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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 26/2/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. New approach to Burma, says Noppadon 2.. Burma tops list for landmines 3.. Villagers persuaded to become soldiers 4.. Residents tricked into attending
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 25, 2008
      1. New approach to Burma, says Noppadon
      2. Burma tops list for landmines
      3. Villagers persuaded to become soldiers
      4. Residents tricked into attending referendum meeting
      5. US Treasury slaps more sanctions on Myanmar firms
      7. Intrigue and illness in Myanmar's junta
      8. UN Envoy's next visit may turn farcical
      9. The 88 Generation Students: Statement
      10. Outcry for fair referendum, elections
      11. Military abducts 15 children in Tharawaddy
      12. NLD calls for publication of convention principles
      13. Essar to explore Burma's onshore gas field
      14. India battling China for influence
      15. Planet's Burma guide 'unethical'
      16. Burma's constitution attacked
      17. Junta targeting Burma's press
      18. STATEMENT: National League for Democracy
      19. Opposition in Burma calls for free referendum
      20. Reform of government in exile agreed in principle

      New approach to Burma, says Noppadon
      BangkokPost: 26/2/08


      Thailand has no choice but to put national economic interests before human rights concerns in dealing with Burma, Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said yesterday.

      The Samak government would do whatever it takes to turn the economy around as quickly as possible.

      "In the past, we had constructive engagement and flexible engagement, but they never took us anywhere.

      "Now, we will adopt another approach, neighbour engagement.

      "We will talk to them in a friendly manner on subjects that they are comfortable with," said Mr Noppadon.

      He would also talk about the Election Commission's experiences in organising a constitutional referendum when he visits Burma in the second week of March. The junta has announced plans for a national referendum in May.

      "The policy of non-interference remains a sacrosanct principle, not only for Asean but also the international community," he said.

      Under intense international pressure, the junta announced plans this month for a referendum in May on a proposed new constitution written under military guidance, to be followed by a general election in 2010.

      Mr Noppadol said he feels sorry for Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but was not able to help her.

      The junta's domestic and international critics say the referendum plans are undemocratic because they do not involve open debate and they also bar Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from taking part in the elections.

      "We will have to gradually talk to them about how we feel about the slow pace of the changes that are taking place," said Mr Noppadon.

      He likened neighbouring countries to the egg yolk and Asean to the egg white. "Yes, people are talking a lot about Burma's human rights situation, but we have other pressing issues like drug trafficking and immigration to address as well," he said.

      Some might call Thailand's foreign policy a two-faced approach, but there was no instant formula in foreign affairs.

      "I'll steer Thailand's foreign policy in a way that will benefit its people and businesses and protect the country's interests.

      "Just give me a chance. I'll do it against all the insults that I was only fit to be the former prime minister's legal adviser and could not be a good foreign minister," he said.

      He planned to transform Thai embassies into business centres, offering a one-stop service if possible.

      Team Thailand would be set up, comprising experts from various fields like commerce and labour, to give advice and promote investment abroad.

      To facilitate the effort, Mr Noppadon planned to carry out a major reshuffle of diplomats and ministry officials in the next two months.

      There was a need to put the right men in the right jobs, he said, adding that he would ensure fairness in the reshuffle.

      The Campaign Committee for Human Rights yesterday warned the government against making unfair transfers of civil servants and meddling with the judicial process to facilitate the return of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

      The committee said it had received reports that some high-ranking diplomats were potential targets for transfer by the new government.

      They included Kitti Wasinond, the ambassador to Britain, who was said to have provided the Council for National Security with in-depth information about the movements of the London-based supporters of Mr Thaksin.

      Krit Garnjana-Goonchorn, the Thai ambassador in Washington DC, is likely to be another target.

      When Mr Krit was foreign permanent secretary under the Surayud Chulanont government, he approved the withdrawal of Mr Thaksin's diplomatic passport.

      Burma tops list for landmines – Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Mon 25 Feb 2008

      The Burmese regime is one of two governments in the world that is using anti-personnel landmines on an ongoing basis, according to the "Landmine Monitor Report 2007: Toward a Mine-Free World," published recently in Burmese language by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

      "In this reporting period, since May 2006, two governments are confirmed to have used antipersonnel mines: Myanmar/Burma and Russia," said the ICBL.

      "Despite the growing list of states committed to banning antipersonnel mines, there were discouraging actions among some of the 40 states not party to the treaty. Government forces in Myanmar/Burma and Russia continued to use antipersonnel mines," stated the report.

      The ICBL said there were 232 landmine casualties in Burma in 2006 and 231 in 2005. Among them, at least four non-military persons, including two children, were killed. There were 10,605 landmine survivors in 2006, increasing from 8,864 in the 2005 data.

      The organization said Burmese military forces continue to use antipersonnel mines extensively, as they have every year since "Landmine Monitor" began reporting in 1999. Mine use was recorded in Karen, Karenni and Shan states, as well as Tenasserim Division, in 2006 and 2007.

      Burma is also one of 13 landmine-producing countries in the world, along with China, Cuba, India, Iran, North Korea, South Korea, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

      Blast mines based on the US M-14 design are being manufactured by Myanmar Defense Products Industries at Ngyaung Chay Dauk, in western Bago Division, according to the report.

      The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Shan State Army-South, the United Wa State Army and several other armed groups continued to use antipersonnel mines in 2006 and early 2007, said the report.

      There were also warning signs of mine deployment north of the Yoma Mountains and Yae Tar Shae Township, Mandalay Division, the first time mines have been reported in the area.

      "Prolonged military operations in eastern states bordering Thailand increased mine contamination; Burmese migrants gave first reports of mine contamination in Mandalay division," said the report.

      The ICBL also stated that the closing of five International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) field offices failed to serve conflict casualties in border areas.

