[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 27/11/07
- Junta arrests another Human Rights activist
- Where are the monks?
- University invigilators target students in black dresses
- Burmas Home Minister criticizes UN Envoy
- Tension mounts between KIO and regime
- Foreign investment in Myanmar dominated by oil and gas, power sectors
- India stops arms sales to junta
- Monks hold sit-in protest at Bodhgaya
- VN supports reconciliation in Myanmar, says Deputy PM
- UN: Myanmar must free all child soldiers
- Child labour on the rise in poor families
- U.N. envoy on Myanmar wants to return by year end
- New secretary-general: Asean members have no time to waste...
- A New Approach to Burma junta...
- ASEAN leaders expected to strengthen position on Burma
- No EU-ASEAN FTA Without Burma Reforms!
Junta arrests another Human Rights activist - Maung Dee
Mizzima News: Mon 26 Nov 2007
In its unabated and relentless crackdown on dissidents, the Burmese military junta today arrested Aung Zaw Oo, a member of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP) from a teashop in downtown Rangoon , a colleague said.
Aung Zaw Oo, who actively documented human rights violations by the junta and was involved in imparting awareness trainings, was taken in by two men in plainclothes, believed to be policemen, while he was sitting at a teashop in downtown Rangoon, Myint Aye, leader of the HRDP said.
He [Aung Zaw Oo] was arrested today at about 1 p.m. (local time), when he was sitting at the Pan Myodaw teashop on 29th street. The two men got off the table opposite them and held him by his shoulders and they took him away. One of the men was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and the other was in a longyi and white shirt, Myint Aye said.
Aung Zaw Oo, a native of Bokalay town, is currently residing in Rangoon and was taking an active role in planning for the December 10 th International Human Rights Day, which the HRDP is planning to organize in Rangoon.
Members of HRDP have been among the main targets of the junta because of their active role in promoting human rights awareness among the people, Myint Aye said. He added that the latest arrest of Aung Zaw Oo could be an attempt by the junta to weaken preparations for the upcoming Human Rights Day event.
Led by Myint Aye, a team of the HRDP came under attack by a junta-backed mob in Oatpho village of Hinzada Township in Irrawaddy division while returning from a training session on April 18, 2007 . The HRDP members Myint Naing and Maung Maung Lay sustained severe injuries and were hospitalized.
In its ruthless response to the human rights campaign, the Burmese junta has arrested and detained at least 10 members of the HRDP including Min Min, a private tutor in Prome Town for allowing his tuition room to be used as a place for discussion on human rights.
However, Min Min was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison and fined 30,000 kyat on charges of giving private tuitions without a license.
We are being targeted and members of our group have been arrested on various charges. I am really worried about the human rights situation in our country as those promoting human rights are subject to abuses, Myint Aye said.
Myint Aye, who was recently released after 70 days in detention for being vocal about the juntas human rights violations, said he could feel the presence the juntas spies around his residence. They are keeping a close watch on his movement.
I am quite used to the arrest made by the junta and I have never spent much time outside the prison. And once they arrest me it takes about a year to be released. In 1998, I was arrested and was release after a year. I have been arrested seven times now. We are like chicks in the farm, we can be arrested anytime, Myint Aye added.
Where are the monks?
Newsweek: Mon 26 Nov 2007
The junta has jailed some of Burmas Buddhist clergy, derobed others and driven many into exile.
The 26-year-old monk was one of thousands who took to Burmas streets in late September. Like so many of them he had never imagined himself an activistIm a normal monk, Im not a political monk, he saysbut he was carried away by the democratic fervor then sweeping Rangoon. On Sept. 25 he returned to his monastery late at night, climbing over the back wall since the front entrance was locked. The next night the soldiers came and took him away.
He was not the only monk to vanish, either from his monastery or dozens of others. The few foreigners who have managed to enter Burma since the juntas crackdown have all noted how empty the countrys temples and monasteries seem to be. Thought to number around 400,000, Buddhist monks had been ubiquitous in Rangoon, Mandalay and other Burmese cities for centuries. Something has happened, says Shari Villarosa, chargé daffaires at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon. Its frightening to think of. Its not like they all willingly left town.
In interviews, diplomats, monks and Burmese activists say that the junta has jailed those monks it sees as ringleaders and has persuaded abbotssome of them already collaborating with the regimeto get rid of dissidents. Many monks have been placed under monastery arrest, forbidden to leave their campuses, except to collect their daily alms. Others have been forcibly derobed. And some terrified monks have fled to the countryside or to neighboring Thailand and China. The monasteries in my neighborhood seem empty, says the 26-year-old monk, who was jailed for 19 days. In my monastery, we used to have 100. Now were down to about 31. I can feel the silence.
Those few monks visible at the Shwedagon temple in Rangoon, a magnificent, sprawling complex of pagodas anchored by a glittering 2,500-year-old stupa, move around cautiously, mostly alone. In Amarapura, near Mandalay, the number of monks who queue up for lunch each day at the Mahagandayon monasterya daily ritual once mobbed by touristshas also declined dramatically. A 27-year-old cleric there says almost 1,000 of the monasterys 1,800 inhabitants fled to their home provinces in September, although he says many have since slipped back.
The 26-year-old Rangoon monka tall man with an elegant shaved head and an easy smilesays soldiers treated him roughly in detention but did not beat him, although they did slap around several other monks. For the first 15 days no latrines or bathing facilities were provided. Interrogations were basic: We were mainly asked, Did you participate in the protests? Why? Who is the leading monk in these protests? Soldiers then brought in Sangha nayakasBuddhist officials authorized to convert monks to laypeople. The nayakas refused to recite the appropriate scripture, so the soldiers simply forced the monks to don civilian dress and pronounced them laymen. I took my vows a long time ago, says the defiant monk, still wearing his prison-issue flip-flops. I felt angry to be forced to change my clothes, but I was still a monk.
