[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 27/2/08
- A 'final courtesy call' on the junta
- Karen leader's death needs digging into
- Steinmeier calls for release of political prisoners in Burma
- US places additional sanctions on Burma business interests
- Singaporean, 10 firms under US Myanmar sanctions
- Universal sanctions a must against Burmese junta
- USDA rumored to be using bribery for enrollment
- NLD condemns attack on Suu Kyi
- China slams 'meddling' after Myanmar boycott call
- Betrayed by Burma's neighbors
- Burmese vote likely to be carefully choreographed
- Political veterans letter to Than Shwe
- Suu Kyi's party wants role in Myanmar politics
- Burma Army's oppression increasing in Mon area
A 'final courtesy call' on the junta
By LARRY JAGAN
Burma's generals have agreed to let the UN envoy visit again but there is little likelihood of anything being achieved
The United Nations Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, is expected to return to the country in a few days' time to discuss the military regime's plans for political change. The junta had originally told the envoy they could not host him until after the middle of April. But in the past two weeks the Burmese government has finished drafting the country's new constitution, and announced plans to hold a referendum in May and new elections in 2010.
This appears to leave the envoy with little left to do while he is there _ though he will certainly press for the release of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mr Gambari is expected to arrive in Rangoon on the weekend after visiting Tokyo, according to UN sources who do not wish to be identified. The Burmese authorities have agreed to allow Mr Gambari to visit Burma in the first few days of March, according to a Chinese diplomat in the region. Mr Gambari himself remains coy about the forthcoming visit, but told journalists in Jakarta last week that he was hopeful of visiting Burma in the first week of March.
"Beijing and Delhi have both been pushing the Burmese leaders to allow Gambari back as soon as possible," an Indian diplomat told the Bangkok Post recently on condition of anonymity. "The generals couldn't really ignore the strong advice of their two biggest neighbours," he said.
Last week Mr Gambari held discussions in Beijing with senior Chinese officials, including the foreign minister, on Burma and was assured of their support.
But the military government's recent announcement that it plans to hold democratic elections in two years' time, after conducting a referendum on the new constitution in May, effectively puts an end to Mr Gambari's mission.
"It's easy for the junta to agree to Gamabri's visit now, as he really has nothing to talk about," said a Bangkok-based diplomat close to the international mediation efforts with the Burmese military.
"Than Shwe's decision to set a timetable for the roadmap was a strategic move to block both Maung Aye _ his deputy _ from assuming power later and the international community, especially Gambari, from playing a role in the process," he added.
When Mr Gambari visited Burma last time, in November, he had a three-pronged approach. He asked to the be involved in a constitutional review process after the National Convention had completed drawing up the guidelines; he wanted to encourage the regime to make the national reconciliation process more inclusive and involve pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy; and to set up a Poverty Alleviation Committee.
Mr Gambari is currently on a trip to the region in preparation for his forthcoming visit to Burma. The envoy has been encouraged by the response of India, China, Indonesia and Singapore.
"What is important is for us is to work together with them [the military government], with the neighbouring countries, with Asean and the international community to enhance the credibility of this constitutional process, and to make national reconciliation more inclusive," Mr Gambari said in Jakarta after meeting the Indonesian president and foreign minister.
At best, Mr Gambari has now been left with a limited role _ possibly in helping with economic reform. "The junta will ask him to approve the new constitution that has just been finalised, and give it credibility in the hope of deflecting further international pressure," a government source said. "That's what they would see his role as in any constitutional review process."
Mr Gambari is likely to be shown a copy of the new constitution, which so far has been difficult to find. Diplomats and opposition politicians contacted by the Bangkok Post last week said they had been unable to obtain one.
The government officially announced the constitution was now ready for the referendum two weeks ago.
"The drafting committee completed the constitution in mid-December," said a Burmese government source. But it had been held under wraps while Senior General Than Shwe mulled over what to do next.
It is very clear now that Gen Than Shwe has never had any intention of making the national conciliation process inclusive. There was never a role for Aung San Suu Kyi or the NLD. So any efforts by Mr Gambari on this issue are destined to be rebuffed entirely, despite the envoy's insistence that this must be a key part of his next mission.
"We have been very consistent in saying that the recent announcement by the authorities of the referendum on the government constitution in May, and elections that will lead to a multi-party democracy in 2010, are a potentially significant step," Mr Gambari told journalists in Jakarta.
"But all the same, this process has to be credible and has to be all-inclusive. This will continue to be stressed in our conversation with the authorities in Myanmar," Mr Gambari told a press briefing after meeting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
In reality the key issue that remains unresolved and which Mr Gambari may be able to help in, is the question of Aung San Suu Kyi's release. When will the opposition leader be released from house arrest? In previous discussions between Mr Gambari's predecessor, the UN envoy Razali Ismail, the prime minister and military intelligence chief (General Khin Nyunt at the time) it was believed she would be freed after the constitution was ratified, according to sources close to Mr Razali at the time.
