[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 18/2/08
- Burmese junta hedges its bets for the future
- Manh Sha spoke of plot to kill him
- The Art of Defiance
- Slain Myanmar rebel predicted rising tensions
- Burmese opposition groups challenge junta's constitution
- Karen rebels vow to continue fighting against Burma junta
- The Sangha must do what they can for the people of Burma
- If voting changed anything
- Divided they fall
- Pre-Emptive Strike
- Russian firm to explore gold in Myanmar
- Burma gains in leader's death???
- The trouble with Number 8...
Burmese junta hedges its bets for the future
The Nation: February 18, 2008
The leaders of Burma's military junta understand the game of realpolitik very well.
They knew when they announced a plan to hold a national referendum in May and an election in 2010 that there would be a mixed chorus of support and dissent. In the end, they gathered that it does not matter what transpires so long as the regime shows there is some movement - at a snail's pace though it might be - towards democracy. This is the strategy the junta leaders have mastered since losing the election in May 1990. They certainly hope that they will be able to muddle along and in the process gain more space and time to work on their own schemes.
While it must have been easy to predict what Western countries as well as China and India would say about the political timeframe, Asean's reaction would have been more difficult to guess. However, Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan has set a cautious tone by saying it was a good beginning.
The US and European Union, which have called for more assistance, dialogue and targeted sanctions towards Burma, expressed dismay at the development, as it did not take into account opposition groups led by Aung San Suu Kyi and other stakeholders. UN efforts were also ignored. At the other end, China and India, as Burma's two major supporters, are certain to view Rangoon's timetable as concrete progress. International pressure to link the summer Olympic Games in Beijing with China's Burmese policy is increasing by the day, but it will not yield any results.
Caught in between the two groups and faced with a Catch-22 situation is Asean. At the moment, there is no uniform approach towards the Burmese crisis. One must not treat Asean's expression of "repulsion" against Burma last September as a reflection of growing impatience among its members. If that were the case, the grouping would have engaged more with the UN and the international community in pushing for change.
At the moment, only the Philippines has maintained a hardline approach seeking the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners as well as improved human rights. Indonesia has been critical of Burma, but has not gone as far as the Philippines. Jakarta is presently focused on drafting the terms of reference that will produce a respectable and independent human-rights body in Asean. This would serve as a prerequisite for the Charter's ratification by the grouping's largest member.
Singapore's attitude towards Burma has been the most intriguing. After orchestrating the strongest statement ever to come from an Asean foreign ministerial meeting since Rangoon joined Asean in 1997, the island nation has apparently thrown in the towel after failing to move the national reconciliation process forward as it had hoped at the last Asean Summit.
Now any change in Asean's attitude towards Burma will be the responsibility of the next Asean chair, Thailand, which will succeed Singapore in July. That could be problematic. With the current government under Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, the Burmese policy adopted during the Thaksin years will be revived. Bangkok is quite determined to back the Burmese road map all the way despite increasing pressure from the international community to do more. Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama's inaugural comments on Burma - that the political situation there was an internal matter - were uncalled for, as they completely overlooked the international dynamics of the situation, including the UN's mediating role.
It will be interesting to see if history repeats itself.
At the Asean Summit held in Phnom Penh in 2003, it was former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who successfully convinced other Asean leaders to give newly installed prime minister Khin Nyunt a chance to prove his leadership and his democratic road map. As it turned out, Thaksin's overt favouritism, both in matters of diplomacy and business, with Khin Nyunt played a role in the latter's downfall.
Both the US and the EU, which have been consistently at odds with Thailand over its Burma policy since 2001, have made it clear in private meetings with the new government that if Thailand does not support the ongoing international campaign, it should not make any attempts to undermine it. As the Asean chair and a front-line state to Burma, what Thai leaders say on Burma is closely scrutinised.
It would not be surprising to see a dramatic effort between Thailand and Burma to improve bilateral relations in the weeks and months ahead of the Asean ministerial meeting in Bangkok. There is a strong possibility that Samak might make a quick and discreet trip there in the near future. Several pending loans could be revived and new programmes initiated that would benefit both the junta and former prime minister Thaksin's cronies.
Another important factor is the growing confidence the new members are showing in shaping future Asean policies, especially as regards the non-interference principle. The drafting of the Asean Charter and its outcome demonstrated the tenacity and iron will of new members towards protecting the status quo. That was just the beginning.
The Burmese junta will again enjoy a win-win situation if Thailand and new Asean members vote to support their political reforms and time frame.
Manh Sha spoke of plot to kill him
The Nation: February 18, 2008
Unknown gunmen assassinated Pado Manh Sha, leader of the Karen National Union, in his Mae Sot home on Thursday afternoon. In a recent unpublished interview with journalist Phil Thornton, he discussed plots to kill him and his hopes for the Karen.
Pado Manh Sha sat outside his home, enjoying the late-afternoon sunset, after an interview with a foreign analyst on Thursday.
A blue pickup stopped outside. A man got out of the vehicle and walked to the house, shook hands with Mahn Sha and then shot him dead. One of Manh Sha's staff gave chase as the gunman and an accomplice fled.
In our interview, Manh Sha said he had received warnings and took seriously an intelligence report that the Burmese military dictatorship had plans to kill Karen National Union leaders.
He said Karen intelligence officers had briefed him and he had warned other leaders to up their security. Manh Sha expected the attempt on his life would be at night and had taken steps to sleep in various locations. But he insisted on spending his days at his home, mainly because he enjoyed the view across the paddy field from his seat on the porch.
Saw Hla Henry, a Karen leader, said Manh Sha would be missed. "He was a strong man for the Karen people. He was smart and detested by the [Burmese] regime. Everything he was, was for the Karen; all Karen."
He was a constant thorn in the junta's plans to show the international community it was moving towards democracy. "We want to resolve our problems by peaceful means, but the Burmese don't want that; they like the battlefield too much," he said in the interview.
Manh Sha was incensed by attacks on Karen villagers that had forced 76,000 to relocate. The Thai-Burma Border Consortium says the Burmese army destroyed more than 3,000 villages between 1996 and 2006 in Karen State.
