[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 20/2/08
- Burma confirms draft constitution
- Sandwiched between giants
- Distribution of 'Myanmar Nation' halted
- Locals coerced into joining USDA
- Bombs explode in Tachilek
- Myanmar-Japan trade up 33 per cent last year
- Tay Za takes over village for its jade
- The only winner in Beijing will be tyranny
- Nine Nobel Peace Prize Recipients Call for Arms Embargo and Targeted Banking Sanctions on Burma
- Council conclusions on Burma
Burma confirms draft constitution
BBC News: Tue 19 Feb 2008
Burma's military government has announced that a draft of the nation's new constitution has been completed. The draft will be put to a referendum in May, and be followed by elections in 2010, according to state media.
According to the French news agency AFP, the constitution will bar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from standing as a candidate.
Ms Suu Kyi's party said it was "unjust" to ban her from standing before the draft was even approved.
In a statement read out on state media, Supreme Court Chief Justice Aung Toe said that "after repeated discussions" the constitution had been agreed on by all commission members.
Little is known of the contents of the document, which was drawn up without the participation of the country's political opposition or ethnic groups.
The country has not had a constitution since the military seized power in 1990, after refusing the recognise Ms Suu Kyi's victory in the national election.
The pro-democracy leader has spent most of the years since then in jail or under house arrest.
Speaking during an informal meeting of ministers of the Association of South East Asia Nations (Asean), Burma's Foreign Minister Nyan Win reportedly said that Ms Suu Kyi would be barred from running for office under the draft constitution.
According to AFP, this is because she married Michael Aris, a British citizen who died of cancer in 1999.
A spokesman for Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, also called Nyan Win, said it was "unjust for the authorities to talk in advance about the elections" before election laws were put in place.
Critics have questioned whether the Burmese government really intends to stick to the schedule for democratic elections, after years of delays over its "roadmap to democracy".
Burma: Sandwiched between giants
BBC News: Tue 19 Feb 2008
Burma lies between two emerging Asian powerhouses - China and India. Almost six months after the suppression of pro-democracy protests, a BBC correspondent reports from the country's main city, Rangoon.
"You can take my picture but please don't put it in any magazines," the old man said with alarm.
Then he paused and shook his head apologetically. "We live in fear in this country," he said.
I'll call him Tin Ngwe. Printing his real name would probably land him in jail; printing mine would get me on a journalist's blacklist.
I followed him as he shuffled around the Shwedagon temple complex in the shadow of the huge golden stupa which forms the spiritual centre of Rangoon.
Last September, when hundreds of Burmese monks took part in a three-week protest against the government, Shwedagon became their focal point.
I asked Tin Ngwe where all the monks were now, as I had only seen a handful in what is one of Burma's most important religious sites.
He led me away from the crowds to the eastern gate, and pointed to the road below, where the first demonstration by monks had begun.
"Thirty-one of them," he said, "all shot".
Many other monks and protesters are, according to human rights groups, still being held in jail.
Last week the Burmese state-controlled media announced that a national referendum on a new constitution would be held in May, and general elections in 2010.
No-one I met had any faith in the promise.
A young man in his 30s told me: "We read that paper and we laugh. It's already taken so long. I know my country and I know my government. It won't happen."
It has been 18 years since the last polls. The government lost them to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, so they ignored the result.
In August 1988 the military government crushed a national uprising, killing an estimated 3,000 people.
Ms Suu Kyi has spent most of her time since then either in jail or under house arrest, where she is today.
Many observers believe the junta has decided to make this new promise of elections because of pressure from China.
Beijing's influence in Burma is considerable, if not yet decisive.
I recently asked a Rangoon-based diplomat what role she thought China was playing in the country.
Speaking off the record, she answered "whatever best protects their commercial interests".
The Chinese were not bothered by the fate of Aung San Suu Kyi or the progress of reform, she said - they just want things stable so they can keep doing business.
And old Tin Ngwe agreed. He told me that in the long run it did not really matter what the government promised to do, because "the Chinese will be running the country soon".
