[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 20/11/07
- Burma to sign pro-human rights Asean Charter
- Asean Charter lacks credibility
- US rules out free-trade deal with ASEAN, citing Burma
- Burma slaps on Asean face
- ASEAN and the international community: redefining dysfunctional
- China backs UN efforts in Burma, hopes for change
- Satellites track removed Burma villages
- Junta eliminating soldiers who fired on monks
- No compromise, says junta mouthpiece
- Monks vow to continue junta boycott
- Monks not allowed entry to Rangoon without recommendations
- EU confirms tougher Myanmar sanctions
- Boycott of rubies from troubled Myanmar could be difficult
- Targeted sanctions needed on petroleum industry
- Junta seizes Chinese mobile phones
- KIO reluctant to react to juntas Saturday night raid
- Reconciliation remains distant hope in Myanmar, despite UN visits
- Singapore bans Myanmar protest at ASEAN summit
- The moral disintegration of Burma's military
Burma to sign pro-human rights Asean Charter
The Nation : 20 Nov.2007
Singapore: Embattled Burma said on Monday that it will join nine other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) at the 13th summit to sign the Asean Charter which will give birth to a human rights body to protect basic rights in member countries.
Burma has been under the spotlight after a military crackdown on massive protests in September that, according to the government, killed at least 15 people including a Japanese journalist.
"We have discussed about the Asean charter, not other issues, and we will sign the charter," Burma's Foreign Minister Nyan Win told reporters after a meeting over breakfast on Monday with his Asean colleagues.
In fact, the Asean leaders had nothing much to discuss about the charter as it has already been drawn up by the High Level Task Force and all countries agreed in advance to endorse it.
What the leaders need to do for the charter during the summit is to put their signatures on Tuesday and celebrate as well as wait for all members to ratify it. It is expected that all countries will ratify the charter within a year from now.
"We hope we can celebrate the charter during the next summit next year in Bangkok where Asean was born," said Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram.
The major concern for the Asean leaders is the Burma issue. Nitya said they will take a common position on how to "engage" the military-ruled country in order to carry the matter forward.
Asean has subscribed an approach of engagement toward its troubled member Burma, rather than pressure and sanctions as put into place by the US and EU.
"Asean is the master of their own house. Asean comprises ten members. No one is leaving. There is no reason why anyone is going to be discussing the question of anybody exiting Asean," Nitya told reporters.
Punishment and the suspension of Burma for its democracy and human rights suppression are not options, he said.
"When we have the charter signed, coming into force would be a mechanism that will be discussed with regard to, let's say, various non-compliance," he added.
Singapore as the Asean chair invited United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari for a briefing on the situation and his mission to push Burma forward to national reconciliation and democracy.
Gambari will be in the city state on Tuesday but the Asean leaders have not built consensus on whether to allow him to brief only ten members of the group, including Burma, or also brief the leaders of East Asian countries during the East Asian Summit on Wednesday.
by Supalak G Khundee
Asean Charter lacks credibility
The Nation : 20 Nov.2007
Southeast Asian civil society has questioned the legitimacy of the Asean Charter, saying it lacked internationally recognised standards, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In a press statement received by The Nation today, the regional network of the Solidarity for Asian People's Advocacy (SAPA) Working Group on ASEAN singled out the situation in Burma.
Rafendi Djamin of the Indonesian Human Rights Group said the standard of the present Charter is much lower than the standards of other regional charters, such as the European Union Constitution.
The group also called for the postponement of the signing of the Charter until political transformation can be realised in Burma.
Charm Tong, representing the Shan Women's Action Network, said the legitimacy of the document would be further undermined if Burma was permitted to sign it.
"ASEAN can do much more to put pressure on the Burmese military junta, but the final draft of the Charter lacks the mechanisms to do so", Cham Tong said.
The demands of the group was also in line with the earlier call made by about 200 Southeast Asian civil society groups that gathered at the Third ASEAN+ Civil Society Conference (ACSCIII) recently held during 24 November 2007 in Singapore.
US rules out free-trade deal with ASEAN, citing Burma
The Nation : 20 Nov.2007
Singapore - Current political conditions in Burma make a free-trade deal between the United States and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) impossible in the near term, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said.
The relationship "can't be business as usual," she said as ASEAN readied for Tuesday's signing of a landmark charter giving the 40-year-old regional grouping legal status and committing the members to pursuing human rights, democracy and a blueprint for economic integration by 2015.
ASEAN leaders recognize that the bloc's reputation and credibility have been undermined by the situation in military-ruled Burma, where troops fired on peaceful protesters in September, killing at least 15.
Schwab, who is on a two-day visit to Singapore, met Monday with economic ministers to discuss progress made under the US-ASEAN Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement, signed a year ago.
"The issue of Burma did come up, and I expressed our concern," she told reporters. //DPA
Burma slaps on Asean face
The Nation : 20 Nov.2007
SINGAPORE--Burma slapped on Asean's face as the United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, invited by the host Singapore to the Asean summit, was not allowed to brief the leaders of the group and the East Asia Summit.
Burma's Prime Minister Thein Sein told the Asean leaders during a working dinner late Monday night before the summit that Gambari should only report to the UN Security Council and not to the Asean or the East Asia Summit. The military government made clear to the Asean leaders that situation in the country was a domestic affair and that Burma was fully capable of handling the situation by itself. Gambari had visited Burma four times, and that Burma had implemented many of his proposals, Thein Sein was quoted as saying to his colleagues.
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the chair of group issued his urgent statement asking the military junta to continue cooperation with the UN envoy. "The leaders noted that the recent visit by Professor Gambari had resulted in several steps in the right direction," he said in a written statement read to journalists after the dinner. "Most leaders expressed the view that Myanmar (Burma) could not go back or stay put. The process of national reconciliation had to move forward, and the UN played a role in this process," he added.
