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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma 14/01/08 (resending)

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    ... From: CHAN Beng Seng Sent: Monday, January 14, 2008 4:32 PM Subject: News on Burma 14/01/08 1.. Bomb attacks hit Burmese cities 2.. Suu Kyi meets junta s
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 14, 2008
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      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Monday, January 14, 2008 4:32 PM
      Subject: News on Burma 14/01/08

      1. Bomb attacks hit Burmese cities
      2. Suu Kyi meets junta's liaison officer again
      3. NLD chairperson in San Chaung arrested
      4. Youth arrested for singing political song
      5. Myanmar leaders meet Chinese NPC Standing Committee Vice-Chairperson
      6. Gambari to visit India, China in January
      7. Burma's control of transportation system contributes to hunger
      8. Forced labor on road construction
      9. Young activists wage pro-democracy poster campaign in Myitkyina
      10. Myanmar deal right neighborly of India
      11. Authorities continue detaining monks, activists
      12. Burma's military keeps tight rein on society
      13. Hidden life of Burma's opposition

      Bomb attacks hit Burmese cities
      BBC News: Sun 13 Jan 2008

      A woman has been injured in a bomb blast in Burma's commercial capital, Rangoon, officials say - the third bombing incident in three days. The latest explosion occurred at a public toilet in a Rangoon railway station, witnesses said.

      On Friday, a woman was killed by a blast in a railway station toilet in Nay Pyi Taw, the new capital.

      And another man died, and four people were injured, when a bomb exploded in Pyu, north of Rangoon.

      The government has blamed both incidents on the Karen National Union (KNU), a group fighting for greater autonomy for the ethnic Karen people.

      The state-run newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, said in both cases it was the bomber who was killed in the process of handling the bomb.

      There was no claim of responsibility from the KNU or any other group.


      Suu Kyi meets junta's liaison officer again - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Fri 11 Jan 2008

      Burma's detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, met with the Burmese junta's liaison officer, ex Maj-Gen Aung Kyi, on Friday, according to sources in Rangoon.

      A convoy of vehicles, which was said to transport Suu Kyi, left her lakeside residence about 1 p.m. and returned about 2 p.m.

      A protester residing in Japan holds a poster of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a march demanding human rights in Burma [Photo: Reuters]

      The meeting between Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi, who is also Minister of Labor, was the forth since the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September. The meeting has not been officially confirmed by authorities or Suu Kyi supporters.

      "In the past we couldn't talk with the junta. If we can talk, it is a good sign for the political process," said Nyan Win, a spokesperson for the National League for Democracy (NLD). "To reconcile with each other, we must start talks."

      The third meeting between Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi was on November 19, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Singapore.

      The NLD openly criticized the process in December, after two months without any meetings, saying the government needed to move faster and that no NLD officials had been allowed to meet with Suu Kyi, which was a specific request made by Suu Kyi during her meeting with the United Nation's special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, in early November.

      Aung Kyi, who was appointed as liaison officer on October 9 last year, said during s press conference in December in Naypyidaw that his three meetings with the Nobel peace prize winner had yielded "positive developments."

      "I met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for three times. We have made progress at the meetings. The first meeting was aimed at gaining understanding between us. The second meeting was to discuss frameworks for the future. The third meeting was to discuss the facts that should be included in the framework," said Aung Kyi during the press conference.

      "We will release information related to the meetings when necessary," he said. "Regarding the time frame, we will continue to hold meetings with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We need to consider what to discuss and why. We are choosing ‘What' and ‘Why.' So, we will take ‘Where,' ‘How' and ‘When' into consideration in the future."

      Some members of the international community and dissident groups say the junta is not really interested in dialogue, noting that Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the head of the junta, has shown no sign of honoring a commitment to meet with Suu Kyi himself, which he made in talks with Gambari.

      The junta leaders offered to meet with Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, but only on condition she renounce calls for international sanctions against the military regime, which has been widely condemned for its crackdown on the anti-junta protests in September.

      The NLD sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently expressing its readiness to accept the U.N. special envoy's mediation efforts for political dialogue and national reconciliation.


      NLD chairperson in San Chaung arrested
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 11 Jan 2008

      The chairman of the National League for Democracy in San Chaung township, Rangoon, was arrested by authorities while attending a court hearing on Wednesday.

