Fw: News on Burma - 6/12/07
- ----- Original Message -----From: CHAN Beng SengSent: Friday, December 07, 2007 1:03 AMSubject: Fw: News on Burma - 6/12/07
- Junta Snubs UN Yet Again
- Chased from streets, Myanmar monks get out message on video
- Buddhism holds activists together
- 20 Kyat currency notes with anti-junta writing in Sittwe
- Child soldiers a problem in Myanmar
- Calls for financial sanctions on Burma's military
- Post-crisis economic fallout in Burma
- Daewoo says China preferred bidder for Myanmar gas
- Junta takes hard-line stance on 'Seven-step' Road Map
- More bloody confrontation unavoidable in Myanmar
- Activists to launch 'non-cooperation' campaign in January 2008
Junta Snubs UN Yet Again
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Dec 6 (IPS) - Burma's military regime fired a warning shot this week to let the United Nations and the international community know that it will not cave into pressure on domestic political reform.
The junta's unequivocal stance was confirmed during a rare press conference held by the country's information minister, Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan, when he told reporters that the doors of the South-east Asian nation were not open to influence from outside.
He also confirmed what many analysts had long suspected in the recent months: the military rulers of Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, are in no mood to welcome the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, currently in her 12th year under house arrest, to discussions on the drafting of the new constitution.
"No assistance or advice from other persons is required," Kyaw Hsan, who is a close confidante of Burma's strongman, Gen. Than Shwe, said on Monday. The press conference was the first held by the junta since the brutal crackdown of peaceful pro-democracy protesters in late September.
The comments came on the day the military-appointed Committee for Drafting a New Constitution was to begin work. This phase is the third in a seven-step roadmap: to democracy that the junta has been touting since it was unveiled in August, 2003. No time limit has been placed for the 54 appointees of the committee to finish their task.
The U.N., however, has been pressing for a different outcome. Ibrahim Gambari, a special U.N. envoy, had informed the international community following two visits to Burma since the crackdown that Suu Kyi should be given a significant role to play in the political reform process. The Nigerian diplomat had urged the junta to release her from detention and to involve her in the constitution drafting process.
Initial signs suggested that the junta had warmed up to Gambari's appeals, given that his mission was backed by some of the military regime's allies, such as China and the governments in South-east Asia. The junta permitted Suu Kyi to meet a government liaison officer, Labour Minister Aung Kyi, on three occasions as part of a reconciliation effort. After one of these broadly publicised meetings, she described it as "positive."
But the early hope that emerged after these encounters has been dashed with the junta reverting to its more familiar role of stubbornly defending its entrenched positions. "The junta wants to demonstrate that it will not be cowed by international pressure and it doesn't want outside mediation," Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst living in exile in Thailand, said in an interview. "It is a sign that the Burmese military has become more entrenched."
The reaction from the U.S. government to this week's turn of events was the first in what could be a litany of statements of condemnation and disappointment from capitals across the world. After all Beijing had backed Gambari's mission to Burma on behalf of the international community and so had the members of the 10-nation regional bloc, the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member.
"We condemn the Burmese regime's rejection of meaningful participation for Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic and ethnic minority leaders in the process of drafting a national constitution," the U.S. department of state spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement during a Tuesday press briefing. "The regime's December 3 statement to the diplomatic corps make clear that Senior General Than Shwe and his regime have no intention to begin a genuine, inclusive dialogue necessary for a democratic transition."
But this week's stance on political reform was not the only bullet that junta had in store for the U.N. On Tuesday, the U.N. resident coordinator Charles Petrie left Rangoon after the military regime refused to extend his visa. Petrie had angered the regime by making a media statement that was released by the local U.N. office in late October expressing concerns about Burma's "deteriorating humanitarian condition."
The U.N.'s view about increasing poverty in the country conveyed what was widely known by then, since the pro-democracy protests in September had evolved out of small public demonstrations that were staged in mid-August after the junta raised the price of fuel by 500 percent overnight. Economic conditions have continued to worsen, according to residents in Rangoon that IPS spoke with. Many who survive on a daily wage are cutting back on meals.
The stakes have consequently increased for Gambari, who is due back in Burma later this month or in early 2008, to engage the junta. "Unless Gambari can bring more leverage from the Security Council and China, his next mission will be a failure," says Win Min, a Burmese academic attached to Payap University, in Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai. "The junta feels it has less pressure on its back now that the ASEAN summit is over."
But there are growing signs within Burma that its oppressed people have little reason for optimism, Win Min revealed during an interview. "Most people have lost hope for political change to be achieved with the help of the U.N. and the international community. They know now that nothing will change as long as Than Shwe remains in power."
