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

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. The life of women and girls under SPDC 2.. Burmese voices louder in 2007 3.. Stubborn junta s fire and water foreign policy stymies diplomacy 4.. Climate
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 12, 2007
      1. The life of women and girls under SPDC
      2. Burmese voices louder in 2007
      3. Stubborn junta's 'fire and water' foreign policy stymies diplomacy
      4. Climate of fear hangs over Myanmar
      5. Junta tells USDA to prepare for more demonstrations
      6. Forced labour continues on highway project
      7. Junta intensifies attacks on Karen rebels
      8. Military offensive targeting villagers' food supplies
      9. Monks flee to Bangladesh to evade arrest
      10. Burma's outlook 'poor' as inflation soars to 35%
      11. US Bill boosts sanctions against Myanmar
      12. Burmese Delegation on Mission to US
      13. Fresh Start Needed to Deal with Junta
      14. Burma's "Saffron revolution" is not over
      15. SPDC troops burn villages and step up operations against civilians in southern Toungoo District

      The life of women and girls under SPDC
      ShanLand.Org: 2007-12-12

      The word "rape" is not good to hear for everyone. But in Burma, the members of State Peace Development Council (SPDC) are still raping women and girls with heartlessness. Does it happen because of the victims' fate or is it because of the daily cultural practice of SPDC? When SPDC practices the Human Rights violations, where is the legitimacy of Universal Declaration Human Rights in Burma?

      By Lieng Lern

      The Burmese junta should respect the UDHR as Burma is one of the countries that signed of in 1948. Since the military coup in 1962, the Burmese soldiers have been involved in committing atrocities by killings, raping, robbing people's properties and forced labour without respect for human dignity.

      The number of battalions has increased substantially throughout Shan State. Having more battalions means having more rapists in the region. Sexual violence by the military is still prevalent around Burma, particularly in ethnic regions. Soldiers, captains, commanders and others SPDC officials are committing human rights violations everyday. Innocent women and girls are the victim of Burmese soldiers. Women and girls are unsafe from sexual harassment under the current military regime.

      Women and girls are raped in their homes, farms, jungles and while they are walking alone in the forest. They also suffered on the double from the military while they were doing forced labour in the day time and raped by the officials in night. All of these indicate that sexual violence has been taking place in all frontier areas.

      When women are raped by soldiers, the village headmen and parents usually inform the military commanders. But nothing is being taken action as the military do not care about the victims and sometimes they even threaten the victims not to tell anyone or report. The victims' lives will be in danger if they reveal their story and do not obey what the military commander says. If the military commander acts like this, what can the victim expect from the perpetrators? Is it fair to forget the whole thing without punishment or compensation for the victims?

      Nowadays, the numbers of woman activists have significantly increased. They are active in politics to remove the military regime.

      Many Shans and other ethnic people flee to neighboring countries due to the oppression of the military regime. They are aware that they will be come illegal workers, cheap labourers or prostitutes in those countries. But life is much better than under the military government. In Burma, apart from facing starvation, other uncountable human rights violations such as torturing, raping, killing are common. People are no longer able to bear under the repressive military government. Nobody want to leave their homeland, none of these people would migrate to neighboring countries if the country is peaceful and the government has a good policy like developed countries.

      Since the military coup by Gen Ne Win in 1962, everything has become worse such as education, economy and communication compared to other countries. Prior to the military coup, it was very seldom that women and girls were raped by soldiers. The economy was also good at that time. Now I often hear from the news or observation that sexual violence such as systematic rape and other human rights abuses are common in Shan State are other parts of Burma.

      People of Burma are helpless they don't want to live under the repressive government that controls and abuses them. But most of them have nowhere to go they are hopeless as it is hard to remove the military government that has arms. The only hope they have is the intervention from UN and other countries. UN Security Council can overthrow the military regime but Burma's neighboring countries such ASEAN and China are still standing on the regime side. ASEAN and China should consider the life of 55 million people in Burma rather than a group of military regime.

      Can the people of Burma expect the military's seven step Road Map? Will this Road Map bring genuine democracy in Burma? Currently, they are under fear of repression, they have no right to oppose the military's sexual violence and other human rights abuses. They can only pray that the nightmare will be over soon so that they can live peaceful life. Everyone hopes one day peace will return in Burma. Who knows?


      Burmese voices louder in 2007
      Bangkok Post: 12/12/07

      If anyone deserves a Nobel peace prize this year, it's Burma's people and monks for taking to the streets against a brutish regime that has mired their country in poverty and backwardness.

      Burma's long-suffering population this August and September succeeded in doing what the international community has failed to do for two decades: put real pressure on their military rulers to do something to bring about change.

      Taking to the streets requires courage in Burma. The last time the population challenged the military was in 1988, resulting in a bloodbath that left an estimated 3,000 dead.

      This year's protests, sparked by a surprising and drastic fuel price hike announced on August 15, started small and peacefully with scores of concerned citizens marching against the inflationary move.

      After an initial spate of arrests, the movement was taken up by Burma's monkhood, who for two weeks in September led peaceful marches in the streets of Rangoon against the fuel price hikes that culminated in full-fledged demonstrations against the junta.

      The inevitable crackdown on September 26-27 left 15 dead, according to the official count.

      Other estimates put the death toll much higher. What is clear is this year's crackdown was much better publicized than the bloodbath of 1988, thanks in part to digital cameras and the internet, and the international response was immediate and loud.

      Even Burma's closest allies, China and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), joined in condemning the September crackdown, and calling on the junta to take steps towards national reconciliation.

      The junta, no doubt under pressure from Beijing, responded by inviting two senior United Nations officials to Burma, special envoy Ibrahim Gambari and human rights rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro in the aftermath of the crackdown.

      The regime also took token step towards reopening a political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's democracy icon who has, tellingly, been under house arrest for the past four years and 12 of the past 18 years.

