[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 19/2/08
- UN envoy: Myanmar in 'critical phase'
- NLD rejects Burmese junta's referendum and election plan
- Two journalists arrested in Rangoon
- Authorities ban Dhamma talk in Magwe
- More leaders targeted for assassination
- Rice export restrictions drive up prices
- Japan to accept Burmese refugees
- India persuades Myanmar to let UN envoy visit
- Freeing dissidents seen as vital to Myanmar transition
- Don't push NLD into a corner
- Burmese delegation attends military expo
- Weekly business roundup
- When there is a will for All inclusive exile Government
- Special Lecture by a Burma Expert
Burma: Lessons from the Past, Problems in the Present, Thoughts about the Future
UN envoy: Myanmar in 'critical phase'
The Associated Press: February 18th, 2008
BEIJING -- A U.N. special envoy told Chinese diplomats Monday that the world community must prod Myanmar's ruling junta toward democratic reforms.
Ibrahim Gambari, on the first stop of a regional tour, said he told Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi that it is crucial that the international community moves quickly to lobby the generals to pledge changes.
"I believe we are now in a critical phase in terms of development in Myanmar, in terms of Myanmar's relations with neighboring countries, with ASEAN, with the international community," Gambari said.
ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has called repeatedly on fellow member Myanmar to hold talks with opposition leaders, including detained Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Gambari's visit follows a rare street protest last week by Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, complaining that the junta's recent moves toward reform were not enough.
On Feb. 9, the government announced plans for a May referendum on a new constitution written under military guidance and general elections in 2010, the first specific dates for steps in an earlier-announced "roadmap to democracy."
The plans have been widely criticized for failing to include any input from Suu Kyi's party, which won general elections in 1990 but was not allowed by the military to take power.
In a statement Monday, the party said the junta's unilateral announcement could affect peace and stability and aggravate the country's "political, economic and social woes."
China is a key stop on Gambari's sweep through the region because Beijing is an important trading partner and arms provider for the generals who run the country.
China objects to Western criticisms of Myanmar's military regime, saying conditions in the country have improved dramatically since a violent crackdown on peaceful protests in September.
China has expressed little interest in seeing a democratically elected government take power on its southern flank and is reportedly seeking access to Myanmar's offshore natural gas deposits.
However, China has been credited with convincing Myanmar's generals to issue visas for Gambari to visit. While the junta has yet to approve another visit by the envoy, Wang said it was important that Gambari was visiting China ahead of any future follow-up trip to Myanmar.
Gambari also is to travel to Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.
Myanmar has been under international pressure to make democratic reforms, especially since its quashing of anti-government protests last September. The U.N. estimates at least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained in the crackdown.
NLD rejects Burmese junta's referendum and election plan - Maung Dee
Mizzima News: Mon 18 Feb 2008
The National League for Democracy Burma's main opposition political party today, in an official statement, rejected the junta's referendum and election plans, saying it will not lead to democratic reforms but is just another tactic to prolong military rule in Burma.
NLD spokesperson U Thein Nyunt said, "We do not believe that there will be a free and fair referendum and election, because the junta has a tradition of breaking its promises including its promise on the 1990 election. So, we think this is only a violation of human rights and democracy."
The NLD's statement, read out to Mizzima over telephone, is the first official response on the ruling junta's plan. The junta on February 9 announced that it will hold a referendum in May and followed by a general election in 2010.
Holding a referendum on the draft constitution, which is written without the participation of peoples' representatives, only shows it is not heading for democratic reforms but will shower bigger political and social problems in the country, the statement said.
Besides, holding another election without rectifying the 1990 election results only proves that the junta disregards the peoples' popular desire and will do it again, the statement said.
"The NLD, therefore, does not believe that the ensuing referendum will be justly conducted," added the statement.
"If the government genuinely wants to resolve the political crisis in Burma, they should respect the will of the people and the constitution must reflect the peoples will," Thein Nyunt said.
Burma has been ruled by military dictators for nearly half a century, since general Ne Win seized power in a military coup in 1962. Burma once rich in mineral resources and known as the 'rice bowl' of Southeast Asia has gone through severe economic deterioration under the military dictator's economic mismanagement.
The plummeting economic situation forces a majority of the Burmese people to live under the poverty line. The dire living condition of the people brought hundreds, if not thousands, to march on the streets in September last year, when the junta suddenly hiked fuel prices in August, which hit the people hard.
But, the military regime, which has a tradition of coming down heavily on any anti-government protests, brutally cracked down on the demonstrators led by Buddhist monks, killing at least 31 people and arresting thousands, according to the United Nations.
As a cover up to the crackdown, the junta appointed a liaison officer, Aung Kyi, to mediate between detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and junta supremo Than Shwe. It is being viewed as a move to fool the international community as well as the Burmese people that the junta is kick starting a process of political reform.
However, after the fifth round of talks, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said her discussions with Aung Kyi yielded no hope for the reconciliation process and that she is dissatisfied with the talks.
Not long after the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's statement, the junta on February 9 declared that it will hold a referendum on the constitution, which took 14 years to lay down the guidelines in a national convention, and to hold election in 2010.
Critics, however, slam the junta's announcement as yet another tactic to prolong its rule in the country.
"In order to aim for democratic reforms, the junta must first respect the peoples' will and reflect them in the constitution," Thein Nyunt said.
Two journalists arrested in Rangoon - Nem Davies
Mizzima News: Mon 18 Feb 2008
Two journalists from a Rangoon based weekly publication 'Myanmar Nation' were picked up on Friday for interrogation.
The local authorities from Thingangyun Township, Rangoon came to their office and took away Chief Editor Thet Zin and Manager Sein Win Maung on Friday evening.
"At about 5 p.m. on Friday, local authorities came and searched our office. They then took away Ko Thet Zin and Manager U Sein Win Maung at about 9 p.m. for interrogation. They are now in Thingangyun police lockup," he said told Mizzima.
Officials found and seized a copy of the Burmese translation of UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Mr. Pinheiro's report, a VCD of the September demonstrations led by monks and a copy of 'Let's build inseparable Union' written by Shan ethnic leader Shwe Ohn, from the office.
