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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 1/2/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Junta has no plans for political change - Suu Kyi 2.. Unimportant topics take up all the time, Says Suu Kyi 3.. Myanmar junta steps up policing of
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2008
      1. Junta has no plans for political change - Suu Kyi
      2. Unimportant topics take up all the time, Says Suu Kyi
      3. Myanmar junta steps up policing of Internet, arrests blogger
      4. From Burma, harsh criticism of the EU policy on Myanmar
      5. Myanmar's crackdown deadlier than junta admits
      6. Number of political prisoners increases in 2007
      7. After the crackdown

      Junta has no plans for political change - Suu Kyi - Marwaan Macan-Markar
      Inter Press Service: Thu 31 Jan 2008

      Burma's pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, turned a rare moment of freedom in the military-ruled country, this week, to urge Asian governments not to be lulled into believing the junta's promises of political change.

      Aung San Suu Kyi is "not satisfied" with the meetings she has had with the junta's liaison officer, labour minister Aung Kyi, to resolve the country's current political crisis, the spokesman of her political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was quoted as having told reporters in Rangoon on Wednesday.

      Most worrying to Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi is "the lack of any time frame" in the mediation talks, said Nyan Win, the NLD's spokesman. "We should hope for the best and prepare for the worst," he quoted her as having said when Suu Kyi met leaders of the NLD at a military guest house in the country's former capital.

      Suu Kyi's meeting with her party's executives was a rare moment of freedom afforded to her by the junta, which has kept her under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years. This meeting followed the one she had with NLD leaders last November, which was the first encounter she had had with them in over three years.

      Suu Kyi's meetings with Aung Kyi was the result of international pressure on the junta following its brutal crackdown of peaceful demonstrations last September in the country where, according to the United Nations, at least 31 people were killed. The two have met on five occasions, the last of which was this month.

      This week's tone of the pro-democracy leader, whose party triumphed at a 1990 general elections that the junta has refused to recognise, was a departure from the message she had conveyed to the public about her encounters with the military regime's minister in November. Then she had welcomed the talks as a constructive development.

      "No one can misinterpret what she has said, least of all countries like China, India, Japan and Burma's neighbours in South-east Asia," says Debbie Stothard of ALTSEAN, a regional human rights lobby campaigning for change in Burma. "These Asian countries were prepared to give the junta a chance for change after the crackdown and were willing to be more conciliatory than Western governments."

      But now, Suu Kyi has exposed the game the junta is trying to play by "offering very little substance in the talks, yet trying to drag it on to give the appearance that they are serious about the negotiations," she explained in an interview. "It is a very courageous move by Aung San Suu Kyi to speak her mind this week, for she risks more years of solitary confinement and being cut off from meetings with her party."

      "If the military is serious about having meaningful talks, it could have started it in November. It is up to the junta to initiate the negotiations with a timeline in mind," Zin Linn, a spokesman for the National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the Burmese government in exile, told IPS. "Aung San Suu Kyi knows that the people are suffering and she did not want to give false hopes that the talks with the junta were going well."

      China, India and Burma's neighbours in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member regional bloc, were more restrained in cracking the whip at the junta unlike the governments in Europe, the United States and Britain. The latter introduced harsher sanctions on the junta, in addition to tough rhetoric calling for change, after the suppression of last September's pro-democracy protests, led by Buddhist monks.

      Where all countries reached common ground, however, was to pressure the junta to permit U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to visit the country to meet Suu Kyi and Burma's strongman, Senior Gen. Than Shwe. Gambari has visited the South-east Asian nation twice since the crackdown, but he has been denied an entry visa for a third visit.

      The junta's commitment to engage with the United Nations has been undermined on another front, too. The military leaders have gone against their word made last year to stop arresting political activists in the country for their roles — however minor — in the September protests. The global rights lobby Amnesty International revealed this month that the Burmese government has arrested 96 political activists since the beginning of November 2007.

      "U.N. Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari was told in early November by (Burmese) Prime Minister Thein Sein that arrests had stopped and that no more would take place," said Amnesty. "The new arrests in December and January target people who have attempted to send evidence of the crackdown to the international community, clearly showing that the government's chief priority is to silence its citizens."