      Landmines in Burma are deployed mainly near borders with Thailand, Bangladesh and India, and in eastern parts of the country marked by decades-old struggles by ethnic minorities for autonomy. Ten of Burma's 14 states and divisions suffer from some degree of mine contamination, primarily antipersonnel mines, the report stated.

      The Burmese military junta has not acceded to the international Mine Ban Treaty, one of 17 countries that abstained from voting on UN General Assembly Resolution 61/84 on December 6, 2006, said the report.

      At the time, the Burmese junta stated: "We oppose the indiscriminate use of antipersonnel mines which causes death and injury to innocent people all over the world. At the same time, Myanmar [Burma] believes that all states have the right to self-defense."

      Villagers persuaded to become soldiers – Lieng Lern
      SHAN: Mon 25 Feb 2008

      Burma junta is persuading people to recruit as soldiers or become members of Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) by promising high positions to the public in Nam Kham Township at the Sino-Burma border, reported a local source.

      On 22 February 2008 at 10:00 am, Nam Kham Second Police Chief Aung Naing with people from over 20 other departments held a meeting at the youth center in Kay Hkun village which is located at North of Nam Mao (Shweli) River. There were over 100 participants in the meeting.

      A participant in the meeting said the police chief told them that "Whoever wants to become soldiers please give your name to us. But you must have secondary or high school level of education. If you are a university graduate, it is even better. We will appoint you at high positions".

      "If we don't want to become soldiers we can become members of USDA. If we join them, we can cross the watergate from our village to Nam Kham even after the closing time by showing our USDA cards. The gate opens at 6 am and closes at 6 pm", he added.

      Last month, the authorities also collected names of people who are over 18 in Nam Kham Township to send to the new capital for constitution referendum on May 21, 2008. People who do not have current ID cards must renew. But immigration officers said it might be difficult to finish renewing all ID cards citing insufficient time given.

      On the same day, 3 meetings were held in other villages: Hat Hin with over 100 participants Nawng Hking with over 80 attendees and Kay Khun.

      Residents tricked into attending referendum meeting – Naw Say Phaw
      DVB: Mon 25 Feb 2008

      Residents of Rangoon's South Dagon township ward 26 were tricked into attending a campaign meeting on the upcoming national referendum, having been told it was a meeting about identity cards.

      Ward authorities made an announcement over loudspeakers on 21 February that there would be a meeting where residents could get new identity cards and household lists the following afternoon.

      One ward resident said he attended the meeting on 22 February but instead of information about identity cards they were given a talk about the upcoming national referendum.

      "In the meeting, they told people to make a wise choice in the national referendum which will be held in accordance with the government's seven-step road map," the resident said.

      "They told us not to listen to the lies being broadcast by foreign countries."

      The resident said he felt he could not trust the officials when they had lied about the purpose of the meeting.

      "Personally, as a Burmese citizen, I have no confidence in what they are doing. Look at today's meeting for example – they started by telling us lies," he said.

      "When they called the meeting, they said they would arrange our ID cards and household lists within one day, but when I got to the meeting, I realised it was just for them to say whatever they wanted."

      Many people left the meeting when it became clear that they would not get their identity cards, the resident said.

      "A lot of the people who attended the meeting got frustrated with the government officials, so they left the meeting before it finished," he said.

      "They only wanted to get their ID cards and household lists – that's the true people's desire."

      At the end of the meeting, the ward authorities asked those present if there was anything they need, to which people responded that they wanted genuine democracy.

      The officials replied that they were on track to bring about this goal, and immediately left the meeting.

      There have been similar campaigns in other townships in Rangoon, run by a district fire brigade and a Red Cross organisation, which have been collecting people's opinions to find out if there is opposition to the planned referendum.

      US Treasury slaps more sanctions on Myanmar firms – David Lawder
      Reuters: Mon 25 Feb 2008

      The Bush administration, seeking to ratchet up pressure on Myanmar over human rights abuses, on Monday announced more economic sanctions against businesses and individuals linked to the country's military leaders.The U.S. Treasury Department said it was banning Americans from doing business with Asia World Co Ltd, a Myanmar company controlled by Steven Law and his father, Lo Hsing Han, which the Treasury described as "financial operatives" of the Myanmar regime.

      The action, taken under an executive order enacted last year after Myanmar's military crackdowns against protesters, also seeks to freeze any assets the firms and individuals may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

      Myanmar's junta in September crushed the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years, killing at least 15 people.

      The Treasury said Law and his father, Lo, have a history of illicit activities that have supported the Myanmar junta. It described Lo as the "Godfather of Heroin" who has been one of the world's top traffickers of the drug since the early 1970s. In 1992, Lo founded Asia World Co Ltd. a company that has received numerous lucrative government concessions, including construction of ports, highways and government facilities, the Treasury said.

      Law now serves as managing director of the company, and the sanctions were extended to his wife, Cecelia Ng. The Treasury also blacklisted 10 Singapore-based companies owned by Ng, including property firm Golden Aaron Pte Ltd.

      The latest round of sanction is the fourth that the Bush administration has imposed against the Myanmar government since the democracy protests last year.

      "Unless the ruling junta in Burma halts the violent oppression of its people, we will continue to target those like Steven Law who sustain it and who profit corruptly because of that support," Stuart Levey, the Treasury's undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement.

      World Politics Review: Mon 25 Feb 2008

      NOBEL LAUREATES CALL FOR ACTION ON BURMA — Eight other Nobel laureates joined with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu earlier this month to call for an international arms embargo, supported by the United Nations Security Council, against Burma's military junta.

      Despite international anger and pressure to reform in the wake of the regime's October 2007 violent crackdown on demonstrations led by Burma's monks, the ruling junta has largely continued with business as usual - denying basic human rights to Burmese citizens. Several countries, including China, Russia and India, continue to sell military equipment and arms to the regime.

      "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," reads the letter, signed by Elie Weisel, Shirin Ebadi, the Dalai Lama and Betty Williams, among others.

      "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."

