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News on Burma - 3/12/07 [re-sending]

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    ... From: CHAN Beng Seng Sent: Monday, December 03, 2007 1:38 PM Subject: News on Burma - 3/12/07 1.. Asean and UN: common ground for action 2.. Burma releases
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4 1:26 AM
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Monday, December 03, 2007 1:38 PM
      Subject: News on Burma - 3/12/07

      1. Asean and UN: common ground for action
      2. Burma releases ten activists
      3. Time for serious dialogue
      4. Myanmar’s missing monks still a mystery months after crackdown
      5. Monastery closure makes mockery of Junta’s Buddhist claims
      6. UWSA defy junta’s pressure, refuse to sign pre-written statement
      7. Arakan State NLD Chairman rearrested
      8. Burmese Army reinforces troops for dry season military offensives
      9. Burmese authorities investigate video shops
      10. Burma crackdown rekindles boycott debate
      11. Cambodia urges Myanmar to continue Suu Kyi talks
      12. Suu Kyi must be released, Gambari says
      13. Pinheiro challenges international community

      Asean and UN: common ground for action
      The Nation: December 3, 2007

      In Singapore last week, incoming Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan made his first comments on Burma following the endorsement of the Asean Charter at the Singapore Summit.

      He said that Asean would strongly back the good offices of the United Nations through special envoy Ibrahim Gambari in solving the crisis in Burma. Surin paraphrased the views expressed by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the summit he hosted, saying that even though Burma has chosen to deal with the UN, the grouping stands ready to help with the process.

      The questions to ask now are: what is the present state of the UN process in Burma now, and when would it be most suitable for Asean to re-engage with its pariah member?

      Gambari is touring the region to sound out Asean members on their views and positions. Last week he visited Cambodia, a country that has benefited tremendously from UN humanitarian and electoral assistance. Using lessons from his country's experience, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that the international community should provide humanitarian aid to Burma to solve the crisis. After the violent crackdowns at the end of September, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was the only Asean leader to call for a more active role for the grouping in ending the nightmare.

      While in Phnom Penh, the UN special envoy condemned the Burmese junta's shutting down of a monastery used as a hospice for HIV/Aids patients. "Any action that runs counter to the spirit of national reconciliation in an all-inclusive manner, any action that will inflame passions, any action that will undermine the dialogue between the government and those who disagree with the policies of the government should be avoided," he emphasised. He stressed that the UN has called repeatedly for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

      Obviously, these sentiments, which have been expressed repeatedly, have yet to sink into the minds of the junta. Gambari's flurry of diplomatic activity has not resulted in progress. Somehow, all major players, especially those in the region - China, India, and Asean - are enjoying a diplomatic time out and putting the burden on the UN's shoulders. Everybody realises that the UN-led process will be time-consuming and will inevitably have to follow Rangoon's agenda. The junta is again testing whether international resolve can last for any significant length of time. It is incumbent on the international community to ensure that there is no backsliding on Burma.

      Maybe it is about time that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon makes an effort to influence the UN's role by visiting Burma himself. Ban is scheduled to visit Thailand for three days this weekend after short trips to Bali, for a UN conference on climate change, and East Timor. While in Bangkok, he should hop on a plane for the short flight across the Tanaosri Mountain range to see the Burmese reality with his own eyes. He should use the prestige of his office and not tiptoe around. The Thai government has already said that the Burmese issue will not be discussed during his visit. As such, it is imperative that he visits Burma.

      Indeed, Ban's trip to the front-line Asean state comes at the worst time, because the Surayud government has developed a diplomatic phobia concerning Burma. However, credit must be given to Surayud for delaying the planned visit of Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein. Right after the summit, the junta wanted Asean and Bangkok to reaffirm their support of its seven-point road map towards democracy.

      Asean leaders endorsed the road map when it was presented by former prime minister Khin Nyunt at the Bali Summit in 2003. But Thein Sein wants a rubber stamp of his own from Asean. Before the Singapore Summit, Asean leaders were discreet on the outcome of their discussions on Burma. In the past they would never wash their dirty linen in public, but at the latest summit and at the ministerial meeting in New York they broke with this long-held Asean tradition. By publicly expressing revulsion against a fellow member, they thought their fellow citizens would become more aware of Burma's response or lack of one.

      Unfortunately, this approach is still very passive and depends on Burma cooperating on national reconciliation and releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as other political prisoners. In the near future, the situation will reach a point at which Asean will no longer be able sit on the fence, which it has done for a decade after admitting Burma. The junta has excelled in coping with outside pressure, both from within and outside Asean.

