[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 25/1/08
- Myanmar poet arrested for critical poem
- Four children sold to army recruiter
- Locals forced to donate
- Burma has second highest child mortality rate in Asia
- Suu Kyi wins another Award
- Joint statement on Burma by the UK, US and French foreign ministers
- Military road construction destroys farmlands
- 400 children a day' die in Burma
Myanmar poet arrested for critical poem
Associated Press: Thu 24 Jan 2008
A Myanmar poet known for his odes to love was arrested after penning a Valentine's Day poem that carried a hidden message criticizing the leader of the country's military junta, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, colleagues said Thursday.
The poet, Saw Wai, was arrested Tuesday, a day after his poem "February 14" was published in the popular weekly entertainment magazine "A Chit," or "Love," according to friends and colleagues who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals.
The eight-line poem in Burmese is about a man broken hearted after falling for a fashion model, whom he thanks for having taught him the meaning of love.
But if read vertically, the first word of each line forms the phrase: "Power crazy Senior General Than Shwe."
Than Shwe, 74, who has headed the junta since 1992, has little tolerance for criticism. He keeps himself sequestered in his remote, newly built capital, Naypyitaw, deep in the countryside.
The junta regularly arrests dissidents and critics, and drew the world's condemnation after turning its troops on peaceful anti-government protesters last September. More than 30 people, including Buddhist monks who led the protests, were killed in the crackdown.
Saw Wai regularly writes innocuous love poems for Burmese-language magazines and journals. He is also a member of an organization of local artists and actors called White Rainbow which helps HIV-infected orphans.
"You have to be in love truly, madly, deeply and then you can call it real love," reads the poem for which he was arrested.
The verse ends with a call for unity in the name of love: "Millions of people who know how to love please clap your hands of gilded gold and laugh out loud."
The Burmese word for million is "Than" and the word for gold is "Shwe."
News vendors in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, also called Burma, said authorities had removed the magazine from their newsstands.
Saw Wai's poem is the latest attempt by artists and others to circumvent the junta's muzzle on expression.
A comedy troupe known as "The Four Fruits" has recently become popular for satirical jokes about the September crackdown.
A well-known comedian who uses the stage name Zarganar was arrested during the crackdown and held for three weeks for providing food and other necessities to the monks who spearheaded the protests. He had earlier been imprisoned twice and his comedy routines were banned for their jokes about the regime.
Several monks have gained strong followings for delivering sermons with anti-government messages thinly cloaked in religious language, such as one stating that, "Those who kill monks will go to hell." There is high demand for CDs of the sermons, which are circulated among friends and families.
The junta took power in 1988 after crushing a democracy movement led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. In 1990, it refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi's party won a landslide election victory. Suu Kyi has been in detention for 12 of the last 18 years.
Four children sold to army recruiter
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 24 Jan 2008
Four children who were detained by market security guards in Kyi Myint Taing were reportedly sold to an army recruiter yesterday morning, according to an eyewitness.
The four children, aged between 12 and 15, had been working during the night collecting pieces of ice when they were arrested by security guards at the Central Model Fish Market in Kyi Myint Taing township, Rangoon division, just after midnight.
The children live in a municipal compound in Kamaryut and were hoping to sell the ice they collected from the fish market to help support their families.
Market security officials told the children's parents they would have to pay a fine of between 20,000 and 30,000 kyat for each child before they would be released, but the parents could not afford to pay immediately.
At around 4.30am, sergeant Soe Myint from the military recruitment centre in Danyin Gone, Rangoon, came to the market and paid 15,000 kyat for each child and took them to the recruitment centre.
When the parents asked the security guards if they had an arrest warrant, they said they were acting on the orders of officials from Kyi Myint Taing Peace and Development Council.
Neighbours explained to the children's parents that they could report the incident to international organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, but the parents were afraid that they would lose their living accommodation if they took any action.
The father of one of the children is on the municipal staff, and the family lives on the municipal compound in Simmlight, Kamaryut.
Sergeant Soe Myint has reportedly bought other children from poor families in the same way and taken them to the recruitment centre.
When parents have tried to report the forced recruitment, they have been threatened with losing their homes.
