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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 13/3/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Burmese junta tells un envoy Gambari where to go 2.. Empty-handed but undeterred 3.. Than Shwe rumored to be hospitalized 4.. Over 2,100 displaced in fresh
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 13, 2008
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      1. Burmese junta tells un envoy Gambari where to go
      2. Empty-handed but undeterred
      3. Than Shwe rumored to be hospitalized
      4. Over 2,100 displaced in fresh offensive
      5. Chinese influx stirs age-old hatred in Burma
      6. Veteran journalist calls for people power to oust regime
      7. Rangoon division ordered to support Referendum
      8. UN expert says unlawful arrests in Myanmar accelerating
      9. US say Burma's Human Rights record getting worse
      10. ILO extends Myanmar forced labour deal for one year
      11. Burma's longest serving prisoner of conscience must be free
      12. Ministry of Education running fake diploma mill

      Burmese junta tells un envoy Gambari where to go
      The Nation: March 13, 2008

      From what he has said and from what the military junta expressed to him during his third visit, United Nations Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari is unlikely to have achieved anything toward national reconciliation and democracy in military run Burma.

      Gambari finished his latest visit to the troubled country on Monday, making a brief stopover in Singapore - but without meeting any officials of the current Asean chair, or the media. The reaction after the visit was different from his usual routine following his previous trips. For Burma affairs, nothing is top secret for the UN representative, unless he has nothing to say or nothing has been achieved.

      Gambari met many people during his stay in Burma from last Thursday to Monday, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he met twice this time, on Sunday and Monday. However, the details of their discussion are not yet known. Previously, Gambari rushed to tell the media whenever he got a statement from Aung San Suu Kyi that she was ready to talk with the junta over political reconciliation. The UN envoy then shuttled around the globe to tell the same thing to world leaders whom he expected to help him bring about a dialogue between Burma and those in Bangkok, Beijing and New Delhi.

      This time Gambari got a very tough assignment from his boss, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, to achieve a substantive dialogue between the junta and the opposition. Actually the authorities in the Burmese capital, Napyidaw were originally scheduled to welcome Gambari in April, but the secretary-general made a request to have his special envoy visit early.

      Gambari was allowed in, with permission for an extended stay, but the visit lasted only five days, as many of his requests for meetings were rejected.

      Prior to Gambari's visit, UN chief Ban sent a letter in February to the paramount Burmese leader, Than Shwe requesting a five-point cooperation deal to help his special envoy achieve his mission. The junta later decided to dump all UN requests and even burnt them in public, allowing only the government mouthpiece, the New Light of Myanmar, to publicise the substance of the meeting between the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) spokesman Kyaw Hsan and Gambari over the weekend. Kyaw Hsan told Gambari that the Burmese government would arrange for UN visitors at any time as proposed, but the establishment of a special office in Rangoon for Gambari was unnecessary since the UN already had many representatives in the country through whom Gambari could work.

      The second point, which Gambari championed before his visit, was to have inclusive participation in Burmese politics. But this was also dismissed by the junta. Kyaw Hsan said the new Burmese constitution had already been drafted and would not be amended any further. The draft bars those who are married to foreigners from participating in politics. More precisely, it prevents Aung San Suu Kyi from having any hope of being elected as the next Burmese leader.

      "It was Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy who decided not to participate in the constitution drafting. There cannot be any more 'all-inclusiveness' in this process," Kyaw Hsan told Gambari.

      On the third point, Ban asked to have a credible, timeframe and all-inclusive discussion between the junta and Aung San Suu Kyi, including support by the UN.

      Kyaw Hsan simply replied that the National Convention - the constitution drafting body - is the most credible and all-inclusive political discussion forum.

      Now, discussions between the Minister for Information and Aung San Suu Kyi are under way in accordance with UN wishes. Than Shwe even could meet the opposition leader if Suu Kyi agrees to drop her demands for the continuance and extension of international sanctions against the junta. But as long as Aung San Suu Kyi maintains this stance, the dialogue cannot be productive, Kyaw Hsan said.

      On the demands for the release of political prisoners, the junta simply said that it has no political prisoners, but that those who are serving jail terms or are under other restrictions, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have violated the laws.

      The final UN point, a request to have an inclusive National Economic Forum for addressing economic and social affairs, and a cooperative mechanism for humanitarian assistance, was simply rejected as being "useless", Kyaw San said.