The government concedes that a few monks remain in detention, although it claims to have released all but about 90 of the 3,000 monks and civilians initially jailed. Outside the major cities monks are far more evident. In Sagaing, west of Mandalay, groups of them roam the lush hillside, taking tea and chatting amiably with locals. The mood at the gorgeous Kaunghmudaw pagoda is calm. Not a surprise, says a tour guide. Here, theyre far from the action, and remember, some abbots work with the government. He mentions the pro-government Kya Khat Waing monastery in Bago, about 50 miles northeast of Rangoon, most of whose monks did not march and whose abbot urged the government to punish those who did.
That some senior monks came out against the protests isnt surprising given the fact that Buddhism eschews politics and violence. Several abbots were uncomfortable with the spectacle of monks shouting political slogans, including calls to free jailed democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But like most Burmese, theyre equally uncomfortable with the regimes actions. The junta pressured abbots not to allow monks who had marched back into their monasteries. Of course the abbots refused. Many monks are back here again, says one monk in Amarapura.
The regime may yet pay for its actions if they radicalize a group known for its pacifism. Yes, theyre cowed, yes, theyre more terrified than they were before. But theyre angry, says Villarosa. Asked what help hed like from outside powers, a young monk in Mandalay forms a trigger with his finger and makes the sound of a gun being fired. People have nothing, he says. They ask the government for help and get nothing. What else can we do?
University invigilators target students in black dresses - Maung Dee
Mizzima News: Mon 26 Nov 2007
In a bid to put a leash on any kind of students movement in universities, invigilators in Rangoon University east campus are collecting the names and roll numbers of students who are coming for their examination in black dresses as a mark of mourning for those killed during the protests, a student source said.
The invigilators move at the behest of the military junta came in the wake of a rumour that students in condemnation of the ruling juntas brutal crackdown on protesters in September would wear black as a sign of mourning, the source said.
Invigilators are secretly noting down the names of students and their roll numbers and the dates in which he/she came in black. If a student comes in a black dress today they will observe the next day whether the student again puts on black. We heard that those coming in black on all six days of the examinations will be failed and would eventually be expelled from the university, a student told Mizzima.
Since November 21, the university has been conducting examinations for students correspondence course. The students believe that the invigilators were ordered by the special branch of the police to note down the names and roll numbers of the students.
It would be much easier if they [authorities] made the students sign pledges, but I heard that authorities would fail the students in their examination and also expel them, said another student, who is also appearing for the examination.
In a separate incident, students of Rangoon university east campus last week were prohibited by the authorities from making offerings at Than Lyin Township on Tasaungdine full moon day. Students have a tradition of offering swan and food to the people in the locality during the full moon day of Tasaungdine.
Meanwhile, an unconfirmed report said the university authorities promoted a man who came with a recommendation letter from the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the junta-backed civilian organization, to a tutor in the Botany Department of the university.
Following the monk-led Saffron Revolution in September, authorities postponed university examinations and also delayed the re-opening of universities.
The authorities had postponed the examinations of all university after the monk-led protests broke out in September. I think the authorities are likely to close the university on the 10 th of December as it is International Human rights Day to prevent any activity by the students. But so far there is no announcement, a student said.
Burmas Home Minister criticizes UN Envoy
Narinjara News: Mon 26 Nov 2007
Burmese Home Minister General Maung Oo strongly criticized UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari and his recent visit to Burma during a meeting that was held Saturday in the western Burmese border town of Maungdaw, said a government official who attended the meeting.
The official said, During the meeting General Maung Oo told us that Gambari brought a list of 20 political prisoners and demanded their immediate release. Additionally, he [Gambari] asked for permission from the government to meet with ten political prisoners, but we did not allow him to. However, we arranged a meeting for him with five high-ranking government officials, but Gambari was unsatisfied.
General Maung Oo told attendees at the meeting that when Gambari arrived in Thailand from Burma he held a press conference at which he blamed the Burmese government of negative pacts. We do not accept international intervention for our internal problem. All our people need to stand up with us and did not need to take care of the international pressure for our affairs, the official added.
At the meeting, General Maung Oo called on the organized government officials to not become involved in any anti-government protests and not to believe the reports of the BBC, VOA, RFA, or DVB, which are following the US government policy to destroy Burma.
The official said that in the meeting, General Maung Oo made a one-hour speech distributing to government officials, but most speeches were attacking Gambari and the US government.
The meeting started at 3 pm and ended at 5:30 pm, with about 150 government officials from several government departments in Maungdaw Township in attendance.
General Maung Oo held the meeting during his short visit to Maungdaw to inspect the Maungdaw district building, police regiment, and a prison in Buthidaung.
Tension mounts between KIO and regime - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Mon 26 Nov 2007
Tension is growing between the Burmese army and the regimes main ceasefire group, the Kachin Independence Organization, following the arrest of six KIO soldiers and two officials.
The arrests were made when the Burmese armys Infantry Battalion 146 under Northern Command raided a KIO frontline position near Laiza, in Kachin state, where the KIO has its headquarters.
James Lum Dau, the KIOs deputy chief of foreign affairs, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the six soldiers had been released but the two KIO officials were still being held. KIO leaders, including Tu Ja, a KIO vice-secretary, are now negotiating with a government official in Myitkyina for their release, he said.
A source close to the KIO said it had been reported that the chairman of the Kachin State Peace and Development Council and commander of Northern Command, Maj-Gen Ohn Myint, had ordered an attack on the KIO position.
The KIO has reinforced defences around its Laiza headquarters since last weeks raid. Fresh troops were being recruited and about 4,000 soldiers were now stationed in the Laiza area, the source said.
Military operations by Burmese army forces were also reported from Kachin States Mansi, Momauk and Bamaw Townships, disturbing KIO trade in the region.
The Burmese army forces had destroyed a bridge over the Mayhka and Malihka rivers, a route for transporting timber, after the KIO had ordered them not to cross it.
