[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 12/3/08
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- Burma's monks still seething
- Mon students, youth and monks oppose referendum
- Observers split over junta's constitution
- Is Mon leader negotiating disarmament?
- Junta turns to bribery to bolster ranks
- Farmers forced to relocate to villages
- Junta untroubled by EU sanctions
- Who's buying Burma's gems?
- India, Burma conclude secretary level talks
- Gambari Gets the Snub
- UN visit shows momentum slipping on Myanmar
- Burma's generals drunk on political power
- U.N.'s impotency exposed
- 35th UN Envoy visit fails - now Ban Ki-moon must go to Burma
- Bullets in the Alms Bowl
- Thousands of Karen civilians displaced in fresh attacks as UN envoy visit fails
Burma's monks still seething - Ed Cropley
Reuters: Tue 11 Mar 2008
Beneath the veneer of serenity and religious devotion, Burma's maroon-robed Buddhist monks, the engine of the protests six months ago against the ruling junta, are seething with rage.
Some talk impetuously of revolution. Others even say they are ready to lay down their lives in a repeat showdown between the monkshood, the former Burma's highest moral authority, and the raw might of the military.
But pro-democracy campaigners and even some monks admit the regime's bloody crackdown on the September marches has broken the clandestine network that, albeit briefly, turned the country's 500,000 Buddhist monks into a potent political force.
Even the approach of the numerologically auspicious August 8, 2008 - the 20th anniversary of the brutally suppressed 8-8-88 anti-junta uprising - looks unlikely to precipitate another challenge to 46 years of unbroken army rule.
"There are no plans being made because most of the active monks are in prison or have fled," a leading member of the pro-democracy underground told Reuters at a safe house in Rangoon, the former capital.
Among the 80 people the junta says it is still holding after the protests are 21 monks, including 27-year-old U Gambira, a leader of the All Burma Monks Alliance which played a prominent role in the marches.
Human rights group Amnesty International said in January that 700 people arrested in the crackdown remained behind bars.
Despite the arrests, Burma's monasteries, some of which are home to as many as 3,000 mainly young men at any one time, remain political tinderboxes that could re-ignite at the slightest provocation.
At least 31 people were killed when the junta sent in troops to crush the marches in September, but this United Nations death toll does not include any monks, despite reports of several beaten to death when soldiers stormed monasteries in Rangoon and elsewhere.
Dissident Web sites also posted pictures of mutilated corpses of what appeared to be monks, spurring the deepest possible outrage amongst clergy and lay people alike.
No monks interviewed by Reuters in the religious centers of Rangoon, Mandalay and nearby Sagaing said they had lifted their ban on accepting alms from members of the military junta or their families.
Known as "patam nikkuijana kamma" or "turning over the alms bowl" in Pali, the ancient language of the Theravada Buddhist priesthood, the 2,500-year-old rite is similar to the Christian notion of excommunication and is taken very seriously.
It can be rescinded at any moment if the perceived wrong-doers apologize and mend their ways - something the generals have steadfastly refused to do.
"If they do not apologize, we will start our movement," a young monk from the coastal city of Sittwe told Reuters, claiming to lead a network of 1,000 monks and students wanting an end to falling living standards and galloping inflation.
"People are getting angrier and angrier. Their suffering is worsening day by day and they cannot tolerate it any more," he told Reuters from a secret location in Rangoon.
"If there is another uprising, the soldiers will shoot to kill and there will be another bloodbath. But I am prepared to go to prison or be killed."
Others have no more stomach for a fight.
"I hope it doesn't happen again. The country is peaceful now," one Mandalay monk said.
Although many monasteries were closed at the height of the crackdown and thousands of monks disappeared either to prison or back to their home towns and villages, most have been allowed to reopen.
However, three dissident establishments in Rangoon remain locked and in Mandalay, Burma's religious heart, monks at several large monasteries said numbers were 20-30 percent lower than before the crackdown.
The junta has also called in scores of senior abbots, telling them to keep in check their young charges.
"Our abbot told us not to protest again. He told us that they'll shoot and we'll die. What can we do? We have no arms," a 23-year-old at a large Mandalay monastery said. "But if we get the chance, we will do it again. This government is no good."
In the central town of Pakokku, where heavy-handed treatment of monks by soldiers and pro-junta thugs in early September triggered the nationwide monastic revolt, the regime appears to be taking steps to ensure against a repeat.
Regime agents are undercover in the monasteries and a reviled local gang leader known as "Mr 2 by 1″, after the 2-inch thick wooden baton with which he beat monks and protesters, is behind bars to avoid inciting protests, one resident said.
Mon students, youth and monks oppose referendum - Loa Htaw
Independent Mon News Agency: Tue 11 Mar 2008
Mon university students, youth and monks have started distributing pamphlets opposing the Burmese military junta's referendum in Moulmein, Mon state, said local residents.
Spreading the word the dissidents are encouraging people to oppose the draft constitution without fear, said a township civil society youth leader.
"The pamphlet advocates opposing the referendum. If we do not oppose the referendum, the regime will continue in power and oppress the people. The government will be provided a license to repress the people further if the constitution is approved through a referendum," he said.
The pamphlets also urged the military regime to stop perpetrating violence and abusing people, he said.
The pamphlets have been distributed among monks, students and youth. But the distribution is not wide spread enough yet, he added.
The New Mon State Party (NMSP) has not supported the Burmese military government's constitutional process either. The regime had announced that the referendum will be held in May this year while elections would be held in 2010. The constitution effectively excludes ethnic groups and rules out a federation.
The NMSP believes Burma's political problems can only be solved through a tripartite dialogue which includes ethnic and opposition parties as well as the Burmese military government.
The Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF) which contested in the Burma 1990 election also said the ensuing referendum and election is just to prolong and extend the junta's grip on power.
Observers split over junta's constitution - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Tue 11 Mar 2008
The majority of Burmese people, whether at home or abroad, regard the military government's constitution as a door shut in the face of national reconciliation. However, views vary on how to approach the current political situation.