      "If Your Excellency helps to lift economic sanctions, allow aid into the country, and approve loans, it might be more effective than the Economic Forum you propose. Giving assistance for poverty reduction while imposing sanctions will never produce the right solution," he said.

      Kyaw Hsan also pointed out to Gambari that democracy developed in accordance with different contexts in different countries. He compared his constitution-making process with neighbouring Thailand.

      "Now, the Thai people have approved and started to practice a new constitution for Thailand. But none of the candidates of the People Power Party and the opposition Democrat Party had the right to participate in the [drafting] process. To make it clearer, in Iraq, Shi'ite militants who oppose the US, and Sunni militants who have links with al-Qaeda had no right to participate in the process of drafting a constitution. Similarly, in Afghanistan, the Taleban had no right to draft the constitution. We haven't heard any objection to these events by those persons and organisations who are objecting to us. But with the drafting of the constitution in our country, many are criticising us and pointing out that certain persons are not among the representatives in the process. It is not reasonable," he said.

      Gambari has no argument, as the UN has nothing to bargain with. He simply said he would convey the message to his boss, whom he would meet in Senegal this week.

      Supalak Ganjanakhundee


      Empty-handed but undeterred
      BangkokPost: 13/3/08

      By Larry Jagan

      "There has been no progress on any of the substantive issues raised by the envoy," a western diplomat in Rangoon said after the UN's special adviser to Burma Ibrahim Gambari left Rangoon. "There is no other interpretation possible. This visit was an abject failure."

      Mr Gambari immediately flew to Senegal to brief UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

      The fact he went directly to see the UN chief certainly suggests the mission is in trouble.

      "This probably means the end of Mr Gambari's efforts to mediate in Burma's reconciliation process," a diplomat said.

      But Mr Ban has already tried to counter this obvious conclusion.

      "There was some progress but we have not been able to achieve as much we had hoped," he said.

      His departure has also left the UN and international community in a quandary over how to deal with the junta.

      The UN envoy arrived in Burma with hopes of discussing the military regime's proposed plans for political change and encouraging them to be more inclusive. But he was brutally rebuffed.

      Mr Gambari was only allowed to meet relatively junior ministers in the regime.

      Information Minister Kyaw Hsan was the highest in the hierarchy to greet him. He was, though, permitted to meet pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi twice during his visit.

      The fact Mr Gambari did not see any of the top generals, including Than Shwe, speaks for itself. All his meetings this time were confined to Rangoon and not the new capital Naypyidaw.

      Mr Gambari's top priority on this trip was to press the regime to include Mrs Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy opposition in the political process.

      "I will continue to press the [Burmese] government to engage with Aung San Suu Kyi in a substantive dialogue in order to produce a positive outcome that will promote an all-inclusive and transparent process," he said.

      The envoy's trip followed the Burmese government's completion of the country's new constitution and its announcement that it planned to hold a referendum in May and new multi-party elections in 2010.

      "Than Shwe's decision to set a time-table for the road map was a strategic move to block both Maung Aye, his deputy, and the international community, especially Gambari, from playing a role in the process," said the diplomat.

      The UN envoy knew he faced a daunting task trying to persuade the regime to heed the international community's concerns, but remained undeterred when he spoke on the eve of his visit.

      "I will continue my consultations in Burma and follow up on a number of recommendations I left with the government during my last trip in November 2007," he said. "These include immediate steps to address the human rights situation, progress on time-bound dialogue between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi, the forthcoming referendum and the electoral process, economic and humanitarian issues and a more regularised process of engagement with [Mr Ban's] good offices," he explained.

      Among the recommendations he made last time he was in Rangoon was the appointment of a government liaison minister to meet regularly with Mrs Suu Kyi to be allowed to meet other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, especially the central executive committee. These suggestions were virtually ignored, though Labour Minister Aung Kyi was appointed to meet the opposition leader. There have been few meetings between the two and only two meetings between Mrs Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders since Mr Gambari's last visit.

      Mr Gambari had also asked the junta for permission to set up an office in Rangoon with regular contact with Mrs Suu Kyi.

      But instead of Mr Gambari making any fresh headway on these issues, he found the regime totally intransigent and unprepared to listen to him, let alone make any concessions.

      In two meetings with the government spokesman, General Kyaw Hsan effectively humiliated the envoy.

      In the first meeting the minister chided him for not being impartial and being a stooge of the west.

      At the same time he dismissed the envoy's recommendations as pointless and unnecessary, especially the need for the UN to have its own liaison office in Rangoon.