Again a police officer and five policemen from Thingangyun police station came to the office in mufti this morning and searched for about three hours, seizing data from Chief Editor's office computer.
Khin Swe Myint, spouse of Thet Zin, confirmed her husband's arrest and said that they are being interrogated at the Township police station.
"I don't know why they were taken away from their Journal office. I asked the policemen who came and searched the office this morning again. They only said that they came under instruction from higher authorities and they will submit their report following the search. They just said they would let me know about the case later," she said to Mizzima.
"I can't imagine why they were taken away from their office. This journal is being published officially after clearance from the Censor Board. They didn't do anything which violates any rule or law. I asked Ko Thet Zin too. He also doesn't have any idea why he was being interrogated," she added.
The Burma Media Association (BMA) called for the immediate release of Thet Zin, Sein Win Maung besides author Lay Lay Mun a.k.a. Phu Ngong (Teenage Magazine), blogger and author Nay Phone Latt, poets Min Han, Nay Htet Naing and Ko Ko Maung (Zaw Lu Sein) who were also arrested in 2008.
Authorities ban Dhamma talk in Magwe
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 18 Feb 2008
Local authorities in Pwint Phyu township, Magwe division, cancelled a Dhamma talk by a Mandalay abbot on Saturday and told him to leave the town, local residents said.
Abbot U Thu Mingala of Moegok Wipathana monastery in Mandalay was conducting a three-day Dhamma talk in the township.
Residents of Kone Zaung village, Pwint Phyu, said the talk had already run for two days before police came and stopped the event on the third day.
"Local police chief U Sein Win arrived at the location where the talk was being held at around 2pm on Saturday afternoon and said that U Thu Mingala has been banned from conducting Dhamma talks," a Kone Zaung villager said.
"He also demanded that the pavilion be demolished and the monk leave town at once."
Police did not give a reason for the order or show any legal documentation.
Chit Wai San, a local village youth who demanded an explanation for the cancellation, was punched and arrested by Sein Win.
Police initially denied a request made by U Thu Mingalar to release Chit Wai San, but later released him after the villagers agreed to pay 100,000 kyat, the villager said.
"The day after, Sein Win demanded 200,000 kyat for Chit Wai San's release," he said.
"But the villagers bargained with the police chief and managed to get him to agree to 100,000."
U Thu Mingala has been recently gained a name among people in the region for raising controversial issues during his talks.
During the two days of sermons he gave in Pwint Phyu, U Thu Mingala conducted talks under such titles as, "Time for a change of leader" and "Do not take the easy path".
U Thu Mingala has complained he was only passing on the wisdom of Buddhist teaching in his talks and is now trying to find out on what grounds he has been banned from conducting talks.
"I did not say anything damaging towards [the government], in fact everything I said came from Buddhist teachings," said U Thu Mingala.
More leaders targeted for assassination Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: KNU: Mon 18 Feb 2008
Two more senior military leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU) are on Karen splinter groups' hit lists, according to KNU sources.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy by phone on Friday and Saturday, a KNU senior officer said that Gen Mu Tu, commander in chief of the KNU's military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and Brig-Gen Jonny, commander of KNLA Brigade 7, were targets for assassination by both the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the KNU/KNLA Peace Council.
The claims follow the assassination of Mahn Sha, general secretary of the KNU, on Thursday.
"Ever since Htain Maung defected, he has always planned to kill the KNU's top leaders," said a KNU source who works closely with the KNU leadership.
Maj-Gen Htain Maung led some 300 soldiers from Brigade 7 in defecting to the Burmese army in February 2007. His splinter group is now known as KNU/KNLA Peace Council.
Another KNU source said that speculation had been rife that Mahn Sha was assassinated by the DKBA, which who split from the rebel coalition in 1995.
Mahn Sha was secretary general of the KNU, an ethnic rebel group that has been fighting for independence since 1949.
The source said that two days ago before Mahn Sha's assassination, a DKBA member named Soe Myint, also known as San Pyote, called a friend of hers who was living in the same house as Mahn Sha and asked for the address of his home. San Pyote said that he was interested in buying Mahn Sha's car.
San Pyote belongs to the DKBA Battalion 999.
However, a DKBA source has denied the accusation.
He said, "It is not possiblethe DKBA split from the KNU more than 10 years ago. After Mahn Sha was killed, even some of the DKBA's leadership called me and asked me what happened."
Mahn Sha had received phone threats before his assassination, said a Karen source in Mae Sot.
The source said, "On Karen Revolution Day, an unknown man phoned Mahn Sha and said to him, 'I will come and shoot you!'"
KNU sources claim that prior to Thursday's assassination, about 20 spies from the DKBA were assigned and deployed in the Mae Sot area for purposes of assassination. Sources believe the plot to kill Mahn Sha was well planned weeks in advance.
Assassinations among the KNU, the DKBA and the KNU/KNLA Peace Council have increased since the defection of Htain Maung's faction.
After the assassinations of Lt-Col Kyi Linn, a commander of the KNLA, in August 2007, who met secretly with Lt-Col Min Chit Oo of the Burmese Southeast Military Affairs Security department, and Col Ler Moo, the son-in-law of Htain Maung, who was killed last month, Mahn Sha and Jonny were blamed for masterminding the plots and were targeted for assassination, a KNU source said.
Meanwhile, opposition groups in exile have accused the Burmese military regime of being responsible for Mahn Sha's assassination.
In November 2007, San Pyote tried to kill Brig-Gen Jonny, a KNU official from Brigade 7.
"All this is enough to make the Burmese government very happy," Brig-Gen Jonny told The Irrawaddy. "We Karen people should be unified. If we are divided, we will never achieve self-determination and the rights we demand."
Rice export restrictions drive up prices
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 18 Feb 2008
Burmese government restrictions to prevent companies that have not been approved by the regime from exporting rice are leading to a rise in the price of rice.
In the past two weeks, the price of a 50kg sack of regular rice has risen from 14,000 kyat to 16,000 kyat.