However, Prime Minister Lee did not regard the reaction from Burma as a slap on the Asean and the host Singapore saying that Burma issue is a difficult and complex issue. "It is difficult problem for Myanmar and it is difficult problem which Asean would like to be helpful to Myanmar on, because we see Myanmar as the member of Asean family and we would like help Myanmar to make progress on national reconciliation," Lee told reporters.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who handled the Burma issue since he was foreign minister in 1991, helped to explain to Burmese leader about the Asean's frustration and how the group was serious about the problem, Lee said.
Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said Asean still have chances to engage with Burma to push the military-ruled country forward to national reconciliation but it was up to Burma's decision.
by Supalak Ganjanakhundee
ASEAN and the international community: redefining dysfunctional - Christopher Smith
Mizzima News: Mon 19 Nov 2007
With the 13th ASEAN summit about to kick into full gear in Singapore this week, it is time for a realistic assessment of what can be expected of ASEAN regarding the continuing crisis in Burma, and why ASEAN and the international community continue to pursue counterproductive policies.
In a press release this past weekend, Altsean-Burma advises that ASEAN and its dialogue partners must adopt a common position to ensure that the Burmese military regime delivers genuine reforms within a clearly stated timeframe to strengthen and complement UN efforts.
This is precisely what needs to happen. However, ominously, the paper goes on to specify what that common position must be. In other words, it is not a call for dialogue, but rather a demand to adopt certain preordained policies. It is a fundamental error in strategy and negotiation to which all sides are presently guilty.
Though much has been made of the perceived benefits of a carrot and stick approach to Burma, especially in the footsteps of the United Nations Special Envoy to Burmas continuing mission, the fact remains that carrots and sticks do not work if there is no common goal, and it is entirely unclear whether ASEAN and the international community share the same vision with respect to Burma.
ASEAN in an historical context
ASEAN, in commonality with many international security organizations, is a relic of the Cold War. With the specter of communist insurgencies lurking in several regional countries, ASEAN came into existence in 1967 as a security apparatus to not only ward off the threat of communism, but also to maintain the status quo of internal politics and governance. A status quo which, with respect to Burma, Special Envoy Gambari has said is unacceptable.
With the end of the Cold War, ASEAN has been forced to etch out a new identity for itself. This void has largely been filled by emphasis placed on regional economic initiatives and a perceived external threat from both a burgeoning global economy and economic hegemons closer to home. However, the void this new impetus fills is that of the external threat previously the domain of communist camps the original internal purpose of the organization, the perpetuation of definite power structures and an antipathy to question the internal dynamics of member states, persists.
Along these lines, ASEAN member states, even if not casting a negative vote on public resolutions denouncing the junta, consistently abstain from the voting. This has been the case in both the United Nations Security Council and the Non-Aligned Movement.
The strength of the European Union, often held up as an example of what regional blocs can achieve, owes much to the willing sacrifice of sovereignty on the part of member governments. This directly contradicts a founding and continuing pillar of ASEAN, the paramount importance of protecting member states national identities, which, as in the case of the Burmese junta, are seen as threatened by competing claims from minority groups.
On November 6th, ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong gave a speech in which he identified the three challenges facing ASEAN if the region was to successfully grow and integrate itself with the larger international community: modernisation, competition and respect for the rule of law with specific focus on international patent rights and business law. These principles are consistent with ASEANs economic focus and clearly indicate an interest in seeing change inside Burma. However, the interest from ASEANs perspective is first and foremost one of economics, not the politics first approach adopted by most international voices.
Though ASEAN has made both verbal protestations and inked legal documents with respect to democratic reform and human rights, the bulk of ASEANs initiatives are vague and, ultimately, uncommitted. The Bali Concord of 2003, to give one example, speaks of democratic peace as something to aspire to. But if an honest assessment of its standing regarding Burma were to be made, ASEAN would be fine with seeing Burma move along a constitutional path more in line with the regions own generally illiberal history of governance.
Even with little cooperation and a stream of negative vitriol forthcoming from Washington and interested parties, in the five years following Burmas admission into ASEAN, in 1997, an argument can be made that ASEANs approach toward engaging with the regimes leadership was leading to subtle but distinct changes and paving the road for more substantive changes.
However, any gains from ASEANs initiatives were dashed following the events at Depayin in 2003 and the ensuing removal of then Prime Minister Khin Nyunt.
The change in the Burmese political landscape post-Khin Nyunt has not in any way altered ASEANs opposition to sanctions. Critically, regional countries do not share a synonymous analysis of the economic variable with the internationalist camp.
Thailand, to provide one example, relies on Burma to generate 20 percent of its electric capacity, a figure that is only envisioned to grow with developing hydropower projects in eastern Burma and a growing demand for electricity on the part of a developing Thai populace.
ASEAN has consistently voiced the opinion that any withdrawal of ASEAN economic ties with Burma will quickly be filled by the likes of China, India and Russia. They stress that, especially China and India, these countries are more important to the Burmese jigsaw than ASEAN as an entity.
For ASEAN countries it is not a question then of the extent of financial ties that exist vis-à-vis the regime and the potential power accrued from threatening to break such bonds, but a question of potential losses, as encapsulated in the growing influence of alternative consortiums such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. What is seen as an asset from an international perspective is understood as a liability regionally.
Further, ASEAN is increasingly accusing the Burmese government of isolating itself, and voluntarily pulling further away from ASEAN and regional integration, thereby arguing the further mitigation of any potential impact derived from ASEAN disengagement, economically or politically.
First of all, Myanmar wants to isolate itself. They have themselves closed their doors and we have been trying to get them to open up, said Singapores Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong this week.