Mr Gambari is expected to push for a renewed commitment from the junta that she will be released soon after the referendum in May. In Indonesia, Mr Gambari told reporters he would certainly raise the issue of Daw Suu Kyi's continued detention and her participation in the proposed elections in 2010.
The main problem for the UN envoy is that he is likely to be given access only to lower level officials.
"Than Shwe is still furious at Gambari because he smuggled out a letter from Aung San Suu Kyi [which he made public in Singapore on his way back to New York to report to the UN secretary-general] last time," the Chiang Mai-based Burmese academic Win Min said. "He didn't see Gambari then, and Than Shwe is even less inclined to meet him this time."
This is something sources close to the UN envoy admit is almost certain to be the case again. It is even possible he will be denied access to Daw Suu Kyi and the opposition.
"As long as Gambari is able to stress the international community's concerns to the generals _ and Than Shwe hears it, even if it's second hand _ that will be an important measure of whether this forthcoming trip is a success or not," said Zin Linn, spokesman for the Burmese opposition abroad.
The planned referendum must be "free and fair" and international election monitors allowed to observe the process, he said. Daw Suu Kyi must be freed as soon as possible and allowed to participate in the forthcoming elections; and the NLD must be allowed to stand in the elections without restrictions or harassment.
"The junta must be under no illusions; only a credible vote will satisfy the international community," according to a Rangoon-based Western diplomat.
The Asean foreign ministers at their retreat in Singapore earlier this month stressed the same message. "Nyan Win [the Burmese foreign minister] was told in no uncertain terms that while the referendum was considered a domestic matter _ it was essential that is was a credible process," according to a Southeast Asian diplomat who was at the meeting.
But Mr Gambari may find even delivering this message hard going. The Burmese junta has hinted in several ways that the UN envoy and the UN as a whole has no further role to play in Burma's national reconciliation process or the proposed political reforms.
But the UN envoy remains upbeat and insists his job is to continue to push ahead even in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
"Sometimes, I myself am frustrated that the tangible results are not faster or we have not achieved more, but we have to build on what we have and continue to press for more results," Mr Gambari said.
While the envoy remains optimistic, the signs from the regime are that Mr Gambari's next trip to Burma is likely only to be a final courtesy call.
Karen leader's death needs digging into
By TADA PATTANASAJJA
The cold-blooded assassination of a Karen leader on Valentine's Day in downtown Mae Sot is a shocking event that needs investigating in-depth. All possible factors linked to the murder of 64-year-old Padoh Mahn Sha, one of the top leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU), must be thoroughly explored. Padoh Mahn Sha was a key decision-maker of the KNU. His commitment to restoring democracy and Karen autonomy had gained him wide acceptance among the Karen people, ethnic and Burmese pro-democracy leaders, and the international media. He had been expected to become the new KNU chairman after an election in November next year.
So far only some of the issues possibly linked to Padoh Mahn Sha's death have come to light.
First, internal conflicts among Karen groups have been a major issue reported in the news. Many news agencies reported that the assassination was carried out as an act of revenge by the KNU/KNLA Peace Council, an armed splinter group led by General Htain Maung, the former 7th Brigade commander who left KNU in January 2007.
Later the group's leader, Saw Ler Moo, the son-in-law of Gen Htain Maung was killed.
Second, it is also believed the killing was driven by the Burmese junta's policy to eradicate ethnic pro-democracy groups.
KNU is among the few remaining active armed groups fighting against the junta.
One factor that has received less attention is local business conflicts. There are a number of investments in KNU-controlled areas including logging and mining. A Karen environmentalist said that in a meeting on KNU forestry policy last month, Padoh Mahn Sha expressed concern over the fact that Thai companies were pressuring him for logging concessions.
Moreover, the Myawadee-Paan highway in Karen State to the Thai border at Mae Sot, which passes through five kilometres of KNU territory, still has not received approval from the KNU.
Then there is the conflict over the 1,200-megawatt Hut Gyi Dam on the Salween River in Karen State. This is a one-billion-dollar joint venture of Egat (Thailand's electricity monopoly), the Burmese junta (the State Peace and Development Council or SPDC), and a Chinese company.
Padoh Mahn Sha had long been challenging the project. In February 2006, the KNU released this statement: "The Hut Gyi Dam is an appalling and deplorable matter which seriously threatens and endangers freedom and security of the Karen people... In the interest of local communities and in view of the political situation of the whole country, the KNU earnestly call upon the countries providing external aid, to suspend implementation of the project."