      Than Shwe rumored to be hospitalized
      Mizzima News: Wed 12 Mar 2008

      Burma's Ministry of Information has brushed aside rumors that Head of State Senior General Than Shwe's health is failing and that he is currently hospitalized.

      Rumors have been circulating Rangoon and among exile Burmese communities that Than Shwe's health is deteriorating and that he is receiving medical treatment at Rangoon's No. 2 Military Hospital.

      A source close to the military establishment in Rangoon said, "I heard that his health has been deteriorating for about a week."

      Similarly, rumors are spreading among the Burmese exile community that Than Shwe is suffering from colon cancer for which he is currently receiving treatment.

      The rumor is spreading rapidly via blogs operated by Burmese bloggers both inside and outside the country.

      Burmese bloggers have posted several messages claiming that Than Shwe has undergone medical treatment for colon cancer at the No. 2 Military Hospital in Rangoon.

      While the information could not be independently verified, an official at the Burmese Ministry of Information dismissed the rumor, saying, "No, he is not hospitalized and he is in good health."

      However Burma's military strongman has long been reported to be suffering from ill-health and several important meetings, including the junta's quarterly meetings, had been previously postponed due to speculation of his fragile condition.


      Over 2,100 displaced in fresh offensive - Solomon
      Mizzima News: Wed 12 Mar 2008

      At least 2,100 people are homeless as a result of a new Burmese Army offensive this month in Burma's Karen State, a new report divulges.

      The Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a humanitarian group operating in eastern Burma, said the Burmese Army's Military Operation Commands 4 and 16 in March launched a fresh offensive in northern Karen State.

      "This most recent attack is the largest against civilians in northern Karen State since the Burma Army completed the re-supply of its camps and the construction of roads at the end of 2007," the report chronicles.

      As a result of these attacks more than 2,100 Karen villagers have been displaced and are now hiding in the jungles of eastern Burma, the FBR said.

      These latest victims further swell the number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) resulting from Burmese Army operations.

      The FBR calculates that "Over 30,000 people remain displaced in northern Karen State, and are constantly prepared to flee any attacks."

      Saw Hla Henry, a leader of the Karen National Union, an ethnic armed rebel group operating in eastern Burma along the Thai-Burmese border, said offensives by the Burmese army are escalating in eastern Burma and particularly in Karen State.

      "The regime conducts operations very often in these places and whenever they see IDPs they fire at them. So the lives of IDPs are in great danger," Saw Hla Henry said.

      Meanwhile, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a non-governmental organization endorsing the FBR report, said that Burma has over one million IDPs across the country, inclusive of the estimated 30,000 in northern Karen State, particularly in remote areas traditionally home to many ethnic communities.

      Benedict Rogers, CSW's Advocacy Officer for South Asia, who has visited the Thai-Burma border several times, told Mizzima, "It shows the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] is not responding at all to what the international community is saying. It shows that further international pressure is significantly needed."

      CSW calls on the United Nations Secretary General to pay additional attention to the problems in Burma and to pay a personal visit to the troubled Southeast Asian country, as his Special Envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, failed in his mission to facilitate political reforms through a process of dialogue.

      Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, in a press statement said, "The regime has proven that it is not interested in dialogue or reform, and so it is imperative that the international community now act."

      "…the time has come for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take personal charge of efforts to address the crisis in Burma. He should visit Burma as a matter of urgency to facilitate meaningful dialogue between the regime, the democracy groups and the ethnic nationalities, with the backing of a binding Security Council Resolution," Thomas elaborated.


      Chinese influx stirs age-old hatred in Burma - Ed Cropley
      Reuters: Wed 12 Mar 2008

      Few people can claim justifiably to understand the relationship between Burma's secretive military rulers and China, their key trading partner, arms supplier and diplomatic ally. But if the man on the street in Mandalay is anything to go by, it will be one ranging from mistrust to resentment to outright loathing, suggesting Beijing's much-vaunted "influence" over its pariah neighbor may be smaller than imagined.

      Even though the former Burma's second city is one of the few places where the economy appears to be going somewhere, thanks mainly to Chinese capital and enterprise, most locals feel they are on the wrong side of a deeply exploitative equation.

      "The Chinese give us plastic, and they take our teak and gems," one senior Buddhist monk in Sagaing, a town 20 km (12 miles) west of Mandalay, told Reuters. "They give us one thing, but then take two."