      An eyewitness said the San Chaung NLD chairman and former political prisoner U Thet Wei, 50, was arrested by police at Kyauktada township court at a hearing for solo demonstrator U Ohn Than.

      "It was around 1pm in the afternoon when I saw him having an argument with a police officer at the court," said the eyewitness.

      "The deputy police chief arrived and he and another police officer took U Thet Wei into an empty room where they questioned him for about 30 minutes. Then the security vehicle arrived and took him to Kyauktada police station."

      U Thet Wei's family said their enquiries about him at the police station met with no response yesterday.

      An NLD spokesperson, U Nyan Win, said that the party was frustrated by the continued arrests and harassment of NLD members.

      "There are currently 102 people detained; some awaiting trial and some are serving prison sentences," he said.

      "It is unclear on what grounds they have been given these punishments; we are getting very frustrated with this."

      As of 9 January, six NLD party members and five other people had been arrested so far this year.

      The NLD members were Ko Kyaw Kyaw, Ko Kyaw Zin Win and two others from Daw Pon township, and Ma Htet Htet Aung from [New] South Dagon township.

      Ko Ko Maung and Ko Min Han from Mingalardon township were among the other people detained, along with an unknown monk and two students.


      Youth arrested for singing political song - Kwarn Lake
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Fri 11 Jan 2008

      A Shan youth was arrested by the Burmese authorities. His crime — singing a Shan song at the Shan New Year celebration in Mong Yai, northern Shan State, Burma , local sources said.

      Sai Maung Tun (25) a member of Shan Literature and Cultural Committee (SLCC) – Mong Yai, was arrested after he sang a Shan political song called ‘The day Shans gain freedom', according to the sources.

      The song written by the late song writer Sai Mu, is popular not only among Shan communities but also among the resistance groups.

      He was arrested on January 7 by the local police from his home, said the source.

      "He works in the farm to support his family and he has never had any connection with any political organization and never talks about politics", said a resident of Mong Yai.

      The SLCC had invited a local music band of four youth singers to entertain the Mong Yai residents during the New Year celebration.

      Colonel Kyi Myint, a local authority, had also ordered his subordinates to arrest the band. However, he withdrew the order after receiving an apology from the president of the SLCC, said the source.

      Shan New Year in Mong Yai was celebrated from January 1 to 4, while the actual date of the Shan New Year 2102 fell on December 10, 2007.

      The Mong Yai Shan Literature and Cultural Committee had initially decided not to organize the celebrations due to lack of funds. However, the event took place because Col. Kyi Myint had ordered the SLCC to collect cash from local communities and organize it.

      Meanwhile, the celebration of 60th anniversary of Independence Day was also ordered by the authorities to be held on the same days in Mong Yai high school.


      Myanmar leaders meet Chinese NPC Standing Committee Vice-Chairperson
      Xinhua General News Service: Fri 11 Jan 2008

      First Secretary of the Myanmar State Peace and Development Council Lieutenant-General Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo met with visiting Vice-Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress He Luli in the new capital of Nay Pyi Taw Friday.

      The two sides exchanged views on bilateral ties and issues of common concerns.

      He Luli, who is also Chairperson of the Chinese People's Association for Peace and Disarmament, arrived here Thursday on a five-day goodwill visit to Myanmar at the invitation of U Htay Oo, Secretary-General of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

      Shortly after she touched down in Yangon on the same day, He Luli met with U Htay Oo.

      Myanmar is He Luli's first leg of her tours to two Southeast Asian nations and she will proceed to the Philippines after Myanmar visit.


      Gambari to visit India, China in January - Lalit K Jha
      Irrawaddy: Fri 11 Jan 2008

      The UN Special Envoy on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, is scheduled to visit India and China in January to continue his consultations with two of Burma's key neighbors, a top UN official said on Thursday.

      Calling India and China two major players in Burma, the UN spokesperson said the dates of his visit to the two countries have not yet been finalized.

      "He is planning during this month to go to India and China," said the spokesperson. It is understood that Gambari is trying to schedule appointments with top leaders of India and China before announcing the dates.

