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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 4/2/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Rambo: Another Victory for the West and a Defeat for Burma 2.. Burma s crackdown on internet freedom condemned 3.. Myanmar junta takes aim at latest Rambo
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2008
      1. Rambo: Another Victory for the West and a Defeat for Burma
      2. Burma's crackdown on internet freedom condemned
      3. Myanmar junta takes aim at latest Rambo movie
      4. HRW Report: 100 killed in Saffron Revolution
      5. Think tank releases recommendations on Burma
      6. Burmese army loots rice from traders
      7. Bush's empty words on two troubled nations
      8. 'A man without a head can run Burma'
      9. The junta's crackdown continues
      10. India to step up support for change in Burma
      11. Without tough decisions, state failure possible

      Rambo: Another Victory for the West and a Defeat for Burma - Sai Soe Win Latt
      Irrawaddy: Sun 3 Feb 2008

      Stories and rumors about the latest "Rambo" movie have been circulating in Burmese newspapers and on web sites since filming began in Thailand. Burmese activists hoped it would help internationalize the political situation in Burma.

      The movie, the fourth in the series, but simply titled "Rambo," had its world premier last Friday. Several Burmese organizations sent out e-mails encouraging people to go watch the movie, endorsing it as "thrilling."

      Like other Hollywood films, "Rambo" has a tradition and a global strategy. That is, the message it carries is less about Burma and more about the United States. There is almost no plot and no political intrigue, only a band of butchers, and wannabe saviors (from the West, of course). What "Rambo" really does is reveal the ideas that serve to bring Western power and rationality to realization; think Edward Said's "Orientalism," a favorite concept of postcolonial and literary critics.

      We should not feel content with "Rambo" just because it shows the sick side of the Burmese junta (which has no good side anyway). We cannot ignore the film's perpetuation of the ideas that justify the US's domination and oppression in many parts of the world.

      So, what ideals does this film portray or reinforce in the global arena? How can we relate it to the power, domination and oppression of powerful nations in this neo-colonial era?

      Of course, every form of domination involves oppression. How can it be that supposedly "modern" and "civilized" nations like Britain murdered and enslaved people and conquered foreign lands? How do supposedly liberal democratic states such as the US slaughter civilians in Iraq and get away with it?

      Indeed, the ability to justify oppression rests with the power to espouse ethnocentric rhetoric about the people they are fighting against. Let us not forget that Western domination, be it colonial or neo-colonial, is never possible without stereotypical representation of non-Western societies and cultures. Also, we must not lose sight of the fact that Hollywood movies and their imagery are just another part of this cultural stereotyping process.

      Historically, colonial Europe produced distorted images of non-Western societies as immoral, barbaric, savage, dangerous, and so on. Once these images were juxtaposed against the West itself, they came to define the West as moral, modern, rational and civilized. The West then assumed moral responsibility to assist and civilize the "savage."

      Ironically, genocide and oppression often took place in the name of civilization through Christian missionaries. Oppression was—and still is—justified on the basis that "We are right" and "They are wrong."

      In the new film, Rambo's brutal murders are justified when he mutters: "When you're pushed, killing's as easy as breathing." Another time he quips to a group of mercenaries: "Live for nothing or die for something."

      It all goes back to the same old cliché—once Western people get into trouble, things suddenly become "This is who we are and this is what we do." Such a colonial mindset.

      In the real world, we see a similar mindset at work. We witness every single American soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan mentioned on television. We watch national leaders mourning for their deaths. Meanwhile, countless missiles rain down on civilians in residential neighborhoods and anonymous victims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Look at how non-Western places and people are portrayed in Hollywood movies. Take any James Bond or Indiana Jones movie; or the contemporaries—"The Mummy" (1991) or "The Scorpion King (2002), not to mention various CIA-inspired or Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. The bad guys shown as cruel and despicable; the ordinary native people are naïve, inferior and untrustworthy.

      Perhaps the most disturbing scene in "Rambo" is the final scene, one of the few that is not bloody. Hero John Rambo is back in his hometown in the US and walks off into the sunset. Stopping on the side of the highway, he turns and looks around—no "bad guys," no guns, no savages: just the highway, the trees and the open fields. Rambo chuckles to himself. Perhaps he is thinking what a sweet and peaceful world this is: how unlike the non-West.