A cheaper type of rice has increased in price from 13,000 kyat to 13,500 kyat.
The government has placed restrictions on delivering rice to other regions, and checkpoints outside Rangoon have been checking that rice is not being transported by companies who have not been approved by the government.
Companies with export permits are allowed to buy 500,000 tons of rice in Irrawaddy division, which has a high rice yield, 100,000 tons in Bago division and 10,000 tons in Sagaing division.
Rice traders believe that prices could rise even higher if the government continues to issue permits for rice production.
Japan to accept Burmese refugees
Reuters: Mon 18 Feb 2008
Japan will accept a small number of the refugees from Burma now sheltering in Thailand, a rare move for a country known for keeping its gates tightly closed to asylum seekers, a newspaper reported on Monday.
Dozens of refugees will be allowed into Japan next year from among the Burmese that have fled across the border to Thailand, fearing persecution in their homeland, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.
An official at the Immigration Bureau said the matter was under consideration and nothing had been decided.
Accepting refugees from a third country may deflect criticism of Japan for what activists say is overly strict assessment of asylum cases.
Last year Japan approved 41 of 816 applications from asylum seekers and allowed a further 88 applicants to stay for humanitarian reasons, although they were not officially recognized as refugees.
In the same period, France accepted about 10,900 refugees, the United Kingdom 6,300 and the United States 23,296, according to the United Nations.
Though extremely low in comparison with other industrialized countries, Japan's figures have risen sharply since the 1990s, when the number of refugees accepted annually remained in single figures for almost a decade.
Last week Burma rebel leader Mahn Sha was shot dead at his home in Mae Sot, a Thai border town that has become home to many Burma refugees. The UN estimates that about 140,000 refugees have fled to Thailand.
India persuades Myanmar to let UN envoy visit
Times of India: Mon 18 Feb 2008
If China was responsible for facilitating UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari's visit to Myanmar in 2007, India will take charge this year. After foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon's quiet visit to Yangon earlier this month, Myanmar's military rulers have reportedly been persuaded to let Gambari return to the country.
If all goes well, Gambari might go back to Myanmar capital Naypyidaw by March. During his recent visit to New Delhi, Gambari told TOI, "Last time, China facilitated my trip to Myanmar. This time, I believe it will be India." Gambari is expected to visit China in February. Asked when he would make his next trip to Myanmar, Gambari said, "The Myanmar government has indicated I could visit in April. But that's too far away, about six months after my last trip. I want to go there much earlier than that." In fact, India has reason to quietly cheer its Myanmar policy.
India made it clear it didn't want sanctions. But it also stood behind Gambari mission. India's resistance to sanctions on Myanmar was matched by China's which also refused to entertain the thought of similar curbs. Besides, the recent sanctions by the European Union have had the predictable effect - the rulers in Mynamar have been spared but poor textile workers and gems and jewellery workers have been deeply affected. In fact, this call for sanctions has, in a way, rebound on Aung San Suu Kyi herself, because many of those affected by the sanctions are apparently her supporters.
This is a reality that has become clear to the sanctioning countries, which has consequently diluted the western appetite for sanctions. It showed in Gambari's more "nuanced" attitude to the Myanmar issue recently. He was clear that the UN would not get involved in bilateral relations with Myanmar. And in fact, India will show its independence when Myanmarese strongman, Gen Maung Aye, arrives here in April to sign the 'Kaladan' multi-modal transport project to be executed by this country.
India in its turn has promised to help steer the Myanmar rulers to work out a more inclusive and comprehensive national reconciliation. Gambari is expected to push for permission to let aid workers in the education and health sectors work among Myanmar's poor.
Freeing dissidents seen as vital to Myanmar transition
Reuters: Mon 18 Feb 2008
Myanmar's military government should free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners to show it is serious about the transition to civilian rule, the European Union said on Monday.
EU foreign ministers noted the generals' February 9 announcement of a referendum on a new, as yet unfinished, constitution in May to be followed by a general election in 2010, but warned sanctions could be toughened without progress on human rights.
The EU tightened sanctions last year after a bloody crackdown in September on peaceful pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks. The steps targeted 1,207 firms and expanded visa bans and asset freezes on the country's military rulers.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner backed the assessment of U.N. mediator Ibrahim Gambari that the plans announced by the generals were welcome but "do not yet meet all the expectations".
"We would like to see that both the referendum and the ensuing elections are steps towards that goal, but they have to be clarified," she told reporters after the meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.
"The participation of political parties has to be clear, the electoral law, the process of free and fair elections itself."
The full participation of the opposition and ethnic groups was vital to reconciliation and stability and urged a more inclusive political dialogue.
"This requires of course as one of the major bases of conditions the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and of course all the other political prisoners," she said.
The generals last held elections in 1990, but ignored them when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won by a landslide.
Opposition figures and some Western countries have voiced scepticism that the junta will be willing to let the opposition compete in the vote or to relinquish power.
The EU ministers called on the generals to re-admit Gambari and U.N. human rights expert Sergio Pinheiro. Ferrero-Waldner said it was important Gambari be allowed back in to Myanmar before April and have full cooperation from the authorities.
Gambari last week criticised Myanmar's extension of the house arrest of top Suu Kyi ally Tin Oo but said the generals might allow him to visit sooner than a proposed mid-April date.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Jon Boyle)
Don't push NLD into a corner - Min Zin [News Analysis]
Irrawaddy: Mon 18 Feb 2008
The present political crisis in Burma could be a model from William L. Ury and Richard Smoke's political science thesis, "Anatomy of a Crisis"a situation of "high stakes, short time, high uncertainty and narrowing options."
In the pragmatic world of realpolitik, it means the opposition movement in Burma is now facing a serious predicament.
When the military regime made the surprise announcement to set a timeline for a referendum in May and a general election in 2010, the opposition groups were caught off guard.
The junta decisively moved ahead with its own "Road Map" and ignored the persistent calls of opposition groups and the UN-led international community to modify the draft constitution and make the political process inclusive.