In a confidential e-mail distributed among Burma observers and recently obtained by The Irrawaddy, Dr Nay Win Maung, publisher of Living Color magazine and The Voice weekly in Rangoon, wrote that the crucial decision for Aung San Suu Kyi is whether to offer Snr-Gen Than Shwe a way out of the deadlock.
By Suu Kyi saying no to the referendum, it shows a lack of willingness to let Than Shwe escapeit's somehow like boxing him "into the corner," wrote Nay Win Maung in the email message on February 23.
"Again, this may lead to another political deadlock," he warned.
Nay Win Maung belongs to the so-called "Third Force" in Burma - a group founded during the International Burma Studies (IBS) conference in Singapore in mid-2006 that is neither pro-junta nor pro-opposition. The group includes Dr Khin Zaw Win, a former political prisoner. They advocate engagement and a business-friendly policy with the junta, and are anti-sanctions.
He also said that regardless of whatever the outcome of the referendum, it was certain that the constitution would ultimately be rectified.
This takes us "back to square one," said Nay Win Maung. Everyone should understand that Than Shwe will not accept any deal, or way out, offered by Suu Kyi or her party, the National League for Democracy.
"This time Burmese people should be smart enough and set their emotions aside, so as not to [create] another deadlock," he said.
Nay Win Maung did offer six suggestions to Suu Kyi and the NLD. He urged Suu Kyi to endorse the constitution. He also requested the NLD to focus on the election, essentially to make sure the NLD are not "disenfranchised."
"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should provide a goodwill gesture in [giving Than Shwe a way out] by saying yes to the constitution," he said.
In his fourth suggestion he said that in order to ensure a free and fair election and a strong opposition, the NLD must declare that they are only going to contest half of the seats in both chambers - in a way, sending a signal to the regime that their objective is to be merely the opposition.
He also suggested that Suu Kyi "learn to differentiate between genuine opposition politics and confrontational politics," so she can build a shadow government.
In his final comment, Nay Win Maung said that Suu Kyi could strengthen her organization while serving in the opposition for five years.
Nay Win Maung's e-mail was sent to several prominent politicians, including ethnic leaders in exile.
Nay Win Maung was not available for comment when The Irrawaddy called his office on Tuesday.
Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political commentator living in exile, told The Irrawaddy that this approach is an option to break through the deadlock in the country.
"We have to stop living in the past," he said. "It only prolongs the deadlock and conflict."
Meanwhile, Win Min, a Burmese political analyst in Thailand, said that Suu Kyi and the NLD should endorse the constitution on the condition that the generals lift the ban on Suu Kyi from running in the upcoming election. He said that even if the NLD is prepared to act as opposition, the junta may still not tolerate having a strong opposition in the country.
Win Min also said that although the constitution is the junta's own draft, other parties will get 75 percent of the people's parliament. "The junta wants to be 'old wine in a new bottle'; then they will legitimize their repression of the Burmese people. If the junta wants the opposition to endorse their rule, they must compromise for national reconciliation," he said.
One of the secretaries of the National Council of the Union of Burma, Aung Moe Zaw, said, "Some experts think endorsing the constitution is better than nothing. But people will not see it like this. People want to see a long-term guarantee for their future - real democracy and freedom."
"If the NLD endorses this unjust constitution, people in Burma will object," he added. "People will go their own way."
Is Mon leader negotiating disarmament?
Irrawaddy: Tue 11 Mar 2008
The army chief of the ethnic Mon ceasefire group, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), has recently engaged in disarmament talks with the Burmese military government, according to Mon sources.
Gen Aung Naing was supposedly visiting Rangoon for medical treatment, said a Mon source close to the NMSP who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity. However, it is believed that Aung Naing was holding meetings with junta officials.
The source added that Gen Aung Naing is an influential leader in the NMSP, but doesn't agree with the political stand his party has taken against the junta's planned referendum in May.
The military government announced a referendum on its draft constitution in May, followed by national elections in 2010.
Gen Aung Naing, aged 67, became the leader of the Mon National Liberation Army, the military wing of the NMSP, in 2006.
One of his close colleagues quoted him as saying, "We were weak, so we cannot fight the military government with guns. The political issues can only be solved through talks at the table."
Nai ong Ma-nge, a spokesperson for the NMSP, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: "He told us he was going to Rangoon for health reasons. However, we lost communication with him on February 4. We don't know where he is. We heard some rumors among the Mon community that he is secretly negotiating disarmament with the Burmese government, but we can't confirm it."
Nai Santhorn, the chairman of the Mon Unity League (MUL), based in Thailand, said: "He may be looking out for himself. The government may give him some incentive - that would be the main reason for him to give up arms."
There are 32 central committee members in the NMSP. Within the executive committee, there are eight members including Gen Aung Naing. He joined the NMSP in 1967. His family lives in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand.
Mon political analysts are worried that the party could be weakened if such an important key player gave up arms and that it could impact the unity of the party and its army.
The NMSP signed a ceasefire agreement with the military government in 1995. In spite of this, there have been no political advancements in over a decade and the regime has continued a campaign of human rights abuses in Mon State.
In 2003, the party attended a national constitutional convention held by the regime, but left after a proposal to federalize Burma was rejected. Later the party simply sent observers to the convention.
The group released a statement against the junta's referendum in early March, citing fears that the process would strengthen the regime by giving it the veneer of democracy without resulting in any actual changes.
Junta turns to bribery to bolster ranks - Maung Dee
Mizzima News: Tue 11 Mar 2008
In an apparent move to gain popularity with the people, the Burmese junta backed civil organization, Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), has begun distributing loans to its members.
Local residents in the Rangoon suburb of Dagon Myothit said the Township USDA office has offered loans to its members, tempting people with monetary incentives to join its ranks.
A local resident, who spoke to Mizzima on condition of anonymity, said the USDA has been handing out loans of 30,000 to 50,000 Kyats ($27 to $45), with the understanding that only those enlisting with the USDA are entitled to such disbursements.