      Last September's protests arose after the junta, notorious for its suppression, raised the price of oil by 500 percent overnight in mid-August. The demonstrations on the streets of Rangoon and elsewhere were the largest against the junta in nearly two decades. Such outpouring of rage occurred just as the military was trying to win international support over its commitment towards political reform by advancing a seven-step "roadmap to democracy".

      This blueprint for political change — including free elections — has not spelled out a time-frame, leading analysts to say that it is another attempt by the junta to lull the international community in believing that it is for reform when, in reality, the reverse is true. It is a view fuelled by the military hardliners who have had a grip on power since 1962, when the army grabbed power in a coup.

      "As long as Than Shwe is in charge, I cannot see any reconciliation between the military and Aung San Suu Kyi," says Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst, living in exile in Thailand. "He has been trying to sideline her, and the latest strategy is to use the roadmap to democracy and the new constitution to achieve that objective."

      It is a move, however, that has backfired, as have the talks the junta agreed to hold with Suu Kyi, he added in an interview. "Than Shwe now has very little options to manouvre, since he doesn't want to give up power and he has no interest in talking to Aung San Suu Kyi."

      Unimportant topics take up all the time, Says Suu Kyi - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 31 Jan 2008

      In the reconciliation talks between Burma's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta's liaison officer, Aung Kyi, most of the time is taken up on trivial subjects, according to sources in the National League of Democracy.

      Senior members of the NLD who asked for anonymity told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that sometimes an hour- long meeting is filled up with explanations and questions, such as "What is cooperation?" and "What is collaboration?" by the junta liaison officer, Suu Kyi told a group of NLD members whom she met with on Wednesday just prior to her fifth meeting with Aung Kyi.

      Suu Kyi said she has spoken to Aung Kyi about important issues, and he replies that he will report her remarks to top officials and then a month goes by with no discussions, NLD sources said.

      Suu Kyi told her colleagues that Aung Kyi told her to endorse the regime's "seven-step road map" to democracy because it's the foundation of the junta's plan for the country.

      Instead, Suu Kyi suggested an inclusive reconciliation process that includes participation by ethnic group leaders in any talks about the country's future.

      "She [Suu Kyi] is not pleased with the talks," said an NLD member. "She does not mean the process is hopeless, but it is being drawn out and prolonged."

      Suu Kyi's request to meet with the head of the military junta, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, has received no response from the junta, and the talks are proceeding without a time frame.

      Suu Kyi said she does not want to give false hope to the people of Burma, but in such conditions something positive could happen.

      On Wednesday, she said she recalled her father Aung San's famous remark before he held talks with the British government in London during the pre-independence period, "Let's hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."

      A veteran journalist in Rangoon, Sein Hla Oo, commenting on the talks, said, "She [Suu Kyi] is not satisfied with the process. She thinks meaningful dialogue is very important for the country, but others think it is not important."

      Suu Kyi reportedly told her NLD colleagues to move forward without her, said the source. Sometimes she can lead the party; sometimes she will follow others' leadership within the party, he said.

      She suggested that sometimes the party needs to push and sometime it needs to pull, and if it is necessary, everyone needs to give up everything, he said.

      He said she asked authorities to allow NLD deputy leader Tin Oo to participate in the meeting on Wednesday, but the authorities rejected the proposal.

      Media group: Myanmar junta steps up policing of Internet, arrests blogger
      Associated Press: Thu 31 Jan 2008

      Myanmar's junta has stepped up surveillance of the Internet, arresting one blogger who wrote about the stifling of free expression in the military-ruled nation, a media advocacy group said.

      The blogger, Nay Myo Latt, was taken into custody in Yangon on Wednesday after writing about the suppression of freedoms following last fall's crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations, Reporters Without Borders said.

      Despite international condemnation and pressure following the demonstrations, there is little evidence that the junta is easing its repressive rule or moving closer to reconciliation with pro-democracy forces led by Suu Kyi.

      The arrested blogger, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, owns three Internet cafes, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a release seen Thursday.