      "As you know, a number of things have happened in terms of consultation with different actors and different international leaders involved with the crisis," his spokesperson said. "As far as I know, he is just going to go further into discussions with two major actors in the situation in Myanmar [Burma]."

      Gambari has an invitation from the Burmese government to return to the country to carry forward his mission of restoration of democracy and protection of human rights in the country.

      "He has a standing invitation to go back to Burma," said the spokesperson. The visit will be scheduled sometime after his Gambari's visits to India and China.


      Burma's control of transportation system contributes to hunger – Luis Ramirez
      Voice of America: Thu 10 Jan 2008

      The World Food Program is renewing its calls for donations to help feed the millions it says are suffering malnutrition in Burma, or Myanmar as it is also known. WFP officials say the military government's rigid control of the transportation system and the cost of moving goods are major causes of the problem. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.

      Burma is not short of food. The country saw a rise in its rice exports in 2007. But the United Nations World Food Program says the military government's tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods within the country is keeping an estimated five million Burmese without adequate nutrition.

      Paul Risley, the WFP's Asia spokesman, tells VOA getting food to the remote areas where it is needed most is one of the biggest challenges the agency faces. Transportation is tightly controlled, he says, and very expensive.

      "The transportation system is very much a closed…state-regulated, state-administered program," he said. "So much of our food is transferred and transported by companies and transport companies that are owned by the government and the ruling elite."

      WFP officials say entrusting food shipments and paying donated money to the corruption-ridden state transportation system presents a dilemma for the agency. Risley says the WFP has controls in place to make sure the food ends up in the right hands.

      "All of the food that we distribute is grown locally. We purchase rice that is grown in the delta regions of Myanmar, and thus usually our biggest expense is in transporting that rice or other food commodities toward the remote regions where we provide it to the communities," said Risley. "So, we are very concerned that our funding be spent solely on the transport of rice and other commodities, and not to go to the benefit of any particular individuals and families or people that are associated with the government of Myanmar."

      The WFP says Burma's military government has eased recently eased transport restrictions in one area of Rakhine state. Agency officials say they hope more areas will follow.

      Some governments including that of the United States have restricted direct aid to Burma as the country's military rulers continue to crack down on political dissent. However, U.S. and WFP officials plan to meet in Washington and Rome in the coming days to discuss a possible boost in U.S. assistance.

      U.S. First Lady Laura Bush, who has taken the issue of Burma as a personal cause, last week issued a statement condemning the Burmese military rulers on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the country's independence.

      Mrs. Bush said the Burmese people are living in fear and poverty under the leadership of the generals, who she said have plundered the country's economy and rich natural resources, making Burma one of the poorest countries in the region.


      Forced labor on road construction
      Narinjara News: Thu 10 Jan 2008

      Township authorities have forced villagers to work on motor road construction in Pauktaw Township, 20 miles east of Arakan State's capital Sittwe, without payment, reports a villager from the area.

      The villager said, "We have not received any wages for the reconstruction despite having to work all day everyday. All our households are working on the road construction on a quota system after the authority allocated the road in several small plots to be worked on by the villagers."

      The road is being constructed to connect Taungfu and Thawin Chaung Village a few miles outside of Pauktaw, and many residents from both villages have had to work on the road's construction.

      "We heard the government allocated 6 million kyat for the road construction from the state revenue, but township authorities forced us to work on it after they took the money for their own interests," the villager said.

      A source close to the township authority said the allocated state funds had been misappropriated by three administers, including Pauktaw Township's chairman and two chairmen from Taungfu and Thawin Chaung Villages.

      The villager said there is a rumor the money for the road was taken by township chairman U Kyaw Zaw Hla and village chairman U Aung Tun Win from Taungfu Village for their personal use.

      Every household in the two villages has been working on the road construction in twelve-foot lengths as allocated by the authority. The township authority ordered the villagers to complete the road before Burmese army day.

      "In two villages, there are over 1,000 households and all villagers are now working at the road construction to be finished before March 2008," he said.

      Moreover, the authority forced some residents of other nearby villages to work at breaking the stones needed to pave the road.


      Young activists wage pro-democracy poster campaign in Myitkyina – Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Thu 10 Jan 2008

      More than three months after the September pro-democracy crackdown, guerilla-style, anti-government publicity campaigns are still going on, the most recent in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State.

