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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 11/12/07

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. World losing patience with junta, it s time to end suffering, says Ban 2.. Ban must go to Burma 3.. China-Myanmar border trade fair to promote bilateral
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 11, 2007
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      1. World losing patience with junta, it's time to end suffering, says Ban
      2. Ban must go to Burma
      3. China-Myanmar border trade fair to promote bilateral trade
      4. Force and fear the order of the day in Myanmar
      5. Repression unrelenting in Myanmar
      6. Exiles try to keep pressure on Burmese rulers: Urge monks to regroup in protest
      7. Monasteries pass junta offerings to poor
      8. Monks boycott examinations
      9. Defiance undeterred: Burmese activists seek ways to oust the junta
      10. Pay rise for Shwedagon police
      11. Myanmar woes raise fears of new migration to Thailand
      12. IMF sees limited sanctions impact on Myanmar
      13. Manila links Suu Kyi’s release to ASEAN ratification
      14. China should reconsider its support for Burma
      15. Myanmar’s woes perpetuated by PRC

      World losing patience with junta, it's time to end suffering, says Ban
      BangkokPost: 11 Dec.07

      ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT and AGENCIES

      UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Burma yesterday that the international community was losing its patience, saying it was time the junta embraced democracy and ended the people's suffering.

      He also urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to do more to convince the Burmese military regime to end authoritarian rule.

      ''I know the international community is very much impatient, and our patience is running out,'' he told a press conference after talks with Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont and key cabinet ministers.

      Mr Ban hoped the Burmese leaders would take this warning seriously and end people's suffering from isolation and lack of democracy and freedom.

      Dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and a Burmese minister was a good start but talks between the opposition leader and military leaders were needed, he said.

      The UN chief wants to see Asean play a more important role in promoting democracy in its troubled member.

      ''We have made certain progress but much more needs to be done in bringing democratisation and promoting and protecting human rights in Burma. We need Asean's special cooperation,'' he said.

      ''From today [Monday], I, United Nations and my commissions will begin to further promote human rights around the world and in Burma,'' he said.

      Yesterday was Human Rights Day.

      Gen Surayud pledged Thailand's full support to UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari who is trying to talk the junta into returning democracy to Burma.

      ''The Asean-UN summit in Thailand next year is also another window of opportunity to discuss Burma's future,'' said the prime minister.

      Earlier in the day, nearly 100 activists led by the Chiang Mai-based Women League of Burma and Thai Action Committee on Burma, staged a peaceful rally in front of the UN building prior to Mr Ban's visit.

      They handed a petition to a representative of the UN Human Rights Commission, calling on the UN to play a greater role in bringing democracy to Burma.

      The UN chief commended Thailand for its firm contribution to better global public health and ratification of the UN agreement on climate change.

      Mr Ban will leave Bangkok today for an international meeting on climate change in Bali where negotiators are trying to set down a strategy for a new pact to curb the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change and are making the Earth hotter.

      He urged developing nations to take the fight seriously, warning that rising temperatures could cut development gains across Asia.

      ''This urgent problem not only threatens to undercut many of the development gains witnessed across Asia in recent years, it calls into question plans for continued progress and prosperity here in Thailand and across the entire region,'' the UN chief said.

      Asia already accounts for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is also home to many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, he said.

      While calling on industrialised nations to lead the way in curbing greenhouse gases, Mr Ban said developing nations also need to take immediate action before it is too late.


      China-Myanmar border trade fair to promote bilateral trade
      ABITSU: December 10, 2007

      Xinhua : MUSE, Myanmar, Dec 10, 2007 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — A China-Myanmar border trade fair will be opened on Monday in a Chinese border town in Southwestern Yunnan province linking Myanmar’s Muse in Shan state aimed at promoting the bilateral trade between the two countries.

      It is the 7th of this kind trade fair between the two countries and also the second time for an annual China-Myanmar border trade fair to be participated by other neighboring countries such as Thailand, India and Bangladesh.

      The five-day China-Myanmar border trade exhibition to be held in Jiegao, Ruili, Chinese border town linking with Myanmar, which will run until Friday, are joined by about 100 Myanmar enterprises.

      Myanmar products, displayed at its 60 booths in the fair, cover agricultural produces such as various beans and pulses, maize and sesame, marine products, rubber, furniture and gem items.

      During the trade fair, a joint committee meeting for China- Myanmar border trade and a coordination meeting on economic affairs are to be attached.

      Ruili remains a main border trade point of China with its border trade volume alone accounting for 70 percent of Yunnan province’s border trade with neighboring countries.

      Since 2001, China-Myanmar border trade exhibitions have been held annually and alternately in respective border towns and the last event was in Myanmar’s Muse in December 2006.

      Meanwhile, Myanmar established a 150-hectare Muse border trade zone, the first largest of its kind in the country, and transformation of its border trade with China into normal trade has been underway since early 2005.

      In March this year, a 350-strong economic and trade delegation of Yunnan Province of China, led by Governor of Yunnan Province Qin Guangrong, visited Yangon and held trade and investment promotion meeting with its Myanmar counterparts, serving as a giant step forward for trans-border normal trade.

      At the meeting, attended by a total of over 600 businessmen from over 400 companies from both sides, Yunnan Province of China and Myanmar signed a seven series of trade accords in Yangon which deal with agricultural, mining and trade cooperation.

      Yunnan Province, which borders Myanmar, has more trade relations with the country than any other province of China and Myanmar-China border trade accounted for larger proportion of the two countries’ bilateral trade. The trend of rising border trade was apparently up year after year especially the Myanmar-Yunnan bilateral trade.

      It is anticipated that in the future development, transit trade to the third countries would be launched through the two countries ‘ border points to effectively implement the normal trade.

      According to Chinese official figures, in the first three quarters of 2007, China-Myanmar bilateral trade hit 1.435 billion U.S. dollars, up 37.7 percent compared with 2006 correspondingly. Of the total, China’s exports to Myanmar took 1.216 billion dollars, up 45.8 percent, while its import from Myanmar stood 220 million dollars, up 5.2 percent. China enjoyed a trade surplus of 996 million U.S. dollars.