"With most people living in poverty, many people are starting to accept the loan. It is a kind of lure for those who want to take the loan," the resident commented.
Meanwhile, sources said the junta-backed civil organizations Myanmar Maternity and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA) and Myanmar Women Affairs Federation (MWAF) have also begun providing loans to its members.
While providing loans to members in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation may seem a noble act, critics said the junta's puppet organizations - USDA, MMCWA and MWAF - might be used to bait people into becoming members and support the junta's upcoming constitutional referendum in May.
A local resident of Dagon Myothit expressed his concern that the organizations might have a hidden agenda - say to support the referendum - behind the seemingly noble act.
He added that besides providing loans there are instances in Dagon Myothit where USDA officials threaten people into seeking membership.
USDA officials, who control the water supply in the east of Dagon Myothit Township, have threatened local residents with the possibility of losing their water supply unless they register themselves as members of the organization, continued the resident.
"The officials threatened the people, saying that if they are not members of the USDA they will cut off the water supply," the local remarked.
USDA, MMCWA and MWAF, formed to support the ruling junta, are the only civil organizations allowed in Burma. And critics say these organizations are manipulated by the government and are used as tools to suppress any dissident movement.
Htay Aung, a Thailand based Burmese analyst and researcher at the Network for Democracy and Development, said there have been other instances where the junta-backed organizations provided loans to its members, but all such offerings came with a hidden agenda.
"This time it could be to gain support for the junta's referendum," Htay Aung told Mizzima.
Burma's ruling junta has announced that it will hold a referendum on a draft constitution in May followed by a general election in 2010 as part of its planned "roadmap to democracy."
However the United Nations as well as much of the international community has joined Burmese opposition groups, including Burma's main political party - National League for Democracy, led by detained Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi - in calling the junta's upcoming referendum a sham, as it lacks independent third party monitoring.
But the ruling junta, who has plainly rejected the international community's call for independent monitoring of the referendum, has indicated it is determined to complete its planned roadmap as scheduled.
Htay Aung said the junta, as declared, is using various means to ensure that it gains the necessary votes in the referendum to support its constitution.
"The junta will do everything to ensure they get what they want. All plans are underway and they will try to post a kind of 'free and fair' label on the polling," Htay Aung prospered.
He added that by the actual polling day the junta hopes to have ensured that all its supporters are voting in favor of the referendum. But in the event that the requisite number of votes are not secured the junta still will not let the referendum fail.
Farmers forced to relocate to villages
Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 11 Mar 2008
Local authorities in Rangoon division's Hle Gu township have forced farmers who live in huts on their farmlands to relocate to villages, leaving them unable to continue tending their crops, locals said.
A Hle Gu local said about 300 farmers from Shan Tal Gyi and Ma-au villages have been ordered to move back to their villages by their village authorities, who claimed it was for security reasons.
"The authorities made the farmers to sign an acknowledgement of their relocation to the villages," the local said.
"It said that the farmers will be responsible for the consequences if they remain on their farmlands."
The authorities' order to relocate will cause major difficulties for the farmers, who need to stay on their farms during the cropping season to monitor their crops.
"They need to stay on their farms to do the necessary maintenance on their crops," the Hle Gu local said.
"The farmers were very sad after hearing the authorities' order to move back to the villages."
Hle Gu township authorities were unavailable for comment.
Junta untroubled by EU sanctions - David Cronin
Inter Press Service: Tue 11 Mar 2008
Economic sanctions imposed by the European Union on Burma are unlikely to have any effect on its military junta, a former Singaporean diplomat has said.
After Burmese authorities used force to break up peaceful protests by Buddhist monks in the capital Rangoon, EU governments decided to ban imports of gemstones, timber and metal from the country in October last year.
Barry Desker, Singapore's chief negotiator in international trade talks during the 1990s, suggested the sanctions are primarily designed to salve the conscience of some European policy-makers.
Speaking to IPS, he said the measures will probably not have any impact on the military, which has ruled Burma since overthrowing a civilian government in 1962. This was because EU leaders have decided to "grandfather the most important investment" in the country, he added, referring to the contracts signed by the French energy giant Total to exploit the Yadana gasfield in southern Burma.
Although French president Nicholas Sarkozy announced in 2007 that there will be no fresh investments by companies from his country in Burma, contracts already signed by Total are unaffected by sanctions.
Desker, now dean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, claimed that the strong public stances on Burma of the EU and the U.S. were largely taken for what he described as "feel good" reasons. He also dubbed Burma (officially called Myanmar) an "easy target" for the West.
In terms of respect for human rights and democracy, "you would probably see Saudi Arabia, ranking lower than Myanmar," he said. "Yet nobody is taking action against Saudi Arabia."
The reality, he added, is that foreign countries, including Burma's fellow members of the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN), have little influence as "the Myanmar leadership is suspicious of the world outside", yet has been able to cushion itself against external pressure.
"Foreign exchange reserves (in Burma) are the highest they have ever been since 1950," he said. "There is a myth that Myanmar has banked money in Singapore, Liechtenstein and Hong Kong. In reality, most of its money has been invested back in Myanmar. Once - in the 1980s - there was a shared poverty between the leadership and the rest of the population. But today, there is a gap emerging between a small elite and the rest of the population, which has become poorer and poorer and is on the lowest rung within South-East Asia."
Desker took part in a seminar in Brussels on Monday, addressing the main challenges facing ASEAN, which celebrated its fortieth anniversary during 2007. The seminar was hosted by the European Policy Centre, a think-tank based in the Belgian capital.
Seamus Gillespie, head of the European Commission (EC)'s department for relations with South-East Asia, took issue with Desker's claims that sanctions against Burma are proving ineffective.
Gillespie said he would be "very surprised if the (Burmese) government is 100 percent insensitive" to international criticism. "I do feel that some message is getting through, even if it might not be with sufficient force at the moment to change things," he added.