      Myanmar authorities have stepped up their surveillance of the Internet since the beginning of the month, pressuring Internet cafe owners to register personal details of all users and to program screen captures every five minutes on each computer, the release said.

      This data apparently is sent to the Ministry of Communications, it said.

      The only blog platform that had been accessible within Myanmar, the Google-owned Blogger, has been blocked by the regime since Jan. 23, preventing bloggers from posting entries unless they use proxies or other ways to get around censorship, the group said.

      "This blockage is one of the ways used by the government to reduce Burmese citizens to silence. Burma is in danger of being cut off from the rest of the world again," the statement said.

      Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, Wednesday warned the public to "hope for the best and prepare for the worst" in her country.

      The democracy icon was allowed to meet with executives of her National League for Democracy party, who afterward voiced her unhappiness that there is no deadline for talks to bring about democratic reform.

      From Burma, harsh criticism of the EU policy on Myanmar
      AsiaNews: Thu 31 Jan 2008

      A long editorial from the news agency Mizzima accuses the official Fassino of carrying out a "megaphone diplomacy" composed of nothing but press conferences and rhetoric, and says the only result has been to make the junta more unyielding. The EU and the UN are now the only organisations that still believe they can have success with the generals. Aung San Suu Kyi warns: talks with the junta can lead only to false hope.

      The "megaphone diplomacy" conducted by the EU official for Myanmar, Piero Fassino, conceals only "his need to create an image of genuine engagement", aimed at "justifying his role as the EU representative". This is the harsh criticism contained in the long editorial published yesterday by Mizzima News, an agency with ties to the Burmese opposition. The article expresses the frustration of the population and of local experts, who are tired of hearing nothing but words and seeing nothing but press conferences voicing good intentions at the end of the various missions of the UN and the EU in the area. Both of these international organisms have always viewed as a somewhat positive development the junta's cooperation in opening talks following the repression of the demonstrations by Buddhist monks last year. But all of the initiatives promised by the generals have been nothing but a facade, nothing but window dressing.

      Aung San Suu Kyi herself, the leader of the democratic opposition, has expressed her distrust in this regard, and has urged people to "hope for the best and prepare for the worst". This was related by her fellow party members, the National League for Democracy (NLD), after the generals yesterday permitted her to speak with them. The spokesman of the NLD, Nyan Win, said that Suu Kyi is concerned that the 90 minutes of talks conducted yesterday will give rise only to "false hope". Aung Kyi, the labour minister and the junta's official for relations with the democratic representatives, has met with Suu Kyi four times since last September. Suu Kyi has highlighted the necessity of including in the talks the representatives of the various ethnic groups that have been fighting for autonomy for decades. But she has said she has been frustrated by the lack of discussion with the junta on the crucial question of political reforms.

      In recent days, Fassino has gone on a new Asian tour to obtain the collaboration of the regional governments for a solution of the Burmese crisis. Last January 29, he met with the outgoing Thai foreign minister, Nitya Pibulsonggram. And in the press conference following this, he repeated that if the junta does not cooperate, the European Union will consider heavier sanctions. It therefore seems that the European Union is the only one still hoping that the policy of "carrots and sticks" (sanctions and humanitarian aid) will work with the generals, Mizzima News comments. The agency charges that the EU "lacks a coherent strategy, and the awareness that over the past 20 years all of the international attempts to bring changes to Myanmar have failed". The editorialist, Larry Jagan, cites a former high official of the Burmese intelligence service, major general Kyaw Win, who used to say, "The international community must understand that we hate megaphone diplomacy, and that this will not persuade us to do anything".


      Myanmar's crackdown deadlier than junta admits: HRW
      Agence France Presse: Thu 31 Jan 2008

      About 100 people were killed when Myanmar's military government quashed anti-government protests in September, far higher than the 15 dead reported by the junta, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

      Several hundred people are still believed to be jailed over the protests, in addition to the 1,100 political prisoners already locked away in Myanmar, the New York-based group said in its annual report.

      The protests led by Buddhist monks were the biggest challenge to military rule in nearly two decades.