To this end, ASEAN, despite public declarations showing concern and calling for reform inside Burma, has responded by relegating the importance of Burma on its agenda. Ong has been vocal, ahead of the summit in Singapore, in stressing that ASEAN has many important tasks to address, and that ASEAN cannot afford to get bogged down on the single issue of Burma.
George Yeo, Singapores Foreign Minister, is adamant that ASEANs potential to influence Burmese reforms is quite limited economically. Instead, Yeo argues that ASEANs opportunities to positively affect events rests on its moral influence, precisely the position from which the international community also claims to occupy with respect to Burma.
Finally, ASEAN asks the international opposition why they do not do more themselves, beyond the strategy of sanctions, if change in Burma is truly a priority. Tellingly, in putting forth this question, ASEAN leaders are asking Western governments in the United States and Europe to defend their moral posturing with significant changes in foreign policy as relating to Burma.
Yet just as revealing was last weeks debate for the Democratic nomination in next years United States Presidential election, in which six of seven respondents answered that national security, as opposed to human rights, should dictate Americas foreign policy. The one person, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who answered in terms of morality and human rights, was roundly deemed to have answered incorrectly.
It is for this same reason, that foreign policy, despite the inroads and increasing voices of human rights and democracy advocates, is still a world very much dominated by realist approaches to national security. And in the world of ASEAN, any potential destabilization of the Burmese scene, in which is included a drastic altering of the political landscape, is a policy to be avoided.
In short, there is a fear that ASEAN needs Burma more than Burma needs ASEAN; push with force too far and Burma could simply turn its back on ASEAN, leading to a corresponding gain by rival countries and blocs or a heightened state of isolation on the part of Burma. Either of these outcomes would be construed as a failure as per the interests of ASEAN.
An internationalists perspective
The crux of the international communitys argument on the insistence of ASEAN taking a more proactive approach in confronting Burmas generals, stems from the belief that Burmas membership in the Southeast Asian consortium endows ASEAN with a responsibility to act to bring the constituent components of the regional bloc in line with international standards.
A recent report from Altsean-Burma, an organization working for human rights and democracy in Burma, goes some distance in accusing ASEAN of complicity in the actions of the Burmese junta. With respect to the violent crackdown carried out by the military at the end of September, Altsean-Burma claims the SPDC had been emboldened to act with impunity and contempt as a byproduct of ASEANs continued unconditional economic engagement and statements without action.
An ASEAN freeze - or even a slowdown on economic, material, and diplomatic support - will shepherd the regime to political dialogue and the achievement of genuine reforms, state the reports authors.
Despite Chinas significant and acknowledged interests in Burma, the report points out that ASEAN is responsible for 51.3 percent of Burmas foreign exchange earnings, with the selling of gas to Thailand alone accounting for 43 percent of such transactions.
Moreover, Thailand and Singapore together have contributed 98.61 percent of the foreign direct investment into Burmas economy over the last two years.
Crucial to the regimes survival, according to the report, are both the financial services the junta is able to conduct via Singapore and its reliance on petrol imported from Malaysia, without which it is said the Burmese army would literally grind to a halt.
Madeleine Albright, then United States Secretary of State, publicly articulated this view immediately following the acceptance of Burma into ASEAN. At the same time, the United States government imposed sanctions against Burma, complicating, from the onset, ASEANs intended approach of assisting in the integration of Burma into the larger international community.
The subject of sanctions then, the efficacy of such a tool questioned by many when not comprehensive in nature, remains an unsettled issue which presently effectively serves nobodys interests.
Another approach concerns the threat, or act, of suspension from ASEAN, should Burma not meet its perceived international obligations. Such a measure is currently being called for by a range of voices, including the 88 Generation movement, the United States Senate, Altsean-Burma and the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus.
Though suspension of Burma had been supported by one of its foremost original supporters of incorporation into the regional bloc, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, it is yet another campaigned for policy directive that, in the ASEAN analysis, runs counter to the innate interests of the organization, namely that of seeking more, not less, integration.
The international opposition ultimately sees itself as the moral vanguard in confronting the Burmese regime, precisely the role that ASEAN itself says it is best suited.
The question then needs to be asked: Are the values of the two camps in line with each other?
Asians want the same thing that Europeans want, claimed Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute at a recent panel discussion in Washington D.C., adding that there is no reason why whats good enough for Europe isnt good enough for Asia.
And only last week the Canadian Foreign Minister, in announcing further sanctions against the regime, told a select audience that, Tougher sanctions against Burma are the right thing to do. They are right on moral grounds. The regime in Burma is abhorrent to Canadian values.
Evidently the Asian Financial Crisis served not only to strip any substance from the idea of distinct Asian Values, but served also to vindicate the universal victory of Canadian and European values, which apparently are in complete harmony with one another.
Though Western voices have long called up the ghost of the Asian Financial Crisis as discrediting once and for all the idea of Asian Values, the truth is that there are distinct differences in culture and values.
With Burma, a positive and constructive role for ASEAN in assisting transformation and reconciliation inside the country needs to be handled with respect to the uniqueness of ASEANs position and Southeast Asia. For example, the insistence on public denouncements of the regime and demands for reform runs directly counter to what would be a more regionally and culturally acceptable method of dialogue and pressure removed from the public sphere. Of course such an approach may not necessarily fit well with European and Canadian values.
A road to nowhere
One of the many stated visions for ASEAN is for the creation of major inter-state highway and railway networks. Along these lines, Asian Highway 1 is envisioned to run from Tokyo to Bulgaria. However, at present, though certainly not the only discontinuity along the route, AH 1 peters out in the Burmese jungle a few kilometers past Myawaddy, opposite Mae Sot, Thailand.
