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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 28/2/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Suu Kyi s party condemns slaying of Myanmar rebel leader 2.. Junta charges 88 generation students 3.. Burma sets up referendum panel 4.. Junta s referendum
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2008
      1. Suu Kyi's party condemns slaying of Myanmar rebel leader
      2. Junta charges 88 generation students
      3. Burma sets up referendum panel
      4. Junta's referendum law lacks independent monitoring
      5. Junta allows extension of ILO office in Rangoon
      6. Law puts to rest question of referendum's fairness
      7. Treasury sanctions on Myanmar traffickers implicate CNOOC
      8. Look who's digging for gold in Myanmar
      9. India, Myanmar to go ahead with multi-modal transit transport facility soon
      10. Indonesia calls for Suu Kyi participation
      11. China's stand on Burma and Darfur spurs boycott call
      12. China calls for "correct understanding" of its Myanmar policy
      13. Democracy' in Myanmar
      14. More farmlands torched by Burma Army
      15. Heavy tax burden adds to Chin food crisis
      16. Four PaO groups join up

      Suu Kyi's party condemns slaying of Myanmar rebel leader
      AFP: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      Myanmar's opposition party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday condemned the assassination of a top Karen rebel leader, who was a critical link between the insurgents and the pro-democracy movement.

      The National League for Democracy "regretted the assassination and strongly condemned any armed terrorist resolution" of political problems, the party said in a statement, referring to the slaying of Pado Mahn Sha in a Thai border town on February 14.

      "Political problems have to be solved politically," the statement said. The party stopped short of laying blame on anyone for his death.

      Pado Manh Sha, who ranked third in Myanmar's largest rebel group the Karen National Union, was shot dead by two gunmen at his home in the Thai-Myanmar border town of Mae Sot.

      Myanmar has been hit by a series of small bomb blasts and rebel shootings since December, prompting the ruling junta to blame the Karen National Union (KNU) for the attacks.

      The KNU suspects that hired hitmen conducted the killing, possibly on behalf of a pro-junta Karen splinter group.

      Myanmar, under military rule since 1962, has signed ceasefires with 17 other ethnic armed groups, but the KNU is one of the few remaining ethnic insurgent groups yet to sign a peace deal with the junta.

      Junta charges 88 generation students - Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      About 20 well-known Burmese political prisoners including members of the 88 Generation Students group have been charged and could receive sentences of up to 20-years, according to sources close to the activists.

      Student leaders including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi as well as university students who took part in the Buddhist monk-led nationwide uprising in September 2007 have been charged under decree 5/96 dealing with obstruction or opposition to the National Convention.

      Win Maung, the father of the 88 Generation Students leader Pyone Cho, recently visited Insein Prison. He told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, "The new charges were approved on February 20. But, they [prisoners] haven't been sent to trial yet. University students were also among the group."

      Decree 5/96, concerning opposition to the National Convention, was enacted in 1996, said Aung Thein, a lawyer in Rangoon. The National Convention was convened 14 years ago and charged with making recommendations for a draft constitution, which is set to go before voters in a national referendum in May.

      Opposition to the National Convention includes leaflet distribution, public gatherings and lobby campaigns. Any person who organized or supported such activities could be charged, said Tate Naing, the secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

      Tate Naing said the 5/96 decree increases the prison time the authorities can give the pro-democracy activists.

      Some political prisoners, including Ba Tint and Ba Mint, were jailed by authorities in 2005 under decree 5/96, Tate Naing said.

      The student leaders were previously charged under section 17/20 of Burma's Printing and Publishing Act.

      Members of the 88 Generation Students group have been detained since they were arrested in August following their protests against a sharp increase in fuel prices. None has been sentenced by authorities.

      Meanwhile, the health condition of detained 88 Generation Students members has improved, according to Tun Myint Aung, a member of the student group who is now in hiding.

      According to the London-based Amnesty International, some 1,850 political prisoners are in Burmese prisons, and 96 persons remain unaccounted for following the September demonstrations. An estimated 700 political activists were arrested in September 2007.

      Burma sets up referendum panel
      The Australian: February 27, 2008

      BURMA'S military rulers say they have set up a 45-member commission to oversee a constitutional referendum slated for May, but have given no precise date for the balloting.

      State television said a law to govern the referendum had been enacted, but said details on its provision would be released tomorrow.

      The new commission will be headed by Supreme Court chief justice Aung Toe, who also led up the panel tasked with writing the final version of the proposed charter.

      That panel wrapped up its work one week ago, but the document still has not been released.

      Foreign Minister Nyan Win told a regional gathering in Singapore that the constitution would ban detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running because she was married to a foreigner.

      Junta's referendum law lacks independent monitoring - Mungpi
      Mizzima News: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      Burma's military rulers on Tuesday announced that it has set the rules for a referendum on a new constitution, but critics said no independent commission to monitor the polling has been set up.

      The announcement broadcast on state-owned radio and television said the junta has enacted a law that covers matters relating to polling such as the preparation of electoral rolls, vote counting and postponement and cancellation of voting.

      The announcement also released on Wednesday's Burmese language New Light of Myanmar newspaper, said the law states that the votes will be counted in the presence of the public, but did not mention having an independent commission to monitor the polling.

      A Rangoon based legal expert, who request not to be named in fear of reprisal, said the junta's law reveals that it is determined to win the support of the people in rubberstamping its constitution.