      Lu Maw, one of Mandalay's famed "Moustache Brothers" comedy trio, reflects the views of many when he says the city, now home to as many nondescript Chinese hotels as ancient Buddhist monasteries, should be renamed "Capital of Yunnan", China's nearest province.

      "I don't want to discriminate against the Chinese, but…" he says, before launching into a series of jokes accusing businessmen from southwest China of making millions selling heroin or doing dodgy deals with even dodgier Burmese generals.

      GENERAL XENOPHOBIA?

      Whether street-level xenophobia translates into official outlook and policy is, of course, a moot point, especially when it comes to reading the minds of Burma's military junta, one of the world's most closed regimes.

      The only clues are hearsay and anecdote, such as that of junta number two Maung Aye, who has spent much of his military career fighting Beijing-backed communists, ordering shop signs to be taken down if Chinese lettering appeared above the Burmese.

      But the question of anti-Chinese sentiment is an important one, given the West's almost total reliance on Beijing since September's anti-junta protests to coax the generals towards political and economic reform after 46 years of military rule.

      Beijing is also acutely aware of the issue as it tries to buy billions of dollars of Burma natural gas - gas that most of its 53 million people think should be used to address the chronic energy shortages that sat at the heart of last year's protests.

      An acquiescent and stable Burma is also strategically vital to Beijing's plans for an oil pipeline running from the Andaman Sea via Mandalay to Yunnan to mitigate China's reliance on crude shipments through the Strait of Malacca.

      "Our policy is to encourage Chinese companies to 'go out', whether it's to Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar [Burma] or wherever," Yunnan Communist Party chief Bai Enpei told Reuters on the sidelines of China's annual parliament meeting this month.

      "Historically in Southeast Asia there has been a problem in places where there are a lot of ethnic Chinese. But relations are gradually getting better," he said.

      "We cannot just go in and earn other people's money, selling stuff and taking over projects. It must be win-win."

      KEPT IN DARK

      At the height of September's crackdown, Rangoon-based diplomats say China did indeed pull out all the stops to get United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari into the country.

      Beyond that, the amount of pressure Beijing can bring to bear on Burma's recalcitrant generals is open to question.

      China's curious admission last May that it had been kept in the dark about the junta's 2005 move to a new capital - and its distinctly unflattering account of the place - fuelled speculation that Beijing may not enjoy privileged access.

      Some diplomats also dispute the argument that the generals should or could use the Chinese Communist Party's establishment of a free market without ceding any political control as a blueprint for reform.

      "The ability of China to influence the junta is way overplayed," one Rangoon-based diplomat said. "People say they should get the generals to 'do a China or a Vietnam' and relax their grip over the economy without ceding any political power.

      "But they forget that it's the junta's stranglehold over every single money-making enterprise in the country which is their power," said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.

      "They control everything, right down to the number of cars imported each year." (Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing)


      Veteran journalist calls for people power to oust regime - Violet Cho
      Irrawaddy: Wed 12 Mar 2008

      Less than a week after an unsuccessful visit to Burma by UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari, one of the country's most respected journalists has made an extraordinary appeal for a "people power" uprising to end the ruling regime's stranglehold on power.

      In a recorded message addressed to Burmese both inside and outside the country, Ludu Sein Win, a prominent journalist and former political prisoner, said that he believed that force was the only way to end more than four decades of military rule.

      "In the entire history of the world, there has never been a dictator who willingly gave up power once he had it firmly in his hands," he said in his message, recorded in the former capital, Rangoon.

      "And there are no countries in the world which have gained liberation though the help of the United Nations," he added, in apparent reference to the failed efforts of the UN special envoy, who left the country on Monday after being chastised by the ruling generals for "bias" in favor of the democratic opposition.

      Describing the deepening political, social and economic crisis facing the country, the sixty-eight-year-old veteran journalist warned the Burmese people that it was futile to pin their hopes for a better future on the diplomatic efforts of the international community.

      "Don't waste your time dreaming about dialogue and considering help from the UN Security Council," he said. "We already have the power to force out the military dictatorship. That power is the force and strength of every Burmese citizen."

      In the wake of last September's monk-led protests, which attracted worldwide attention, the time is right to launch a renewed effort to overthrow military rule, the veteran journalist insisted.

      Ludu Sein Win has experienced more than his fair share of trouble at the hands of the country's ruling dictators.