"These people are not soldiers. They're civilians. They [the Burmese army] kill, burn, torture our people and landmine our villages. We want peace, justice and we want to be part of a federation of Burma."
Manh Sha was an internationalist. He was enthusiastic about plans to form an ethnic alliance with Burmese opposition groups that could effectively combat the regime. "The time of dictators is over - we live in the 21st century. It's time for the Burmese generals to make genuine peace with their people," he said.
Always accommodating to the international community and news media, Manh Sha felt more needed to be done for them to see Burma as more than a local problem.
The Art of Defiance Jacob Baynham
Newsweek: Fri 15 Feb 2008
Despite a censorship crackdown, Burma's underground artists are determined to get their message out.
In a simple studio tucked into the shadows of a wealthy Rangoon neighborhood, a leading member of Burma's underground political art movement lights a Red Ruby cigarette, smoke curling into the hollows of his cheeks. Thein Soe (not his real name) is 61 years old and probably weighs less than 100 pounds. The paintings spread across the studio walls, desk and floor could bring a prison sentence in this military dictatorship, where freedom of expression has not existed for 46 years, since the military took power in a coup. "It's very difficult to show our inner sense, our expression," says Soe. "There are many censors for art here."
Things took a turn for the worse in September, when an uprising of monks and civilians was crushed by the military. Poets, bloggers and comedians have been targeted in the last few months for their political commentary. Arrests are more frequent. Despite the crackdown, Burma's underground political art movement is growing. In secret, artists buy and sell portraits of the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and share ideas and inspiration. Young artists are also joining the fold. For lack of traditional materials, several youths have turned to installation and performance art to speak their minds. One young man recently walked a busy street with a birdcage on his head before dropping it and fleeing. "We paint what we suffer and what we feel," says Soe, speaking for a group of a dozen or so master artists. "It's very dangerous for us."
Across town Rangoon's latest music sensation, emcee J-Me, also deals with daily censorship of his work. Spoon-deep in a bowl of pasta at a trendy café, J-Me is proof that Burma's xenophobic government is no match for the globalization of popular culture. Officially, U.S. sanctions prevent American exports to Burma, but hip-hop is difficult to stop at the borders. "It's a big thing for us," says J-Me, who is dressed in baggy shorts and a T-shirt, with a fake diamond bling watch and a crucifix around his neck. "It may not be a big thing for everyone outside, but we've created the Myanmar Hip-Hop Association. Not the sissy-ass songs that you dance to on TRL [a pop hits show on MTV], you know what I'm sayin'? The real Wu-Tang stuff."
Burmese hip-hop may be slightly old-school in style and struggling to define itself, but it's sweeping the nation nevertheless. Teashop stereos that were locked into '80s hair metal for two decades are now thumping a different beat. The rapping of J-Me and his friends is revolutionary in that unlike other musicians who sing in refined, polite Burmese, these emcees rap in the slang of the streets.
For the hip-hoppers, of course, political lyrics are out of the question. "Hip-hop just started here," says J-Me's fellow emcee Bigg-Y. "If we go and rap about politics, they'll stop us." Rapper G-Tone was arrested two months ago when he revealed a tattoo on his back that included images of folded palms and prayer beads. G-Tone insists the design was inspired by the Joker hip-hop clothing line, but the police thought it was a symbol for September's monk-led Saffron Revolution. They let him go but banned him from performing for a year. Censors are paying particular attention to lyrics after September's uprisings. "They watch my lyrics with a big magnifying glass," J-Me says.
The government mouthpiece, the New Light of Myanmar, ran an editorial in January denouncing the Western influences changing the face of Burma. It warned the youth to "stay away from decadent costumes, words incompatible with Myanmar [Burmese] custom, and behaviors that lack modesty." The booty girls in Burmese hip-hop videos, which are bought and sold in pirated copies on the streets of Rangoon, dance with their midriffs and miniskirts digitally blurred.
The U.S. Embassy in Rangoon has helped the artists' underground. In December the embassy sponsored an art exhibit that featured Burmese and American painters. Diplomats, local artists and members of the public came. (The same exhibit will be shown later this year in San Francisco, where it will feature politically themed paintings that would not be tolerated by the censorship board in Burma.) Although the scope of U.S. Embassy projects is limited inside Burma, the Embassy carries on cultural exchange programs that feature American art and music. "We have good relations with the people of this country," says the U.S. chargé d'affaires for Burma, Shari Villarosa. "We want to have a full, open relationship with this country."
Last winter, Villarosa hosted a hip-hop show on the grounds of her private residence in Rangoon. The American hip-hop group Timeless Voices of America performed, as part of the State Department's Rhythm Road program, which sponsors American music abroad. J-Me and some of his friends rapped alongside. "Basically, we don't censor art in the United States," Villarosa says. "This is a means of communication for the artists with the people. They have something to say, and we're interested in what they have to say."
Even with government censors looking over their shoulders, Burma's artists have found ways of getting their message through. Some political art pieces are made in private and sent out of the country to be displayed in international galleries. Other pieces are just subtle enough to escape censorship. One artist recently made a clay sculpture of a lock and key"the key that will be used to unlock Burma's future," he says. He plans to tell the censors it signifies men and women. But the consequences of being found out are serious. In January a poet was sent to jail for a hidden message in a love poem he printed in a Rangoon daily newspaper. The message read: "Gen. Than Shwe is crazy with power."
Every painting displayed in a gallery or shop in Burma must first pass the scrutiny of the ministry of information's censorship board. Any sign of discontent or disloyalty to the government, or an unseemly political message can shut down the gallery and land the artist in jail. Musicians have to explain their lyrics to the censorship board before they can record. Policemen attend concerts to make sure nothing unsavory slips out onstage. The censors' scrutiny is especially severe after September's Saffron Revolution. Many artists, however, remained determined. "Artists have a responsibility to their people and country to express what happens," says one artist in Rangoon whose brother was jailed for 11 years and whose uncle died behind bars, both for their political poetry. "We are not angry; we are sad. All of these years have been wasted time."