It is a view shaped by the current regime's record. After all, the first step in the "roadmap" to democracy was the reconvening of a National Convention to draft the new charter. The initial round of talks for this convention began 14 years ago as an effort to prevent the opposition party that Suu Kyi heads, the National League for Democracy, from forming a government after it secured a thumping mandate in the 1990 parliamentary elections.
Chased from streets, Myanmar monks get out message on video - Mony Chris
Agence France Presse: Wed 5 Dec 2007
A young monk whispers to street vendors in the hope of finding the hottest contraband in Yangon video recordings of religious sermons by two of Myanmar's most respected Buddhist leaders.
"I don't dare to sell those VCDs. I'm afraid I'd be arrested. You can ask at the shop over there," one woman tells him, pointing him to a nearby vendor.
The next shopkeeper glances around and then reaches into his shoulder bag to pull out the illegal disc, which shows a series of sermons and parables that Buddhists here interpret as sharp criticism of the ruling military junta.
Buddhist monks were at the forefront of pro-democracy protests in September, which were the biggest threat to military rules in nearly two decades.
Soldiers and police stamped out the demonstrations with a bloody crackdown that left at least 15 dead and 3,000 injured.
Now many monasteries are empty as the monks fled persecution by seeking shelter in villages or by taking off their robes and hiding among the general population.
For residents of Yangon, Myanmar's main city and former capital, the disappearance of the monks has profoundly disrupted their daily lives.
Buddhism is the state religion, followed by about 90 percent of Myanmar's 54 million people who every day are in the habit of offering alms, mostly food, to monks who roam the streets from dawn.
There are about 500,000 monks in Myanmar, according to the government. Of these, some 300,000 or 60 percent of the total live in Mandalay, the second largest city.
Boys older than five years old enter monasteries for at least one week and again when they turn 18 and legally become an adult.
The daily ritual of giving donations to monks is an important part of religious practise for the people of Myanmar a way of receiving spiritual instruction as they chat with the monks during their rounds. But much of that spiritual life has evaporated since the crackdown on the demonstrations as the monks are no longer the ubiquitous presence they had been for centuries.
'You can find sinful people in hell'
Residents say the illegal videos are helping to fill that void.
"Now the senior monks are taking up that role of giving religious services to the people through these videos. This is a very responsible thing for them to do," one Yangon resident told AFP.
Unable to speak directly to their followers in public, two senior monks Nyanissara and Kawvida have recorded their sermons on a video disc titled "The end of sinful people".
In the sermon, they discuss the legend of a ruthless emperor who violated the teachings of the Lord Buddha, which resulted in him, and his followers, being sent to hell.
"When people do evil and act as if it were good, their karma becomes very fragile. That sin will lead to their destruction," Nyanissara says in the video.
"You can find sinful people in hell. Many more people will be going there. Those already in hell are waiting for them," he says.
Nyanissara is a founder of the respected Sagaing Thitagu World Buddha University in northern Myanmar, which is popular among foreigners who come to Myanmar, the former Burma, to study the religion.
His lecture is widely seen here as a rebuke to the junta, and a warning that security forces will pay a price in the afterlife for the beatings of monks during the protests an unpardonable act in this devoutly Buddhist country.
Political activists have also been turning to video recordings to keep public anger focused on the crackdown by distributing compilations of international news footage that shows soldiers and police beating the protesters.
The VCDs are spreading through Yangon despite tightened security, because people can make copies at home and pass them on to friends in private.
"We have to keep reminding people about the junta's brutality. These images can remind people how much we paid for the September movement, which isn't over yet," one activist said.
Buddhism holds activists together
IBN Live: Wed 5 Dec 2007
When Nyamyo walked through the porous India-Myanmar border 12 years ago, he was just a 14-year-old, who dreamt of a better life and of future studies. He was relieved to have left a country, where opportunities were non-existent.
However, soon that relief became a burden. His thoughts were with thousands of his countrymen, whose rights were suppressed by the junta.
"The dreams of the Burmese students have been lost for 20 years now," says Nyamyo.
Today Nyamyo and his wife Mo Pyi manage refugee camps for people who have fled Myanmar. They help the cause of democracy in Burma clandestinely. They pray for their countrymen every day. The statue of Buddha gives them strength in their unfinished struggle.
Buddhism has become the glue that is holding the activists together in Myanmar. The biggest protests for democracy that were held recently in Myanmar were led not by students, not by politicians, but by Buddhists monks.
The western media has been reporting about overnight raids on monks, news that can't be confirmed given the clampdown on journalists. At the Shwedegon Pagoda, the oldest in Yangon, not many monks can be spotted. Most of them have gone into hiding.