The KIO had already earned the displeasure of the regime by refusing a request to issue a statement opposing the one released by UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari on behalf of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Foreign investment in Myanmar dominated by oil and gas, power sectors
Associated Press: Mon 26 Nov 2007
Foreign investment in Myanmars oil and gas sector reached a record high of more than US$470 million (almost euro320 million) in fiscal year 2006-07, accounting for more than 60 percent of the total, according to newly-released government statistics.
Oil and gas, together with the power sector, accounted for more than 98 percent of all foreign investment, said the Ministry of National Planning and Development in its latest statistical survey report, seen Monday. The remainder was in the fisheries sector.
The report said there was no new investment in mining, real estate, hotels, transport or manufacturing, which have attracted foreign investors in the past. Myanmars financial year begins on April 1, and ends March 31.
Since Myanmar liberalized its investment code in late 1988, it has attracted its largest investments in the oil and gas and electric power sectors.
Many Western countries either ban or discourage investment in Myanmar as a way of pressuring its ruling junta, which is shunned for its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.
Of the total US$471.48 million (euro318.47 million) investment in the oil and gas sector, the largest share US$240.68 million (euro162.2 million) came from the United Kingdom, followed by Singapore with more than US$160 million (euro107.8 million), according to the report.
Russia and South Korea also had large investments in the sector, it said. Though the report did not give details of the investments, companies registered in the listed countries signed production sharing contracts with the Myanmar government during the period covered.
The 36.8 percent share of foreign investment represented by the power sector was all accounted for by US$281.220 million (euro190 million) from China, the report said.
Fisheries accounted for US$12 million (euro8.1 million), or just under 1.6 percent, of the foreign investment total, it said.
India stops arms sales to junta
Hindustan Times: Mon 26 Nov 2007
India has put all sale and transfer of arms to Myanmar on hold. The decision follows the suppression of pro-democracy protests in that country, South Block officials told HT.
India believes contact with the junta is in its strategic interest, but also wants to send out a message that its not quite business as usual any longer.
India gave Myanmar three British-made Islander aircraft last year. In Myanmars capital Naypyitaw in January, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India was willing to expand military ties. We have decided to give a favourable response (to the request for military equipment), he said. That deal for some Dorniers is now frozen.
On Wednesday, PM Manmohan Singh told Myanmarese counterpart Thein Sein in Singapore the reform process must not exclude pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Monks hold sit-in protest at Bodhgaya - Htein Linn
Mizzima News: Mon 26 Nov 2007
Over 100 monks from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka yesterday began a sit-in protest at Bodhgaya, a historical place of Buddhist worship, to create awareness among pilgrims of the Burmese military juntas ongoing campaign against the Buddhist religion inside the country.
Joined by the Indian-based All Burma Students League (ABSL), over 100 monks from the three countries will continue the sit-in protest for five days until November 29, a protestor said.
We are doing it [the sit-in protest] to highlight what is going on in Burma. Than Shwe [Burmas military head of state] on one hand is acting as if he is sponsoring the Buddhist religion by appeasing the monks and abbots, but on the other hand he is also killing them, Kyaw Than, Chairman of the ABSL, who is joining the monks in the protest, told Mizzima.
As a response to the mass protest led by Buddhist monks last September, widely known as the Saffron Revolution, the Burmese military junta opened fire and killed several monks. Reportedly the junta also arrested several hundred monks and other activists and kept them at interrogation camps in Rangoon and other cities across the country.
Beside the sit-in protests, monks and student activists have also pasted posters and paintings of Burmese monks being beaten and killed during Septembers Saffron Revolution in Burma. The slogans include, Than Shwe Evil Blasphemer of SPDC, referring to the State Peace and Development Council, the name under which the Burmese junta rules the country.
According to Kyaw Than, the protest has displeased the Burmese junta as the Burmese Consulate in Kolkata has come to check on the activities and has lodged at a monastery in Bodhgaya.
As he [the Burmese Consulate] heard of our activity, he came to Bodhgaya and lodged himself in a monastery. He also threatened Burmese monks joining in the protest and pulled down posters. But we repasted the posters, added Kyaw Than.
He added that at the end of the protest on November 29, protestors have planned to hold a protest march from the Japanese Shrine to the Mahabodhi Shrine, and the Indian minister for Bodhgaya has pledged to join the rally.
Located in Indias Bihar State, Bodhgaya is held to be the site where Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha, achieved enlightenment.
VN supports reconciliation in Myanmar, says Deputy PM
Vietnam News: Mon 26 Nov 2007
Vietnam supports the national reconciliation process in Myanmar, Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem affirmed while receiving the United Nations Secretary Generals special envoy to Myanmar in Ha Noi on Saturday.
Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari has been in Viet Nam since Friday for a five-day visit as part of the UNs plan to exchange views with ASEAN member countries in dealing with the Myanmar issue. Gambari has already visited several other ASEAN member countries.
Deputy PM Khiem also stated that Viet Nam had backed a dialogue between concerned parties in Myanmar to find a solution that was acceptable to all sides and wished Myanmar would quickly achieve stabilisation so as it could concentrate on building the country.
The Vietnamese senior official welcomed positive developments in Myanmar, saying he appreciated recent co-operation between the UN and Myanmar and expressed his hope that the co-operation would continue to be fostered on the basis of respect for the UN Charter to bring in more positive outcomes in the near future.
As a former victim of embargoes and blockade policies, Viet Nam would not support any on Myanmar and respected the Myanmar peoples right to self-determination, the Deputy PM stressed.
He told his guest that the UN Security Council non-permanent membership for the 2008-09 term was an honour for Viet Nam but it also placed a heavy responsibility on the country. Viet Nam was willing to take part in solving issues of mutual concern, and continue to co-ordinate in dealing with the Myanmar issue, Deputy PM Khiem said.