      Junta officials did announce last week the completion of a draft constitution and elections, something the country's military leaders have been promising for some time, but Burma-watchers are skeptical that the constitution, which contains a number of loopholes that would allow the regime to maintain limits on rights. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for example, criticized the junta's Feb. 19 announcement that imprisoned pro-democracy leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi would not be allowed to participate in upcoming 2010 elections because she was married to a foreigner.

      * Juliette Terzieff is a freelance journalist specializing in human rights. She pens Rights & Wrongs every week for World Politics Review.

      Costa Rican leader stands behind Suu Kyi
      Mizzima News: Fri 22 Feb 2008

      Costa Rican Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias has added his name to the nine original signatories of an appeal calling on an international arms embargo on Burma.

      The appeal, released Wednesday, also declared support and solidarity for pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the monks at the forefront of September’s Saffron Revolution.

      “The regime’s ‘road-map’ and decades-long constitution process is flawed: it does not include participation for 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,” stated the petition in part.

      “I remain a longstanding supporter of the non-violent efforts of Aung San Suu Kyi to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy in her country and wish to associate myself with the Statement and Appeal issued by my fellow Nobel Peace Laureates,” wrote Arias on Wednesday.

      The Costa Rican is the latest of a growing list of international actors and leaders declaring the junta’s constitutional process inherently “flawed.”

      Arias was awarded the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize, four years before Aung San Suu Kyi received the honor, for his work in ending the civil war in Nicaragua between the Sandinistas and Contras.

      He is the current President of the Republic of Costa Rica.

      Intrigue and illness in Myanmar's junta – Larry Jagan
      Asia Times: Mon 25 Feb 2008

      This month's surprise announcement in Myanmar of a planned national referendum on a new constitution in May and multi-party democratic elections by 2010 are all part of Senior General Than Shwe's game plan to hold onto power and ensure his family's interests are secured. The question now is whether or not the junta leader's health will hold out that long.

      Than Shwe sent a clear message to his subordinates, including for junta number two General Maung Aye, that he intends to maintain his hold on power as Myanmar makes the move from military to civilian government, and also to the United Nations and international community that his plans - rather than outside mediation efforts - will decide the country's political future.

      The announcement notably came after months of inertia inside the military hierarchy, as the 75-year-old Than Shwe was apparently hobbled by cardiac surgery and transfixed with efforts to keep in check his deputy and rival, Maung Aye. The junta's second-ranking official woke to hear the announcement on state radio and was not informed beforehand of the timetable for implementing the supposed democratic reforms, according to government sources in the capital Naypyidaw.

      The planned referendum and elections indicate Than Shwe's new determination to press forward with the country's so-called "roadmap to democracy", which will ensure a continued role for the military in governance. "Than Shwe obviously now feels he is secure enough in his position … to push on with some measure of reform," said the Myanmar academic Win Min. "His failing health may also have prompted him to move at this time, as he may fear that time is running out for him."

      The move also comes at a time when internal pressures are mounting, including growing frustration within the army over the lack of promotions and pay rises, and a growing clamor from the country's business community for economic stability and liberalizing reforms. Significantly, the junta's top 12 generals are scheduled to meet to discuss political and economic reforms in the coming weeks.

      If so, it will represent the first "quarterly" meeting of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in over eight months and the first since the military's brutal crackdown on Buddhist monk-led demonstrations last September.

      They are also expected to discuss the reorganization of the military in the light of recent major intelligence failures and a growing number of desertions, especially in the country's ethnic eastern regions, according to military sources close to Than Shwe.

      Some analysts contend there is growing dissension among the ranks, as the ailing Than Shwe becomes more reclusive and his top chief subordinates Maung Aye, who is seen as a potential rival to the top general, and General Thura Shwe Mann, a known loyalist, jockey for position.

      A major turning point in the competition occurred nearly six months ago, when Maung Aye was replaced as the head of the junta's powerful Trade Council, right before the beginning of the August unrest. Maung Aye was also reportedly replaced as military chief during last year's protests, where Thura Shwe Mann took charge of security arrangements, including suppression of the demonstrations, and commenced chairing crucial National Security Council meetings on Than Shwe's orders.

      Since the crackdown, however, the wheels of government have reportedly ground to a halt. "Ministers have been told directly by Than Shwe that he does not need to be consulted on any issue, other than those related to political or foreign policy issues," said a military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But because officials fear making any moves that could be perceived as a challenge to Than Shwe's power, decision-making is in gridlock, according to the source.

      "There's total inertia in [the capital] Naypyidaw. No one dares make a decision, even in regard to the smallest matters without approval from the top, which is rarely forthcoming," a senior government official recently confided to a Western diplomat who spoke with Asia Times Online.

      That is largely because until now Than Shwe has been preoccupied with personal concerns, including how to maintain power despite his declining health and how to ensure the dominant position of his family once he eventually passes.

      "Than Shwe continues to follow his trusted approach - divide and rule," according to Win Min. "He did this successfully before, preserving his position by pitting Maung Aye against the then-military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt." Nyunt was ousted in a 2004 internal purge.

      Divide and misrule

      This time Than Shwe's "divide-and-rule" policy is becoming ever more intricate and difficult to hold together. "Than Shwe has developed a chessboard of counterbalancing influences, both inside the cabinet and the military hierarchy, to maintain an equilibrium that keeps Thura Shwe Mann in check and Maung Aye sidelined," a senior military source told Asia Times Online.

      The players in the middle are represented by the Boards of Special Operations, or BSOs, which oversee the influential regional commanders, and factions within the cabinet led by a handful of older pro-Than Shwe ministers, including Planning Minister Soe Tha and Information Minister Kyaw Hsan. Together the groups are meant to act as checks and balances on Thura Shwe Mann.

      This, however, is only a temporary measure, as most of the BSOs and older government ministers are expected to step down after Than Shwe carries out his planned shakeup of the military and government administration. This is expected to happen after the next SPDC quarterly meeting, but could be further delayed until after the Burmese Buddhist New Year, or Thingyan, in mid-April.