      Maybe "Rambo" deserves some credit for bringing the issue of Burma to an international audience. But it does more to reinforce the idea that the West is rational, moral, powerful and superior; whereas non-Western areas are places of immorality, savagery and powerless victims.

      Perhaps those who had hoped that Hollywood would internationalize Burma's political crisis will be more cautious next time. Let us not romanticize the films that actually hijack the political crises of non-Western societies to make their own points.

      Burma's crackdown on internet freedom condemned
      The Nation: 2/2/08

      Media advocacy groups have condemned Burma's new crackdown on Internet freedom after the military regime reportedly arrested a wellknown blogger in Rangoon.

      Nay Myo Latt was taken into custody on Wednesday after writing about the suppression of freedoms since last September's prodemocracy demonstrations, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association said.

      The blogger, owner of three Internet cafes and a member of Aung Sun Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), was arrested at his home in Rangoon's Thingangyun district, the groups said in a release.

      Writing under a pseudonym on his website www.nayphonelatt.blogspot.com, Nay Myo Latt wrote poems and stories relating indirectly to politics.

      He is the first blogger to be arrested, according to the editor of The Irrawaddy, an independent Burmese publication based in Chiang Mai.

      "In the past there were crackdowns on the media, but it seems to me this is the first official case related to blogging," Aung Zaw said. "Photographers and a blogger have been briefly detained in the past, but it's never been this serious."

      Burmese authorities have been increasing surveillance of the Internet since early last month, reportedly pressuring Internet cafe owners to register personal details of all users and programme screen captures every five minutes, Reporters Without Borders said.

      This information is then apparently sent to the communication ministry, it said.

      The only blog platform that had been accessible in Burma, Googleowned Blogger, has been blocked by the regime since January 23.

      Bloggers now cannot post entries unless they use proxies or other ways to get around censorship, the statement 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 advocacy groups said.

      A Burmese blogger living in Thailand said reports of Nay Myo Latt's arrest had scared some members of Burma's online community, but most remained defiant.

      "People can't access Blogger so they are changing to Word Press or another site. They also post from their Gmail account or send the post to someone outside," Kyaw Win said. "It's not a safe way."

      A Rangoonbased blogger, speaking in Bangkok last week at a conference on media in AsiaPacific, said people who write in English were at less risk of being detected

      Members of the ruling military junta had little education and could only read Burmese, said the writer, who wished to remain unnamed.

      by Danielle Kirk

      Myanmar junta takes aim at latest Rambo movie
      Reuters: 1/2/03

      Police in Myanmar have given DVD hawkers strict orders not to stock the new Rambo movie, which features the Vietnam War veteran taking on the former Burma's ruling military junta, a Yangon resident told Reuters on Friday.

      Despite the prohibition, pirated copies of the movie are widely available on the streets of the former capital, where it is fast becoming a talking point among a population eager to shake off 45 years of military rule.

      "People are going crazy with the quote 'Live for nothing, die for something'," one resident said, referring to the tagline of the fourth Rambo installment, which opened in the United States this week.

      Even though it received lukewarm reviews, it is likely to be a sure-fire hit with opponents of the junta, with some even hoping it could spur a change of regime in the impoverished southeast Asian nation.

      "This movie could fuel the sentiment of Myanmar people to invite American troops to help save them from the junta," one Yangon resident told Reuters by e-mail.

      In the movie, John Rambo, played by Hollywood superstar Sylvester Stallone, comes out of retirement in Bangkok to save a group of Christian missionaries taken captive by troops in the jungles of eastern Myanmar.

      As with previous Rambo films, it is short on plot and long on blood and guts -- although viewers appear to think it is all relative.

      "Rambo acted very cruelly, but his cruelty is nothing compared to that of the military junta," a Myanmar student in Thailand, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters.

      (Reporting by Bangkok newsroom; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Michael Battye)

      HRW Report: 100 killed in Saffron Revolution - Nay Thwin
      Mizzima News: Sat 2 Feb 2008

      A 'Human Rights Watch' (HRW) report claims over 100 protesters were killed by the SPDC during the bloody crackdown on the Saffron revolution.