Access to the construction site of the Hut Gyi Dam for the Thai dam-builders has been problematic. In order to travel along the Salween to the dam site in Karen State from the Thai border at Baan Sob Moei in Mae Hong Son, the Thai survey team needs to pass a KNU checkpoint, which has been refusing them entry.
The dam site itself, however, is an area controlled by the pro-junta Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the SPDC.
During the project study period, the Thai survey team travelled to the dam site through the Mae Sot-Myawadee border pass or via Rangoon, which was time-consuming and not feasible for actual dam construction.
For the past two years, the Thai dam-building authority has been approaching the KNU leaders to obtain permission for the dam. The Thai authority organised a secret meeting with the KNU executive committee in August 2007 in Mae Sot for this purpose. Again, Padoh Mahn Sha refused to give approval to the dam plans.
In September 2007, a blast at the Hut Gyi dam construction workers' camp killed one Thai worker and led to the evacuation of the other 42 workers to Thailand. The Burmese junta accused the KNU of being responsible. Padoh Mahn Sha promptly refuted this in an interview with Reuters: "How could we do it when it is an area tightly secured by Myanmar troops? They want the Thais to hate us."
The incident led to more intense pressure on KNU leaders, especially Padoh Mahn Sha.
A source close to the victim said that in the two weeks prior to his assassination, Thai officers repeatedly visited him to gain the green light for the dam. However, their attempts failed.
Interestingly, Thailand's Power Development Plan (PDP 2007 revision 1), released in January 2008, includes for the first time two dams on the Salween _ the Tasang dam in Shan Sate and the Hut Gyi Dam _ to supply electricity to Thailand in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Thus, it is clearly expected that construction of the Hut Gyi dam will start shortly.
Tada Pattanasajja is an independent researcher based in Chiang Mai.
Steinmeier calls for release of political prisoners in Burma
The Nation: 27/2/08
Jakarta - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Indonesian colleague Hassan Wirajuda Wednesday have welcomed Burma's junta government allowing a May referendum on a draft constitution, but called on the military to release political prisoners.
"We are both encouraged that political changes in Myanmar (Burma) are on course" said Steinmeier after a meeting with Wirajuda in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
Burma's government announced this month it will hold the referendum and Wednesday Xinhua news agency reported that the military announced ballots are to be cast in secret and counting to begin in public as soon as voting closes.
Wirajuda welcomed Burma's constitutional referendum as well as the multi-party elections planned for 2010.
"It is probably the first time that Myanmar's government has set such a concrete framework," said Wirajuda.
For the steps to democracy to succeed, the support of China and all neighbouring countries is needed, said the German minister, adding that "an important signal for change in Burma would be the release of political prisoners."
Burma, a member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), has been internationally criticised for the government crackdown on monk-led protests in September. The actual death toll and the number of people still in prison remains a mystery in Burma.
In his discussions, Steinmeier commended Indonesia for its progress since end of the Suharto dictatorship a decade ago. Later Wednesday he is scheduled to meet with Persident Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Asean General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan.
Steinmeier began his five-day tour of Indonesia Tuesday and next heads to Singapore and Vietnam.//dpa
US places additional sanctions on Burma business interests
The Nation: 27/2/08
Washington - The United States on Monday announced additional sanctions against business interests in Burma that support that country's military regime, citing the Southeast Asian nation's continued repression and jailing of democratic activists.
The US Treasury placed economic sanctions on Steven Law, his father, Lo Hsing Han, and his wife, Cecilia Ng, as well as various companies in which they are involved, calling them "key financial operatives of the Burmese regime."
It also placed additional sanctions on the business network of Tay Za, a business tycoon and arms dealer who it has previously sanctioned for his ties to the regime.
US President George W Bush said the situation in Myanmar, also known as Burma, was "deplorable" and called for democracy in the nation, that saw its government crack down on Buddhist monks and pro- democracy demonstrators in September.
"As one element of our policy to promote a genuine democratic transition, the US maintains targeted sanctions that focus on the assets of regime members and their cronies who grow rich while Burma's people suffer under their misrule," Bush said in a statement.
The department said Asia World Co Ltd, which Law runs, and its subsidiaries have provided support to the junta by receiving contracts for building ports, highways and government facilities. It also noted Lo Hsing Han's ties to heroin trafficking since the 1960s.
Tay Za's hotel chain's Aureum Palace Hotels and Reorts and Myanmar Treasure Resorts were also singled out.
The move freezes assets held by the parties in US jurisdiction and prohibits US citizens from engaging in business with them.