      A series of damaging intelligence failures, including unsolved bombings in the new capital and in Yangon, and the failure to prevent last year's mass demonstrations, has prompted Than Shwe to undertake a major restructuring of the armed forces. Most significantly, he recently reappointed Major General Kyaw Win, the former deputy intelligence chief under ousted intelligence chief Khin Nyunt, on a 500,000 kyat (roughly US$80,000) monthly budget to run an intelligence training school.

      "The junta's main concerns now are to improve military intelligence gathering and assessment," said a former European military attache in Yangon, who remains in close contact with sources in Myanmar and who spoke to Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity. Other diplomats in Yangon concur that intelligence operations are being beefed up ahead of the planned referendum in May.

      Nonetheless, despite his carefully planned schemes, Than Shwe's position seems increasingly perilous. Maung Aye in particular has distanced himself from the top general and appears to be conducting a sort of campaign of civil disobedience. For instance, he recently ordered the mayor of Yangon to take down billboards across the town which urged people to "oppose those pessimistic ax-handles who are relying on America" because he preferred not to distinguish between foreign enemies.

      More significantly, it is widely believed among diplomats and military sources that Maung Aye did not support last year's decision to shoot and kill Buddhist monks and would have preferred the demonstrations to have been suppressed through less-violent measures. "Maung Aye constantly manages to harass both Than Shwe and Thura Shwe Mann by blocking promotions or disrupting decisions," said a government official who requested anonymity.

      At the same time, Than Shwe's health is believed to be deteriorating after he underwent a cardiac operation performed by Singaporean doctors in the new capital city last month, according to sources who have recently visited the military leader. It's unclear how well the junta leader has convalesced from the procedure and there are unconfirmed reports that he may require follow-up cardiac surgery in Singapore in the coming weeks.

      "He periodically forgets things. He recently asked where several officers were, all of whom were sacked last year during the mass retirements of middle ranking officers," according to a government source in Naypyidaw. Than Shwe is known to suffer from chronic diabetes and regular bouts of hypertension and is believed to have suffered a mild stroke in December 2006 for which he flew to Singapore for treatment.

      "For almost a decade now Than Shwe has refused to have his annual medical check-up done by [Myanmar] army doctors for fear that this would leave him vulnerable and in danger of being ousted, as it did to General Saw Maung [more than 15 years ago]," a former military doctor told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity.

      For the time being, however, Than Shwe is still in control. But his grip on power appears to be slipping significantly at a time when his divide-and-rule tactics have sharpened antagonisms between his two likely successors and the country braces for some form of democratic reforms. A change in junta leadership is not inconceivable in the year ahead, a still undecided transition, which depending on who emerges on top, may or may not follow through on the current leader's constitution referendum and democratic election plans.

      * Larry Jagan previously covered Myanmar politics for the British Broadcasting Corp. He is currently a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.

      UN Envoy's next visit may turn farcical – Marwaan Macan-Markar
      IPS: Mon 25 Feb 2008

      The next visit of a special U.N. envoy to military-ruled Burma is in danger of turning into a farce.

      Ibrahim Gambari's mission, in early March, comes on the heels of the junta jettisoning its commitments to the world body to hold a dialogue with Burma's pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as part of a political reform process that is open and accommodating.

      The junta, which has renamed the country Myanmar, has a new political reality for the U.N. envoy to grapple with. In addition to making a sudden announcement in mid-February that it will conduct a referendum in May for a controversial new constitution, the military leaders have said that Suu Kyi will be barred from participating in the 2010 parliamentary elections to follow.

      The success or failure of Gambari's visit will be gauged on what he achieves in the wake of the junta's tough line to pursue its political agenda, which is to entrench the military's power in the South-east Asian country at the expense of a genuine, inclusive political solution. How he handles the ban on Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for over 12 of the past 18 years, will test the resolve of the world body's commitment towards the country's beleaguered people.

      Gambari's initial response to the junta's disclosure about the May referendum has won little support among Burmese opposition groups. "This is a significant step as it marks the first time that we have an established time frame for the implementation of (the junta's) political roadmap," Gambari is reported to have said during a recent visit to China, a key supporter of the Burmese regime.

      "We don't believe he can produce any positive results from his upcoming trip. He has already failed and this visit is just to confirm again that he fails," says Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, a Washington D.C.-based lobby group. "The regime has rejected all of his recommendations and decided to continue its one-sided act. Ironically, he endorsed the regime's plan to continue its one-sided act as the significant step forward."

      If the U.N. wants to be taken seriously on Burma, Gambari and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "have to admit that they failed," Aung Din added in an e-mail interview. "They have to make a sincere judgement on their mandate and mission, and not to make the world believe that there are some developments in Burma. Their hollow optimism and inability to admit to their failures has misled the world."

      A welcome starting point would be an admission of the junta's reluctance to accept Gambari's views during his recent visits, noted Aung Din. "They need to tell the world sincerely that the generals in Burma are not listening to their suggestions, and that they need to call for the Security Council to step in with an effective resolution that will force the regime to listen to (Gambari's) voice."

      The Nigerian diplomat's role as a special U.N. envoy took on added significance late last year following a harsh crackdown of peaceful protests in Burma. The street demonstrations in Rangoon and other Burmese cities, which were led by Buddhist monks, and drew tens of thousands of supporters, were the largest witnessed in the country in nearly two decades. The September protests grew out of public discontent after the junta raised the price of oil by 500 percent in mid-August with no warning.

      According to the U.N., a little over 30 people were killed in the crackdown, when soldiers and the riot police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators.

      Opposition groups say the death toll, including monks, was far higher, in the hundreds. In addition, nearly 700 people were arrested and thrown into the country's notorious jails.