      This figure appearing in the annual report of the HRW released yesterday is much more than the official figure of the Burmese military junta and the figure declared by the United Nations.

      After the Saffron Revolution, Police Director General Khin Yi said at a press conference that 15 people were killed during the demonstrations, but UN Human rights special rapporteur Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said 31 people were killed during the nationwide protests.

      The HRW 2008 annual report is based on the human right situation in 73 countries such as Burma, China, Cuba, Congo, Iran, Iraq and Darfur. It also specially focused on 15 countries which needed attention.

      Saffron Revolution photographs appeares on the cover of report and, in its Report on Burma it said that Burma's military government, notorious for decades of abuse, used deadly force in August and September in response to peaceful protests by monks, pro-democracy activists, and ordinary civilians. Hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained.

      Moreover the military junta ignored criticism by the international community and always said it was foreign intervention. It also always accuses the foreign media and radio of undermining the stability of the nation, the report pointed out.

      "They fired at the peaceful demonstrators indiscriminately. Some died on the spot and some died in hospitals. So the total death toll may touch 250 to 300″, said Ashin Gawthita, who took part in the demonstrations and was beaten on the head with a police baton. He has fled to the Thai-Burma border.

      The 'All Burma Monks Alliance' claimed the total death toll of Sangha (monks) in the Saffron Revolution was three and said that nine more are still missing. The observation was made in its report released on January 26, 2008. The report said that this death toll and missing figure is preliminary a confirmed figure.

      The 'Association of Assistance to Political Prisoners of Burma' (AAPPB) said in its website www.aappb.org that 22 people were killed during the demonstration. It gave their names and exact location of death. This is also a preliminary confirmed report, the report said.

      The AAPPB report which was released on the same day with the HRW annual report says that there are 1850 political prisoners who are still behind bars, of whom, 706 are arrested in connection with the September Saffron Revolution.

      Think tank releases recommendations on Burma – Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Fri 1 Feb 2008

      Change will only come to Burma if influential groups in the West and Asia work closely together, according to a study released by The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank.

      The report, "Burma/Myanmar: After the Crackdown," released on January 31, suggests three elements must work in tandem, John Virgoe, ICG's Southeast Asia director, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

      The elements include the United Nations and UN Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari; multi-party talks with China, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean); and the international community, particularly Western democracies and Japan, all of whom must work together and keep the Burmese junta at the top of the international agenda.

      The junta's crackdown last year caused even Burma's allies to recognize that change is desperately needed, according to the ICG report, which wrote:

      "The military government's response to the growing international pressure has been limited. While neither request nor threats deterred the generals from crushing the protest movement, they have tried to manage the fallout by engaging with Gambari and have taken a number of steps, in line with his requests, to 'normalise' the situation on the ground."

      On the pro-democracy opposition movement, the ICG said it lacks the power to challenge the military rulers, and a decisive battleground for meaningful change is more likely to exist within the elite political framework than in the streets.

      The Burmese people remain committed to achieve change, and new opportunities may emerge during a gradual transition which sees the replacement of overt military rule by some sort of hybrid regime, the report suggests.

      The group said targeted sanctions can be an important tool in support of diplomacy and increasing focus on sanctions is a positive.

      Targeted sanctions should be gradually focused on restricting access of military, state and crony business enterprises to international banking services, including the holding of foreign bank accounts and the use of the Belgian-based SWIFT system for bank transfers. In addition, sanctions should include limiting the access of selected generals and their immediate families to personal business opportunities, heath care, shopping and foreign education for their children, including in regional countries, the report said.

      "Arms embargoes, while general in nature, have elements of targeting too and should be pursued," said ICG.

      Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese analyst in Thailand, said he was disappointed with the ICG report because the report only focused on outside players. The main participants to effect the process of change are inside Burma, he said. The report made no recommendations regarding the regime and in-country opposition groups.

      "ICG suggested the regional countries should be more involved in the Burma issue," he said. "But the military junta does not care about pressure (from regional countries)," said Aung Naing Oo.