      The figures for 2006’s China-Myanmar bilateral trade were registered at 1.46 billion U.S. dollars. Among them, trade between the Yunnan province and Myanmar amounted to 692.08 million U.S. dollars during the year, up 9.6 percent from the previous year. Of the total, Yunnan’s exports to Myanmar represented 521 million U.S. dollars, while its imports from Myanmar was valued at 171 million U.S. dollars, the figures show.

      Main items that Yunnan imports from Myanmar are agricultural products, aquatic products, minerals, rubber and its products, while main items that Yunnan exports to Myanmar are electric and machinery, textile, chemicals, steel, daily-used products, pharmaceuticals and others.

      The two countries have set a target for their annual bilateral trade to increase to 1.5 billion U.S. dollars.

      Myanmar has a total of 13 main border trade points with its four neighbors, namely Muse, Lwejei, Laizar, Chinshwehaw and Kambaiti established with China since 1998, Tachilek, Kawthoung, Myawaddy and Myeik with Thailand since 1996, Tamu and Reedkhawdhar with India since 1995 and Maungtaw and Sittway with Bangladesh also since 1995.


      Force and fear the order of the day in Myanmar
      Author: Seth Mydans

      New York Times: 12.9.2007

      Any genuine reforms to be introduced by the junta is a long way off as the generals firmly retain power after repressing the strongest opposition the junta has faced in two decades and defy outside interference as they continue their crackdown on protesters, writes Seth Mydans.

      THE streets are quiet in Myanmar. The "destructive elements" are in jail. The international outcry has faded. The junta's grip on power seems firm.

      Two months after they cracked down on huge anti-government demonstrations led by Buddhist monks, the generals who rule Myanmar have reason to feel relief.

      It seems they have ridden out their most difficult challenge in two decades and are set to maintain control through force and fear, offering only small concessions to the demands of their critics abroad.

      If change is coming in Myanmar, experts say, it is likely to be a long process and to emerge from within the power structure.

      Diplomats and human rights groups say that an unknown number of protesters and monks remain in prison, that many monasteries in the main city, Yangon, have emptied out and that new arrests are reported almost every day.

      "This is the soft continuation of the crackdown of August and September," said David Mathieson, an expert on Myanmar for Human Rights Watch, which released a report on the uprising on Friday documenting 20 deaths in Yangon but adding that the full death toll was probably higher.

      Separately on Friday, the United Nations human rights envoy to Myanmar, Sergio Pinheiro, said his research showed that 31 people had been killed.

      In a report released in Geneva, Pinheiro said 500 to 1,000 people were still detained and that 1,150 political prisoners held before the demonstrations had not been released.

      In addition, 74 people are listed as missing in the aftermath of the clashes. "The figures provided by different sources may underestimate the reality, as not all family members reported missing persons, fearing reprisal and severe punishment," the report said.

      The government admits to only 15 deaths.

      The Human Rights Watch report said that during the crackdown security forces fired into crowds, beat marchers and monks, and arbitrarily detained thousands of people. "Without full and independent access to the country it is impossible to determine exact casualty figures," the report said.

      Meeting with reporters in Bangkok last week, the top American diplomat in Myanmar, Shari Villarosa, said the continuing repression "raises questions about the sincerity of the military in pursuing what we will consider to be a genuine dialogue leading to national reconciliation".

      In what seems to be a sign of the United States' waning influence in the region, China, India and Myanmar's Southeast Asian neighbours have brushed aside Washington's calls for an economic embargo and the diplomatic isolation of the junta.

      As the attention of the world shifts elsewhere, the generals have made it clear that they intend to follow their own course, as they have through a half-century of self-imposed isolation.

      Last Monday, they signalled their defiance by announcing that a constitutional drafting committee had begun its work and was not going to listen to outside voices. The constitution is one step on what the junta calls a "road map to democracy". Many analysts call it a dodge to evade genuine reform.

      "The road map will, of course, lead to a military-dominated, civilianised government, which will perpetuate themselves in power," said David I. Steinberg, a leading expert on Myanmar at Georgetown University in Washington.

      As it has in the past when it faced international pressure, the junta has offered small gestures of compliance. But analysts say that whatever happens, the generals are not about to give real ground to the demands of the United Nations.

      In one of these concessions, a UN envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, is scheduled to visit Myanmar this month for the third time in an attempt to nudge the government towards a dialogue with its opposition. He follows a half-dozen other UN envoys over the past 17 years who have failed to moderate the behaviour of the junta.

      In another concession, a government official has held three meetings with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest. The official, Minister of Labour Aung Kyi, recently said that more meetings were planned, though he was vague about the time frame. "We need to consider what to discuss and why," he said. "We are choosing what and why. So we will take where, how and when into consideration in the future."

      It was possible to read, in this dismissive comment, a note of confidence that the generals hold the upper hand in their dealings with the outside world.

      "This is not what the Security Council has called for, a genuine process to heal the country," a Western diplomat said by telephone from Yangon, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with embassy policy.

      Last Monday, Information Minister Kyaw Hsan belittled the protests as the work of a few agitators and dissident monks who were acting with the support of foreign powers.

      "Actually, the August-September protests were trivial for the whole country and in comparison to other events in other countries," he said. They dissolved quickly, he added, "because the general public did not take part and our security forces were able to make pre-emptive strikes."

      The crackdown, witnessed abroad in smuggled photographs and on videotape, drew condemnation and warnings from around the world.

      A notable critic was Asean, whose sharp words suggested a real hardening of world opinion against Myanmar, which is one of its members.

      In a statement written by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, Asean said the videos and photographs "have evoked the revulsion of people throughout Southeast Asia and all over the world". But this mood seems to have passed. A meeting of all 10 members in Singapore in November offered an occasion to bring pressure on the junta. Instead, the association seemed at pains to accommodate it.

      At Myanmar's request, Asean cancelled an invitation to Gambari, the UN envoy, to address the meeting. It also changed the language of a new charter to weaken its section on human rights.

      As if nothing had happened in Myanmar in recent months, Asean's secretary general, Ong Keng Yong, said, "We don't want to come across as being too confrontational in a situation like this."