      From 1975 up until recently, the Burmese junat has milked Asean's goodwill to the hilt in order to prop up its regime and remain intransigent, avoiding the UN altogether.

      Asean has served as a strong bulwark against the onslaught from the United States and European Union. At the UN in the past, Asean delegates spoke on behalf of Burma, defending its human-rights record. Now, Rangoon is playing a different card following Asean's public condemnation of its violent crackdowns.

      The junta now prefers the UN, knowing full well that the chances it will drag its feet on the current process are far greater. This explains why Rangoon was furious at Singapore's suggestion that Gambari brief members of the East Asian Summit. The host eventually had to cancel the briefing.

      Despite tougher sanctions imposed by the West, coupled with Asean's growing disdain, Burma has continued oppressing its citizens, especially now as it focuses on journalists who bring news to the outside world. Asean's challenge concerning Burma is clear. Will Asean stand up against Burma if the UN-led process requires further engagement and commitment from the grouping? What would happen if the UN process failed on the political front? If that were to happen, what would be the most practical and appropriate response from Asean?

      Listening to Surin, he seemed to beg for a clearer stand and direction from Asean leaders. After all, he is just a secretary-general with 10 unyielding bosses.

      * Kavi Chongkittavorn

      Burma releases ten activists
      BBC Burmese Service: Sun 2 Dec 2007

      The Burmese military has released ten activists arrested during the suppression of September’s pro-democracy protests.

      One of those released today included a pregnant woman who was taken from home on 19 September 2007 by the authorities. She is the only woman in the group and the detail of the rest is not known yet.

      The woman activist, Ma May Mee Oo, told the BBC that she had been taken from her home in Rangoon to the city’s main Insein Prison where she was kept for more than two months.

      The Burmese authorities have previously said they’ve released all but around ninety of those detained during the protests. But the top American diplomat in Burma has said she continued to get daily reports of new arrests.

      Time for serious dialogue - Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy
      International Herald Tribune: Sat 1 Dec 2007

      Just two months ago, the world was shocked and outraged by the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations that took place in Burma. The images may have vanished from our screens, but we cannot and will not forget the plight of the Burmese people.

      A country that has the natural resources to be an economic powerhouse is instead the sick man of Southeast Asia. As the rest of the region advances into the digital age, Burma is in danger of retreating to the dark ages.

      Cut off from the outside world and denied access not only to democracy and respect for human rights, but also to proper education and basic economic rights, its society is in a state of disarray.

      The huge demonstrations and protests over recent months have shown that the Burmese people have been pushed beyond breaking point by the regime.

      Last week a new generation of leaders gathered in Singapore to mark an important milestone: 40 years of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean. We welcomed that celebration: Asean today represents a proud and prosperous region standing at the heart of the global economy, its voice heard and respected across the world.

      Asean’s leaders faced the twin challenges of enshrining a charter that commits them to respect democratic and human rights and dealing with the ongoing crisis in Burma. The Burmese government was sent a clear message: There is no going back. We agree.

      It is obvious now that the country is in a downward spiral of poverty and unrest. Like the European Union, Asean has always understood that economic growth and open markets cannot be pursued in isolation: Good economics are founded on good politics. But the politics of Burma are poisoned and now need urgently to be transformed for the wider health of the region.

      We welcome the positive and conciliatory statement issued on Nov. 9 by Aung San Suu Kyi, holder of the Nobel Peace Prize and figurehead of the Burmese opposition. She signaled her desire to begin soon a meaningful and time-bound dialogue with the Burmese regime. She also emphasized the need for a growing role of the UN in Burma and underlined the need to engage with other political forces including Burma’s ethnic nationalities. Those are welcome steps.

      It’s time the regime engages in a genuine dialogue. In this respect, the regime must remove restraints on Aung San Suu Kyi, give unfettered access to Ibrahim Gambari, the UN secretary general’s special envoy, and heed the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Paul Sergio Pinheiro. And they must enter wholeheartedly into dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi as well as with other opposition groups and ethnic leaders.

      The goal must be genuine reconciliation and political transition. Nobody imagines that this process will be quick or simple. Burma is a complex mixture of ethnicity, religion and culture. The process will need to be broadly-based and inclusive, taking careful account of the need to build a lasting stability that includes Burma’s key political and ethnic groups.

      The neighboring countries are well placed to support and encourage such a process. And, although the military dictatorship must end, the military itself must continue to play an important role in any future government, as Aung San Suu Kyi herself has acknowledged.