      Kachin youth in Myitkyina have launched a campaign of putting up posters and distributing leaflets against the military regime in downtown areas, a source in Myitkyina told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.

      One resident, who took part in the campaign, said the effort was organized by members of the All Kachin Students Union.

      The young political activists were divided into two teams, according to the source. One team put up more than 100 posters on walls, utility poles and other areas downtown and the other team distributed leaflets to people attending the Kachin Manau Festival.

      "The aim of the campaign is to speed up the people's movement," he said. "Another is to show the unity of all Burmese people. The fortune of the country is in the hands of the people. It is what I want to show."

      Authorities removed some of the posters on Thursday, he said, and a few people who possessed the leaflets were questioned by local authorities. No campaigners were arrested, he said.

      Myitkyina is one of the most active sites for pro-democracy activists. During the government crackdown in Myitkyina, one Buddhist abbot, the Ven. U Thilavantha of Yuzana Kyaunghtai Monastery, died on September 26 from injuries he received when he was beaten by soldiers and security forces.

      The posters and leaflets called for the release of political prisoners who were detained in September's demonstrations and urged the government to start a tripartite dialogue toward national reconciliation.

      The campaigners said they also opposed the constitutional referendum and want a halt to the constructions of dams in Kachin State.

      Recently, a similar public information campaign occurred in Rangoon, which included stickers that were attached to vehicles with the words, "Release Political Prisoners!"

      A related expression of political dissent took place on January 4 when about 12 members of the National League for Democracy held a brief vigil in front of the party's headquarters dressed in the blue uniforms of prisoners and called for the release of all political prisoners.

      According to Amnesty International, more than 1,300 political prisoners were being detained in Burma.


      Myanmar deal right neighborly of India - Brian McCartan
      Asia Times: Thu 10 Jan 2008

      India, in the face of Western criticism, continues to economically engage Myanmar's ruling generals, providing the junta a much-needed investment lifeline at a time when the US and European Union have imposed new punitive sanctions against the rights-abusing regime.

      The Indian government earlier this week committed US$120 million to rebuild Myanmar's western Sittwe port and construct road and water links through the facility, which will connect Myanmar's western Arakan State to India's northeastern state of Mizoram. The build-transfer-use Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project comes on top of a previous $27 million investment to improve the 160-kilometer road from Mizoram to Kalewa, in Myanmar's Sagaing division, northeast of Sittwe.

      Final agreement for the Sittwe project, which has been under consideration for more than six years and will take nearly three years to complete, is expected to be signed during a visit of high-level officials from Myanmar to India in April.

      The agreement highlights divergent strains in India's policy towards Myanmar. Since the Myanmar military regime's crackdown last year on peaceful street demonstrators, New Delhi has gently indicated its support for political change and national reconciliation in its neighbor. That position was seemingly underscored in December by India's unofficial halt of arms transfers to Myanmar. Yet India's state-owned companies continue to sign business deals with the regime and the government, while tacitly supporting political change, has declared that it does not support Western-led new sanctions, preferring dialogue and negotiations to promote change.

      India voted in favor of a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning the regime's violent crackdown and calling for the release of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. However, India's support for the resolution was watered down by an official reservation that the final text of the statement was not in accordance with India's preferred approach of constructively engaging Myanmar.

      India gained some mileage out of a January 2 meeting between prime minister Manmohan Singh and visiting Myanmar foreign minister Nyan Win. According to Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna, the foreign minister was told that there was "greater urgency in bringing political reform and national reconciliation" and that "this process had to be broad-based to include all sections of society including Aung San Suu Kyi and various ethnic groups in Myanmar." At the same time the prime minister also affirmed India's desire to build on the two sides' already strong relationship.

      India's approach has attracted criticism from both outside and within India. There is widespread local support for Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party, judging by the well-attended protest rallies held in New Delhi coinciding with Nyan Win's visit. All of India's major political parties, including Congress, the Communists and Bharatiya Janta Party, have called on the government to change its policy on Myanmar. Civil society groups have joined this call, especially those representing ethnic groups located in India's northeastern regions, which share a border with Myanmar.