Sources close to the families of municipal staff have said an estimated 20 children have been taken from this compound alone.
Locals forced to donate - Lieng Lern
Shan Herald Agency for News: Thu 24 Jan 2008
The Tachilek Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) is forcing people to donate money to the city's Shwedagon pagoda replica on the Thai-Burma border, said a local source.
On January 20, 2008, the Venerable Hseng La, the abbot who resides in Hsanhsai Leu monastery, made a request to TPDC official U Min Thein, to collect donations to buy gold leaves to gild the Shwedagon pagoda. U Min Thein then ordered village heads to collect Baht 45,000 (US $ 1,363) per village.
People were encouraged to donate large sums of money. "Because if we donate less than Baht 150 ($4) the authorities would not issue certificates for us", a villager said.
The TPDC official U Min Thein had ordered that the donation quota be filled within three months, the source said.
The authorities are collecting donations from surrounding markets, clothes shops, restaurants, tea shops and mini-marts. Also, four to five officials per day take turns to wait at the Shwedagon pagoda for donations from tourists.
"They initially promised to cover the pagoda with gold leaves but there are rumors they will actually cover it with copper leaves instead," the source added.
Burma has second highest child mortality rate in Asia - Min Lwin
Associated Press and Irrawaddy: Thu 24 Jan 2008
San San Aye, a farmer living some three miles from town, had no idea why her two-year-old son was suffering from chronic diarrhea. She took her child by foot to see the doctor at the government hospital nearest her town, Pale, in Sagaing Division of upper Burma. However, her baby died on the way.
This disturbing story is just one of hundreds of tragedies that happen in Burma every day.
Dr Osamu Kunii, a nutrition expert in Burma with the United Nations Children's Fund, said that between 100,000 to 150,000 children under five years of age die every year in Burma. That's between 270 and 400 dailyand many are dying from preventable diseases.
Kunii was speaking Wednesday at the launch by UNICEF of its annual report, "The State of the World's Children." The report rated Burma as having the 4th highest child mortality rate in the world, surpassed in Asia only by Afghanistan, which has the third-worst record after Sierra Leone and Angola.
Burma's unenviable position comes despite the fact that the death rate for young children in Burma had been reduced by 1.6 percent between 1990 and 2006. The under-5 mortality rate is considered a critical indicator for the well-being of children.
According to a child specialist in Monywa Township in Sagaing Division, most infants die from septicemia, diarrhea and tuberculosis. The lack of basic medical supplies and equipment is also a contributing factor for the high death rate, she said.
In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked Burma's overall health care system as the world's second worst after war-ravaged Sierra Leone. Tens of thousands of people in Burma die each year from malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, dysentery, diarrhea and other illnesses.
The most vulnerable areas are, of course, in the rural and remote parts of Burma.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Dr Thiha Maung from Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand, said: "Some of these diseases are preventable, but the public health system does not reach [rural areas in Burma]."
Poor incomes, malnutrition and a shortage of clean drinking water also affect child mortality rates among the rural poor, added the doctor.
Eighty percent of Burmese people live in rural areas and continue to live in poverty, even lacking proper water supplies. Early rains and flooding increase the risk of malaria and dengue fever in rural areas, including Burma's borders.
Most of Burma's health care is funded by international sources, with the government spending only about 3 percent on health annually, compared with 40 percent on the military, according to a report published this year by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University.
Suu Kyi wins another Award
Irrawaddy: Thu 24 Jan 2008
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been awarded a Spanish honor for her work for political reconciliation. The award, "Abogados de Atocha," named for two victims of right-wing Spanish terrorism, was to be presented on Thursday evening in Toledo to a representative of Suu Kyi. The Castilla-La Mancha regional selection committee said it wanted to show that the Spanish people had not forgotten the plight of the Burmese population and wanted to show solidarity with them. Bo Hla Tint, a member of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, a Burmese government in exile, was to accept the award on behalf of Suu Kyi.
Joint statement on Burma by the UK, US and French foreign ministers at the World Economic Forum in Davos
Thu 24 Jan 2008
The Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos is a unique event. No other occasion brings together so many of the world's leaders from all fields. For over three decades now, these meetings have provided a global platform for collaboration and action to address international priorities of concern to us all.