      He began his distinguished career as a young reporter for the Mandalay-based left-wing newspaper, Ludu ("The People"), launched in 1946. As the publication's Rangoon bureau chief, he was arrested at the age of 27 and sentenced without trial to 13 years in prison, during which he was tortured by the authorities. He then spent an additional two years confined on Coco Island, a penal colony located about 430 km southwest of Rangoon in the Indian Ocean.

      He is one of Burma's most outspoken advocates of independent media, and is the author of many books on the basic theory and ethics of journalism. He is also popular as a prolific writer of books on issues relating to young people.


      Rangoon division ordered to support Referendum - Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Wed 12 Mar 2008

      The Burmese regime is ordering local authorities in Rangoon to persuade residents to support the national referendum in May, according to informed sources in the former capital.

      Local authorities in Rangoon, such as the Township Peace and Development Council and the Ward Peace and Development Council, were officially asked earlier this week by the chairman of Rangoon Division Peace and Development Council, Brig-Gen Hla Htay Win, and Home Minister Maung Oo to lobby local residents to vote "Yes" at the national referendum, said the sources.

      However, it was unclear how and when the process to lobby residents would be implemented.

      Meanwhile, in Rangoon and Mandalay, pro-democracy activists, including monks, have recently launched an anti-referendum campaign, distributing leaflets criticizing the referendum and urging people to vote "No" in May, according to sources.

      Within the last two months, the authorities have issued temporary citizen identity cards to local residents in several townships in Rangoon and asked for their support in the upcoming referendum on the state's draft constitution.

      The temporary citizen identity cards have been issued in townships such as Hlaing Tharyar, North Dagon and Kyeemyindine in Rangoon.

      Burma's military government announced on February 9 that a national referendum would be held in May and multi-party elections in 2010.

      The regime also enacted a new law calling for up to three years imprisonment and 100,000 kyat (US $91) fines for offenders who distribute statements, posters or who make speeches against the referendum. The law also bans monks and nuns from voting.

      Meanwhile, Burmese authorities are campaigning residents in Kawthaung Province in southernmost Burma to vote "Yes" in May's national referendum, said local residents.

      The residents in Kawthaung said that local authorities and the Ministry of Immigration and Population have been compiling a list of voters - over 18 years old -  since early March and have been trying to persuade local residents to support the national referendum.

      Maung Tu, a resident in Kawthaung told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, "The authorities asked us to gather in their offices or schools and collected our names. They also asked us to vote 'Yes' in the referendum."

      According to Kawthaung residents, the authorities also told locals that they would only issue citizen cards to residents who vote 'Yes' in the referendum.

      Some residents have said that they would do what the authorities asked, because they want identity cards from the authorities, said Maung Tu.

      A woman in Kawthaung said, "I would vote 'Yes' in the national referendum if I were forcibly asked to by the authorities, because our daily survival is more important than anything else."

      She added that she expected many residents would follow the authorities' instructions even though they were unclear about the draft constitution and the voting system.

      Earlier this month, the Burmese authorities issued temporary citizen cards to ceasefire groups: the Kachin Independence Organization and its military wing, the Kachin Independence Army; the United Wa State Army; the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army; and the New Mon State Party, according to ceasefire sources.

      Residents in Mandalay, Myitkyina and Arakan State also reported that local authorities there were collecting family registration information.


      UN expert says unlawful arrests in Myanmar accelerating
      Agence France Presse: Wed 12 Mar 2008

      Some 1,850 political prisoners are behind bars as of January in Myanmar, as the government "accelerated" rather than stopped unlawful arrests, a United Nations report said Wednesday.

      "Rather than stop unlawful arrests, the government had accelerated them," according to the report by UN expert Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, which said that initial indications by Myanmar's military junta of a willingness to address human rights abuses has "disappeared."

      In the study to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, Pinheiro said he continues to get reports of arrests made in relation to massive anti-government demonstrations last year - even as a culture of impunity reigns in Myanmar.

      According to information received, at least 70 individuals were arrested, with some 62 still detained since his last visit to Myanmar in November, said Pinheiro, who is ending a seven-year mandate as special rapporteur.

      He also received allegations of abuse relating to the arrests, including death in custody and arrests without warrants, the study said.

      The government crackdown on last year's August-September demonstrations, combined with increased military deployment in some ethnic areas have helped open "new fronts in the patterns of human rights abuses," the report said.