      In late December, it was reported that India had quietly stopped all arms sales and transfers to Myanmar. Although the policy was not officially announced, a Washington Post article cited "diplomatic sources" who said that it "had been privately confirmed by New Delhi to top US officials". If so, it would represent a major turn-around in policy since military contacts had increased during 2007, with India offering large quantities of military hardware to the junta.

      India is currently one of Myanmar's two main military hardware suppliers, the other being China. India came under sharp media criticism in 2007 for its sale of weapons that would possibly violate European Union arms embargoes now in place against Myanmar. In August, Myanmar took delivery from India of two BN-2 Defender maritime surveillance aircraft. The deal was done over the objections of the British government, which originally sold the aircraft to India.

      In July, a report by UK-based rights group Amnesty International and several other EU nongovernmental organizations condemned India for the possible sale of advanced light helicopters to Myanmar. The aircraft, made by Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd. (HAL), can be equipped with rockets and machine guns, and human rights groups fear they will be used against insurgent ethnic minority groups and possibly future street demonstrators. The report noted that the weapons and many of the systems within the helicopters originated in EU countries and thus could violate the arms embargo.

      In a November 2006 meeting between Indian Defense Secretary Shekhar Dutt and Myanmar Vice Senior General Maung Aye, India offered the helicopters along with T55 tanks it was retiring from its inventory, 105mm artillery pieces, armored personnel carriers, ammunition and avionics upgrades for Myanmar's Russian and Chinese-made aircraft. Although it is unclear whether any of this hardware has reached Myanmar, reports indicate that shipments of aircraft, artillery, armored personnel carriers, tanks, ships, small arms and ammunition are expected to be sent in 2008. During the same meeting, India also offered counterinsurgency training to Myanmar's military.

      Rights groups have in the wake of last year's bloody crackdown called for a United Nations Security Council-enforced arms embargo against Myanmar. Support for such a measure is high in the United States, although any resolution would have to overcome likely vetoes from China and Russia, which have in the past come to Myanmar's defense. India's quiet halting of arms transfers may be a way of staving off a full-blown arms embargo and resuming transfers when the international clamor has died down. Indeed India had for years sent arms, ammunition and other military equipment to Myanmar with very little international criticism or attention until 2007.

      Many of the reports concerning sales and transfers of Indian military equipment have been linked to joint operations along the India-Myanmar border against insurgents based on the Myanmar side of the border. Myanmar's northwest Sagaing Division and Chin State insurgencies are small, but the army has shown a marked lethargy and lack of commitment in its suppression operations.

      At the same time, India has made no shift in its economic policy towards Myanmar, which critics say is providing the ruling junta with much-needed cash flow to stay financially afloat and buy weapons. For instance, during Nyan Win's recent visit to New Delhi, trade and cooperation in oil-and-gas were reportedly discussed. Bilateral trade between the two countries is estimated at nearly $1 billion and Indian investments in Myanmar include gas, oil, agriculture, fisheries, pearl cultivation, infrastructure projects, mining and tourism ventures.

      Those outlays mark a controversial policy u-turn. India initially supported Myanmar's pro-democracy movement after the popular uprising of 1988 and general elections of 1990, serving as the first nation to condemn the military regime when it annulled the 1990 elections it resoundingly lost. Suu Kyi was later awarded the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding and successive Indian governments allowed refugees and political activists to reside in India.

      In the mid-1990s, the policy shifted and official criticisms of the Myanmar regime stopped while business and military delegations made increasingly frequent visits to the country. Since, over $100 million has been extended to Myanmar in the form of credit, including $27 million for road improvements for the link connecting the town of Tamu on the border with Mizoram State and Kalewa in Sagaing Division.

      India has since grown into Myanmar's second-largest market, trailing only Thailand. Top Indian officials, including the president, government ministers and senior military officers, have all in recent years made high- and low-profile visits to Myanmar. Senior General Than Shwe, the chairman of Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council, last visited India in 2004. Indian President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam visited Myanmar in 2006 and reportedly avoided mention of the country's political problems or the detention of Suu Kyi during his stay.

      Myanmar has become a key component in India's "Look East" policy, which strategically views the neighboring country as a geographical springboard to markets in mainland Southeast Asia. Myanmar's membership in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) grouping makes it a key partner in the development of regional projects in trade energy and tourism, as well as in the economic development of northeast India.