      "An independent monitoring commission is a must to see that the polling is conducted in a free and fair atmosphere," the legal expert said.

      However, the legal expert declined to comment further on the junta's law and the process of referendum, in fear of punishment by the junta.

      In a bid to cover its actions from internal criticism, the junta has enacted several acts including the 5/96 act, which allows the junta to punish those criticizing the junta's seven-step road map of up to 20 years in prison.

      In its latest law on the referendum, the junta said those criticizing, campaigning against, disrupting or attempting, and disturbing the process of polling, would be liable to punishment of up to three years in prison or a fine of Kyat 100,000 or both.

      The junta on Tuesday also announced that it has formed a 45-member Referendum Convening Commission, chaired by Supreme Court chief justice Aung Toe, who also served as the chairman for both the constitution drafting commission and the national convention convening commission that supposedly laid the guidelines for the draft constitution.

      Thein Nyunt, spokesperson of Burma's opposition party-National League for Democracy-said the commission members are not high profile figures.

      "Even in the referendum for the 1974 constitution under Newin's rule, the convention, the drafting committee, and the commission overseeing the process of polling were chaired by different people and included some high profile figures," Thein Nyunt said.

      Thein Nyunt said most of the members of the commission were those included in the drafting committee and were delegates to the 14-year long national convention, who largely faced criticism as handpicked men of the junta.

      "But we [the NLD] do not want to comment on the details of the law at the moment," Thein Nyunt said.

      The NLD, led by detained Burmese pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last week said the junta's unilateral announcement this month of a constitutional referendum and general elections was undemocratic and could bring more instability to the country.

      But it did not call for or advocate a boycott or a "no" vote for the draft constitution.

      The junta's referendum law, which has 31 articles in 12 chapters, lists detail plans of how the polling will be conducted. But it fails to state any dates for the referendum to be conducted in May.

      The law gives provisions to all citizens, above 18, the right to vote, however, it disqualifies persons suffering from mental illness, foreigners, Burmese nationals who are illegally residing in other countries, criminals and persons charged under existing law, and religious leaders, essentially barring Buddhist monks, Christian pastors, Hindu and Muslim leaders from casting votes.

      It also said, Burmese citizens who have gone to foreign countries under legal permission would be allowed to cast their votes.

      As a preparation to allow Burmese nationals in Singapore, the Burmese embassy in Singapore said, they have begun collecting the names of Burmese nationals residing in Singapore.

      "We have begun collecting the names of Burmese people who are above 18 years of age and have come with official permission here. And once we finish, we will send it to Rangoon. We will finish it before the end of March. And we will wait for the next instruction," said an embassy official in Singapore, who wished to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

      The law also entrusts the referendum convening commission with the power to postpone, cancel and reconduct the polling if the prevailing situation is unsuitable for holding polls, which critics said, is the junta's twist to allow them to nullify the polling result or have it forged to their desire result.

      U Thein Oo, chairman of the Burma Lawyer Council in exile, said, "By declaring that a general election will be held in 2010, without first considering the result of the referendum, it is obvious that the junta in anyway will approved its draft constitution."

      To conduct a free and fair referendum, Thein Oo said, it is necessary to make the public aware of the constitution by explaining the contents of the constitution.

      "Based on the results of the referendum, the dates and nature of election has to be decided," Thein Oo added.

      An article in the junta's mouthpiece newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, on Wednesday, however, said the government in order to make the public aware has published the contents of the constitution through out 2007 in the newspaper.

      The article written under a pseudonym, 'U Pyay Kyaw' said the government in its New Light of Myanmar newspaper had published the 15 chapters that will be included in the constitution in 2007 and listed the dates and the titles of the chapters that had been published, an apparent declaration that the junta will not make efforts to educate the pubic on the constitution.

      (Additional reporting by Htein Linn & Nem Davies)

      Junta allows extension of ILO office in Rangoon - Solomon
      Mizzima News: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      The International Labour Organization today said it has successfully negotiated with Burma's ruling junta for the extension of its liaison office in Rangoon.

      The Burmese junta allowed the ILO to set up a liaison office in February 2007, to monitor the situation of forced labour in the country after much pressure on the junta for its human rights records by the ILO.

      An ILO delegation led by executive director Kari Tapiola met Burma's Labour Minister Aung Kyi and negotiated for the extension of its office in Rangoon, Steven Marshall, ILO's Burma representative said.

      "We have agreed with the government for a twelve month extension of the trial period on a supplementary understanding," Marshall said.

      Marshall said, the ILO's liaison office in Rangoon has been effective and serves as a complaint mechanism for forced labour violations.

      The ILO Chief in Burma, however, said, "The situation [of forced labor] obviously is continuing to be a problem."

      "I am going to submit four reports to the governing body [of ILO] in March on how the supplementary understanding has worked in the year and I will be reporting to them the number of complaints and the responses of the government to those complaints. And how the supplementary understanding is operating," Marshall said.

      Burma's state-owned newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, on Wednesday said, "As Myanmar has pledged to eradicate the activities of forced labour, it was agreed to extend the supplementary understanding for another year."

      Earlier, the Burmese authorities in September sentenced six labour rights activists to long term imprisonment after they attended a discussion on labour rights at the American Center on May Day in Rangoon.

