[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 14/12/07
- Three more Insein prisoners stage a hunger strike over conditions
- Students wear black to protest crackdown deaths
- Karen villagers forced to prepare roads for Tatmadaw offensive
- House passes bill hitting Myanmar gems, Chevron
- Myanmar's neighbours cautious about condemning rights abuse
- EU envoy to Burma to visit China and tour Asian nations
- Hundreds killed in Burma protests as forced labour and rape continues in ethnic areas
- Change of guard or political reform? Only time will tell
- India and Myanmar sign IT agreement
Three more Insein prisoners stage a hunger strike over conditions - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Thu 13 Dec 2007
Three more political prisoners have gone on a hunger strike in Insein Prison while Htin Kyaw, a prominent activist, continues his hunger strike in protest of human rights abuses in the prison, according to sources.
Htin Kyaw was arrested by Burmese authorities in August following his protests against the increase in fuel prices. He was prosecuted under Article 505the instigation or destruction of stability or government.
Two university students, Nay Lin and Zin Lin Aung, and a human rights activist, Myo Thant, have joined Htin Kyaw, who is in the third week of his hunger strike, sources in Rangoon said.
The detainees are staging the hunger strikes because of the prison's inhumane conditions, such as the lack of sufficient food, medicine, medical treatment and the use of torture, the source said.
Soe Htun, an 88 Generation Student in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday from his hiding place that Nay Lin and Zin Lin Aung started their hunger protests on December 7. Myo Thant began his hunger strike on December 10.
Soe Htun said he is worried about the detainees' health since medical care in the prison is inadequate, and the International Committee of the Red Cross is not allowed to enter the prison or help the prisoners.
Nay Lin, Zin Lin Aung and Myo Thant were arrested by authorities for their activities in support of the September protests in Rangoon. Sources said their health is poor, and Myo Thant and Zin Lin Aung were sent to the prison's hospital.
Pyone Pyone Aye, who visited the prison to see her husband, Thet Oo, said his health condition is not good, and she takes him medicine because there is insufficient medicine in the prison.
A political prisoner, Thet Oo has been detained for 11 years. He was sentenced to 26 years imprisonment.
Pyone Pyone Aye said she met with political prisoner Han Win Aung, who contracted tuberculosis in the prison and was hospitalized once in November. He is serving a seven-year sentence.
"His health is bad," she said. "He looks thin and weak. He often vomits, which contains blood. He didn't receive good treatment. He should be released and have tests with a doctor."
The UN special rapporteur on human rights, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, recently published a report on the September crackdown. The report concluded that up to 4,000 people were arrested, compared to the official count of 2,927 and between 500 and 1,000 people were "still detained at the time of writing," including 106 women, of whom six were nuns.
Students wear black to protest crackdown deaths
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 13 Dec 2007
University students who wore black clothing to exams as a mark of respect for those killed during protests in September have been ordered to discontinue their campaign.
Students at Rangoon Eastern University encouraged all students to wear black after the September demonstrations to show mourning for those who died in the crackdown, according to one student.
On 21 November, around 100 students came to their examinations wearing black clothes and were made to sign an agreement to say that they would not wear black again.
Even those students who were not aware of the campaign but happened to be wearing black that day were forced to sign, but were not told why they had to do so.
A student told DVB that security had also been tightened around the campus.
"There are a lot of special police force officers in the school and security has been tight," he said.
"An officer who was at the school said there are nine people they want to arrest when the schools re-open."
In Prome University in Bago division, any students wearing black clothes have been banned from entering the university grounds.
Security measures at the university also prevent parents and anyone else except students entering the campus.
Karen villagers forced to prepare roads for Tatmadaw offensive - Violet Cho
Irrawaddy: Thu 13 Dec 2007
Burmese troops are forcing villagers in northern Karen state to repair and clear roads that will be used to transport arms and supplies for the dry season offensive against Karen National Union forces, according to the Karen Human Rights Group.
KHRG field coordinator Poe Shan told The Irrawaddy: "The Burmese military regime is systematically using the rural people as a tool for their military operation against [the] Karen National Union. Because of the forced labor most of the villagers are trying to live in hiding places in the jungle rather than living under the control of [the] military government."
A KHRG report, released on Thursday, said that in early November people in Papun District, Pegu Division, had been forced by the military to carry out road works, including cutting down and delivering bamboo poles, constructing fences and cutting back roadside forest growth. Old people, women and children had not been spared the forced labor, the report said.
A villager from Bu Tho township, northern Karen state, said local people were also called on to secure roads around the clock while government forces transported their supplies.