      India's real politik policy is also aimed at diluting China's regional influence. China, which has border disputes with India and with whom it fought a brief war in 1962, views Myanmar as an outlet for trade from its remote, landlocked southwestern Yunnan province. It is also eager to secure oil, gas and other natural resource concessions from Myanmar to fuel its rapidly surging economy.

      While protests in Yangon and other towns reached their height last September, Indian Petroleum Minister Murali Deora signed a $150 million gas exploration deal with the SPDC and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise on behalf of Oil and Natural Gas Company (ONGC) Videsh. As part of the deal, the state-controlled Indian company was granted rights to explore in three separate offshore blocks.

      Myanmar, for its part, appears to play the two countries off against each other. India was reportedly disappointed by Myanmar's decision last August to give the nod to Chinese state-owned PetroChina for highly coveted gas concessions in the large Shwe fields off the coast of Myanmar's Arakan State. China edged out South Korea's Daewoo International and India's two state energy companies, which are currently developing the field. The Shwe gas field reserves are estimated to be worth between $37 billion and $52 billion, with the SPDC scheduled to receive $12 billion and $17 billion over a 20-year period.

      Meanwhile, on December 12, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to set up a center for the sharing of information technology skills in the old Myanmar capital of Yangon. The agreement to set up the India-Myanmar Center for the Enhancement of Information Technology Skills (IMCEITS) was signed by deputy foreign minister Kyaw Thu during the first official visit to India of a Myanmar official since the crackdown.

      India's increasingly cozy relations with Myanmar come at a cost. Armed groups including the United Liberation Front of Asom, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and the United National Liberation Front are all involved in a decades-old insurgency in India's northeastern areas and have traditionally used base areas in Myanmar's jungle-covered northwestern territories. Although joint operations are periodically announced, very little is reportedly actually done on the Myanmar side, with some speculation that at the local level the insurgents have good relations with Myanmar army officers and intelligence officials.

      While these contacts may not extend to the top of Myanmar's leadership, the insurgency is often used as a bargaining chip by the Myanmar regime to gain India's support and military hardware in exchange for proposed offensives against the insurgents.

      India's northeastern border problems go beyond the insurgency, with rampant drug trafficking, arms smuggling and an increasing HIV/AIDS epidemic all contributing to instability. Other than close the border periodically when local trade disputes arise, Myanmar does little to stop the smuggling.

      Refugees fleeing human rights abuses on the Myanmar side of the border have also become a problem for India and communal disputes have frequently broken out in border communities between Myanmar refugees and Indians. At least for now, though, India seems willing to look the other way as long as commercial profits and fuel flow from the other side of the border.

      * Brian McCartan is a Chiang Mai-based freelance journalist.


      Authorities continue detaining monks, activists - Htein Linn
      Mizzima News: Wed 9 Jan 2008

      In a continuous crackdown, authorities in western Burma's Arakan state have sentenced 13 political activists, arrested for their involvement in the September monk-led protests, dissidents said.

      Ofthe 13 arrested – six monks, a university student, three National League for Democracy party members and three civilians – have been charged under various articles including frightening the people, disrespectful action against the government, inciting public riot, involvement in undesired public protests, beating, swearing, associating with unlawful organizations, and destroying public properties.

      Thein Hlaing, secretary of the Arakan state NLD, said, "The latest information that we received is that there are six monks and seven civilians. While some of them have been sentenced under various charges, some are still kept at interrogation centres."

      Among the six detained monks, U Kitharihya from Sittwe's Seikthathukhah monastery was arrested on September 29, 2007 and is charged under article 143, 505 (b) and 6. Sources said, the monk was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison and is now kept at Buthitaung prison.

      Sixty seven year old U Kawmala, another monk from Sittwe town's Adithan monastery, was arrested on October 14, 2007 and is charged under article 143 and 295 and sentenced to 2 years and 6 months, sources said. The monk is currently detained at Sittwe prison.

      While U Wunnathiri ( 23) from Sittwe town's Yadanabonmyay monastery, was arrested on September 29, 2007 and sentenced to 3 years in Sittwe prison, the other three monks, who were arrested in November, 2007 have been detained at Sittwe interrogation camp, the source said.