Think of this as a visual representation of ASEANs predicament: ASEAN would like to see inroads develop and mature that would allow Burma to be more fully integrated and accepted both regionally and internationally, for the benefit of ASEANs own image and power. But the very nature of the organization and its primary interests, in conjunction with differing priorities on the part of special interest groups and Western governments, prohibit anything more than exploratory incisions into the country.
All parties are guilty of pursuing policies that inhibit the effectiveness of others pursuits, while any of the approaches exercised in isolation cannot effectively force the issue. The enormous chasm between competing visions forward is well illustrated in the predicament of highly respected opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
She has publicly stated the need to work with regional leaders and her appreciation for the important role that ASEAN must play. However, her position is also one looking to foment constructive dialogue with the junta. Thus, the policies the internationalist camp is asking ASEAN to undertake would ostracize the organization not only from interaction with the junta, but also jeopardize its potential for interaction and assistance to the goals of Suu Kyi. Of course Suu Kyi also remains a strong proponent of sanctions, which infers approval for nations supporting sanctions to encourage a common approach on the part of ASEAN.
It is not a question of determining whose analysis and policies are correct and whose are wrong. The fact is that the sum of the current approaches of ASEAN and the wider international community results in a dysfunctional relationship. And that means that the Burmese people lose. It is long past time for international and regional actors with an interest in Burma to negotiate, compromise and chart a common path forward, appreciative of and integrating differing positions. Before there exists a basket of carrots and sticks, a common agenda must be found.
China backs UN efforts in Burma, hopes for change
Associated Press: Mon 19 Nov 2007
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed hope on Sunday that the efforts by the UN and the people of Burma will help restart national reconciliation after that countrys military rulers recently crushed a pro-democracy movement. We believe that we should continue to promote the good offices done by the United Nations and rely on the efforts of the people of Burma so that the process toward national reconciliation can be restored and the country can realize peace, stability and development, Wen told reporters in a prepared statement.
Wen is in Singapore to attend a summit of Asian leaders on Wednesday.
The vaguely worded statement came after Chinas Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi called on Burma to speed up democratic reforms, state media reported Saturday. It was an unusual move for Beijing, Burmas chief ally, which has traditionally refrained from criticizing its military regime.
The junta has faced heavy international criticism after its troops and police opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in late September, killing at least 15 people.
In recent weeks, China has been credited with working behind the scenes to pressure Burma to embrace democratic reforms after the crackdown. China also provided important backing for the mission of Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. secretary generals special envoy on Burma, by supporting a Security Council declaration and helping persuade Burma to allow him to visit twice.
Satellites track removed Burma villages
ABITSU | November 19, 2007
A satellite photographs a cluster of homes in the Burmese jungle. Seven months later, the village is gone. But the image remains, a document of the demolition of homes and the displacement of people by the military regime. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) presented these images at the UN this week during a panel discussion on human rights abuses in Burma. These high-resolution pictures can be used to track patterns of destruction and relocation, new construction and military expansion.
Thanks to this geospatial technology, non-governmental organisations have partnered with scientific groups to chart rights abuses in inaccessible countries. Satellite images have previously been used to track forced relocations in Zimbabwe and Darfur.
The AAAS has created its own human rights department, dedicated to merging on-the-ground reports with satellite evidence.
Lars Bromley, director of the project, told a UN audience this week: Over the past year, we have tracked 25 sites of interest, including 18 possibly removed villages.
To analyse evidence, Mr Bromley relies on image pairs of before and after shots, comparing archived images with more recent photos. What we mainly see are rooftops disappearing, said Mr Bromley. We are right at the edge of what the technology can do.
Archived satellite images are available for purchase. A satellite can also be commissioned to take specific pictures at a specific time. These commissions can be crucial to capturing proof of village demolitions, particularly in lush regions such as Burma, where plant growth can quickly mask any traces of burned settlements.
Mr Bromley cited his analysis of a village in the disputed Karen state in Burma.
After receiving reports of its destruction from sources inside the country we immediately scheduled a satellite photo, waited for the clouds to move, and got it. The images showed clearly the blackened charred footprints of the homes that used to be there. By comparing old and new photographs, AAAS can also track patterns of migration among Burmas estimated 500,000 internally displaced people.
This year, Mr Bromley observed the appearance of 31 new settlements around a recently expanded military camp. After comparing notes with activists on the ground, he concluded this pattern indicated a forced relocation. But there are limits to satellite imaging. The AAAS relies on first-hand reports compiled by partner organisations on the ground.
Timing is also a challenge. Mr Bromley said: We are bound by the rules of the technology. Only a small percentage of the Earth can be mapped each day. Immediate comparisons are difficult, because images of the same co-ordinates are often up to five years apart. And the accessibility of satellite maps could pose a deeper problem should they fall into the wrong hands.
Palestinian militants and Iraqi insurgents have been caught with printouts from services like Google Earth. But Mr Bromley is not particularly worried. This is an issue we grapple with daily But does it give a tactical advantage you wouldnt be able to get otherwise? No.
Junta eliminating soldiers who fired on monks
Asia News: Mon 19 Nov 2007
Yangon Repression in Myanmar is now turning against the army that carried it out. Reliable sources in the country told AsiaNews that rumours are circulating Mandalay and Yangon according to which the junta is physically eliminating the soldiers that shot at monks and protesters in late September in anti-regime demonstrations in order to get rid of evidence and witnesses should they be called to account for ordering the violence.
In a brief announcement on state TV, the junta said that people involved in the demonstrations caused by fuel price hikes are still being detained. Out of 2,927 people arrested, 468 remain in prison. However, these numbers refer only to people taken into custody on September 26 and 27 when tension was at its peak. Since then the military has continued to arrest opponents by using photos taken during the marches to identify people. Unofficial estimates put the number of those in prison at over 6,000.