      Ban must go to Burma
      The Nation: Sun 9 Dec 2007

      An opportunity will be wasted if the UN secretary-general does not visit the rogue state while in the area

      UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Bangkok yesterday for a three-day stay. Apart from meeting Thai luminaries and having an audience with His Majesty the King, he must take this opportunity to go to Burma and demonstrate his seriousness and interest in the situation there. He must show that the United Nations, which he leads, is following up on the developments there closely. If he does not go to Burma, this could be an opportunity lost.His visit to Bangkok also coincides with the release of a report by Human Rights Watch. It reveals the harsh reality facing the Burmese people and the lies perpetuated by the junta. According to the report, many more Burmese were killed and imprisoned in the violent crackdown on monks and protesters in September than the junta has admitted.

      Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that at least 20 were killed and thousands jailed. UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro put the number at 31 killed, 74 still missing and 650 in custody. The junta said that only 15 people were killed in the crackdown.

      The HRW report, which was based on more than 100 interviews with eyewitnesses in Burma and Thailand, concluded that the junta’s security forces shot into crowds using live ammunition and rubber bullets. They beat marchers and monks before dragging them onto trucks and throwing them in jail. In addition to the monks, many students and other civilians were killed, although without full and independent access to the country, it is impossible to determine the exact casualty figures.

      One of the latest developments the report did not touch on was the increase in the number of arrests and torture of journalists and stringers working for foreign news organisations or news organisations set up by Burmese in exile. Over a dozen Burmese journalists are now behind bars. Several more are currently in hiding. Some journalists were exposed by the junta’s militia and volunteers working for the Union of Solidarity and Development Association, and were taken into custody and tortured. These thugs continue to identify persons working for the pro-democracy movement and media organisations.

      Therefore, it is imperative that Ban take up this matter with the junta. Since he is in Bangkok, it would not much time for him to travel to Burma. Any resistance on the part of the junta to his visit would be condemned. After all, the junta has pleged to cooperate with the UN, especially its special envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari. The presence of Ban in Rangoon would boost the UN’s role and make a strong impression internationally of the UN’s seriousness and conviction in seeing this dialogue on national reconciliation proceed.

      After a strong show of enthusiasm among members of the UN Security Council and an international outcry, the Burmese junta is buying time, hoping that the will of the international community would soon wane. Meanwhile, the junta is betting on its democratic process, known as the seven-point road map. But this process is not acceptable because the junta is determined to exclude opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the constitution-drafting process. Current consultations, which started last month, continue to be limited and sluggish.

      The UN process must be accelerated otherwise it will be stalled and would eventually play into the junta’s hands as in the past. As always, the junta is trying to undermine Suu Kyi’s role. In the beginning, the junta preferred to deal with pro-democracy students, who turned out to be more lethal and unyielding. Then the junta played the ethnic card against Suu Kyi, trying to drum up support from minority groups that struck cease-fire agreements with the government in exchange for agreeing to turn against her. So far, all of these attempts have proved ineffective. Rangoon is now looking for a way to woo millions of Burmese expatriates living around the world to return and help prop up the regime. It will be a hard sell.

      Obviously, the junta is betting that playing the UN card is the best way for it to buy time at this juncture. China and Russia, its allies on the security council, continue to play the role of saviour, no matter what happens. Therefore, it is incumbent on Ban to change the current equation by throwing the UN’s weight on the junta.


      Repression unrelenting in Myanmar
      Amnesty International: Sun 9 Dec 2007

      When the Elders meet in South Africa on Monday to begin marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of their number will not be in attendance.

      When the Elders meet in South Africa on Monday to begin marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of their number will not be in attendance.The international trouble-shooting team of world-renowned figures - including Nelson Mandela and Mary Robinson - will use its substantial collective experience to tackle global crises. Yet one figure - who has campaigned tirelessly for human rights - will be unable to add her expertise.

      Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest in Myanmar (formerly Burma), where she has been for 12 of the past 18 years. Aung San Suu Kyi is one of a over 1,850 people detained in Myanmar for their peaceful activities, a number that increased just a few months ago in the most recent crackdown on protests in the country.

      Thousands of people are believed to have been arrested during the crackdown and currently Amnesty International estimates that around 700 remain in detention. This is in stark contrast to claims by the Myanmar authorities that only 80 people—against whom legal action will be taken—remain behind bars. Detainees have been poorly treated, and in some cases tortured.

      At least 20 people are believed to have been sentenced to up to nine and a half years imprisonment in connection with the demonstrations, in proceedings that were closed and grossly flawed.

      While the number of arrests has declined since 29 September, state security personnel have continued to search for and detain individuals suspected of involvement in the pro-democracy protests, primarily through night raids on homes. Such actions go against the government’s assurances in early November to the UN Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari that no more arrests would be carried out.

      Amnesty International is urgently calling on the government of Myanmar to stop making further arrests and to release all those detained or imprisoned merely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, including both long-term and recent prisoners of conscience.


      Exiles try to keep pressure on Burmese rulers: Urge monks to regroup in protest - Blaine Harden
      Washington Post: Sun 9 Dec 2007

      MAE SOT, Thailand - Desperate to maintain the momentum of their challenge to military rule in Burma, opposition leaders in the border town of Mae Sot are working with networks of supporters to get monks to return to the streets in protest, to push foreign governments to impose tougher sanctions, and to persuade ethnic militias to resume guerrilla attacks.

      The leaders in the town say they believe that the generals who run Burma gave them a priceless political gift in September by ordering soldiers to attack Buddhist monks. “We have to thank them for their stupidity,” said Maung Maung, secretary general of the National Council of the Union of Burma, which is based in the hill town of Mae Sot along the Thailand-Burma border and is the main umbrella group for exiled politicians and ethnic leaders.

      Images of soldiers clubbing barefoot monks in saffron robes focused world attention on Burma’s often-ignored military dictatorship, and prodded the generals to begin talking to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and opposition leader whose party trounced them in a 1990 election and who is under house arrest in Rangoon. It also energized a nationwide cadre of angry monks, potent agents of grass-roots change in a Buddhist nation where the number of monks (about 400,000) rivals the number of soldiers.