He praised the UN for its activities in Viet Nam and reiterated that the country always treasured its co-operation with the world body and would always be an active and responsible member.
The UN envoy highlighted Viet Nams role and position in Southeast Asia and the countrys non-permanent membership on the UN Security Council which will take effect as of January 1, 2008.
He briefed the Deputy PM, who is also Foreign Minister, of positive developments in Myanmar and several problems that needed to be solved.
The envoy also said that the UN wanted to co-operate with Viet Nam as well as with other Southeast Asian countries to make sure the Myanmar issue can be handled smoothly.
UN: Myanmar must free all child soldiers - Alexandra Olson
Associated Press: Mon 26 Nov 2007
Myanmar should release all its child soldiers and allow U.N. officials to verify government claims that officers have been punished for recruiting minors into the army, the U.N. chief said in a report released Friday.
There are credible reports that Myanmars army continues to recruit children under 18 despite an official prohibition of the practice, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his report to the U.N. Security Council.
Recruiters often lure poor children with promises of shelter and food, while others are picked up for not having identification cards and threatened with arrest unless they join the army, Ban said. Army commanders sometimes pay brokers $30 and a bag of rice for each recruit.
The army is under enormous pressure to increase recruitment rates, and reportedly makes soldiers who want to leave the army recruit as many as four replacements.
The U.N. has also received credible reports that a number of children have been arrested and sentenced to prison for up to five years for desertion, Ban said.
The report covered the period between July 2005 and September 2007 just before Mynamars government drew international condemnation for brutally crushing pro-democracy protests. The U.N. has since intensified efforts to nudge the ruling junta and the opposition into a reconciliation process.
Both Myanmars government and ethnic guerrilla groups have long been accused of using child soldiers, and both sides have acknowledged the allegations in recent years amid UN efforts to highlight the issue.
Responding to a report last month by New York-based Human Rights Watch, Myanmars government said it had strengthened regulations forbidding the recruitment of minors since establishing a committee to oversee the problem in 2004.
Some 141 minors were dismissed from the military and returned to their parents between 2004 and August 2007, said Ye Htut, deputy director general of Myanmars Information Ministry. Disciplinary action was taken against nearly 30 military personnel for violating recruitment rules, he said.
Ban acknowledged that the government has shown increasing interest in addressing underage recruitment and has engaged the United Nations on the issue. He said the U.N. has received periodic updates since 2005 from Mynamars Committee for the Prevention of Recruiting Underaged Children from Military Recruitment.
But he said the U.N. has been largely unable to verify government claims that those responsible for underage recruitment have been disciplined or that any children have been released. The U.N. team has not been given access to any minors the government claims to have freed, he said.
Ban also criticized the government for denying U.N. official access to areas where guerrilla groups operate, leaving investigators unable to verify the most recent reports of children in their ranks.
Child labour on the rise in poor families: Mon report
IMNA: 26 November 2007
Child labour has registered an increase in southern Mon State in Burma because of impoverishment in families and communities, seriously affecting the education, physical and psychological wellbeing of children, according to the Woman and Child Rights Project (WCRP).
According to the WCRP report on the use of child labour, "Minor's Labour: Comprehensive report on the worst forms of child labour", researched from forty-four cases, the children work in rubber plantations and orchards, rice-fields, charcoal burning factories, brick-making factories, tea and coffee shops, various types of stores, brothels, and other work places.
WCRP Project Coordinator Mi Jarai Non recalled that an interviewed child said that their family had no money to start a small business.
"The children were taken out from school by their parents who are so poor that the money they spent was more than their income. In most cases the income ranges from 1,000-2,000 Kyat per day," Mi Jarai Non said.
How parents can earn money when they are forced to patrol the gas pipeline for security, she asked. "Use of child labour is normally related to economic exploitation. I have found that since the employers can pay less to children and child labour contribution is not so different to adults, many children are hired."
Their parents wish to send their children to school, but they couldn't due to increasingly high school fees and difficultly in surviving on their income. At the start of this school year the Burmese regime said primary school education would be free for children, but didn't fund the schools.
The WCRP report stated that millions of children in Burma are living in impoverished conditions because of the regime's mismanagement of the country's economy and the money used to expand their armed force, the Tatmadaw.
They WCRP urged the Burmese regime to guarantee the rights of children as previously promised and to give a strong commitment to fight the worst forms of child labour.
They also aim to provide the international community with understanding of the plight of children in various parts of Burma despite the fact that the SPDC singed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
WCRP was founded in 2000 by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) and has published the following: " Burma 's Women and Children: The suffering and survival", " Burma 's Education in Corrupt and Oppression against Ethnic Education in Mon Territory ", and a report about sexual violence entitled "Catwalk to The Barracks".
U.N. envoy on Myanmar wants to return by year end
Author: Grant McCool
Hanoi: U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari said on Monday he wanted to return to Myanmar by the end of the year as part of efforts to secure the release of political prisoners and prod the country toward democracy.
"I sincerely hope I will be able to go before the end of the year because there are a number of issues left on the table that I want to follow up," Gambari told a news conference during a visit to Vietnam.
Gambari, who arrived in Hanoi on Friday and is also going to Cambodia and Laos, said that when he returned to Myanmar he wanted to meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and newly appointed members of a committee drafting a new constitution.
Reports of further arrests in Myanmar "were unfortunate" and ran counter to the military government's announcement of releases of prisoners following its violent suppression of protesters in September, he said.
"I would hope that it will stop," he added.
Gambari said he was delivering a written message from the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung "on the important role of ASEAN countries, neighboring countries and this country in particular."
Gambari said he believed Vietnam was "listened to by Myanmar as among the closest ASEAN members and it has its own history of transition dealing with the international community."
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed a charter last week that calls for promotion of democracy and human rights, but it has come under fire over Myanmar after the crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
"What happens in Myanmar positively will affect neighboring countries, ASEAN and the international community," Gambari said. "That is why it is important to work for a prosperous, peaceful, democratic Myanmar with full respect for human rights.."