Slain Myanmar rebel predicted rising tensions - Ed Cropley
Reuters: Fri 15 Feb 2008
Only three days before he was shot dead in his home on the Thai border, a top Myanmar rebel leader predicted heightened tension with the ruling military junta in the run-up to a May constitutional referendum.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Karen National Union (KNU) secretary general Mahn Sha Lar Phan said the junta's plan to push through its army-drafted charter would meet opposition not just from the former Burma's many rebel groups.
"They will face many difficulties with this referendum, because people know this referendum will make them slaves," the soft-spoken 64-year-old said, sitting in the same wooden seat where he would be shot dead three days later.
Dissident groups are already campaigning for a "no" vote, saying the as yet unfinished charter is an attempt by the junta to legitimize its grip on power after 46 years of military rule.
Even though Mahn Sha's assassination could be the result of an internecine vendetta, the predominantly Christian KNU was quick to accuse Yangon's military regime of orchestrating the hit via a Buddhist Karen splinter group.
"This is the work of the DKBA and the Burmese soldiers," his son Hse Hse said, referring to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.
According to Mahn Sha's neighbor, the two gunmen spoke Karen, but Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo said it was impossible to know who was behind the killing.
The only certainty is that the Myanmar junta looks set to gain from the removal of a man central to the Karen cause.
"If this is from an internal Karen feud, it will trigger a bloodbath," Aung Naing Oo said.
The Karen, an ethnic minority of about 7 million people, have been fighting for independence since 1949, one of the world's longest-running guerrilla conflicts. They are one of only three rebel militias not to have signed a ceasefire with the junta.
There had been no contact between the KNU leadership, based on the Thai border, and Myanmar's generals for a year, Mahn Sha said, adding that there appeared to be little immediate prospect of peace. His death makes the chances even more remote.
"If the regime declared a nationwide ceasefire, there would be no need to fight," he said. "But now, we need to protect our people and to protect ourselves."
Having graduated from Rangoon University in 1966 with a degree in history, Mahn Sha threw himself into the Karen liberation movement, rising to became its secretary-general in 2000.
"His determination for freedom and democracy lives on within us and within the Karen people," his four children said in a statement issued by the Burma Campaign UK, an activist group.
"He did not live to see freedom for our people, but his dream will be fulfilled. The Karen, and all the people of Burma, will be free".
Myanmar has been under military rule of one form or another since 1962, during which time it has been riven by dozens of ethnic guerrilla wars, funded in large part by revenues from opium sales from the notorious "Golden Triangle".
(Editing by Darren Schuettler and Sanjeev Miglani)
Burmese opposition groups challenge junta's constitution - Mungpi
Mizzima News: Fri 15 Feb 2008
Burmese opposition groups in exile today said they have completed drafting a federal constitution and came down heavily on the ruling junta's constitution, which is being drafted by handpicked delegates for an open debate.
The Federal Constitution Drafting and Coordinating Committee, formed with representatives of Burmese opposition groups including armed rebels, said its draft constitution is designed to reflect the peoples' will and will guarantee democracy, equality and self-determination.
The FCDCC, during a press conference in Bangkok today, said it has completed the second draft of the constitution, "Federal Republic of the Union of Burma", which is endorsed by over 90 Burmese democracy and ethnic organizations and more than 120 individuals.
Dr. Lian H Sakhong, Secretary of the FCDCC, said, "We challenge Senior General Than Shwe, Burma's supreme leader, to make the SPDC's 7-step roadmap more inclusive and democratic as we in the FCDCC process have. Our process is free from censorship and control."
With Burma's armed resistance groups including the Karen National Union, Burma's longest operating insurgent group, endorsing, the draft constitution is designed to reflect the views of the many ethnic nationalities of Burma, Sakhong said.
Burma, which has remained without a constitution for nearly two decades, has been plagued by civil war, and ethnic insurgency, since its independence in 1948.
While several groups of ethnic insurgents seek greater autonomy and self-determination, several groups have demanded the right to secede or independence, after decades of political mistrust under successive military regimes.
Though the international community including the United Nations have called on the ruling military regime to implement democratic reforms through a process of national reconciliation, several neighboring countries, particularly the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has said it fears that ethnic nationalities' demand for independence will add to greater political turmoil if democracy is in place.
Sakhong, however, said the FCDCC's draft federal constitution has strictly emphasized on the building of a genuine federal system that, however, excludes the right to secession.
"We are saying that if there is a genuine federal system that guarantees democracy, equality and self-determination, ethnic nationalities are willing to remain under the federal umbrella," Sakhong said.
"Since the draft constitution of "Federal Republic of the Union of Burma", strongly guarantees equality and self-determination for all nationalities, we see no need for and in no way, will demand or exercise the right to secession," FCDCC said in a statement released today.
"We conclude that the much trumpeted "without the SPDC military clique, Burma will disintegrate" is nothing but the SPDC's propaganda to instill fear and concern in the international community," the committee added.
While the FCDCC claims that the draft constitution has been endorsed by opposition political parties as well as armed ethnic insurgents, several ceasefire armed groups that have signed peace agreements with the ruling junta failed to add their views.
However, the Kachin Independence Army, one of Burma's longest operating insurgent group, which has signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta, said it is willing to accept any constitution that includes the KIA's proposal.
The KIA/KIO, whose delegates attended the junta's 14 year-long national convention, submitted a 19-point proposal in the last round of the national convention. However, the junta sidelined the KIA's proposal and failed to include them as guidelines for the drafting of the constitution, which is being drafted by a 54-member committee.
Major Gun Maw, spokesperson of the KIO, told Mizzima, "We are ready to accept any constitution drafted by any group as long as it includes our 19-point proposal, because our proposal reflects the true desire of the Kachin people."
Sakhong said, though the KIO has not formally endorsed the FCDCC's draft constitution, as the points mentioned in the KIO's proposal, which points out the necessity for power sharing between the state and centre, is consistent with the draft constitution.
"The KIO's proposal is consistent with the draft constitution," Sakhong said.
Meanwhile, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), another armed insurgent group that has signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta, said it believes that the government should be directly represented by the people.
"We believe that any government should be represented by the people itself. So, we will support any constitution that reflects the peoples' desire," a UWSA spokesperson told Mizzima.