      Still, the generals’ public relations gift loses value with each passing day, Burmese opposition figures say.

      Without more “bone-breaking” pressure on the generals, talks with Suu Kyi will devolve into an empty delaying game, said Maung Maung. More than a dozen senior leaders of the opposition who were interviewed, including longtime members of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, echoed his comments.

      To ratchet up pressure, opposition leaders said they are urging monks inside Burma to regroup and join in more mass protests with students and workers. They are pleading with Western countries to stiffen economic sanctions and to donate cash to support political activity inside Burma, which the generals call Myanmar.

      Opposition leaders including several recently exiled supporters of Suu Kyi, a proponent of nonviolence, are also urging Burma’s armed ethnic minorities to prepare for a unified guerrilla conflict against the government. “Armed struggle has to be part of the pressure,” said Khun Myint Tun, a longtime supporter of Suu Kyi. “Something needs to happen soon to take advantage of the September momentum.”

      Some of that momentum seems to be slipping away. The military is continuing to raid monasteries and arrest civilians, as it has since the late September crackdown on protesters. Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and cut off from supporters.

      China, Thailand, and India have not substantially changed their economic dealings with the Burma military, buying electricity, natural gas, oil, and timber worth an estimated $2 billion a year.

      Rangoon is said to be quiet and tense. Since the crackdown, sandbag bunkers have been built on many of its streets. Soldiers often stand around the bunkers, but it is now uncommon to see monks in the city, according to Shari Villarosa, charge d’affaires for the US Embassy in Burma. “You can’t overestimate the power of fear to keep things from happening,” Villarosa said.

      In Mae Sot, newly exiled monks, baby-faced army deserters, and ethnic minorities rub shoulders with aging politicians who have been waiting for decades for something - anything - that would send the Burmese generals packing.

      The September marches obviously fell short of that goal. But veterans of the opposition movement agree that the monks’ protests revealed significant weaknesses in the intelligence arm of the military junta.

      After the demonstrations, the military detained more than 3,000 people, holding many in makeshift detention centers. Individuals released from detention in recent weeks have described their interrogators as confused, inept, and sometimes willing to accept bribes to release detainees. They often argued among themselves in front of detainees.

      Diplomats and analysts have traced the breakdown of military intelligence to the abrupt dismissal in 2004 of General Khin Nyunt, then prime minister and the longtime head of intelligence. His firing and arrest, on order of Senior General Than Shwe, the head of state, coincided with the firing of thousands of intelligence officers.

      “The intelligence operation used to be very professional, all the way down to the lower ranks,” said David Tharckabaw, a leader of the Karen National Union, which represents the Karen ethnic minority. “Now it has become amateurish.”

      The crackdown in September differed from previous episodes of military brutality inside Burma in that it was captured in photographs and on video, and was seen around the world within hours.

      This was no accident, according to opposition leaders here in Mae Sot. “We had about 200 people inside the country trained to take pictures with digital and video cameras,” said Maung Maung. “We also trained them to transmit using satellite phones and Internet cafes. They were on the front lines when the demonstration started.”


      Monasteries pass junta offerings to poor
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 7 Dec 2007

      Four monasteries in Pakokku, Magwe division, which received government food donations have passed the offerings on to the poor and refused to give blessings to the officials.

      Monks from four lecturing monasteries in Pakokku – east, west, central and Bawde Mandi – said they wanted to show that they were continuing with their religious boycott against the regime.

      A group of government officials led by the Magwe division Peace and Development Council chairman and the minister of electrical energy (2) visited the monasteries earlier this month to give offerings of rice to the monks.

      The monastery head monks accepted the donations but would not give blessings to the officials in return.

      One monk from Bawde Mandi monastery told DVB that they had passed on the offerings as a protest against the regime. “We accepted the rice donation because it is not appropriate to reject an offering, but then later we donated the rice to poor people in the neighbourhood,” he said. “This is to show that we are still carrying on with this religious boycott of the authorities.”

      Another monastery sold the rice offered to them by officials and donated the money to a local hospital.


      Monks boycott examinations
      Narinjara News: Fri 7 Dec 2007

      Sittwe: Continuing to give vent to their grievances, many monks in Arakan State are boycotting the regime held Buddhist religious examinations by refusing to enroll their names. The defiance is in support of the monk alliance that has called the boycott. “Today is the last date for enrolling for the examinations but many monks in Arakan State refused to register their names. I heard many monks will not come to enroll,” a monk in Sittwe said.

      Ninety percent of monks in Arakan State are not enrolling for the examinations, which will be held in March 2008, following the monk alliance’s request to boycott it in protest against the regime’s crackdown on the monk-led ’saffron revolution’.

      The Burmese military authorities pressured abbots from many monasteries throughout Arakan to lure monks into participating in the government’s Buddhist religious examinations.

      Despite the government’s efforts, senior abbots have been unable to persuade the monks into enrolling, as many of the monks oppose the military’s recent actions against monks in Burma.

      The junta has conducts religious examinations for monks every year, and it is very important for the monks in Burma . The government awards university-level degrees to monks after their religious education is completed successfully.

      The military authorities will be holding the examinations in accordance with their schedule, but the question remains as to how to administer it without any examinees, the monk said.


      Defiance undeterred: Burmese activists seek ways to oust the junta - Amy Kazmin
      Financial Times: Fri 7 Dec 2007

      In 1994 a visionary American appeared on the Thai-Burmese border, preaching non-violence to students from Burma who more than five years before had fled a crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising and were committed to armed struggle against their country’s military rulers.

      Gene Sharp, the Oxford-educated, Harvard-affiliated theoretician on peaceful resistance to repression, urged the rebels to embrace non-violent means to fight the junta. His acolyte, retired colonel Robert Helvey, a US military attaché in Rangoon in the 1980s, expounded on how to use military-style planning and strategising for peaceful dissent.

      Initially, few of the students paid heed. But, as the futility of combat against the powerful Burmese army grew more apparent in the late 1990s, the dissidents turned to alternative ways to fight for democracy – including Mr Sharp’s teachings on undermining the pillars of a repressive regime.