The political moral ground of the opposition movement, inside the country as well as in exile, has been based on the legitimacy of the 1990 election results in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory that has never been honored.
The opposition activists are now forced to prove the victory of 1990 election remains relevant in upcoming months. The stakes rise, indeed.
Several grassroots opposition groups, including the influential 88 Generation Students group and the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks, recently vowed to launch a "Vote No" campaign against the regime's constitution. But many activists privately admit that the time crunch makes it difficult for them to mobilize a nationwide movement.
The military government's statement regarding the referendum and subsequent elections was vague and shrouded with uncertainties.
Furthermore, the regime has not revoked Law 5/96 of 1996, which provides for up to 20 years imprisonment for anyone who criticizes the government's national convention and its constitution drafting effort.
To add to the dilemma, many ordinary people do not understand what a "Vote No" campaign really meanswhether they are expected to boycott the referendum by shunning the poll stations or they have to physically vote against the constitution.
At the end of the day, no one knows what the regime will do if the public votes against their draft constitution.
"Will they spend another 20 years rewriting another constitution?" questioned a private tutor in Rangoon. "If so, enough is enough. I would rather just go for the flawed constitution."
The high level of uncertainty appears to weaken the opposition's message and game plan.
Even with such high stakes, the time crunch and all the uncertainties, the crisis would be less severe if the opposition had options.
"People must stand up against the referendum and say no to the regime's constitution," said Aung Thu Nyein, a Burmese analyst in exile. "I support the actions of the grassroots organizations, but they must make it clear that it is not a boycott against the referendum. The public must go to the polling stations and vote 'No.'"
Several opposition activists and journalists have taken it a step further. They have called on the NLD to announce a clear policy to direct the public on the referendum issue and to take the initiative in the "Vote No" campaign.
Aung Thu Nyein disagrees. "It is not feasible to urge the NLD to lead the public in mobilizing a Vote No" campaign. The NLD must be flexible," he said.
However, as long as the opposition activists and media view the NLD as the vanguard of the democracy movement, they will continually push the party to lead with a resolution at every turn.
But whether or not the NLD's current leadershipnot forgetting the implications of Aung San Suu Kyi's long absenceremains at the forefront of the democracy movement will be called into question. The nature of the September uprising indicated that the NLD was not playing a leading role.
More importantly, it is a time for different political forces to play significant positions with a mature understanding of one another. The NLD should not run the risk of staking their political future on viewing the referendumstep four of the seven-step "Road Map"as the final battleground.
"We have stated clearly from the beginning that we are against the undemocratic nature of the national convention and the draft constitution," Nyan Win, the NLD spokesman, announced in the wake of the government's statement. "We will probably release our policy by the end of this month. But we don't think the referendum is the final fight for us."
The NLD will continue to condemn the regime's draft constitution as unacceptable and to demand a free and fair referendum, but at the same time they want to appear to keep all options open, instead of totally rejecting the government's Road Map or openly advocating a "Vote No" campaign.
Short of a better alternative, it seems to be the most pragmatic policy the party can adopt.
If the NLD sees the referendum as a final showdown and walks away from the Road Map, the party will very likely be sidelined from mainstream politics in future. If the NLD decide to engage in a "do or die" fight, the regime will gladly get into the ring and work at putting the opposition party out of action for good.
In truth, the NLD seems to be aware of this scenario and are determined to remain on legal ground.
"If the public approves the draft constitution in a credible referendum, we will respect the public's decision," said Nyan Win.
The NLD spokesman even hinted that the party does not reject the possibility of running for a fresh election in 2010, if the public decides to go ahead with the Road Map.
"Burma's road to democracy would be long term, independent of our activists' wishes for radical change," said Tin Maung Than, a well-known Burmese writer and analyst in exile. "The military, as a whole and as an institution, is not in a position to accept such a change. Burma needs some structural adjustment to lure a significant part of the military to cooperate with the people."
Naturally, the publicled by grassroots activistsmust push in that direction. A mass movement will always be needed to bring about that change.
The people of Burma should support the "Vote No" campaign against the draft constitution. If the fight is won, it may prompt a shake up in Naypyidaw. The military government would be forced to reconfigure their options. Combined with international pressure, a new opportunity for dialogue might present itself.
Whether this particular fight is won or not, the NLD must prepare to go on. In politics, a crisis can be cleverly managed with a well calculated strategic move.
Burmese delegation attends military expo
Mizzima News : Monday, 18 February 2008
Burma's military junta is seeking to expand military relations and negotiate future arms contracts at Asia's largest arms exhibition, DEFEXPO 2008, being held in New Delhi.
Sources say a Burmese delegation is reportedly attending seminars on new weapons technology and meeting prospective arms trading partners as well as negotiating future arms contracts.
The DEFEXPO, February 16 to 19, is being attended by 475 companies from 45 countries cross the globe, each showcasing their defence products, according to the Indian Defence Exhibition Organization, the main sponsor of the fair.
While the size of the Burmese delegation is unconfirmed, Aung Myo Min, who did not want to reveal his position in the government, said he is leading the team with fellow delegate Aung Myint.
"More of our friends are joining us later, as of now only two of us have arrived," Aung Myo Min told Mizzima on Saturday.
The DEFEXPO's relations officer added, "Only two official delegates are registered with us but others will be joining as unofficial delegates to the fair."
While details of negotiations between the Burmese team and arms companies are unknown, the delegates are believed to be capitalizing on the opportunity to expand its trading partners and negotiate for the future supply of military hardware.
Amnesty International, which revealed India's secret supply of defence equipment to Burma's military junta in a report last year, said India, which claims to be supporting democratic reforms in Burma, should not give a platform to the junta to expand its contacts with military hardware producing companies.
"India should stop all relationships with Burma in regard to the supplying of arms and military hardware, including the participation of Burmese delegates at the DEFEXPO," says Mukul Sharma, director of Amnesty International in India.
Meanwhile Russia, one of Burma's closest allies, which reportedly supplies military hardware to the junta and has signed a contract to develop a nuclear reactor in Burma, said it will not rule out any possible negotiations with Burma.