The White House insisted the regime release Aung San Suu Kyi, the leading democratic activist and 1991 Nobel peace winner who has been held under house arrest in Rangoon since 2003, and other pro-democracy advocates, and end military offensives and human rights abuses against minorities.
The sanctions announced Monday add to the 33 people and 11 companies already placed under such measures since last year. Additionally, visa restrictions have been placed on nearly 900 officials and their families, the White House said.//dpa
Singaporean, 10 firms under US Myanmar sanctions
Agence-France Press: Tue 26 Feb 2008
A Singaporean citizen and 10 of her companies have been targeted under fresh US sanctions aimed at the Myanmar junta, adding to a list of city-state firms hit by US sanctions.
Cecilia Ng is the wife of Steven Law, whose father Lo Hsing Han is "known as the 'Godfather of Heroin'," according to the US Treasury Department.
The department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) named the three individuals on Monday under additional economic sanctions against supporters of Myanmar's military regime, which the US accuses of grave human rights abuses.
The OFAC notice says Ng, born in 1958, is a Singaporean citizen who owns 10 companies including Golden Aaron Pte Ltd.
State media in Myanmar reported in December 2004 that Singapore's Golden Aaron Pte Ltd was part of a consortium that signed an oil and natural gas exploration contract with military-ruled Myanmar.
OFAC listed Ng's other companies as: G A Ardmore Pte Ltd, G A Capital Pte Ltd, G A Foodstuffs Pte Ltd, G A Land Pte Ltd, G A Resort Pte Ltd, G A Sentosa Pte Ltd, G A Treasure Pte Ltd, G A Whitehouse Pte Ltd, and S H Ng Trading Pte Ltd.
The Treasury Department accused Law and Lo Hsing Han of a history of involvement in illicit activities.
"Lo Hsing Han, known as the 'Godfather of Heroin,' has been one of the world's key heroin traffickers dating back to the early 1970s," it said.
"Steven Law joined his father's drug empire in the 1990s and has since become one of the wealthiest individuals in Burma."
Ng could not be immediately contacted for comment on the allegations.
A woman who opened the locked door at Ng's offices in Singapore's business district said she was not there. A plaque visible through the door listed Golden Aaron, S H Ng Trading and another firm, Kokang Singapore Pte Ltd.
Attempts to locate Ng at the condominium complex listed as her residence were also unsuccessful.
Singapore strongly denies allegations that it allows banks based here to keep illicit funds on behalf of Myanmar's secretive generals.
Asked for comment, the foreign affairs ministry referred AFP to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) which said the city-state, like all other leading financial centres, operates "a strict and rigorous regime" against money laundering.
"Banks and financial institutions in Singapore are required to institute strict procedures, including the need to identify and know their customers, and monitor and report any suspicious transactions," MAS said.
"Our rules are vigorously enforced. Should there be links with illicit activity, MAS will not hesitate to take necessary action."
In early February the US named Singaporean resident U Kyaw Thein, 60, as among those targeted under sanctions aimed at Tay Za, who the Treasury Department called an alleged "henchman" and arms dealer for Myanmar's junta.
A Singaporean company, Pavo Aircraft Leasing Pte Ltd, was also named.
US President George W. Bush last year named three other firms with offices in Singapore as among those targeted under initial sanctions that followed the junta's deadly September crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks.
The city-state led regional criticism of the crackdown but rights activists accused it of not taking economic action against the regime.
The US action freezes any assets the individuals and firms have under US jurisdiction and bars Americans from conducting business with them at the risk of heavy fines and prison sentences.
Universal sanctions a must against Burmese junta: CSW
Mizzima News : Tuesday, 26 February 2008
Written by Solomon
February 26, 2008 - Imposition of universal sanctions on Burma's military regime has been demanded of the world community including the United Nations by an international religious solidarity group. The step would help Burmese citizens suffering both inside and in exile.
The Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in a new report released on Monday urged the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to impose universal sanctions, echoing a call made earlier by nine Nobel Peace Prize recipients.
The report, which also urged the UN chief to visit Burma, "as a matter of urgency" and persuade the generals to implement political reforms, was based on the CSW's fact-finding mission regarding Burmese refugees and migrants in Malaysia and the Thai-Burma border.
Burmese refugees in Malaysia live in "severe and desperate poverty and deprivation," and face exploitation, abuse and "the widespread risk of arrest, detention, severe mistreatment including caning, and subsequent deportation by the Malaysian authorities," the report said.
The report which focuses on the lives and struggles of Burmese refugees and migrants in Malaysia and Thailand said, the Burmese military junta's continued suppression of its citizen continues to produce large numbers of refugees and migrants, who again suffer widespread rights abuses in their host countries.
