during UN envoy’s visit
      6. Dhamma VCDs by two well-known monks banned in Burma
      7. Gem dealers push to ban Myanmar rubies after bloody crackdown
      8. China unwavering in support for Myanmar
      9. Chinese gov’t special envoy ends Myanmar visit
      10. China blocks UNSC presidential statement on Burma
      11. Forty years of Asean — what to do with Myanmar?
      12. UN holds false hope for Myanmar
      13. Will the generals dare release the Lady?
      14. UN human rights investigator receives evidence of Myanmar death toll
      15. The politics of doing business with a brutal regime
      16. Ban says Burma's parties have agreed to talk
       

      Burma set to sign ASEAN rights charter
      Radio Australia: Sat 17 Nov 2007 

      ASEAN secretary-general Ong Keng Yong says Burma is set to sign an ASEAN charter on democracy and human rights next week.

      The charter — to be signed at a summit in Singapore on Tuesday — will give the grouping legal status and spells out goals for democracy and human rights.

      The ASEAN chief says Burma has not tried to alter the wording of the charter.

      Burma’s Prime Minister Thein Sein is due to attend the summit in the first appearance by a top junta member at an international forum since the regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September.

      On Friday, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to urge ASEAN to suspend Burma until the regime shows respect for human rights.


      Burma’s Ruling General Vows to Follow Roadmap to Democracy
      VOA: Sat 17 Nov 2007 

      Burma’s military leader says he is committed to going ahead with the country’s “road map” to democracy.

      The official New Light of Myanmar newspaper Saturday quoted Senior General Than Shwe as saying the process of building a new nation is a process involving the entire nation.

      The paper said that in a speech Friday, the general said the road map was the only means to a smooth transition towards a new state.

      Under the ruling generals’ road map, Burma will adopt a constitution in a referendum that would eventually lead to free elections.

      But the United States, European Union and United Nations have dismissed the lengthy proceedings as a sham, due to the absence of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party.

      In early September, the military government ended 14 years of talks to draft guidelines for a new constitution.

      Friday in Bangkok, a U.N. human-rights envoy says he was told the Burmese military’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations two months ago killed at least 15 people in Rangoon alone.

      The United Nations representative, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, says he cannot tell whether the casualty estimate is accurate, but that Burmese authorities told him it was based on official documents.

      Burma’s military rulers previously had said 10 people died in the September protests.

      Pinheiro traveled to Thailand after a five-day trip to Burma - his first visit in four years - which was intended to uncover details of human-rights violations committed during and after the September crackdown.

      He is expected to present a report on his findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council on December 11.


      China Calls on Junta to Speed Up Its Democratic Reforms
      Associated Press: Sat 17 Nov 2007 

      China has called on Burma to speed up democratic reforms, state media reported Saturday, in an unusual move for Beijing which has traditionally refrained from criticizing the country’s military junta.

      China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi made the call during a two-day meeting with the junta which ended Friday but which the state-controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper only reported after the Chinese diplomat had left the country.

      Yi also expressed support for United Nations-brokered attempts to reconcile the junta and the country’s suppressed democracy movement led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the newspaper reported.

      China, the junta’s main political ally, does not usually publicly criticize the military government, reaffirming its position of strict noninterference in the internal affairs of the country.

      But in recent weeks, it has been credited with working behind the scenes to pressure Burma to embrace democratic reforms.

      China had provided important backing for the mission of Ibrahim Gambari, the UN secretary general’s special envoy on Burma, by supporting a Security Council declaration and helping persuade Burma to allow him to visit twice since the military’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in September.

      Gambari has been trying to nudge Burma toward democratic reforms.

      The China visit also coincided with UN human rights investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro’s trip to the country, who was there in part to determine the number of people killed and detained from September’s protests.

      Based on post-mortems and other official information, Pinheiro announced Friday that at least 15 people died in Rangoon when the military crushed the demonstrations, five more than the government has acknowledged.

      “This is just in Yangon [Rangoon],” Pinheiro said. “The government has not told me all the casualties in the country.” He added that he would continue seeking relevant information from other sources.

      It was the first trip the junta allowed the Brazilian professor to make to the country in four years.

      Pinheiro said he would give as complete an accounting as possible to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on December 11.

      The military government has said 10 people were killed when troops opened fire on crowds of peaceful protesters on Sept. 26-27. Diplomats and dissidents, however, said the death toll was much higher.

      Pinheiro said the authorities gave him post-mortem reports on 14 people whose bodies had been sent from Rangoon General Hospital to be cremated. He said the 15th known fatality in the crackdown was Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, who was shot dead by security forces.