      Burma's military supremo Senior General Than Shwe promised to talk with Suu Kyi in person, if she drops her support for sanctions, and has appointed Labour Minister Aung Kyi to act as a liaison between the junta and Suu Kyi.

      The junta has made such gestures before, and cynicism was understandably high that they were engaging in more of their evasive tactics.

      That cynicism was justified at the ASEAN Summit in Singapore in November where Burma successfully scuttled a proposal that Gambari brief the august gathering and somehow avoided a regional scolding.

      Prior to Singapore, the one thing the international community appeared to be getting right was a new seriousness in dealing with Burma, albeit using the same old methods. Now even that is gone.

      "It was a leap backwards," said David Mathieson, a Burma specialist at Human Rights Watch. "The one thing the junta is really good at is stirring the pot and stepping back and watching people bicker."

      All the signs indicate that Than Shwe has dug his heels in and wants Burma to return the junta's glacially slow seven-step road map to democracy, but there may be some bumps ahead.

      First, China has modified its stance towards Burma, according to some diplomats.

      "Even before the crackdown on the demonstrations, we noticed six months ago there was a slight shift in China's attitude towards Burma," said one European diplomat.

      China has huge strategic interests in its southern neighbour, starting with its massive offshore natural gas reserves that Beijing would like to pipe overland to Yunnan.

      Those interests can only be assured by a stable and secure government.

      "The Chinese don't want people like Aung San Suu Kyi or the NLD, who have strong ties with the West, but at the same time they are frustrated with this regime because they cannot achieve their goals because of the instability," said Win Min, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University.

      Ideally, China would like to see Burma led by someone like General Khin Nyunt, who was ousted on corruption charges in 2005, said Win Min. The general was considered to be a proponent of gradual but steady change in the political and economic landscape.

      In the wake of the crackdown on the September protests, and the ongoing economic privations that prompted them, there is a good deal of discontent within the military forces themselves with their current batch of leaders, according to insiders.

      This could lead to another popular spark if the Burma top generals stick to their wonted strategy of do-nothingness.

      "The people's hatred of the regime for going against the monks is very widespread," said Win Min. "So once their hopes disappear and their fears are reduced, there is a possibility of the people expressing their hatred again." (dpa)


      Stubborn junta's 'fire and water' foreign policy stymies diplomacy
      Bangkok Post: 12/12/07

      The international community may be losing patience with the Burmese junta, but that will not help unless they can get over the military's two-pronged foreign policy first

      By KYAW ZWA MOE

      Burma's supreme leader Senior General Than Shwe holds ''fire'' in one hand and ''water'' in the other. Don't think the junta chief is playing martial arts, like in the Chinese movies he loves to watch.

      Let's call it the junta's ''fire and water'' foreign policy.

      The junta chief, who used to work in the department of psychological warfare, practises his policy by dividing his officers into two groups: ''fire,'' comprised of fiery hardliners, and ''water,'' comprised of soft-spoken officers.

      It is time for everyone, especially world leaders and diplomats, to take a serious look at Burma's foreign policy, which for almost two decades has managed to manipulate whatever policies the West comes up with in trying to move the regime towards democracy and national reconciliation.

      Diplomacy seems to be more crucial than ever to help solve Burma's crisis, since pro-active, violent means, including nationwide uprisings and armed struggle, have proved ineffective.

      For the international community, diplomacy seems to be the only way to tackle Burma's crisis. The diplomacy route is what all countries advocate, from the West to the regime's more vocal supporters, such as China and most of its Asean neighbours.

      The regime's clever ''fire and water'' tactic to fend off the diplomatic efforts of its critics was on display at the junta's press conference in the new capital Naypyidaw on Monday.

      One of Gen Than Shwe's right-hand men, Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, the information minister, ruled out any role for detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the drafting of a new constitution of the military government, even though the international community, including China, has called for an inclusive process in writing the constitution and in national reconciliation.

      ''No assistance or advice from other persons is required,'' said the minister.

      That was the fire.

      Now, for the water.

      At the same conference, the government's liaison officer, ex-Maj-Gen Aung Kyi, considered ''good in dealing with foreign diplomats'', said: ''We have made progress at the meetings,'' referring to his three meetings with Daw Suu Kyi, supposedly to discuss national reconciliation.

      Such ''hard'' and ''soft'' messages are ambiguous at best and muddy up the analysis made by foreign diplomats, further confusing and blurring the idea of progress or lack of progress.

      In early November when UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Burma, he was lectured to by Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan.

      The information minister told Mr Gambari: ''Your Excellency should seriously pay attention to the fact that the government and the entire people are expecting your visit to be constructive for the nation and the people. However, your previous visit did not bear fruit as we had expected.

      ''The presidential statement of the UN Security Council, the further sanctions of the US and EU, the sanction of Australia, etc, sowed suspicions on your efforts among some of our people.''

      The statement was reported by the junta's mouthpiece newspapers. Many Burma observers, including diplomats, said the speech was ''patronising''.

      The minister added, ''If you bring along the instructions of the leaders of a big power and demands of internal and external anti-government groups, it will in no way contribute towards the seeking of solutions to Myanmar's affairs. It will rather increase the existing suspicions of the people.''

      On the other hand, the story was different the next day when Mr Gambari met the prime minister, General Thein Sein. According to inside sources close to the government, Gen Thein Sein spoke with a softer tone to the envoy. He invited Mr Gambari to visit again a few weeks later to continue his efforts for national reconciliation.

      In retrospect, Burma's governments have frequently preferred to craft foreign policy in a bilateral way since it gained its independence from British rule in 1948. During that period, Burmese governments concentrated on neutrality and a non-aligned policy, especially during the Cold War era.

      Months before forming the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1967, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines persuaded the then Burmese government to join the imminent grouping.