Benedict Rogers, CSW's Advocacy Officer for South Asia, in an interview with Mizzima said, Burmese migrants and refugees, who fled to Malaysia and Thailand, live under severe circumstances.
"The situation for refugees in Malaysia is particularly bad, it is horrible to be a refugee," Roger said.
The CSW's delegates witnessed the sufferings of Burmese refugees and migrants in Malaysia, Thailand and India, Roger said.
"We visited one apartment [in Malaysia] that had 27 people living in just two small rooms," recalled Roger, who was in the fact-finding team.
The report, based on the fact-finding mission, while urging the international community to pressure the Burmese junta, called on the Malaysian and Thai governments to provide protection to Burmese refugees and migrant workers and guarantee their basic rights as human beings.
"The first thing international communities must do is continue to mount pressure on the regime and they should not accept the junta's road map referendum and 2010 elections because the plan excludes Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic groups," Roger said.
The CSW's report said the number of refugees and migrants from Burma are increasing as a result of the junta's tyranny, continued human rights violation, forced labour, rape, torture, land confiscation and religious persecution.
According to the Chin Refugee Committee, there are at least 60,000 Burmese refugees in Malaysia. According to the UN refugee agency, Thailand hosts an estimated 140,000 refugees in nine camps along its border with Burma.
"The core problem is the military regime in Burma. If we can change the regime in Burma, then that will help solve all the problems of refugees in Thailand, Malaysia and India," Roger added.
USDA rumored to be using bribery for enrollment - Myo Gyi
Mizzima News: Tue 26 Feb 2008
The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), on February 23rd in the capital of Kachin State, commenced organizational work ahead of May's constitutional referendum.
Kachin State USDA Chief and Minister of Post and Telegraph, Major General Thein Zaw, came to Myitkyina and met with Christian clergymen and priests from Dukataung Ward three days ago and said that they would be given phone lines and business permits.
A related rumor circulating around Myitkyina is that the USDA is awarding business permits for construction, furniture stores and cottage industries in return for joining their organization.
"The use of incentives by the USDA in their organization for the upcoming referendum is a hot topic among people in Myitkyina. They offer such lucrative business incentives, such as landline phones and business permits, even to widows and poor people," a resident of Myitkyina told Mizzima.
A student from Dukataung Ward said that he was approached by the USDA through the promise of passing his examination.
A local resident from Shansutaung Ward said that incentives offered by USDA officials vary from one ward to another, though there is little leeway in the registration forms distributed to households.
"USDA officials gave registration forms to every household in No. 3 Ward on the 23rd of this month. But at the top of these forms it is printed 'List of people supporting the constitution.' On each page there is space for 13 names and it must be signed after being filled up," he said.
However reports of business permits being used as incentives have yet to be verified. Local USDA officials have not been available for confirmation and no person with such a permit has been identified.
Thein Zaw, along with the Commander of Northern Command, yesterday paid a visit to another Kachin city, Bamoh.
"They forced all government staff to join USDA last week, irregardless of their having already joined or not. But they have yet to make such a move in the Wards and villages. They might force the common people to join the USDA after the Minister has left our city," postulated a resident of Bamoh.
The SPDC issued Announcements 1/2008 and 2/2008 on the 9th of this month, detailing plans for holding a referendum in May of this year and new elections in 2010.
However detailed plans for holding these polls have not been made public.
Senior General Than Shwe, the patron of the USDA, said there are 24 million USDA members in Burma, out of a population of 55 million.
NLD condemns attack on Suu Kyi - Min Lwin
Irrawaddy: Tue 26 Feb 2008
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese citizen and is playing a key role toward national reconciliation, said the National League for Democracy (NLD) in an official statement on Monday, countering reports that the junta wish to bar her from running in any future election in Burma because she married a foreigner.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, NLD spokesperson Han Thar Myint said, "A Burmese citizen who marries a foreigner is not disqualified from politics, according to the 1974 constitution."
The NLD spokesperson added that Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win's comments were "hurting the process of national reconciliation and national stability."
Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon in 1945 to Aung San, Burma's father of independence, and Khin Kyi, a Burmese citizen and former ambassador to India.
The NLD spokesperson was responding to reports that Nyan Win had told George Yeo, the Singaporean foreign minister, that the constitution would bar Suu Kyi from running in an election because she had been married to a foreigner, Michael Aris, a Briton who died from cancer in 1999.
Han Thar Myint said the government had made a "personal and political attack" against Suu Kyi and shown ill-will against her.
"In disqualifying Aung San Suu Kyi from the election, the regime is showing that it wants to weaken the NLD," said Win Min, an exiled Burmese researcher.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda on Thursday said that Burma's draft constitution entrenches military rule by banning leading opposition activists from politics, including Suu Kyi, the Nobel prize-winning democracy advocate.