Karen rebels vow to continue fighting against Burma junta Chiravut Rungjamratrasami
Associated Press: Fri 15 Feb 2008
The Karen National Union (KNU), a leading ethnic rebel group in Burma, named a new leader following the mysterious murder of its chief and vowed Friday to continue its decades-long struggle against the country's military junta.
KNU General Secretary Mahn Sha was shot by two gunmen Thursday at his home in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, according to Thai police.
"We lost one of our leaders but nothing will affect our movement," said Ba Thin Sein, president of the KNU, who blamed the killing on troops loyal to the junta. "The struggle for our cause will continue."
Thai police who investigated the shooting said the murder may have been the result of internal differences in the rebel group.
The KNU's No. 2 official, Htoo Htoo Lay, 61, automatically became the group's new leader, according to the KNU's constitution, Ba Thin Sein said.
The killing came less than a week after Burma's military government announced plans for a referendum on a new constitution in May, to be followed by a general election in 2010. The plans have been denounced by the KNU and other opponents of the regime as a sham devised to perpetuate military rule.
The KNU is one of more than a dozen armed ethnic groups who for decades have sought greater autonomy from Burma's central government.
Since 1988, many other groups have signed formal ceasefires with the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), but the KNU has not reached a formal agreement to lay down their arms.
The KNU, which has been fighting for more than five decades, once had a powerful guerrilla force in Burma's eastern border region. But Burma army offensives, coupled with divisions within the organization, have reduced the group's military presence over the past decade.
Burma's military continues to carry out sweeping counterinsurgency operations in Karen areas along the border with Thailand, displacing thousands of civilians, many of whom join some 100,000 of their countrymen in refugee camps in Thailand.
Mahn Sha, 65, took over leadership of the KNU in 2000 from his ailing predecessor, Bo Mya, who died in 2006. He had been with the KNU since 1963, becoming joint general secretary in 1995 before taking the top post.
Mahn Sha's funeral was expected to take place over the weekend at a location in Burma being kept secret due to security concerns, Ba Thin Sein said.
The Sangha must do what they can for the people of Burma: Interview with Saffron Revolution leading monk U Pyinyarzawta Nay Thwin
Mizzima News: Fri 15 Feb 2008
A leading monk of the All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA), U Pyinyarzawta, recently reached the Thai-Burma border. He has been on the run and hunted by the regime since the Saffron Revolution in September of last year.
The Sayadaw (abbot), who led protesters in their recitation of the Metta Sutra, says that he firmly believes he acted as he did for truth and the sake of the people, and not for politics.
He is also a colleague of 88-generation student leaders and was previously arrested, interrogated and imprisoned multiple times. He was also the Taikoat Sayadaw (Deputy Sayadaw) of the now sealed Maggin Monastery in Thingangyun Township, Rangoon.
Two of the six founding Sayadaws of ABMA are now behind bars.
He solemnly says that dialogue is essential for the prosperity of the country.
Q: Your rev. When did you reach the border?
A: Only a few days ago.
Q: We know you as one of the leading monks of the Saffron Revolution, like Ashin Gambira.
A: U Gambira is one of the members of ABMA. According to the priesthood, I am the senior-most and most responsible monk among them. There are six monks in ABMA. I contributed suggestions, experience and knowledge. I was first arrested in 1990 and imprisoned for three years. Then I was imprisoned a second time in 1998, for seven years. I am a colleague of Ko Htay Kywe and Ko Ko Gyi.
Q: Please tell me your age and experience in the priesthood?
A: I'm 48, and have spent 28 years in the priesthood. I'm the Taikoat of Maggin Monastery.
Q: Is Maggin Monastery sealed now?
A: Yes, The Chairman of ABMA is now in detention at Insein prison. He is the senior-most Sayadaw of this Monastery and I'm the Taikoat (Deputy).
Q: Please share your memoirs and experiences of the Saffron Revolution.
A: The most significant experience was on the day we started our Ex-Communicative boycott. We announced that we would start our boycott on the 18th of September. If we failed to do so, the people would see we could not keep our promise and it would let everyone down, the entire Sangha (religious community) and Sasana (religion). We planned to conduct these boycott rites at five different places in Burma, three in Rangoon alone. We succeeded in all three places in Rangoon. In Mandalay, they successfully initiated the boycott on the 19th, instead of the 18th as planned. First we were skeptical about the chances of successfully launching the boycott. But we exceeded all our expectations. So, this was the most thrilling experience for me.
Q: How about your experience of marching in procession with your fellow monks and chanting the Metta Sutra?
A: I did not march with experienced monks at the forefront, but took a leading role by rallying around them and managing the work that had to be done. If I marched with them at the forefront the movement would have been instantly exposed and dealt with. So I didn't march at the front. The leading monks in these processions were leading monks of member monk organizations in our alliance.
Q: How did you flee from arrest after the movement?
A: I'll tell you what I can, but I must protect the safety of people who are still in Burma. The regime raided our Maggin Monastery on the 26th of September. Starting several days before the Saffron Revolution, following the arrests in August of my colleagues Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, I hadn't stayed at my Monastery. Then we formed the monk alliance. I was outside the Monastery when they raided. Since the crackdown I have been on the run at many hideouts with the assistance of friends, monk colleagues, devotees and my students. During this time we have worked together to reorganize our monk alliance. I'd like to say we have made all necessary preparations.
Q: When did you realize the movement must be led by the monks?
A: We have had many monk organizations for a long time prior the August fuel price hike demonstrations and September revolution including the Young Monks Association, Sangha Union, Rangoon Young Monks Union and Thawtuzana. We already had the idea of joining with the people and pro-democracy forces when the time was ripe. When the junta suddenly and drastically raised the price of fuel, the people resented the action and took to the streets. Then the junta cracked down on their movement with their thugs, USDA and Swan Arr Shin, and their movement was disrupted. So we prepared to continue their unfinished task by forming a monk alliance in Mandalay. But our movement broke out in Pakokku, so we then let the media know of our intention to initiate a boycott against the regime. In Pakokku too, the leading monks of the movement are from our monk organizations.
Q: What is the ultimate goal of your monk organization?