      Faced by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Burma, the international community, and in particular the EU, has already extended its aid to address the needs of the most vulnerable people. The EU has also decided to reinforce existing sanctions against Burma in order to send a strong political message and has consequently established a new series of targeted sanctions against the military regime.

      The EU also made clear that it stands fully ready to review, amend or reinforce existing restrictive measures in the light of developments on the ground and the results of the good-offices mission of Ibrahim Gambari.

      We believe that positive change will be best encouraged by following a carrot and stick approach: a combination of restrictive, targeted measures on the one hand and the alleviation of these measures as well as the prospect of a comprehensive economic initiative on the other.

      However, this move will become possible if, and only if, there is a clear signal that a genuine transformation leading to a new, democratic government of Burma is under way.

      The prize for Burma’s long-suffering people, and for neighbors who have suffered too long from the problems of refugees, narcotics and instability that spill across Burma’s borders, is great indeed: a prosperous, stable Burma living up to its economic potential and adding to the region’s economic dynamism.

      But achieving that prize will require sustained engagement and real mobilization by the international community. We will continue to stand by the Burmese people as they prepare to mark 60 years of independence.

      We hope that 2008 will finally bring peace and reconciliation to Burma.

      * Gordon Brown is prime minister of Britain, and Nicolas Sarkozy is president of France.

      Myanmar’s missing monks still a mystery months after crackdown
      Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Fri 30 Nov 2007

      Two months after Myanmar’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protests in Yangon led by Buddhist monks, the former capital is noticeably short of monks, a senior US diplomat said Friday.

      “Prior to September, almost any place you looked in Rangoon (Yangon) there were 25 to 50 monks, they were everywhere, but now you only see one or two,” said Shari Villarosa, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

      For two weeks in September, Myanmar’s saffron-robed monkhood led peaceful demonstrations in Yangon to protest the country’s deteriorating economic conditions under the authoritarian military regime that has ruled the predominantly Buddhist nation for the past 45 years.

      The protests ended on September 27, after the army unleashed a brutal two-day crackdown on the monks and their lay followers that left at least 15 people dead, according to official figures.

      Other estimates place the death toll above 100. It is unknown how many monks were arrested and died in the crackdown.

      What is known is that the ruling junta has forced monks out of Yangon, leaving many monasteries and temples with skeleton staffs.

      In some cases, the junta has closed down monasteries altogether.

      Authorities on Thursday shut down the Maggin Monastery in Yangon, where many of the dissident monks had stayed, Villarosa confirmed at a press conference held in Bangkok.

      “The big question out there is where are all the monks,” she said. The US diplomat recently visited Moulmein, the home of more than 13,000 monks on Myanmar’s southern coast, and encountered a similar scarcity of them there.

      Myanmar military authorities have told diplomats that the monks have “gone home,” but Villarosa said, “we believe a considerable number have been arrested.”

      There is no official figure for the number of monks in Myanmar, but prior to the September crackdown, there were believed to be close to 500,000 monks and novices.

      Besides cracking down on monks and closing their monasteries, Myanmar’s military has also continued to make arrests of dissidents in the aftermath of the September crackdown.

      “We get reports on almost a daily basis of people people picked up,” said Villarosa. “It raises questions about the sincerity of the military in pursuing a genuine dialogue leading towards national reconciliation.”

      In the aftermath of the crackdown, under considerable pressure from the international community, Myanmar’s military supremo Senior General Than Shwe vowed to start a dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but demanded that she agree to drop her support for sanctions against the regime.

      Monastery closure makes mockery of Junta’s Buddhist claims - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Fri 30 Nov 2007

      The Burmese junta often claims it believes deeply in Buddhism and encourages the growth of the faith. It’s a claim that has the Burmese people shaking their heads in disbelief in view of the junta’s latest crackdown, on Rangoon’s Maggin Monastery.

      The monastery was forced to close by soldiers on Thursday. No responsibility was taken by the authorities for the resettlement of the monks and lay people ejected from the compound.

      The Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks condemned the action as an “assault” on Buddhism and called on all Buddhists in Burma to defend their faith against regime actions they said threatened its survival.

      In the Burmese ruby-mining town of Mogok, Mandalay Division, about 300 monks attempted to march from their monastery to a pagoda on Friday. They were stopped by the authorities.

      Phyu Phyu Thin, a prominent Burmese activist, who used to work at Maggin Monastery’s treatment center and hospice for HIV/AIDS patients, told The Irrawaddy that the authorities in Rangoon had denied a request by the oldest monk at the monastery, the 80-year-old father of its detained abbot, to allow the monks and other residents one or two days to leave.