"It is very clear that the generals don't want Aung San Suu Kyi to contest the election. They are trying to disqualify her," said Hnin Pwint Wai, a spokesperson from the All Burma Federation of Students' Unions.
The last election in Burma was held in May 1990, after which the authorities detained the winning party NLD's leaders, including Suu Kyi, and subsequently placed her under house arrest.
China slams 'meddling' after Myanmar boycott call - Chris Buckley
Reuters: Tue 26 Feb 2008
China repeated its stand on Tuesday that this year's Beijing Olympics should not be subject to political meddling in response to a boycott call by a Myanmar opposition group.
The 88 Generation Students organisation urged the boycott in protest against what it called China's "bankrolling" of the Myanmar military government that crushed pro-democracy protests last year.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference the Aug. 8-24 Games were a big event for China and the world.
"It should not be politicised," he said. "Political excuses should not be used to meddle in it."
The Myanmar activists, who emerged from early anti-government protests in 1988, said Beijing was the junta's "major trade partner, major arms supplier and major defender".
"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", the group said in a statement, referring to Myanmar by its former name.
International groups critical of China's restrictions on political rights and its role in the Darfur region of Sudan and other humanitarian troublespots have criticised the Beijing Games, with some urging boycotts.
Film director Steven Spielberg withdrew from his advisory role with the Beijing Games over the Darfur issue two weeks ago. But a boycott like the one that hit the 1980 Moscow Games and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics remains unlikely.
U.S. President George W. Bush has already accepted an invitation to attend the Games and said he viewed the Olympics as a purely sporting event.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will also be in Beijing in August, while Foreign Secretary David Miliband said before his trip to China this week that he was opposed to a boycott.
An ICM opinion poll in the Guardian newspaper last Friday said 72 percent of Britons thought its team should attend the Games with only 19 percent favouring a boycott.
Betrayed by Burma's neighbors - Editorial
Irrawaddy: Tue 26 Feb 2008
US President George W Bush has increased pressure on Burma's unyielding regime by imposing fresh sanctions on businesspeople, including former drug warlords.
In the new move, the Department of Treasury applied financial sanctions against Steven Law (aka Tun Myint Naing), his wife Cecilia Ng and Lo Hsing Han, Burma's once powerful Golden Triangle drug kingpin.
Steven Law and Lo Hsing Han are founders of the Asia World Company and are alleged to have made a fortune from illicit drug dealings in Burma.
Asia World Co Ltd was founded by Lo Hsing Han in 1992 and operated by managing director Steven Law. The company has provided critical support to the regime and has received numerous lucrative concessions, including the construction of ports, highways and government facilities, according to the US Treasury Department.
The Asia World Company was also involved in the construction of Burma's new capital, Naypyidaw, in central Burma, and secured the contract to build Snr-Gen Than Shwe's house there.
The latest sanctions are in addition to those imposed on 33 individuals and 11 entities previously designated by the Bush administration. Bush also announced that as many as 898 Burmese officials and their family members are now subject to visa restrictions.
It is important that businesspeople and regime cronies such as Steven Law and Tay Za, who was hit by sanctions in October, should pay for their selfish support of Burma's corrupt government.
However, they have no direct business interests in the US, and, anyway, have no shortage of friends throughout the Asian region.
Since they are barred from entering the US, they are comfortable, like the generals in Naypyidaw, to live in Burma and have the opportunity to visit those countries where they have strong business dealings and financial connections, such as Singapore, India, China, Russia, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.
For that reason, Bush has called for concerted international pressure on Burma, especially from the country's neighbors.
Knowing that Burma's neighbors, mainly China, India and Thailand, continue to play a pivotal role in preserving the oppressive regime in Burma, Bush said in his statement: "We encourage Burma's neighbors and other stakeholders in Southeast Asia to impress upon the regime the need to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi; to end military offensives and human rights abuses against ethnic minorities; and to begin a genuine transition to democracy in response to the demonstrated aspirations of all the peoples of Burma."
But many in the region may not be listening to Bush.
On Monday, for instance, a stunning statement came Thailand's newly appointed Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama. Noppadon, formerly deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's personal lawyer, said: "In the past, we had constructive engagement and flexible engagement, but they never took us anywhere." Up until this point, we couldn't disagree with him.
But then the minister added: "Now, we will adopt another approach: neighbor engagement we will talk to them in a friendly manner on subjects that they are comfortable with."
And what are those "comfortable" subject matters likely to be? Our educated guess would be: timber trade, fishing rights in Burmese waters, gas from Burma and golf.