      In economic and social sectors as well, there have been "marked signs of deterioration," said the study which also denounced "serious violations of medical neutrality."

      Moreover violations of ethnic minorities, including extrajudicial killings, attacks on civilians and forced displacement continue to be reported in the eastern Myanmar state of Kayin, it said.

      The report also described a culture of impunity as a key obstacle, with those perpetrating torture, forced labour, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers often going unpunished.

      Pinheiro's report is based on information from independent sources, since he has not been able to return to Myanmar for a follow-up mission since his five-day November visit.

      The rapporteur urged Myanmar's junta to rapidly release all physically vulnerable political prisoners, saying it would be seen "as a good-faith gesture that would help to pave the way to democratization and reconciliation."

      A separate report published by the US State Department Tuesday ranked Myanmar along with North Korea among the world's worst human rights violators.


      US say Burma's Human Rights record getting worse
      Associated Press: Wed 12 Mar 2008

      Burma's already bad human rights record got worse last year, the United States said Tuesday.

      The Burmese military government committed extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, rape and torture, the US State Department said in an annual report on human rights practices around the world.

      The report also said that Vietnam's crackdown on dissent has constrained civil society. In Thailand, the report said, the government was working to return to elected government after a 2006 coup and to investigate extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

      The report said that unlawful killings in the Philippines "by elements of the security services and political killings, including killings of journalists, by a variety of actors, continued to be a major problem."

      The government stepped up efforts to investigate cases, the report said, but "many went unsolved and unpunished. Concerns about impunity persisted."

      Burma's military-run government killed and arrested pro-democracy protesters in September, drawing international criticism.

      The report said that despite promises of dialogue, the government "did not honor its commitment to begin a genuine discussion with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups."

      Burma has been military-ruled since 1962. The current junta seized power in 1988 and refused to honor the results of a 1990 general election won by the opposition.


      ILO extends Myanmar forced labour deal for one year
      Agence France Presse: Wed 12 Mar 2008

      The International Labour Organisation said it will extend for 12 months a deal with Myanmar aimed at compensating victims of forced labour but urged the junta to do more to raise the deal's profile.

      The ILO reached a deal last year with Myanmar's secretive military regime, which staved off a threat to bring the organisation's concerns about forced labour before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

      In a report published late Tuesday on their website, the ILO said that overall, the trial period has shown an "improved working relationship between the government and the ILO".

      However, it said many people are still unaware of the deal, as details of the mechanism have yet to be translated and distributed into the local language.

      This lack of awareness is reflected in the small number of complaints lodged - over the 12 months ending February 25, only 74 cases were submitted, the ILO noted.

      Myanmar was hit by a wave of demonstrations last year, which were met with a bloody crackdown by the military junta.

      The ILO said that one legacy of the unrest was that "the general public is now undoubtedly more politically aware and more openly questioning restrictions of their rights."

      It noted that Minister of Labour U Aung Kyi also said that a proposed constitution which will be put to a referendum in May includes wording on both forced labour and freedom of association.

      "Following up a possible future constitutional commitment … would be a significant and concrete expression of the commitment of the authorities to abandoning the still prevalent use of forced labour throughout the country," said the ILO.

      Meanwhile, of the complaints on forced labour made during the 12 months, four perpetrators were prosecuted, and 11 military perpetrators reprimanded.

      "A large number of the complaints that had been lodged were related to what the government considered minor community work, and most of the cases related to the military concerned the recruitment of minors. On these, action had been taken promptly," said the ILO.

      Since November 2007, "11 young persons who had been the subject of underage recruitment complaints were discharged and returned to their families", it added.


      Burma's longest serving prisoner of conscience must be free - Zin Linn
      Asian Tribune: Wed 12 Mar 2008

      Do you remember the name of Burma's longest serving prisoner of conscience and prominent journalist?

      That famous imprisoned journalist is U Win Tin who has constantly refused to sign a confession promising to abandon his political career as a condition of his release. The 78-year-old journalist U Win Tin admitted to the hospital for second surgical treatment to a hernia in January, according to his close friends.

      The journalist was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, the World Association of Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom Award and Reporters Without Border/Foundation de France Prize for his efforts to defend and promote freedom of expression.

      Burma has been called "the world's largest prison for prisoners of conscience" and many political prisoners and journalists continue languishing in jail. Burma's longest serving prisoner of conscience, U Win Tin, turns 78 on 12 March 2008, one of the country's most established journalists as well as an executive member of the National League for Democracy (NLD). He has spent almost 19 years of his life in prison. He has spent one fourth of his life in prison. U Win Tin suffers from a serious heart condition and is being treated at the Rangoon general hospital where he is confined to a diminutive cubicle cell designed for political prisoners.