A: We'll do anything which will be good for the people and the country. But our movement must be in accordance with our religion and for the good of the people, because our organization is not a political organization. We will act only for the national cause.
Q: What made you decide to flee to the border and leave Burma?
A: I didn't want to give trouble to anyone who harbored me while I was on the run and being hunted. I feared they also might give trouble to my family, relatives, devotees and students. So I decided to flee to the border to avoid such miserable things.
Q: Can another movement like the Saffron Revolution emerge again?
A: We must wait for some time. When the time is ripe, it will happen again. When the people's resentment against the regime reaches a certain level and they decide to express their discontent, we will be prepared to join. Such a situation will create the atmosphere for another Saffron Revolution or something similar. I see now that preparations are being made by monks, students and pro-democracy forces for just such a time.
Q: Now I'd like to go back to the current situation. The junta has announced that they will go ahead with their roadmap. How should the people respond to their plan?
A: The people in Burma can do two things. The first one is to protest, but it has many limitations. The junta would arrest them, imprison them, kill them and shoot them. The other thing the people can do to express their will and desire is to implement a boycott of the referendum. These actions are simply exercising their rights. They can protest against the referendum or they can denounce the referendum. I hope all pro-democracy forces will do what they can. This is a crucial time for all of us. We must have a concerted effort to achieve our goals.
Q: What is your opinion on the ruling government?
A: They are making simple things complicated. They didn't keep their promises to transfer power to the winning party after the 1990 general election. The current crisis can be resolved by entering into dialogue. But they are only concerned with their own interests and look to cling to power by holding this referendum and a new election in 2010.
Q: Some say that monks should stay away from politics. What is your opinion?
A: Politics is a vast and broad field. We are not involved in politics, this is just an accusation made against us by the regime. We will not form a political party and we will not contest parliamentary elections. We don't even have the right to vote. We are monks, not politicians. But even in the reign of King Narathihapate, Shin Dethaparmaukha acted as a diplomat for the sake of the country and the people. The monks are acting for the sake of the people and the country in a perspective of religion similar to that of Shin Dethaparmaukha. We are not conducting politics.
Q: How do you see the role of the Sangha Mahanayaka (the highest government sponsored monk organization)?
A: This is the highest organ of monks and Sasana in Burma. This organization once issued an appeal to the junta and the people at the height of the 1988 uprising. Again, this is not politics, it is religion. They appealed to the government to stop the killing and torture. They appealed to the people to keep discipline. Similarly they should again appeal to the government in consideration of the people and the country. In this way they will gain dignity and respect for themselves and the Sasana. So I wish the Sangha Mahanayaka will appeal to the government and stand boldly for truth and justice.
Q: Can they take such a position?
A: If they want to, they can. If they want to avoid such a situation, they can. No one can blame them for it. If they can do it, it will be very much to the benefit of the people and country. I think they should do it. It is right and not contrary to the Buddhist disciplinary code.
If voting changed anything; Myanmar: the junta's cunning plan
The Economist: Fri 15 Feb 2008
The junta would not contemplate allowing Myanmar's people to do it twice.
Nobody could accuse the generals who run Myanmar of making hasty reforms. Their handpicked assembly took 14 years to decide the framework of a new constitution. A self-declared 2003 roadmap to democracy has so far proved long on detours and short on direction. So the junta's surprise declaration last week that it would hold a constitutional referendum in May and multi-party elections in 2010 should be cause for cheers. But Myanmar's winding path to democracy is littered with too many false starts for much optimism.
The constitution is still being fine-tuned, but its bedrock is little changed since the process began in 1993. A version previewed last September would reserve one-quarter of seats in the national parliament for army appointees, assign key ministries to top brass and permit army chiefs to declare a state of emergency when they deem fit. Analysts say the reclusive regime hankers after a "disciplined democracy" that keeps pesky dissidents out of power. That applies above all to Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained opposition leader, who is banned from office as the widow of a foreigner, and her National League for Democracy. It won Myanmar's last election in 1990. But the army refused to honour the outcome. Little wonder, then, that dissidents snort at the prospects for a free and fair choice in the junta's two-step ballot.
Foreign reactions have also been cool: Australia and America dismissed the planned referendum as a "sham", while Japan lamented the exclusion of Miss Suu Kyi from the process. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, said he was glad to see a timeframe for political reforms but urged the regime to reach out to its opponents. As the world winced last September at Myanmar's violent crackdown on peaceful monk-led demonstrators, the UN Security Council united in condemnation. After pushing talks between Miss Suu Kyi and the regime, however, its special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, is now reduced to begging for another visa (not until April, comes the reply). Myanmar stonewalled previous UN envoys into silence. Without a more robust mandate, Mr Gambari may well suffer the same fate.
Some analysts credit China, Myanmar's second-largest trading partner, with nudging the junta into what looks like a concession. The theory is that, ahead of the Beijing Olympics, it wants to stop its links with Myanmar becoming another target of human-rights campaigners (see page 71). Asian neighbours, eyeing Myanmar's resources, are happy to play along. Singapore, the current chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, duly praised the election timetable. ASEAN's new chief, Surin Pitsuwan, said the regime should get the benefit of the doubt.
But outside pressure has its limits. Thant Myint-u, a Burmese historian, says the army is focused far more on internal politics and the quelling of ethnic insurgencies than on its sullied international name. Those dynamics may suggest 2010 as opportune for a military-civilian administration that can accommodate the ambitions of junior generals and armed groups now observing ceasefires. The junta's leader, Than Shwe, is also said to be anxious to protect his family and its fortune after he departs. Such concerns easily trump any external pressure to work with Miss Suu Kyi and her ageing cadres.
Staging a referendum less than a year after the brutal crushing of popular dissent could yet backfire, though. Aung Naing Oo, an exiled Burmese analyst, says activists see it as a potential spark for resistance, particularly if the army clumsily rigs the ballot. Elections are unpredictable even in Myanmar. The 1990 one did not go the generals' way. Myanmar is still living with the consequences.
Divided they fall - Yeni
Irrawaddy: Fri 15 Feb 2008
The death of 65-year-old Padoh Mahn Sha, the KNU's secretary general, is not only a great loss for the Karen people, but also for the pro-democracy movement in Burma.