      Law puts to rest question of referendum's fairness
      Mizzima News: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      There are few surprises in the junta's law to govern May's referendum, with the regime maintaining tight control over the proceedings and virtually no role for the public.

      Tuesday night's announcement of the 2008 Myanmar Referendum Law will do little to assuage the widespread condemnation of the military's constitutional process, despite the apparent inclusion of provisions for secret balloting and transparent counting.

      Open verification of the results, as defined by the junta, is to be guaranteed by counting the votes in the presence of ten eligible voters and one commission member. Presumably, these persons could all have close ties with the current military government or at the very least belong to the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA)-the same people in charge of polling logistics.

      Further, there is no provision made for the independent monitoring of the process by select groups or international actors.

      The 45-member commission designated to oversee the process, also hand-picked by the military, is only noteworthy for it being comprised of a majority of ethnic members. Chief Justice Aung Toe is to chair the commission, as he did with the drafting committee.

      Yet the participation of approved ethnic delegates to the regime's National Convention did little to avert harsh criticism of that 14-year process.

      Not even feigning an attempt at meeting international standards for free and fair polling, the laws specifically ban the public distribution of information related to the referendum as well as the delivery of public speeches. These offences are made punishable by either a prison sentence or fine.

      With scant involvement of the public in the process, it comes as little surprise that the exact date for the poll will be announced as little as three weeks out, with the final list of eligible voters to be established a week prior to the casting of ballots.

      However the laws do already deny certain members of the Burmese community the right to vote, most notably those living in exile and members of the clergy. Whether political prisoners will be allowed to vote is not entirely clear, as the law excludes "felons."

      It is possible that certain regions of the country will find that come referendum day their community will not be included in the process. Possible reasons that this right could be withheld include, as stated in the law, if the place in question poses a security threat or could jeopardize the successful holding of the referendum.

      The Chief Justice previously admitted that the constitution is designed with an aim to ensure the continued primacy of the armed forces in governing Burma.

      Earlier in the month, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win is reported to have straightforwardly informed ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Singapore that Aung San Suu Kyi would not be eligible to run for office under the new constitution.

      With these laws, the junta has direct control over who votes, both individually and geographically, as well as who vouches for the legitimacy of the results; while the military government solidifies its monopoly in the media sector.

      The law, in its entirety of 12 chapters and 31 provisions, has subsequently been published today in the state run media. In the English daily New Light of Myanmar, the truth about what is and is not democracy is featured in a two-page 'conversation' with 'grandfather'.

      Treasury sanctions on Myanmar traffickers implicate CNOOC - Vivian Wai-yin Kwok
      Forbes: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      The latest sanctions issued by the U.S. Treasury have apparently implicated CNOOC, China's largest producer of offshore crude oil and natural gas, which is alleged to have been cooperating with a company run by a family notorious for its heroin-trafficking activities to explore oil and gas in Myanmar.

      The Department of the Treasury on Tuesday announced economic sanctions against two key financial operatives of the Burmese regime: Steven Law (also known as Tun Myint Naing) and his father, Lo Hsing Han–as well as Law's wife, Cecilia Ng, and 14 companies under their control, for providing support to the government of Myanmar.

      "In addition to their support for the Burmese regime, Steven Law and Lo Hsing Han have 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. Steven Law joined his father's drug empire in the 1990s and has since become one of the wealthiest individuals in Burma," the Treasury said.

      Major Burmese conglomerate Asia World Co. is the Lo family flagship firm sanctioned by the White House. The Treasury also blocked ten companies in Singapore that are owned by Cecilia Ng, from doing business with the United States.

      David Webb, a business commentator and nonexecutive director of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, further revealed that one of the companies in question has ties to the world's No. 1 offshore oil company. "What the Treasury didn't mention, but we can tell you, is that Golden Aaron is the joint venture partner of Chinese government-controlled CNOOC in exploring for oil and gas in Myanmar," Webb said on his Web site. Golden Aaron is one of the Singapore companies Cecilia Ng controls.

      The relationship can be traced back to October 2004, when the firms negotiated a production-sharing contract between Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise and a business group formed by CNOOC Myanmar, Golden Aaron and China Huanqiu Contracting and Engineering Corp. The partners agreed to cooperate in oil and natural gas exploration in Kyaukphyu Township of Rakhine state. According to Myanmar's official newspaper, CNOOC Chairman Fu Chengyu and Golden Aaron Director Chua Chay Jin attended the signing ceremony in Yangon.

      In CNOOC's 2004 annual report, the oil giant also disclosed that it would serve as operator for a joint venture formed with Golden Aaron and the China Global Engineering Corp. Through the joint venture, CNOOC (nyse: CEO - news - people ) currently owns five exploration licenses covering 73,152 square kilometers (28,244 square miles), whose terms are up on March 12 this year, unless they are renewed.

      Besides its links to a family accused of drug trafficking, CNOOC also has reportedly been involved in clashes with workers in Myanmar. Ten citizens from Ye Nan Taung in Kyaukphyu Township were detained and questioned by government authorities following a dispute over working conditions at CNOOC in May last year. Workers threw stones at the company's office, to protest against low wages and long working hours, Burmese newsmagazine The Irrawaddy reported. The magazine was citing for its report an anti-junta group, the Shwe Gas Movement, which stressed that as long as companies continue to cooperate with the Burmese government, workers will experience persecution, injustice and inequality.