"There is a difference between the past and now. None of those who led the protests have fled the country this time. They are hiding in the country and will carry on the protests," says Ethnic Nationalities Council, Myanmar,
On the streets, life goes on as usual, under the watchful eye of the police. But their vision is clear as they want democracy restored. On the face of it things are calm, but looks can be deceptive.
"They have no idea what is simmering underneath if they think that it is over then they are mistaken. It is going to come back again unless there is some kind of reconciliation," says editor Myanmar Times, Daniel Long.
The junta knows it probably. May be that's why they allowed the country's media to put pro-democracy leader Aung San Su Kyi on its pages.
While such gestures by the junta may be a move away from the past, there is still no word on the fate of thousands who have gone missing during Myanmar's darkest years and perhaps there won't be any.
And this is the dark truth that the people of Myanmar and the rest of the world will have to reconcile to.
20 Kyat currency notes with anti-junta writing in Sittwe
Narinjara News: Wed 5 Dec 2007
In an unique movement, a large number of 20 Kyat currency notes scribbled with words denouncing the military junta has been distributed by an unidentified organization in the Arakan State capital Sittwe since mid-November 2007, said an Arakanese politician from the city.
"I heard a monk's organization was distributing the currency notes urging people to stage demonstrations again in Sittwe without fear," he said.
On the currency notes the group has used marker pens to write and urge people to stage demonstrations again, to free themselves from the yoke of the military regime that is worse than Hitler's or Saddam Hussein's and to be brave and fight the junta.
The politician said the currency notes were distributed in key places in Sittwe, such as intersections and markets, in the early morning hours before people began waking up.
Many people are unwilling to even hold the currency, fearing retribution by the junta if they do, but the 20 Kyat notes are unavoidable as they have spread across the city.
A source said army intelligence is now looking for clues as to which organization might be distributing the notes to people with anti-government statements.
The Burmese military has not dared to withdraw security forces from main locations in Sittwe since such anti-government activities are continuing. Security forces in Sittwe have been recently reinforced by a regiment of riot police brought in from Burma proper last week.
Child soldiers a problem in Myanmar - David Scott Mathieson
Jakarta Post: Wed 5 Dec 2007
In a small Myanmarese army border outpost in Shan State, a sign in English and Myanmarese points into Thailand's thriving tourist town of Doi Ang Khan: "We Are Able." It's probably not much comfort to the soldiers walking around barefoot, enclosed by sharpened bamboo stakes and separated from their comrades by mountains of hostile jungle filled with resentful civilians and vengeful Shan insurgents.
The squalid scene is entirely at odds with the Myanmarese Army's propaganda, the parades mounted on a regular basis to showcase control, progress and development. And it undermines the belligerence shown by the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
How strong is the Myanmarese military? One test of strength of an army that didn't hesitate to beat and shoot protesting monks and civilians on the streets of Rangoon can be gauged by its continued recruitment of children into its ranks. This is a sure sign of weakness.
In the past several months, Human Rights Watch has collected testimonies from former child soldiers that show the practice of forcibly recruiting children, some as young as 10, continues freely throughout Myanmar. It is almost impossible to estimate the number of child soldiers currently in the Myanmarese Army, or Tatmadaw, but there are clearly thousands.
Why does the army recruit children? Partly it is because more and more soldiers are needed to enable the army to keep close control over the whole country. Just as with the TNI under Soeharto, the Myanmarese military believes it has an inherent right to rule the country.
But army rule has been a disaster for Myanmar. Deep poverty affects most of the population, unemployment is rampant, corruption is everywhere, and, in the farming communities where most Myanmarese live, ruinous government policies which include using new strains of rice and the forcible planting of bio-fuel crops has increased rural suffering.
Given the deep antipathy most Myanmarese feel towards their reclusive and privileged military leadership, joining the army is not universally appealing. So the army often turns to forcible recruitment of children. Recruitment of the young, the old, and even the infirm, is often coerced and unregulated.
Human Rights Watch has seen internal documents from the ruling council which show that even the senior leadership is cognizant and deeply concerned about deteriorating morale in the ranks, as reflected by increasing desertion rates. All these factors make the recruitment of children less of a concern than keeping manpower rates up.
There are more than 30 non-state armed groups in Myanmar. Some, such as the drug-running United Wa State Army, have more than 20,000 soldiers, many of whom are very young children forcibly recruited. Others, such as the small Karenni Army, with just 1,000 soldiers, have worked hard to reduce their use of children. The lack of a genuine process of national reconciliation explains why many armed groups persist, and the potential for a resumption of large-scale fighting is ever-present.
Many older anti-government insurgents I have interviewed over the years say there were no children in government ranks in the past, and that the Tatmadaw was a professional and battle-hardened force. Not many say that now, as the gap grows between the pampered officer class and the brutalized rank-and-file.
