[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 23/1/08
- ILO's intervention the only hope of release for detained labour activists
- Who's bombing Burma?
- Activists concerned over Burma issue after new Thai gov
- Sanctions affecting Burmese gems trade
- China urges Burma to set date for Gambari
- China says no to pressure on Myanmar
- Can the U.N. change the mindset of the generals?
- Junta collects illegal taxes from locals
- Locals punished on false charges
ILO's intervention the only hope of release for detained labour activists
Mizzima News: Tue 22 Jan 2008
The intervention of the International Labour Organization (ILO) seems to be the only hope for the family members of six labour rights activists, who have been sentenced to long term imprisonment, by the authorities.
The family of the labour rights activists, who were arrested on May Day for organizing labour rights discussions at the American Centre in Rangoon, said they had appealed to the ILO to intervene in the case and secure their release.
One of the relatives of the detained activists said, "They [the ILO] have told us that they would try their best and would meet the detainees. Without help from the ILO, we have no hope because they [the junta] have sentenced the activists to lengthy prison terms," he added.
However, the ILO office in Rangoon declined to comment.
The Burmese authorities, meanwhile, sentenced four of the activists, Thu Rein Aung, Wai Lin, Myo Min and Kyaw Min to 28 years of prison term and Kyaw Kyaw and Nyi Nyi Zaw to 20 years.
The activists, who were sentenced in September without a defense counsel, continued to be detained at Burma's notorious Insein prison, relatives, who visit the detainees once a week, said.
Aung Thein, the defense counsel of those arrested said, the divisional Court has rejected their appeal to reconsider the sentences of the activists.
"We are now in the process of filing a petition to the High Court. We have submitted an application to allow a petition. This is our only hope to fight for the detainees," Aung Thein said.
Who's bombing Burma? Brian McCartan
Asia Sentinel: Tue 22 Jan 2008
The junta blames insurgents and shadowy foreigners for several blasts, but analysts suspect the military itself
A third explosion went off near the ticketing office at the Rangoon Railway Station
Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council has accused Karen ethnic minority insurgents and a "major group from abroad" for a series of bombings over the past 10 days, raising suspicions that the junta itself is behind the violence in an effort shore up unity in the armed forces or as an excuse for crackdowns against the pro-democracy movement and ethnic resistance groups.
The first of four explosions took place in a public toilet at the Naypyidaw-Pyinamana Railway Station on January 11, killing a 40-year old Karen woman. It was the first time that a bombing has taken place in the area of the new Burmese capital at Naypyidaw. Although security was tightened after the blast, authorities reportedly did not think it was sufficient cause to disrupt the train schedule.
On the evening of the same day, another explosion occurred at a travelling circus near the town of Pyu in Burma's central Pegu Division. According to the state-run mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar, the bomb exploded prematurely while it was being set by a member of the Karen National Union, an armed opposition group fighting the military regime. A Karen man was said to have been killed in the explosion and a revolver and 20 rounds of ammunition and another explosive device were found on the body, according to the New Light. Four civilians were injured in the blast, including a 4-year-old boy.
Two days later a third explosion went off near the ticketing office at the Rangoon Railway Station, injuring a woman. The bomb was reportedly in a drain near a toilet outside the building. The last explosion occurred on January 16 on a bus as it pulled into a rest stop 65 kilometers north of Rangoon. The driver was reportedly killed.
The junta, through The New Light of Myanmar, initially claimed on January 12 that it had a "tip-off" that "insurgents have sent terrorists and explosives to the country across the border to carry out sabotage." It is widely understood that the border is the one with Thailand.
The next day a longer article gave details of the second attack and blamed both on foreigners as well as insurgents. The victim of the bomb in Pyinmana was now said to be a bomber who was killed when her device exploded prematurely. According to The New Light of Myanmar, "a major group from abroad that is desirous of practicing hegemony over Myanmar provided terrorist insurgent saboteurs with cash and related equipment with the intent of harming the public, causing panic among the people and undermining peace and stability."