      The late dictator Ne Win's government turned down the proposal, saying that Burma could not join the grouping so long as member countries allowed foreign troops to be based on their soil. The dictator especially referred to its neighbour Thailand, which allowed US military bases.

      However, the succeeding military regime that deposed him in 1988 viewed its foreign policy differently after the 1990 election, when the opposition National League for Democracy party, led by detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, won the elections in a landslide.

      To nullify the election results, the military regime desperately tried to establish its legitimacy through the regional organisation, Asean.

      Moreover, through Asean it seemed to believe that it might convince the West to recognise it. That is why it joined Asean and embraced regionalism.

      Burmese governments were comfortable with Asean policies such as non-interference in member countries' internal affairs and its behind-the-scenes, hush-hush diplomatic style.

      Before joining Asean in July 1997, junta chief Gen Than Shwe said at a military training course: ''There is nothing to lose by joining Asean; we will only gain from it. It will not hurt our national interests. It will not interfere in our internal affairs.''

      Gen Than Shwe was quoted in a paper, Regionalism in Myanmar's Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future, published by the Asia Research Institute of National University of Singapore, as saying: ''Regional groupings or regionalism have become important. We can no longer stick to the 'no friend, no foe' policy. We must formulate and follow a new foreign policy of 'all friends, no foe'.''

      In fact, nothing conceived to date has had a chance of defeating or changing the military junta. Diplomatic means such as international sanctions and constructive engagement have failed. The international community has never had, to this day, an effective policy to counter the junta's diplomacy.

      If the international community can develop an effective policy that somehow gets China and Asean countries to put real pressure on Burma, there could be tangible progress.

      Kyaw Zwa Moe is managing editor of ''The Irrawaddy'' magazine, based in Chiang Mai.


      Climate of fear hangs over Myanmar - Sze Wah Leong
      Al Jazeera: Tue 11 Dec 2007

      In a narrow street in central Yangon, people push their way through a frenzied crowd to get a free plate food.

      Many stuff their pockets with rice and vegetables to save for later. Barefoot children throw lollipops and soft drinks into plastic bags, to be shared out later with others whose only home is the street.

      It's hard to believe that just 50 years ago Myanmar was one of the richest countries in the region, supplying most of Asia with rice.

      Nowadays, despite the country's abundant natural resources, it can barely feed it's own people.

      Just four months ago, unannounced fuel price hikes pushed food costs up threefold, triggering street protests that were led by monks and ended with the army turning its guns on the demonstrators.

      Today, to talk about food is to criticise the government. So no matter how much the people suffer, few are brave enough to open up.

      I asked one woman why food was so expensive. Even with her identity hidden she wouldn't respond, such is the state of fear in Myanmar today.

      Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda is one of the country's most important religious shrines and became one of the centres of the protests in September.

      Now, in the streets around the pagoda, everything looks normal. Kids sell flowers or offer to wash the hair of worshippers to earn extra money for their families.

      Hopes for the future

      Inside the 2,000 year old monument, devotees light candles and touch their heads to the marbled ground.

      Elderly monks collect alms and give out blessings, as though encouraging the faithful to keep their hopes up for the future.

      Along the streets leading up to the Sule Paya Pagoda where troops fired on unarmed civilians, pavements are a riot of colours with stalls hawking goods such as tomatoes, multi-patterned longyis, cameras, gems and watches.

      Everyone seems happy, everything seems calm. But of course appearances can be deceptive.

      Many of the monestaries which were shut in the wake of the crackdown are still closed.

      Dissident monks are banned from returning to their sanctuaries and the dreaded undercover police are everywhere, watching for any signs of agitation that could lead to more protests.

      The United Nations estimates that at least 4,000 people were detained following the protests.

      Up to a thousand remain in detention or have disappeared. Many activists have gone underground and even those who sympathise with them live in fear of being arrested in the middle of the night.

      I found one man willing to talk, but we had to walk through the streets for an hour before he found a place he felt safe enough to talk.

      Desperate

      The situation in Myanmar, he said, had become desperate.

      "The business is very slow so the people are suffering. We also feel depressed. Our spirits are a little down."

      He told me that the generals had put forward a series of economic initiatives based on its "Roadmap to Democracy".

      More encouraging though was their engagement with the opposition, the National League of Democracy, and its leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi.

      But he said the way forward wouldn't be easy.

      "Within this period we will have so many struggles and sometime it may be bloody".

      For now the primary concern for most in Myanmar is how to stay alive.

      These days a bowl of noodles costs the equivalent of 80 cents - an enormous amount for a people who, on average, live off just one dollar a day.

      While spirits are low, people in Yangon say they still have hope, if not for democracy then at least for a government that does not starve them to death.

      http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/F19F347C-9CED-43BE-8114-D14B9DB8425C.htm 


      Junta tells USDA to prepare for more demonstrations - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Tue 11 Dec 2007

      Leaders of the Union Solitary and Development Association (USDA) have been told by officials of the Rangoon Regional Command and Ministry of Home Affairs to be prepared for more pro-democracy uprisings, according to sources close to the USDA.

      The sources told The Irrawaddy recently that Brig-Gen Hla Htay Win, the commander of the Rangoon Regional Command and Maj-Gen Maung Oo, the minister of Home Affairs, met with USDA leaders in Rangoon during November and December.

      "Authorities expect more protests," the source said. "They ordered us to be prepared to crackdown and prevent demonstrations. These meetings were quite unusual for us."

      The meetings included only USDA leaders and did not involve officials of the Township Peace and Development Council.

      The USDA and its hired thugs, members of Swan Arr Shin, played key roles during the violent crackdown on the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations led by monks in August and September.

      The violent suppression of the protesters claimed at least 30 lives and dozens of people are still missing, according to a report by the UN Human Rights Rapporteur to Burma.