Nobody knows yet who committed the assassination. Several dissidents along the Thai-Burmese border claim the killing was ordered by the Burmese junta and that they might target other exiled leaders based in Thailand, especially in Mae Sot. Members of the border-based opposition suggest the KNU general secretary was at the top of a junta hit list.
However, the Thai police have confirmed that an eyewitness stated that Mahn Sha was killed by two gunmen who greeted him in Karen language. Karen sources suspect the gunmen were members of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a Karen splinter group that broke with the KNU in 1995 and is now allied with the Burma army.
What is indisputable is that Mahn Sha's death follows a series of attacks, killings and assassination attempts between mainstream KNU members and splinter groups, such as the DKBA and the breakaway Brigade 7, now known as KNU/KNLA Peace Council.
In August 2007, the body of Lt-Col Kyi Linn, commander of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), was found with a bullet wound to the head in the Haungthayaw River in Kawkareik Township of Karen State. Anonymous sources from the KNU rivals claimed Kyi Linn was shot by his own soldiers under orders from the KNU leadership after he had met secretly with Lt-Col Min Chit Oo of the Burmese Southeast Military Affairs Security department without the KNU leaders' knowledge.
In 2004 Gen Bo Mya visited Rangoon for peace talks with then Prime Minister Khin Nyunt. The resulting "gentlemen's agreement" stayed in force until Bo Mya's death in December 2006. Things steadily went downhill thereafter.
The KNU broke off all communications with the junta in February 2007, when Brig-Gen Htain Maung, the former head of KNU Brigade 7, and some 300 KNU soldiers, defected to the Burmese army.
Tensions peaked after Col Ler Moo, the son-in-law of breakaway leader Htain Maung, was killed in a bomb attack while sleeping at a communications office near the group's headquarters in December 2007.
Soon after, troops from the KNLAthe military wing of the KNUattacked a bus on the Myawaddy road carrying DKBA soldiers, killing eight people and injuring six. The sabotage of the bus followed a dry season offensive in which the DKBA reportedly attacked Karen civilians in Brigade 6, apparently at the behest of the Burmese military authorities and their continued policy of using the DKBA to undertake offensives against civilians in Karen State and Pegu Division.
The KNU have been fighting for independence since 1949, one of the world's longest-running guerrilla conflicts. However, if the previous few years' events are anything to go by, the collective aspirations of the Karen people will surely be no more than a pipe dream.
The assassination of Padoh Mahn Sha is the deepest loss the KNU has suffered since the 1950 killing of Ba U Gyi, a former colonial-era Burmese cabinet minister and then leader of the Karen resistance, who was shot in a Burmese army ambush.
On this occasion, however, the evidence points to the assassination being the result of a divided Karen house.
Surely the generals in Naypyidaw are smugly laughing to themselves today.
Pre-Emptive Strike - Joshua Kurlantzick
Time: Fri 15 Feb 2008
The remarkable courage shown by Burma's marching monks last September captured the world's imagination. The protests encouraged Western governments, many of which first imposed economic sanctions against Rangoon a decade ago, to broaden those measures; the E.U., for example, has now banned a far wider range of exports from Burma.
Sadly, this strategy will prove as ineffective as past such actions against the junta. Sanctions that only heap more restrictions on Burmese exports will have no impact on the ruling generals. The junta has demonstrated that it does not care about Western opinion and has no genuine interest in dialogue. Indeed, negotiations between the generals and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, which were jump-started by the U.N. after the September protests, have stalled, and many dissidents have been rearrested. On Feb. 9 the junta said it would hold a referendum on a new constitution in May and hold a general election in 2010, but the new constitution effectively bars Suu Kyi from political office and the last time the junta held a general election, in 1990, it refused to recognize the victory of the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi's party.
The generals, thus, are not to be trusted. Instead, the outside world needs to hit them directly in their pockets, where they are vulnerable, while avoiding collateral damage to the wider Burmese population. Lower-profile financial measures also will appeal to China and to ASEAN, which is allergic to public shaming of the junta. Singapore, ASEAN's current chairman, has ruled out either imposing new sanctions or booting Burma out of ASEAN.
The junta and its business allies do not save their money in Burma's shambles of a banking system; they stash their hard currency in offshore centers. Tough but quiet financial sanctions, focusing on freezing assets of a list of junta leaders and their allies, could cut off the generals' income with little cost to average Burmese. These measures have worked against tyrants before; they disabled Serbian tyrant Slobodan Milosevic's finances and put pressure on North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il - after Washington publicly identified a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau as a major conduit for North Korean money, the bank froze many North Korean accounts.
Along with a financial crackdown, an international arms embargo against the generals would have an impact without causing wider pain. Without new weaponry provided at discount rates, the junta would have to spend vastly more of its own money equipping the second largest army in Southeast Asia. This would leave far less to support the military's vast parallel social-welfare system, including separate health care and schools for soldiers, which is vital to ensuring the average grunt's loyalty to the generals rather than to the Burmese people.
A comprehensive embargo, led by Asian nations, also would allow the U.S. to step back from the public face of pressure on Burma. The junta, always on the lookout for "neocolonialism," could not portray the action as simply the West ganging up on poor Burma.
After last fall's crackdown, India promised to stop arms sales to Rangoon. China could be persuaded to go along. Beijing has already cut off non-humanitarian aid to other rogue nations like Zimbabwe. As with Burma, Robert Mugabe's regime stained China's international image; Beijing also fretted that unrest against the Mugabe government might spark local anger at Chinese interests. Chinese diplomats privately admit that Beijing fears that violent instability in Burma might threaten Beijing's investments - in October, with Burmese resentment of China soaring, gunmen fired on the Chinese consulate in Mandalay. Embargo commitments by those Asian giants would push the junta's other weapons suppliers to fall in line, or risk standing alone in their support for the generals.
Of course, launching quiet, targeted measures does not mean that international ngos and activists should refrain from publicizing the junta's atrocities or stop offering moral support to suffering Burmese democrats. Public-attention campaigns, followed inside Burma through foreign radio stations, give courage to Burmese dissidents. They keep Burma's cause in the world's media. They engage a new generation of human-rights activists around the globe. But moral support alone cannot triumph in a fight against an immoral regime. Putting the squeeze on the generals' cash is different. That would truly be payback.