      The international outrage that followed the crackdown forced the junta to open its doors and let Gambari in. During his two visits, he secured a commitment from the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta is formally known, to start a dialogue with Suu Kyi. That breakthrough was hailed, since the U.N. envoy appeared to have won support from the generals for an inclusive political reform process, including a role for the leader of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in drafting the constitution.

      But reality proved otherwise. In January, during a rare meeting she had with leaders of the NLD, Suu Kyi revealed that she was "not satisfied" with the five rounds of talks she had had with the junta's liaison officer, Labour Minister Aung Kyi. The talks had little substance, she had said, since they lacked "any time frame" for this mediation effort.

      The junta confirmed such a reality in February, announcing plans for a referendum for a controversial new constitution in May and a general election in two years with no role for Suu Kyi. They were decisions that made any future talks between Aung Kyi and Suu Kyi meaningless.

      "The junta have no right to bar Suu Kyi from participating in the elections," Zin Linn, a spokesman for the National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the Burmese government in exile, told IPS. "They have to listen to the people's voices, if Suu Kyi should participate at the elections or not."

      The political ban on the NLD leader stems from a clause that has been written into the new constitution, which was drafted over a 14-year period.

      Under this clause, Burmese citizens married to foreigners are prevented from running for the post of president. Suu Kyi was married to Michael Aris, a British academic, who died in 1999.

      The new constitution set for approval during the May plebiscite also has other features that questions the SPDC's notion of democracy. Significant are the clauses that seek to perpetuate the role of the military, which has held Burma under an oppressive grip since capturing power in a 1962 coup.

      "The army chief and not the elected president has been given powers to mount a response when there is a state of emergency. If he feels there is a threat and wants to stage a coup, he can do constitutionally," says Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst, living in exile in Thailand. "The army chief will also have control of three important ministries, interior, defence and the border areas."

      If Gambari comes out in support of the new constitution, then it means that the U.N. is also endorsing such undemocratic features of the charter, he explained in an interview. "The Burmese regime will not change its mind now. I don't think the U.N. will be left with any credibility after this."

      The 88 Generation Students: Statement 4/2008 (88)
      Mon 25 Feb 2008

      Calling Citizens around the World to Pressure the Government of China to Withdraw Its Unilateral Support for the Burmese Military Junta and to Boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

      (1) Today, the 88 Generation Students, a coalition of leading former student activists who spearheaded the country's 1988 national uprising that nearly toppled decades of military rule, call for citizens around the world to pressure the Government of China to withdraw its unilateral support of the Burmese military junta and to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics in response to China's bankrolling of the military junta that rules our country of Burma with guns and threats.

      (2) China is a major trade partner, major arms supplier and major defender of the junta in the international arena, especially in the United Nations Security Council. The military junta in Burma is still in power to this day, despite strong and continuous resistance by the people of Burma, because of China's support.

      China has provided billions of dollars in weapons, used its veto power at the UN Security Council to paralyze peaceful efforts at change, and unilaterally undermined diplomatic efforts to free the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.

      (3) The 88 Generation Students has requested many times to the Chinese Government to play a constructive role in national reconciliation in Burma. We have also asked China to end its unilateral support for Burma's regime and instead facilitate a meaningful and time-bound dialogue between the military junta, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, and ethnic representatives to achieve a mutually acceptable solution, by using its significant influence over the junta or by working together with other members of the UNSC. However, our constructive outreach to China has been met with silence and more weapons shipments. Therefore, now we call for action to respond to the irresponsible manner of the Chinese Government. While China plans to celebrate the Olympics on August 8, 2008, which is the 20th anniversary of the 1988 popular democracy uprising in our country; it is essentially enslaving the people of Burma

      (4) We call for each and every citizen around the world not to watch the Olympics ceremonies on television and boycott this Genocide Olympics/Saffron Olympics. We urge people of conscience throughout the world - including the hundreds of thousands of Burmese in dozens of countries - to pledge to not watch or support in any way the Beijing Olympics.

      (5) We also ask each and every citizen around the world to boycott any Olympics merchandise or products from China and its Olympics sponsors during the time of Beijing Olympics.

      Outcry for fair referendum, elections – Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Fri 22 Feb 2008

      Veteran Burmese politicians, opposition activists and ethnic ceasefire leaders have urged Burma's military regime to hold a free and fair national referendum and general election.

      Burmese protesters residing in Japan holds a huge picture of pro-democracy politician Aung San Suu Kyi during a march demanding to urge for more action by the international community against their country's military junta, at Tokyo's Shibuya shopping and amusement district on November. (Photo: Reuters)

      An influential group of veteran politicians, pro-democracy activists and leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization all released statements on Thursday, each calling for a fair referendum and general election.

      In early February, the Burmese government announced that a national referendum on the constitution will be held in May and a multi-party general election in 2010.

      The veteran politicians—including Thakin Chan Htun and Thakin Thein Pe—urged the regime to widely distribute the draft constitution and to allow sufficient time for voters to study the constitution.

      Thakin Chan Htun, a leader of the group, told The Irrawaddy on Friday, "The regime should release political prisoners and allow them to freely involve themselves in the referendum. They [the authorities] should also allow UN representatives, political analysts and journalists to observe the voting process."

      The politicians criticized the regime for ignoring the calls of the international community, the United Nations, prominent world leaders, Burmese opposition groups and citizens to promote real national reconciliation.

      Economic and social problems can not be solved through a constitution and election if the regime does not allow sufficient time for the people to study the draft constitution, said the politicians.

      Meanwhile, the central committee of the Kachin Independence Organization—a main ethnic ceasefire group based on the China-Burma border—released a statement on Thursday saying the referendum and election have a chance to promote political reform in Burma, but only if the referendum and election are free and fair.

      The KIO took part in the junta-sponsored National Convention, which led to the referendum on the draft constitution.

      The ceasefire group called for the regime to appoint a group to monitor the voting process to ensure fairness.