      Look who's digging for gold in Myanmar - John Helmer
      Asia Times: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      Eric Ambler told the tale of a clapped-out reporter whose near-bankrupt newsletter suddenly starts to make a fortune on its classified advertisements. The journalist couldn't understand why, but didn't want to look his gift horse too closely in the mouth.

      It turned out that someone was publishing coded intelligence on secret Chinese nuclear missile silos. The Chinese then tried to buy the newsletter at a premium to stop the disclosures.

      Mysteries such as these, not all of them fictional, are remembered when phantoms emerge to sign apparently real mining concession agreements with real government officials. Take Pavel Krivoshei, whose name, possibly of Ukrainian ethnicity, suggests in Russian, Krivaya sheya, or "Crooked neck". Krivoshei was reported by the press in Myanmar on February 16 as having signed on behalf of a Singapore-registered company, Chandwin International, an agreement to prospect for gold and other miners along the River Uru.

      Krivoshei signed with U Win Te (also referred to as Win Ti), of the Myanmar Ministry of Mining's Geological Survey and Mineral Exploration Department. Attending the ceremony was Brigadier General Ohn Myint, the mining minister, and Russian ambassador Mikhail Mgeladze. The news appeared first in New Light of Myanmar, and was then relayed by Reuters and Russian and Chinese wire services. These muddled the corporate details, and some reported that Victorious Glory International, the foreign concessionaire at the signing ceremony, is a Russian company. In Russian records there is no trace.

      The reports indicate that Krivoshei controls Victorious Glory International, with an 80% shareholding held by Krivoshei's Singapore outfit, Chandwin Projects; 20% of Victorious Glory appears to be held by local Burmese.

      The Chandwin website reports that it was established in Singapore in March 2007, and has paid up capital of 1 million Singapore dollars (US$711,000). It is said to be owned by a Russian-Swiss company called Benton International. Its business, Chandwin says, is "Geological Consultation, Mining Refinery and Exporting of Platinum Gold".

      About its founder and controlling shareholder, the Chandwin website claims:

      Krivoshey Pavel is the Founder of Chandwin Projects Pte Ltd. He is a professional mining engineer with over 20 years of experience in mine development and mine management. His extensive years of experience in trading for Diamond and Platinum Gold Industry with the International Buyers gave Krivoshey Pavel an added advantage and thus he was specially selected by his Russia Government to handle any joint venture contract in South-East Asia in Mining business. He has a good network and is most respectable by his buyers for capable of delivering high quality of diamonds and Platinum Gold.

      The website also suggests that Krivoshei trades urea and steel imported from Russia. No recognition of Krivoshei's name or Chandwin's has been found among Russia's leading fertilizer and steel producers and traders.

      In its concession announcement, Victorious Glory reportedly said the terms provide for exploration rights along a stretch of the Uru River between the Homalin and Phakant regions of the country. The area, in the northern state of Kachin, lies in the east, near the Chinese border. It is known for gem mining, alluvial gold operations, logging, smuggling, and the Kachin insurgency.

      Before Ohn Myint became minister of mining, he was the government's warlord in the region; that is to say, the Myanmar army commander for Kachin. In response to regional, as well as international concerns for the region's environment, the general issued a directive in June 2006 prohibiting the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), an ethnic rebel group, from trading gold, jade or logs through its main trading gate with China in the border town of Laiza. The army commander reportedly asked the Chinese government to assist in enforcing this ban.

      Men at work

      The Kachin information outlet, Kachin News, has also noticed Ohn Myint's latest Russian deal, reporting after Krivoshei put his pen to paper that Russian mining men had already been seen at work in Kachin. The report this month says:

      A team of Russian mineral inspectors are in Phakant (Hpakan) in Kachin State, northern Myanmar since last year much before the two countries signed an agreement last week for exploration of gold and associated minerals in Phakant areas, the state media said.

      Eyewitnesses told KNG they have seen several Russian mineral inspectors camping and working in Tarmakhan areas for over a year. Both locals and visitors are strictly forbidden from entering the area. 'I believe Russians arrived in Tarmakhan for Uranium. Uranium exploration started in the Tarmakhan and Hongpa areas during Prime Minister U Nu's tenure. But, the exploration was stopped because of civil war between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and successive Burmese ruling juntas,' a local geologist told KNG. Last year, a Russian mineral inspector in Tarmakhan fell ill and died at the government hospital in Phakant Township, local eyewitnesses and hospital sources said.

      The Kachin news agency reinforced the impression that Krivoshei is after uranium. "A spokesperson of the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) based on the Sino-Myanmar border told KNG that 'the agreement has to do with mining Uranium rather than gold and associated minerals. Chemical agents like mercury used for mining in the areas will threaten and impact daily lives of local residents.' Phakant is also the biggest jade mining area in Myanmar and these areas are now directly controlled by the ruling junta and pro-junta business companies after the KIA signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta in 1994."

      The Kachins may be repeating an old story that is now out of date. In March 2007, Krivoshei and Victorious Glory made their debut in the Kachin Post, reportedly drilling for uranium. Their location was given artillery coordinates in the Kachin report - "the mining site is located at Hawng Pa village of Hpa Kant Township in Kachin State. The exact site location is between 25°29′43.04″N/96° 6′26.4″E and 25°29′35.2″N/96° 6′35.02″E, according to the document received by The Kachin Post. The area is around 128 kilometers northwest of Kachin State capital Myitkyina."