In January, Vietnam will take a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and potentially have to vote on sensitive diplomatic issues regarding allies such as Myanmar and North Korea.
New secretary-general: Asean members have no time to waste...
Bangkok Post: 11.26.2007
As government leaders met in Singapore last week to sign the historic Asean Charter _ making the 40-year-old association a rule-based legal entity with enhanced responsibility _ the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Burma continued to cast a long, dark shadow.
Unlike the crackdown in 1988, images and stories of the crackdown in Asean's backyard spread rapidly, and daily, across the globe via the Internet. Apart from strong words of rebuke primarily from Singapore and the Philippines, Asean did nothing else.
The United Nations stepped in by sending special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to try to stem the heavy hand of the Burmese government and to urge talks on national reconciliation.
Worst still, at the last minute Burma was able to block an invitation by Singapore to have Mr Gambari brief the Asean leaders and dialogue partners on his visits to Burma.
An event that was to have been a cause for celebration and hope raises again question marks about the role of Asean, not only whether it could ever deal with the isolated, military junta in Burma, but also whether it could adjust fast enough to meet other political, economic and social challenges in the future.
Clearly how Asean deals with these challenges ultimately rests with its members. But for the next five years, a key figure expected to help manage the work and activities of Asean _ and to act as its spokesman _ is its new secretary-general, former foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan.
Responding to criticism about how Asean responded to the crisis in Burma, Mr Surin believes Asean governments will have to evolve in different ways to reach ''standards of governance, transparency, participation and decision making''.
''I still don't think we can directly impose these, but we need to evolve and that's why the principles of democracy, constitutionality and human rights are mentioned in the charter. Those are major general principles to be abided by, but each member must have its own way to achieve those goals. In general I think we need to have more efficient governance across the entire region and a more transparent, participatory process of decision making,'' Mr Surin said.
Already the Philippines has made its stance and expectations clear.
Philippine President Gloria Arroyo told Burma's Thein Sein during a one-on-one meeting on Tuesday: ''The expectation of the Philippines is that if Myanmar signs the charter, it is committed to returning to the path of democracy and releasing Aung San Suu Kyi.
''Until the Philippine congress sees that happen, it would have extreme difficulty in ratifying the... charter,'' Ms Arroyo said in the meeting before the Asean summit.
Certainly Mr Surin, a former academic and politician with extensive grassroots and NGO contacts at regional levels, is likely to face pressure from these quarters to use his office to advance change toward greater transparency, democracy and human rights. And he recognises this, but notes that the pressure on member states is even greater.
''The pressure will be coming from outside, and pressure from inside from some members to nudge along the rest will be increased. That will play a very important role to push the region toward openness,'' he said.
''But again, to have a charter and to agree to establish a human rights agency is already a reflection of accommodation to the pressures from inside and outside.''
The secretary-general believes that if Asean can respond to external and internal expectations as a group and produce a charter as a form of regional commitment, then there's room to work.
But ''slowly, incrementally, step by step. There will be dynamics of push and pull. You cannot impose; you can encourage. We started off with tremendous diversity and that diversity still exists''.
Mr Surin said that the international environment had changed. When he was foreign minister 10 years ago he pushed for Asean to adopt ''constructive engagement'' with Burma. Even then, he got only partial support within the group.
''Ten years ago what I tried to do was too ambitious, probably alien to the region. Now I think the region has come around and evolved and agree that we have to manage things together _ the issue of democracy, the environment, human rights, opening our markets to each other,'' he said.
''So I think the atmosphere has transformed. I don't think you need to push too hard, or need to argue too much in order to deliver the message. I think it is accepted and recognised.''
What Asean needs to do, he said, is ensure that our diversity does not become a ''structural defect that will restrain the region from becoming one dynamic organisation''.
The Burma issue has certainly stolen the limelight from the three core pillars of the Asean charter _ the creation of economic, political-security and socio-cultural communities by 2015.
''These communities are designed to be the three pillars for the Asean community and each pillar will have its own agenda. It will have its own programmes and projects that all Asean countries are committed to engage in and cooperate to achieve a higher level of integration among ourselves,'' Mr Surin said.
He said there is no question Asean ''needs to get its house in order'' in various aspects, and described the charter's goals as ''very ambitious''.
Yet at the same time, apart from the high expectations of Asean from the global community, there is readiness to support Asean to achieve these goals from its dialogue partners, international organisations, civil society and academics.
The economic blueprint aims to remove substantially all restrictions on trade in services within four industries, including air transport, health care and tourism, by 2010. Trade barriers in logistics services are expected to be removed by 2013, while all other services industries will be opened two years later.
The secretary-general said services is a crucial issue because it involves the mobility of people.
''To be fully integrated we have to open the employment market to each other. It is still restrictive,'' he said.
On trade, achievements to date have been ''pretty good'', but the issue of non-tariff barriers has been difficult to manage.
Apart from competition among member countries, pressure from China and India is forcing Asean to act.
''You have heard that China and India are sucking the oxygen of investment away from Asean,'' Mr Surin said. ''This is a very, very serious matter. So either Asean puts its house in order, making sure its 570 million people become one unified, attractive market, or it goes into the future as divided and disorganised. It will not make us attractive or give us any bargaining power compared to China and India.''
As far as the political-security pillar is concerned, Mr Surin believes the Asean Regional Forum is the proper vehicle for Asean security. The plan was to start with confidence building, learning about each other, exchanging information about each other's defence development and weapons systems. Then the objective of preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution was raised and discussed.
Mr Surin says that to go from confidence building to preventive diplomacy means ''you need to have a very high level of confidence in each other so that you can cooperate to reduce the chance for violent conflicts between states''.
''Asean will have to work more on confidence building in order to lead it to a higher level of trust among Asean members. But we are working at it,'' he said.