      Sources noted that the USDA has been active this year in state water supply projects and registration for identity card across the country. The projects were in preparation for future elections through the regime's "seven-step roadmap to democracy," according to sources.

      The roadmap is now at step three, the drafting of a new constitution by a 54-member committee appointed by the military regime. The roadmap's step four calls for a national referendum on a new constitution; the fifth steps calls for national elections.

      The USDA has also been seeking respected individuals in townships to become USDA-endorsed candidates, if elections take place.

      The USDA was created in September 1993, with "three national causes:" non-disintegration of the union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and the perpetuation of sovereignty.

      Meanwhile, according to reports from inside Burma, only about 10 percent of the usual number of monks registered for the official annual examinations held by the state, a sign of the havoc and ill-will that now exists between the Sangha and the junta.

      The Alliance of All Burmese Monks, the underground network that led the September demonstrations, called on monks to boycott the examinations to show the opposition to the military government.


      Forced labour continues on highway project
      Democratic Voice of Burma: December 11,

      Government officials in Hakha township, Chin state, have been collecting money from local residents to fund a highway project and forcing those who cannot pay to work on the highway.

      Township residents said that village and ward Peace and Development Council officers in Hakha township were demanding the money or labour, and those who worked were given no assistance with travel or expenses.

      A local resident said that the project had been making slow progress and costs were rising.

      "The cost of the highway project has now reached 50 million kyat already, and only about 3 miles of highway have been completed so far," he said.

      Residents have been ordered to pay between 5,000 and 10,000 kyat, depending on their means, but those who are unable to pay are forced to contribute their labour.

      Workers have complained that they have to travel on foot for two days to get to the highway construction site and must stay working there for seven days at a time.

      The authorities do not provide any food, transportation, accommodation or health insurance for the workers, who must carry their food and camping materials with them when they walk to the site.

      Hakha PDC officials refused to comment on the claims.

      Residents of Hakha and Mantaw townships have previously reported extortion and forced labour by government officials in the construction of the highway.


      Junta intensifies attacks on Karen rebels - Than Htike Oo
      Mizzima News: Tue 11 Dec 2007

      To increase its stranglehold on Burma, the military junta is bent on snuffing out all opposition groups, particularly armed resistance ones, who are opposing its planned road map, an ethnic Karen armed rebel group said.

      The Karen National Liberation Army, the armed wing of ethnic Karen rebels, Karen National Union , has come under heavy attack by the Burmese Army troops since the end of November, the KNU said.

      An onslaught has been launched on KNLA bases in Nyaunglaybin and Taungoo districts in Burma's Pegu division by the Burmese Army, in a bid to wipe off KNU's presence from the area, because the group remains the strongest threat to the junta's planned roadmap, KNU information Officer Padoh Saw Hla Ngwe said.

      "They [the junta] are clearing everything and every one out of their way to enhance their power through its seven-step road map," Phado Saw Hla Ngwe said.

      In a statement released today, the KNU said the Burmese Army since September has launched attacks on KNLA bases in Tathong, Taungoo, Nyaunglaybin districts in Pegu division, Taninsarim division, Papun, Kawkriek, Myawaddy, Kyarinnseikgyi, Three Pagoda Pass, Dupalaya and Phaan districts in Karen state.

      "The Burmese Army battalions came with porters and well equipped with arms, which shows that they are determined to launch attacks," Phado Saw Hla Ngwe added.

      The Burmese Army that has gone on the offensive is using villagers as porters and mine sweepers. It has used rape as weapon against Karen women, has been extorting money from villagers, killed and burnt down villages, said the KNU in its statement.

      The KNU, which has been waging war against successive military rulers of Burma for over 50 years, has urged all opposition groups to denounce the junta's action while calling for unity for the struggle against the junta in the larger context.


      Military offensive targeting villagers' food supplies - Shah Paung
      Irrawaddy: Tue 11 Dec 2007

      The Burmese military government are destroying paddy fields and food stores in a dry season offensive against a Karen armed group and villagers living in Karen State and Pegu Division, according to Karen sources.

      The Karen Human Rights Group field coordinator, Poe Shan, said that government troops have been destroying villagers' farms and paddy fields in a bid to cut off the villagers' food supplies and to force villagers to move into government-designated relocation sites.

      "The military authorities want to put these villagers into designated sites to make it easier to control them," he said. "But villagers are refusing to move because they believe the government will use them as forced labor and they will not have time to work for the benefit of their families."

      Dry season is the time when Karen villagers collect their paddy and store it until the following year. However it coincides with the reinforcement of Burmese troops for the military's annual ground offensive against the Karen National Union.

      Some villagers sneak off to the jungle and grow paddy and stock food in secret locations; however, if the soldiers find the food stores they destroy them, prevent the villagers from buying food and pressure them to move into the designated sites.

      "Now it is very difficult for the villagers to find food—some of them must resort to asking for handouts from each other," Poe Shan added.

      The Free Burma Rangers relief team reported on November 22 that since the army commenced operations to relocate villagers in 2006 the Burmese troops had killed more than 370 villagers, including women and children. Over 30,000 people have been displaced, most of whom are hiding in the jungle.

      Maw Law, the spokesperson for the Karen Office for Relief and Development, said that more than 1,300 villagers sought refuge in Ei Tu Hta camp on the Burmese side of the Salween River from January to November 2007. These displaced persons came from northern Karen State and Pegu Division. The refugee population of Ei Tu Hta, which was built in mid-2006, has now swollen to over 3,900 people.

      According to a KNU statement released on Monday, the Burmese junta has positioned 83 new battalions in the KNU areas. There is now a total of 187 battalions of Burmese soldiers ready to step up offensive operations.