The "group from abroad" is often meant to refer to the United States or the Central Intelligence Agency, although other groups such as the US-based National Endowment for Democracy, the Open Society Institute of George Soros and Thailand-based exile organizations have been blamed for disturbances and plots in the past. The public was also called on to report sightings of possible terrorists.
No groups have claimed responsibility for the bombings and the Karen National Union has denied involvement. David Taw, the KNU's Foreign Minister, has denied that the organization has anything to do with the attacks and Padoh Mahn Sha, the KNU's General Secretary, has stated that it is the KNU's policy to avoid harming civilians. He went on to say that no orders were given for the attacks.
The junta's accusations do not ring true with many observers. Each year since 1996 several bombings have taken place in central Burmese cities and towns. Almost every time, with a few notable exceptions, the bombs were small, caused minimal damage and resulted in few casualties. Almost none of the targets had much military significance. Foreign organizations and individuals, political opposition groups and insurgents have always been blamed by the regime. Sometimes elaborate press conferences are called with organizational charts complete with photographs attached that set out the conspiracies against the junta. The charges have become a joke among Burmese exiles, and it has become something of a badge of pride to be named.
The junta, through its spokesman Major General Kyaw Hsan, seems quite aware of the power of the word "terrorist." By invoking it, the regime not only hopes to paint the opposition in a negative light domestically, but also to reduce support for them internationally. The term was used extensively to justify the 2006 offensive against the KNU in Pegu Division and Karen State.
Burma has not been the scene of a really large-scale terrorist act since the October 1983 bombing in Rangoon that resulted in the deaths of 17 South Korean diplomats and four Burmese. That attack was carried out by North Korean agents trying to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan.
The many ethnic insurgencies in Burma, most of them defeated or in retreat for years, have generally not used assassinations and terrorist bombings. The Karen themselves have suffered defeat after defeat and sources within the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU, which has been blamed for the recent bombings, say that it has been almost impossible for them to operate in central Burma since the late 1980s.
Burma watchers also suspect the regime for different reasons. On a few occasions bombings are believed to have been the result of intramural battles inside the junta. A December 1996 double bombing in Rangoon killed five people and wounded 17; an April 1997 parcel bomb killed the eldest daughter of Lt. General Tin Oo, a senior member of the junta at the time; a second bomb that month at the elite Defense Services Academy in Maymyo killed 15 and wounded 10 and on May 7 2005, simultaneous bombings of two supermarkets and a convention center in Rangoon left 19 people dead and 162 injured all were seen by analysts as the likely result of disputes within the military, which are often put down to infighting between factions loyal to SPDC Chairman Senior General Than Shwe and a faction loyal to Vice Senior General Maung Aye, SPDC Vice Chairman.
The junta has also been accused of setting off bombs to distract attention from dissent within the ranks of the military. There is some speculation that this may be the reason for the current series of bombs. The harsh crackdown against protesters in September, especially the shooting and beating of monks, was reportedly unpopular within the officer corps. With the Burmese military brass insisting it is the only institution that can maintain national unity, bombings are a good way to reinforce the idea and calm the soldiers.
From the 1950s through the 1980s the ethnic and communist insurgencies were strong enough to justify a large military and the army could point to the insurgencies as a reason for maintaining control, especially after seizing power in 1962. Since the ceasefires of the late 1980s and early 1990s and the demise of the Burmese Communist Party, there is a less obvious reason for the military to retain control.
The SPDC used a string of eight bombings in Pegu Division in 2006 to justify an offensive against the remnants of the KNU in eastern Pegu Division and northern Karen State. At a press conference in May 2006, several foreign diplomats and journalists were told that the offensive was necessary to stop the KNU from carrying out "atrocities and sabotage acts" and to "ensure the public safety." The SPDC has quietly begun another offensive in Karen State and the bombs may be used to justify its counterinsurgency campaign there.