      Some critics said the current ICG report has altered its stance toward Burma following the September crisis. In previous reports, the ICG took a less positive view on Western sanctions, and it supported engagement with the regime, some critics said.

      Virgoe said the ICG has not changed its stand on Burma. He said that after the September crackdown, the international community has found more common ground on Burma than in the past.

      "Previously I think there were really different opinions between Asean on the one hand and the West on the other hand," he said. "But now there is more common ground. I think everybody, every country, recognizes that Burma is a serious problem—that change is needed in Burma."

      Burmese army loots rice from traders
      Narinjara News: Fri 1 Feb 2008

      Soldiers from the Burmese army stationed in Buthidaung have looted several tons of rice from local traders transporting the rice from Sittwe on board the Danyawaddy ferry ship to be sold in Buthidaung markets, one woman trader told Narinjara over the phone yesterday.

      The incident took place on place on the ferry ship on 25 January, 2008, on the way to Buthidaung from Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State.

      The woman said that several rice traders were transporting many tons of rice from Sittwe to Buthidaung, where the price of rice is double that in the capital, after bribing local law enforcement officials at the Sittwe jetty and ship escorts.

      The authority in Arakan State does not allow the transport of rice from the middle of the state to the north in order to control the rice market in Arakan, so traders must bribe local authorities in order to transport rice to the north.

      Transporting rice to Buthidaung and other parts of northern Arakan is a lucrative business for poor traders, and many unemployed people are involved in the business, the trader said.

      On the ferry ship on the day in question, a platoon of about 50 army personnel boarded along with other passengers, but soon began drinking a lot on board, she said.

      When the ship began to approach Buthidaung, the soldiers started to look for rice, accusing the traders of smuggling.

      Afterward, the soldiers took the rice from the traders and began throwing it into the water from the ship. Many rice traders were crying as their rice was thrown overboard. Some traders were attempting to drag their rice bags away from the army men in hopes of holding on to it, and the atmosphere on the ship became chaotic and confusing.

      Although they threw many bags overboard, many army personnel secretly stowed some of the looted rice in their own bags and packages to bring back to the barracks and to sell in the markets, the woman added.

      Bush's empty words on two troubled nations – The Editorial Board
      New York Times: Fri 1 Feb 2008

      Words are cheap. And never cheaper than when humanitarian tragedies are invoked in speeches for dramatic effect or out of a perfunctory sense of obligation with no effective followup.

      That looked to be the case when President Bush mentioned Sudan and Myanmar (Burma) — fleetingly — in his uninspiring State of the Union address on Monday night.

      "America opposes genocide in Sudan," Mr. Bush declared as the assembled Senators and Congressmen applauded.

      Mr. Bush also drew applause when he asserted support for freedom in Burma. We're glad both tragedies are still on Mr. Bush's radar. But mentioning them served only to remind us how much is left undone.

      Let's look at the facts. The United States first called the killings in Darfur genocide in 2004 when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "We concluded — I concluded — that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed (militia) bear responsibility — and genocide may still be occurring."

      That was a big deal. Washington doesn't throw the term "genocide" around lightly. It is reserved only for the most heinous and widespread atrocities like the Holocaust. Good for Mr. Bush for reaffirming that determination for Darfur.

      But how will he end the conflict? What does the United States do now? The genocide determination imposes a moral obligation on those who make the accusation. As a signatory of the 1948 Genocide Convention, the United

      States is committed to preventing and punishing genocide.

      After five years of conflict, more than 200,000 Darfuris are dead and two and a half million have been driven from their homes. Still,the killing continues despite endless speeches, United Nations Security Council resolutions and — at long last — a security council decision to mount the largest international peacekeeper force ever authorized.

      Unfortunately, only about a tenth of the promised additional peacekeepers are in place and much of the needed equipment has not arrived.

      Sudan's government is a major obstacle, but the world community has not done all it can or should to stand up to Khartoum. Mr. Bush's comments, however welcome a reminder of the problem, didn't begin to address a way forward.

      As for Myanmar, insiders say Mr. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush are deeply concerned about the country's pro-democracy activists after a crackdown by the military junta last August, and senior administration officials continue to have daily conversations and weekly meetings about how to encourage the junta into some sort of transition from military rule.