      Mahn Sha, the general secretary of the KNU, confirmed that the State Peace and Development Council has sent more troops into the KNU-controlled areas and that they are working together with the existing battalions to build roads. The government is building roads from: Kyar Inn Seik Gyi to Three Pagodas Pass (often referred to as the Payathonsu border crossing); from Kyar Inn Seik Gyi to Kyaikdon; and from Kawkareik to Kyaikdon in Karen State.

      Mahn Sha said that of the seven brigades under KNU control, Burmese troops mainly attack brigades 1, 2, 3 and 5, which are in northern Karen State and Pegu Division. However, the Burmese forces had also commenced operations in the 6th and 7th brigades, he added.

      The KNU and the Burmese military government agreed a ceasefire known as the "Gentlemen's Agreement" in December 2003 during a meeting between a Karen delegation led by the late KNU leader, Gen Bo Mya, and deposed Burmese Prime Minster Gen Khin Nyunt.

      However, according to Mahn Sha, the ceasefire agreement was annulled when Khin Nyunt was arrested in October 2004. The KNU ceased all communications with the junta early in 2007 after Maj-Gen Htain Maung, former head of KNU Brigade 7, defected to the Burmese junta.


      Monks flee to Bangladesh to evade arrest - Nyein Chan
      Mizzima News: Tue 11 Dec 2007

      A Buddhist monk from Rangoon's Zathilaryama monastery, who took part in the September protests, fled from the manhunt launched by the Burmese military junta and arrived in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh.

      Ashin Panyathami, a young monk from the Zathilaryama monastery in Rangoon, fled to Bangladesh along with more than 20 fellow monks, following the junta's relentless search to arrest and detain monks and protesters.

      "As the authorities launched widespread search operations, more than 20 monks, had to hide near the Moe Yeik River for three days. After that we returned to our monastery but there the soldiers called more than 20 of us for interrogation," Ashin Panyathami, who arrived Cox Bazaar on December 5, told Mizzima during an interview.

      "They took our photographs and asked us whether we had joined the protests. They told us not to join up again and threatened that we would be arrested if we did," added the young monk.

      After arresting the abbot of their monastery, U Zarthila at the end of September, soldiers had continued their rampant crackdown by conducting raids in monasteries and had come to their monastery several times.

      The young monk, who is an ethnic Arakan, said he left the monastery in Rangoon for his native home town in Arakan State for fear that authorities would continue raids and arrests.

      Along with Ashin Panyathami, several monks went back to their native hometowns. However, authorities were reportedly looking for him to arrest as he possess photographs, which he had taken at the Maha Wizeyatheindaw monastery in Rangoon.

      The young monk said, he finally left Burma for Bangladesh as authorities were conducting raids in several monasteries in Arakan searching for him. The monk said, he had to hide himself for five days and nights along Kin Chyaung River , and finally crossed the border to Bangladesh.

      Similarly, on October 29, U Indra Panya and U Magindar from the Alodawpyih DamaSariya monastery, who had actively participated during the recent protests, fled to Bangladesh after authorities came in hot pursuit of the duo.


      Burma's outlook 'poor' as inflation soars to 35% - Amy Kazmin
      Financial Times: Tue 11 Dec 2007

      Chronically high inflation in military-ruled Burmahas soared to 35 per cent a year, the highest in Asia, while its economy is slowing because of the poor investment climate and business confidence, the International Monetary Fund has said in a new report.

      In its annual evaluation of Burma's energy-rich economy, the IMF called the Burmese economy's medium-term outlook "poor", forecasting slackening growth of 5.5 per cent this year, and 4 per cent next year.

      While Burma's military rulers claim robust growth of 12.7 per cent last year, the IMF report called such an expansion "implausible", estimating 7 per cent growth, driven by rising natural gas exports and government construction projects such as the new capital city.

      "While the economy is growing modestly, per capita gross domestic product [of about $250] and other indicators of social well-being are significantly below those of other low-income countries in the region, and poverty is widespread," the IMF said in the assessment, a copy of which was obtained by the Financial Times.

      The IMF team visited Burma in late August, just weeks before mass protests triggered by a sharp rise in the government-set price of subsidised fuel. The report, completed last month, is not public as the regime has not approved its release by the IMF.

      The United Nations says most Burmese are struggling to survive, and that worsening hardship and rising prices were at the root of the recent protests. In its report, the IMF called for targeted subsidies to address "deteriorating social-economic conditions".

      The IMF said Burma could rein in inflation, and boost growth to 10 per cent a year, if it undertook reforms such as cutting unproductive state spending, unifying a complicated "multiple exchange rate" system, and liberalising agriculture to give farmers more freedom to grow and sell their crops.

      But prospects for such policy changes seem unlikely, given the apparent reluctance of Senior General Than Shwe, the powerful junta chief, to undertake any economic reforms after the response to the abrupt slashing of fuel subsidies.

      The military regime, once chronically short of hard currency, is relatively flush. Its foreign exchange reserves have doubled to $2bn (€1.4bn, £988m), the equivalent of eight months of imports, due to gas sales, and tax revenues have risen due to reforms of the revenue collection system.

      But the regime's spending has risen too, due to the cost of building a new capital and a salary rise for civil servants. The fiscal deficit is up to 4 per cent of GDP, the highest in Asia, with the printing of money to cover that fuelling inflation. Agriculture, which accounts for 40 per cent of GDP, remains constrained by the regime's restrictions on the transport and sale of rice, and other market interventions that the IMF say "reduces farmers' production incentives".

      Burma's economy is also vulnerable to shocks, such as a poor harvest, political turmoil, a banking crisis or falling gas prices, which the IMF says could "cause severe economic disruption."

      The economy is also distorted by an overvalued official exchange rate 5.5 Burmese kyat to the dollar, a 24,000 per cent premium over the market rate of 1,300 kyat to the dollar.


      US Bill boosts sanctions against Myanmar - Foster Klug
      Associated Press: Tue 11 Dec 2007

      The House approved a bill Tuesday meant to stop Myanmar's rubies and high- quality jade from entering the United States. The bill tightens already tough sanctions against a ruling military junta that killed peaceful pro-democracy protesters and Buddhist monks in September.