Resentment against the senior generals is widespread in Myanmar, but the fear of challenging them is greater. The authorities punish the family of anyone who questions the military, which is why the often hoped-for split within the army is so elusive. The same soldiers bunkered down in border stockades, many of them children, and in cantonment areas around cities, effectively an army of occupation, are also the victims of the paranoia and intransigence of the SPDC leadership.
The Tatmadaw is also aided by close relations with China, Russia, India and Thailand. For example, in spite of the fact that the military has spent the past 20 years viciously repressing its own people, Myanmar's defense forces have dramatically expanded.
Arms purchases, including weapons systems such as fighter planes, tanks, artillery, naval vessels and even a plan to purchase a nuclear reactor are facilitated by close allies China, India, and Russia. The Association of South-East Asian Nations has become more frustrated with the SPDC, but its words are not matched by actions.
In the next few weeks, the UN Security Council has the opportunity to censure the SPDC on its use of child soldiers, as Myanmar comes up for review before the Security Council's working group on children and armed conflict. The Security Council has said it will consider targeted sanctions, including arms embargoes, on parties to armed conflict that persist in the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Myanmar's failure is clear: The UN Secretary-General has named the SPDC in four consecutive reports for violating international standards prohibiting the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Indonesia, which abstained on a Security Council resolution against Myanmar in January, should vote for a strong resolution now and demand an end to the violations against Myanmar's children.
* The writer does research on Myanmar for Human Rights Watch.
Calls for financial sanctions on Burma's military
ABC Radio Australia: Wed 5 Dec 2007
An Australian economist who is an expert on Burma says Australia could encourage international pressure on the nation's military regime.
Officially 15 people died and many thousands were jailed in September's brutal crackdown against democracy protesters led by Burma's monks.
Burmese exiles including monks say more bloodshed could occur if the international community doesn't find a way to prevent the continuing arrest and harassment of Burma's monks.
After the September crackdown on protestors Australia's former Howard government announced a financial blacklist against 418 Burmese citizens including 40 businessmen.
The US also extended its sanctions in September.
Dr Sean Turnell, Associate Professor in Economics at Macquarie University is a recognised expert on Burma and gave evidence last year to a US Senate Committee on economic sanctions. He has told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific program specific financial sanctions could be more effective than broad brush economic sanctions.
Dr Turnell says targeting the bank accounts of Burma's elite could be an option. Such a move would overcome the problem of Burma's trading partners, like China, India, Thailand and Russia cancelling out the effectiveness of economic sanctions.
Dr Turnell says Australia could build on its close relations with Singapore, which is one of the major bankers to the regime and some of the generals. "The financial sanction that is where I think sanctions levied by the United States, by Australia and hopefully by Singapore and countries like that could be quite effective," he said.
For full interview see the Asia Pacific website at http://radioaustralia.net.au/asiapac
Post-crisis economic fallout in Burma - Kyi May Kaung
Mizzima News: Wed 5 Dec 2007
The recent crisis in Burma that started in August with the Burmese government raising fuel prices from 100 to 500 percent happened at a time when world oil prices were $72 per barrel. By the end of November light sweet crude was at $99 per barrel and seemed likely to rise higher. However the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank's interest rate cuts and a sufficient supply of oil have resulted in a slight price fall this past week.
Any assessment of the economic fallout of the crisis in Burma has to include these international economic factors as well as systemic factors built into the command economy that the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) favors.
An assessment is doubly difficult as it has to be based on figures for isolated years and estimates picked from different sources at different times, making a continuous timeline problematic. So my analysis will for the most part be conjectural, but it will give a picture of what to expect in Burma in this international context where the United States is probably in for a recession due to the home mortgage debt crisis, and while China is playing an increasing role in the world economy and is not expected to have any dampening of its 10 to 11 percent per annum growth rate (see The Economist, 'How fit is the Panda?' September 29, 2007, pp. 75-77.
Burma's other main neighbor, India, is also increasingly a major player on the world economic stage, with an average of 8 percent growth over the last three years (CIA Factbook) and 9.4 percent growth in 2006-2007. It just happens that Burma is geographically situated between two of the fastest growing economies in the world, and if physical closeness alone could do the job, it should be in good economic shape itself. But as everyone knows, it isn't. It's also resource rich, including fairly well educated workers (who would be better educated if it were an open society), yet its economic prospects are always dismal.
I'd like to argue that all this is due to the military government's command economy that has been in place more or less unchanged since 1962. Add to this the ongoing economic and social disruption of the last three months, and we see a system that has been failing on its own, even without sanctions, which are more targeted and effective this time around.