Gillespie argued that punitive measures against Burma were warranted because of the continued arrest of Aung Saan Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party won a huge majority in a 1990 election that the junta decided to annul.
On human rights, he said, the EU "often has different approaches to different situations".
"This allows questions to be raised about inconsistency of approach. But few countries have democratic elections held and then put the leader in prison and house arrest for many long years and brutally suppress their own religious people. This is something quite unique."
Still, he maintained that "sanctions are just one instrument in the toolkit of a more balanced policy".
"We are trying to engage with the authorities in Burma-Myanmar. This is not just a question of sanctions, though it may be that for some decision-makers sanctions may make them feel good."
The question of Burma overshadowed the most recent summit of ASEAN's 10 government leaders, held in Singapore in November.
During that meeting, the governments endorsed a charter designed to strengthen the body's institutions. The charter will put its summits on a more formal footing and require each member state to send an ambassador to liaise with ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta.
Desker acknowledged that Burma's acceptance of the charter, which contains a commitment to promoting human rights, will give "the region a credibility problem when seeking to address humanitarian concerns around the globe''.
Although the EC does not give official development aid to the Burmese authorities, it approved a package of humanitarian assistance worth 15.5 million euros (24 million dollars) in 2006 aimed at meeting some of the population's medical needs. Its move followed a report by the World Health Organisation that - in per capita terms - Burma has the third lowest rate of health expenditure in the world (after Congo and Burundi).
David Fouquet, director of the Asia-Europe Project in Brussels, said that such humanitarian aid is "very useful and appreciated". But Fouquet added: "Many people in ASEAN are not comfortable with the relationship with and the presence of Burma-Myanmar as it is now".
Last month the Burmese authorities announced that a referendum on a new constitution will be held in May, paving the way for a general election in 2010. These steps will be part of what Burma calls a "roadmap to democracy", though the government's critics have expressed doubts about whether opposition figures will be allowed contest the election.
Fouquet contended that there is a "lot to be done" in ensuring that the announcement leads to tangible reforms. "ASEAN should be more engaged in a positive way, assisting without becoming an accomplice to the roadmap to guided democracy," he said. "That would be extremely helpful."
Who's buying Burma's gems? - Danna Harman
Christian Science Monitor: Tue 11 Mar 2008
It's the last hour of the last day of the gems auction in Rangoon, and tired buyers are fanning themselves with worn auction catalogs, and making their final bids.
Over the past five days, jade, rubies, sapphires, and close to $150 million have passed hands here, according to the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., the consortium that dominates Burma's gemstone trade and is owned by the defense ministry and a clutch of military officers.
Who's buying? China, India, Singapore, and Thailand are scooping up Burma's stones. US first lady Laura Bush's efforts at a global boycott of Burma's gems seem to have done little to reduce China's appetite for Burmese jade to make trinkets and souvenirs to sell at the Summer Olympics.
At this recent auction, 281 foreigners attended, leaving behind much-needed foreign currency and generally turning the auction into a resounding success, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
Mrs. Bush - and human rights campaigners - would not be pleased.
The first lady has taken on the military regime in Burma (Myanmar), urging jewelers not to buy gems from a country where the undemocratic rulers and their cronies amass fortunes selling off the country's stones, as well as many of the county's other natural resources - such as minerals, timber, gold, oil, and gas - but keep Burma's citizens in abject poverty.
She has urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to act more forcibly on Burma and stood beside President Bush on several occasions recently as he announced the growing list of US sanctions on the country. And, on International Human Right's Day this past December, Mrs. Bush added her voice to those seeking a global boycott on gems from Burma.
"Consumers throughout the world should consider the implications of their purchase of Burmese gems," she said in a statement from the White House. "Every Burmese stone bought, cut, polished, and sold sustains an illegitimate, repressive regime."
According to Human Right's Watch (HRW), Burma's junta owns a majority stake in each of the country's mines - many of them sitting on land confiscated from local communities - sanctioning both unsafe working conditions and forced and child labor. The European Union passed rules in November banning imports of Burmese rubies and jade, and Canada and the US Senate followed suit in December.
Worried about being associated with the junta's practices, some of the world's biggest names in precious stones - including Frances' Cartier, Italy's Bulgari, and the US-based Tiffany & Co., and Leber Jeweler Inc. - have announced their own bans on Burma's gems.
But, clearly, not everyone has joined the bandwagon. At this January's auction in Rangoon, according to the New Light of Myanmar, 600 lots of jade were sold - a third more than at the last auction held in November. By some estimates, jade alone now accounts for about 10 percent of Burma's yearly export earnings. Rubies, in turn, remain Burma's gem of choice; the country is reportedly the source of close to 90 percent of the world's supply. And Burma also exports diamonds, cat's- eyes, emeralds, topaz, pearls, sapphires, coral, and yellow garnet.
The government's Myanmar Gem Enterprise - Burma's third largest export company after the state-run oil and timber companies - has said gem sales have increased by 45 percent every year for the past three. The gem auctions, held once or twice a year since 1964, are becoming more frequent. All told, the official trade in Burma's gems, according HRW, was valued at $297 million in fiscal year 2006-2007, but is estimated to actually be much higher when factoring in unofficial sales.
Why haven't Western sanctions on Burma's gems - and the country's other products - been more effective, even after so many years?
"The only sanctions that would work would be Chinese," asserts Robert Rotberg, a professor of public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School. "The Chinese supply all the weapons and much of the investment [to Burma]."
And, while gems are clearly a part of the problem, stresses Mr. Rotberg, they are only the very tip of the iceberg. "The role of gems is not huge compared with oil and gas, and opium smuggling," he says. Overall, China, Thailand, and India reportedly spend about $2 billion a year here on electricity, natural gas, oil and timber.
"China is the culprit here," explains Thai social critic and frequent Burma commentator Acharn Sulak Sivaraksa. "Burma is supported by China. End of story. We need to liberate that country not only from its own military junta but also from the imperialist Chinese."