Another villager said: "We had to work for them [government troops] without any payment. We have to cut bamboo poles and send thatch shingles three or four times a year, and we have to clear the sides of the road twice a year."
Much of the road work ceases during the rainy season, but the onset of the dry season in November marks a return to various forced labor projects in support of military operations.
A recent KNU statement said the Burmese junta had deployed 83 new battalions in KNU-controlled areas, bringing Burmese army strength there to a total of 187 battalions. A KNU official said the deployment had necessitated the construction of more roads.
In the past year, Burmese troops have attacked KNU brigades 1, 2, 3 and 5 in northern Karen State and Pegu Division, killing more than 300 people and displacing more than 30,000, many of whom are still in hiding in the jungle.
The KNU and the Burmese military government reached a ceasefire known as the "Gentlemen's Agreement" in December 2003 at a meeting between a Karen delegation led by the late KNU leader, Gen Bo Mya, and deposed Burmese Prime Minster Gen Khin Nyunt.
Following Khin Nyunt's downfall in October 2004 and the defection to the Burmese army of the former head of KNU Brigade 7, Maj-Gen Htain Maung, in early 2007, the KNU ended all communications with the junta.
House passes bill hitting Myanmar gems, Chevron - Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent
Reuters: Thu 13 Dec 2007
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday blocking imports of Myanmar rubies and removing tax credits for U.S. firms investing in the military-ruled Southeast Asian country.
The Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, drafted after Myanmar's suppression of pro-democracy protests in September, was approved as the junta rejected a U.N. report putting the death toll from that crackdown at 31.
The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, bans the import of Myanmar gems into the United States, freezes the assets of the country's leaders and stops the former Burma from using U.S. financial institutions via third countries to launder funds of its leaders or close relatives.
His amendment to U.S. trade sanctions imposed in 2003 also targets the sale in America of rubies routed through China, India and Thailand to circumvent curbs on trade with Myanmar.
The bill, which must be approved by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President George W. Bush, also would stop the U.S. oil major Chevron Corp from taking tax deductions on its investment in Myanmar's Yadana natural gas field.
"The vile reaction of the Burmese junta to peaceful calls for democracy showed the world the moral bankruptcy of this regime," said Lantos, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.
"Unfortunately, the thugs in charge are not in a state of economic bankruptcy to match. Today's legislation hits these military dictators where it hurts in the pocketbook," he said in a statement after the bill passed unopposed.
CHEVRON QUESTIONS MEASURE
Lantos has estimated that Myanmar produces more than 90 percent of the world's rubies and fine-quality jade and that the military junta is projected to make $300 million this year from the gem trade.
California-based Chevron said its stake in the Yadana gas pipe-line made it a "constructive, positive force" that helped support energy needs and economic growth and provided health and social development programs for local communities.
"Chevron shares congressional concerns for a peaceful resolution, however punitive tax measures against one company will not serve the purpose of helping the people of Myanmar and may have unintended consequences," it said in a statement.
Chevron warned that holding back taxes to the Myanmar government could lead it to violate its contract and possibly face a seizure of assets.
Aung Din, director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, a pro-democracy group, called the legislation a timely rebuke to Myanmar generals as they defy U.N. recommendations for dialogue with opponents, including detained Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
"This is the time for the international community to increase pressure against the Burmese military junta," he said.
Myanmar has been under military control since a 1962 coup. The army held elections in 1990, but refused to hand over power after suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.
(Additional reporting by Tom Doggett, edited by Richard Meares)
Myanmar's neighbours cautious about condemning rights abuse
Indian Enews: Thu 13 Dec 2007
There was a clear division between countries at the Human Rights Council while discussing the findings of a report on the human rights situation in Myanmar, with Asian neighbours preferring a more cautious and non-condemnatory tone.
'India has consistently maintained that all initiatives taken in this connection should be forward looking, non-condemnatory and seek to engage the government of Myanmar in a non-intrusive and constructive manner,' said Swashpawan Singh, India's permanent representative to the UN.
The 32-page report by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, suggests a number of immediate and transitional measures that the Myanmar government must undertake, including allowing an international commission of enquiry.
Bo Qian of China noted that the government of Myanmar had resumed dialogue to push forward the seven-step process towards democratisation.
'This had not been an easy task. The international community should be patient and understand the difficulties faced in the national reconciliation process,' Bo said.
The Malaysian delegate, Mohamed Zin Amran, said the council should respond positively to the ongoing efforts undertaken and the clear commitment given by the government by 'adopting, if at all necessary, a forward looking, constructive and consensus approach that could result in meaningful improvements on the ground for the people of Myanmar'.
Speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Tehmina Janjua of Pakistan said there was no need for an international commission of enquiry to go to Myanmar as the UN secretary-general's special advisor and special rapporteur had been given positive responses from the Myanmar government.
Erlinda F. Basilio of the Philippines said greater and quicker progress was required towards the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the full and free participation of political parties in the political process, and the peaceful return to democracy.
'This might take time and it was important to recognise the unique local situation and economic and social challenges and acknowledge steps forward,' Basilio said.
In contrast to such emphasis by the Asian neighbours, other countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, and members of the European Union, were more vocal in condemning human right abuse in Myanmar.
In his report, Pinheiro called on the Myanmar government to urgently release all people who have been detained for protesting against the junta rule. Reports from released detainees gave the impression that they had undergone harsh treatment during their interrogation phase. The level of violence and insults against monks and monasteries were particularly shocking.
EU envoy to Burma to visit China and tour Asian nations
The Nation: Thu 13 Dec 2007
Brussels - The European Union's envoy to Burma plans to visit China next week as part of his efforts to convince Burma's ruling junta to move towards "a stable democracy".
Piero Fassino, a former Italian justice minister, said Wednesday in Brussels that China and other Asian states had a key role to play in the region.
"China is a great political power and is playing an increasingly essential role on the international scene. It can certainly have a positive influence in the Burma issue," Fassino said.
The envoy was expected in Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday and planned to travel to India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam after the Christmas break.
Speaking after holding talks in Brussels, the envoy said Burma needed to initiate "a process of national reconciliation" and called on the ruling regime to lift all restrictions on opposition leaderAung San Suu Kyi.
In order to help Burma's transition towards democracy, Fassino planned to hold talks with all the key players in Burma, including government figures, opposition leaders and religious as well as civil authorities.
A visit to Burma was being planned "for the coming months", Fassino said, adding that the "most opportune moment" for making such a visit would be decided together with his United Nations counterpart, Ibrahim Gambari.
International pressure to force political change in Burma, under military rule since 1962, gained momentum in the aftermath of a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks on September 26-27.
At least 15 people died in the melee, according to official figures. The UN's special rapporteur on human rights recently claimed the death toll was at least double that.
Hundreds killed in Burma protests as forced labour and rape continues in ethnic areas, claims new CSW report
Christian Solidarity Worldwide: Thu 13 Dec 2007
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) returned last week from another fact-finding visit to the Thai-Burmese border, with fresh testimonies of gross human rights violations in Burma. According to CSW's report, released today, the number of people killed by the Burma Army in the crackdown on peaceful protests in September was far higher than official figures. Monks and civilians who had fled Burma since September gave CSW first-hand accounts of the regime's brutality against the pro-democracy movement.
A Buddhist monk, who had participated in a demonstration at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon on 25 September, told CSW how he was forced into hiding the next day. He then joined another demonstration in Pegu, where he was beaten on his hands and ribs. He told CSW: "I want to tell the world what is happening The beating of monks in Burma threatens global peace. People in other parts of the world are responsible to protect the people of Burma, in the interests of peace and security. Please recognize what is happening in Burma and try to increase pressure on the regime to resolve the situation peacefully The monks will continue the religious boycott of the regime, together with the people of Burma."
CSW also spoke to two soldiers who had defected from the Burma Army. One of them fled the Army after being ordered to shoot civilian protestors. He said 16 of the 75 soldiers in his unit were children. He added: "I want to tell other soldiers who have been forced to join the army to flee if they have the chance. Don't obey orders any more."
CSW's report details 21 individual accounts of human rights violations. CSW visited internally displaced people inside Karen and Shan States, and also met Karenni, Karen and Kachin groups in Thailand. One 16-year-old boy from Shan state described how his father had been killed by the Burma Army while working as a forced porter. A few years later, the boy's mother was raped and killed by soldiers while working in the fields. He said: "The Burma Army often came to our village, stole food and forced people to be porters for them. I don't want [them] to continue to oppress the people anymore. I want them to leave."
Mervyn Thomas, CSW's Chief Executive, said: "The situation in Burma is desperate and dire. Our team heard numerous reports of torture, forced labour, rape and killings. These are the same stories CSW has been documenting every year for the past two decades. It is time for the international community, and particularly the United Nations, to act to stop these violations and to bring meaningful change to Burma. We call on the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to visit Burma himself, and to take personal charge of the efforts to force the regime to enter into dialogue with the democracy movement and the ethnic nationalities. We urge China, India and the Association of South-East Asian Nations to do everything they possibly can to bring an end to the regime's brutal reign of terror in Burma. We are delighted that the British Government is doubling its aid budget for Burma, and we call on the international community including the UK to provide cross-border funding to the internally displaced people, and support for indigenous human rights organizations. We will continue to highlight the gross human rights violations, perpetrated on a widespread and systematic scale, which amount to crimes against humanity."