Since at least 2004, leading Burmese economists have been gently casting doubt on the performance of the Burmese economy, saying metaphorically to the effect that if it's such a new model car, how can it drive so fast on such poor roads? This points to an anonymous technocrat's realization that infrastructure and the design of the economic system are largely responsible for how fast (or slow) a growth rate can be achieved. The CIA Factbook, updated November 1 and accessed on November 15, gives a 2006 estimate for Burma of a 3 percent per annum growth rate. As the UN Special Envoy for Burma has been talking of poverty alleviation in Burma and "trying to find out its causes" it seems relevant here that a year 2000 estimate in the CIA Factbook mentions that fully a quarter of the Burmese population is below the poverty line. The inflation rate for consumer prices (2006 estimate) is 20 percent per annum.
F. William Engdahl, in "The Geopolitical Stakes of the 'Saffron Revolution'" October 17, 2007 (http://samsara.tuditi.del.si/2007/11/18), accessed on November 19, says: ". . . few will argue that the present military dictatorship of the reclusive General Than Shwe is right up there when it comes to world class tyrannies. It's also a fact that Myanmar enjoys (sic) one of the world's lowest living standards. Partly as a result of the ill-conceived 100% to 500% price hikes in gasoline and other fuels in August, inflation, the nominal trigger for the mass protests led by saffron robed monks, is unofficially estimated to have risen by 35%. Ironically the demand to establish "market" energy prices came from the IMF and World Bank."
"The UN estimates that the population of some 50 million inhabitants spend up to 70% of their monthly income on food alone. The recent fuel price hike makes matters unbearable for tens of millions."
This points to the fact that prices may have risen an additional 35 percent since August alone. Before the August to October crisis, there were already reports that people could not afford to go to work because of the high transport costs due to high petrol prices. During the demonstrations themselves, some dissident websites overseas reported that over the long run demonstrators would have difficulties in coming out onto the streets daily as they were "struggling with their livelihoods on a day to day basis."
Looking at petroleum oil imports alone, the CIA Factbook states that Burma imports 19,180 barrels a day (2004 estimate). At $100 per barrel, Burma would be paying $19 million a day just for its oil imports. Foreign experts as yet have been unable to ascertain if the army pays the central government for its fuel needs. The answer is "probably not" and as the central government and the army are increasingly becoming one and the same thing, we can only expect accelerated inflation rates post-crackdown. It is highly likely that the fuel price increases will be financed by budget deficits and more printing of paper money.
The United States has instituted stronger and more targeted sanctions against Burma which are of a financial nature. Already there are reports that Bagan Air has closed down flights, specifically citing sanctions and high fuel prices as the reasons. It is also widely rumored that the targeted financial sanctions by the United States on top SPDC officials and connected businessmen has caused Singapore banks, where the junta does most of its banking and shopping, to close the accounts of certain individuals and to return cash to the former account holders. This was said to have been transported in suitcases to Rangoon, subject to a 10 percent surcharge levied by the Burmese government, but this is not yet confirmed.
Several experts that I spoke to, who did not wish to be named, said that the Burmese balance of payments and the government budget figures are in Burmese kyat, at the official exchange rate of about 7 kyat to the US dollar, while the black market or real exchange rate was about 1300 kyat to the dollar in September. They said that beyond the exchange rate, it was highly likely that the regime's top brass "skims off the top" from Burma's export earnings before the figures are entered in the official statistics. The extent of this leakage is unknown, but shows itself in the high spending lifestyles of top junta officials.
Looking at the trade figures, total Burmese exports were $5,321 billion f.o.b. in 2006 and consist of natural gas, wood and wood products, pulses, beans, fish, rice, jade and other gems. But this official figure does not include the timber, gems, narcotics, rice and other products smuggled to Thailand, China, India and Bangladesh. Since General Ne Win staged his coup in 1962 and nationalized private enterprises, and subsequently compounded by the ongoing inefficiency of the State Economic Enterprises and the economic irrationality of the centrally controlled command economy, the military government has caused illegal cross border trade to flourish. After 1988, at about the same time that the People's Republic of China stopped financing the Communist Party Burma, the cross border trade with China was legalized, but obviously many contraband goods are not included in the official statistics. It is common knowledge that the hardwood resources of northern Burma have been largely exploited and depleted and there are jade buying depots in Yunnan close to the Burma border.
Burma's main export partners are as follows:
- Thailand 49%
- India 12.8%
- China 5.3%
- Japan 5.2%
Exports to Thailand consist mainly of natural gas.
Burma's imports were estimated at $2.284 billion f.o.b. in 2006. The CIA Factbook states that "import figures are grossly underestimated due to the value of consumer goods, diesel fuel and other products smuggled in from Thailand, China, Malaysia and India."