      “The authorities forced monks and everybody else from the monastery,” Phyu Phyu Thin said. “The monks had to leave their belongings on the street. People who live near the monastery tried to help the monks move their things, but authorities stopped them giving any assistance.”

      One resident said the authorities had warned that legal action would be taken against anybody found helping the evicted monks or giving them shelter. People who went to help the monks were warned to stay away.

      The 80-year-old monk spent the day on the street, until he was granted refuge at a monastery in Thingangyun Township in Rangoon. But he can only stay there temporarily.

      One resident of Thingangyun Township said he was sad because Buddhist monks were being displaced in a “Buddhist land”.

      The renewed harassment of monks drew condemnation from the US State Department.

      State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement that the junta’s “repression belies the regime’s claims to cooperate fully with the United Nations, which has repeatedly sought an end to the detention of political activists.”

      He said continuing arrests “bring into serious question” Burma’s commitment to talks on moving toward democracy.

      “Apparently, it was ordered closed. No one knows why,” Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Burma, told on Friday reporters in Bangkok, Thailand. “Arrests are continuing. We are getting reports on a daily basis of people being picked up,” Villarosa said.

      Maggin Monastery has been raided by soldiers four times since the September demonstrations. Its abbot, U Indaka, a former political prisoner, is still being detained at an unknown location.

      In 1990, he was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment and defrocked for his role in a “patam nikkujjana kamma”—the boycott of alms from members of the military regime, which followed the junta’s raids on monasteries in Mandalay. He was released in late 1994.

      Maggin Monastery also sheltered a hospice and treatment center for HIV/AIDS patients who came from all over the country to seek help there.

      UWSA defy junta’s pressure, refuse to sign pre-written statement
      Mizzima News: Fri 30 Nov 2007

      A Sino-Burmese border based ethnic armed group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), said it welcomed Burma’s pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement on national reconciliation and refused to sign the junta’s pre-written statement.

      An officer of the UWSA, who requested not to be named, told Mizzima that the group, like many other armed ceasefire groups, was pressured by the junta to sign a pre-written declaration condemning Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement on cooperating with the ruling junta in order to kick-start a process of national reconciliation.

      “U Khin Aung Myint [Burmese Cultural Minister] came to us and pressured us to sign a pre-written statement. But we refused because we did not even see the statement. Moreover, we welcome any efforts toward national reconciliation,” the UWSA officer told Mizzima by phone.

      Reportedly, the Burmese Cultural Minister traveled to places along the Sino-Burmese border in October and November and held meetings with ethnic armed ceasefire groups and pressured them to sign pre-written statements against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

      However, like the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the UWSA was among the few groups that openly defied the junta’s request and refused to sign the document.

      Speaking from the UWSA’s headquarters in Panghshang, eastern Shan State, the officer revealed that the group would like to see democracy and equality among all ethnic groups in Burma.

      “We love democracy and peace and we don’t want to face any kind of coercion or violence,” he added.

      UWSA was until recently widely known as one of the Burmese junta’s most favored allies, and is reportedly highly involved in the cultivation of poppies and production of amphetamines along the Sino-Burmese border.

      However, with the fall of Burma’s former Prime Minister and Intelligence Chief, General Khin Nyunt, and the UWSA’s Chairman’s promise to the Chinese government in late 2004, there has been a drastic fall in opium poppy cultivation.

      The UWSA is one of the 17 armed ceasefire groups that attended the Burmese military junta’s long and winding National Convention that concluded this past September.

      Following the conclusion of the National Convention, the UWSA, along with other ceasefire groups, has come under pressure from a Burmese military junta determined to completely disarm the ceasefire groups.

      According to the UWSA officer, the Burmese junta has been pressuring the group and is banning some of its members based along the Thai-Burmese border from traveling freely and conducting business.

      The junta also decided in its National Convention that Wa dominated areas in the south, close to the Thai-Burmese border, would fall under Shan administration, he added.

      However he reiterated the Wa’s relentless desire for self-determination, adding, “the Wa army still has 20,000 strong men and the Wa population is estimated at 500,000.”

      Arakan State NLD Chairman rearrested
      Narinjara News: Fri 30 Nov 2007

      Days after Arakan State NLD chairman U San Shwe Tun being released from Sittwe prison in Arakan, western Burma, junta authorities rearrested him.

      “The authorities rearrested him from his home on 26 November, 26 but the reason for the arrest is still unknown,” a colleague of his said.

      U San Shwe Tun was released from Sittwe prison on November 5 along with fellow NLD leader U Aung Ban Tha after serving a three-year jail term.

      The two were first arrested by the Burmese military authorities in 2005, on accusations of holding foreign currency, mainly Indian rupees.