      In Rangoon, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party said that the junta freed six political prisoners Thursday, the same day Pinheiro completed his five-day mission to the country.

      Pinheiro said he had requested a meeting with Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, but it had not been granted by the government.

      On Thursday, Pinheiro was allowed to meet with several prominent political prisoners at Rangoon’s infamous Insein Prison. He described the facility, which holds about 10,000 prisoners, as being “old and overcrowded.” He also said the prisoners there needed medical treatment.

      The government told Pinheiro it had detained almost 3,000 people in connection with the crackdown, a figure previously announced. The military says it has released most of them, but many prominent political activists remain in custody.

      “Of course, I am happy that large numbers of people have been released,” Pinheiro said in Rangoon on Thursday. “But I have my concerns about the situation of those who have not been released.”


      Six political prisoners, 75 others freed after UN rights expert leaves Burma - Ko Dee
      Mizzima News: Fri 16 Nov 2007 

      In what seems to be a sign of slowly relenting to the onslaught of the United Nations and the international community, the Burmese military junta on Thursday released 75 detainees including six political activists. The release comes in the wake of the departure of UN rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro after a five-day probe into the junta’s repressive handling of the protests by monks and the people.

      The six activists – Tun Lin Kyaw, Thet Naung, Phone Aung, Ma Yi Yi Win, Thein Naing Oo, and a sixth who is still unidentified – were freed along with 69 other detainees on Thursday afternoon, after the Human Rights expert Paulo Sergio Pinheiro concluded his trip to Burma.

      Tun Lin Kyaw, one of the activists freed from the notorious Insein prison in Rangoon, told Mizzima, “We were released at about 11 a.m. Among those freed were 60 men and 15 women including six of us, who are active politically.”

      “The situation in the prison affected my health,” added Tun Lin Kyaw, who was arrested on September 17, 2007 for staging a solo protest in front of the Rangoon City Hall. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was afflicted with a lung disease in the prison confines.

      Thein Naing Oo, a youth member of the National League for Democracy who was among those freed on Thursday said that jail authorities in Insein gave them unhygienic food and water. No proper medical attention was provided causing the health of several prisoners to deteriorate.

      “Half my body is paralyzed. Since the left side of my body was paralyzed, I demanded treatment but it was denied to me. Because of lack of treatment and proper care, my health worsened,” said Thein Naing Oo.

      Thein Naing Oo was arrested June 14, 2003 and sentenced to a seven year prison term, for denouncing the brutal attack on Burmese democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade in Depayin town on May 30, 2007. And for continuously sending appeal letters and trying to stage protests.

      The activists released on Thursday were arrested in 2003 and 2004 and were forced to sign a bond saying that they would not be involved in politics in future, sources said. However, another activist, Kyaw Kyaw, who refused to sign the pledge, was taken back to prison, the source, who is close to the activists, said.

      “I think I was freed because my health condition became critical and it would be dangerous to continue to keep me in prison. It seems they did not want to keep me in prison anymore because they feared I might die in custody,” added Tun Lin Kyaw.

      Meanwhile, the UN rights expert, Pinheiro, on Thursday wound up his five-day visit after meeting several junta officials and other organisations, including the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (the State Governing Body of the Buddhist Clergy), the junta backed Union Solidarity Development and Association (USDA) and also several monasteries including Ngwe Kyar Yan and Kaba Aye.

      The rights experts, who also visited Burma’s notorious Insein prison and other detention camps, however, did not make any statement on his findings.


      Burmese opposition radio reports shuffling of prisoners during UN envoy’s visit
      Democratic Voice of Burma via BBC Monitoring: Fri 16 Nov 2007 

      About 140 long-term convicts in Tharawaddy Prison, Pegu Division, were released on verbal orders this morning, according to sources close to the prison. None of the freed convicts were political prisoners.

      Among those released at around 10 this morning were about 40 female and 100 male prisoners who had been imprisoned on narcotics charges.

      The released were photographed and documented before they were freed.

      The convicts were also temporarily detained just after they were freed from the prison.

      About 50 prisoners who have been imprisoned on political charges and whose cases do not involve firearms were also photographed and documented, according to the sources.

      The release of the prisoners coincides with the visit of UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Mr Pinheiro.

      Meanwhile, family members of some former Customs officials who are being imprisoned in Insein Prison said their relatives were transferred to Mergui Prison in Tenasserim Division just before Mr Pinheiro visited the former prison.

      Dear listeners, although six political prisoners were among those released today, a youth wing member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) was also sentenced to a two-year prison term today.

      Ko Nyunt Aung, member of the NLD Youth Wing in Monywa Township, Sagaing Division, was jailed for two years in Shwebo Prison, according to his relatives.