Shocking to hear from a newly democratically elected government? Not really. Over the past 20 years, such nonsensical statements from Burma's neighbors only reinforced and encouraged the generals in power to stay as long as they want, while betraying the monks and the people of Burma, many of whom have given their lives in the peaceful struggle against the regime.
Unless and until the regime's allies and opportunistic neighbors move to punish Tay Za, Tun Myint Naing and other regime cronies, we don't see any positive change coming out of Burma. We think that although the Bush administration takes the moral high ground in punishing the regime and its cronies, it also needs to engage and talk to its allies in the region on how to bring about change in Burma.
Burmese vote likely to be carefully choreographed - Jean Marc
The Nation: Tue 26 Feb 2008
Here is a possible framework for the upcoming constitutional referendum in Burma
- The secret ballots will be cast - and possibly counted in public - at the
polling station. The poll numbers will then be forwarded to the township
election commissions, and then to the national commission. The representatives
of those for and against the constitution and the independent election
commission will be required to make, in public, a report of poll tallies from
the polling stations to the township commission, and then from the township
commission to the national commission. The election commission will be
required to make a certified, written report. If the polls are counted at the
polling station under the watchful eyes of the public and campaigners, the
ballot structure - casting a ballot into yes/no ballot boxes or marking yes/no
on the ballot - matters less. The latter is less vulnerable to vote-rigging
but more vulnerable to an increase in the number of invalid ballots and in
voter abstention in areas with low literacy rates.
- Those for or against the constitution will be given non-live, public air
time in the radio, television and print media for two weeks (or three weeks or
four weeks) before the referendum date.
- Campaigners and campaign organisations will be required to register so
that they can be allotted public airtime.
- Ground campaign activities most likely will not be allowed.
- Ground campaign activities, if permitted, will most likely require
campaign permits - in the format of pro-government rallies - confining their
activities to a specific place, time, and set of speakers, be based on a
constitution-related theme, and limited in terms of the number of maximum
participants. Door-to-door campaigns or even voter education programmes will
not be allowed.
- Civil liberties like freedom of speech, assembly, association and press
will not be guaranteed as in an established liberal democracy.
- Anti-regime political leaders and activists already under detention will
not be released.
- Poll watchers will most likely be local, not international or not even
regional, although both sides of the referendum should watch the polling
station, poll counts and make their own poll tallies.
- Campaigners might be allowed to buy copies of the drafted constitution at
public print shops and distribute them to the public as long as other
materials are not included in their distribution.
- Campaigners might be required to declare their campaign expenditures and the sources of their campaign funds.
A free and fair referendum in Burma, with the same civil liberties granted as in an established liberal democracy, would only seed false hope among regime opponents. Their attempts to disrupt the constitutional referendum and topple the military regime will only lead to the destruction of the leading party of the Burmese opposition, at the expense of every Burmese.
Political veterans letter to Than Shwe: Advice relating to Statement No 1/2008 and 2/2008 issued by the SPDC
Tue 26 Feb 2008
State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)
Union of Myanmar
1. Motivated by a desire to serve the people and for their good, we, the political veterans offer our advice with regard to Statements 1 and 2 issued on the 9th February, 2008 by the SPDC.
2. Since the 24th November, 1995, and consistently after that date, we have consistently maintained that the best way to bring about reconciliation, unity, peace and prosperity in all political, social and humanitarian spheres, all nationalities and parties should come together and find solutions by peaceful dialogue.
3. The United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council, world leaders, important international figures have all arrived at a consensus and passed resolutions that tripartite dialogue between the SPDC, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and the leaders of the Nationalities should be held to resolve constitutional and other matters to restore the democratic system of government in Burma. United Nations representatives have visited and spoken to your members and Senior General Than Shwe himself had given the assurance to Mr. Gambari that he would meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for talks. Also a senior minister was appointed who has met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi three or four times. This sparked a glimmer of hope for the future in our hearts.
4. Now the SPDC is disregarding all that has been said and done and in issuing the above Statements, it has decided to flout the wishes of the people, the democratic forces, the advice and urgings of international figures and organisations and to march ahead according to its own agenda and its own wishes and desires. You have announced that a referendum will be held in the month of May, which is little more than two months away, but the draft constitution which will be put to the people for approval at that referendum has not been published and distributed to the people for scrutiny or study. The result of such forced and hasty action can only result in more problems for the future. The present problems that the people are suffering will not be solved and there is no way that reconciliation and unity can be achieved. This nation will be a disgrace in the eyes of the world. We therefore request you to seriously reconsider the position and adhere to Statement Number 1/90 issued by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
5. We have misgivings also about the decision to hold another General Election when up to date you have not honored the results of the free and fair elections that you yourselves conducted in 1990. This has left a big black blotch in the country s history. You are not acting according to the people's wishes and we urge you to reconsider this decision.