      Krivoshei's companions at the site were reported as including "Mr Anatoly Bulochnikov [chairman of Myanmar-Russian Friendship Association] and other Russian engineers, businessmen, surveyors and Myanmar interpreters."

      A Russian mining source believes the uranium search came up empty, and gold was this year's bright idea. The source believes Krivoshei is a quick-turnaround specialist "moving upstream from urea and scrap metal trading".

      The Russian government has not subscribed to sanctions imposed against the Myanmar junta by some Western governments and there are ongoing talks between the Defense ministries of both countries. In the natural resource and energy sector, Atomstroyexport, builder of nuclear reactors in China, India and Iran, has been in talks with Myanmar for a research reactor. But if there is a Russian interest in uranium in Myanmar, sources at Rosatom, the supervising agency for nuclear and uranium projects in Moscow, told Asia Times Online they have not heard of it. Nor, they add, have they heard of Krivoshei.

      Russian reports indicate some interest on the part of regional Russian oil companies in pursuing oil and gas prospects in Myanmar. Tyzahpromexport is also building a pig-iron plant there.

      History of interest

      Faint as Krivoshei's tracks are, there is a history of interest on the part of Benton International in both gold and oil and gas. According to Swedish economist and businessman Torbjorn Ranta, Benton holds a 6% stake in Central Asia Gold AB, a Swedish listed company that Ranta directs from Sweden. Ranat was trained in Russian by the Swedish military, and is a former diplomat at the Swedish Embassy in Moscow. He has been managing director of Swedish firms investing in Russia, including Vostok Nafta and currently Central Asia Gold.

      "Central Asia Gold [CAG] does not own Benton International, it is the other way around. Benton International is one of the five biggest owners of Central Asia Gold holding some 6% of the capital and votes of our company," Ranta told Asia Times Online. He declined to add information about Krivoshei or Benton without Benton's permission. This hasn't been forthcoming. Ranta acknowledges he has met Krivoshei.

      CAG reports that it operates an alluvial gold project in the Tuva region of Siberia, which produced about 900,000 ounces in the nine months to September 30 last. Revenues for the period were US$25 million; after-tax income was $1 million.

      CAG reports: "The group's main assets comprise a large number of mineral licenses held by the various subsidiaries. The licenses, as at early January 2007, encompass 747,000 troy ounces (oz) (1 oz = 31.1 g) of gold reserves according to the Russian C1+C2 categories, as well as 1,055,000 oz of P1 gold resources and 5,765,000 oz of P2 gold resources. CAG AB was publicly listed on the Swedish NGM Nordic Growth Market stock exchange on March 29, 2005. The number of shareholders is currently approximately 4,800."

      Early asset claims like these are to be tested this year for formal assessment by the Russian State Reserves Committee (GKZ). Until then, there are no proven gold reserves.

      Krivoshei is not identified in any of CAG's reports. The principal Russian named is Mikhail Malyarenko. Most of Malyarenko's resource business has involved oil and gas prospecting in his home region of Tomsk. There has been a history of business conflict involving some of the oil companies and projects in which he has been engaged, their Swedish partners, and larger Russian concerns. Several of the Swedes involved, including Ranta, have had embassy appointments in Moscow in the past. Vostok Nafta, Vostok Oil, West Siberian Resources, and CAG appear to share a common pedigree with thee Swedes and Malyarenko.

      No response

      But Krivoshei is still apparently missing in action. Through the contact details provided on Chandwin's website, Krivoshei was asked to clarify details of the Myanmar project; of any other mining project in which he has been engaged; and of Russian substantiation of his website claim to reputation and government influence. According to Chandwin, Krivoshei "was specially selected by his Russia Government to handle any joint venture contract in Southeast Asia in Mining business".

      To date, Krivoshei has declined to respond. If he's the front man for a commercial syndicate, or a Russian government agency, it's a secret that has been covered up as swiftly as it was revealed on February 15.

      It is no secret that the Myanmar military junta, and the country's regional army commanders, have first tried to shut down existing goldmining concessions, which were aligned with the Kachin movement; and then issued new licenses to collect both the start fees and revenue taxes. There were reports from Kachin state last September suggesting the army had ordered the Jawa goldmine at Phakant closed, and the Kachin Independence Army ordered it re-opened.

      A year earlier, after the army had blockaded Kachin-run goldmines to prevent their getting food, fuel and other supplies, the regional and Chinese press reported that the Myanmar government was attempting to sell concessions to foreign mining companies. License payments of around $1,000 were reported for concessions. Foreign miners reported as active at the time in exploration were identified as coming from Australia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the United States. No mention of any Russians.

      Russian miners in the Russian Far East report some odd coincidences. The biggest is that the name of the man who signed for Chandwin is identical to a character in a story by a well-known Russian writer, Varlam Shalamov. Now dead, Shalamov wrote The Kolyma Tales from his experience as a gulag prisoner between 1937 and 1951. His book was smuggled abroad and first published in translation in 1966. It appeared in Russian in 1978.