One such priority is the urgent need for progress towards a transition to democracy and improved human rights in Burma. The fact that we have chosen to write about this issue, with so many competing priorities, should underline the strength of our governments' determination to support the people of Burma in their pursuit of a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future. We have repeatedly made clear that the situation in Burma cannot continue, and that we remain committed to helping the people of Burma.
It is now more than four months since the world was horrified by the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Burma. The dramatic pictures seen around the world of the brutality directed against peaceful protestors, including monks and nuns, were truly shocking. We cannot afford to forget. We must convince the Burmese regime to meet the demands of the international community and respect the basic rights of Burma's people.
The UN Security Council in October spelled out its expectations and reiterated those expectations on January 17. First, the early release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the creation of conditions for a genuine dialogue between the Government and the opposition. Second, full co-operation and constructive engagement with the UN. Third, the need for the regime to address the economic, humanitarian and human rights concerns of the Burmese people. Several months on, however, we find the regime has met none of these demands.
The regime claims to be moving ahead with its roadmap to civilian rule. However the process, already 14 years old, is open-ended, and many key political actors, not least Aung San Suu Kyi, are excluded. There can be little doubt that only genuine and inclusive dialogue can deliver national reconciliation and stability for Burma and its neighbours.
We call on all those attending the World Economic Forum to demonstrate that, while the regime may be indifferent to the suffering of the Burmese people, the world is not.
We ask you to support the return to Burma by UN Special Adviser Gambari as soon as possible, and to urge the regime to cooperate fully with him and the UN. We call on the regime to act on the recommendations of UN Human Rights Envoy Pinheiro; to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi; and to launch a substantive, time-bound dialogue with democratic leaders and ethnic minority representatives, as called for in Aung San Suu Kyi's statement of November 8.
A unified call for genuine and peaceful political reconciliation and reform will be heard in Burma. We would not live up to our values if we ignored Burma's plight.
Military road construction destroys farmlands Saw Kanyaw
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 23 Jan 2008
Farmlands in Taung-ngu and Pha-pon disctricts in Karen state have been destroyed by government troops as road construction and army camp expansion work begins in the area, locals said.
A local villager in Taung-ngu said that privately-owned plantations and farmlands alongside the Kyauk Kyi road connecting Htantabin town and Shan Lal Pyin village were razed by the government's Military Operations Command 21 and 9, who are responsible for extending the route.
"They came and set up their military camps, and then started on their new road plans. Several farmlands in the area, owned by local villagers, were demolished with bulldozers," the villager said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"A lot of durian, betel nut and other kinds of plantations from Shan Lal Pyin village were destroyed too."
The villager said that the locals were furious with the military but could do nothing as they had no legal assistance or knowledge about the correct procedures.
"We don't know where to file our complaint and we don't dare to do it. Also, we have to worry about our daily food first of all before we can start dealing with this."
In Pha-pon district, road building by government troops has made villagers relocate deeper into the jungle for fear of a possible new offensive.
Locals said the aim of the new road projects could be to aid mobilisation and provide supply routes for government troops so that they can carry out more offensives against KNU-controlled areas.
'400 children a day' die in Burma
The Press Association: Wed 23 Jan 2008
Hundreds of children aged under five die from preventable diseases each day in military-ruled Burma, UN officials said.
The figures are the second-worst mortality rate for children in Asia except for Afghanistan.
Dr Osamu Kunii, a nutrition expert in Burma for the UN, said there were between 100,000 to 150,000 child deaths per year in the country - or between 270 and 400 daily.
He was speaking at a briefing by Unicef of its annual report - The State of the World's Children.
The mortality rate is a critical indicator of the well-being of children.
About 21% of child deaths in Burma are caused by acute respiratory infection, followed by pneumonia, diarrhoea and septicaemia.
The report rated the country as having the 40th highest child mortality rate in the world.
However, it said the death rate for young children in Burma had been reduced by 1.6% between 1990 and 2006.
In 2000, the World Health Organisation ranked Burma's overall health care system as the world's second worst after war-ravaged Sierra Leone.
Tens of thousands of people die each year from malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, dysentery, diarrhoea and other illnesses.