The September protests highlighted dissatisfaction with military rule and the crackdown, which killed at least 31 persons, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma Sergio Pinheiro. Arrests are continuing and the bombings serve as a convenient justification for the regime to crack down further.
Accounts from Rangoon and Pegu Division indicate that security has been stepped up since the bombings around important buildings, shopping centers, railway stations and the Shwedagon Pagoda, a focal point for demonstrations. Troops from the 77th Light Infantry Division were reportedly patrolling the city amid rumors of possible renewed street protests. If nothing else the bombs give the regime a reason to step up security another way to make it very difficult for new demonstrations to be organized.
Activists concerned over Burma issue after new Thai gov - Nay Thwin
Mizzima News: Tue 22 Jan 2008
Chiang Mai Thailand-based Burmese activists are concerned over their campaign for Burma after the newly elected Thai government comes to power.
The military led caretaker government ended its rule after the general elections were held on December 23, 2006 . In the election, the People's Power Party (PPP) became the single largest party and formed a coalition government with five other smaller parties. Thai based Burmese activists are concerned over the future policy of the new Thai government on Burma.
"I think this winning Thai Rak Thai-turned-PPP party will pursue the policy of former PM Thaksin, who was from the Thai Rakt Thai," Dr. San Aung, Minister of the Burmese government in exile NCGUB in Bangkok said.
Dr. San Aung was of the opinion that this new government would pursue the policy of engagement and economic cooperation with Burma, which former Prime Minister Thaksin did. They will build friendly relations with the Burmese junta and are not be likely to talk about the restoration of democracy and human rights in Burma.
However, U Myint Thein, Joint Secretary of the National Council of the Union of Burma' (NCUB) said, "The political change in Thailand was done by democratic means so, I think they will follow and respect democratic values and practices. I also think the situation will not take a turn for the worse as we ourselves are striving for democracy."
Meanwhile, Thai based Burmese Opposition leaders have welcomed the new government, since they did not like the economy-oriented policy of Thaksin while dealing with Burma.
Moreover, they foresee that the new government will not focus on the Burma issue as they have other important domestic issues like long term consolidation of their coalition and preventing future military coups.
At the same time, they would like to urge the new Thai government to tackle the ongoing regional issue of influx of migrant workers into Thailand, and the refugee and drug issue in cooperation with UN and the international community.
The ruling PPP and its five party coalition won 315 seats out of total 480 seats in the Thailand legislature. Mr. Samak Sundaravej (72) will become the 25th PM of Thailand at the swearing in ceremony to be held on Friday.
Since the ruling PPP party has many top leaders of the former Thai Rat Thai party and also its top leader will-be the PM Mr. Samak Sundaravej. He has close ties with former PM Mr. Thaksin and many speculate that the former PM could pull strings of the new government from behind the scenes.
Sanctions affecting Burmese gems trade Shah Paung
Irrawaddy: Tue 22 Jan 2008
The gems trade in Burma has slumped dramatically due to the sanctions imposed by the United States in December, according to gems and jade traders inside Burma and along the border areas.
A gems trader in the Thai-Burma border town of Mae Sot told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the gems market in Mae Sot has been very quiet since for about three months ago and since the New Year buyers have all but disappeared.
The gems and jade market in Mae Sot it still open for business, but vendors just spend all day sitting around waiting for buyers, he said, adding that only small-scale purchases are been made. "Before the sanctions, there were many buyers, including foreigners," the trader said. "But now, if you want to see foreigners, you'll have to go and watch a movie."
He added that gems and jades traders in Bangkok told him recently that the market is also down considerably in the Thai capital. He added that vendors at the Mae Sot gems market rely heavily on sales to Bangkok gem traders.
"I don't know what to do now," the Mae Sot trader said. "I think I'll have to change jobs; if business goes on like this, I'll have to quit."
Meanwhile, residents in Mogok in central Burmaa center for rubiesalso confirmed that their businesses were currently in a "wait and see" situation, relying heavily on cross-border trade.
According to sources, the downturn in the gems trade has also led to miners being laid off.