      Over the last three years, activists from the exile movement’s “political defiance committee” have trained an estimated 3,000 fellow-Burmese from all walks of life – including several hundred Buddhist monks – in philosophies and strategies of non-violent resistance and community organising. These workshops, held in border areas and drawing people from all over Burma, were seen as “training the trainers”, who would go home and share these ideas with others yearning for change.

      That preparation – along with material support such as mobile phones – helped lay the groundwork for dissident Buddhist monks in September to call for a religious boycott of the junta, precipitating the biggest anti-government protests in two decades. For 10 dramatic days, monks and lay citizens, infuriated by deepening impoverishment and pervasive repression, poured into the streets in numbers that peaked at around 100,000 before the regime crushed the demonstrations, killing at least 15 and arresting thousands.

      Since then, the generals – citing exiled opposition groups’ western connections, including foreign funding – have fulminated about what they describe as a CIA plot to instigate mass unrest and overthrow them. This week, Brig Gen Kyaw Hsan, the information minister, called protests a western plot to install a “puppet government” in Burma – a theme echoed by some critics of Washington, who have called the protesters a “human stage prop” in a US play for geostrategic control in Asia.

      Burmese opposition activists acknowledge receiving technical and financial help for their cause but insist that the mass protests were an indigenous response to intolerable hardship – and that the most crucial ingredient was not foreign money but Burmese protesters’ willingness to risk harsh punishment in order to make their voices heard.

      “This is completely a Burmese movement – people are joining because of their daily life difficulties,” says Nyo Ohn Myint, a Thailand-based activist with Burma’s National League for Democracy, the political party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained Nobel peace prize-winning democracy advocate.

      Burmese exiles say the generals’ obsessive focus on opposition groups’ modest foreign assistance reflects their unwillingness to admit their own governance failures, which have fuelled the intense resentment against them. “If they recognise it’s a Burmese movement, they have to admit that people are very unhappy with them,” says Nyo Ohn Myint. “So they have to use a scapegoat.”

      Other dissidents suggest junta propaganda is aimed mainly at army rank-and-file and mid-level officers, who are unhappy with worsening hardships but would rally against a foreign threat. “They want them to believe it’s a foreign plot so they can justify their atrocities,” says one exiled activist who has led political defiance training sessions on the border.

      Indeed, while the generals accuse most dissidents of being traitorous “axe-handles” and stooges of foreign paymasters, they themselves have acquired around $2bn (£1bn, €1.4bn) worth of military hardware from China over the past two decades and are now buying other weapons, using resources that critics say are desperately needed for the welfare of the population. “They are taking the natural wealth of the country and using it to buy the tools of repression,” says David Mathieson, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.

      Burmese exiles also say international assistance for the Burmese democracy cause is paltry compared to the help received by South Africans to battle against apartheid or to east European dissidents for their so-called “colour revolutions” in countries such as Ukraine. Serbian opposition groups received around $40m worth of US assistance, including the advice and guidance of experienced US political consultants, in the two years before the election and mass street protests that undid Slobodan Milosevic, the late Yugoslav president.

      International donors and activists figure Burmese opposition groups received $8m-$10m in 2006 and again in 2007 from American and European funders for pro-democracy activities inside and outside Burma, including health and education projects. The political defiance trainer – asking not to be identified due to concerns about his security – likens western support for the opposition movement as a protective “shield” for dissidents struggling against a regime that monopolises profits from Burma’s rich natural resources, including natural gas, to shore up its own power. “It’s not a secret – its open assistance,” he says. “Of course, we use this to support our colleagues inside the country.”

      Two months after the crackdown, the junta seems to have regained control over Burma, with many leading activists in prison and despair settling over the population. The generals have made no meaningful concessions, even expelling Charles Petrie, the top United Nations official in Burma, for saying the protests reflected public frustration at worsening economic hardships. This week, the regime also rejected calls for Ms Suu Kyi to have a say on a new constitution as part of a reconciliation dialogue.

      Yet exiled opposition activists still see the uprising as a partial success that focused unprecedented global attention on the Burmese people’s plight and their yearning to be freed from military misrule. Far from defeated, activist exiles say they are determined to carry on the struggle and have a stream of new recruits. “We won politically and the regime lost in this battle,” says Nyo Ohn Myint. “But it’s just a first episode.”

      In the first years after the 1988 exodus to the Thai border, the student rebels struggled to survive, subsisting on food handouts for refugees, tiny amounts of cash and the help of relatively affluent, and far better armed, ethnic insurgent groups that had been fighting the regime for decades.

      But the aspiring revolutionaries were confronted with the reality that even the better-equipped and battle-hardened ethnic insurgents were already on the defensive against the military. Gradually, many former students abandoned talk of armed struggle and sought other ways to fight the military’s grip on power.

      As they did, they began to receive western help – from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros’ Open Society Institute and several European countries – for initiatives such as documenting and publicising the regime’s human rights abuses, developing outlets to counter the state-controlled media and networking with disaffected Burmese inside to plan peaceful protests.

      In 2006 and 2007, the congressionally funded NED, the largest financial supporter of the democracy movement, spent around $3.7m a year on its Burmese programme – up from $1.2m in 1996 and a mere $290,000 in 1994. These funds were used to support opposition media including the Democratic Voice of Burma, a radio station and satellite television channel, to bolster dissidents’ information technology skills and to help the exiles’ training of Buddhist monks and other dissidents in techniques of peaceful political resistance.

      The inspiration for the training was Mr Sharp, whose From Dictatorship to Democracy – a short, theoretical handbook for non-violent struggle against repressive regimes – was published in Burmese in 1994 and began circulating among exiles and surreptitiously among dissidents inside the country. Some were imprisoned for years for possessing it. The book suggests activities to chip away at the pervasive fear that he identifies as a tool repressive regimes use to keep disgruntled populations under control.

      Yet even after years of strategising, exiled dissidents admit they were caught off guard by the intensity of the public fury that followed the regime’s abrupt increase in the price of subsidised fuel. The first small protests against the price rises were led by the “88 Generation” students – former student leaders in the 1988 uprising who spent long periods in prison and more recently organised more modest forms of opposition, such as encouraging people to write letters to the junta expressing their discontent.