"We will deal with anyone who is interested in our products," an executive at the Shmel showroom said.
The executive, though, declined to elaborate on any ongoing negotiations with the Burmese team.
The Shmel company, which produces a flame throwing rocket, is one of several Russian companies showcasing their products, under Rosoboron export State Corporation, Russian, at the fair.
However China, one of Burma's biggest arms suppliers, reportedly declined an invitation to the fair, which is conducted biennially.
Weekly business roundup - William Boot
Irrawaddy: Mon 18 Feb 2008
Burma uses Singapore banks to dodge sanctions
Burmese businesses are exporting large quantities of rice to neighboring Bangladesh using a payment system through Singapore that seeks to avoid economic sanctions, according to reports.
The military regime has given the green light to the export of up to 400,000 tones of rice. Much of it will be transported by sea from Sittwe on the Arakan coast to the Bangladesh port of Chittagong.
Burma is cashing in on the ongoing food shortages suffered by its neighbor in the wake of the devastating cyclone which wrecked large swathes of Bangladeshi rice cropland.
However, the exporters have told Bangladeshi buyers they will not accept letters of credit as payment, according to The Nation newspaper in Dhaka. This is because they fear interference from extended financial sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union countries, the paper said.
Burma's ministry of commerce has told the Bangladeshi authorities that payments for rice should be made by bank transfers via Singaporeillustrating that the squeaky clean city state is still condoning business with the Burmese junta.
Bangladesh has recently made overtures to the Burmese regime to improve relations, including business links. Dhaka last month approached Naypyidaw about buying Burmese gas to make up for looming energy shortages in Bangladesh and said in return it could barter agricultural fertilizer.
Money Laundering Warning Issued on Tay Za
Reports that Burmese tycoon Tay Za may have been buying ships in South Korea have surfaced as a leading regional anti- money laundering expert urged caution in dealing with the businessman or his companies.
No one should deal with Tay Zalabeled by the U.S. Treasury Department as a "key financial front man" for the Burmese regimewithout "seeking appropriate professional advice as a matter of some urgency" says Peter Gallo, who heads Pacific Risk, a Hong Kong-based consultancy on countering money laundering activities.
Tay Za heads up a list of businesses and associates put on a sanctions list earlier this month by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The new sanctions against Tay Za, who heads up the Htoo Group, and seven other Burmese named as close to the military regimeincluding Khin Lay Thet, the wife of the No.3 in the hierarchy, Gen. Shwe Mann"could have further implications for any companies continuing to deal with Tay Za's known associates, particularly in relation to his interests in aviation and the supply of aircraft parts."
Thai Govt Moving Forward on Burma Hydro Dams
Suggestions that Thailand's new government is having second thoughts about supporting major hydro-electric projects on key Burmese rivers are "rather unlikely," according to energy industry analysts.
The Bangkok Post and some news agencies reported that the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had "put on hold" two large controversial hydroelectric schemes on the Salween River in northeast Burma.
The multibillion dollar projects, involving Chinese companies, have been mired in controversy over environmental damage risks and human rights abuses including forced evictions of people. Most of the anticipated 8,000 megawatt generating capacity more than five times Burma's current total capacityis earmarked for Thailand.
"Thailand has already programmed these projects into its future energy needs," said industry analyst Sar Watana in Bangkok this week. "And this government is more pro-business and less environmentally concerned than its predecessor.
The new prime minister has already stirred environmental controversy by proposing to siphon off water from the Mekong River to irrigate Thailand's northeast.
Gold Prospectors Probe Deeper into Kachin
Along with news of yet another gems auction planned for Rangoonthe third in the last six monthscomes disclosure that elements of the Burmese military are expanding gold mining in northern Kachin state.
Environmentally damaging gold prospecting has been going on around the town of Putao, but reports now say that possible rogue officers of the Northern Command have sanctioned digging higher up the Kasang River.
Methods of gold prospecting in Burma generally cause water and land pollution through the use of mercury to flush out the precious metal.
A report last year said that the number of gold mining sites in Kachin's Hugawng Valley had increased to 31.
Now, new sites are being prospected within about 60 kilometers of the Chinese border in the vicinity of Naw Mung, says the Kachin News Group.
The report named a Col. Khaing Soe as heading up what it termed "illegal prospecting."
The human rights NGO Alternative Asean Network on Burma says in an earlier report: "Large areas of land are deforested in order to make way for mining and building necessary infrastructure. The gold mining industry exposes local people to serious long-term risks from mercury poisoning."
When there is a will for All inclusive exile Government
Burma Digest: Feb 6th, 2008
By Dr Sein Myint
The starting point to establish the "genuine" Exile Coalition Burmese Government is that we don't need to look far and wide but only to look close by, that is the successful establishment of International Burmese Monk Association (Sasana Moli) organized by our most respectful Buddhist Monks recently.
Lead by two of the most renowned and respectful Sayar-Daw-Gyis with full support of committed Junior Monks who'd represented most of the Burmese Buddhist Monasteries across the globe is the prime example for our democratic movement to follow suit.
As stated in my previous article, all those leaders and representatives of exile democratic political parties, ethnic nationalities, students, professional and social communities must set aside their personal, political, ethnic and social differences among ourselves, and prepare to work in unity to achieve our main objective, that is to liberate our people from the military yoke and give freedom to live in peace and harmony.
Once we really accepted and have desire to achieve this unity spirit in our minds, then the subsequent steps are much easier to follow up, it is just a matter of technicalities, as they say.
How do we achieve this unity spirit? It's simple. WE need to talk among ourselves first. This is what we need to do it for ourselves even before we talk to our adversaries. So far, we've seen too many personal smear attacks, party political attacks, racial slurs, with too much emotion involve.
Fortunately, we do have many committed people across the globe, working within various exile organizations both political and ethnics, to achieve the same aim and goal, but unfortunately, we have never been united under one umbrella organization to work in tandem. Some might argue that there already exist such unmbrella groups in exile, but still they have excluded many other political organizations and ethnic groups.We can have some organizations with separate aims and objectives within the common goal, but still workable as alliance or coalition partners.