For the secretary-general, the third pillar _ the socio-cultural community _ is not only the most exciting but a pillar that could make or break Asean.
In 40 years, the socio-cultural community ''has not been given much attention and resources''. But this is the area where you can create an Asean identity, a sense of belonging for all its people.
''I think it is most exciting because you bring Asean to the people. You bring Asean organisations to the grassroots. In the last 40 years Asean has achieved a lot in terms of policy coordination on many issues _ education, environment, scientific cooperation. technological development, health, transport and even market liberalisation,'' he said.
''But the people don't feel concrete benefits from Asean, partly because Asean has not been beating its own drum and member governments have not put the brand of Asean on programmes agreed to at the Asean level.
''We have not seen much of the Asean fingerprint, the Asean logo. We have to do a lot more. And this is an area where the media is extremely crucial. This is an area where educational institutions will be extremely important, as well as NGOs, civil society and professional groups. The whole spectrum of Asean society will be given space and have to contribute,'' Mr Surin said.
''If this last pillar fails, the other two will also fail. But if this last pillar succeeds it will contribute to the development of the other two communities. So it is very, very critical. The next phase of Asean will depend on the establishment of the socio-cultural community. It will make or break Asean,'' he said.
''The nuts and bolts of the Asean community will still be economic because that's what will deliver cheaper goods, better goods, more efficient transport of goods and products, mobility of people to work in each area. It's the economic community that will be the nuts and bolts of integration, but it cannot be sustained if people do not feel they belong, if they do not feel ownership and if they cannot participate and benefit,''Mr Surin said.
A New Approach to Burma junta...
Author: Michael Green and Derek Mitchell
Foreign Affairs, U.S.: 11.25.2007
Over the past decade, Burma has gone from being an antidemocratic embarrassment and humanitarian disaster to being a serious threat to its neighbors' security. The international community must change its approach to the country's junta.
U.S. policy toward Burma regime is stuck. Since September 1988, the country has been run by a corrupt and repressive military junta (which renamed the country Myanmar). Soon after taking power, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), as the junta was then called, placed Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition party the National League for Democracy, under house arrest. In 1990, it allowed national elections but then ignored the National League for Democracy's landslide victory and clung to power. Then, in the mid-1990s, amid a cresting wave of post-Cold War democratization and in response to international pressure, the SLORC released Suu Kyi. At the time, there was a sense within the country and abroad that change in Burma might be possible.
But this proved to be a false promise, and the international community could not agree on what to do next. Many Western governments, legislatures, and human rights organizations advocated applying pressure through diplomatic isolation and punitive economic sanctions. Burma's neighbors, on the other hand, adopted a form of constructive engagement in the hope of enticing the SLORC to reform. The result was an uncoordinated array of often contradictory approaches. The United States limited its diplomatic contact with the SLORC and eventually imposed mandatory trade and investment restrictions on the regime. Europe became a vocal advocate for political reform. But most Asian states moved to expand trade, aid, and diplomatic engagement with the junta, most notably by granting Burma full membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997.
A decade later, the verdict is in: neither sanctions nor constructive engagement has worked. If anything, Burma has evolved from being an antidemocratic embarrassment and humanitarian disaster to being a serious threat to the security of its neighbors. But despite the mounting danger, many in the United States and the international community are still mired in the old sanctions-versus-engagement battle.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed the former Nigerian diplomat and UN official Ibrahim Gambari to continue the organization's heretofore fruitless dialogue with the junta about reform. The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Congress have fought over control of U.S. Burma policy, leading to bitterness and polarization on both sides. Although the UN Security Council now does talk openly about Burma as a threat to international peace and security, China and Russia have vetoed attempts to impose international sanctions. And while key members of the international community continue to undermine one another, the junta, which renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997, continues its brutal and dangerous rule.
Regimes like the SPDC do not improve with age; therefore, the Burma problem must be addressed urgently. All parties with a stake in its resolution need to adjust their positions and start coordinating their approach to the problem. Although this may seem like an unlikely proposition, it has more potential today than ever before. Burma's neighbors are beginning to recognize that unconditional engagement has failed. All that is needed now is for the United States to acknowledge that merely reinforcing its strategy of isolation and the existing sanctions regime will not achieve the desired results either. Such a reappraisal would then allow all concerned parties to build an international consensus with the dual aim of creating new incentives for the SPDC to reform and increasing the price it will pay if it fails to change its ways.
BURMESE WAYS: After General Than Shwe became chair of the junta in 1992, repression grew more brazen. Thousands of democracy activists and ordinary citizens have been sent to prison, and Suu Kyi has been repeatedly confined to house arrest, where she remains today. Since 1996, when the Burmese army launched its "four cuts" strategy against armed rebels -- an effort to cut off their access to food, funds, intelligence, and recruits among the population -- 2,500 villages have been destroyed and over one million people, mostly Karen and Shan minorities, have been displaced. Hundreds of thousands live in hiding or in open exile in Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand, and Malaysia.
In 2004, the reformist prime minister Khin Nyunt was arrested. Two years ago, Than Shwe even moved the seat of government from Rangoon (which the junta calls Yangon), the traditional capital, to Pyinmana, a small logging town some 250 miles north -- reportedly on the advice of a soothsayer and for fear of possible U.S. air raids. And this past summer, the government cracked down brutally on scores of Burmese citizens who had taken to the streets to protest state-ordered hikes in fuel prices.
Burma's neighbors are struggling to respond to the spillover effects of worsening living conditions in the country. The narcotics trade, human trafficking, and HIV/AIDS are all spreading through Southeast Asia thanks in part to Burmese drug traffickers who regularly distribute heroin with HIV-tainted needles in China, India, and Thailand. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Burma accounts for 80 percent of all heroin produced in Southeast Asia, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has drawn a direct connection between the drug routes running from Burma and the marked increase in HIV/AIDS in the border regions of neighboring countries. Perversely, the SPDC has been playing on its neighbors' concerns over the drugs, disease, and instability that Burma generates to blackmail them into providing it with political, economic, and even military assistance.