      The Krivoshei in Shalamov's story is a convicted fraudster, with a taste for expensive antiques; fluency in English and French; no taste for music or literature; and a wife whose loyalty is rewarded with some regrettable experiences. As word of the Myanmar exploits of the new Pavel Krivoshei has spread among Russian miners this month, Shalamov's short story is enjoying a revival among an unlikely population of readers, looking for other clues to the future of Victorious Glory.

      The Russian Foreign Ministry declines to say why its ambassador to Myanmar attended Krivoshei's concession agreement earlier this month. The Russian embassy in Yangon didn't pick up the telephone at its official number.

      * John Helmer has been a Moscow-based correspondent since 1989, specializing in the coverage of Russian business.

      India, Myanmar to go ahead with multi-modal transit transport facility soon
      ANI: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      In a written reply to a question raised in the Lok Sabha, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Facility envisages connectivity between Indian ports on the eastern seaboard and Sittwe Port in Myanmar Suggesting that this alternate route would facilitate the transport of goods between the eight north eastern Indian states and Myanmar, Mukherjee said that the approximate cost of the project is expected to be Rs. 545 crores.

      The time-frame for the project is five years from the date of actual commencement of the project, which will be after the Agreement and the Protocols are signed by the two Governments, he added.

      In another reply,Mukherjee informed the House that 460 Indian fishermen had been taken into custody by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) in 2005, 365 in 2006, 124 in 2007 and 22 in 2008.

      251 boats were similarly taken into custody between 2003 and 2005, 58 in 2006, 29 in 2007 and 4 in 2008. As per information available, 372 Indian fishermen and 342 boats continue to be in the custody of the Pakistan authorities, he said, adding that the fishermen and boats are mostly from Gujarat and the Union Territory of Diu and Daman.

      Since 2005, 1579 fishermen have been released by Pakistan, including those taken into custody before 2005. Government have been taking up the issue of the release of fishermen and their boats regularly with the Government of Pakistan, including at the highest level.

      He said that a Judicial Committee, comprising judges from India and Pakistan, has been formed to expedite the release of prisoners in either country.

      The Committee has been meeting over the last two days.

      Indonesia calls for Suu Kyi participation
      IOL News: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      Indonesia wants to see democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi included in the political process in military-ruled Myanmar, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said on Wednesday.

      Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win last week confirmed to his south east Asian counterparts that the military's new constitution would bar widow Aung San Suu Kyi from running in elections that have been slated for 2010 as she had been married to a foreigner.

      Wirayuda said that Indonesia, the largest member of the Association of south east Asian Nations - to which Myanmar also belongs - should along with ASEAN still engage with the regime to push for an inclusive political process.

      Indonesia welcomed the announcement of the May constitutional referendum and 2010 elections, "but Indonesia is still advocating an engagement by ASEAN with Myanmar," Wirayuda told a press briefing.

      He said Indonesia supported the mission of UN envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari, who is UN chief Ban Ki-moon's pointman on promoting national reconciliation in Myanmar.

      "But Myanmar, being a member of the ASEAN family, we see the importance of ASEAN or Indonesia, at least, to engage Myanmar so we can ensure that the process that they are now undertaking…could result in the solution that is also acceptable to the international community," Wirayuda said.

      "That's why our concern is how to make the process in Myanmar more credible, meaning to make the process more inclusive by allowing the participation of groups including Madam Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD (her National League for Democracy party), as well as minority groups…in the coming process," he added.

      Wirayuda was speaking after meeting with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was on a one-day visit to Indonesia.

      Gambari visited Indonesia earlier this week and said he would raise the banning of Aung San Suu Kyi with the junta when he next returns in early March. The visit will be Gambari's third since September, when the military junta violently crushed the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years.

      Wirayuda has said in the past that Jakarta could play a significant role in Myanmar's democratic process by sharing its experience of transition from a military government to full democracy.

      ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

      China's stand on Burma and Darfur spurs boycott call - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      As China prepares to host the Olympic Games in August, its foreign policy is coming under increasing scrutiny because of its stand on political events in Burma and human rights violations in the Darfur region of Sudan.

      A movement in favor of boycotting the Games is gathering pace, while Hollywood director Steven Spielberg has quit as an artistic adviser for the Olympics, claiming China was not doing enough to help end atrocities in Darfur.

      China responded to the boycott calls on Tuesday by saying advocates of such action should have a "correct understanding" of Beijing's Burma policy. China's "good neighborly and friendly policy" towards Burma "serves the interest of the people" in Burma and also in China, said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao.

      "The policy is conducive to the democratic process of reconciliation and peace in Myanmar [Burma]. I hope relevant organizations could have a correct understanding of this policy," he said.

      One of the principal advocates of a boycott of the games is Burma's 88 Students Generation movement, which issued a call this week appealing to people around the world not to watch the sports events on TV.

      In a recent interview with The Irrawaddy, Tun Myint Aung, a leader of the 88 Students Generation, said the boycott call wasn't aimed at the Chinese people but against the foreign policy of their country, which supported "the worst tyrannies in the world." Tun Mying Aung added: "We are on the same ground as the people of China."

      In a similar appeal, the US Campaign for Burma (USCB), based in Washington DC, called on athletes to also boycott the games.

      Aung Din of the USCB told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that although China claimed publicly to be a good friend of Burma its friendship was extended only to the ruling junta.

      "China should strongly pressure Burma," Aung Din said. "If the Burmese generals don't listen to Beijing, China should work with the western democracies and the UN Security Council to save the Burmese people." It was clear that the Burmese people "hated" China's policy on Burma because it supported a despised military junta, he said.