      The House bill would freeze assets by Myanmar's leaders and cut off tax deductions for U.S. companies working in Myanmar, also known as Burma. It attempts to stop Myanmar from dodging U.S. sanctions through laundering gemstones in third countries before selling them in the United States.

      "Burma's generals fund this repression of their own people by selling off the country's natural resources, especially oil and gems, leaving the Burmese people in poverty," Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. Tightened sanctions would "ensure that the United States stands up to these thugs."

      To avoid U.S. sanctions, the Myanmar regime tries to hide the origin of the gemstones it ships to the U.S. according to the bill, which passed by voice vote: "For example, over 90 percent of the world's ruby supply originates in Burma, but only 3 percent of the rubies entering the United States are claimed to be of Burmese origin."

      The bill would also stop Myanmar's leaders from using U.S. financial institutions in third countries to launder their money. Officials involved in the crackdown would be banned from getting U.S. visas, as would their families. The bill would also cut off tax deductions for U.S. companies working in Myanmar.

      Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.

      In August, thousands of Buddhist monks joined rallies against a fuel price increase. The junta began shooting and arresting protesters in September. Dissident groups put the death toll at about 200. Rights groups have reported continued arrests and abuse, despite claims by the junta that the crackdown has stopped.

      Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta came to power after snuffing out a 1988 pro-democracy movement against the previous military dictatorship, killing at least 3,000 people in the process.

      Myanmar's natural resources are coveted by its neighbors and by large companies around the world.


      Burmese Delegation on Mission to US - Lalit K Jha
      Irrawaddy: Tue 11 Dec 2007

      A five-member delegation of Burmese leaders—living in exile in Thailand—arrived Sunday on a two-week mission to the United States to lobby their cause, seek more support and resources to accelerate the pro-democracy movement inside Burma, and to counter the junta's propaganda that only the military can keep the country united.

      Representing a variety of ethnicities and including exiled leaders from the National League for Democracy, the delegation held face-to-face talks with members of the Washington DC-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies—the policymakers, lawmakers and academics who influence US policy on Burma.

      The members of the delegation are: Khaing Soe Naing Aung, vice-president of the Arakan Liberation Party and vice-president of the National Council of the Union of Burma; Rimond Htoo, secretary of the Karenni National Progressive Party; Win Hlaing, an elected member of parliament and secretary of NLD (Liberated Area); Maung Maung, the general secretary of Federation of Trade Unions-Burma, as well as the National Council of the Union of Burma; and Lway Aye Nang, the president of the Palaung Women's Organization.

      A sixth member, Bo Hla Tint, finance minister for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and an NLD spokesman in Washington, joined the delegation in the US.

      The tone and tenure of their maiden public appearance and their agenda for the next two weeks was set by Burmese Prime Minister-in-exile Sein Win, who made an unexpected and unscheduled appearance at the meeting and briefly addressed the delegates on Monday afternoon.

      Responding to charges that the pro-democracy leaders would not be able to keep the nation united and that Burma would disintegrate into various ethnic regions once the present regime lost power, Sein Win alleged that it was, in fact, the military junta which was following a policy of "divide and destroy" in the country.

      "Our policy is the opposite of theirs. It is very important for us to have ethnic harmony if we want to move ahead with development, freedom and democracy. We are very worried that the military is trying to divide the country on ethnic grounds. We [support] human rights, democracy and ethnic harmony," said Sein Win, who had just arrived from Norway and other European nations where he was campaigning for the Burmese pro-democracy movement.

      Observing that the situation in Burma was now very critical, the Prime Minister said, "We all have to work together and solve this problem. We are now at the stage of getting together and working together for ethnic harmony."

      Speaking in Burmese—which was translated into English for the audience—delegate Win Hlaing alleged that the military junta did not want to engage in genuine dialogue. While the NLD stands for peaceful resolutions to the civil unrest and restoration of democracy in Burma, it is the junta that is indulging in violence and atrocities against the people of the country, he said.

      "We request the international community to increase the pressure on the junta," Sein Win concluded, adding that allowing the regime to continue its atrocities is destroying the unity of the country.

      Addressing an audience for the first time in the US, Rimond Htoo initially came across as nervous, but was soon at ease, making people laugh with his humor. Representing the ethnic Karenni community, he said that the Karenni originally wanted independence from Burma. "But this is not the case now, he said. "Ethnic communities are not trying to cause the country to disintegrate as is being propagated by the military junta."

      Rimond Htoo said the ethnic communities first took up arms for protection against the junta which had unleashed a reign of terror. "The policy of the Ethnic National Council is to remove the regime and establish a genuine democracy in the country. We would work together to achieve federal democracy," he said.

      Referring to military government propaganda that without the regime the ethnic communities would seek independence, he said: "This is incorrect. It is also incorrect that all the ethnic groups would continue fighting if the military were not in power."

      Representing the Arakan Liberation Party, Khaing Soe Naing Aung listed various agreements reached by the ethnic communities for a united and federal Burma. "We want a democratic federal system and we are all working towards this," he said.

      In a forceful presentation, Bo Hla Tint argued that, when the time came, the pro-democracy and ethnic leaders would show the world that they are capable of governing the nation more effectively than the junta. Referring to recent steps taken by the military government towards national reconciliation and starting dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, he said: "The military is indulging in window addressing. It is not interested in a genuine dialogue.

      "We want the US to be assertive and send a clear message, not only by statements, but by deeds," said Khaing Soe Naing Aung, adding that, first and foremost, the European Union, the US and Asean should have strategic consultations on this issue and try to bring China on board. "Once China is on board, India would come automatically," he said.