      Ko Nyunt Aung was on his way to attend the ceremony marking the founding anniversary of the NLD headquarters in Rangoon on 22 September when he was arrested at the Hlegado checkpoint near Sagaing.

      After the arrest, he disappeared for two months and his family could not find out where he was. Family members found out only yesterday that he was being jailed in Shwebo Prison and they visited him there. [passage omitted]


      Dhamma VCDs by two well-known monks banned in Burma
      Irrawaddy: Fri 16 Nov 2007 

      Dhamma VCDs by two of Burma’s respected senior monks, which are interpreted as critical of the junta’s brutal crackdown on the monk-led demonstrations, have been banned by authorities, according to Rangoon sources.

      The two monks, U Nyanithara and U Kawvida, are well-known for their Dhamma talks [Buddhist teachings] to laypeople.

      “Normally all Dhamma cassette tapes or VCDs are sold at shops across the country,” said a Rangoon resident.  “But we cannot buy these recent VCDs at shops because authorities banned them. But you know it’s the IT age. So the VCDs are copied and delivered person-to-person.”

      One Rangoon resident told The Irrawaddy on Friday that U Kawvida called the Burmese junta the second “Azartathet” [Azartathet is an infamous villain who killed his father for power in Buddhist stories].  U Kawvida is abbot at Mizzima Gon Yee Monastery in Rangoon.

      The monks’ dhamma talks, recorded on VCDs,  are based on classic Buddhist stories, but the meaning of the words are interpreted by laypeople as critical of Snr-Gen Than Shwe and the junta, in part because the talks were given shortly after the country-wide protest demonstrations.

      U Kawvida, a Buddhist PhD scholar, said in his VCD that the worst disease is hunger, and if people are poor and hungry, it is a universal truth that they will explore. According to one layperson who saw the VCD, the story was saying that if a government causes people to be poor and hungry, it is natural for people to protest and demonstrate. His most recent Dhamma talks were in Rangoon and Magway.

      Another senior monk, U Nyanithara , also known as Thitagu Sayardaw, spoke before laypeople in Myingyan in central Burma. In his VCD, titled “The Way of Dumb People,” he criticized people who are guided by numerology and astrology. One layperson said the story was critical of Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who is famous for basing important decisions on his astrologer’s advice. A second VCD is titled “The Ending of the King.”

      U Nyanithara openly talked about democracy in many Dhamma talks following the 1988 uprising, and his democracy dhamma tapes were popular among Burmese. He is active in humanitarian work and well-known for his water supply projects, known as Thitagu Water Donations. He has helped establish Buddhist groups in the US, Canada, Australia and in Europe.


      Gem dealers push to ban Myanmar rubies after bloody crackdown - Mick Elmore
      Associated Press: Fri 16 Nov 2007 

      The rich red hue of Myanmar’s prized rubies is a reminder to many gem dealers of the military government’s bloody crackdown on democracy advocates, and talk of a boycott is increasing.

      “There is a growing awareness that it is a fascist regime,” said Brian Leber, a third generation American gem dealer.

      “Considering what this regime has done to its own people, we’re troubled to see that a precious stone is offering such a great source of cash for them,” he said in a telephone interview from the Chicago suburb of Western Springs, Ill.

      “Trade in these stones supports human rights abuses,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement this week. “The sale of these gems gives Burma’s military rulers quick cash to stay in power.” Myanmar is also called Burma.

      But a successful boycott of what activists call “blood rubies” will prove difficult. More than 1,500 people from more than 20 countries registered for a gems auction that opened Wednesday, despite the boycott calls. While some rubies are exported legally, many also are smuggled out of Myanmar.

      The ruby trade puts money in the junta’s pocket, since it controls mining concessions, but the scale of the profit is hard to assess. Secrecy shrouds both the gem trade and the country as a whole.

      In 1964, Myanmar introduced an annual gem auction, and starting in 1992 the sale was held twice a year. In more recent times, a special third auction has been held each year.

      The government has taken other steps to increase earnings, including an effort to cut smuggling. The country’s New Gemstone Law, enacted in 1995, allows people in Myanmar to mine, produce, transport and sell finished gems and jewelry at home and abroad as long as they pay tax, which smugglers don’t.

      Most rubies are trafficked as rough stones. They are dug out of mountainsides in the Mogok and Mong Hsu areas of northeast Myanmar. From there, they are carried on a long, perilous journey over mountains, through jungles and insurgent-prone areas, changing hands several times on their way to Thailand.

      There, the rough stones are heat-treated with chemicals at high temperature for long periods to bring out the brilliant color and clear away small cracks.

      Once cooked, cut and polished, the gems are sold to foreign wholesalers, who distribute them to jewelers around the world.