      Sources in Arakan state NLD said, while party secretary Khin Hla was sentenced to 4 years, party treasurer Min Aung is sentenced to two and half years in prison.

      Another party member, Ye Thein, was arrested on September 2 but released on September 5, 2007. However, he was re-arrested on Noveber 19, 2007 and was sent to lunatic asylum in Rangoon, sources said.

      Meanwhile, authorities continue to detained a final year Master of Arts (Economics) student, Ye Min Oo, who was arrested in October, in Rangoon's notorious Insein interrogation centre. But activist Aung Naing Soe, who was also arrested in October, was charged under article 505 (b), and 143 and is sentenced to three years and nine months in jail in Thandwe prison in Arakan state.

      Two other civilians, Aung Naing and win Maung, who were arrested in October, were sentenced to 2 years and 3 months, and 2 years and 6 months respectively, said the source adding that Aung Naing is detained in Sittwe prison while Win Maung is continued to be detained in Maan Aung police station.


      Burma's military keeps tight rein on society - Rory Byrne and Wido Schlichting
      VOA News: Wed 9 Jan 2008

      Burma's military government has been in power for more than four decades. While most Burmese are poor, the country's top military elite and their friends have become rich, fueling widespread resentment. Those feelings have grown more serious in the days since the military crushed anti-government demonstrations in September. Yet despite their unpopularity, Burma's generals are as entrenched as ever. Rory Byrne and Wido Schlichting report on how the country's military stays in power.

      Burma is one of the most isolated countries in the world. Democratic observers say the military government uses fear and repression to maintain its grip on power. Opposition is not tolerated.

      In September of last year, the government sharply increased the price of fuel and tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and civilians took to the streets in pro-democracy protests. Among them was Hlaing Moe Than.

      When the military crushed the protests, Hlaing Moe Than escaped into Thailand. He had been jailed and tortured many times in the past. He says, "The military junta can do as they like - they are above the law. Our people don't get the protection of the law, you know - they can arrest anybody without a warrant. They can detain persons in an interrogation center."

      The military regime has forbidden freedom of expression from opposition groups. Only pro-government news media is allowed.

      Zaw Min, a Burmese pro-democracy activist living in Bangkok, describes the government rules and tactics, he says, "They rule the country for many years based on the fear of the citizen. That's why they use so many kinds of oppressive measures on certain citizens. If you want to go against the government you are put in prison, arrested, tortured, even you disappear - nobody knows."

      Prices for fuel have had a drastic effect on the costs of transportation, cooking oil and food. Most people in Burma earn less than a dollar a day. But the military elite and their friends live in luxury.

      Oo Win Naing is an opposition politician living in Rangoon. He has been jailed many times for his views. "There are lots of people who are getting rich during this military regime period. For those kind of people they have become very, very strong supporters to the government because they are gaining things, they are gaining lots of things," Naing said.

      The military also controls the country's abundant natural resources. The roads through Burma's forests are filled with logging trucks. Many people in Burma and environmental groups say the military charges thousands of dollars in fees for each truck.

      In addition, precious stones from Burmese mines earn the government hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

      A gem auction in Rangoon recently raised more than $300 million from foreign dealers, most of them from China.

      Some human rights groups' say more than 40 percent of the government's budget goes to the army. Some of that money is spent on fighting ethnic minority rebels.

      Despite international demands that the government begin reform and talks with opposition leaders, most notably Aung San Suu Kyi, there is still no sign the generals are ready to give up power.

      But as many people slip further into poverty, human rights groups and activists say resentment to military rule is growing deeper every day.


      Hidden life of Burma's opposition - Andrew Harding
      BBC News: Wed 9 Jan 2008

      In a small, windowless room somewhere in Rangoon, a 35-year-old woman called Nilar Thein is wrestling with an unusual dilemma.

      For the past four months, she has been on the run, scrambling between safe-houses, trying to keep a step ahead of the Burmese authorities as they hunt for the ringleaders of last September's protests.

      Most of those in hiding have already been tracked down and imprisoned, but somehow Nilar has managed to evade capture.