There are many able leaders and individuals in our exile movement who can devote their time and energy to lead such noble cause for our people. It is just a matter for these leaders and individuals to accept this challenge to initiate and organize to kick start dialogues within every community and organization in order to establish the spirit of unity. And many young people can also help in a big way to start these dialogue processes. And of course, our most respected Buddhist Monks could be in help facilitate these dialogues as well.
When there is a will, there will always be a way.
Special Lecture by a Burma Expert
Burma: Lessons from the Past, Problems in the Present, Thoughts about the Future
By Dr. Josef Silverstein (Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University )
All Ethnic International Open University (AEIOU) in conjunction with Chiang Mai University presented this special lecture by one of our visiting faculty members, on 9th Feb. at UNISERVE, (Fai Kham Hall) Chiang Mai University , from 9 am to 12 noon.
BIO of the Speaker:
Professor Silverstein earned his BA with honors in Political Science and History at U.C.L.A. in 1952. In 1960, he was awarded Ph.D. in Government and Southeast Asian Studies at Cornell University .
In 1958, he began his teaching career as an instructor in Government at Wesleyan University in Connecticut ; and in the next year, was promoted to Assistant Professor. In 1961, he accepted a Fulbright lectureship at the University of Mandalay . In 1964, he was appointed to the faculty at Rutgers University as an Associate Professor and promoted to a full Professor in 1967.
During his career at Rutgers , he served as a chairman of department and director of Asian Studies. In 1978, he was promoted to the rank of Professor II, and retired as Professor Emeritus in 1992. During his years at Rutgers, he took leave to accept a second Fulbright lectureship; this time at the University of Malaya , from 1967-68. In 1970, he took a two year leave to serve as a Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore .
Since his retirement from Rutgers, he had taught at the University of Pittsburgh in its Semester at Sea Program, once in 1994 and again in 1998. In the fall of 2002, he taught in the East Asian Studies Program at Princeton University . Throughout the past decade, he continued to serve as an occasional lecturer at the Foreign Services Institute, Department of State.
His publication record began in 1956 with an essay on the Burma election of that year, which appeared in Far Eastern Survey. He has published more than 50 scholarly articles and numerous essays which appeared in various newspapers and journals on issues of Burma .
Of the seven books and monographs he had written or edited, two reflect his central interest in Burmese politics; Burma: Military Rule and the Politics of Stagnation, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1977, and Burmese Politics: The Dilemma of National Unity, New Brunswick, Rutgers University, 1980.
TRANSCRIPT OF THE TALK:
What I'm going to talk today is about the central political problem in Burma , for centuries, where it was, where things may be heading. Why did the previous constitutions fail in uniting the ethnic groups and the country? In 1960, several assessments were made, and the Burmese University produced some of the leading world leaders in several subjects. What happened?
In World War II, Japanese liberated Burma from the British, and then the British liberated Burma from the Japanese. The country was in recovery, in many areas such as rice production. In 1960, Burma , for the first time, exported millions of tons of rice to the rest of the worldeven 3 million tons at one time. How do we explain how things fell to the situation at this time of the day, as it is one of the greatest tragedies?
Now, we'll go back to 1945, at the end of the war, and 1947, where there was a rapid move towards independence. The Burmese people know that they must recover from Independence , and they can no longer stay as a previous colonial state. The Burmese, under no condition, want to accept colonialism, and they want freedom and independence.
In 1936, there was a nationalist movement where a young man named Aung San, who was a student leader, joined Dr. Ba Maw and formed a united front. The country was not unifiedat least 8 major ethnic groups were ruling their own territories. The British inherited this structure from the Burmese king, where several ethnic groups led their own areas on their own. The central political power was in the South, in the Irrawaddy valley, in Rangoon . This led to isolation of other ethnic groups in the rest of the country.
On the eve of the meeting between Aung San and Clement Atlee, they formed AFPFLAnti-Fascist People's Freedom League. The key statement of AFPFL is: It is our policy, in regard to the frontier areas of the people (those outside of Rangoon ), in our relation to the people of the frontier system, form a Federation of Burma to include and unite several people and bring them together for the first time. It is not the intention to impose anything that the ethnic groups do not want, but to give them the autonomy as they need. Their policy is to invite others to join them to this assembly, under mutual conditions, where the Burmans and the non-Burmans agree upon.
Aung San, a general at that time, was going to take off his uniform to become U Aung San, to become the leader of AFPFL. The area of concern was the concerns of the people of the frontier. The Hill People would be allowed to administer their own areas in any ways they please, without any imposition of policy from the Burmans. There will be equality and everyone will get their equal share of resources. There will be autonomy based on the needs of the diverse groups. That was the bedrock of AFPFL, where between the two levels (the state and union governments), there will be interaction in Burmese and English, in learning about one another, slowly absorbing each others' cultures; creating a multi-racial society.
In reality, AFPFL did not work. The reason this didn't work was there wasn't enough time for this idea to work out. In their meeting, Aung San and Atlee demanded independence within a year. The people in the frontier areas weren't sure how they would work with the people in Rangoon . The Burmese Communist party, whose members were mostly Burmans, challenged this united front. It was a Socialist idea and Burma was to become a leftist country. Aung San himself was once a member of the communist party, but left the party, with the idea of AFPFL leading the country. Aung San removed Than Tun from the position of the secretary, and appointed John Yeng. This was a move towards the British way of Socialism instead of adopting the Soviet Socialism.
In 1948, three months after Burma achieved independence, civil war broke out. But where was the Burmese Army at this time? Admiral Mountbatten invited Aung San, Than Tun and others to see what kind of Independence the Burmese would want. They agreed to form a single army that includes all the people of Burma . By the end of 1948, Burma was deeply entrenched in war. It has been 60 years to date. Karen leader Bo Mya agreed a total cease fire with the Burma Army. They began by declaring end to fighting. The military rejected Bo Mya's statement. Others, such as Shans, Chins, Kachins, Arakans all got problems as the military ceased to coerce them.