      An ethnic Mon ceasefire group, the New Mon State Party based on the Thai-Burma border, announced that it will not support the draft constitution written by the Burmese government because it does not guarantee the rights of ethnic groups or create a federal union style government.

      Nai ong Ma-Nge, a spokesperson for the party, said, "It is not a good sign because they [the regime] don't negotiate with opposition groups and ethnic leaders. We don't follow their strategy. What we believe is that tripartite talks are the best way to solve the political problems in Burma."

      The NMSP signed a ceasefire agreement with the regime in 1995. Representatives of the party also attended the National Convention as observers along with other ethnic ceasefire groups in 2004.

      Meanwhile, many Rangoon-based activists called for fairness in the referendum and election.

      An underground activist group, known as Generation Wave, released a statement on Thursday calling for all citizens to have the right of freedom of expression and the right to lobby for their political views.

      The Generation Wave, believed to be made up of students, was founded in 2007 after the military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.

      At a regional meeting in Singapore, Burma's Foreign Minister, Nyan Win, said Aung San Suu Kyi will not be allowed to take part in the 2010 election because of her marriage to a foreigner, Briton Michael Aris.

      In an Associated Press story, Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said, "That [banning Suu Kyi] is hardly the definition of free and fair elections. The junta needs to start from scratch with a real constitution that actually passes the laugh test."

      Military abducts 15 children in Tharawaddy – Naw Say Phaw
      DVB: Fri 22 Feb 2008

      Fifteen children from Tharawaddy township in Bago division were abducted by government troops about 10 days ago and forced to join the army, local residents said.

      The children were in the forest collecting wood when they were taken by soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion-35.

      A Tharawaddy resident said the children were threatened with imprisonment if they would not join the army.

      "The children were abducted by LIB-35 about 10 days ago when they went into the forest to collect bamboo," the resident said.

      "They were then taken to the barracks where the military officers apparently told them they had to choose between joining the army and being sent to prison, but the children all said they would prefer to go to prison."

      The children were taken to Tharawaddy police station about three days ago, as the LIB-35 battalion commander was due to come to the barracks and officers were reportedly worried they would be reprimanded for having the children there.

      But the police refused to press charges against the children or to keep them in detention, and so the military took them back to the barracks.

      The Tharawaddy resident said the police were also worried about action against them if they kept the children at the station.

      "Maybe they're afraid that they're going to get into trouble for having these children," he said.

      "The police also used to make some money from people who went to the forest to cut wood, but since the military has been discouraging people to go there they are not getting money any more."

      Other local residents said that soldiers from the military recruitment division led by lieutenant Saw Win have taken people from the forest on several recent occasions.

      NLD calls for publication of convention principles – Htet Aung Kyaw
      DVB: Fri 22 Feb 2008

      National League for Democracy spokesperson U Nyan Win has criticised the junta for not making public the national convention principles, despite claims by the chief justice that they were available.

      U Nyan Win said that the book of principles mentioned by the chief justice did not seem to be publicly available.

      "The book featuring the principles of the national convention, which the Chairman of National Convention Convening Work Committee, chief justice U Aung Toe, said was available, is nowhere to be found as of 2pm on 21 February," he said.

      "So we have still had no chance to find out what's in it."

      U Aung Toe said on 19 February that, "a book featuring the fundamental principles and detailed basic principles has been published", and also claimed they had been publicised on radio and television.

      The chief justice said that the constitution, which was approved by the Commission for Drafting the State Constitution on 19 February, was drafted in accordance with these principles.

      Burmese foreign minister U Nyan Win stated recently at a dinner cruise for Association of South-East Asian Nations foreign ministers in Singapore that Burmese people who have married foreign nationals are excluded from running for office.

      "According to Burma's 1974 basic constitution, a Burmese national who is married to a foreigner or has children who are not of Burmese nationality cannot be allowed to participate in the national elections," foreign minister U Nyan Win said.

      If such a clause is also included in the new constitution, this would bar NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from standing for election, a possibility that has been widely criticised.

      NLD spokesperson U Nyan Win said that the foreign minister's remarks were irrelevant given that Burma does not currently have a valid constitution.

      "The 1974 basic constitution was demolished in 1988, and today's draft national constitution has not been fully approved yet," the NLD spokesperson said.

      "If the remarks were based upon the 1974 constitution, then his remarks are not based on existing laws. We consider that this was only his personal opinion."

      Essar to explore Burma's onshore gas field – Mungpi
      Mizzima News: Fri 22 Feb 2008

      Indian Oil Company, Essar, will start drilling the first test well in May at the onshore Block L gas field in Burma's western State of Arakan, the company's spokesperson said.

      Essar Global Ltd., which has interest in energy, steel and telecommunications, will begin drilling a test well for exploration of natural gas in Block L under a Production Sharing Contract (PSC) with Burma.

      Essar's spokesperson said, the company signed the PSC for both Black L and A 2, and work has commenced.

      While Essar is the operator for both the blocks with a 100 percent Participating Interest (PI), the production is shared with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), the spokesperson added.

      Essar is one of the three Indian companies engaged in oil and gas exploration in Burma. The other two are Indian government-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), both of which has stakes in Block A-1 and A-3 of offshore gas fields in Arakan state.

      The consortium led by Daewoo International Corporation of South Korea includes the ONGC and GAIL along with South Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS).

      Burma, which is listed among the United Nations' Least Developed Countries (LDC) due to its military ruler's economic mismanagement, has an abundance of natural gas reserves, particularly in offshore areas.

      Burma's gas fields including three offshore and 19 onshore gas fields is estimated to have 89.722 trillion cubic-feet (TCF) of recoverable reserve.

      Reportedly, at least 13 foreign oil companies mainly from Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Indonesia, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Russia, are engaged in oil and gas projects in Burma.

      India battling China for influence – William Boot
      Irrawaddy: Fri 22 Feb 2008

      The India government is determined not to lose out completely to China in the battle for the hearts and minds—and natural resources—of the Burmese junta.