      U San Shwe Tun denied the allegation, but a military court in Sittwe sentenced them to three years in prison.

      U Aung Ban Tha was not arrested again this time, as he was traveling away from his home in Sittwe, a colleague of U San Shwe Tun’s said.

      The military authorities have not given out the reason why U San Shwe Tun was rearrested, or where he is being detained.

      Burmese Army reinforces troops for dry season military offensives - Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Fri 30 Nov 2007

      The Burmese government has reinforced troops in Karen State in preparation for dry season military offensives against the Karen National Union, according to sources close to the Burmese military regime.

      The regime’s Central Command has sent about 10 Light Infantry Divisions which make up the Military Operation Command 4, with an estimated 20,000 soldiers, to southern and northern Karen State in November.

      MOC 4 was sent to Mon and Kyauk Gyi in Pegu Division and Papun in northern Karen State. LID 88 with some 1,500 soldiers was sent to Kawkareik and Kyar Inn Seik Gyi in southern Karen State, according to the source.

      Meanwhile, the Free Burma Rangers, a medical relief team that aids internally displaced persons, said some 3,000 Burmese soldiers of Light Infantry Division 33 in northern Karen State were sent to Mon in Pegu Division on November 20, accompanied by about 20 Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) soldiers and 100 porters.

      Saw Steve, a member of the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People, told The Irrawaddy on Friday, “Burmese troops started to enter Mon in Pegu Division in late November. Villagers are now on alert. After having meals, they [villagers] always keep their plates, pots and cups in a basket and they’re prepared to flee if necessary.”

      Mahn Sha, the secretary-general of the Karen National Union, said the Burmese army would probably launch armed operations after it completes stockpiling rations in the area.

      “We’ve heard that they [Burmese armies] intend to launch military operations, especially against the KNU. Small clashes between the KNU and Burmese army happen every day in the region of Three Pagodas Pass, Kawkareik, Kyar Inn Seik Gyi, Myawaddy, Pa-an and Taungoo District.”

      He said about 150 Burmese battalions are now stationed in Karen State. The Burmese army is also destroying villagers’ paddy fields and forcing villagers to work on the construction of two new roads in Karen State bordering Karenni State, Mahn Sha said.

      On November 15, some 300 people, including at least 100 children in Ler Wah and Ta Hoe Aung villages in northern Karen state, fled an attack launched by Light Infantry Division 11, according to a FBR report. Two local villagers were killed by Light Infantry Battalion 218 and 219, the report said

      Meanwhile, on November 20 Burmese units from MOC 8 and 19 arrived in the Three Pagodas Pass border area near Mon Sate in southern Burma, according to a ceasefire group, the New Mon State Party.

      Nai ong Ma-nge, a spokesperson of the New Mon State Party, said troops have reinforced soldiers already stationed near the NMSP area, and they are likely to launch an offensive against the KNU.

      He said the NMSP is also preparing for an attack from Burmese soldiers.

      Nai ong Ma-nge said, “It is not good because they [Burmese soldiers] increased their troops in our ethnic areas while their leaders are talking about achieving political dialogue for national reconciliation. They should withdraw their armies.”

      The NMSP is worried about the Burmese reinforcements around the Three Pagodas Pass—an area controlled by the NMSP, the KNU and the DKBA. Recently, the KNU closed down a road from Three Pagodas Pass to Thanbyuzayat because it believed the Burmese army planned to use the road when operating a military offensive against the KNU and Mon and Karen villages in the area.

      On November 7, a two-hour clash occurred between Burmese soldiers from Infantry Battalion 577 and the Shan State Army – South at a village in Shan state.

      Four Burmese soldiers were killed and four were injured. No SSA-S soldiers were injured, according to Sai Lao Hseng, a spokesperson for the SSA-S.

      Tension between Burmese soldiers and the Kachin Independence Organization recently increased with both sides reinforcing troops near the China-Burma border. Burmese soldiers have also begun disrupting KIO businesses in the region, according to a local source.

      A Burmese military offensive that began in February of 2006 in northern Karen State killed more than 370 villagers, including children, and displaced more than 30,000 people. More than 5,000 displaced persons fled to the Thai-Burma border area.

      Burmese authorities investigate video shops
      Kaowao News: Fri 30 Nov 2007

      Burmese military junta authorities are desperately seeking video footage taken during the September revolution from video shop owners in Mon State, Burma, owners told Kaowao.

      “Any video clips shot in September and possibly kept in our shops are being thoroughly investigated in Malawmyine and rural areas. The authorities are investigating video shops because videos of demonstrations and CDs have been distributed throughout Mon state since the beginning of November,” he stated.