Pressure on China - and to a smaller extent on India and Thailand - to assume a more constructive role in Burma is mounting.
"It is in all our interests to address the poor governance that can give birth to conflict and instability," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told students at the elite Peking University on a trip to China last month. "When the incentives of global engagement do not work, there will be cases for applying pressure," he said. "Burma is on your border. You know it well," and outlined Britain's view that Burma's military government is "brutal."
His carefully chosen words echoed those of Mrs. Bush: "President Bush and I call on all nations - especially Burma's neighbors - to use their influence to help bring about a democratic transition," she said, addressing China in a December teleconference.
Recently, several Burmese human rights and opposition groups have begun linking China's Burma policy to the upcoming Olympics - a particularly unwanted development for Beijing. The Burmese "88 Students Generation" group issued a call two weeks ago appealing to people around the world not to watch the sports events on TV, and the Washington-based US Campaign for Burma has called on athletes to boycott the games.
Linkage between Burma policy and the Olympics would be "inappropriate and unpopular," responded Liu Jingmin, vice president of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, at an October press conference.
But whether or not it's the specter of the Burma issue mushrooming into a rallying call of similar proportions to that the campaign linking China's role in Sudan's Darfur region to the Olympics - such pressure on China seems to be having some effect.
While there is no indication China will sanction Burma or even dramatically change its basic working relationship with the country - China is famously averse to interfering in other country's internal affairs - there are nonetheless small signs that Beijing's patience with the military junta next door is waning and an eventual policy shift is possible.
"We sense China is changing its attitude," says U Han Than, a spokesman for the Burmese opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). "We have heard that high-ranking Chinese officials were here and told the military generals they are not happy."
China's official news service did report, in November, that a special envoy, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, had been in Burma and asked the military "to resolve the pending issues through consultations so as to speed up the democratization process."
"China is trying harder to be constructive," says a Western diplomat in Rangoon, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They don't care about democracy or a political opening up, but they care about their investments and the Olympics and don't want the sort of instability that resulted from the September blunders of the government. They want an economic opening up, which is not a bad start."
India, Burma conclude secretary level talks
Mizzima News: Tue 11 Mar 2008
New Delhi - In yet another sign of warming up to each other in terms of bilateral relations, India and Burma on Monday concluded a secretary level talk in New Delhi.
Both India and Burma, during the 14th National Level Meeting, agreed to strengthen cooperation in areas of security and border management along the common border.
The Burmese delegation to the meeting was led by Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brig. General Phone Swe and the Indian delegation was led by Union Home Secretary, Shri Madhukar Gupta.
During the meeting, both sides discussed various issues of mutual concern including security, drug trafficking and border management, according to a press statement released by Indian Ministry of Home Affairs.
India and Burma have regularly held bilateral meetings on various levels including head of the state meetings, since the visit by Burmese head of state and military supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe to New Delhi in October 2004.
According to India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Burma's second military strongman Vice Snr. General Maung Aye will visit New Delhi in the first week of April to sign an agreement with India to build a multi-modal transport project in western Burma.
Sources at the MEA said India will invest a US $ 100 million for the Kaladan multimodal project, while Burma will contribute US $ 10 million and free land.
Despite criticism by the west, particularly the US and EU, which has imposed stern financial and economic sanctions on the Burmese junta, India continues to engage the Burmese generals under the banner of its 'Look East policy' and 'national interest'.
Gambari Gets the Snub - Marwaan Macan-Marker
Inter Press Service: Tue 11 Mar 2008
United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari's third visit to Burma has ended in failure, an outcome expected after he was informed on arrival that the junta was in no mood to change its political battle plans.
By all accounts Gambari had a rough time between his arrival in Burma on Thursday and departure on Monday.
Leading the attack on Gambari was Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, who met the Nigerian diplomat the day after he flew into Rangoon, the former capital. It is "impossible" to amend the new draft constitution, Gambari was told Friday of the charter that had been shaped by a body handpicked by the generals.
The prospect of a meaningful dialogue between the junta and the currently detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, was quashed, likewise. Kyaw Hsan accused the Nobel Peace laureate of being the stumbling block, saying that the country's leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, would meet her if she gave up her "confrontational attitude," including her continued call for sanctions against the junta.
But Kyaw Hsan had more verbal bullets in store, with Gambari as the target, too. He accused the envoy of taking sides, being partial to Suu Kyi's cause and taking a "Western" view, and warned that Gambari's neutral role as an "adviser" would be challenged.
Such a stance by the rulers of Burma is the toughest since Gambari began his mission following a bloody crackdown last September of tens of thousands of peaceful, unarmed street protests led by Buddhist monks. The first visit followed an international outcry, prompting Burmese strongman Than Shwe to meet the envoy. On the second visit, the junta gave assurances that suggested the spirit of compromise was in the air.
Little wonder why Burmese political activists living in exile have begun to write off any future attempts by Gambari. "They gave him a tough time during his third visit. He cannot be successful now," Zaw Min, spokesman for the Democratic Party for a New Society, a political party banned in Burma, told IPS. "The Burmese government wanted to show that it is a sovereign country and does not need UN involvement."
It was a view echoed by a London-based group championing for political freedom and human rights in the South-east Asian country. "It is clear that the Burmese junta does not respect UN envoys," Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign in Britain, said in a statement released Monday. "It is time the UN tried a new approach. The Secretary-General himself should lead the UN effort, and he should have the backing of a binding Security Council resolution.''
Gambari's third mission came shortly after the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta is officially known, raised the political stakes in the country. It revealed plans to conduct a referendum in May to seek approval for Burma's third constitution. Plans were also announced for a general election to follow in 2010, for which the widely popular Suu Kyi has been banned from participating.
Burma has been ruled by successive military dictators since 1962, when the army grabbed power following a coup. In 1990, following a pro-democracy uprising, which was brutally crushed, the country held general elections. The winner, on that occasion was the NLD, securing a thumping majority. But the junta refused to respect the verdict of that poll, subsequently mounting a repressive campaign that targeted all political opponents.