      A USCB statement charged that supplies of arms from China had enabled government forces to destroy 3,200 ethnic minority villages, forcing 1.5 million people to flee their homes.

      Latest policy decisions in Burma would bar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from standing in the general election announced for 2010, on the grounds that she had been married to a foreigner, and a threat of stern punishment for anybody judged to be interfering with the referendum planned for May.

      The ruling barring Suu Kyi, even though her husband, Briton Michael Aris died in 1999, flies in the face of international calls for an "inclusive" political process in Burma.

      Legislation announced on Tuesday evening by junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe forms a referendum commission and threatens long prison terms for anybody who "attempts to deter" the referendum.

      China's indifference to human rights abuses in Darfur has also led to increasing pressure for an international boycott of the Olympic Games.

      Sudan government policies have cost more than 200,000 lives and driven more than 2.5 million people from their homes.

      Beijing and Khartoum have long had strong political, economic and military ties. Analysts say China imports two-thirds of Sudan's oil, an estimated 500,000 barrels a day. China imported a total of $4.1bn worth of goods from Sudan, mostly oil, in 2007. China is also believed to be Sudan's biggest arms supplier.

      A visit to Sudan this week by a special envoy from China, Liu Giujin, coincided with a fresh assault by Sudanese government forces on areas of Darfur.

      China calls for "correct understanding" of its Myanmar policy
      Xinhua: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      China on Tuesday rejected criticism of its Myanmar policy, calling on relevant organizations to correctly understand the policy.

      Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said that China had adopted a "good-neighborly, friendly" policy toward Myanmar, and China's relationship with Myanmar was in the interests of the peoples of both countries.

      Liu made the remarks at a regular press conference in response to a journalist's question about an organization criticizing China's Myanmar policy.

      "China's policy toward Myanmar is conducive to the peace and democracy process in Myanmar, and the realization of peace and reconciliation of Myanmar," Liu said.

      "We hope relevant organizations can have a correct understanding of China's Myanmar policy, which is helpful to Myanmar's situation," said Liu.

      'Democracy' in Myanmar
      The Asahi Shimbun: Wed 27 Feb 2008

      The military junta of Myanmar (Burma) recently announced plans to hold a general election in 2010 after creating a new Constitution. Normally, we would welcome such a move as a country's new "road to democratization."

      But in Myanmar's case, the plan and the process are extremely problematic.

      According to the military government's announcement, the junta will put together a new draft Constitution and hold a national referendum in May. A multiparty general election will be held two years after national acceptance of the Constitution.

      The junta announced 15 years ago that it will switch to civilian rule. It has finally revealed a specific roadmap.

      Last year, the military government was heavily criticized for its violent crackdown on pro-democracy Buddhist monks. The latest announcement aims to fend off this strong international pressure.

      But no matter what kind of civilian transition the military junta comes up with, any plan is meaningless as long as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is kept under house arrest and her National League for Democracy (NLD) is prevented from political activities.

      In the previous general election held in 1990, opposition parties were allowed to participate, but the junta had already placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest the year before. When the NLD nevertheless won a landslide victory, the junta voided the election results altogether.

      There is no knowing what kind of elections will take place in 2010, but Foreign Minister Nyan Win has already announced that Aung San Suu Kyi would be barred from running because her husband is a foreigner.

      In addition, the ruling People's Assembly went ahead with the drafting of the Constitution without the involvement of the NLD or ethnic minority representatives. As a result, the Constitution was drafted in a way that blatantly protects the powers of the military: a quarter of the parliamentary seats will be filled by the military; the president will be required to be "well-versed in military affairs."

      If the junta is actually serious about democracy, it should promptly release Aung San Suu Kyi well before the May national referendum and create an environment in which opposition groups can operate freely. Without those changes, the referendum will inevitably be derided as a "mobilized" referendum with the military forcing people to vote in its favor.

      There is no way that it will be recognized as a democratization process.

      The foreign ministers' meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

      (ASEAN) raised doubts about Myanmar's civilian transition process.

      The international society, including Japan and the United Nations, needs to step up its involvement.

      Myanmar will never be stable if there is no dialogue with opposition groups, and international assistance necessary for economic development will never come. The Japanese government should send a senior official to Myanmar to try to convince the junta of this logic.

      Moreover, we hope the Japanese government continues its efforts to bring about a full investigation and the truth about the death last year of journalist Kenji Nagai, who was shot while covering the pro-democracy protests.

      In Myanmar, ethnic minorities account for as much as one-third of the country's population. Recently, the leader of an ethnic group visited Japan to ask Diet members for help so that international election monitors would be on hand for the national referendum. This is one request that must be honored.

      More farmlands torched by Burma Army
      Kaowao News : Thursday, 28 February 2008

      Ye, Mon State-The Burmese Army has torched gardens, farms and orchards owned by Mon villagers in southern Ye after accusing them of sheltering Mon armed guerrillas.

      The Burmese soldiers were searching for four deserters who defected from Regiment No. 408, based in Kalein Aung, Yebyu Township, according to a source from Khaw Zar Sub-Township.