6. However if you will not reconsider your position and will stubbornly go ahead with your plans to hold the Referendum we ask that
- The draft constitution which is the subject of the referendum be distributed to all the people in sufficient time and accessible places.
- A proper and systematic method be adopted in order that all eligible voters will be included and given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
- Proper polling booths be erected to enable voters to cast their votes without fear and in accordance with their free will and desire.
- Polling booths be properly and strictly supervised to facilitate free and fair casting of votes.
- Allow supervision and inspection by representatives of the United Nations, foreign correspondents and the media.
- All staff members in charge of polling booths to be given powers to act decisively for the achievement of a free and fair referendum.
- Abolish Law No 5/96 ( this law empowers the government to punish with impunity those who cast votes against them) which could instill fear of retribution in the hearts of those who go against the wishes of the government.
- Release all political prisoners and also allow other prisoners to cast their votes in this referendum.
We further urge that the SPDC announce their agenda should the referendum not result according to their desire because in life, things we do not wish to happen can happen and things that we wish for can fail to be obtained.
Signed (Thakin Thein Pe)
On behalf of Political Veterans
"Unoffical Translation By NCGUB"
Suu Kyi's party wants role in Myanmar politics
A F P : February 26, 2008
yangon Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi must be allowed to play a role in the nation's political process, her party said yesterday, adding the ruling junta was wrong to bar her from elections.
Foreign Minister Nyan Win last week confirmed to his Southeast Asian counterparts that the military's new constitution would bar Aung San Suu Kyi from running in elections that have been slated for May.
Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), warned in a statement that the junta was wrong to rule her out before voters were given a chance to decide on the charter in a referendum set for May.
"Aung San Suu Kyi is someone who definitely must be involved in Myanmar's political process," the NLD said.
"It's completely unlawful for an unauthorised person to comment on the election, because there is still no constitution and no election law," the party said, referring to Nyan Win.
"This comment is a personal and political attack on Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, and it also sounds like a pre-determined decision to not allow her to participate in elections," it said.
Nyan Win told a regional gathering in Singapore that the new constitution would ban Aung San Suu Kyi from politics because she married a Briton and her two sons have British nationality.
But the party insisted that Aung San Suu Kyi's family has unrivalled nationalist credentials, because her father General Aung San gave his life to lead the struggle for independence from Britain.
Nyan Win's comments could "harm the national reconciliation process and the country's peace and stability," the party said.
Myanmar's military has ruled the country since 1962.
If held, the promised elections would be the first since Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide victory in 1990 polls.
The junta has never recognised the result, and instead has kept the Nobel peace prize winner under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.
The United States has urged the regime to "start from scratch" and draft a new constitution with NLD's participation.
Burma Army's oppression increasing in Mon area: Villagers
IMNA : Tuesday, 26 February 2008
Written by Mi Kyae Goe
The Burmese Army with the full sanction of the military junta ruthlessly oppresses people in the country. In Southern Mon State villagers have alleged that the oppression of the Burmese (Myanmar ) Army battalions has increased compared to pervious years.
Toe Thet Ywar Thit Village from Khaw-za Sub Township , Mon State said that "the villagers from my village have to apply for travel documents for each person in their homes". Even if they have five people, they have to apply for each member.
In pervious years, villagers did not need to register each family member with the local Burmese military battalions. Last year they had to register for one travel document per house, said Toe Thet Ywar Thit villagers.
The cost of registration is 1,000 Kyat per book this year compared to last years cost of about 200 Kyat. Other villages are not subject to the new registration regulations in Khaw-za.
On February 22 Burmese Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No-31 torched about 20 plantations around Yin-ye and Yin-Done villages because they could not capture Mon rebels of Monland Restoration Party (MRP), formerly named Hongsawatoi Restoration Party (HRP), alleged Nai Chan Done, the party operations officer.
"Not only did they (Burmese Army) burn down the villagers' plantations, but they also beat up some villagers," Nai Chan Done said.
The Burmese soldiers set on fire the plantation using only a lighter, but the grass in the plantation was so dry that the fire spread fast from one plantation to another, he added. Most of the plantations produced lemons, nipa palm, areca palm, pepper, pomelo, and lime. MRP party is currently trying to find out who was involved in torching the plantations.
The LIB No-31 has this year begun forcing rubber plantation owners in his village of Toe Thet Ywar Thit to pay 166 Kyat per rubber plant, a villager said.
In addition, LIB No-31 forcibly relocated some Kyone-kanya villagers into an area close to a newly planned road where they have to buy valuable roadside plots from them. The road is still under construction.
"Currently, they (Burmese soldiers) have banned villagers from going to the plantations," said Nai Chan Done.