The UN entered the fray soon after, hoping to address the widespread human rights violations in the country and to help engineer political reform, with a functioning democracy as a goal. Since 1992, the country has had three UN human rights envoys and three special political envoys, the latest of whom is Gambari. But none of them could stem the flow of oppression.
Consequently, the junta's appears set to unveil its "developed discipline-flourishing democratic state" as part of its seven-step roadmap toward political reform, where the generals are to gain legal power through a constitution to dominate the future political landscape.
Such a prospect, and the strident tone of the junta to install its political program, is giving rise to a view that the generals have got the blessings of the Chinese government, a key supporter of the SPDC. "We think that China is backing the SPDC from behind. Without China's support, the SPDC will not dare confront the world body as it did during Mr. Gambari's visit," says Zin Linn, a spokesman for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, the democratically-elected Burmese government in exile.
"The junta is now feeling confident that it can get away with its game and not come under pressure at the UN," he added during an interview. "China needs Burma because of its many natural resources, like gas."
But such a defeat of the UN's efforts at the hands of a military dictatorship will bode ill for the oppressed peoples of the world, says Myint Wai, deputy director of the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, a Bangkok-based non-governmental organization. "Other oppressive regimes will also use this example and not take the UN seriously."
"We cannot let the dignity of the UN be damaged," he told IPS. "The entire world will stand to lose, then."
UN visit shows momentum slipping on Myanmar: analysts - Charlie McDonald-Gibson
Agence France Presse: Tue 11 Mar 2008
UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari's seeming failure to press the Myanmar junta toward reform has underlined the loss in diplomatic momentum since last year's bloody crackdown on protests, analysts say.
Gambari arrived in Myanmar last Thursday hoping to persuade the regime to include detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in plans for a constitutional referendum in May designed to pave the way for elections in 2010.
But with support from regional allies such as China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the generals have pressed on with a "roadmap to democracy" that the West has decried as a sham.
"What the Burmese military has done is what the Chinese and ASEAN and even the Indians wanted to see in Burma - the continuation of the roadmap, and for the first time in 20 years there is a timeframe," said Thailand-based Myanmar expert Aung Naing Oo, referring to the nation by its former name.
Gambari left Myanmar late Monday having twice been rebuffed by the junta on his third visit there since pictures of last September's violent crackdown on Buddhist monk-led street protests went around the world.
The generals refused to amend the constitution and rejected an offer of UN technical assistance and foreign observers during the referendum.
At least 31 people died last September, according to the United Nations, although Human Rights Watch has put the toll at more than 100, and the world outcry was swift and unified - a consensus that has since fractured.
While China, Russia and some Southeast Asian nations call the referendum a step in the right direction, the United States and other Western countries say it aims to entrench the military's role.
The constitution would bar Aung San Suu Kyi from elections because she was married to a foreigner, while a new law limits her party's ability to campaign by criminalising public speeches and leaflets about the referendum.
Aung Naing Oo said the split has left Myanmar holding all the cards, with the United Nations empty-handed.
"I honestly don't have any hope in the UN's intervention," he added. "The Burmese junta know they have the Chinese protecting them at the UN Security Council."
The apparent snubs to Gambari, who was also accused on this visit of being biased in favour of the opposition, also show the junta is increasingly immune to the fickle demands of the international community, said Zarni, a visiting fellow at Britain's Oxford University who goes by one name.
"The last thing the regime would want to do is appear to be appeasing the international community, be it the Chinese or the Americans," he told AFP.
"These guys draw inspirations from such regimes as Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea etc, which stand up to what they all consider as 'neo-imperialist' West."
Gambari did, however, meet Aung San Suu Kyi twice during his visit, a rare contact with the outside world for the Nobel peace prize winner who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.
Aung San Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy party to a storming election victory in 1990, but the military - which has ruled Myanmar in some form since 1962 - refused to recognise the result.
But the envoy was denied access to senior junta figures, with junta leader Senior General Than Shwe inaccessible in the isolated capital Naypyidaw.
Win Min, a Thailand-based analyst attached to Chiang Mai University, said the only way to bring genuine democratic reform to Myanmar was for the United Nations Security Council to take harsh action unanimously.
"Only then the regime will listen," he told AFP.
However, he said, Myanmar was no longer top of the world's agenda.
The West's sanctions were simply angering the regime without affecting the top leadership, he added, while China was not keen on forcing Myanmar on to a path to democracy that they themselves did not follow.
"The only silver lining in all this is the regime is not declaring this UN engagement process, whatever it's worth, dead or unwelcome," he said.
Burma's generals drunk on political power - Kyaw Zwa Moe
Irrawaddy: Tue 11 Mar 2008
The United Nations has offered the Burmese junta a political cocktail that could have given the embattled country a way out of its political deadlock.
The ingredients were simple: The UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, urged the junta to allow opposition groups a role in creating a draft constitution, allow independent monitors to observe a constitutional referendum and offer an inclusive, fair election representing all political views.
The junta declined.
In fact, the generals have already brewed up their own political cocktail and are offering it to the Burmese people in the constitutional referendum in May:
- A rigged draft constitution designed to enshrine the military as rulers in a "democratic" Burma.
- No guarantees to a fair and inclusive election in 2010 and the power to nullify the constitution at any time.
The Burmese people know the junta's political cocktail is poison.
"It is impossible to review or rewrite the constitution which was drawn up with the participation of delegates from all walks of life," Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan told Gambari on Friday in Rangoon, according to the state-run media.
What he failed to mention was that all the delegates were handpicked by the junta. Pro-democracy and ethnic opposition groups were not allowed to participate.
The military government also rebuffed the idea of independent poll observers as an infringement on "state sovereignty."
The junta took the gloves off on Gambari's last visit, telling him coldly that he was biased in favor of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years and is barred from running in the election.
Kyaw Hsan told Gambari that Burma has no political prisoners and that Suu Kyi was detained because she tried to disrupt the stability of the country. Actually, there are about 1,800 political prisoners in Burma.