      Maung Maung, general secretary of the NCUB, said that in order to carry the movement forward inside Burma there would constantly be a need for resources. "We need more funds for setting up training camps and underground networks inside Burma. Unfortunately, this is not coming through. We need more now. Help us get more funds," he said.


      Fresh Start Needed to Deal with Junta - Jared Genser and Meghan Barron
      Sydney Morning Herald: Tue 11 Dec 2007

      Far from the excitement surrounding Australia's political changing of the guard in a vibrant democracy, a 62-year-old woman sits alone in her house, as she has for years. The telephone does not ring because calls are not allowed. The doorbell does not ring because most visitors are forbidden.

      There is no mail. There is no news. For Aung San Suu Kyi, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democratically elected leader, there is almost complete isolation.

      In Burma, as was seen in the recent crackdown against hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters, the military junta rules with an iron fist. Widely condemned by the international community, the junta has engaged in decades of barbarous human rights abuses against its people.

      As the inevitable reassessment of Howard-era policies gets under way, the time is ripe for Australia to embrace a much-needed shift in its relations with global issues. There are few countries more in need of close attention and international effort than Burma.

      For years, the Howard government resolutely embraced a policy of "constructive engagement" with the junta, eschewing sanctions and firm international solidarity as useless. Whether one supports or opposes sanctions, there can be no doubt John Howard's preferred approach failed to ease the misery of the Burmese people.

      As the result of a military campaign characterised by killings, torture and rape of ethnic-minority women, it is estimated that almost 3000 villages have been destroyed since 1996. One million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries while 600,000 internally displaced persons now struggle to subsist in primitive jungle conditions. The military junta is also estimated to have imprisoned more than 800,000 people in forced labour camps and to have utilised more than 70,000 child soldiers.

      As Burma disintegrates, its decay seeps into the surrounding region. The country is the second-largest exporter of heroin and opiates in the world. The Australian National Council on Drugs has labelled it "one of the largest producers of amphetamine-type substances", including the methamphetamine "ice", which has found its way to Australia's streets.

      The new Prime Minister has accurately stated that the "policy of constructive engagement with the Burmese regime has conspicuously failed".

      Now, having recognised the futility of this longstanding approach, the moment has arrived for Kevin Rudd to consider the following actions.

      First, in Rudd's own words, "it is important for Australia to join the international community and fully embrace the call by President [George] Bush [to] unite in a program of targeted sanctions both in terms of travel and in terms of financial transactions on individual members of the Burmese regime".

      Australia made a good start on October 24 by imposing an array of sanctions against Burma's ruling and business elite. But Rudd should monitor more closely the training of senior Burmese police and intelligence officials by the Australian Federal Police so that it is not used, as it may have been in the past, to help the junta crush the recent peace marches in the country.

      Second, the Prime Minister should put his Mandarin skills to work and urge China to exert a positive influence on the Burmese junta and stop vetoing UN Security Council resolutions on Burma, as it did in January.

      Such a resolution would empower the UN special envoy, urge a time-bound approach to national reconciliation in Burma, and press for the immediate release of all political prisoners in the country, a prerequisite for any genuine dialogue.

      As China recently became Australia's largest trading partner, Rudd stands in an ideal position to press this issue.

      Third, Rudd should pressure the Association of South-East Asian Nations to cease tolerating the junta's actions. After an expression of disgust in the days following the military's brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in September, ASEAN yielded to the junta's will during its recent summit in Singapore.

      Not only did the group criticise the implementation of sanctions against the regime and reject calls for Burma's suspension from the organisation, it snubbed the UN special envoy to Burma by cancelling his briefing on the situation there.

      Rudd's statements have proven that he understands the magnitude of the crisis in Burma and knows what must be done.

      We hope, as we imagine the Australian and Burmese people hope, that he proves to be a man of his word.

      Jared Genser and Meghan Barron are lawyers for the Nobel peace laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi. Today is the UN's International Human Rights Day.


      Burma's "Saffron revolution" is not over
      ITUC and FIDH: Tue 11 Dec 2007

      International trade union and human rights organisations say international community must seize the opportunity now!

      The ITUC and the FIDH today released a new report on Burma

      The ITUC and the FIDH today released a new report on Burma entitled: "Burma's "Saffron Revolution" is not over". Based on the findings of a joint international mission to the Thai-Burma border and interviews with participants in last October's protest movement and victims of its repression by the military, the 50-page report includes detailed policy proposals and recommendations to the international community. It comes on the eve of two key events scheduled next week.

      On Monday, 10 December, which is also International Human Rights Day, EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels are expected to assess the situation after a number of high-profile United Nations visits to Burma. The next day, the same topic will be discussed by the UN Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva.

      As indicated by the report's sub-title, the ITUC and FIDH believe this is the "Time for the international community to act". The underlying analysis is that the violent repression, particularly the targeting by the military of peacefully-demonstrating monks, has deeply antagonised Burma's society, at the same time as it has created new resistance dynamics which are unlikely to fade away. "Desire for change seems to be greater than ever", the report says. Noting that "no real signs of de-escalation of repression and commitment to a peaceful transition have been given by the ruling junta since the crackdown", the world's largest global trade union organisation and the oldest international human rights organisation with a universal mandate argue that the recent events make a strong case for urgent and increased international pressure. They say this view reflects positions defended both by victims and by organisations representing Burma's democracy movement, based inside and outside the country. In addition to meeting with victims and witnesses, the mission held meetings with 15 different organisations as well as with the diplomatic community.