Burma's imports originate primarily from the following countries:
- China 34.6%
- Thailand 21.8%
- Singapore 16.2%
- Malaysia 4.7%
- S. Korea 4.3%
United States' trade with Burma for 2006, according to the U.S. Census (accessed November 15, 2007), is minimal, with imports listed as zero and exports totaling $7.5 million.
In mid-November Burma recently held another gem auction. It has been holding these emporiums increasingly frequently in an obvious attempt to raise revenue. Irrawaddy magazine reports that though many buyers came to the current emporium, and a lot of jade tonnage was sold, revenue figures were not given as they "are lower than usual this time." Sean Turnell of Macquarie University, Sydney, has pointed out that gems are easy to hide. Burmese jade is mostly sold to Chinese customers while rubies and sapphires are cut and set into jewelry in Bangkok. In the case of rubies they are "baked" to enhance color. As the main market for Burmese gems is in Asia, it is uncertain how large an impact the gems embargo will have on Burma's earnings from gems, which in a normal year is estimated at $300 million.
The SPDC typically tries to raise revenues through greater exploitation of resources and people, rather than trying to decrease spending. It could be argued that in some sense "it cannot decrease spending" as it needs to pay off its crony capitalists and top army personnel in order to buy the political support it so badly needs.
In foreign investments, an Associated Press article published on November 26 (http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2007/11/26/ap4373496.html) states that foreign investment in Burma's oil and gas sector reached $470 million in 2006-2007, accounting for more than 60 percent of total investment. Of this, $240 million was from the United Kingdom and $160 million from Singapore and Russia, with South Korea also maintaining large investments in this sector. These figures show that Burma is fast becoming a country dependent on and dominated by foreign investors (corporations) in spite of the policies of the junta which are often described as "isolationist."
Canada has also tightened sanctions. But as total trade between Canada and Burma sank to $9 million last year, the sanctions are seen as largely symbolic (VOA news, November 14, 2007). Australia likewise has a slight trade relationship with Burma, which will also be influenced by sanctions. According to the Australian government's figures, Australian exports to Burma ranked 77th in importance and fell 19.9 percent in 2006-2007. Imports from Burma ranked 73rd and rose 47.7 percent in 2006-07. Australia mainly exports wheat to Burma and imports fish and shellfish from Burma. According to official Australian trade figures this is Burma's trade picture:
Burma's principal export destinations as of 2006:
- Thailand 49.0%
- India 12.8%
- China 5.3%
- Australia 0.4%
Burma's principal import sources:
- China 34.6%
- Thailand 21.8%
- Singapore 16.2%
- Australia 0.7%
So Australia's sanctions on Burma are also largely symbolic.
Besides these trade effects and the fuel price increases, the demonstrations themselves and the ongoing clampdown are likely to have a dampening effect on the Burmese economy. The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates average consumer price inflation will be 39.5 percent in 2008, while real GDP growth will be 2.5 percent (accessed November 15, 2007).
Following its brutal suppression of peaceful protestors, including Buddhist monks, in September, the SPDC still maintains a firm grip on power. Given that public resentment towards the junta has reached new heights, there could be a renewed effort to oust the regime in the near future, but any such attempt is likely to again be violently suppressed. The US remains strongly critical of the Burmese regime, and will keep sanctions in place, as will the European Union. Although China and Burma's fellow members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations have expressed some criticism of the military's repressive actions, these countries are unlikely to impose any punishment. Economic policymaking will continue to be erratic. The energy sector will remain fairly buoyant, but the outlook for the rest of the economy is poor. High inflation will put downward pressure on the free-market exchange rate. Gas exports will put the current account in surplus.
In conclusion, as the economic fallout of the recent crisis in Burma continues on top of structural and systemic factors which have been in place since 1962 and 1988, in addition to the generals' own tendencies toward erratic and dysfunctional economic behavior, the overall outlook is quite bleak. But the energy sector and the physical closeness of a super charged Chinese economy and a rapidly growing Indian one will provide some mitigating effect.
Kyi May Kaung (Ph.D.) is based in the United States.
Daewoo says China preferred bidder for Myanmar gas
Reuters: Wed 5 Dec 2007
Daewoo International Corp has picked China as a preferred bidder for natural gas from its project in Myanmar, the South Korean company said on Wednesday.
This confirms that China is at the front of a queue to grab gas that India and Thailand had also been angling for, as the three battle to secure cleaner fuel for their fast growing economies.
Daewoo, which operates Myanmar's A-1 and A-3 natural gas fields, said in a regulatory filing it would award partners the right to buy gas via pipeline, with the results of negotiations to be announced by June 5 at the latest.
It did not name any partners, but India's junior oil minister has previously said the gas would be sold to PetroChina. Myanmar officials have also previously said the gas would go to China.