The minister also criticized Gambari for his trips to other countries to seek support for political reform in Burma.
"Sadly, you went beyond your mandate," he was told. "Hence, the majority of people are criticizing it as a biased act."
Finally, in effect dismissing Gambari's future usefullness, Kyaw Hsan said that if Gambari continued to encourage the junta to meet Western calls for reform, "We are concerned that your task of offering impartial advice may be undermined."
Gambari departed Burma on Monday and will soon brief UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Whatever that briefing says, one thing is clear: the generals are in a state of denial.
In fact, Gambari's mission is over diplomatically. The junta has stacked the political deck. Domestic events will have to play themselves out now - for good or bad.
In reality, the UN has no further role to play in Burma. There's no hope of reconciliation talks; no hope for broader political participation by the people. Sadly, there may be no hope of avoiding another civil uprising and more bloodshed and arrests.
You can see the sad state of events in Burma as the ending of an era going back to the 1988 uprising, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) played such an important role. The NLD won the 1990 elections by a landslide, nullified by the generals. The NLD leadership has run out of energy and failed to come up with a new political vision.
So far, the NLD has failed to take a clear stand on the constitutional referendum and elections, perhaps partly because it doesn't even know if it will be allowed to participate in the election.
In the 2007 uprising, the Burmese people, in effect, became the leaders of the political opposition, guided by a dedicated group of activist monks from across the country.
The Burmese people seem to sense that it's up to them now. The tragedy is that if they express any critical views about the draft constitution, the elections or the regime, they may be imprisoned. Without any means to influence the junta, there are really only two options: political protests and courage.
The constitutional referendum in May could be a flash point. Will the people feel they have been allowed to cast their votes freely and fairly?
Any attempt by the junta or its affiliated political and civic groups to steal the referendum will spark a clash between the military and the people more dangerous than the 2007 uprising.
If the election is free and fair, the Burmese people will reject the junta's poisonous political cocktail, knowing it will poison their national pride and be a death sentence for Burma's future generations.
The generals are clearly living in self-denial, drunk on their own power, in total denial of even the most basic principles of fairness and democracy.
But like all drunks, there will come a day - perhaps in May - when they may be awakened by the Burmese people and forced to face reality.
U.N.'s impotency exposed
Mizzima News: Tue 11 Mar 2008
With Monday evening's departure from Rangoon of U.N. Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari, the curtain has been drawn on what should be the final scene of the U.N.'s latest attempt to play a constructive role in healing Burma's wounds.
This, the Envoy's third visit to Burma since September 2007's Saffron Revolution, arguably served no purpose other than to allow the international community to see Gambari in the company of Aung San Suu Kyi, twice. This appears the only reason the junta saw in bringing the Nigerian diplomat back, and it is almost without question the only thing the Envoy accomplished.
Why did the mission of the U.N. fail?
Ultimately, confronted with a situation such as prevails in Burma, the potential impact of Gambari's initiatives are severely hampered by a lack of any meaningful enforcement mechanism at his disposal.
Obviously Gambari had no threat of violent reprisal to hold over the heads of Burma's generals, but the use of force is only one example of an enforcement mechanism. Within the U.N. system, conventions, treaties and Security Council Resolutions are also commonly grouped as enforcement mechanisms. However, all of these tools are reliant on willingness toward compliance on the part of the party standing accused. Without such an appreciation, these approaches are but paper tigers, as there then exists no established means of redress when conventions, norms, treaties and resolutions are violated.
Sanctions are an example of a negative enforcement mechanism, obviously highly favored by some as a hoped for effective tool against the Burmese junta. Yet the generals have used the existence of sanctions as an argument for their not adopting suggestions put forth through the U.N. Why?
Critically, at least in the estimation of the junta, negative enforcement measures are not being balanced by positive enforcement mechanisms. And to achieve a workable balance between the two, one must consider the relative power of the parties collectively and individually.
The lack of effective enforcement mechanisms has long been a recognized shortfall in the U.N. system and is directly related to a further reason why Gambari's mission was doomed from the onset. Though the United Nations conjures up ideals of one world, sharing common norms, values and laws, ours is in truth very much a world of individual interests and actors.
It is in the interest of states not to grant effective enforcement powers to the U.N. Nationalists, dominant states and individual interests naturally tend toward a world respective of the primacy of state power.
While nations across the world voiced common support for Gambari's initiatives, the truth is the acceptable results of his undertakings drastically varied - from those who looked for nothing short of the ousting of the generals to those that sought primarily economic reform. Too many nations not united, is the story of the United Nations and Burma at the end of the day.
What can the U.N. do for Burma?
If Gambari continues his mission, the only role for the U.N. is one to work within the parameters of the junta's road-map. And the Special Envoy's involvement in the process will be seen by many as lending an air of legitimacy to the military's efforts. Such a scenario would, with respect to Burma, only make the divide in the international community deeper and more visible.
Is there then even a role for U.N. in Burma?
Gambari, on behalf of the U.N., approached Burma's generals through language and ideals of a vastly different battlefield to that of the men in Naypyitaw. The Special Envoy came as a representative, in actuality or otherwise, of an interconnected world operating in accordance to universal human rights, respect for conventions and international norms. The generals, on the other hand, inhabit a finite arena, beholden to nationalism and calculations of relative power, not to mention interpreting the U.N. as a mouthpiece for Western ambitions. As early as 1974, U Thant, the Burmese Secretary General of the U.N. from the early sixties to seventies, was refused honors by Burma's generals upon his death.
It is thus debatable, given the current international scene and domestic climate inside Burma, what constructive role the U.N. can play as an intermediary between the wider international community and Burma's junta.
For years the prevailing sentiment among politically aware persons on Burma's streets is that the U.N. has little to offer Burma. This held true even before last September and the recent efforts of Gambari. Gambari, and his predecessor Razali Ismail, are commonly held to be too soft on the generals. But then again, what effective options of enforcement are at their disposal?