      “The police came to my store and asked us to give them a list of names of anyone who had rented any CDs or videos of anything to do with the September protests. But it is not easy to find out who rented anything to do with the monk’s demonstrations as we didn’t burn only the monks’ revolutionary footage; we combined it with Burmese video,” another video shop owner from Malawmyine said. In rural areas the police have been ordered to find out about these ‘mixed’ CDs and DVDs.

      “The police came and checked all our VCDs and also ordered us to stop copying CDs,” a computer shop owner from Malawmyine said.

      In Than Phyu Zar Yat Township nearly all Karoh pi (Krait Pua) villagers have video players. “Officials are talking to video shop owners and ordering owners to liaise with them if they find any material including footage or audio of the Monk’s revolution,” said one Karoh pi villager.

      The authorities of Mon State ‘ townships have continued to demand all tea shops and restaurants cease to play anything even remotely negative towards the SPDC. If a shop plays The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) Channel, authorities cancel their UBC license.

      Burma crackdown rekindles boycott debate - Thomas Hogue
      Associated Press: Fri 30 Nov 2007

      The recent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Burma has rekindled a decades-old debate: Is it morally right to do business in countries with repressive regimes?

      Some foreign businesses, including French jeweler Cartier, cut ties with the country after the suppression of the protests in September and October. But others remain, arguing that they help the people of the impoverished country by creating jobs.

      Members of the Burmese community and the Burma Campaign UK group protest in body bags covered in fake blood outside the offices of French company Total Oil in central London in May, 2006 [AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, FILE]

      France’s Total SA contends that boycotting Burma hurts ordinary people more than it harms the military regime and could hinder moves toward democracy. Total and Chevron Corp, which are partners in a natural gas field off Burma’s coast, also provide health and social programs for local communities.

      “We feel the country would have evolved much more if more responsible companies had remained,” said Jean-Francois Lassalle, Total’s vice president of public affairs for exploration and production. “Development of human rights goes along with the development of the economy.”

      More broadly, the arguments form part of a larger debate over whether economic sanctions work.

      South Korea has invested in some business ventures in North Korea in an attempt to encourage the communist state to abandon its nuclear weapons programs and open its economy. But Iran has been hit by limited UN sanctions for defying demands to freeze uranium enrichment.

      In the past, companies and governments wrestled with the question whether they should do business with apartheid-era South Africa. The effectiveness of that boycott—which some corporations ignored—is still disputed.

      “This is not a slam dunk kind of debate,” said W Michael Hoffman, the executive director of the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts.

      The US has banned new investment in Burma since 1997, and the European Union has enforced less stringent restrictions since the mid-1990s. But both allow pre-existing investments to continue, including Total’s natural gas operation in the offshore Yadana field. Chevron has a 28 percent stake in the project, which it inherited when it took over Unocal Corp in 2005.

      The approximately US $2 billion in gas sold every year to Thailand from the Yadana field and from another field operated by Malaysia’s Petronas provides the bulk of Burma’s foreign exchange earnings.

      “Only a few people are benefiting from these investments … the majority of people are not,” said Soe Aung, spokesman for the National Council for the Union of Burma, an umbrella organization based in Thailand for exile groups.

      An estimated 90 percent of Burma’s 54 million people lives on about $1 a day.

      But some argue that Western sanctions harden the regime against negotiations for a democratic opening and that they strengthen the influence of China—which shows little interest in democratic reform—in Burma affairs.

      Chevron and Total provide free healthcare to 50,000 people in the area of the Yadana pipeline, where local infant mortality rates are a sixth of the national rate and enrollment in school has doubled because of the creation of 44 schools in 23 villages, Chevron said.

      Activist groups call this propaganda.

      “Every time we focus on a company doing business in Burma, they throw some money at a local foundation…and throw some pictures up on their Web site of smiling, happy people,” said Mark Farmaner, acting director of the Burma Campaign UK.

      “They don’t put up pictures of the MIG jets that the generals bought with their first oil and gas paychecks,” he said.

      Total and former partner Unocal Corp were accused of cooperating with the military in human rights violations during construction of a pipeline across Burma to Thailand in the 1990s. Both companies denied the accusations, although Unocal settled a related lawsuit in the US in 2005.

      The top UN official in Burma says some companies do help ordinary people.

      “They (Total) are providing fairly significant support to communities near the pipelines, and probably more support than we do in our support in other parts of the country,” said Charles Petrie, the humanitarian coordinator for the UN in Burma.