      "I'm very careful about my safety," she said, speaking on a mobile phone. She changes numbers regularly.

      "I've found kind families who really helped me. It's thanks to them that I am still free. Still, I've had many narrow escapes."

      But as the weeks slip by Nilar faces a growing quandary.

      Should she remain in hiding indefinitely, or should she try to spearhead a new protest campaign against the Burmese authorities - a move almost guaranteeing her a lengthy prison sentence.

      In many ways, Nilar's predicament is shared by the internal opposition movement as a whole, as it struggles to regroup after last year's dramatic street protests and the violent crackdown which followed.

      "I feel inadequate when I hear that one of my colleagues has been arrested for their activities. I get quite depressed that I cannot go out and do as they did," said Nilar.

      "My friends tell me not to get carried away by my emotions. We all decided who would go out and who would stay.

      "There are many things that I can do while in hiding. But I don't see myself hiding like this forever. I'm just waiting for the right moment."

      Child at risk

      Nilar's position is complicated - to put it mildly - by her unusual family circumstances.

      Her husband Kyaw Min Yu - also known as Jimmy - is already in Rangoon's notorious Insein jail.

      He was arrested on 21 August after taking part in the very first street protests triggered by an overnight increase in the price of fuel.

      "I get messages, indirectly, from him in jail," Nilar explained.

      "He is in good health. But sometimes I feel so sad I want to go to prison just to see him."

      As veteran members of Burma's 88 Generation Students - a pro-democracy group named after the last major uprising in 1988 - Nilar and Jimmy are both familiar with their country's penal system.

      Between them they have spent 24 years in jail - Jimmy 16 years, Nilar eight.

      In 2006, they decided to get married, and in April last year Nilar gave birth to a daughter, Phyu Nay Kyi Min Yu.

      When Nilar went into hiding at the end of August, she initially took Phyu with her.

      But the risks for both proved too great.

      Once, while hiding in an attic, Nilar heard the police downstairs.

      "I told my daughter - my dear, please don't make a noise. If you want to stay with mummy, please do not make any noise. I was breastfeeding her. She looked at me as if she understood the whole situation, and did not make a sound."

      After that incident, Nilar decided to leave Phyu with her in-laws.

      "There is tight security around my daughter now. The authorities are still hoping I will come to see her."

      She believes they are using her daughter as a trap.

      In prison, Jimmy is able to receive occasional visits from his daughter. But in hiding, Nilar has no direct contact whatsoever.

      "[Sometimes it seems like] those in prison have better lives than us," she mused.

      "They can leave their cells for walks, and see their families. I hear from friends that my daughter has grown so much. They told me how she giggled.

      "But a baby should be under the close care of her own parents. I really want to be with my family - the three of us together."

      Nilar spends her days waiting and planning, and her nights fighting with bronchitis and asthma attacks.

      She has not stepped outside for more than a month, but may soon have to move to another location.

      She says her years in solitary confinement have helped her cope with the isolation.

      "I'm in a place where I cannot see the sun, or be touched by the wind," she said. "But it could be much worse."

      Useful role

      There are now other activists with her in hiding, but she does not want to give their names for security reasons.

      "The only problem is if we fall ill. We cannot go out to see a doctor. But all of us have spent time in prison so we are used to the conditions."

      Once, when an earlier hideout was surrounded by the authorities, Nilar managed to slip out of a side door and flag down a rickshaw taxi.

      "When I glanced round, I saw a man with a walkie-talkie chasing me on a bicycle. I hid behind my umbrella." Luckily for her the rickshaw was quicker, and she managed to escape.

      For now, Nilar insists she can still play a useful role in hiding.

      "I don't think I am isolated at the moment, or sidelined. Many top leaders have been captured but I am in touch with all those who are still in the movement.

      "We have contact and co-ordination. I have no plan to go abroad or into exile. If you hold on to your beliefs, you can overcome anything."

      But after decades in power, Burma's military government is showing no signs of buckling under international or internal pressure.

      Like the bruised opposition movement as a whole, Nilar acknowledges that she may soon be obliged to come out of hiding to challenge the junta once more.

      "I have thought about it and prepared for that moment," she said calmly.

      "There is every chance I will be captured, but until that moment I will do what I must."


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