China's official news agency, Xinhua, reported in April that China expected to spend 8 billion yuan ($1.08 billion) on a gas pipeline between the two countries.
Company officials were not immediately available for comment.
India, China and Thailand have been bidding to buy gas from the two fields, which hold 4.53-7.74 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of recoverable reserves.
Daewoo has a 60 percent stake in the fields, followed by Korea Gas Corp with a 10 percent stake, India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp. with 20 percent and India's GAIL with 10 percent.
Myanmar has at least 90 TCF of gas reserves and 3.2 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil reserves in 19 onshore and three major offshore fields.
Altogether, 25 offshore blocks are under exploration, 12 of them in the Gulf of Martaban, six off the Tanintharyi coast and seven off the Rakhine coast.
Junta takes hard-line stance on 'Seven-step' Road Map - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Tue 4 Dec 2007
Hope for a solution to Burma's political crisis through a political dialogue dimmed this week, following the junta's hard-line stand at a press conference on Monday and Snr-Gen Than Shwe's endorsement on Tuesday of the seven-step roadmap to democracy.
Than Shwe made his comments in a statement released on the 87th anniversary of Burma's National Day.
He said the junta stands behind the seven-step roadmap it adopted to transform the nation into a "peaceful, modern and developed discipline-flourishing democratic country."
He also introduced a national day slogan, "To realize the state's seven-step road map," The New Light of Myanmar reported on Tuesday.
One of Than Shwe's right-hand men, Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, the head of the junta's information committee, said during a press conference on Monday the junta will not open up the process of writing the constitution to opposition groups or figures, even though the international community, including China, has called for an inclusive process in writing the constitution and in national reconciliation.
"The suggestions to review adopted principles by forming necessary bodies and to coordinate the principles with the aspirations of anti-government groups which did not participate in the Nation Convention are no longer appropriate to the present situation," said Kyaw Hsan
The press conference's main agenda was to blame dissident groups inside and outside Burma and foreign governments, particularly the United States, for the demonstrations in August and September.
Brig-Gen Khin Yi, the head of Burma's police, said on Monday the September uprising was aimed to bring down the junta through joint efforts by the FDB (the Forum for Democracy in Burma), the 88 Generation Students group and other opposition elements by "placing the Sangha [monks] cause in the center."
Khin Yi also blamed the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, for attempting to form an interim government.
Nyan Win, a spokesperson of the NLD, denied Khin Yi's accusation.
"If we review the accusation, we will see that Brig-Gen Khin Yi said the police knew about the forming of an interim government by the NLD. But he [Khin Yi] did not give any details. Therefore, it is just false blaming," said Nyan Win. "Individuals from the NLD joined the protests. But no protesters, including the Buddhist monks, committed violence."
Criticizing the junta's stance, Aye Thar Aung, a prominent Arakan ethnic leader, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday the junta repeatedly says it will hold a dialogue, but it also says it will complete its roadmap without including any opposition groups.
"If the one-sided way of the generals cannot be reviewed, why should we talk in dialogue?" he asked. "Dialogue means to discuss and adjust. Therefore, if the junta goes on with its one-sided roadmap, their calling for a dialogue is just a trick."
Thakin Chan Tun, a veteran politician and a former Burmese ambassador to China, said there is a clear message that the junta is going to complete the roadmapthe drafting of a constitution, a referendum for the constitution, new elections and then a new government.
"There is no chance of a dialogue or a review of the constitution, whatever the international community suggests," he said. "What I learned from them is that the junta still does not have any political will for dialogue or for national conciliation. The ongoing meetings between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Minister U Aung Kyi are just for show. "
The former ambassador to China said even China's efforts to achieve national reconciliation will not be enough to change the junta's course.
Meanwhile, the China National Petroleum Corp, the country's biggest oil and gas producer, signed an agreement on December 2 with the southwestern province of Yunnan to cooperate in building an oil refinery, a step toward building a pipeline through neighboring Burma.
More bloody confrontation unavoidable in Myanmar: exiled monk
Agence France Presse: Tue 4 Dec 2007
Myanmar's Buddhist monks are prepared to face another bloody confrontation with the ruling military junta if the international community fails to force the generals to accept democratic reforms, an exiled monk with links inside Myanmar said Monday.
US-based Ashin Nayaka, a key member of the International Burmese Monks Organization, said monks were a "symbol of hope" for reforms in Myanmar but were "forcibly disrobed, assaulted and killed" by the junta.
"If this continues unaddressed, further bloody confrontation is unavoidable," he told a hearing of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a non-partisan panel appointed by the US president and leaders of Congress.