CSW is a human rights organisation which specialises in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.
Notes to Editors:
CSW carries out regular fact-finding visits to Burma's border regions, and has been working on Burma for almost 20 years.
The UK recently announced it would double British aid to Burma by 2010, from £8.8 million to almost £18 million.
A debate was held on the Department for International Development's aid policies for Burma on 6 December in Westminster Hall, House of Commons see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm071206/halltext
Change of guard or political reform? Only time will tell - Dr. Sein Myint
Mizzima News: Thu 13 Dec 2007
A rumor of the ill health of State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Supremo, Senior General Than Shwe, has recently been reported in the exile Burmese news media. The question that is on peoples' minds, especially to Burma experts and observers living outside the country is, whether this is true, and if it is, then how will this effect Burma's current political landscape and its "Seven Point Road Map", the political process that the SPDC has embarked upon?
Burmese people are quite used to such rumors since the Ne Win era, where numerous rumors of the death of the late dictator regularly circulated, some purposely by the dictator himself, possibly on the advice of astrologers, making Yadayar to ward off any bad omen cast upon him. This could be another Yadayar by the Senior General, as he has already instructed the planting of "Sunflower or Nay Kyar," meaning 'long stay' in Burmese, possibly with an eye to extending his rule over the "Fourth Burmese Empire".
However if the rumors turn out to be true, then there could be many possible political outcomes and effects upon the current political landscape and on the livelihood of millions of Burma's citizens. Whether in absolute monarchy systems of the past centuries or in modern dictatorships, the death of the ruler or the dictator had little impact on ordinary citizens if power was passed on to a chosen successor. From time to time, however, disputes over the chosen successor led to bloody contests among elites and their lay followers.
Will there be a dispute about succession to the SPDC helm if Senior General Than Shwe dies? It depends upon when, and the time factor will decide who will succeed him. As for now, the lineage seems to be simply in line with military hierarchy. Obviously, Deputy Senior General Maung Aye should be the natural successor, as he is also the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Deputy Chairman of the SPDC. However, in reality, many analysts and experts are not certain of Maung Aye's prospects to become the next Chairman of the SPDC.
Many have predicted that the current No. 3 of the SPDC, the reserved Than Shwe loyalist, General Thura Shwe Mann, could become the next Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services. He's the current Joint Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. Others have placed their bets on a dark horse, the current Military Intelligence Chief, Lieutenant General Myint Shwe, another Than Shwe hand picked loyalist.
Since the current Head of State is the Chairman of the SPDC and Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, whoever becomes the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services will be the Chairman of the SPDC. He will also be the Head of State, under the current military and political power structure, as Senior General Than Shwe undisputedly holds all three positions.
However, it is difficult to say whether the status quo will hold for the next incoming Chairman of the SPDC. Again, the power structure could be different if General Than Shwe outlived the completion of the Seven Point Road Map. Then according to the current SPDC draft constitution, the Head of State would not necessarily be the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, but must have extensive military experience. If they decide to replace the SPDC with another military supreme council with members consisting of the top military brass with the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services at its head the Head of State would not necessarily be the head of the military council.
Thus, the division of power between the military and political structures could become more separated. They could be vested in two portfolios instead of the one as it is now. Once the Road Map is completed, resulting in a military-controlled elected parliament or assembly, and all key positions are filled with top military personnel from the current SPDC, it is highly likely that Senior General Than Shwe, if he is still alive, would relinquish the title of Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, and only take up the Head of State post.
Then the question of who will become the next Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services is a matter of succession by military hierarchy. As of now, the No. 3, General Shwe Mann, would be the next in line after Deputy-Senior General Maung Aye. It has been proven in military history that there is no guarantee who will become No. 1. Once No. 1 decides to remove No. 2 and bring up No. 4 or 5, inevitably pushing No. 2 or No. 3 to break rank with the existing military hierarchy, then all bets are off the table. Once there is a dispute in the military succession process, with multiple camps trying to grasp power, then the political structure cannot sustain control over power without military support in the assembly where, as stated in the proposed constitution, 25 percent of representatives are to be from the military.