      The fuel protests seemed to fizzle after 13 top 88 Generation leaders were arrested in midnight raids on their homes in late August. But on September 5, armed soldiers in Pokkoku, a traditional centre of Buddhist learning, roughed up monks marching against high prices. Days later, around 30 monks – some of them graduates of the political defiance committee’s training – gathered secretly and formed the All Burma Monks’ Alliance, demanding that the junta apologise for mistreating the holy men, as well as reduce prices, free political prisoners and begin a dialogue with the opposition led by Ms Suu Kyi.

      The alliance’s demands – and its threat to impose a “spiritual boycott” against the regime if the generals refused – were relayed in interviews set up by their exile contacts with the Burmese-language services of the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and the dissident broadcaster DVB. After the deadline passed for the apology that never came, the demonstrations began, escalating rapidly before they were suppressed in a crackdown that Mr Petrie calls “extraordinarily far-reaching and repressive.”

      For many Burmese both inside and outside the country, the regime’s use of force to quell the protests was a devastating – even if not totally unexpected – blow, as they had hoped they were witnessing a final push that would force the military to relinquish its total control. Yet despite the repression, small groups of activists in Burma are still carrying out small, sporadic acts of defiance, such as destroying copies of state newspapers and posting placards mocking the junta.

      Many trained activists are lying low inside, awaiting another chance to act, say exiles, who themselves are continuing their defiance training on the border. Since September, they say, they have been overwhelmed with requests for help from Burmese who want the momentum of the struggle maintained.

      Although opposition activists clearly face formidable difficulties, such as replacing the leaders who were rounded up, they insist the drive for change is not over. “Every revolution, and every transition, doesn’t happen all neat-and-tidy,” says the Burmese political defiance trainer, who is working closely with dissidents inside. “This is the beginning of the end of military rule. We are dreaming – and we are acting on our dreams.”


      Pay rise for Shwedagon police
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 7 Dec 2007

      Police officers assigned to Shwedagon pagoda have been given a salary increase to counter discontent among the officers following the crackdown on protestors in September.

      The police officers, who work under the pagoda authorities, were awarded a pay rise from 25,000 kyat a month to 40,000 kyat, according to a course close to the pagoda authorities.

      About 50 Shwedagon police officers took part in the crackdown on protests at the pagoda on 26 September, but most of these were reportedly soldiers dressed in pagoda police uniforms.

      The pay increase is intended as compensation from the authorities for the police officers, who felt that they had gained a bad reputation for their part in the crackdown.

      They also felt that had suffered from the actions of soldiers posing as police officers at the pagoda who beat up protestors.

      In addition to the pay rise, the pagoda authorities have also increased staffing levels from just under 80 officers to more than 200 since the demonstrations.


      Myanmar woes raise fears of new migration to Thailand - Benjamin Helfrich
      Agence France Presse: Fri 7 Dec 2007

      Peeling shrimp for 14 hours a day can break the most weathered of workers, but not Som, a Myanmar migrant toiling in a Thai factory side-by-side with her family. She processes more seafood with her nimble 14-year-old fingers than many of her aging colleagues, making her a bona fide breadwinner although she earns only about 100 baht (three dollars) a day.

      Truth told, she’d rather have a pencil in her hand than a crustacean. “I’d prefer to go to school, but I have to make money,” she said while sitting cross-legged on the floor of a drab one-room dwelling in Samut Sakhon, a coastal province 30 kilometres (25 miles) west of Bangkok. “I don’t like (the work), but I have to do it,” she added.

      Seven years ago Som and her family joined the hundreds of thousands of Myanmar migrants in Thailand, fleeing the hardships of life under the military regime that has run their country’s economy into the ground.

      Some fear that further sanctions following the junta’s deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September could lead to a new influx of migrants to Samut Sakhon, making workplace abuses tougher to monitor. “There are situations (in Samut Sakhon) that are the worst forms of child labour and forced labour,” said Thetis Mangahas, a programme manager with the UN’s International Labour Organisation.

      Samut Sakhon is one of Thailand’s wealthiest provinces, home to 40 percent of the kingdom’s two billion-dollar-a-year seafood processing industry. Half of the seafood handled here ends up in the United States, with much of the rest going to the European Union and Japan.

      Mangahas estimates that as many as 10 percent of the people working in the province face exploitation. Others, such as Thai labour activist Sampong Sakaew, fear that number will rise if more migrants arrive from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. “I think more Burmese workers are coming to Samut Sakhon right now,” said Sampong, who heads the Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN). “Many people are now hiding in the jungle to avoid the authorities. They return at night and emerge in the morning for work,” he added.

      – Day and night, people arrive from Myanmar –

      Samut Sakhon is home to about 450,000 people, and LPN estimates that 70 percent of them are Myanmar migrants seeking work. Only 74,000 of the migrants in the province are registered legally in Thailand, the group says.

      In 2004, Thailand declared an amnesty for the migrants and allowed them a one-off chance to legally register for employment, according to Sampong. But every year more and more people trek through Myanmar’s landmine-infested eastern provinces to search for a better life in Thailand.

      “Every day and every night, more and more are crossing the border,” Sampong said.

      In September, a police raid on the Ranya Paew factory unveiled wretched conditions for 800 workers.

      Police said women there were forced to shave their heads and were beaten. Families were forced to buy rancid pork from the factory’s owner while the workers lived within the plant’s barbed-wired compound.

      Inside the factory, workers sometimes laboured with guns pointed at their temples, according to LPN.

      Panisuan Jamnarnwej, director of the Thai Frozen Food Association, oversees 56 member factories in Samut Sakhon that readily employ Burmese migrants.

      “They are good at supervising and working instead of enjoying life like the Thais,” he said. But a report by the Seafarers Union of Burma, a trade union in exile, says that in many cases forced overtime and wages below the legal Thai minimum of 189 baht (5.72 dollars) per day is standard.

      While Panisuan is quick to defend his members saying all abide by Thai law, he admits some working conditions in Samut Sakhon are not ideal. “But there are slave factories everywhere, even in New York,” he said.