"They are buying up everything we have," he said. "We should be a rich country, we have gems, jade, gold, everything but diamonds, but the people are still poor.
"This government steals everything from us and sells it to the Chinese. Go downtown," he said. "You'll see them."
But the commercial hub of Rangoon is not only dominated by Burma's huge northern neighbour, China.
Burma is sandwiched between two emerging Asian giants.
Both are seeking the regional upper hand. Both are still wary of each other, with a legacy of mistrust stretching back to a border war in 1962.
Off a corner of Maha Bandoola Garden street in downtown Rangoon, I found some of the men benefiting from India's decision not to take a stand against the junta and to actively oppose sanctions.
Sitting in a huddle around an Indian Paan-wallah, who was making something like chewing tobacco but from betel nut, were four Muslim businessmen from Mumbai.
"There are a lot of Indians here," I said to one in Hindi. "The Indians are here, the Chinese are over there," he said with a smile.
"Where are the Burmese?" I asked him. "Up there," he said with a dismissive wave.
"This place is going down man," he added, then lent back on his chair and, smiling again, he said: "But there are good gems here."
Meanwhile, uptown, his foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, was doing business with the military junta.
A few years ago Delhi did try to take a principled stand against one of its rogue neighbours, by threatening action against the King of Nepal in the dying days of his autocratic rule.
But the Chinese simply offered the king their support instead, so India had to back down.
Delhi has learnt from that lesson. It is clearly not about to risk losing Burma and the prospect of new gas, oil and infrastructure projects.
The Indian press are already being briefed about Delhi's growing influence, with claims that Mr Menon's chat with the Burmese generals secured another visit to Burma by the UN secretary general's special adviser Ibrahim Gambari.
Mr Menon is a busy man. A few weeks ago he was in Beijing lauding the signing of a document between the Indians and Chinese that promised a "shared vision" for the future.
The consequences of that seem to suggest a shift in perspective more from the Indian side than from China's, which has never claimed to be a champion of human rights.
Unfortunately for many Burmese, this "shared vision" suggests that the world's largest democracy has decided to turn a blind eye to the violent suppression of democracy in the country next door - at least, that is, while the Burmese junta still have something to bargain with.
Distribution of 'Myanmar Nation' halted Nem Davies
Mizzima News: Tue 19 Feb 2008
The Burmese military junta has banned the publication and distribution of 'Myanmar Nation' weekly journal after detaining its Chief-Editor and Manager last Friday.
The Censor Board instructed the publisher to stop publishing and distribution of the weekly journal which was to be distributed today, a source close to the journal told Mizzima on condition of anonymity.
"The Censor Board called our publisher yesterday and told him to stop publishing and distribution of our weekly journal and to convey this message to us. They also instructed us to close our journal office temporarily. We had to pile up the journal copies at our office after it was printed. We planned to start distribution today," he said.
"The Censor Board didn't send an official letter to inform us. We haven't yet received the official letter from the Censor Board. They just informed the publisher from whom we hired the publishing license to publish our journal. We received this ban order only through the publishing license owner. When we contacted the officials from the censor board to elaborate on their ban order they just told to us that they would deal only with the publishing license owner," he added.
Daw Khin Swe Myint, wife of U Thet Zin, told Mizzima that the local authorities told her that they would take away chief editor U Thet Zin and Manager U Sein Win Maung just to interrogate them and it had nothing to do with the journal's publishing. Now they have ordered us to stop publishing and distributing the journal.
"On the day they took away U Thet Zin, the official told us to continue our journal publication and the arrest and interrogation of my husband U Thet Zin and manager had nothing to do with the journal. We had to hastily finish our weekly publication. Then you can see what happened," she said.
The journal had printed 5,000 copies which cost Kyat 1 million.
"If we had stopped printing and publishing work on Friday, we would not have wasted so much manpower and money. We had to do hard work to finish the graphic designs and other necessary works. Now all the manpower and money we have spent are wasted," she added.