      The joint report details four key principles for action and suggests the international community should focus on four main leverage points. The principles stress that Burma should be kept as a top priority on the international agenda; that increasing pressure on the junta now will be useful, not harmful to the reconciliation and democracy process; that the international community should accept "taking responsibility for Burma" rather than sticking to its "wait-and-see" attitude; and that it should implement a two-pronged approach of influencing the regime and encouraging the people by sending clear messages of international support. The leverage points cover detailed recommendations aimed both at raising international pressure on the military junta and supporting national reconciliation; cutting the junta's economic lifeline through comprehensive sanctions including, in particular, the priority sectors of oil and gas, timber, gems and financial - including banking – services, with due consideration, where justified, for exceptions on humanitarian or similar grounds; establishing a "Burma Transition Fund" that would be available after a return to democracy and, finally, supporting a peaceful transition to democracy by concrete initiatives aiming at promoting a culture of democracy within Burma, also directed at the army, the professionalizing of which should be accepted both by officers and soldiers themselves, as well as by the population. While also expressing support for the "good offices" mission of the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy to Burma, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari and the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Prof. Sergio Pinheiro, the report notes that the junta has so far failed to fully cooperate with either. It explains why both mechanisms should be allowed to open permanent representation offices in Burma.

      The report contains detailed recommendations addressed on all these issues to the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council, the EU, ASEAN and other regional organisations and governments. It also contains a concrete warning to the ruling military junta, that it "should consider very seriously" that, unless it "acts swiftly to towards implementing the reforms expected from it", it may soon find itself facing legal action against it at the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. Both options, currently under examination at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and by the international legal community and human rights movements, respectively, are explained in detail in the relevant sections of the report. Other pressure points, such as a Security Council arms embargo, or decision to place all revenue from international investment and trade with Burma on an escrow account, are also examined in the report.

      All stakeholders in the Burma crisis must accept their share of responsibilities in encouraging a peacefull transition to democracy, say the FIDH and ITUC. "There is no time to loose: we cannot run the the risk that the current window of opportunity for a democratic transition swings shut", said Olivier De Schutter, FIDH Secretary General. "While the United Nations Secretary General will declare open, on Monday 10 December a year-long campaign to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our collective capacity to effectively realise and promote peace, human rights and democracy, is at stake" added Guy Ryder, ITUC General Secretary.

      For more information, please contact:

      - ITUC Press Department on +32 2 224 0204 or +32 476 621 018 (Mathieu Debroux, in Brussels) or +32.477.580.486 (Janek Kuczkiewicz, in Washington, D.C.)

      - FIDH Press Office on +33 1 43 55 90 19 and + 33 1 43 55 14 12 / + 33 1 43 55 25 18 (Karine Appy) and Gaëtan Vanloqueren, mission expert/chargé de mission FIDH: +32 4 72 33 17 71

      http://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/mm485a.pdf 


      SPDC troops burn villages and step up operations against civilians in southern Toungoo District
      Karen Human Rights Group: 7 Dec.07

      Following the deployment of new SPDC Army units in southern Toungoo District at the end of November, SPDC troops have been sweeping through the forests on search and destroy missions targeting displaced communities in hiding. Already in December, these patrols have burnt down at least two villages and killed at least one displaced villager as well as having destroyed numerous hidden food stores which they have encountered during patrols of the area. The local displaced communities are now facing heightened food insecurity and an ongoing risk of military attack.

      Continuing with its two-year-long offensive against civilian communities in Northern Karen State the SPDC Army deployed Military Operations Commands (MOCs) #4 and 10 to Toungoo District at the end of November 2007. These two newly deployed MOCs are now operating in the area concurrently with previously deployed MOCs #9 and 5 and Light Infantry Division (LID) #88. While MOCs are supposed to comprise 10 battalions for offensive operations with a current average of about 120-150 troops per battalion, only eight of these are operational under MOC #4. These are Light Infantry Battalions (LIBs) #701, 702, 703, 704, 705, 706, 707 and 710. In southeastern Tantabin township (Taw Ta Too in Karen) patrols from LIBs #703, 707 and 710 began operations on November 29th; searching out displaced communities in hiding.

      On December 1st 2007, SPDC soldiers arrived at the Th'Ay Kee area. Due to previous SPDC military operations in the area the community of Th'Ay Kee no longer resides in the village itself, but rather at hiding sites in the surrounding forests. Upon detecting the hidden rice stores and huts of displaced villagers, the soldiers burnt these to the ground. For some Th'Ay Kee villagers, these rice stores were the last of their provisions. Having run out of food, some villagers have tried to sneak back to their agricultural fields in order to harvest their paddy crop. This tactic may remain possible so long as they can avoid detection from the ongoing SPDC patrols in the area.

      On December 2nd, 32-year-old Saw Kler Poh, a displaced villager from Kheh Der village, Tantabin township travelled to his agricultural field in the hopes of harvesting some of his paddy crop. However, SPDC soldiers active in the areas spotted him and shot him on sight, killing him instantly. On December 5th, a patrol of SPDC soldiers reached Buh Kee village as well as the homes of displaced Buh Hsa Kee villagers, located in southeastern Tantabin township. The troops burnt both villages to the ground the same day.

      Due to the intensification of military operations against civilians in southern Toungoo District displaced communities in hiding from villages such Saw Wah Der, Hah Htoh Bper, Gker Lay Hta, Thay Koo Der, Th'Ay Kee, Buh Kee, Buh Hsa Kee, Bplay Kee, Khoh Kee, Hee Daw Khaw, Soh Ser and Wa Soh located in Tantabin township are now facing even more serious food insecurity. According to one KHRG field researcher working in southeastern Tantabin township - who estimates that there are now more than 2,000 displaced villagers in the area:

      "Some villagers are facing food problems. For example, for villages such as Th'Ay Kee and Saw Wah Der, SPDC soldiers burnt down their rice stores and the food which they'd hid at hiding sites so it will be hard for them to access food in the future."

      Despite the increasing threats of military attack and the rising food insecurity the displaced villagers in the area have said they are not yet sure whether or not they will head out to refugee camps in Thailand.

      Download report as PDF at: http://www.khrg.org/khrg2007/khrg07b4.pdf


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