Worse, the SPDC appears to have been taking an even more threatening turn recently. Western intelligence officials have suspected for several years that the regime has had an interest in following the model of North Korea and achieving military autarky by developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Last spring, the junta normalized relations and initiated conventional weapons trade with North Korea in violation of UN sanctions against Pyongyang. And despite Burma's ample reserves of oil and gas, it signed an agreement with Russia to develop what it says will be peaceful nuclear capabilities. For these reasons, despite urgent problems elsewhere in the world, all responsible members of the international community should be concerned about the course Burma is taking.
FRUSTRATED NEIGHBORS: ASEAN may be the most important component of any international Burma policy. The organization invited Burma to join it in 1997 partly on the theory that integration would enhance ASEAN's influence over the junta more than would isolation (and partly out of concern over China's growing influence in the country). More recently, however, the ten-member organization has come to recognize that Burma is not only a stain on its international reputation but also a drain on its diplomatic resources and a threat to peace and stability in Asia.
In 2005, ASEAN members began to pressure the SPDC to give up its turn to take over the group's rotating leadership, which was scheduled for 2007; they breathed a collective sigh of relief when Than Shwe allowed the Philippines to take Burma's spot. But particularly after Than Shwe's bizarre decision to move the capital and his rebuff of all international efforts, including by the Malaysian foreign minister, to persuade him to improve the junta's behavior, ASEAN states have only grown more concerned about Burma's direction.
Political liberalization in Indonesia and growing activism in Malaysia and the Philippines have also led ASEAN to redefine its mandate and apply greater pressure for change in Burma.
When ASEAN was created four decades ago, its five founding states undertook not to interfere in each other's internal affairs as a way both to distance themselves from their colonial pasts and to avoid conflict in the future. But last January, ASEAN members prepared a new charter for the twenty-first century that champions democracy promotion and human rights as universal values, and they have established a human rights commission despite the SPDC's strong objections. With ASEAN's underlying principles under revision, leadership by Southeast Asian nations will become an even more essential component of any new international approach to the junta.
Japan will be another important force for reform. Tokyo and Washington perennially disagreed over their policies toward Burma in the 1980s and 1990s, but there has been a promising shift in Japan's attitude recently. Now that Tokyo has to contend with the slowdown in Japan's economic power and the rise in China's, it is articulating its foreign policy objectives and diplomacy in different terms.
In November 2006, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso made a speech promoting an "arc of freedom and prosperity" from the Baltics to the Pacific and touting Tokyo's commitment to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. His speech conspicuously omitted any mention of Burma, but there is no question that Japan's Burma policy has been shifting significantly. In September 2006, Tokyo finally agreed to support a discussion on Burma in the UN Security Council. Members of the Diet have created the Association for the Promotion of Values-Based Diplomacy, which seeks to infuse Japanese foreign policy in Asia with a renewed emphasis on promoting democracy. And last May, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi joined 43 other former heads of state in an open letter calling on the SPDC to unconditionally release Suu Kyi.
Securing Japan's cooperation will be especially important. The Burmese people generally have a positive memory of Japan's assistance in helping the country throw off British colonial rule in the 1940s. Both the junta and the democratic opposition see opportunities for Japanese aid to help rebuild the country (although they disagree on the conditions under which that aid would be welcome). Furthermore, Burma presents a unique opportunity for Japan to demonstrate its bona fides on promoting democracy, protecting human rights, and advancing regional security -- especially at a time when the rhetoric and policies of China, the other Asian giant, continue to focus on outdated mercantilist principles.
UNHEALTHY COMPETITION: If ASEAN and Japan are critical components of any international approach to Burma, China and India could be the greatest obstacles to efforts to induce reform in the country. China has many interests in Burma. Over the past 15 years, it has developed deep political and economic relations with Burma, largely through billions of dollars in trade and investment and more than a billion dollars' worth of weapons sales. It enjoys important military benefits, including access to ports and listening posts, which allow its armed forces to monitor naval and other military activities around the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea. To feed its insatiable appetite for energy, it also seeks preferential deals for access to Burma's oil and gas reserves.
Beijing's engagement with the SPDC has been essential to the regime's survival. China has provided it with moral and financial support -- including funds and materiel to pay off Burmese military elites -- thus increasing its leverage at home and abroad. By throwing China's weight behind the SPDC, Beijing has complicated the strategic calculations of those of Burma's neighbors that are concerned about the direction the country is moving in, thus enabling the junta to pursue a classic divide-and-conquer approach.
In its own defense, China continues to assert its fealty to the principle of noninterference. In early 2007, China and Russia cast their first joint veto in the UN Security Council in 35 years to block a measure that would have sanctioned the SPDC. The move was consistent with both states' historical objections to any attempts by the Security Council to sanction a country for human rights violations. It also aligned with Beijing's overall strategic goals of the past few years: to secure the resources, markets, and investment destinations to fuel China's remarkable economic development; to shun risky international moves that might destabilize its neighborhood and distract the Chinese leadership from urgent domestic challenges; and to promote noninterference as an alternative model for international diplomacy -- all interests that will make it difficult to induce China to change its Burma policy.
But China's position could shift, particularly as Beijing considers its longer-term interests. China, like many other states on Burma's border, must be concerned about the effects of its neighbor's tortured development on its own security. In fact, Chinese officials in Beijing and the governor of Yunnan Province, which borders Burma, are reported to have been putting pressure on the SPDC to reform and urgently address drug trafficking and health issues.
This quiet shift could track the recent change in Beijing's approach to another wayward neighbor: North Korea. As soon as Beijing realized that being hands-off did not prevent Pyongyang from testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles over its objections -- thus damaging China's reputation and threatening its security -- it agreed to UN Security Council sanctions to try to bring Pyongyang under control. The same could happen with Burma, and all the more readily because it occupies a less strategic position for China than does North Korea (China's northeastern border has historically been an area of strategic vulnerability and competition).