"They just said they would like to inspect the copies, nothing more than that. All the articles and materials printed in our journal have been cleared by the censor board. We can print only after getting clearance from the censor board. Now they have ordered us to stop at the distribution stage. We are surprised with the order," she also said.
Locals coerced into joining USDA Yee May Aung
DVB: Tue 19 Feb 2008
Residents of Hlaing Tharyar township in Rangoon have complained that the government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association is forcing locals to join the organisation against their will.
U Tin Yu, a resident of Hlaing Tharyar township ward 8, said the local USDA group called ward residents together for a neighbourhood meeting last week to announce that a concrete road was to be built in the ward.
"Hlaing Tharyar ward 8's USDA official Thant Sin called us into a meeting and said the association was going to build a concrete road in our ward," Tin Yu said.
"We were all happy until they told us we had to join the USDA in exchange for their efforts."
Tin Yu said people from other wards had also been forced to enrol in the USDA at similar meetings in their neighbourhoods.
Rangoon residents have speculated that the authorities' forced enrolment of people in the USDA could be in order to gain as many supporting votes as possible in the upcoming national referendum.
Bombs explode in Tachilek Violet Cho
Irrawaddy: Tue 19 Feb 2008
Four small bombs exploded outside a casino in the Golden Triangle Paradise Resort Hotel in Tachilek on Monday.
No one was injured and damage was minor.
Tachilek, a border town opposite Mae Sai, Thailand, is infamous for heroin and methamphetamine smuggling and has a history of violent incidents.
The state-run media in Rangoon reported on Saturday that unnamed groups were preparing to launch destructive attacks within the country. Tachilek is 340 miles from Rangoon, in far northern Burma.
A Burmese merchant who lives in Tachilek who asked not to be named said the bombs were not powerful.
He said the explosions were the result of business conflicts in the city.
"These four bombs must have been planted by businessman who competes with each other," he said.
The Golden Triangle Paradise Resort Hotel is owned by two Thai businessmen.
A source close to state authorities in Tachilek said the authorities believe the bombs were the work of ethnic Shan rebels in protest against the military government.
Three bombs exploded last month at a railway station in the new capital, Naypyidaw, and at a circus show in Rangoon, killing two people and injuring five others.
Terrorist bombings are not common in Burma.
Myanmar-Japan trade up 33 per cent last year
Earthtimes UK: Tue 19 Feb 2008
Bilateral trade between Myanmar and Japan reached 322 million dollars in fiscal year 2006/07, up 33 per cent on the previous year, media reports said Tuesday. Myanmar's fiscal year ends on March 31.
Japan's main import items from Myanmar included fishery products, textiles, agricultural products and timber, while its main exports to Myanmar were machinery, automobiles, electronics, iron and steel, cotton and plastics, said The Myanmar Times, a weekly.
"Fishery items are the largest import sector to Japan, with textiles and footwear the second largest," Eitaro Kojima, managing director of Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), told the newspaper.
The JETRO chief added that in the near future Japanese companies may shift to garment imports from Myanmar as suppliers in southern China are becoming more expensive.
"The cost of production and labour is getting higher and higher in China, so Japanese investors are trying to shift their factories into other countries in Asia that will be more cost effective, such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam," Kojima told The Myanmar Times.
Myanmar's garment and textile exports to Japan have nearly doubled in the last three years, as have the exports of footwear, he said.
Kojima acknowledged that some Japanese investors had put their Myanmar plans on hold after September, last year, when Yangon was rocked by monk-led protests against the oppressive ruling regime, but opined that the incident would have little affect on overall trade.
The US and the European Union tightened their economic sanctions against Myanmar after the September incidents that left more than 30 people dead.
Japan has never imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar but decided to cut its aid to the pariah state in the aftermath of the September crackdown in which one Japanese photo-journalist, Nagai Kenji, was shot dead.
On Monday, a delegation from Japan's Royal Police arrived in Yangon to investigate the death of Kenji.