Along with arrests and torture, the militarys propaganda campaign continues. By organising pro-regime rallies, the junta is trying to turn the population against Western countries, which it holds responsible for the crisis and the monk-led movement.
The authorities are forcing every village to send 400 to 500 residents to join these [pro-junta] rallies, said some farmers from the area Sagayng area, just north of Mandalay. Anyone who tries to avoid taking part in the march runs the risk of spending months in jail or paying stiff fines. This happened yesterday to us, but we still wont shout the slogans the military imposed on us.
Sometimes people are summoned in stadiums or public spaces at 5 am and forced to wait until 8 am when some officials arrive to read speeches full of attacks against Europe and pro-democracy activists in order to educate participants.
During these rallies in the city of Monywa, some ethnic Burmese were forced to wear clothes identifying them as members of local ethnic minorities in order to show that these groups supported the government.
Many monks have found refuge in villages which are now surrounded by soldiers days and night. Some monks are wearing civilian clothes to avoid visibility, some residents in the Mandalay area said. But they also wear a yellow string as an arm band to show that they are not giving up their role.
The international community also continues to put pressure on the generals to stop arrests, release prisoners and start talking to the opposition. Japan, one of the juntas biggest aid donors, announced it was cutting off US$ 4.7 million in funding. The European Union has also increased its sanctions. And US President George W. Bush is threatening new measures against the junta.
Thailand, where UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari began his new Asia tour, has proposed a regional forum with China and India to push the Burmese government to implement democratic reforms.
Yesterday in Malaysia Gambari only got support from the members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the UN Myanmar mission.
Malaysia Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said there would be no threat of sanctions or suspension from ASEAN.
No compromise, says junta mouthpiece - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Mon 19 Nov 2007
Burmese state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar reported on Monday that there was no reason to hold further discussions with any person or any organization except at the National Convention, despite the ongoing meetings between pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese Minister for Relations, Aung Kyi.
Suu Kyi was taken on Monday from her Rangoons villa where she has been held for the past four years to a state guesthouse, a Reuters report said. They are supposed to be meeting every week, a Western diplomat at Burmas old capital told Reuters.
However, the statement was attributed to so-called ethnic groups, slamming detained democracy leader for her role in the national reconciliation process. The state media have been launching similar statements against Suu Kyi since November 14 after she issued a statement following her meeting with UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari on November 8.
The newspaper report said that the only dialogue that would resolve the crisis in the country is the National Convention.
The press in Burma is completely controlled by the junta. All articles that appear in newspapers are only published by permission of the state authorities. Publishing without permission can earn those responsible up to 20 years imprisonment under Act 19/20.
On November 17, The New Light of Myanmar reported junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwes hardline speech at the 2007 annual general meeting of the Union Solitary and Development Association. In his speech Than Shwe said, The prevalence of peace and stability of the state, the economic might of the people, and state and human resources development are essential requirements in building a new state. While understanding these requirements we have declared a Seven-Step Road Map towards a democratic state. The Seven-Step Road Map is the only means to smooth transition towards a new state.
He urged people to join the juntas road map in building a new state.
Than Shwe also claimed that the economic and social standards of people in Burma had improved. He said that the literacy rate had increased to 94.75 percent and that life expectancy of Burmese people had risen due to the development of the military governments healthcare system.
Than Shwe did not mention the role of the UN in Burmas inclusive national reconciliation process in his speech, nor did he mention the meetings between Suu Kyi and the juntas liaison officer, Minister of Relations Aung Kyi,
However, UN agencies and experts say that up to 40 percent of Burmese children leave school every year to work for their familys welfare, because of poverty. And although hundreds of thousands of people are living with HIV/AIDS, the junta invests only about 2 percent of GDP for education and health. 90 percent of Burmas population is living on less than US $300 annual income, the lowest rate among all Southeast Asian nations.
Monks vow to continue junta boycott
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 19 Nov 2007
The All-Burmese Monks Alliance released a statement yesterday saying they would continue to boycott the military regime and urging the public to join them in protesting against the junta.
The statement was released yesterday to mark the second month since the monks boycott of the government began, in which they have refused to accept alms from government officials and supporters.
They condemned the violent treatment of monks by the regime, and vowed to continue to march against the government, and called on students and civilians in the country to join them.
The group also welcomed the formation of the International Burmese Monks Organisation, a new group set up in the US on 28 October by monks from all around the world.
The statement said the alliance would cooperate with the new international group to fight for their nation and their religion.
They also welcomed the statement from detained democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, which was read by United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari on 8 November.
Monks not allowed entry to Rangoon without recommendations
Independent Mon News Agency: Mon 19 Nov 2007
Monks from the rural countryside in Burma have been banned from entering Rangoon unless they have recommendations.
Monks will be allowed to enter Rangoon for just medical treatment if they can show recommendations from the hospital at train and bus termini.
A monk who recently returned from Rangoon said the authorities are allowing monks to enter Rangoon if they have recommendations from doctors, the name of the monastery where they intend to stay, and also credentials from the monks of the monastery where they want to put up.
If the recommendations are incomplete, the authorities are not permitting monks to enter Rangoon. They are being sent back in the bus they came.
About 50 Monks from Arakan State were turned back after the authorities checked their recommendations at Rangoon station, said a monk who recently returned from Rangoon.
The monk said that the authorities are investigating monks at tea shops. They are being polite to monks and are also offering them coffee during questioning.
The monks do not dare to go to Rangoon because they are apprehensive of not getting permission from the authorities. That is the reason monks from Mon State rarely go to Rangoon for religious education these days.
Most residents and monks in Mon State who do not have relatives in Rangoon used to go to Rangoon for treatment and stayed at the monasteries.
EU confirms tougher Myanmar sanctions
Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Mon 19 Nov 2007
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday confirmed the imposition of tougher sanctions on the Myanmar regime following Octobers crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators.