Moreover, if No. 1 dies before the completion of the Road Map, the succession issue will become more acute and critical. The consolidation of both military and political power in one person would certainly raise the stakes within the SPDC, just like the complications stated above would with respect to military succession. But it would be more complex for a combined political and military succession. Similar parables can be applied here for hierarchical succession processes. Since the stakes are higher to attain, equal to absolute power, a bloody and violent confrontation could ensue if any group or groups decide to break rank with the military hierarchy and go for the top prize.
So far, the SPDC Supremo has managed to hold the military court in order under his command by sharing out power and privileges. Certainly, whoever in the current SPDC line-up assumes the top post, keeping other members in line waiting their turn could prove problematic. The next critical question is: will the next Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services meet with the democratic opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and embark upon a genuine national reconciliation process? Only time will tell.
* Dr. Sein Myint serves as Director for Policy Development with Justice for Human Rights in Burma (JHB).
India and Myanmar sign IT agreement
ANI : December 12, 2007
New Delhi, Dec 12 : India and Myanmar today signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the establishment of the India-Myanmar Centre for Enhancement of Information Technology Skills (IMCEITS).
The agreement, were signed by the Deputy Minister of Myanmar, Kyaw Thu, and India's Foreign Secretary, Shivshankar Menon.
The IT centre will be set up at Yangon under India's guidance and assistance.
Kyaw Thu, along with his delegation, is here for foreign office consultations between India and Myanmar.
Earlier, Kyaw also called on Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and discussed issues like friendship and cordiality between the two nations.
India shares a border of over 1600 kilometres with Myanmar and bilateral trade between both sides is worth nearly a billion dollars.
Interview: Even Burmese soldiers grow poppies
SHAN was up at Loi Taileng, Shan State Army (SSA) South base opposite Maehongson, 7-10 December 2007.
The following are excerpts from its interviews with representatives coming from Mongnawng sub-township, Kehsi township, Loilem district and Homong sub-township, Mawkmai township, Loilem district.
Identities of the interviewees have been withheld for their safety.
Interview I (Kehsi): Commander encourages poppy growing
Earlier this year, we attended a meeting called by the Infantry Battalion 287 based in Wanzing. At the top of the agenda was physic nut. The commander told us we would be buying 2 condensed milk-cans per household for K2,000 per milk-can. Each village would be required to grow at least 20 acres.
He then asked us, "Do you grow poppies? If you don't, what are you going to eat? Only if you have enough to eat, we (soldiers) can also eat."
What he said was true. Everything the Army needs, whether it's rice, chicken, Tolaji (farm tractors) or motorcycles, it is for us to fulfill it. And we are often cussed or beaten on failure to comply with.
Who grow opium
Top growers are Lahu who came to the area following the 1996-98 forced relocations. They are led by Yosay, the militia leader in the area. Then we have Palaung, Lisu and us Shans. We also see a number of Burmese soldiers tending their own fields.
It varies in relation to the elevation. In the high mountains, we usually start planting in the Ninth Lunar Month (August). In the lowlands, it may be the 11th Lunar Month (October) or even 12th Lunar Month (November).
Interview II (Homong): Envy started it
Our village has about 80 households. Until last year nobody grew poppies. But last year an ethnic Chinese moved in and he planted his poppy field. He made a lot of money from it, which started everybody talking. After this year's paddy season, I didn't have anything special to do anyway and many others were already growing poppies. I couldn't very well let other people say I was lazy and no-account. So I've planted my own field with a can of seeds.
Interview III (Homong): More people engaging in the cultivation
At least 50% increase. Even where I live, we had about 25 fields last year, but now we have no less than 40. And we are growing two crops. The first crop has already been harvested, from which we got B20,000 ($590) per viss (1.6 kg). Last year's opium fetched as much as B30,000 ($885) per viss.
The Burma Army knows
The fields of course cannot be hidden from the Army patrols. Last year one of them arrived in the valley where there were 3 fields, one of which was mine and asked for B5,000 as "tax". We pooled in together what we had and managed to satisfy them with B4,000 ($120 or K160,000).
People coming from Hsamu and Na Mark Ti areas (east of Homong) also told us that many farmers are moving into Burma Army controlled areas so they could grow opium, because the Wa (United Wa State Army), based in Sankarng and Khailong, have banned it this year.
Most of us have our own fields, but some are working as hired hands for some ethnic Chinese financiers for B1,000 ($30) per month with meals.
Other reports agree that there is a significant increase of cultivation in Shan State for the 2007-2008 season, despite or because of continued opium ban in Kokang, Wa and Loimaw (Tangyan).