Russian firm to explore gold in Myanmar
AP : February 17, 2008
Yangon A Russian company has signed an agreement with Myanmar's military government to search for gold in northwestern Myanmar, state-run media reported yesterday.
Russia's Victorious Glory International Pte. Ltd. signed the agreement with Myanmar officials on Friday, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported. It said the deal allowed for gold and other mineral exploration along the Uru River, but it did not elaborate on the details of the agreement.
Areas along the Uru River in Myanmar's northwestern Sagaing division and northern Kachin state are known to have rich deposits of gold and other minerals.
Unlike most Western countries, which slam Myanmar's human rights record and its failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government, Russia has been relatively friendly toward the junta.
A political crisis in Myanmar attracted world attention last September when Buddhist monks led the biggest anti-government protests the country had seen in two decades. The government cracked down sharply and at least 31 people were killed according to a UN investigator.
Burma gains in leader's death???
Asia Times Online : 02.17.2008
The killing of Mahn Sha La Pan, the 64-year-old general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU) rebel group, represents a substantial loss to the movement - which at 58 years running represents the longest armed struggle for independence anywhere in the world - and promises to undermine the wider ethnic and democracy struggle in Myanmar for years to come.
Mahn Sha was killed on Thursday in an assassination in the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot. Although sources vary about the details, it appears he was killed by two men who entered his house at about 4:30pm. The assassins went upstairs where Mahn Sha was resting on his balcony, greeted him, then shot him one time each with 9mm pistols.
Independent accounts say he was shot once by one assailant and then shot again while on the ground by the second. The two men then fled the house and got into a waiting pickup truck which a third man drove off at speed.
Neither the KNU-breakaway Democratic Karen Buddhist Army. nor the Burmese junta's military intelligence service can be ruled out as possible culprits. However, KNU insiders believe Mahn Sha's assassination was most likely carried out as a revenge killing by members of the KNU/KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) Peace Council, an armed splinter group loyal to former KNLA 7th Brigade commander General Htain Maung, which broke away from the KNU in January 2007.
Statements from the Peace Council often vilified Mahn Sha and blamed him for many of the verbal and military attacks later launched against them. One of the leaders of the group, Saw Ler Mu, the son-in-law of leader General Htain Maung, was killed on January 29 when a bomb was placed under the hut in which he was sleeping. It was widely estimated, though never proven with corroborating evidence, at the time to have been carried out by the KNU.
Another member of the Peace Council, spokesman Maung Kyaw, has been missing for several days and thought by many to have also been killed by the KNU. Sadly, the one person who could have served as a unifying agent for both the Karen and the political opposition was likely assassinated by his own people in the cause of furthering disunity.
Mahn Sha first joined the KNU in 1966 and his subsequent duties within the KNU took him to the insurgent areas of the Shan, Karenni and Kachin, which gave him a broader appreciation for the struggles of the other ethnic groups than many of his Karen leadership peers.
Following a visit to the headquarters of the Burmese Communist Party in 1986 and the conclusion of an agreement to establish a joint military alliance with the communists, Mahn Sha was demoted to private and sent to the frontlines by an angry General Bo Mya, then the leader of the Karen and then a staunch rightwing anti-communist.
Mahn Sha, however, proved his worth and rose quickly back up through the ranks to become Bo Mya's personal secretary in 1988. At the KNU's 12th Congress in 2000 he was elected general secretary, the number three position in the KNU. He was reelected to the position in the 2004 Congress and also was a member of the secretariat of the National Council of the Union of Burma, a political umbrella organization of ethnic political organizations and the democracy movement.
This respect and sympathy for other ethnic groups and his willingness to work with the democratic opposition made him a unifying figure in Burmese opposition politics. In a milieu where many ethnic minority and Burman-majority leaders are often more interested in gaining advantage for their own nationalist or political causes - sometimes to the point of racism - Mahn Sha made strenuous efforts to build consensus. During the funeral for his wife several years ago in Mae Sot, representatives from many of the other ethnic insurgent organizations and political opposition came to pay their respects.
Leadership vacuum: Although officially number three in the KNU, serving behind both president Saw Ba Thin Sein and vice president Saw Tamala Baw, the president's ill health and the vice president's advanced age had in recent years left Mahn Sha in real terms holding the reigns of power. He was definitely the public face of the KNU, being the most frequently sought after official for press interviews.
The KNU now faces the difficult task of filling his leadership shoes, just over one year since the December 2006 death of former charismatic KNU leader Bo Mya. Although there are other capable leaders in the organization, the complex nature of Karen politics means that before a new general secretary can be chosen there must be some form of consensus. This will be difficult to achieve in an organization where clique politics plays an important role and the Cold War-era ideological struggle between communists and non-communists still plays a role in internal Karen politics.
Mahn Sha was also a Buddhist and an ethnic Pwo Karen in an organization which since its creation has been overwhelmingly controlled by Christians and Sgaw Karen. The majority of Karen are Buddhists, although the large percentage of Christian leaders within the organization has lead to the movement being erroneously represented as a Christian group. Simmering anger over the perceived privileged positions of Christian leaders and their families resulted in a serious split in 1994 and the formation of the DKBA.
Sources in Mae Sot close to the Karen say that Mahn Sha was one figure who could unite Buddhists and Christians, communists and non-communists, Pwo Karens and Skaw Karens, and maintain peace between the different power cliques. For consensus on policy and important decisions to be reached within the KNU, all sides have to be balanced and Mahn Sha was uniquely qualified as a mediator.
He was however unable to stop the 7th Brigade's commander and some of his soldiers splitting from the KNU over issues surrounding whether to maintain the ceasefire with the junta. The split was largely contained and very few joined the new group, but the damage to the KNU's reputation had already been done.
Further splits within the KNU, even if they are internal ideological ones, are not something the rebel group can afford if it hopes to continue to fend off the Burmese army and engage the junta in future negotiations. Some analysts believe that Mahn Sha's death will serve to embolden the ruling State Peace and Development Council's attempts to further divide and rule the KNU.