      – School is not an option for many Myanmar children –

      Thein New was lucky enough to avoid such a place.

      After the 1988 student-led uprising in Myanmar, which was crushed when soldiers killed more than 3,000 people in the streets, the 44-year-old mother of eight joined a mass exodus to Thailand.

      She and her family left their homes in Mon state, secretly crossed into Thailand and trekked through the jungle for days before reaching Samut Sakhon.

      She has organised racks of squid at the same factory alongside many of her kin ever since.

      “Normally I get around 200 baht (six dollars) per day, and my boss lets me quit if I get a headache,” she said.

      When Thein New falters, four of her children who work beside her pick up the slack instead of attending school.

      Despite a Thai law providing education for all children regardless of legal status, just two Samut Sakhon schools accept Myanmar children, who are then separated from their Thai peers.

      Many Myanmar families depend on wages from their children and each morning opt to bring them to the plant rather than the playground.

      More that 2,800 child migrants under the age of 15 are registered in Samut Sakhon. About 50 percent of them, like Som, have entered the workforce, according to LPN.

      Mangahas sees this as a failure of Thai policy.

      “This industry allows for seasonal work and young people are the workforce that can adapt most easily,” she said. “But the policies in place don’t account for these young people and the special protection they deserve.”

      Thein New is sympathetic towards abused workers in Samut Sakhon and regrets she can not help them.

      “I am very lucky, but when I hear about bad employers I feel like I need to fight against them, but I can’t do it alone,” she said.


      IMF sees limited sanctions impact on Myanmar - Darren Schuettler
      Reuters: Fri 7 Dec 2007

      Tighter Western sanctions imposed on army-ruled Myanmar after its bloody crackdown on democracy protests will have little direct impact on the economy, the International Monetary Fund said in a report.

      “The overall impact is limited because of restrictions already in place and because the new sanctions cover only a small proportion of trade,” the IMF said in its annual review of the former Burma’s economy.

      “Nevertheless, in labour intensive sectors such as tourism and textiles, a fall in demand could also have adverse consequences on employment, even if the overall macroeconomic impact is small,” the report, seen by Reuters, said.

      Tourism was growing steadily until images of soldiers firing on protesters were splashed across newspapers and on television screens worldwide, prompting cancellations by tour operators.

      Official newspapers said on Friday coverage of the protests had “a strong negative impact” on tourism but gave no details.

      Outraged at the crackdown in which at least 15 people were killed, the United States, European Union and other Western nations tightened or announced new trade and investment sanctions. But some Western firms such as France’s Total (TOTF.PA: Quote, Profile, Research) have refused to leave, arguing it would only make matters worse.

      Asian neighbours have also shunned punitive measures against the generals as Thailand, China and India compete for a slice of the former Burma’s abundant gas reserves.

      Higher gas sales have doubled the regime’s foreign exchange reserves to $2 billion, equal to eight months of imports, said the report completed last month after an IMF visit in August. But despite its natural wealth, the nation of 56 million people is among the poorest in Asia, with per capita GDP of $230 and pitiful spending on social services.

      “IMPLAUSIBLE”

      Officially, the economy grew at a galloping 12.7 percent last year, which the IMF said “appears implausible”.

      It estimated growth at 7 percent, driven by natural gas exports, higher agricultural output and construction projects such as the new capital, Naypyidaw.

      The regime’s five-year plan sees growth averaging more than 10 percent to 2010, but the IMF predicted 5.5 percent next year, dipping to 4 percent in later years.

      A fiscal deficit of 4 percent of GDP, financed by printing money, would continue to fuel inflation of 20-30 percent a year, the highest in Asia, it said.

      It was a shock fuel price rise that sparked protests in August which snowballed into the biggest anti-junta uprising in nearly two decades.

      The United Nations’ former resident diplomat, expelled for highlighting Myanmar’s economic crisis, has said the generals may face another “explosive” situation if they ignored the grinding poverty that fuelled the protests.

      The IMF recommended targeted subsidies to improve living standards and urged the regime to embark on economic reforms.

      These included liberalising the transport and sale of farm products, which account for 40 percent of GDP, and unifying a distorting exchange rate system.

      The official rate is 5.5 kyat to the dollar, a 24,000 percent premium over the market rate of 1,300 kyat to the dollar.

      How much of this advice the generals will heed was unclear.

      The IMF said government officials were in “general agreement” with the fund, “but need to convince the chain of command”. (Editing by Michael Battye and Alex Richardson)


      Manila links Suu Kyi’s release to ASEAN ratification
      Reuters: Fri 7 Dec 2007

      The release of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be a key factor in the Philippines’ decision to ratify a new charter for a regional grouping, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has said.

      Arroyo, striking a tough posture, told the Financial Times that Myanmar’s military rulers must comply with the human rights elements in the charter of the Association of South East Asian Association (ASEAN) by speeding the move toward democracy.

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      She said the release of Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest, will be the “number one benchmark” for Manila to decide whether to ratify the charter of the 10-member grouping that was signed at its meeting last month.

      The charter needs ratification by all 10 ASEAN members before an economic and security bloc encompassing 560 million people can be established.

      Despite the chorus of outside disapproval, Myanmar’s rulers have made clear they do not intend to do anything outside the framework of a seven-step democracy roadmap, which the West says will simply solidify the military’s grip on power.

      At least 15 people died in a crackdown on anti-junta protests in September crackdown, drawing unprecedented international criticism and pressure to embark upon meaningful democratic reform including the release of political detainees.

      (Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by Jeremy Laurence)


      China should reconsider its support for Burma: observers - Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Fri 7 Dec 2007

      China should rethink its policy of supporting the Burmese military government, especially in light of the recent arms shipments, say Burma observers.

      On Thursday, some 400 Chinese-made FAW (First Automobile Works) armed trucks arrived in Jiegong, a Chinese border town, due to be transported into Burma, according to the local sources.

      And according to an eyewitness, on November 6, seven large trucks transported some 21 artillery cannons via Ruili to Muse on the China-Burma border.

      When it comes to arms sales, China definitely supports the Burmese junta despite the unstable situation in Burma, said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst on the China-Burma border. He said that more than 1,500 armed trucks from China were imported to Burma in 2006.