      The biggest determiner of the final price is the success of the heat enhancement. If done improperly, the process can split a stone and make it almost worthless; done right, a ruby can become more expensive per carat than a diamond.

      The best large stones fetch millions of dollars. The Christie’s auction house, on its Web site, lists a ring set with an 8.62 carat ruby which sold for $3.6 million a record per carat price of $425,000 in February 2006.

      The vast majority, however, are stones of up to 2 carats which miners in Myanmar sell for just a few dollars. They end up in jewelry shops with price tags ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

      The smuggling bypasses the state-owned Myanmar Gem Enterprise that oversees the industry and runs the gem auctions in the city of Yangon.

      The Myanmar Gem Enterprise said it generated sales of nearly $300 million in fiscal year 2006-2007, according to Human Rights Watch.

      The agency did not respond to questions from The Associated Press sent by e-mail.

      Dealers in Bangkok estimate the generals earn at least $60 million annually from gems, but some say the amount could be as high as 10 times that.

      Whatever the figure, a growing number of dealers want to deny the junta any windfall from rubies.

      But imposing sanctions will be fraught with problems, particularly since as many as 90 percent of the world’s rubies come from Myanmar. Most go to the United States, Europe and Japan. Myanmar also exports jade, sapphires and pearls.

      The industry would almost have to ban the trade in rubies altogether for the embargo to work, said P.J. Joseph, a teacher at the Asia Institute of Gemological Sciences, a school and lab in Bangkok.

      “Things are stacked against the embargo working. The generals are pretty used to divide and rule, and it will be difficult to get all countries involved. China, India and Southeast Asia are the key,” he said, adding that these would probably not join.

      Arnold Silverberg, who owns AJS Gems in Bangkok, said an embargo hurts all the mom and pop businesses in the industry.

      “The amount of money the generals get from gems is minuscule compared to the money they get elsewhere. The generals don’t give a damn, they have all the money in the world,” he said.

      Silverberg said those pushing the boycott “are just trying to make themselves feel good. But we’re starving the people, not the generals. I feel bad for the Burmese people.”

      Jewelers of America supports the ban of Myanmar rubies, advising its more than 11,000 members to “to source their gemstones in a manner that respects human rights,” the group’s president, Matthew A. Runci, said in a statement released last month.

      Sanctions didn’t work well before.

      American companies stopped buying rubies in 2003, when the United States banned imports of all Myanmar products under a law enacted in reaction to the ruling generals’ human rights abuses.

      The following year the U.S. Customs Department created a loophole, exempting gems cut or polished in other countries from the ban. More than 90 percent of Myanmar’s gems are exported in rough form.

      Most colored stones from Myanmar are cut and polished in Chanthaburi, Thailand, a global gem center. Often those that arrive cut and polished are done over because the skill level in Myanmar is inferior to Thai workmanship, dealers in the southeast Thai town say.

      But even during the total ban on Myanmar gems, many passed under the radar by being sold as coming from Vietnam or Sri Lanka. When the loophole was introduced they started being Myanmar rubies again.

      Despite such problems, Leber, the Illinois dealer, disagrees with the boycott opponents. “It’s not a question if it’s going to be effective. It just feels wrong to sell rubies from Burma.”


      China unwavering in support for Myanmar - Robert J. Saiget
      Agence France Presse: Fri 16 Nov 2007 

      Booming China needs energy and that means it needs Myanmar, observers say — a lucky break for the ruling generals, who have been able to ignore global outrage thanks to staunch support from Beijing.

      As the international community lined up to denounce the junta for its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks two months ago, China supported a UN statement of condemnation but took no tougher action.

      Beijing has stuck to its policy of non-interference in Myanmar’s affairs, repeatedly calling for stability followed by democratic progress, and insists that international sanctions against the regime are not the answer.

      That is the message Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will deliver to Southeast Asian leaders next week at their summit in Singapore, a meeting expected to focus on the situation in the former Burma.

      But observers say that China’s call for democratic change is compromised by its significant investments in resource-rich Myanmar’s energy reserves — and its desire to keep rival India from gaining better access to them.

      Another key reason for China’s unwillingness to talk tough is that the communist rulers in Beijing would not like to see a democratic uprising or political chaos in a neighbouring country.

      “I don’t think there is any change in substantive issues in the Chinese stand on Burma,” R. Hariharan, a Myanmar expert at the Chennai Centre for Chinese Studies in India, told AFP.

      “With the junta playing up the energy issue in developing closer relations with India, China appears to have renewed their courting of the regime, paying uneconomic prices for gas exploration to successfully outbid India,” he said.

      “The energy business is almost fully in Chinese pockets.”