Tay Za takes over village for its jade Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Tue 19 Feb 2008
Burmese tycoon Tay Za, a business crony of junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe, has confiscated an entire village in upper Burma to make land available for jade mining, according to a local resident.
More than 300 people have been relocated without compensation from the confiscated village, Tayor Gone, near Phakant, Kachin State, the source, Ma Grang, told The Irrawaddy.
Tay Za claimed the village belonged to him, Ma Grang said. He had also ordered a church to be removed from the village by the end of February because it stood in the way of his planned jade mine.
Tay Za's company, the Htoo Trading Co Ltd in Rangoon, was not available for comment on the report.
Htoo Trading Co Ltd is a leading teak exporter and is also involved in tourism, real estate and housing development. Tay Za also owns Burma's o¬nly private airline, Air Bagan.
Business sources in Rangoon report that the young tycoon traveled recently to Pusan, South Korea's largest port, to purchase a freight ship and a tanker.
He is believed to have procured a loan of US $10 million from the military government to buy the two vessels, reportedly as part of a plan to create Burma's first privately operated international shipping line.
Because of his close business and social ties to Than Shwe and other military leaders, Tay Za is a prominent target of US sanctions. In October 2007, the US put Air Bagan, on its blacklist.
The only winner in Beijing will be tyranny Nick Cohen
The Observer: Tue 19 Feb 2008
At the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics, spectators will watch as athletes from the worst regimes on the planet parade by. Whether they are from dictatorships of the left or right, secular or theocratic, they will have one thing in common: The hosts of the Games that, according to the mission statement, are striving "for a bright future for mankind" will support their oppressors.
The flag of Sudan will flutter. China supplied the weapons that massacred so many in Darfur. As further sweeteners, it added interest-free loans for a new presidential palace and vetoes of mild condemnations of genocide from the UN. In return, China got most of Sudan's oil.
The Burmese athletes will wave to the crowd and look as if they are representing an independent country. In truth, Burma is little more than a Chinese satellite. In return for the weapons to suppress democrats and vetoes at the UN Security Council, the junta sells it gas at discounted rates far below what its wretched citizens have to pay.
There will be no Tibetan contingent, of course. Chinese immigrants are obliterating the identity of the occupied country, which will soon be nothing more than a memory. Athletes from half-starved Zimbabwe, whose senile despot props himself up with the Zimmer frame of Chinese aid, will be there, however.
As will teams from the Iranian mullahocracy, grateful recipients of Chinese missiles and the prison state of North Korea, for whom China is the sole reliable ally.
BEIJING VS BERLIN
With Steven Spielberg citing China's complicity in the Sudan atrocities as his reason for withdrawing as the Olympics' artistic adviser, comparisons with the 20th century will soon be flowing. Will Beijing be like the 1936 Berlin Olympics Hitler used to celebrate Nazism? Or the 1980 Moscow games the US boycotted in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? I suspect the past won't be a guide because the ideological struggles of the 20th century are over. China's communists are communists in name only. They are not helping dictators because they are comrades who share their ideology. They have no ideology beyond national self-interest and a well-warranted desire to stop the outsiders insisting on standards in Africa or Asia they do not intend to abide by.
Human Rights Watch points out that if, say, Sudan were to change into a peaceful state with a constitutional government, the Chinese would not care as long as the oil still flowed. China's post-communists are like mafiosi. It is not personal, just business.
They are happy to do deals with anyone, as former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recognized when he set himself up to be PR man for so many of the corporations that went on to benefit from the Communist Party's repression of free trade unions.
Campaign groups and governments that want to promote the spread of democracy have been far slower to understand that the emerging power of the 21st century will be every tyrant's first customer and banker of last resort and then adjust their tactics accordingly.
Their failure may be because it is far from clear what fresh tactics are on offer. Take the supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi campaigning for a democratic Burma. Their demonstrations outside Chinese embassies have had no effect.
They persuaded British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to raise Myanmar in meetings with the Chinese leadership, but again Brown was unlikely to have made an impression.