      However, in November, India put on hold the sale and transfer of all arms to the Burmese government, a decision following the junta’s brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations led by Buddhist monks.

      Human Rights Watch released a statement on Wednesday urging the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo in response to the Burmese military government’s continuing recruitment of children for its national army.

      An exiled Burma observer, Win Min, said that he doesn’t see any sign that China will impose an arms embargo on Burma.

      “For China, they pay for arms shipment to Burma in order to get natural gas back from the junta,” said Win Min. “They have great business interests in Burma, such as gas pipelines and dam projects. That’s why they are selling it [the arms shipment] to Burma.”

      Observers say that China, in supporting the junta, could be the targeted as an enemy by the people in Burma, who are running out of patience.

      “It would be best if China didn’t sell arms to Burma. In supplying weapons to the junta, people’s annoyance will become focused on them [China],” said political analyst Aung Naing Oo.

      “They [China] should consider the event of the attack on the Chinese consulate in Mandalay,” concurs Aung Kyaw Zaw.

      In early October, the Chinese consulate in Mandalay was attacked by an unknown motorcyclist. Some critics and local residents alike view the isolated attack as a sign of growing discontent among the Burmese people in Mandalay against the Chinese government.

      A former Burmese ambassador to China, Thakin Chan Htun, earlier said, “If Burmese people can’t control their annoyance against the Chinese people, it could lead to riots between Chinese and Burmese people, just like the riots in the past.”

      In 1967, a major riot occurred between Burmese and Chinese residents in Rangoon, the Chinese embassy was attacked by Burmese demonstrators and more than 1,000 Chinese people were detained. Over 50 Chinese people were reportedly killed; however, the Chinese authorities claimed that several hundred died.

      China became Burma’s leading trading partner in 2005, with trade heavily lopsided in China’s favor, topping US $1.7 billion, according to Sean Turnell, an economist and expert on Burma at Australia’s Macquarie University.

      Recently, China National Petroleum Corp, the biggest oil and gas producer in China, signed an agreement with the southwestern province of Yunnan to cooperate in oil refining, a step toward building a pipeline to neighboring Burma.

      Analysts estimate that the role of the Chinese government is significant in applying pressure on the Burmese military regime to initiate political dialogue toward democratic reform in Burma, as well as China not applying its veto on the Burma agenda at the UN Security Council.

      “China should put more pressure on the junta,” said Win Min. “If not, their business will be unstable in Burma. They should also reduce their financial support in areas such as construction and development projects in Burma.”


      Myanmar’s woes perpetuated by PRC - S.P. Seth
      Taiwan Journal: Fri 7 Dec 2007

      Myanmar’s nightmare under its military rulers continues and shows no signs of coming to an end in the near future. After initially seizing control of the country in the early 1960s, the then leader of the junta, General Ne Win, decided to turn Myanmar into his own version of an “exceptional” country, but the people rebelled in 1988 and, for once, the military rule appeared shaky. Not for long, however, as the generals hit back hard, killing 3,000 people.

      Following this massacre, General Ne Win ceded control to a new group of generals who thought, for a while, that democracy might not be a bad idea if it enabled them to stay in power democratically. They therefore decided to hold elections. But the junta got a nasty surprise when Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the 1990 election. The results were ignored and the military tightened its grip on all aspects of society, ruthlessly silencing any dissenting voices.

      Deeming Suu Kyi to be a threat to their regime, the generals placed her under house arrest. The pro-democracy leader, also a Nobel Peace laureate, has been forbidden from leaving the confines of her house in Yangon for 12 of the last 18 years.

      The question that remains is how has a junta that has committed so many atrocities against its own people managed to stay in power for so long? The answer, at a very basic level, is that the regime is prepared to use any means necessary to crush even a whiff of rebellion.

      Upon further scrutiny, the answer gets a little more complicated because, compared to other segments of Myanmar’s society, the army is much more of a cohesive unit. Over 400,000 soldiers, their families and ancillary businesses depend on the survival of the regime. That constitutes a large segment of the population that stands to lose its livelihood if the regime was to be overthrown, for it is to be expected that the army will be trimmed under the leadership of a democratically elected ruler.

      There might be, as some reports have suggested, divisions at the top of the regime between Senior General Than Shwe and his deputy, General Maung Aye. But for the army’s unity to be seriously shaken, there would need to be a dramatic level of disaffection in the middle and lower ranks. And as these sections of the military have the most to lose, it seems unlikely that the end of the junta is imminent. Renaud Egreteau points out in Le Monde Diplomatique, “There have been very few cases of desertion reported among the ranks, providing little support for claims that the military is in danger of collapse.”

      Despite the hundreds of thousands of dependents, the army cannot continue operating in a social vacuum, while all around it most of the population is disgruntled and angry. It is imperative for the generals to maintain a certain level of economic security, or the cauldron could rapidly boil over. An interesting thing to note is that the recent protests in Myanmar were ignited by a decision to increase fuel prices, further straining people’s limited means.

      With this in mind, the world, in particular China, should focus on applying more pressure on Myanmar’s economy. The junta depends heavily on China for economic support and political protection, for which Beijing is awarded with contracts to build roads, ports and pipelines, and access to the Indian Ocean. Being so heavily invested in the country, China could definitely use its clout to do more to influence the generals. However, China’s policy of non-interference has conveniently allowed it access to the wealth of an authoritarian regime normally kept at arm’s length by democratic nations. Besides, murmurings of democracy are hardly something Chinese leaders want to encourage, as that might set a precedent for change within China.

      But, of late, with so much of their money at stake, there seems to finally be the realization in Beijing that Myanmar might need some sort of internal reconciliation, lest it descends into anarchy. This would explain Premier Wen Jiabao’s reported statement that “China hopes all relevant parties concerned in Myanmar show restraint, resume stability through peaceful means as soon as possible, promote domestic reconciliation and achieve democracy and development.”

      Such platitudes are a start, but they are hardly going to be enough to force dramatic changes. Beijing needs to be much more pro-active in persuading the generals to enter into dialogue with Suu Kyi, because th

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