      The Chinese may get the big field of gas the Indians wanted and use Burma as a shortcut to ship Middle East oil to southwest China, but India continues to woo the Naypyidaw generals—and in a Jekyll and Hyde fashion.

      New Delhi is claiming credit for organizing UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari's next visit to Burma, and will welcome Burmese military chiefs at its international arms fair beginning on Saturday.

      Some observers might think that's a contradiction, but not in the eyes of the leaders of the biggest democracy in the world.

      In April, the junta's No. 2, Gen Maung Aye, will be a VIP at the formal signing of a much-coveted US $120 million business deal between the two countries.

      New Delhi has wriggled and twisted to ensure it secures the special contract to redevelop Burma's dilapidated west coast port of Sittwe, along with new transport links up to the border of the Indian northeast state of Mizoram.

      India was originally going to get operational control of Sittwe port in return for renovating the former British rice export centre, but the junta changed its mind—after Chinese objections, say insiders.

      Rather than let the deal go, New Delhi will now sign what's being termed a BTU agreement—build, transfer and use.

      Under the deal, the Indians will still be able to use Sittwe as an export-import junction for its northeast. But with the Chinese set to run a gas pipeline beside the port from the nearby offshore Shwe field, Beijing would not want a third country in charge of port operations.

      "This deal has not been easy, as with most negotiations with the prevaricating generals, but the Indian government has been dogged to the point of fawning to clinch it," said independent energy industries consultant Collin Reynolds in Bangkok.

      "This is because it is critical to plans for developing India's isolated and troublesome northeast states."

      Those states—Assam, Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh –are populated with 35 million mostly non-Indian indigenous tribes many of whom have long resented New Delhi control and harbor extremists who seek independence. Some of the armed separatists cross the border into Burma to thwart Indian army pursuit.

      Ironically, these northeast territories were annexed by the British during the expansionary heyday of the 19th century British empire as a buffer against marauding Burmese before the British also invaded Burma.

      The deal Maung Aye is expected to sign in New Delhi includes widening and deepening the Kaladan River that flows from Mizoram to Sittwe to accommodate cargo vessels. A parallel road is also planned.

      New Delhi's decision to ignore US and European Union calls to support a trade boycott and the political isolation of the Burmese government to force reform is paying off, just like it is for China.

      The Indian energy company Essar is to begin exploratory drilling for gas and oil at two Burmese sites. One is onshore near Sittwe in Arakan State. The other, ironically, is in the Shwe field in the Bay of Bengal where two other Indian companies— onGC and GAIL—have been frustrated by the Chinese.

      Having discovered and developed 5.6 trillion feet of recoverable gas (184 billion cubic meters) in two other Shwe sections along with the South Koreans, China successful negotiated with the generals to buy the much-coveted fuel.

      "It has hurt the India government to produce gas for the Chinese, but the Indians cannot afford not to play along even though Essar might experience the same fate," said Reynolds.

      Arakan State is poised to experience increased development in the next few years as India and China scramble for energy and to use the territory as a conduit to their landlocked regions.

      Planet's Burma guide 'unethical'
      BBC News: Fri 22 Feb 2008

      The TUC has called for a boycott of Lonely Planet guidebooks until the Burma edition is withdrawn from sale. The trade union umbrella organisation says travel to Burma is unethical and helps prop up the military government.

      Last year, Lonely Planet was bought by BBC Worldwide Limited, the commercial arm of the Corporation.

      In a statement, the BBC said the guide book - one of 288 published by Lonely Planet - "provides information and lets readers decide for themselves".

      The TUC, Tourism Concern, Burma Campaign UK and the New Internationalist have launched an online petition calling for the immediate withdrawal of the book.

      'Unethical' travel

      New Internationalist co-editor, Chris Brazier, said: "Holidaying in Burma is one of the most unethical trips you could make, given the brutality of the current regime.

      "The Lonely Planet guide to Burma should be immediately withdrawn."

      TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber added: "The very existence of a travel guide to Burma encourages people to visit a country they might not otherwise consider."

      But BBC Worldwide said the guide "provides information to help travellers make informed decisions about whether or not to visit Burma and, should they decide to go, make informed choices on what they do when in the country.

      "Lonely Planet believes that its decision to publish a guide book to Burma does not of itself represent support or otherwise for the current regime.

      No plans to withdraw

      BBC Worldwide says it has "carefully reviewed that position and has no plans to withdraw the guide". "It provides information and lets readers decide for themselves."

      The pros and cons of travel to Burma are set out at the front of its guidebook:

      Its reasons not to go include:

      • Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi opposes tourism
      • The military government uses forced labour
      • International tourism seen as 'stamp of approval'
      • Money from tourism goes to the military government

      Reasons to go are:

      • Tourism one of few areas to which locals have access
      • Carefully targeted spending reaches individuals in need
      • Locals have told travel guide authors they are in favour
      • Abuses less likely in areas frequented by foreigners
      • Insight Guides is the other main publisher with a guidebook on Burma.

      It has postponed its latest edition in the light of September's violence, when pro-democracy demonstrations were violently suppressed. Rough Guides does not have a guide to the country. In a statement, its co-founder, Martin Dunford, said: "We don't like to take moral stances when it comes to travel.

      "But there are some regimes that are so oppressive that travelling there just feels wrong.

      "Indeed so much of Burma's tourist infrastructure is linked to the military government that we feel tourism can't help but support the regime, however indirectly.

      "We are also mindful of – and respect – Ang San Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition's call for tourists to boycott the country as a way of bringing about change, but understand that it is a personal choice for individual travellers to make."

      Lonely Planet has also issued a travel advisory in the wake of the crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks. It urges travellers to exercise "extreme caution".

      The TUC's international secretary, Owen Tudor, said Lonely Planet was being singled out because "The country's main trade union organisation and the people of Burma oppose tourism."

      Human rights

      He denied the Lonely Planet boycott should also apply to guide books on Cuba, Saudi Arabia or other governments around the world with poor human rights records.