      Beijing invests heavily in the development of Myanmar’s energy and natural gas sectors — resources it needs to fuel its juggernaut economy — and is a major supplier of weapons to the impoverished military-run nation.

      Bilateral trade climbed nearly 50 percent in the first eight months of the year to be worth 1.08 billion dollars, according to official Chinese data.

      Beijing views Myanmar as strategically important, as it is a gateway to the Indian Ocean.

      It also needs the military regime’s help to stamp out the drugs trade across their shared 2,100-kilometre (1,300-mile) border, Hariharan noted.

      “China’s position has changed a little bit, but not much — it is asking for democratic change in Burma and wants dialogue between the junta and the opposition,” said Min Win, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University in Thailand.

      “But China doesn’t want change, in the sense it does not want to see outside pressure on Burma or the military. China fears that if a new government is formed in Burma, it will lose its influence to the West.”

      Ahead of Wen’s trip to Singapore, during which he will meet with ASEAN leaders and counterparts from other Asian powers, assistant foreign minister He Yafei said stability in Myanmar remained China’s primary concern.

      “We have repeatedly said that we will help Myanmar achieve stability, democracy and development,” He told journalists.

      “Our primary goal is to see stability in Myanmar — we can never allow chaos in Myanmar. We cannot allow Myanmar to turn into another Iraq. No matter what other countries think, China’s position on this is very firm.”

      Next week’s ASEAN summit will be followed by the East Asia Summit, where Southeast Asian leaders will be joined by their counterparts from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

      Any statement on Myanmar from that meeting is seen as carrying additional weight, given China and India’s involvement.

      UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari has described China’s role during the crisis as “helpful”.

      The Chinese minister said the recent meeting between detained opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi and the junta’s liaison showed that Myanmar was moving in the right direction following September’s violence, and becoming more stable.

      “The international community should be encouraged by this,” He said.


      Chinese gov’t special envoy ends Myanmar visit
      Xinhua Economic News Service: Fri 16 Nov 2007 

      Chinese government’s special envoy, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi ended his three-day visit to Myanmar Friday.

      During his visit, Wang called on Myanmar top leader Senior- General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), in the new capital of Nay Pyi Taw Thursday.

      Earlier in the day, Wang had a separate meeting with the Spokes Authoritative Team of the SPDC which comprises three Myanmar ministers — Information Minister Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan, Foreign Minister U Nyan Win and Labor Minister U Aung Kyi.

      The two sides had a frank and in-depth exchange of views on issues of common interest, speaking highly of the progress of the mutually beneficial cooperation in the political, economic, cultural and other areas in recent years.

      Both sides expressed their willingness to make joint efforts in developing Sino-Myanmar traditional “paukphaw (fraternal)” friendship, deepening mutually beneficial cooperation and advancing bilateral ties for the benefit of the two peoples.

      The Myanmar side reiterated that it firmly pursue the one China policy, regards Taiwan as an inalienable part of China and opposes all separatists activities for “Taiwan independence”.

      The Myanmar side briefed the special envoy on its domestic situation and reaffirmed that they will, according to the will of the Myanmar people as a whole, take positive and pragmatic measures to accelerate the “Seven-Step Roadmap”.

      At the same time they assured the Chinese side that they will continue to make every effort for the maintenance of stability, economic development, advancement of democracy and the improvement of the people’s livelihood.

      The Chinese side on its part, reaffirmed its position on Myanmar, saying that China supports the efforts made by the Myanmar government and people to achieve political reconciliation and improve their people’s livelihood.

      The Chinese side hoped that Myanmar will be able to resolve the pending issues through consultations so as to speed up the democratization process.

      Meanwhile, China will continue to support the mediation efforts of United Nations Secretary-General and his Special Adviser, and hopes that the international community will provide positive and constructive assistance to Myanmar in accordance with the norms of international relations.

      The Chinese side said that it sincerely hopes that political stability, economic development and lasting tranquility would be achieved in Myanmar at an early date.

      Wang Yi, dispatched by the Chinese government as a special envoy, arrived here Wednesday.


      China blocks UNSC presidential statement on Burma - Lalit K Jha
      Irrawaddy: Fri 16 Nov 2007 

      The US on Thursday alleged that China blocked the issuing of a presidential statement on Burma at the UN Security Council.

      Led by the US, a majority of the countries in the 15-member Security Council had favored issuing a presidential statement after closed door consultations on Tuesday and a briefing on the Burmese issue by Ibrahim Gambari, the UN Special Envoy on Burma.

      A presidential statement—though not legally binding, unlike a resolution—can only be issued with a consensus, meaning that all members of the Security Council have to agree on it and its content. China opposed issuing a presidential statement on Burma, which would have been the second one in a little over a month.