The new restrictions, agreed on October 15 and formalized by ministers on Monday, include a longer list of Myanmar officials who are subject to a travel ban and an assets freeze.
An investment ban on Burmese state-owned enterprises has also been extended to include businesses owned or controlled by the regime or by persons and entities associated with the regime, an EU statement said.
Ministers also confirmed additional restrictive measures on Myanmars logging, timber and mining sectors.
While the General Affairs Council in Brussels was to consider further restrictive measures, EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the effects of current sanctions should be assessed first.
The EU recently appointed Piero Fassino, a former Italian justice minister, as its special envoy to Myanmar.
This appointment underlines the importance that the EU attaches to development, democratic change, reconciliation and the improvement of the human rights situation in Burma/Myanmar, EU ministers said Monday.
Fassino plans to visit the region, but no date has yet been set.
In the meantime, the ministers reaffirmed their strong support for the efforts of UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who visited Myanmar on November 3-8.
The EU looks forward to Mr Gambaris return and reiterates its call on the government of Burma/Myanmar to afford him all possible assistance, access and freedom of action in order to carry out his mandate, EU ministers said in a statement.
The government officials also reiterated their calls for meaningful dialogue between the regime and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and for all political prisoners to be freed.
Boycott of rubies from troubled Myanmar could be difficult - Mick Elmore
Associated Press: Mon 19 Nov 2007
As many as 90 percent of the worlds rubies come from Myanmar. A woman from Myanmar recently sold rubies and other stones at a market in Mae Sot, Thailand.
The rich red hue of Myanmars prized rubies is a reminder to many gem dealers of the military governments 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, were 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 last week. The sale of these gems gives Burmas 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. Although some rubies are exported legally, many also are smuggled out of Myanmar.
The ruby trade puts money in the juntas 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 countrys 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 dont.
Most rubies are dug out of mountainsides in the northeast Myanmar.
Dealers in Bangkok estimate the generals earn at least $60 million annually from gems, but some suggested the amount could be 10 times higher.
Whatever the figure, a growing number of dealers want to deny the junta any windfall.
But imposing sanctions will be fraught with problems, particularly since as many as 90 percent of the worlds rubies come from Myanmar. Most go to the United States, Europe and Japan.
Burma: Targeted sanctions needed on petroleum industry
Human Rights Watch: Mon 19 Nov 2007
Foreign-State-Owned companies are major investors in Burmas oil and gas fields
New York The United Nations Security Council should act to prohibit any new investment in Burmas oil and gas fields and block company payments that help sustain Burmas brutal military rule, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch said that until the Security Council imposes sanctions, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, India, the European Union, the United States and other countries that have economic ties to Burma should act to suspend any further development of Burmas oil and gas sector. To encourage an end to ongoing repression, Human Rights Watch also called for targeted financial sanctions on companies owned and controlled by the Burmese military or whose revenues substantially benefit the military.
Burmas generals act as if they are immune from worldwide condemnation because theyre still getting cash from foreign-financed oil and gas projects, said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. Its time to cut them off.
In a detailed new compilation of information on foreign investment in oil and gas released today, Human Rights Watch identified 27 companies based in 13 countries as having investment interests in Burmas oil and gas fields. Thirteen of those companies are wholly or partially owned by foreign governments, and these state-controlled companies are invested in 20 of the 30 projects currently underway.
Human Rights Watch also made available detailed maps showing the location of the oil and gas fields.
The Burmese military government relies heavily on the oil and gas sector to sustain itself in power. Lucrative revenues from gas sales allow it to ignore demands to return to civilian rule and improve the countrys human rights record. The oil and gas sector is one of the few sectors in the badly managed economy to experience growth in recent years. Funds from this sector help underwrite the military without bringing benefits to ordinary people.
Human Rights Watch urged the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to ban all new investment in Burmas oil and gas sector and prohibit financial transactions with entities owned or controlled by the Burmese military, or whose revenues are largely used to finance military activities. These entities include the Burmese governments Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), a state company under the Ministry of Energy whose earnings benefit the military.
In the absence of Security Council-imposed sanctions, Human Rights Watch called on governments to take unilateral and multilateral action to freeze bank accounts belonging to military-controlled companies and to block their financial transactions. In addition, it urged governments to require companies headquartered in their jurisdictions that have business ties to Burma to publicly and fully disclose all payments made to the Burmese military, directly or through the entities it controls, and where those payments are made.
Human Rights Watch pushed for robust banking sanctions as the centerpiece of an effort to cut off funds that are used to finance repression by Burmas military. Banking sanctions complement targeted sanctions on investment and trade because they have the potential to severely constrain the juntas ability to access income, no matter the origin of the payments. If applied effectively by key financial powers notably the United States and the European Union strict financial sanctions could block the junta from using much of the international financial system.
Gas revenues in Burma in 2006 were up US$1 billion from the prior year, in part due to higher prices globally. Revenues are likely to have further increased in 2007 as world prices have surged. Future gas revenues are anticipated to increase further once gas production from a massive offshore gas project known as the Shwe project goes online, projected for 2010. A South Korean-led consortium discovered the gas in the Shwe fields and is preparing to produce it for export. Several buyers vied for the rights to buy the Shwe gas, with India and China among the most serious bidders.
In mid-2007, a Burmese official confirmed that China was slated to import the Shwe gas, though details of a deal have not been finalized. Human Rights Watch has called for a suspension of plans to build an overland pipeline to transport that gas to China, given serious human rights concerns. Indian officials expressed disappointment that Indias bid, which also would have included paying for an overland pipeline, had been passed over.
Burmas generals have used the promise of oil and gas supplies to buy the silence of energy-hungry countries, including China and India, said Ganesan. Those governments should be told their international standing will suffer if they do business as usual with Burma.