      Petrie said he sometimes asks the head of Total in Burma to raise human rights issues with the government “because I feel the government is going to be less likely to close the door on Total than on us.”

      Authorities in Burma plan to expel Petrie by December 5 for criticizing the regime for not meeting the needs of its people.

      Burma Campaign UK has a “Dirty List” of more than 100 companies it says provide income to the government while doing business in Burma, including timber and gem companies, and hotel and tour operators. Even Lonely Planet has been listed for publishing guide books on Burma.

      “We want to hit the regime in the pocket,” Farmaner said.

      Adidas AG, Levi Strauss & Co and underwear manufacturer Triumph International are among those that have pulled out of Burma or won’t buy products there.

      “The way we view this is as safeguarding our reputation,” said William Anderson, head of social and environmental affairs in the Asia Pacific region for Adidas.

      Jewelers of America, an organization representing more than 11,000 stores in the US, has also called for the US Congress to include Burma gemstones in the list of items barred from import until the release of all political prisoners and an end to human rights abuses.

      The US and EU are now considering beefing up their sanctions primarily to close loopholes that allow American and European businesses to deal in gems and timber from Burma.

      But for sanctions to be effective, Burma’s Asian trading partners such as China, Thailand and India would need to be involved, said Leon de Riedmatten, a Bangkok-based representative of Switzerland’s Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. Companies like Total should do more to pressure the regime on human rights, he said.

      “We should not ask these companies to withdraw. We should just ask them to use the leverage they have,” de Riedmatten said.

      Total says that goes too far. “We are an investor, not a political entity,” said Lassalle.

      Cambodia urges Myanmar to continue Suu Kyi talks
      Agence France Presse: Fri 30 Nov 2007

      Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday urged Myanmar’s junta leaders to continue fledgling talks with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a government spokesman said.

      Hun Sen met with Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein in Phnom Penh and told him that dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi should continue “for the sake of both sides,” according to spokesman Khieu Kanharith.

      “Prime Minister Hun Sen supports meetings between the Myanmar government and Aung San Suu Kyi and encourages (the ruling generals) to have more meetings for the sake of both sides,” he told reporters.

      Aung San Suu Kyi held a third meeting in Yangon on November 19 with Myanmar Labour Minister Aung Kyi, who has been appointed by the junta to handle contacts with the 62-year-old Nobel peace prize winner.

      Aung Kyi was appointed as a liaison in the wake of global outrage against the regime following its bloody crackdown on peaceful protests in September. At least 15 people were killed and 3,000 arrested in the suppression.

      The September violence led the United States and Europe to tighten sanctions against Myanmar, which was already under economic restrictions due to the junta’s human rights abuses and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. The pro-democracy icon has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years. But Cambodia rejected the sanctions on Myanmar, saying such measures were only hurting its people. “Economic sanctions will never hurt government leaders. They only hurt people,” Khieu Kanharith told reporters following the meeting between Hun Sen and Thein Sein, the number four in Myanmar’s military.

      Thein Sein’s three-day official visit, which began Friday, overlaps with that of UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who is in Cambodia as part of a regional trip to assess the positions of Myanmar’s neighbours after the junta’s crackdown. But Thein Sein and Gambari, the UN secretary general’s special representative to Myanmar, did not meet Friday, Khieu Kanharith said.

      Cambodia maintains close diplomatic ties with Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1962 and is one of the most isolated nations in the world. Hun Sen last visited there in May for trade and tourism talks.

      Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Thursday sanctions against Myanmar’s ruling generals would not force the country towards democracy, following his talks with Gambari. Hor Namhong said that the international community should instead offer more aid to the impoverished nation.

      The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Cambodia is a member, has come under increasing pressure to deal with its most unruly member since the unrest broke out two months ago.

      Suu Kyi must be released, Gambari says - Ker Munthit
      Associated Press: Fri 30 Nov 2007

      Burma’s ruling military junta must release detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi if it is serious about making the democratic reforms demanded by the international community, a UN envoy said Friday.

      The envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, made the comments at the end of a two-day visit to Cambodia, shortly after Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein arrived in the country. The two did not cross paths and officials said the timing of the visits was coincidental.

      UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari has criticized the Burmese junta’s continued arrest of dissidents following a crackdown on anti-government protests, saying further repression undermined national reconciliation.

      Gambari also said he will return to Burma next month on his third mission to nudge the junta toward reconciliation talks with the opposition since the government’s September crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

      The United Nations has repeatedly called for the release of Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate under detention for 12 of the past 18 years, and for the junta to hold reconciliation talks with her opposition party.