While it is unlikely that Mahn Sha was killed on the direct orders of the military regime, it is certainly to their benefit. He was known to be a tough negotiator and the junta expressly requested that he not be included in the ceasefire negotiations of 2003-2004. It was felt by those close to the Karen struggle that this was because Mahn Sha could not be enticed by promises of personal enrichment or the lure of economic concessions - a tactic that several other ceasefire ethnic groups in Burma have been frequently accused of succumbing to.
The Burmese Army's renewed offensive in early 2006 in the northern Karen State and eastern Pegu Division is two years later slowly eroding the last remaining areas under Karen control. The army's scorched earth tactics are also causing serious hardships for the civilian population of the region. Mahn Sha was never in support of the ceasefire agreed between the KNU and the junta and which many now believe was simply a diversionary tactic by the Burmese military to prepare its frontlines for the offensive.
Mahn Sha's support for continued military resistance to the junta until the military regime is willing to hold an honest political discussion with the KNU made him unpopular with some who felt that the Karen should have peace. Mahn Sha's stance, however, was seemingly vindicated with the army's renewed military activity against KNU strongholds.
The Karen are also suffering from something of a crisis of resolve with many seeking to emigrate as refugees, including members of the KNU and KNLA and large numbers of young people. Mahn Sha was a leader that the younger generation of Karen could look up to and his death may further diminish hopes for a people already in crisis.
More than most ethnic or democratic opposition leaders, Mahn Sha was willing to put aside his nationalism and try to form united fronts. While this cost him support in some Karen circles, due to feelings that he may have been appeasing other groups at the cost of Karen issues, it made him invaluable for uniting ethnic opposition to the military regime.
At this January's Karen new year celebrations, Mahn Sha stated, "The KNU will also cooperate with opposition groups inside and outside the country in matters relating to change in Burma [Myanmar] and increasing the progress of the democracy movement."
Cooperation is something the opposition is going to need to counter the junta's new plans for a referendum on its new constitution and follow-on elections. Unity, however, is something the ethnic and democracy struggle in Burma has historically lacked, making the loss of a leader who inspired people across ethnic and political divides that more tragic.
Author: Brian McCartan
The trouble with Number 8...
Bangkok Post: 02.16.2008
Burma's democracy uprising took place on 8/8/88. The Games in Beijing are to start 8/8/08. Burma's internal troubles won't go away easily, and they are on China's doorstep
Twenty years ago, millions of Burmese took to the streets to defy the dictatorial government of General Ne Win. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Burma's democracy uprising. The uprising is known as the four 8s, or 8/8/88, because student activists called for a nationwide uprising on August 8, 1988.
The number 8 brought bloodshed, tears and hope for democratic change in Burma. The irony now is that the Beijing Olympics will begin on Aug 8, 2008.
There have been calls for a boycott against the Beijing Olympics ever since the bloody crackdown in September in Burma. But why target China?
The connection is simply that many people feel Burma is China's client state _ Beijing has been Rangoon's political consultant. Besides, China is a main source of diplomatic, military and economic support that has prolonged the repressive rule in Burma. Beijing has been a good friend of the repressive regime in Burma _ China repeatedly vetoed Burma resolutions at the United Nations Security Council.
After the bloody crackdown in September, Beijing sent a number of mixed signals to the international community.
First, China asked the junta to work toward national reconciliation and democratisation. Beijing urged the international community to engage the regime and not to use sanctions to pressure the junta to change. The Chinese also played a positive role in encouraging the regime to issue a visa to UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari to enter Burma.
Since the crackdown, Burma has twice dispatched envoys to Beijing to give special briefings on its ''internal affairs.'' China's support for the regime has been consistent. Critics say China's policy on Burma is designed to preserve the regime.
Aside from political backing, Beijing continues to provide military aid, economic assistance and soft loans to the junta. China now has more than 700 development projects under way in Burma, including building roads, dams and factories.
In return, Burma sells gas and natural resources to China and provides overland routes to access the Indian Ocean. Diplomatically, it also promotes the one-China policy.
But Burma's internal troubles won't go away easily, and they are on China's doorstep. The Chinese are rightly worried about bad publicity surrounding the Olympics Games in Beijing.
The world will be focusing on China, and the buildup to the Olympics could create bad press and calls for a boycott of the Olympics. The Chinese leaders are nervous.
Outside of China, bad Olympic publicity increased when American actress Mia Farrow criticised Beijing for contributing to the atrocities in Darfur through its economic deals with the Sudanese government, which human rights activists say is committing genocide. In a Wall Street Journal article, Ms Farrow said China was getting ready to hold a ''Genocide Olympics''.
Film director Steven Spielberg also joined the protest. He recently said in a statement: ''Sudan's government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes, but the international community, and particularly China, should be doing more.''
On Burma, Beijing has gone on the defensive, saying sports and politics should be separated.
Liu Jingmin, the vice mayor of Beijing and vice president of the Beijing Olympics organising committee, said it was unfair to link China's policies on Burma to boycotts.
''I believe that any political issue or issues that have nothing to do with the Olympics should not be linked with the Olympic Games,'' he told correspondents in Beijing late last year.
''The Chinese government has played a constructive and responsible part in the Myanmar issue,'' Mr Liu said. ''The constructive role by China has been recognised by all. I think the attempt to use this issue as an excuse to boycott the Beijing Olympics is both inappropriate and unpopular.''
In any case, the boycott campaign will grow as Beijing's diplomatic and military support for the repressive junta in Burma has remained unchanged.
Indeed, the anti-junta campaigns planned for the Beijing Olympics are starting to gather momentum. In the near future, foreign and Burmese activists will stage demonstrations and issue calls for the Chinese government to use its influence to pressure the generals to engage in serious political reform.
The campaign, known as 808, has called on China to:
Endorse a UN Security Council resolution that would impose a global arms embargo and visa ban on Burma's generals;
Publicly call for the release of all political prisoners in Burma and an end to attacks in eastern Burma; and
Pressure Burma's generals to begin a genuine dialogue with the democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and Burma's ethnic groups.
Campaign activists insisted theirs was not a b
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