"The very existence of monastic life is being destroyed by the evil military regime and it will face bloodshed again, if the international community, including the UN Security Council, cannot find a collective and effective way to stop this evil regime from killings and arrests," he said. At least 15 people died and 3,000 were jailed when Myanmar's military and police broke up pro-democracy protests, which saw Buddhist monks lead 100,000 people in the streets of Yangon on successive days.
Nayaka, a visiting scholar at Columbia University, said he had been working closely with U Gambira, the leader of the Alliance of All Burma Buddhist Monks and key leader of the September protests arrested by the junta last month. He expressed regret that pressure by the international community on the junta had eased even as serious questions remained over the number of monks forcible disrobed, imprisoned and killed following the protests. "Where has the global outcry gone? This should be of grave concern for all governments worldwide. This is a moral crisis that Americans must stand for," he said.
The United States, which has long imposed a trade and investment ban on Myanmar, has twice tightened sanctions since the clampdown on protests. It ordered an asset freeze on key junta figures and blacklisted seven companies and five individuals allegedly linked to those companies and the regime.
Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, urged Washington to appoint a full-time sanctions coordinator for Myanmar as it did in the late 1990's against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's regime accused of genocide. This would enable coordination of global sanctions against Myanmar's junta, he said.
Citing the Australian government which had targeted financial sanctions against 418 Myanmar citizens, including 40 businessmen, he asked the US government to impose restrictions on more Myanmar businessmen who provided money to the junta leaders and their families.
Jared Genser, president of human rights group Freedom Now, raised the prospect of Washington imposing sanctions, such as those used against a Macau bank accused of money laundering for nuclear-armed North Korea, on a Southeast Asian state-owned bank suspected of links to Myanmar's military rulers.
The move against Banco Delta Asia in Macau underscored US financial clout and reportedly compelled North Korea back to the negotiating table.
"Anecdotally in conversations with diplomats in ASEAN countries, I know there is a deep concern about the prospects of the United States doing to a state-owned bank what happened to Banco Delta Asia in Macau because of its laundering of North Korean funds," Genser told the hearing. He did not name the bank. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Activists to launch 'non-cooperation' campaign in January 2008 - Maung Dee
Mizzima News: Tue 4 Dec 2007
In a well conceived plan which has to do with governmental and social boycott, a campaign of 'non-cooperation' will be begun by an unidentified Burmese activist group. It has urged all government employees to stop working and stay at home from the January 1, 2008 for a break down of the junta's governance.
With the slogan "Freedom to all on August 8, 2008″, the activist group, in an email message to Mizzima said they have planned to launch the new campaign of 'non-cooperation', where they will request all government servants to defy the regime by staying at home from New Year's Day.
While the existence and authenticity of the group could not be independently confirmed, the group in their email said, "We cannot wait in uncertainty and for tricky 'TALKS'. Don't be trapped in dialogue. 2008, August 8 is set for FREEDOM for all."
In the wake of the September 'Saffron Revolution', which was brutally suppressed by the ruling junta, several satellite groups, which claim to have been formed secretly, have emerged and have been campaigning for a public boycott of the junta and its business cronies.
An activist in Rangoon, who maintains a close relationship with such groups, told Mizzima that they have effectively urged the people not to buy weekly journals run by the junta's cronies, to avoid using buses whose owners are known to have a good relationship with the junta's generals and not buy goods from shops and stores owned by junta's henchmen .
"For instance if it is question of using transport, people should start avoiding buses like the Paramy, Ahtih Pathih, and other government operated bus services. It began within a circle of friends and has spread to larger groups now," added the activist, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
Moreover the activists have also targeted business enterprises, and are making a list of shops, stores, and other business houses run by the junta or their associates. The groups are likely to come out with a comprehensive list soon and will begin their campaign against the junta's business enterprises, added the activist.
Kyaw Kyaw, a member of the All Burma Federation of Students' Union, a group banned by the junta, said, "These kinds of activities are effective in its own way. Small businesses also needed to be targetted. If we can shake these small businesses, it will hit the junta hard ."
However, Kyaw Kyaw said he would rather go on a slower pace to launch the 'non-cooperation' campaign that calls on all government employees to boycott the junta by staying home .
"I am not sure whether many people will join the campaign because most government servants are tied to their services for their daily bread. Besides, there are several other factors that they need to consider. So, I would rather take more time to build up the momentum of the campaign," Kyaw Kyaw added .
The group, in the email message said the boycott would be kick-started if the government fails to release all political prisoners including monks and students arrested during the August-September protests and apologize to the monks for its brutality on them, before December 31, 2007.
No virus found in this incoming message.
Checked by AVG Free Edition.
Version: 7.5.503 / Virus Database: 269.16.15/1173 - Release Date: 12/5/2007 9:29 PM