      One of their soldiers stepped on a landmine and died instantly from the blast. In retaliation, the troops from Regiment No. 408 burnt down all the betel nut and rubber farms near Yaen Dein village, on February 26, claiming that the villagers and their gardens provide shelter to Mon guerrillas led by Chan Dein who split from the Honsawatoi Restoration Party (HRP).

      "The villagers later returned to their farms and gardens to put out the fire but it is a bit far from their village and their efforts were in vain," said a Mon farmer Nai Blai. Over 10 million Kyat worth of betel nut, lime, and rubber plantations were razed to the ground.

      About 50 guerrillas are active in this area and a minor skirmish occurred during the Burma's Army operation while searching for the four deserters on February 25 reported the source in Khaw Zar. There was no confirmation from the Burma Army or guerrilla sources.

      Recently, the Light Infantry Battalion No. 31 ordered that each resident must carry the new travel document for their own security. The document costs villagers 1000 Kyat per household. The SPDC authorities have increased security and their presence along the sentry gates and have ordered villagers to work on a rotating roster and take greater responsibility for security.

      The Mon guerrillas are active in remote areas of Southern Ye and Yebyu townships in areas named the "black area" (killing zone) by the Burma Army. Several villagers have been caught in the crossfire and are frequently arrested, tortured, raped and killed by the Burma Army and abused by the Mon splinter group during military operations.

      Heavy tax burden adds to Chin food crisis
      DVB: Feb 27, 2008

      The Chin National Front has criticised the excessive taxes levied by the Burmese government on ethnic Chin people who are already facing severe food shortages.

      The mass flowering of bamboo in Chin state which occurs every 50 years has brought devastation this year, causing an infestation of rodents and diminishing food stores.

      The CNF warned in a statement that a quarter of the population of Chin state is facing starvation, and called for famine relief in the area.

      "The government completely ignores the rights of the Chin people and allows soldiers in the state to harass the local population," the statement said.

      "And on top of that, Chinland is suffering from this disaster in 2008 which has left a quarter of the population starving," it went on.

      "But instead of providing humanitarian aid to these people in distress, the SPDC has been collecting taxes from them."

      According to the CNF's itemized list, people who live in towns must pay a range of taxes to the municipal authorities, central government, township and central Union Solidarity and Development Association, township Electric Power Corporation, township police, forestry department and veterinary department.

      Those living in villages have to pay taxes to the municipal authorities and the military.

      These include a fee to avoid military porter duties of 3000 kyat per person in the towns or 5000 kyat per person in the villages, 5000 kyat for one day's absence from military training and 2500 per person to avoid forced labour on road construction and other projects.

      There is also a 1000 kyat hunting tax for each animal killed, a charge of 200 kyat per day to sell vegetables and an annual tax to the central USDA of 3000 kyat per person.

      Villagers are also charged 6000 kyat for each bucket of rice in the household, and 4500 kyat for every three chickens they keep.

      In total, the CNF estimates that the average town-dwelling Chin family has to pay 800,000 kyat a year in taxes, while village families pay around 40,000 kyat.

      "Not only the eight government departments named, but also other departments are getting everything they can from the Chin people," the CNF statement said.

      "Due to the pressures caused by starvation and the heavy taxes imposed by the SPDC this year, 2008 is now considered a disastrous year in the Chin people's history."

      Chin people also have to pay tax to the CNF itself, though the group has now cut its demands in response to the crisis.

      "Following a decision taken during the 5th central committee meeting, the CNF has decided to reduce the annual tax collected from the Chin people from 3000 kyat to 10 kyat," the statement said.

      "Other taxes on consumer goods have also been reduced from five percent to three percent."

      CNF central working committee member and chief of staff colonel Pu Ral Hnin said that the food shortages had led more than 200 families to flee to Mizoram state in India, where the Indian government has provided them with some assistance.

      "The Indian government and the Indian people have done a lot for the Chin people," Pu Ral Hnin said.

      "They have had no help from the Burmese government; instead of helping, they are just collecting more taxes."

      * Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

      Four PaO groups join up
      SHAN : 2008-02-28

      By Kwarn Lake

      On 25 February, three PaO civilian organizations have joined with the PaO National Liberation Organization (PNLO), the armed organization to expand its central committee.

      The three organizations are PaO National Development Organization (PNDO), PaO Youth Decocratic Organization (PYDO) and PaO Women's Union (PWU).

      "Having the same objectives and policies made us to join together without difficulties.All of the groups that join can very well represent PaO people .We believe that it will help us more in implementing our policies and working more effectively for our people," said the General Secretary of PNLO Khun Thurain.

      "There are several different ethnic groups in Shan State. Unity is the key to achieve get freedom and peace in the state. So, it is important to be united among the ethnic groups. But firstly, we must win unity in our own individual ethnic group as the first step in order to be united with all others ", he added.

      There are still other PaO orgaizations on the border area that did not join the PNLO.

      "PaO People's Liberation Organization (PPLO) has an observer status. Other groups were not ready to join since there was no time for them to discuss. We will work hard to persuade other PaO organizations. Also, PaO groups inside Burma have similar aims and objectives like us but their method is not the same," he continued referring to PaO political parties and ceasefire groups. "However, I hope we will meet and can join together in the future for a democratic country."

      PNLO is a splinter group of Shan State Nationalities Peoples' Liberation Organization (SSNPLO) that concluded a ceasefire pact with Rangoon in 1994. There are about 600,000 PaO people in Shan State.

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