      Outrage over the crackdown prompted Myanmar to allow UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to make two visits to the country, where he was allowed to meet with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and senior military leaders.

      But the report said the junta "made no concessions to international condemnation… condemning foreign interference in Burma, and blaming unrest on foreign media reports and exile radio broadcasts inciting protests."

      Meanwhile, the military government has continued to commit gross rights abuses across the country, the report said.

      The military actively recruits child soldiers, sometimes as young as 10, who make up 30 percent of new recruits in some camps, it said.

      Rape, forced labour, summary executions and land grabs remain widespread in ethnic minority regions were rebel armies have fought the junta for decades in one of the world's longest-running civil wars, the group said.

      The army continues to force villagers to act as human mine sweepers in border areas, where 500,000 people have been displaced by fighting, it added.

      Despite international condemnation, the report noted the junta's revenues are booming from natural gas exports, mainly to Asian countries. The regime earned 2.16 billion dollars last year from two gas fields, it said.

      Number of political prisoners increases in 2007; Crackdown in Burma continues
      Assistance Association for Political Prisoners: Thu 31 Jan 2008

      With the crackdown on nationwide demonstrations in September, the number of political prisoners in Burma increased in the year 2007. There are currently at least 1864 political prisoners in Burma, not including all cases of detention since the crackdown. This is 706 more political prisoners than there were in 2006. See www.aappb.org for full detail.

      Those detained after the September 2007 demonstrations in Burma faced torture and ill-treatment while held in detention centers. Some of the detention centers used after the demonstrations were not actually detention centers, but rather educational facilities and stadiums. The AAPP has identified the following locations as detention centers holding a large number of detainees:

      • Government Technology College (GTC) in Insein Township,
      • Police Centre No. 7 in Thanyin Township,
      • Aung Tha Paye in Mayangone Township,
      • Riot Police No. 5 in Hmawbe Township,
      • Plate Myot Police Centre in Mandalay,
      • Kyaik Ka San Interrogation Centre, Tamwe Township,
      • Kabaraye Tharthana Yeiktha –Religious site in Bahan Township
      • Yakyi Ai in Mingaladone

      According to activists interviewed by the media after their release from detention, detainees were not allowed enough drinking water or food while in detention. Proper bedding and blankets were not provided and detainees were kept in overcrowded and poorly ventilated facilities. During this time, detainees were tortured by being forced to lie face down on the ground while answering questions. In one case, two detainees were made to slap each other's face repeatedly both as a means of humiliation and torture.

      Those monks arrested after the September 2007 demonstrations were forcibly disrobed and made to wear soiled civilian clothes. Several monks were severely beaten, kicked and hit. No exception was made for the monks in regards to the amount or severity of torture they endured in detention.

      While in detention, many detainees were denied access to proper medical care. As in the prisons, guards often accepted bribes in exchange for permission to see a doctor. The lack of medical treatment is cause for concern. In 2007, the AAPP documented the deaths of at least 30 prisoners (non-political) in Taungoo prison alone. Many died as a result of tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS acquired in the prison.

      HIV/AIDS patients in prison are not provided with the proper medications, nor are those who fall ill due to TB or malaria. All political detainees and prisoners in Burma face health problems which arise directly as a result of their detention. Many of the detainees and prisoners have skin diseases and suffer malnutrition. The health condition of political prisoners and detainees seriously deteriorated in 2007

      In Burma, nearly all activists are arrested without warrant and held for varying lengths of time in incommunicado detention. They are denied access to legal counsel and in most cases are unfairly tried and sentenced. Many activists have been charged with criminal acts and sent to labor camps. Those detained in the September 2007 protests still await their sentences from a corrupt and unjust legal system.

      All activists arrested undergo brutal interrogation before being detained. Interrogations are conducted by the SB (Police Special Branch), CID (Police Criminal Investigation Department) and divisional police. Many activists have been interrogated by the Military Security Affairs Department (MSAD) which has replaced the defunct Military Intelligence (MI). The torture methods used during interrogation are more severe than during detention.