Burmas military government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) earned approximately $2.16 billion in 2006 from gas sales to Thailand, which accounted for half of all exports that year, and constituted the single largest source of revenue to the SPDC.
According to Human Rights Watchs research, outside investors in Burmas oil and gas industry include companies from:
Australia, British Virgin Islands, China, France, India, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, United States
According to Human Rights Watchs findings, a majority of the contracts for the 30 ongoing oil and gas projects were signed after mid-2004 and 10 of the deals were penned between September 2006 and September 2007. This trend signals the governments move to expand foreign investment in this sector despite ongoing and high-profile human rights abuses. The investment also has come in a period when economic mismanagement and profligate spending on unproductive projects such as the relocation of the capital have drained government finances. Many of the new concessions have been assigned to companies from China, which has long been the most important backer of the Burmese military government.
In some cases, the timing of oil and gas deals coincided closely with political support by the governments whose state-owned companies benefited. For example, a Chinese state-controlled company signed a contract for three offshore gas fields within days of Chinas vote at the UN Security Council to veto a resolution on Burma.
Human Rights Watch also issued a selection of company statements about events in Burma. The companies typically said their investments would remain unaffected, irrespective of events in Burma. In several cases, they claimed it would be inappropriate to raise human-rights concerns or claimed that their projects brought benefits to the people of Burma.
Such comments fail to reflect the reality of conditions in Burma, where the vast majority of the population lives under great hardship and does not see any tangible benefit from outside investment in the oil and gas industry. Most Burmese homes lack electricity altogether, and urban residents face frequent power outages, even as Burmas natural gas is used to power Thailands cities. Though some community development programs are under way in areas in the immediate vicinity of certain oil or gas projects, communities in these same areas often have suffered from forced relocation and forced labor by the Burmese military in order to make way for the massive infrastructure projects.
The companies have made it clear they wont stand up for human rights on their own, said Ganesan. Thats why their home governments need to step in and halt the flow of petrodollars that help prop up Burmas military.
The companies comments do not address the serious concerns that, so long as investments in this sector directly benefit Burmas military leadership, they provide crucial financing that helps underwrite its abusive governance, or that revenues from oil and gas payments are currently used directly by the military and do not support social spending to meet Burmas critical human needs. For example:
Daewoo International of South Korea is the lead company in a consortium exploring and developing the lucrative offshore Shwe gas fields that are expected to greatly boost revenue to the SPDC. On September 28, 2007, Daewoo International said: [These] are all long-time investments. They cant be easily changed because of domestic issues. Politics is politics. Economics is economics. On November 15, a Seoul court convicted the former CEO of Daewoo International and one of his colleagues, along with 12 executives from other companies, on charges that from 2002 to 2006 they illegally exported arms-manufacturing equipment and technology used to build a munitions factory in Burma.
PTT Public Company Ltd. of Thailand, which in addition to its ownership and operating interests in several fields is also the purchaser of the bulk of Burmas gas, for export to Thailand, said on October 8, 2007: We have invested in Burma over the past decade. Despite the political conflict, the benefits from the projects will go to people of both countries.
Total of France, which is the lead company in a consortium for the Yadana project that generates significant revenues for the SPDC, said on September 26, 2007: We are convinced that through our presence we are helping to improve the daily lives of tens of thousands of people who benefit from our social and economic initiatives.
Chevron of the United States, which holds a minority interest in the Yadana project, said on October 2, 2007: Our community development programs also help improve the lives of the people they touch and thereby communicate our values, including respect for human rights.
Nippon Oil of Japan, a partner in the Yetagun project, which brings in major revenues, said on September 29, 2007: We see the political situation and energy business as separate matters.
Junta seizes Chinese mobile phones
Mizzima News: Mon 19 Nov 2007
Junta authorities in northern Burmas Kachin State on Sunday began to seize widely used Chinese mobile phones from civilians, local residents said.
Following the seizure of several Chinese mobile phones from officials of the Kachin Independence Army, a Kachin ceasefire armed rebel group, on November 17 night, authorities on Sunday began to seize phones from civilians in several towns in Kachin state including capital Myit Kyina, Bamaw, Loije, Man Wungyi, and Nam San Yan.
Chinese mobile network is available in Kachin state and parts of Shan State in Burma. The Chinese mobile phones, which operate through the Chinese satellite network, are widely used both in Kachin state and northern Shan state.
The local police are aware who all are using Chinese mobile phones. So, they [authorities] just went into the houses and seized the phones. But the people were not arrested nor were action taken against them, a local resident of Myit Kyina Town told Mizzima.
The seizure of Chinese mobile phones also included those used in public call offices, local residents said. However, mobile phones from a few villages close to the KIA headquarter in Laiza, have not been seized despite orders from local authorities.
Chinese mobile phones are widely used in Kachin state as well as in Northern Shan state and the seizure of mobile phones from Kachin state alone may have been an attempt by the authorities to control flow of information from the state, the All Kachin Student Union (AKSU) said.
Though the KIA, the main armed group in Kachin state has expressed support to the ruling juntas seven-point roadmap, lately there has been sporadic anti-junta activities in the state.
In Kachin state, students have frequently staged anti-junta movements. Poster and wall writing campaigns like Than Shwe Killer No Dam among others have been in evidence. Their activities have been reported in the media outside the country. So, may be the government wants to contain such flow of information, the AKSU spokesperson told Mizzima.
The Chinese mobile phones are also widely used in northern Shan state. For instance Muse and Man Wungyi are close by but the phones in Muse have not been seized. So, we believe this is aimed at checking flow of information from Kachin state, added the AKSU spokesperson.
However, a source close to the Kachin Independence Organisation, the political wing of the KIA, said the seizure of Chinese mobile phones began after the KIO leaders refused to issue a statement to refute the Burmese pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyis statement on a dialogue in the interest of ethnic minorities.