      "Disinvestment campaigns have worked in the past, dissuading companies from dealing with Burma," he said.

      "BBC Worldwide is one of 28 UK companies who have dealings with Burma and 17 of them are travel companies."

      The Independent newspaper's travel editor, Simon Calder, has condemned the boycott.

      He said: "It seems bizarre that there should be calls for a boycott of a travel publishing brand that has a first-class record on championing human rights and, incidentally, urging readers to be environmentally and culturally aware travellers."

      Burma's constitution attacked – John Aglionby and Amy Kazmin
      Financial Times: Fri 22 Feb 2008

      Indonesia became the first big developing country yesterday to criticise Burma's draft constitution, which entrenches military rule by banning leading opposition activists from politics, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel prize-winning democracy advocate.

      Hassan Wirajuda, Indonesia's foreign minister, said the constitution should be revised before being put to a national referendum in May, to ensure that the interests of opposition and minority groups were protected.

      His comments were made days after Burma's military rulers publicly clarified that Ms Suu Kyi, now a widow, would be prohibited from contesting Burma's planned 2010 elections because she had married a foreigner.

      "We hope that in the period between now and May, a process of consultation will take in input from these groups so that the draft constitution which will be voted on will be comprehensive, meaning that it will accommodate their interests," Mr Hassan told the Financial Times.

      The Burmese junta insists its charter will lay the foundation for a "disciplined democracy" suitable for Burma's multi-ethnic -population.

      But opposition groups have denounced it as an attempt to legalise military rule, while Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has complained that the army's "unilateral" referendum plans "did not support meaningful political dialogue or the national reconciliation process".

      Under the proposed constitution, 25 per cent of parliamentary seats will be reserved for the military, while the army chief can appoint key ministers, and declare a state of emergency, seizing widespread powers. Protection of basic rights and civil liberties will be highly conditional, and easily curbed by the military.

      The constitutional provisions governing election eligibility also make it clear that political dissidents can easily be excluded from running for public office.

      "It's already rigged," said Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst in exile. "Anyone who has been an active campaigner for democracy, or has been against the military at some point, or has the potential to do so, will be disqualified."

      The charter bars from office anyone married to a foreigner, or whose spouse or children have foreign citizenship, as well as Buddhist monks and other religious figures. It also bars political prisoners and civil servants, except for soldiers.

      Parliamentary candidates must have lived in Burma for 10 consecutive years.

      Junta targeting Burma's press – Yeni
      Irrawaddy: Fri 22 Feb 2008

      Burma's military government continues to crack down on the country's struggling independent media, most recently by the arrest last week of Rangoon-based journalists Thet Zin and Sein Win Maung—respectively the editor and office manager of the Myanmar Nation weekly news journal.

      The two journalists were arrested when police and intelligence officers carried out a four-hour search of their offices and confiscated documents, including a copy of UN Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro's report on Burma, Shan ethnic leader Shwe Ohn's book on federalism, a VCD on the September uprising and poems. The two journalists were taken to the headquarters of the interior ministry.

      It was unclear under what specific charges the two journalists are being held. However, Rangoon-based journalists suggest their arrests stemmed from the news journal's principles of journalistic integrity. Unlike some publications, the Myanmar Nation didn't have a cozy relationship with the junta's villainous Information Minister Kyaw Hsan.

      Furthermore, the editor, Thet Zin, has been an anti-government activist and critic. He was arrested and tortured in 1988 for taking part in the student pro-democracy protests at Rangoon University, and he was occasionally detained and interrogated by officials throughout the 1990s.

      Four days after the arrests, the authorities raided the publication again. Later, the censorship board, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, instructed the publisher to stop publishing the weekly journal.

      Such actions by the junta against the Burmese media have never ceased.

      According to Rangoon-based journalists, the military authorities recently banned reporters from covering a number of governmental meetings which, in the past, they attended. The reporters, who were intensively questioned, were not allowed to enter the meetings of the Myanmar Construction Entrepreneurs Association, the Myanmar Info-Tech Meeting and the Myanmar Forest Products & Timber Merchants Association.

      The latest harassment and sanctions against news media follow recent official statements on the press.

      Several Rangoon newspapers were ordered to publish government-written opinion pieces characterizing the pro-democracy protests as a threat to national security.

      However, a new generation of journalists—citizen reporters and bloggers—continue to challenge press censorship through the Internet and other technology. Their efforts began during the September 2007 uprising when they played a key role in reporting the junta's brutality to the world.

      In response, the authorities have reduced Internet speed and bandwidth, making it more difficult to send and receive high resolution images and large files. The government action hit many Internet cafés which are the only places for many people to get access the World Wide Web. Users are now desperately complaining to owners about the inadequate connection speed.

      Many Burma observers now suspect that authorities are pursuing a policy of repression rather than reform, even as plans go ahead for a constitutional referendum in May.

      Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, "The arrests of journalists and repression of access to information deny the Burmese people any real opportunity to debate the proposed new constitution."

      Instead of focusing on how to unite and rebuild the country, Burma's mind-control experts are tearing down the country's struggling press.

      The regime is trying to ensure that democracy has no chance in Burma by eliminating all possibility of a free press and freedom of speech.

      The junta should immediately stop the arrests of journalists, citizen reporters and bloggers and unconditionally release them from detention and prison so that they may serve the country at this critical time in its history.

      STATEMENT: National League for Democracy
      Fri 22 Feb 2008

      The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) (now the State Peace and Development Council, SPDC) issued Declaration No 1/88 on 18 September 1988, stating that it was taking over the state power to carry out four "duties". In the same declaration, the SLORC pledged to the monks and the lay people that the holding of a multi-party general election would be its final duty.

      Furthermore, the commander-in-chief of the Defense Services said on 23 September 1988: "… since our organization, formed with members of the Defense Services, has also pledged loyalty to the nation, I bel

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