      But expectations that last August's protests led by Buddhist monks could end the junta's domination have long since faded and there is division and confusion over what more the United States and its allies could do to push the process along. The junta has delayed a return of United Nations special envoy Ibrahmi Gambari, who is working on political reconciliation but is increasingly viewed in the West as ineffectual.

      And many countries appear to have lost enthusiasm for challenging the junta, either because they are eager for contracts with Myanmar involving resources like oil and gems, or they fear creating instability in the region. (China, India and the Southeast Asian nations are key, but Europe and America also have commercial interests there.)

      Still, the crackdown continues. On Tuesday, the junta charged 10 activists detained during last year's protests and they could face up to seven years in prison. Amnesty International said recently that 700 people arrested after those demonstrations remained locked up and more than 80 were unaccounted for.

      So when Mr. Bush says the United States supports freedom in Burma, that's all well and good. But the same question must be asked as with Darfur: What's next?

      'A man without a head can run Burma' – Kyaw Zwa Moe
      Irrawaddy: Fri 1 Feb 2008

      Burmese comedians' political satire reveals how the people think and how their rulers live in fear.

      An American without legs can climb Mount Everest," the American president said proudly at a gathering of statesmen. Immediately, the Russian president said, "A Russian without arms can swim across the Atlantic."

      The other world leaders were stunned by the two statements. But the leader of Burma came to the rescue:

      "In my country, a man without a head can run the country for 20 years."

      That's a joke by a well-known comedian known as Godzilla, and it drew loud applause from hundreds of Burmese in Bangkok in January.

      Cracking such a joke irks Burma's rulers and can lead to imprisonment for comedians.

      However, the five comedians of Say Yaung Sone & Thee Lay Thee, a Burmese traditional a -nyient performance troupe, go about cracking such jokes, ignoring the fact that the ruling generals wouldn't like them.

      The troupe of Say Yaung Sone (colorful) and Thee Lay Thee (referring to the four comedians: Sein Thee, Pan Thee, Kye Thee and Zee Thee) appeared in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore in January and has been invited to perform in Western countries.

      Godzilla, in his 40s, and the Thee Lay Thee members, in their early 30s, mainly tell jokes about the Burmese regime's harsh crackdown on the monk-led demonstrations last September, the regime's corruption, the lack of electricity and the possibility of change in the country in 2008. The jokes are more than enough for the comedians to be put in jail with long sentences.

      Even so, Godzilla quips on stage, "After this performance in Bangkok, we're going to perform in other countries, including Singapore, [South] Korea, the United States, Canada and Germany. After that, we're going to perform in Moscow."

      A big laugh sweeps over the audience. In Burma, prison is referred to as "Moscow."

      Actually, Godzilla and Thee Lay Thee were brave enough to crack such political jokes, defying the ruling junta, in a powerful and surprising performance in Rangoon in November, just one month after the demonstrations were brutally put down by the military government.

      The well-known comedians, including Godzilla, King Kong, Kyaw Htoo and Thee Lay Thee, performed their political satire on Myaw Zin Gyun, an islet in Rangoon's Kan Daw Gyi lake. They had been asked by authorities to sign a document saying they would not make political jokes on stage. No such luck.

      Their jokes focused on the crackdowns against the demonstrations and the arrests of demonstrating monks. The public performance was unprecedented in the 20 years since the current military regime took power in 1988.

      Their performance VCD immediately became popular and was banned by the authorities. The VCD soon traveled beyond the country's borders, and the comedian troupe was invited to perform by Burmese communities in several foreign countries.

      Apart from the political stalemate and national reconciliation, their jokes also focus on rampant corruption, religion and UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

      The latter sketch was among the most popular. Two comedians, Sein Thee and Pan Thee, portray Gambari and Kyaw Hsan, Burma's information minister.

      During their meeting, Kyaw Hsan and Gambari talk about how to negotiate constructively with each other. Because of his worldwide travels, Gambari says he knows what Kyaw Hsan's up to. Kyaw Hsan says to himself, "This man doesn't know about Myanmar [Burma]."