The constitution formed in Burma at that time, was the most controversial in the 1947constitution. Even though it no longer exists as the doctrine, it continues to be in the discussion of the law of the country. It focuses on the right to succession, and the right of withdrawal of troops. What if we joined this union, and we don't like it, so how do we get out of it? The issue was raised with Aung San at the very first meeting and discussion with the minorities at the Ping Long conference in the Shan State . The idea was, if the minorities are not happy with the AFPFL union, any ethnic group can get out. Aung San wants the right of succession to be guaranteed in the constitution. It was in the article 201 of the original constitution.
The idea was, if you have been a member for 10 years of the state of the union, and you are dissatisfied, you can withdraw from the agreement. The procedure to withdraw is not easy, but doable. It was necessary for the member of the group to make a petition to the president that they wish to succeed. The president is obligated by law to hold an election, on the condition to vote, if others agree, they can withdraw. Drawbacks are, the constitution did not say what percent the majority would have to be. That information is missing. Instead of spelling out the percentage required to agree on succession, it simply states that the "majority" would have to agree on the succession.
The second flaw in the doctrine, as far as the people are concerned. When Aung San spoke of the right of succession, he had given a number of talks about what constitutes a member of a state, and what constitutes a state in itself. And he gave out 8 points that he took from Stalin's ideas. First he said a state has to be large enough to be called a state. Not only it is a sizable population, it must also be economically viable. There must also be a community of people who are similar in language, culture and way of life. When he laid out his 8 principles, he said there are only 2 groups that qualify this standard: the Burmans and the Shans. These two groups have advanced economically and socially, that if they wanted to succeed, they could survive by themselves, if they were to lead..
When the constitution was written, there was a controversy: The document said that it is the basic right of the people that they have the right of succession, unequivocally. But there are states that would be denied of this right. First and foremost, the Karens have no right to succeed, but without any reason why it was stated as such. At that time, the Karens did not protest, as they were never interested to unite with other ethnic groups. They wanted a state of their own. The Kachins were also denied of that right. The Kachin state was artificially created. The historical area of Burma where the Kachins lived and in Ba Maw Northwest to that area, there were Burmans who aren't Kachins, but were identified more with Western civilization. However, the people of Ba Maw were combined with Kachins to form the Kachin state. They said there must be a head of state who is a Kachin. Kachins and non-Kachins have lived together peacefully. The constitution said that the Kachin state would not have a right of succession. The Chins, on the other hand, do not have a state. They wanted to be a part of Burma proper, and they want their territory integrated with Burma itself. However, the constitution wanted the Chins to have their own state. So they are not eligible for a right of succession. The state most likely to succeed was the Shan state. Shans were much more politically mature. They have achieved a great deal of experience from 1922-1948, when the British let them govern their state and interact with Europeans successfully, so they were ready to govern their own state if they want to become independent.
The other state that was given its right to succeed was the Kayahs/Karennis who had a unique history. In the 1850s, there was unrest amongst the Karenni people, and King Min Don sent his army to the area and forced them to change some things. The Karenni appealed to the British to preserve their identity. The British made a treaty with King Min Don, and they had their own identity. This was documented in the Etison-Etison (sp) treaty. They always argued that they were never under King Min Don, and they should be able to rule their own state. Aung San talked about it at 3 diffent times, and finally agreed that the Karenni people are free people and he invited them to join the union. They didn't quite answer first, and at the last moment, their leaders agreed to join in the union. So, the Karenni, the only independent group, voluntarily agreed to join the union, and had the right to withdraw legally if they aren't happy with the union.
This has been the most disturbing thing in the constitution, that right of succession after 10 years of forming the Union , will be in 1958. There was unrest in the Shan state, and the Shans had a slow movement to succession. There wasn't a point where even a state that had a right to succeed could act, due to undefined majority vote for this to happen.
In 1958, the military became an outspoken critic of this right of the Karennis. General Ne Win and other officers think that they did not tolerate the idea of anyone leaving the constitution. They warned from the beginning that if the Shans might succeed, the military may violate the constitution. The constitution allowed people to voluntarily join or leave the union. The military, however, was created in 1945 with the help of the British, and it was integrated with half Burmans and half minorities. Between 1958 and 1962, there was rumblings from all sides, so U Nu, the Prime Minister, sought to resolved it in a peaceful and democratic way. He called a seminar and invited minority groups to come to Rangoon and at the Federal Seminar, work to come to an agreement. U Nu did not promise an independence, but the goal was to hash out the problems and to come to a solution. Everyone came, and had an open and honest meeting. All delegates had an open meeting, but the press was barred from it, as they would not want the information to leak out before a resolution. There were honest discussions, and the Shans and other minorities spoke freely about their discontent.
All this came to an end in 1962, March 2nd, when there was a visiting a ballet team from China , and most people who are interested in culture, including General Ne Win were in attendance. People enjoyed the show and went home, and at night the army struck. General Ne Win called 600 troops from Meikhtila, and ordered a military coup to seize power, arrested all leaders of the government, and put an end to all the work done by the constitutional group. He didn't trust the Rangoon cantonment, but ordered the troops from Meikhtila to help him with the coup. At that time, there were a few newspapers that reported the events. In the mean time, the government disappeared, the constitution disappeared, and General Ne Win had formed a revolutionary council to act for the government. General Ne Win began to issue decrees illegally, and the military has operated illegally until 1974, when the military government wrote a second constitution.
So the question of succession that hung like clouds over the society for 10 years finally disappeared in 1962, with democracy disappearing in Burma, and in its place you have military dictatorship. Ne Win changed the constitution by getting rid of it and formed a centralized government, or a unitary state. The center of the unitary state was a revolutionary council with 19 military officers and 1 civilian, and it took to itself the right to decree with the power of the law. There's nothing legal in what the military did, but that they held power through the use of the gun.
The 1962 coup was a clean coup, with just one person killed by accident, the son of Sao Shwe Thaik, the Shan who was the president of the Union of Burma. So there was no succession. In its place there was coup-de-tas, with the one party rule and military dictatorship. Sadly, for the Burmese, the military was incompetent in managing the economy of the country. Very quickly the economy, the quality of life, and the beginning of development came to an end. Rice business fell, and Burma went from a country exporting millions of tons of rice to a rice-deficit country.