      “We were disappointed by their (China’s) unwillingness to support a PRST (presidential statement). They were only willing to support a statement. We worked hard to persuade them to go for a PRST, but they did not cooperate,” the US Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad said.

      At the same time, Khalilzad noted the cooperation of China in the past with regard to Burma in facilitating the work of Gambari.

      This is for the first time that a top US official has come out openly to state that China was not cooperating with it and other like-minded members of the Security Council on the issue of Burma. This was very much evident on Tuesday during the debate on Burma at the Security Council. While China and Russia observed that sanctions against Burma were counterproductive and termed the mission of Gambari to Burma as successful, the delegates of the US, Britain and France observed that the steps taken by the Burmese junta following international pressure were timid and more needed to be done.


      Forty years of Asean — what to do with Myanmar? - C.P.F. Luhulima
      Jakarta Post: Fri 16 Nov 2007 

      The Association of Southeast Asian Nations was established in 1967 when its member states recognized their apparent inability to resolve disputes bilaterally, to address the need for a political-cum-security framework for conflict management and resolution

      Since its establishment, ASEAN member countries have indeed substantiated that they are capable of co-existing in peace and harmony

      While some regional disputes and differences have not been resolved, ASEAN countries have learned to diffuse or abate their conflicts and not to exploit the association for their own interests

      The existence of ASEAN thus serves to guarantee security for peaceful and harmonious bilateral relations, and as a corollary for long-term economic, social and cultural development

      It has become increasingly difficult to visualize open conflicts between two or more ASEAN member states. Sub-regional relations have developed an ASEAN spirit, which strongly supports ASEAN regionalism

      Despite the legal character of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia, ASEAN prefers an informal approach to resolve conflicts, placing an emphasis on relationships rather than formal structures

      There is a general distrust of the structured legalistic approach to conflict resolution, which lacks sufficient consideration of situations and/or the emotional state of conflicting parties. But can the aversion to this approach be sustained in the 21st century, which will be complicated with the deluge of globalization, fierce competition, the multilateralization of security approaches and the multidimensionalization of threats to security? The globalization process and the financial crisis inundating the region have forced ASEAN members to get over this aversion, to produce a charter and add supplementary values to the ASEAN agenda of peace and stability: “the active strengthening of democratic values, good governance, rejection of unconstitutional and undemocratic changes of government, the rule of law including international humanitarian law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”. ASEAN will also need to adjust its policy of non-intervention in keeping with these new values

      The new values have simultaneously shifted ASEAN’s approach to cooperation: The process of “lowest-common-denominator-seeking”, the approach employed since ASEAN’s establishment, has given way to a “target setting” method

      First with the ASEAN Free Trade Area, in 1992, the approach was again seen in ASEAN Vision 2020, in 1998, and the ASEAN Community in 2015, in January 2007. As a consequence, Myanmar and Thailand have been targeted in ASEAN’s preoccupation with the new values of democracy, denunciation of unconstitutional and undemocratic changes in government

      Other aspects include its approach to human rights and fundamental freedoms, which have been addressed, not by “lowest-common-denominator- seeking”, but, by heading straight to the calibration of democratic and human rights performance based on regional criteria

      Thailand, a founding member of ASEAN, knows full well what is expected and is adapting to these values, which were agreed to on joining the association. Myanmar, however, has found it difficult to adapt to ASEAN principles, as regime security is still a top priority for its leaders

      ASEAN has rebuffed wide-reaching calls for sanctions on Myanmar or suspension of its membership on account of the recent crackdown on demonstrations. Singapore’s foreign minister, George Yeo, recently said ASEAN would like Myanmar to remain part of ASEAN and attend the 13th Summit in Singapore

      He argued that ostracizing Myanmar could result in it being “balkanised” by big powers in the region. The Jakarta Post (Oct. 25), in its editorial, exasperatingly argued President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono “will probably be the one to raise the hand of Myanmar’s self- appointed leader in a demonstration of regional unity”

      But Indonesia’s foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda said, at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs (Oct. 2), the Myanmar junta must be given the opportunity to share its power with a civilian government in a transition towards a democratic government

      Myanmar needs a transition from its military government to a democratic government. “We cannot demand a drastic change of government from the current military to civilian one. It has to be done through a joint civilian-military government. The world will need to approach the Myanmar problem more evenly,” he said

      This is Hassan’s way out, since the harsh Western and soft ASEAN approaches have not produced any results so far. Hassan’s proposal looks likely to be the path Myanmar will take with most success, since leaders of both the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), those who wield power in Myanmar under Senior General Tan Shwe, and the National League for Democracy (NLD) under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, have held their positions for far longer than a normal term