Their other successes look equally fragile. The EU has imposed sanctions, but Western energy companies ask with justice why they should be told not to compete for gas contracts the Chinese will snap up.
More importantly, they are running into a problem familiar to anyone who campaigned against 20th-century dictatorships: where to find allies.
If you are protesting about an aspect of US policy Guantanamo Bay or attitudes to global warming this is not an issue.
You can ally with and be informed by US activists, journalists, lawyers and opposition politicians. The resources of the civic society of a free country are at your disposal and you can use them to shift US opinion. A subject of the Chinese Communist Party who helps foreign critics put pressure on Beijing risks imprisonment, and none but the bravest do.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband showed he understood the dilemmas of the new century when he gave a lecture in honor of Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Oxford last week. He described how the great wave of democratization, which began with the fall of Franco's dictatorship in the 1970s, moved through South America, the Soviet empire, South Africa and the tyrannies of East Asia, was petering out.
The foreign secretary was undiplomatic enough to continue that the economic success of China had proved that history was not over and he was right. Its combination of communist suppression with market economics is being seen as a viable alternative to liberal freedoms, notably by Putin and his cronies, but also by anti-democratic forces across Asia.
The only justification for the Beijing games is that they will allow connoisseurs of the grotesque to inspect this ghoulish hybrid of the worst of capitalism and the worst of socialism close up. The march of China's bloodstained allies round the stadium will merely be the beginning.
The International Olympic Committee and all the national sports bureaucracies will follow up by instructing athletes not to say a word out of place.
The free-market chief executive officers of Coca-Cola, McDonald's, General Electric and all the other sponsors who have made money out of China will join the communists in insisting that outsiders have no right to criticize. Any Chinese dissident who hasn't been picked up before the world's journalists arrive will face terrifying punishments if he speaks to them.
I know sportsmen and women are exasperated by demands to boycott events they have dreamed of winning for years. Why should they suffer when no business or government is prepared to turn its back on the vast Chinese market? For all that, they still should not go.
The hypocrisy of the 2008 Olympics will make all but the most hard-hearted athletes retch. They will not look back on it not as a high point of their careers, but a nadir.
Nine Nobel Peace Prize Recipients Call for Arms Embargo and Targeted Banking Sanctions on Burma The Most Reverend Desmond M. Tutu
Press Release: Tue 19 Feb 2008
Nine Nobel Peace Prize recipients today released a public statement calling for the international community and the United Nations Security Council to impose arms embargoes on the Southeast Asian country of Burma. The move comes after the country's ruling military regime carried out a massive crackdown on demonstration Buddhist monks and civilians in October 2007. The regime has since launched a nationwide dragnet, arresting and torturing thousands of dissidents.
Reads the statement: "We appeal to the members of the Security Council, and the international community, to take action quickly on measures that will prevent the sale of arms to the Burmese military, including a ban on banking transactions targeting top Burmese leaders, as well as state and private entities that support the government's weapons trade."
The statement was issued by Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu and signed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Mairead Maguire, Rugoberta Menchu Tum, Prof. Elie Wiesel, Betty Williams and Jody Williams.
In 2006, Burma was voted onto the permanent agenda of the UN security Council for the first time in history, On October 11th, 2007 the UN Security Council issued its first-ever Presidential Statement on Burma, calling on Burma's military regime to " create the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all concerned parties and ethnic groups in order to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation with the direct support of the United Nations."
Burma military regime has defied the Council's demands, refusing to release political prisoners and instead proceeding with a vote on a new constitution written by hand-picked delegates of the military regime.
The UN Security Council imposed arms embargoes on apartheid South Africa after the Sharpeville Massacre and Soweto Uprising. "Now it is time for the UN and individual countries to immediately impose arms embargoes and targeted banking sanctions on Burma following the Saffron Massacre," said Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu. "The election promised by the military regime is a complete sham," he added.