      Then Kyaw Hsan points to the floor, shouting, "Oh! Look! Dollars! Dollars!" Gambari quickly bends over and picks up the money, saying "I love dollars."

      Kyaw Hsan then swiftly kicks Gambari in the rear, laughing, "This is Myanmar!"

      Off stage, Sein Thee, who portrays Gambari, told The Irrawaddy: "That is the joke I like the most. That joke is a reality. I don't believe in his mission. His trips haven't brought any results yet."

      Godzilla said, "We comedians are just representatives of the people. We are cracking jokes on behalf of the people."

      Throughout Burma's history, comedians have told jokes in front of kings and royalty who wanted to know what was really going in their kingdom, especially in remote areas. It was a form of reporting on the public mood.

      Comedians are aware of people's feelings because they travel the country, Godzilla said. Ancient kings liked jokes, and, if they were willing to reform wrongdoings, they could take action based on the jokes.

      "Like before, we gather jokes from people from all walks of life," Godzilla said. "They sometimes come out with ideas for us to crack jokes in the performance."

      An a-nyeint troupe, he said, is a form of entertainment that tries to relieve people's suffering, and the jokes can enlighten leaders.

      However, the Burmese generals view comedians who tell political jokes as enemies. Since the current regime took power, comedians Zarganar and Par Par Lay have both been detained in jail several times and during the September demonstrations, they were jailed again for about a month each.

      Previously, both were imprisoned for several years. Zarganar is internationally respected for his politically biting satire. He received the Lillian Hellman and Dashiel Hammett Award given by the Fund for Free Expression, a committee organized by New York- based Human Rights Watch.

      Godzilla said, "Zarganar paved a new road for young comedians in the early 1980s" under the then authoritarian government.

      Godzilla and the Thee Lay Thee comedians are determined to keep spreading political satire despite the fact that they will probably face severe prison sentences like their mentors, Zarganar and Par Par Lay.

      Sein Thee said, "Even if we are arrested at Rangoon's airport on the way back home and put in jail, we will continue cracking jokes because we are comedians, and we want to be comedians forever."

      "Not only in this life but also the next life," he said. "I want to tell jokes to make people happy."

      The junta's crackdown continues – Bo Kyi
      DVB: Fri 1 Feb 2008

      The fundamental challenge that the people of Burma are facing today stems from the military's monopolization of power and its abuses against those who challenge its authority.

      The Burmese military regime not only has a firm grip on the state apparatus and media but also uses them to violate the basic rights of the people. Though the country is sliding into the condition of state failure, the generals continue their exclusive political agenda and plan to consolidate their power with a new constitution.

      The junta has zero tolerance of any public dissent. In 2003, the military even attempted to kill Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, an internationally known Nobel Laureate, and dashed hopes of national reconciliation. Some Burma watchers inside the country and abroad then noted that the opposition movement's strategy was losing ground and even becoming irrelevant.

      However, politics were revitalized again in late 2004 after some student leaders including Min Ko Naing were released after serving long prison terms since 1989. Veteran student leaders formed the 88 Generation Students Group and launched a series of political campaigns for national reconciliation, receiving nationwide support and international recognition.

      Signature campaigns, letter campaigns, White expression (wearing white clothes) campaigns and prayer campaigns were used to demonstrate the public's hardships and call for genuine reconciliation and inclusive political transition. The nature of the movements led by student leaders became above ground and non-confrontational.

      Together with National League for Democracy local members, student leaders have been engaged not only in political actions but also in humanitarian missions. They helped activists in setting up volunteer groups for wide-ranging issues such as human rights education and promotion, assisting HIV/AIDS patients, legal protection for victims of forced labor and so on. Moreover, they have established indirect relationships with local NGOs that help the public to alleviate their daily hardships. Despite the regime reacting against the accelerating movement of student leaders by beating, imprisoning and sanctioning their supporters, the momentum of public mobilization did not wane.

      Then on 15 August, the junta suddenly increased fuel prices overnight by as much as 500 percent, and the hikes resulted in increases in prices of public transport and also higher prices for some basic commodities due to higher transport costs. The sharp rise in fuel prices triggered a series of small protests in the country's largest city, Rangoon. The 88 Generation Students Group led the walking protests to demonstrate against the junta's mismanagement and call for lower consumer prices. But the plainclothes security officials and civilian paid thugs handled the protesters with brute force and physical abuse. All key leaders of 88 Generation Student Group, including Min Ko Naing, the most well-known activist after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, were arrested.