      Tan Shwe is in his 70s and Suu Kyi in her 60s, and, in the same regard, they both should overcome the trepidation which the latter articulated in her “Freedom From Fear” speech: “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it”

      Both leaders must consider the nation, and work to devise ways of resolving the predicament facing Myanmar and the establishment of a democratic system which acknowledges human rights. This is their duty to the next generation of Myanmar’s leaders

      Indonesia, in particular, should continue approaching both parties to change their strategies and work toward democracy in Myanmar, which is already in their political programs

      Indonesia should, on behalf of ASEAN, invite both the SPDC and NLD to the forum. It would be a good opportunity to listen to what they have to say, and talk face-to-face with the ASEAN family message of peace and harmony, in solving their domestic affairs for the good of ASEAN. This is the best ASEAN could do at this point in time

      ASEAN, however, will have great difficulty setting a target date for Myanmar’s democratization process, but democracy should be determined as the lowest common denominator in this exercise

      * The writer is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and the Center for East Asian Cooperation Studies (CEACS)


       
      UN holds false hope for Myanmar - Bertil Lintner
      Asia Times: Fri 16 Nov 2007 

      If the United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, is to be believed, the situation in the military run country has changed for the better in the past few weeks, with the junta taking a qualitatively different line from when it cracked down on street demonstrators in late September.

      Reporting to the UN Security Council on his recent visit to Myanmar on November 13, he urged its members to give his “diplomatic effort time to succeed”. But, as he was speaking in New York, in Yangon and other Myanmar cities arrests of dissidents were still in full swing. On the exact same day, Su Su Nway, a prominent female activist who had been in hiding for several weeks, was picked up by the secret police as she was trying to convey a message to another UN official, human rights envoy Paulo Pinheiro, who just had arrived in the country.

      A few days before the arrest of Su Su Nway, U Gambira, a Buddhist monk and leader of the All-Burma Monks Alliance, was also apprehended. He was one of the leaders of the monk-led, anti-government protests in September, and had been in hiding since the military’s armed crackdown on September 26-27. U Gambira has been charged with treason, the punishment for which is life in prison or death. The monk’s father and brother have also been arrested while his mother and three other family members were interrogated by military authorities.

      In the old capital Yangon, eyewitnesses reported seeing young people recently being apprehended in one of the city’s markets as they were handing out leaflets. And, at night and pre-dawn morning - usually around 1 am - secret police officers continue to raid people’s homes and drag suspected dissidents away.

      Those actions give the lie to Gambari’s statement on his arrival in Singapore from Myanmar on November 8 that “we now have a process going which will lead to a dialog between the government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi”. He also brought with him a statement from the detained opposition leader, saying that she was ready to cooperate with the country’s military rulers “to pursue national reconciliation”. She may have said that, but of course that is nothing new.

      Aung San Suu Kyi has been calling for a dialog with the country’s rulers since she and other pro-democracy politicians on August 15, 1988, delivered an open letter to then secretary of the Council of State, Kyaw Htin, suggesting the formation of a “People’s Consultative Committee” to solve the political crisis that was then engulfing the country. She has also met with Myanmar’s military leaders on several previous occasions, the first time in 1994, even before she was released from her first round of house arrest in 1995.

      The problem is that Aung San Suu Kyi, the UN, and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) are not speaking the same language. The official mouthpiece newspaper The New Light of Myanmar wrote in its November 10 edition that “while putting energy into the democratization process, the government has been making efforts for the national reconsolidation [sic]”.

      And, “As part of efforts for transition to democracy by implementing the seven-step road map [to democracy] and ensuring peace and stability and bringing about development of the country … Minister of Labor U Aung Kyi was assigned [to meet] Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.” From these public statements it would seem that nearly nothing has changed. The junta’s “seven-step road map” is designed to perpetuate military rule in Myanmar, and “national reconsolidation” is hardly the same as national reconciliation.

      Failed interventions
      Despite his bravado in the Security Council, it is highly unlikely that Gambari will achieve more than a host of other UN envoys who have over the past 17 years visited Myanmar and failed to achieve any progress towards more democracy. Consider the UN’s record. The first “independent expert” the UN sent to the country to “study” violations of human rights was Sadako Ogata, a Japanese professor who later went on to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

      The report she submitted to the UN’s Commission of Human Rights on December 27, 1990, was unusually bland for a rights advocate. “General elections had been held that year in May, resulting in a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party and Ogata concluded in her report that “it is not in dispute that it will be the task of the elected representatives of the Pyithu Hluttaw (National Assembly) to draft a new constitution, on the basis of which a new government will be formed. At present, however … it is not clear when the Hluttaw will be convened for that purpose”.