Another possible source of change is growing pressure from ASEAN nations, which have been suspicious of China's dealings with Burma over the last 15 years. Once Beijing comes to recognize that its current approach to Burma undermines its professed desire to be a responsible international actor, it will have good reason to redefine its real interests in Burma. The key will be for the United States and others to prioritize Burma in their diplomatic efforts with China in order to get Beijing to reach this conclusion.
It will also be a challenge getting India on board. Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's trumpeting of democratic values, India has actually become more reticent when it comes to Burma in recent years. This is particularly regrettable considering that Congress was one of the Burmese democratic opposition's strongest supporters during much of the 1990s and that Suu Kyi continues to cite Mohandas Gandhi as a model for nonviolent resistance.
The change occurred during the past decade, after New Delhi detected that China's political and military influence in Burma was filling the void left by the international community's deliberate isolation of the junta. Like China, India is hungry for natural gas and other resources and is eager to build a road network through Burma that would expand its trade with ASEAN. As a result, it has attempted to match China step for step as an economic and military partner of the SPDC, providing tanks, light artillery, reconnaissance and patrol aircraft, and small arms; India is now Burma's fourth-largest trading partner. Singh's government has also fallen for the junta's blackmail over cross-border drug and arms trafficking and has preferred to give it military and economic assistance rather than let Burma become a safe haven for insurgents active in India's troubled northeastern region.
Yet this shortsighted policy is clearly not in India's interests. Persistent repression and turmoil in Burma will continue to threaten India's security along its border. Internal political reform leading to a more open and reconciled Burma would be far more beneficial for India than anything that would result from India's current tactical accommodations. Of course, India is eager to counter Chinese influence and strengthen its linkages to ASEAN through Burma. But its efforts to become more integrated into East Asia would be better served by following the example of like-minded democracies such as Indonesia, which has spearheaded efforts to change ASEAN's positions on democratization and human rights, than by parroting outdated rhetoric advocating noninterference or pursuing pure mercantilism.
COORDINATED ENGAGEMENT: Given the differing perspectives and interests of these nations, a new multilateral initiative on Burma cannot be based on a single, uniform approach. Sanctions policies will need to coexist with various forms of engagement, and it will be necessary to coordinate all of these measures toward the common end of encouraging reform, reconciliation, and ultimately the return of democracy. To succeed, the region's major players will need to work together.
Bringing them together will require the United States' leadership. One way to proceed would be for Washington to lead the five key parties -- ASEAN, China, India, Japan, and the United States -- in developing a coordinated international initiative and putting forth a public statement of the principles that underlie their vision for a stable and secure Burma. The five partners should develop a road map with concrete goalposts that lays out both the benefits that the SPDC would enjoy if it pursued true political reform and national reconciliation and the costs it would suffer if it continued to be intransigent.
The road map should present the SPDC with an international consensus on how Burma's situation affects international stability and the common principles on which the international community will judge progress in the country. One purpose of such a road map would be to reassure the SPDC of regional support for Burma's territorial integrity and security and demonstrate the five parties' commitment to provide, under the appropriate conditions, the assistance necessary to ensure a better future for the country. This would be an important guarantee given the Burmese military's traditional paranoia.
Clearly, any process of reform and national reconciliation in Burma will have to begin with the immediate release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, including other members of the National League for Democracy and ethnic leaders, and involve their full participation in the institution of democracy. The guidelines for a new constitution that were announced in September, ostensibly as a "road map to democracy," do not come close in this regard. Than Shwe and the SPDC despise Suu Kyi, of course, which is why some U.S. supporters of engagement with Burma argue that it would be imprudent to peg the international community's treatment of the SPDC on the junta's treatment of Suu Kyi. However, her party's success in the 1990 elections and the fact that Burmese society continues to venerate her mean that any legitimate and credible approach to reform in Burma will have to take her perspectives into account.
Potential chinks are also appearing in the SPDC's armor. Than Shwe's erratic behavior, his decision to imprison former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and thousands of Khin Nyunt's military associates, and his efforts to create a Kim Il Sung-like cult of personality are signs of brittleness and division within the junta. If the SPDC were faced with an offer of new economic and political opportunities from other states in the region -- or greater international pressure and isolation should it fail to reform -- some of its members might eventually feel compelled to seek a different course for themselves and their country.
The five parties should not be expected to agree on everything or even on a single, uniform approach to the SPDC. Rather, the objective of such discussions would be to encourage a degree of compromise among the participants and coordination among their respective policies so that they may be channeled toward a common end. The current approach -- with each party pursuing its individual policy with an eye as much toward competing with the others for its own advantage as toward promoting change in Burma -- has clearly played into the junta's hands. It has allowed the Burmese government to avoid united international action while still gaining the resources necessary to hold on to power.
The participation of China and India, currently the SPDC's greatest enablers, will be critical. The United States could begin to influence both nations' thinking by making Burma a higher priority in bilateral dialogues. In discussions with Beijing, Washington could make China's Burma policy another test of its readiness to be a "responsible stakeholder," much as it has already done in regard to Darfur. With New Delhi, Washington could make India's Burma policy an important component of the two governments' evolving strategic dialogue and nascent partnership on international issues, including democracy promotion and regional stability.
Even more important, the U.S. government should initiate a new approach with ASEAN, Japan, and actors outside of Asia, such as the European Union, which has had a long-standing interest in political reform in Burma. ASEAN alone does not have the cohesion or the clout to shape China's or India's policy toward Burma. But with help from the United States and others, it could take a leading role in spearheading a new coordinated, multilateral approach that neither Beijing nor New Delhi would be able to ignore. China was reluctant to host the six-party talks on North Korea at first, but it eventually preferred to take on that role rather t
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