      A disturbing trend emerged in 2007 in the regime's efforts to halt all political opposition. In several cases, relatives of political activists in hiding were arrested in order to force those activists to turn themselves in to the authorities. The AAPP has documented five separate cases:

      - Thet Thet Aung was detained on October 19, 2007. Prior to her arrest, her mother and mother-in-law were detained to force her to come out of hiding.

      - Ko Nyein Thit, a poet and former political prisoner, is still in hiding. His wife, Khin Mar Lar, has been arrested.

      - Thein Aye was arrested when Di Nyein Lin, a leader of All Burma Federation of Students' Union (ABFSU), evaded arrest. He had been staying in Thein Aye's house.

      - U Pita and Daw Nu Nu Swe are the parents of Si Thu Maung, a leader of the ABFSU. They have been arrested and detained in Insein prison.

      - U Gambira, the head of the All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA) and a leader of the September protests, was arrested in November. Before he was arrested, the authorities arrested his father, U Min Lwin, and his brother, Aung Kyaw Kyaw. His father has since been released, but his brother remains in detention at Insein prison.

      Despite the continuing arrests and inhuman detention conditions in which political prisoners are held, the international community has made little progress in addressing the oppression and suffering of the Burmese people. The visits of both the UN special envoy to Burma, Mr. Gambari, and the UN Special Rapportuer on Human Rights in Burma, Mr. Pinheiro, failed to yield any real results. Despite promises made by the regime to Mr. Gambari to cease arrests, political activists continue to be hunted down, arrested, detained and tortured. While the international community has turned its attention to other matters, the crackdown in Burma continues.

      The AAPP reiterates its call to release all political prisoners and to end the torture and ill-treatment of those in detention.

      For more information:

      Ko Tate (+66) 81 2878 751
      Bo Kyi (+66) 81 3248 935

      Burma/Myanmar: After the crackdown
      International Crisis Group: Thu 31 Jan 2008

      Yangon/Jakarta/Brussels: A three-level approach, drawing on the respective strengths of the UN, the country's neighbours and the wider international community, is needed to promote change in Burma/Myanmar.

      Burma/Myanmar: After the Crackdown,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the implications of the mass protests in September 2007 and their violent crushing, and proposes an approach to resolve the crisis. While the military remains in firm charge, last year's events emphasised the depth of the political and economic problems. Even regime allies recognise a new course is desperately needed.

      "Myanmar's neighbours, especially China and members of ASEAN, need to seize the moment", says John Virgoe, Crisis Group's South East Asia Project Director. "Regional multi-party talks – coordinated with the UN Secretary-General's special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, and backed by the wider international community – hold out the best hope for launching a meaningful process of national reconciliation and broader reform".

      "Indonesia could play a particularly important role, perhaps by hosting a regional meeting along the lines of the Jakarta Informal Meetings (JIM) which kick-started the Cambodia peace process in 1988 and 1989", says Crisis Group President Gareth Evans (who as then Australian Foreign Minister was closely involved in that process).

      While new opportunities for change exist, there are profound structural obstacles. The balance of power is still heavily weighted in favour of the army, whose top leaders insist that only a strongly centralised, military-led state can hold the country together. Myanmar faces immense challenges, too, in overcoming the debilitating legacy of decades of conflict, poverty and institutional failure, which fuelled the recent crisis and could well overwhelm any future government.

      All international actors with some ability to influence the situation need to become actively involved in working for change, including the emergence of a broader, more inclusive, better organised political society. At the core, Special Envoy Gambari plays a vital role promoting dialogue and coordinating unprecedented international efforts. He deserves strong, consistent international backing, including from Ban Ki-moon personally, whose direct involvement in talks would be a powerful signal.

      Others also have important roles. A working group of China and key ASEAN members – possibly Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – should draw on close ties to engage the government in talks about issues affecting regional stability and development.

      In parallel, a support group from the wider international community, including the U.S., EU member states, Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway and others, must keep human rights issues at the top of the agenda. More effective sanctions targeting regime leaders are needed, coupled with positive incentives for reform. So, too, is assistance for saving lives and strengthening the future basis for successful transition to peace, democracy and an effective economy.

      Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
      Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601
      To contact Crisis Group media please click here
      *Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org 

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