A gems trader at the China-Burma border, who mostly deals in private gems sales, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the gems market at the Chinese border was also quiet. He said that before, even on a slow day, the market was milling with buyers and that gemstones valued at only 1,000 Chinese yuan (US $138) would trade hands on a daily basis.
"But now only up large salesbetween 10,000 yuan ($1,380) and 50,000 yuan ($6,900)are taking place, and those are increasingly rare," he said.
Traders in Rangoon said that they have not been able to sell many stones at the recent gems shows organized by the Burmese authorities.
According to the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar on Sunday, during the 24th Gems and Jade Sale in Rangoon from January 15 to 18, 2008, 357 lots of jade were sold and the event was attended by 737 local and 281 international gems and jade traders.
But the state media did not report, either in print or on television, the profits from the gems fair.
"Usually, they [the state media] would announce the amount of sales made and the income generated from the gems fair," the trader in Mae Sot said. "But this time they didn't. It's obvious they didn't sell much."
In December, the US House of Representatives imposed sanctions against Burma's multi-million dollar gemstone exports and the natural gas industry, as well as freezing the assets of certain military leaders, their families and business associates. Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers in the US House of Representatives hailed the sanctions legislation, called the "Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act."
The act was aimed at preventing the Burmese military regime from "laundering" gemstones through third countries to avoid US sanctions and ended the tax write-offs enjoyed by US energy giant Chevron on revenues earned from its natural gas project in Burma.
In November, the European Union also threatened to prohibit the import of Burmese gemstones.
The Human Rights Watch group last week also called for a boycott of the latest Burmese gem shows.
The Burmese military government received about $300 million from the sale of gems during the fiscal year 2006-07, according to the Myanmar Gems Enterprise. The sale of Burmese jade is one of the country's major sources of foreign exchange.
China urges Burma to set date for Gambari Lindsay Beck and Aung Hla Tun
Reuters: Tue 22 Jan 2008
China, one of the Burma's few friends, urged the ruling generals on Tuesday to allow UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari back soon to promote a genuine dialogue between the junta and opposition.
Gambari said last week the regime was trying to delay his third visit since a September crackdown on protests, which he hoped would be this month, until April.
"We support UN Special Envoy Gambari and his efforts," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference.
"We hope Mr Gambari and Myanmar [Burma] can, through communications, set a timetable for Mr Gambari's visit to Myanmar."
The comments followed talks on Monday in Beijing between Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan and Burma Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint, who was sent as a special envoy of Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein.
The 15-member UN Security Council, including China, criticized Burma last week for dragging its feet on the release of political prisoners and substantive talks with the opposition.
But China, which has interests in the former Burma's natural gas and timber, repeated its position on Tuesday that it would not back sanctions as a means to force the generals into reform.
"The international community should give an objective view of the efforts made by the Myanmar government and give constructive help to Myanmar," Jiang said.
"I don't think sanctions and applying pressure are helpful to the resolution of the issues."
Gambari, who has said he wants to see concrete action from countries which have economic clout with Burma, is set to visit China and India this month.
Jiang also defended China's trade ties with Burma, whose leadership cracked down last September on pro-democracy protests that were spearheaded by Buddhist monks.
"Our cooperation is on the basis of equality and mutual benefit and is not related with the interests of any third party," she said.
Burma's official media have said nothing about Maung Myint's trip, but diplomats said they did not expect a great deal from it.
"You can't expect any country, including China, to play that big a role in this country," a Southeast Asian diplomat said. "Chinese influence on the regime is limited. All they can do is make suggestions and offer some help".
Burma's military rulers ignored an overwhelming election win by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize winner has spent most of her time in detention since then.
China says no to pressure on Myanmar - Christopher Bodeen
Associated Press: Tue 22 Jan 2008
China on Tuesday rejected U.S. demands for stepped-up pressure on Myanmar, whose governing junta has been accused of spurning real dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China wanted to see stability, democracy and development in the country also known as Burma.