      When police and civilian hooligans attacked Buddhist monks in Upper Burma who joined the protest against the gasoline price hike on 5 September 2007, it sparked subsequent drama. The news of monks being tied to lampposts and beaten fuelled the public's anger in this devout country, and fellow Buddhist monks throughout the nation called upon the regime to apologize for their wrongdoing and start national reconciliation process, threatening a religious boycott if the regime failed to comply with these demands. As the junta ignored their call, the monks carried out their boycott, refusing any religious services and donations from the military and their family members.

      Thousands of Buddhist monks led the marches in several major cities of the country, chanting loving-kindness verses of the Buddhist Canon and praying for the peace of country. When students and the general public joined the marches of monks, the numbers of protesters reached 200,000 in Rangoon alone. This movement was known worldwide as the "Saffron Revolution".

      However, the regime responded by spraying bullets into the monks and people, resulting in at least 31 deaths according to United Nations figures. At least 6,000 were arrested. Hundreds of monasteries were raided.

      Assistance Association for Political Prisoners records show that activists have not only been beaten during arrests and whilst in detention, but have also suffered extreme physical and mental torture during the interrogation period. Even though the majority of detainees were released, 706 still remain in detention.

      One of the most disturbing forms of harassment is when security forces cannot arrest specific individuals who are wanted by the authorities and so arrest family members or hosts instead. This illegal practice of "kin liability" was last practiced in Nazi Germany, where relatives of those accused of crimes against the state were held to be equally responsible and were arrested and sometimes executed.

      The "Than Shwe regime" is now arresting family members of targeted people to make sure that the person they are looking for comes out of hiding and surrenders. The regime widely used this cruel method during the fall of 2007. For example, U Gambira, head of the All-Burma Monks Alliance and a leader of the September protests, was arrested in November. Before he was arrested, authorities arrested his father, U Min Lwin, and brother, Aung Kyaw Kyaw, in an attempt to force him out of hiding. At present, although his father U Min Lwin was released, his brother is still in Insein prison.

      During last year, all activists were arrested without warrants. Moreover, all are placed incommunicado and faced torture or ill-treatment without access to adequate food and medical treatment. In addition, some detainees are denied access to a lawyer or legal counsel. Even when the authorities allowed some defendants to have lawyers, they could not perform their functions as a fair and balanced legal system is non-existent.

      The Military Government has created several new laws and ordinances that are used as the legal foundation for incarcerating people without any arrest warrants, legal proceedings, trials and legal appeals.

      The common human right to peaceful assembly has been criminalized. In many cases, activists have been imprisoned under criminal charges and sent to labor camps.

      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 the UN special envoy to Burma, Mr. Gambari, and the UN Special Rapporteur 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.

      Bo Kyi is Joint Secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

      India to step up support for change in Burma : Gambari
      Mizzima News : Friday, 01 February 2008

      India has assured the visiting UN special envoy to Burma that it will step up its support to the world body's efforts to persuade the Burmese generals to implement political reforms.

      India, which has a close relationship with the Burmese generals, told the visiting envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, that it will step up its support to the UN initiative for reforms in Burma.

      "Mr. Gambari is encouraged by these consultations and India's support for the Secretary-General's good offices on Myanmar [ Burma ]," UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.

      Gambari, who concluded his second visit to New Delhi on Thursday, met India's External Affairs Minister, Foreign Secretary and Vice President.

      While the Indian Ministry of External Affairs did not publicize Gambari's visit and his meetings with Indian officials, the UN envoy, before leaving the country on Thursday told reporters that he had asked India to help source more information on Burma and to regularize his visits to the country.

      "Last time, China facilitated my trip to Myanmar [ Burma ]. This time, I believe it will be India," Indian media reports quoted Gambari as saying.

      Gambari, who will also visit China later in February, said India, which earlier was unwilling to pressurise the Burmese junta in fear of hampering its hard-built relationship, has promised to do its best.