      In fact, it was never convened. Instead the government began arresting elected MPs and three years later formed a “constituent assembly” consisting of mostly handpicked people to draw up a new constitution, a task which just after 14 years has been completed as the first of seven steps in the junta’s “road map”.

      In 1992, the UN appointed another Japanese academic, Yozo Yokota, “special rapporteur on the situation of human rights” in Myanmar - a step higher than an “independent expert”. He compiled some critical reports, but later resigned in 1996 according to a statement by a UN spokesman at the time, “because of planned career changes in Tokyo” as well as “frustration at the lack of logistical support from human-rights staff in Geneva”, where the Human Rights Commission is based.

      His successor, Rajsoomer Lallah, a former chief justice of Mauritius, was not even allowed by the Myanmar government to visit the country during the four years he served as “special human rights rapporteur”. According to Jose Diaz, then spokesman for the UN Commission for Human Rights, Lallah had “expressed frustration … with the little change that he has seen in the country he follows”.

      Lallah was succeeded by Paulo Pinheiro, a Brazilian law expert who in the beginning was upbeat about his work, including his belief that he was free to talk to political prisoners without interference from the authorities. But his rather positive reports were severely criticized by NLD spokesman U Lwin, among others. Pinheiro changed his tune completely when in March 2003 he discovered a microphone beneath the table at which he was interviewing a political prisoner in Yangon’s infamous Insein jail. He immediately left the country in disgust and was not allowed back until now. In the meantime, perhaps partially to protect his own credibility, he has become a vocal critic of the Myanmar military regime.

      Stonewalled envoys
      Then there were the several special envoys, sent not by the UN’s Human Rights Commission, but by the secretary general himself. Peruvian diplomat Alvar De Soto made six fruitless visits to Myanmar between February 1995 and October 1999. He was succeeded in 2000 by Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, who also began his mission by believing that he could persuade the Myanmar generals to be more cooperative with the political opposition inside the country and the outside international community.

      In November 2001, Razali said he was “hopeful that some significant progress could be made in the near future”. The following year, he was instrumental in securing the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, which prompted him to say: “I am delighted for her and the country … we have to give them time. Don’t expect things to happen immediately. I think there is a commitment on the part of the military to make the transition [to civilian rule].”

      But nothing really changed and in May 2003 Aung San Suu Kyi was locked up again after government thugs attacked her and her entourage at Depayin, a remote village in northern Myanmar. An unknown number of NLD supporters were killed in the melee. She was nearly killed and later escorted back to her private residence in Yangon, where she has remained under house arrest ever since.

      Razali quit his post in January 2006 after he was refused entry to Myanmar for nearly two consecutive years. By then it emerged that his mission to Myanmar had perhaps not been entirely altruistic. Apart from being a Malaysian government civil servant, he is also in private business as the chairman and 30% stockowner of IRIS Technologies, a company that during one of his visits managed to secure a contract with the Myanmar government for high-tech passports with biometric features.

      A conflict of interests? Not according to the UN, which came to his rescue by saying that his kind of part-time contract with the world organization did not “carry any restrictions on business activities”.Yet because of the lack of transparency and accountability, and the absence of any investigative and critical media inside the country, Myanmar provides plenty of opportunities for private business deals. That’s true even for some UN officials and diplomats who are based there, such as the smuggling of antiques in diplomatic and UN bags and the sale of duty-free goods on the black market.

      For the junta, manipulating the UN and sporadically giving false hopes to the international community buys it time while it moves to legitimize its hold on political power through a new charter. Razali’s successor as special envoy, Gambari, has so far continued in the tradition of previous upbeat UN officials, who in the end achieved very little if nothing for the people of Myanmar. When the smoke has cleared, it will most likely be business as usual in Myanmar. Another UN envoy or rapporteur may have come, full of optimism at first, and frustrated by the junta’s intransigence in the end.

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


      Will the generals dare release the Lady? - Larry Jagan
      Bangkok Post: Fri 16 Nov 2007 

      The Burmese junta is sending out mixed messages, raising hopes that Aung San Suu Kyi may be freed soon

      Tentative talks between Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s military rulers have begun, raising hopes that progress may now be made in breaking the country’s political deadlock. ‘’If the talks go well, Aung San Suu Kyi may be released soon,'’ a spokesman for her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), told journalists last weekend.

      The military authorities have eased the restrictions on Daw Suu Kyi, allowing her to meet key members of her party. She has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest, and in the past 3-1/2 years has been in virtual solitary confinement, being allowed only to see her doctor irregularly and the couple of visits by the UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Last week she also had a further meeting with the recently appointed government liaison official, Aung Kyi.

      But analysts warn that it is too ea

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