The Burmese Cultural Minister Khin Aung Myint, after meeting several ceasefire armed groups in Shan State, met KIO officials on November 16 and pressured the KIO to issue a statement countering Daw Aung San Suu Kyis statement.
The KIA officials flatly rejected the Ministers request. The minister also told the KIO officials not to leak information regarding his request, the source said.
While the reason behind the authoritys crackdown on Chinese mobile phones is still unclear, some local residents said it could be an effort to mop up revenue for the Myanmar Post and Telecommunication Department, which earns revenue from telephone calls.
Most of the public telephone booths in major towns in Kachin state use Chinese mobile phones and do not make any payment to the Myanmar Post and Telecommunication Department, local residents said.
It is so much more convenient to buy and use Chinese mobile phones. While Burmese mobile phones (operated by the Myanmar Post and Telecommunication) cost about 3,000,000 kyat the Chinese mobile phones cost about 100,000 kyats. And the Burmese phones have a poor network back up but the Chinese phones are superb, a local resident in Myit Kyina said.
KIO reluctant to react to juntas Saturday night raid
Kachin News Group: Mon 19 Nov 2007
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Kachins main ceasefire group, is reluctant to react to the raid conducted on the homes of its officials on Saturday night in two major cities of Kachin State in Northern Burma, Myitkyina and Bhamo by junta soldiers and the military intelligence. All illegal Chinese wireless landline phones were seized during the raid, the KIO officials said.
At the moment, most KIO senior officials do not have access to telephones in their homes and offices. They have been avoiding the media. They have not lodged a complaint with the junta authorities regarding the Saturday raid, according to local sources close to KIO leaders.
KIO leaders have reasons for not making a complaint to the junta because they have luxurious houses and private businesses in the juntas controlled areas of Kachin State and other major cities in Burma, said a member of Kachin State National Congress for Democracy (KNCD) in Myitkyina.
This raid reveals how far the junta can pressurize the KIO now. The KIO also would like to avoid fresh military and economic sanctions imposed by the junta, he added.
The juntas troops seized our Chinese phones in liaison offices and officials homes. This is aimed to pressurize us to protest against Aung San Suu Kyis November 8, statement, a KIO central committee member in Laiza controlled area on the Sino-Burma border told KNG yesterday.
However, the KIO will not release any statement either supporting or protesting against the recent statement by Burmas National League for Democracy (NLD)s general secretary, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyis, KIO leaders said.
Meanwhile, the joint Burmese military operations by the Waingmaw based No. 58 Infantry Battalion and Shwenyaungbin based No. 321 Light Infantry Battalion are underway in gold mines along Namsan River in Namsanyang village. These are semi-owned by KIO and lie on the Myitkyina-Bhamo road. The gold miners are forcibly made to work by Burmese soldiers, said local gold miners.
On the other hand, the other Kachin permanent ceasefire groups Northeast Shan State based Kachin Defense Army (KDA), KIO split group the Lasang Awng Wa Ceasefire Group and New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) in Kachin State issued a statement last week opposing Aung San Suu Kyis statement, according to junta-run newspaper the New Light of Myanmar.
Last Saturday between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time, for the first time in 13 years of ceasefire, the KIOs junior and senior officials homes, liaison offices in Myitkyina and Bhamo including KIO vice-president Nban La Awng house in Shatapru quarter in Myitkyina were raided. All illegal Chinese landline phones by were seized on the orders of Kachin State Commander Maj-Gen Ohn Myint, according to KIO sources and eyewitnesses.
Reconciliation remains distant hope in Myanmar, despite UN visits
AP | November 19, 2007
BANGKOK, Thailand: The United Nations heaped praise on Myanmars military junta this week for allowing meetings with prominent political prisoners and said that progress was being made in brokering discussions between the government and opposition.
On the surface, this looks like steady progress. Pressure from the regimes closest ally, China, has led to the fastest diplomatic dance between the U.N. and the regime in many years.
But for knowledgeable observers, recent visits by U.N. envoys Ibrahim Gambari and Paulo Sergio Pinheiro have done little to change the reality on the ground two months after anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks were crushed in bloodshed.
Yes, the regime gave Pinheiro rare access to the infamous Insein Prison. But pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and substantive talks between her and the junta on the nations future remain a distant hope.
The fact that her status remains the same _ a house prisoner with no freedom to move about, talk informally with anyone she wants, when she wants _ suggests that nothing is happening of importance, Josef Silverstein, a retired Rutgers University professor who has studied Myanmar for half a century, said in an e-mail interview.
As I have said before, as long as she does not enjoy full freedom, she is in an inferior position and cant influence what is happening in Burma, Silverstein said.
Other critics said that the continued arrests of dissidents _ three were detained Wednesday _ also raised doubts about the governments commitments to honor promises made to the U.N. including the end to political arrests.
The conducive atmosphere is not established yet and we dont really see the political will of the military regime, said Naing Aung, who fled the 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and is now the secretary general of the Thailand-based Forum for Democracy in Burma.
The military has ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, since 1962, crushing periodic rounds of dissent. It held elections in 1990 but refused to hand over power when Suu Kyis party won in a landslide. Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has spent 12 of the last 18 years in government custody.
In the latest round of protest, the regime killed at least 15 protesters _ diplomats have put the figures much higher _ and detained nearly 3,000. The regime has since claimed that it has released most detainees, though many prominent activists remain in custody. Internet service has been restored, and a ban on assembly lifted.
The junta also agreed to allow Gambari into the country to promote talks between the junta and the pro-democracy movement. The visit resulted in the regime naming a minister in charge of relations with Suu Kyi and then allowing her to meet members of her National League for Democracy
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