      Gambari, however, said, "there is still more that everybody can do."

      He added that all those who have a role to play, both inside the country and outside, should be given the chance to do so in the interest of moving towards "a peaceful, prosperous but democratic Myanmar [Burma] with full respect for the human rights of its people."

      Gambari, who visited Burma twice following the junta's bloody crackdown on protesters in September, said he was asked to re-enter the country earlier in January but the ruling junta has indicated that they prefer the visit in April.

      Without tough decisions, state failure possible: ICG
      Mizzima News : Friday, 01 February 2008

      Chiang Mai, Thailand – A highly renowned international think-tank has released a comprehensive report on the crisis afflicting Burma, outlining an arduous and time consuming process for any prospect of national reconciliation, economic and political reform.

      The International Crisis Group (ICG) yesterday released an analysis of the situation in Burma , concluding that, "Whatever happens over the next year or two, Myanmar cannot be expected to move either directly or smoothly from military rule to liberal democracy."

      However the report does prosper ideas as to how chances of a future, prosperous and democratic Burma may be maximized.

      ICG proscribes that the primary focus of reform be centered on negotiation, economic reforms and significant expansion in the delivery of humanitarian aid. Broad-based political reform is to follow at a later date.

      Though Western countries have directed much attention to support for democratic change, the report cautions that it is just as important to address peacebuilding and economic development.

      "Even if the political will for reform improves, Myanmar will still face immense challenges in overcoming the debilitating legacy of decades of conflict, poverty and institutional failure, which fuelled the recent crisis and could well overwhelm future governments as well," warns the report.

      "A growing economy", ICG hopes, "might relieve some pressure on the regime in the short term but would also give future leaders confidence to undertake reforms, strengthen the basis for independent political and social society, help lift people out of misery and support the expensive processes required to establish peace, democracy and federalism."

      The report encourages the formation of a small coterie of international actors to work in close collaboration with the United Nations initiative. Due to the pervading hostility between Washington and Naypyidaw, the authors council that the United States not be a party to this inner group of international actors. A European presence is also omitted.

      "The prospect of losing privileges or being held accountable for human rights violations is a powerful motivation for maintaining tight control," the report contends, referring to positions prevalent in North America and Europe. "There has to be a face-saving solution which also protects what the military sees as its vital interests."

      Instead, ICG supports an inner working group consisting of Burma, China and select ASEAN countries. The United States, Europe and rights groups are to occupy themselves with continued monitoring of events in Burma, to ensure that developments are headed in the right direction.

      Without a working group, progress is said to be highly unlikely. ASEAN is described as lacking a unified position, and the prospects of it achieving one are defined as "improbable." Meanwhile, on its own, ICG cautions that the influence of China should not be "exaggerated."

      India, it is believed, does not possess mechanisms though which pressure can be effectively levied against Burma's generals. "Naypyidaw believes that it needs New Delhi less than the other way around and holds the upper hand in the relationship," argues ICG.

      It is, however, envisioned that China can play a constructive role in bringing about change in Burma. But ICG states that any Chinese initiative must be "non-threatening" to both Burma 's junta and the national interests of China.

      "While Beijing may be induced in part by international pressure to cooperate in moving the SPDC towards national reconciliation," reads the report, "[a]greement will be needed on an agenda for change that does not threaten China 's vital interests."

      The report states it would be a mistake to look to mass protests as a means of producing change in Burma. "The problem for the opposition is that it simply does not have the strength to challenge the military for power. Whatever turns popular activism takes, it has inherent limitations as a tool for regime change. People power cannot defeat a united military willing to shoot," summarizes the report.

      "The decisive battleground is more likely to be within elite political frameworks than in the streets, an arena that requires painstaking negotiations, unsatisfactory compromises and a willingness by individuals on all sides to settle for less so the country can have more," the report adds.

      Stating that the roadmap is unfortunately the only option on the table at the moment, the report contends: "Instead of demanding that the constitutional deliberations be reopened, international efforts could focus on persuading the military to make subsequent steps of the road map real."

      ICG believes its analysis as to the situation in Burma largely concurs with that of the United Nations.

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