However, Jiang urged the international community to be "objective when viewing the Myanmar situation and provide constructive assistance."
China objects to Western criticisms of the military regime, claiming that conditions in Myanmar have improved dramatically since a violent crackdown on peaceful protests in September.
"I don't think sanctions are helpful," Jiang told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference.
Myanmar's military rulers say 10 people were killed when civilians and Buddhist monks were beaten and arrested after pro-democracy demonstrations following a sharp fuel price hike. Diplomats and dissidents put the toll much higher.
Jiang's comments come a day after a senior U.S. official urged the international community to put more pressure on the junta, and said Washington had asked China to help arrange for a new visit to Myanmar by U.N. Security Council envoy Ibrahim Gambari to help push for national reconciliation.
They also follow a meeting in Beijing between senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Tang Jiaxuan and Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Maung Myint.
China's official Xinhua News Agency said U Maung Myint told Tang that Myanmar was "making efforts to realize national reconciliation and accelerate democratic progress."
Jiang said China supported Gambari's work and wanted a timetable set for his next visit to Myanmar. Gambari had wanted to visit later this month, but received a letter from Myanmar's government requesting that he come in April.
China is one of Myanmar's biggest trading partners and closest diplomatic allies. Other nations have repeatedly expressed hopes Beijing would leverage those ties to press the junta to open a dialogue with the opposition.
Beijing has shown little willingness to do so, although in October, China joined other Security Council members in calling on the regime to release political prisoners and improve human rights.
Washington has placed economic sanctions on Myanmar that include a complete ban on the import of the country's products and the freezing of some junta officials' financial assets in U.S. territories.
China, however, has moved to step up economic links, including development of natural gas deposits in the Bay of Bengal.
Last month, China National Petroleum Corp., the country's biggest oil and gas producer, took a further step toward building a pipeline to transport oil from Myanmar's western port of Sittwe to the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.
Can the U.N. change the mindset of the generals? - Dr. Sein Myint
Mizzima News: Tue 22 Jan 2008
When asked why he does not protest more strongly against his father's role in the killing of civilians, Omar bin Laden said that it is up to religious clerics close to his father, Osama bin Laden, to tell him to change his tactics in the name of Islam. However, Omar added that even if that unlikely scenario were to occur, al-Qaeda still would not cease in operating as it does.
A similar question may be asked of the U.N.'s role in Burma. Can simply recommending to the generals that they alter their ways lead to any fundamental changes in how they govern Burma?
The Burmese junta thrives on fear tactics and intimidation directed against the Burmese people while rewarding civilian collaborators and cohorts with money and status for their thuggish work at local levels. At the national level, SPDC members, army commanders and cabinet ministers revel in a luxurious lifestyle made possible from wealth accumulated through the plunder of the national economy.
In a recent interview with Newsweek, U.N. Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari stressed that his job is not to change the regime but rather to change the behavior of the ruling generals and assist the country in achieving genuine national reconciliation, inclusive of all political stakeholders in Burma.
Do Mr. Gambari and the U.N. sincerely believe that these Generals will give up the golden opportunities they are enjoying now and share power with the democratic opposition which they detest so much? Do he and the U.N. truly believe that they can help change the rogue behavior and mindset of the hardline generals in Burma through mere suggestions?
The generals will, presumably, give up power in only two scenarios: either because they are forced to do so, or, if they are bought off with enough incentives. But Mr. Gambari and the U.N. have no power or leverage to present these options to the generals. Maybe, in order to accomplish the mission, it is time for Mr. Gambari and the U.N. to change tactics or replace their current Burmese advisors and experts.
Junta collects illegal taxes from locals
S.H.A.N. : 22 January 2008
Written by Hseng Khio Fah and Lieng Lern
One of the Burmese military junta's public relation stunts has to do with eradication of drugs from the country. But a reliable source from inside Burma said that junta officials are hardly doing their job and collecting opium and other taxes from local people in some parts of Southern Shan State.