      “Now we are saying very clearly that if Aung San Suu Kyi is to become part of the solution and a partner in dialogue, then it is very essential that she should be released from detention,” Gambari told reporters. He urged the junta to halt its ongoing arrests of people who participated in the September protests. “Any further arrests of people will run counter to the spirit of national reconciliation and … to the efforts to promote dialogue between the opposition and the government,” he said.

      Amnesty International says several dissidents and Buddhist monks were arrested this month, despite assurances from the junta that arrests have stopped.

      Burma sparked global outrage in September when the junta crushed protests led by Buddhist monks, killing at least 15 people. Nearly 3,000 were arrested, although the military insists most have been released.

      Gambari’s visit is part of a tour through Southeast Asia to encourage Burma’s neighbors to play a bigger role in resolving the crisis.

      Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Friday that his country supports the “steps taken by Myanmar [Burma] in cooperation with the United Nations to seek reconciliation and democracy in Myanmar.”

      Cambodia has ruled out supporting sanctions against the junta. “We should not talk about sanctions, but we’d better talk about how to take the momentum forward and prevent the situation from sliding backward,” Hor Namhong said earlier.

      Gambari, who met with Hor Namhong on Thursday, said the two agreed the “best way to avoid sanctions or more sanctions is actually more cooperation by the government of Myanmar with the United Nations, not less.”

      The UN envoy visited Vietnam earlier this week and is to travel to Laos after leaving Cambodia.

      Pinheiro challenges international community
      Mizzima News: Fri 30 Nov 2007

      Crisis provides opportunity, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, told an audience this week. It was a modestly upbeat theme in what was otherwise a sobering appraisal of his recent visit to Burma, analysis of Burma vis-à-vis the international community and what can be done to improve the situation.

      Speaking at Brown University on Tuesday, the question and answer session following Pinheiro’s talk was dominated by inquiries relating to Burma in a wider context, affording the Special Rapporteur to voice his opinion on a range of subjects.

      The fact remains that “Myanmar is not a first priority” of the international community, said Pinheiro, and as such an effective foreign policy agenda relating to Burma and addressing the crisis there must be a “concerted effort” on the part of the international community as a whole. However he maintains that it is imperative that regional countries take the lead.

      Pinheiro criticized current approaches as too simplistic, and as refusing to acknowledge greater complexities within the fabric of the Burmese quagmire.

      He warned that the current focus and attention granted Burma may very well wane considerably in the near future, and as such it is that much more important for concerned parties to come together now and take action.

      But the most effective action may not be that which draws the media spotlight. As such he encourages the use of “quiet diplomacy,” a strategy whose effectiveness has been demonstrated in the case of Libya, according to Pinheiro.

      The Special Rapporteur also reserved some tough observations for a couple of widely accepted principles of the opposition camp.

      Telling those in attendance that Burma cannot significantly impact the Beijing Olympics in the same way that Sudan can, in response to a question from the audience, he went on question whether the Burma “crisis will have the energy to survive until the Olympics.” Ultimately, he cautions against overestimating the impact and control that Beijing holds over Naypyidaw.

      Pinheiro also has little patience for a debate over whether the Southeast Asian nation should be referred to as Burma or Myanmar, as the generals renamed the country in 1989. He says that such a pedantic issue costs the United Nations valuable time in discussion every time Burma is up as a topic of debate.

      Pinheiro’s summary of his recent fact-finding mission to the country, concluded two weeks ago, he defined as, in truth, “not a full-fledged fact-finding mission.”

      His perception of his mission arises as a result of his being denied free access and movement, while having his agenda dictated to him by the military authorities.

      Yet even though faced with these severe shortcomings, under conditions that would normally prevent him from accepting an invitation, Pinheiro described his trip as positive.

      Due to the extreme situation that prevails in Burma, he said he “did not qualify the invitation.” Even if his visit was stage managed, he said it was still good to accept the invitation, describing meetings with government officials as “useful.”

      The Special Rapporteur did, however, say he has serious concerns over the government figure of 93 persons currently being detained. He suspects the number to be higher, though he refused to give an estimate of what he though the actual number to be.

      He was unable to visit opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his stay, despite a request to do so. But he finds it encouraging that the authorities responded by informing him such a meeting would not be possible on this trip. A response that leads Pinheiro to believe that he will again have an opportunity to visit Burma in the not so distant future.

      According to his mandate, Pinheiro was there to specifically look into the actions and repercussions of the military’s heavy-handed crackdown on protesters from the 26th to 29th of September.

      Prior to this last visit to Burma, Pinheiro had been denied access to the country since 2003.

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