Further, owing to several factors of Burma's post-independence history, there is a broad lack of education among Burma's citizens as to what the U.N. is, what it can do and what it has been sent to do in Burma from visions of blue helmets marching through downtown Rangoon to inquiries as to, 'What is the Security Council?,' there is a gross lack of information available to most Burmese. This fact prevents the advent of a coherent domestic voice as to the expectations of U.N. initiatives.
Perhaps this is what Aung San Suu Kyi meant by her cautionary words for the Burmese people in January of this year: "hope for the best and prepare for the worst." Namely, that without a legitimate enforcement mechanism to back up the diplomatic efforts of the U.N., no matter how well intentioned, the only option available was to "hope" that the junta had a sudden and dramatic change of heart. They didn't.
35th UN Envoy visit fails - now Ban Ki-moon must go to Burma
Burma Campaign UK: Tue 11 Mar 2008
The Burma Campaign UK today called on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take over UN efforts to restore democracy to Burma, following the failure of Ibrahim Gambari to achieve any breakthrough on his latest visit. It is the 35th visit to Burma by a UN envoy, and not one has achieved a single reform in the country.
"It is clear that the Burmese junta does not respect UN envoys," said Mark Farmaner, Director of the Burma Campaign UK. "After 18 years of failure it is time the UN tried a new approach. The Secretary General himself should lead the UN effort, and he should have the backing of a binding Security Council resolution."
Human rights abuses have increased dramatically since Gambari took over as UN envoy in May 2006 and said the regime had turned a new page with the international community. In addition to the brutal crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protesters last year, resulting in more than 700 new political prisoners, there has been a significant escalation of attacks on ethnic minorities in Eastern Burma.
In February 2008 the regime announced it was ignoring Gambari's reconciliation efforts and going ahead with a referendum on its own constitution that guarantees continued military rule. It has not kept any of the commitments it has given to the international community regarding human rights, political prisoners, and holding talks with Aung San Suu Kyi.
"The United Nations needs to understand that this regime does not want to reform and does not want democracy," said Mark Farmaner. "Eighteen years of playing softly softly with this regime has failed. Ban Ki-moon taking over the process would ensure the regime gets the message that things have changed, that it can't continue to defy the Security Council and UN General Assembly. It would also ensure the UN gives the crisis in Burma the attention it deserves."
The Burma Campaign UK is calling on the UK, USA and France to start work on a new Security Council resolution on Burma. Although China and Russia vetoed a previous resolution, they did agree to a Presidential Statement by the Security Council following the crackdown on the democracy uprising, and this could be used a base for any future resolution.
Bullets in the Alms Bowl - New Report by NCGUB
Human Rights Documentation Unit: Tue 11 Mar 2008
Bullets in the Alms Bowl now available online. New report on Burma's September 2007 "Saffron Revolution" provides new insight into a premeditated campaign of brutality and the cover up designed to hide the extent of that brutality.
On Monday, the Human Rights Documentation Unit (HRDU) released Bullets in the Alms Bowl, a new 190-page report representing the most comprehensive publication detailing the events leading up to, during and following the September 2007 "Saffron Revolution" protests in Burma thus far produced to date, and the first such report to be produced by a Burmese organization.
Bullets in the Alms Bowl, based on over 50 detailed eyewitness testimonies, presents new information on crackdowns thus far not covered in other reports. A detailed analysis of the existing economic climate and prevalent systems of structural violence within the country serves to contextualize the protests along with an analysis of the interdependence of Burma's monastic and lay communities and the relationship existing between the Sangha and the SPDC.
The campaign of continuing arrests, judicial procedure and the conditions of detention are also dealt with in considerable detail, including information and firsthand testimonies on persons being arrested for harbouring those sought by the authorities, those arrested in lieu of others, the collective punishment of entire neighbourhoods, and over 20 deaths in custody.
A detailed analysis of the tactics and actions employed by the SPDC and its agents during the crackdowns is then provided highlighting a premeditated strategy of brutalization which relied on the use of minimal restraint and a concomitant calculated attempt to suppress information so as to cover up the extent of that brutality and ultimately the number of fatalities.
While the SPDC have stated that 15 persons died during the protests, the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro asserts that more than double this number died in Rangoon alone. Meanwhile, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPPB) today maintains that at least 72 persons still remain unaccounted for. Still, these numbers are conservative, and with protests staged in no fewer than 66 towns and cities across the country - many of which lack reliable information, coupled with the systematic removal of the dead and wounded from the site of each crackdown, and the disposal of the bodies during secret night time cremations, the number of fatalities may well be as high as a hundred. Sadly, though, just as had happened following the 1988 protests, we may never know the true human toll.
The HRDU is the research and documentation department of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB). The HRDU was formed in 1994 to comprehensively document the human rights situations in Burma, in order to protect and promote the internationally recognised human rights of those persons in the country. The HRDU is also responsible for the production of the annual Burma Human Rights Yearbook.
Please click here http://www.ncgub.net/mediagallery/media.php?s=200803100000223 to view Bullets in the Alms Bowl in PDF format (190 pages / 4.75 MB). For more information, please visit our website at http://www.ncgub.net/ . Questions, comments and requests for further information may be forwarded to the HRDU via email at enquiries.hrdu@... .
Thousands of Karen civilians displaced in fresh attacks as UN envoy visit fails
Christian Solidarity Worldwide: Tue 11 Mar 2008
The Burma Army has launched fresh attacks on civilians in northern Karen State this month, causing the displacement of over 2,100 villagers.
According to the Free Burma Rangers, a relief organisation working in the conflict areas of eastern Burma, the attacks are "the largest against civilians in northern Karen State since the Burma Army completed the re-supply of its camps and construction of roads at the end of 2007." Over 30,000 people are displaced in northern Karen State, and it is estimated that there are over one million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Burma altogether.
The Burma Army attacked several villages in northern Papun District, Karen State, on 4 March, according to the Free Burma Rangers. Nine homes and three
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