On January 7, Major Kyaw Thura Myo from the Burma Army Infantry Battalion (IB) 12, taxed villagers for growing poppies and collected millions of Kyat from them. The villages taxed were:
Kung-hsa village from Wan Khem village tract in Kehsi township and the taxa amount was K 100,000 ( US $ 83 )
Wan Kieng village, from Mong Khun village tract in Mong Keung township and the amount was K 200,000 ( US $ 166 ) and
Wan Natoom and Kungpek villages, Nawng-hsawm village tract in Kehsi township and the amount taxed was K 300,000 (US $ 250) each.
On the same day, an official from the Burma Army Infantry Battalion( IB) 12 and 52, Major Nyan Aung Win led his troops to Mong Yai village tract in Kehsi township and taxed rice mills (K 55,000 (US $ 46 ) each and Tolagis (mini tractors), said a villager from that area.
Again, on January 8, Major Nyunt Win from Burma Army Infantry Battalion (IB) 131, who set up a camp at Pang Kart village, Wan Khem village tract in Kehsi Township, ordered people to buy a motorcycle for his use. A villager who wished to remain anonymous said, "He asked us to buy a motorbike for him and said it was as a tax on opium fields".
Collecting illegal taxes and ignoring official orders are common practices by officials of different ranks in Burma. A statement issued by Mongyai Township's Health Management in Mongyai Township on January 16 2008, said it was going to collect money from the residents for pest and bacteria control in the region. At the bottom of the statement it stated, "For those who cannot afford to pay, the committee will provide free service".
However, a reliable source said, "It is only written in the paper. The municipality and the fire brigade of Mongyai Township (90 km Southeast of Lashio, the capital of Northern Shan State) did not follow the instruction. They even asked an old paralyzed lady from Wanlong whose name is Nai Nung to pay Kyat 2,000 (US $ 1.6)' he said "The lady is alone and has no money and is being taken care by her sister, Nang Hkek".
Locals punished on false charges
S.H.A.N. : 22 January 2008
Written by Kwarn Lake
Burma Army soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 286 based in Mong Nawng, Southern Shan State accused villagers of having contacts with rebel groups and forced them into portering for them, according to a reliable source from the border.
On January 14 2008, more than 50 soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 286, based at Mong Nawng, 133 miles north of the state capital Taunggyi, patrolled to the south of Wan Lao village in Kun Hing Township and around 5 pm they reached Na Mon village. They then demanded rice and chickens from the villagers, said a resident who arrived on the border.
The soldiers also ordered the village headman to find one pistol and a pair of walkie-talkie for them. "They accused him and said, ' You always have connection with the rebels and we heard that every village has at least one pistol and walkie-talkies, so you must find and give them to us," said the villager.
The headman however was unable to comply with the order, and the next morning at 8 am they took two villagers, Kaw Ling and Kumara as porters and left for a neighbouring Hsai Khao village.
In Hsai Khao, the two villagers from Na Mon were released after the Hsai Khao's village headman apologized to the soldiers for them. The troops then continued to sleep in the village and stole villagers' chickens. The chicken owners knew of it but they did not dare say anything, added the villager.
Next morning, the troops went to the east of the village and arrested four men who were working in their farms: Sai Zam, Ingta, Zingta and Sai Lu (a mute) for portering and continued to Piang Kharn village. On the way, three of the porters escaped except the mute person.
The troop settled down in that village and on January 17 they called the village headman and demanded a gun and a pair of walkie-talkie then charged him with having connections with rebel groups. They hit the headman and he was unconscious for about 20 minutes, he said.
Before they came back to Wan Lao village they ordered Piang Kharn villagers to bring 15 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kilo) of pork and three baskets of chickens (about 60 chickens) and ordered them to take it to Wan Lao village, said the source.
"After that they ordered four villagers to carry their stuff on to six mini tractors to take back to Kun Hing, their base. Two tractors from Na Mon, one from Hsai Khao, 2 from Wan Lao and another from Piang Kharn villages were taken to carry the soldiers and their stuff", added the source.