In 1974, the military created a political party, very much different from AFPFL, but a party that gives Socialism to the Burmese: the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP). General Ne Win led the party with his fellow military officers. They are incompetent in managing the economy. They set the price of rice without really knowing the cost to farmers. They force the price on the farmer, so farmers stop growing rice for selling, except for their own use. 40 years later, these incompetent military officers are still running the country. Socialist way is the state owns it, the state distributes it, and everyone will have to put up with it.
So in 1974, the BSPP attempted another constitution, which isn't much different from the revolutionary council. All power still stays with the central government, and they created a hierarchy of committees. The socialist argument of democratic centralism that was widely used in Eastern Europe was implemented. Power, decisions, and leadership remained in the hands of the military, at the very top. They created 2 mass groups: workers and farmers. All people were categorized as belonging to such groups. There were mass meetings, thousands of people assembled, and nothing gets accomplished. The new Burma had 2 large parties, the workers' party and the agriculturalists' party. Obviously, it didn't work. And Burma created the largest black market in the world. Burma's goods were sold across the frontiers. The frontier people became the gatekeepers, and they charge 5% to have the goods go across the border. With that money, they buy arms to fight against the military. There were new civil wars. They controlled the border, and many ethnic groups revolt against the military. There were new civil wars.
Finally, in 1987, General Ne Win, not unlike the comic figure Rick Van Winkle, woke up after a long nap, seemed surprised, and was unable to understand why things are going so badly and Burma was falling so far behind. So, he blamed the black market, saying they are the ones with all the money. Overnight, he said certain units of money are no longer being accepted. They came up with new notes: 90 Kyat, 45 kyat, etc. Suddenly, the money belonging to the people is no longer worth any. The demonetization of the old notes left the citizens of Burma in extreme poverty.
This led to the first student revolt, as they no longer have money to spendall their belongings were no longer valid. The military beat the students up, and in 1988, there was a dispute in a tea shop outside the Institute of Technology , and a student got killed. The army quickly came to seize the body of the student, but other students didn't give up the body. The next day, the military cracks the students as they were crossing the famous white bridge next to Inya Lake , and many students died in this massacre. It marks the beginning of the students in revolt against the military. Later on, there was a large protest in downtown Rangoon , by the Sule pagoda. The students gathered and will not disperse. The military brought in black trucks and arrested the students to take them to jail. There weren't enough room in jails to put them all in, and they left the students to suffocate and die in the trucks, due to the heat outside. About 45 students died in the heated trucks that day.
This started a nationwide march against the military, with people and government workers from all walks of life joining for a change. Even the air force personnel joined in the marches with the students, to bring back democracy in Burma . The military, on September 18th, attacked the students on the streets of Rangoon . For 3 days, they shot and killed anything that moved on the streets of Rangoon . There's no accounting for all the people who died, as the dead bodies were took to the crematoria and the evidence destroyed. The families never saw their loved ones. That was the summer of 1988 when the military seized power completely.
General Saw Maung, the acting president at that time, promised an election. Everyone believed him. About 233 parties were formed from all walks of life. There was a hidden party called "National Unity Party", morphed from members of BSPP. There was also a new party that emerges, the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD). She wasn't widely known, but stepped forward in Shwedagon Pagoda march, where she stepped forward and talked about how she wanted democracy for Burma that her father dreamt of. She began to be the leader of the people, and it became apparent that the majority of the people of Burma want her to guide them in democratizing the country.
However, the military made certain that she cannot lead the party, as she's married to a European, so she wasn't allowed to stand for election. She was, however, clearly the speaker of the people. The people believe in her and trust her, and it became evident that there clearly were just 2 parties competing in the national elections, the NLD and the NUP. But the military tried to prevent her party from winning. At the general elections, NLD won a landslide victory, stunning NUP and the military backing that party.
In 1960, after the 3rd elections, and U Nu had resumed the role of the Prime Minister, he was going to leave the position and there began a contest on who will succeed him. The possible successors were more interested in their futures than the country's future. U Nu stepped aside from the role of the prime minister and called on Ne Win to take that role. Ne Win accepted this position. Some believed that this was a plot behind Ne Win and U Nu. General Ne Win, according to the constitution, cannot be a Prime Minister, as he wasn't elected. However, there was a clause that said it is possible for anyone who has served in the government to hold the office without elections, but only for 6 months. Ne Win and U Nu used that article to elect him. Ne Win gave a moving speech as a Prime Minister at that time, as to how he planned to serve the country.
However, after 2 months of becoming the Prime Minister, he went to the parliament to amend the constitution, so that he can serve indefinitely, beyond the 6 months that he was legally allowed to. As soon as he took the office, this law disappeared. Parliament, listening to their Prime Minister, changed the law, saying that as long as he remained the Prime Minister, he can stay in this position indefinitely. Basically, he changed the law with the gun, not legally. When he finished his term as a Prime Minister, and allowed the 3rd election to be held, when U Nu came back, there was no way to remove Ne Win from the position.
So the point I'm making in all of this is, history is crucial and important. Things do not happen by accident, they happen over time. One has to study and understand history, and we need to question why things happened the way they happened? Could they happen again? Is there a way out?
The democratic forces in Burma today stand ready to write a democratic constitution. The military, on the other hand has determined that they shall not allow that to happen. The military wants to perpetuate in the new constitution they want to write. This constitution is to secure their power, and Burma , as we all know, will go backwards.
The final question is: If this government is so bad, why do other governments all seek to favor from this? The answer is: Burma is rich of natural resources. In a time when there's energy crisis in the world, we have China , India , Russia , all wanting the natural gases and energy resources from Burma . Look at India ! It was the only country to support the students in 1988, and not recognizing the Saw Maung government. That was when Rajiv Gandhi was the PM. When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, the new leadership in India changed their policy to support the current Burmese military, as they all want a hand in the pot.
So, don't measure the security, the
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