The call by the Nobel laureates reflects the desire of Burma's democracy movement inside the country. Two leading organizations, the 88 Generation Students and the All Burma Monks Alliance recently issued statements rejecting the referendum of the military regime and calling for arms embargoes and banking sanctions.
Burma is ruled by one of the world's most brutal military regimes. The regime has incarcerated Aung San Suu Kyi, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Nearly 2,000 political prisoners including hundreds of Buddhist monks are locked up. Meanwhile, the military regime has destroyed 3,200 ethnic minority villages in eastern Burma and hundreds of thousands of villagers to flee their homes as refugees and internally displaced.
According to the respected arms sales monitoring organization, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China is the leading supplier of arms to Burma military regime. Others include Ukraine, Poland, India and Russia.
Statement: Nobel Laureate Appeal
The peaceful, nonviolent marches by the Burmese Buddhist monks in 2007 asking for peace and dialogue towards a political settlement of the problems confronting that country galvanized the attention of the international community. They marched to support the lay population who publicly and bravely protested grievances against the regime. We watched in horror as their peaceful overtures were met with a violent crackdown by Burma's military junta lead by General Than Shwe. The subsequent dragnet he ordered has resulted in arrests, torture and killings that continue to his very day.
In spite of the overwhelming desire of the Burmese people for political change the regime has made no overtures and no progress on national reconciliation. They continue their refusal to engage the Burmese people and ethnic groups in substantive, meaningful dialogue. We stand firmly in support of our fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and have repeatedly call for her release, as well as the release of Buddhist monks and all political prisoners in Burma. The regime's "roadmap" and decades-long constitution process is flawed: it does not include participation of the National League for Democracy. The NLD and Burma's ethnic nationalities must play an inclusive role in determining a negotiated settlement and transition to democracy.
We can not, and we will not, forget the events of the Saffron Revolution and the courage of the Burmese people in asserting their right to live in peace and freedom. Despite decades of repression and in a world wracked by violence, their peaceful demonstrations represent a model for the proper and rightful expression of political dissent of which they are entitled.
Many of the arms used by Burma's military regime to retain its hold on power have been sold to the regime by foreign governments. This is not acceptable - no nation should sell arms to a regime that uses weapons exclusively against its own people. We call upon the international community to actively work to implement arms embargoes against the regime. Further, we appeal to the members of the Security Council, and the international community, to take action quickly on measures that will prevent the sale of arms to the Burmese military, including a ban on banking transactions targeting top Burmese leaders, as well as state and private entities that support the government's weapons trade.
Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu and
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Adolfo Perez Esquivel
Rugoberta Menchu Tum
Prof. Elie Wiesel
Council conclusions on Burma
Council on the European Union: Tue 19 Feb 2008
The Council adopted the following conclusions:
- The European Union remains deeply concerned by the situation in
Burma/Myanmar and urges the authorities to take rapid steps to transition to a
democratically elected government. The Council notes the authorities'
announcement on 9 February of a referendum on a new Constitution in May 2008
and multi-party elections in 2010. It underlines that only a process that
involves the full participation of the opposition and ethnic groups will lead
to national reconciliation and stability. To this end the EU reiterates its
call for the release of all political detainees, including Aung San Suu Kyi,
the start of a substantial time-bound dialogue with all political
stakeholders, and full respect for human rights and fundamental
- The EU reiterates its full support to the UN Secretary General's good
offices mission to help the transition to democracy in Burma/Myanmar, and
calls on the authorities to re-admit UN Special Adviser Professor Ibrahim
Gambari as soon as possible and to fully cooperate with him and the UN Special
Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Sergio
- The EU commends the work of Special Envoy Piero Fassino in co-ordinating
the EU's diplomatic efforts with Asian partners, and reaffirms his role in
supporting and promoting the UN mission.
- The EU continues to support the humanitarian needs of the people of
Burma/Myanmar and has recently increased aid to that end.
- The EU remains determined to assist the people of Burma/Myanmar to achieve stability, prosperity and democracy. The EU stands ready to review, amend or reinforce the measures it has already agreed in the light of developments."