      Burma's most celebrated journalist, U Win Tin has been imprisoned since 4th July 1989 in a special cell of the infamous Insein Prison in Rangoon. U Win Tin is the former editor-in-chief of the Hanthawadi Daily, in Mandalay and vice-president of the Burmese Writers and Journalists Association. He was convicted and sentenced to three consecutive prison-terms to a total of 21 years in prison. One of the charges against him stems from his 1995 report on the conditions of prisoners and the human rights abuses inside prisons to Mr. Yozo Yokota, the then United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Situation of Human Rights in Burma..

      U Win Tin was also imprisoned because of his senior position as key consultant to Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD). He was thrown into jail for additional years because of attempting to inform the United Nations about human rights violations in prisons under the military rule. Military rulers also accused him of writing political commentaries and poems to be circulated among political prisoners in Insein Prison, where possession of writing materials was forbidden.

      The journalist told a friend who was allowed to visit him in 2007: "Two prison officers asked me at a special meeting last week whether I would resume political activities if I were released. I told them that I will definitely do so since it is my duty as a citizen to strive for democracy."

      In 1996, in the notorious Insein Prison, U Win Tin occasionally narrated to this author of his experiences with the military intelligence personnel. The military agents came to see U Win Tin from time to time. They took him to their office in the prison and questioned him on various topics. They frequently tried to persuade him to join the junta. But U Win Tin always cast off their offers.

      U Win Tin told me about an incident with the military intelligence staff. "It happened in 1991," he said. "They took me out of my cell to an exhibition - The Real Story under the Big Waves and Strong Winds - held at Envoy Hall on U Wizara Road in Rangoon. The aim of the exhibition was to deplore the 1988 uprising as a riot created by destructive elements and terrorists," said U Win Tin.

      One day, he told me that there was a big character poster at the doorway of the exhibition saying, "Only when the Tatmadaw [military] is strong, will the nation be strong." There were many galleries in the show. Each gallery highlighted the role of the army and emphasized that it was the sole force that could safeguard the country.

      The show also described the junta's discrimination against the role of the democratic institutions and societies. "Sovereign power is only deserved by the generals. That's the final conclusion," said U Win Tin.

      After witnessing the show, the junta's agents asked U Win Tin what he considered about the exhibition and inquired of his opinion and attitude toward the junta.

      They gave him some paper and a pen and told him to write down his opinion about the show. "I wrote down my criticism. I used 25 sheets of paper. It was a blunt comment. I made my commentary in a sense of sincerity and openness. But it irritated them severely," he told me later.

      First of all, he criticized the army's motto, "Only when the army is strong will the country be strong." "It's the logic of the generals to consolidate militarism in Burma," he explained to me later. 'Their logic tells us that they are more important than the people and they expose themselves as power mongers. That means they neglect the people caught in the poverty trap." Thus he wrote: "The slogan tells us that Burma is going against a policy of peace and prosperity." He went on to explain his understanding of the role of the army.

      He said, "The real thing is that the military comes out of the womb of the people. Thus, the slogan must be like this: 'The people are the only parents of the military.' Anyone who does not care about his own parents is a rogue," he pointed out to the generals.

      He also emphasized that if the generals really loved peace and wanted prosperity for the nation, they needed to sincerely reflect on their limitations. The generals might want what's best for the country, but they did not know how to handle the entire state of affairs. They are used to mismanagement. "Eventually, I came straight to the point: The army must go back to the barracks. That will make everything better in Burma," he told me plainly.

      The junta was very disgruntled with his criticism and accused him of advising Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to defy the junta. Then, they made another lawsuit against him. The junta increased U Win Tin's sentence by 10 more years. They put him alone in his cell. The cell was 8.5 x 11.5 feet. There was only a bamboo mat on the concrete floor. Sleeping, eating, walking and cleaning the bowels were done in the very same place. He could not see the sun, the moon or the stars. He was intentionally barred from breathing fresh air, tasting nourishing food and drinking a drop of fresh water. The worst thing was throwing the old writer into solitary confinement in such a cage for two decades. That might cause a person to have a nervous breakdown. There are many political prisoners who suffer from mental illness.

      He has been in a poor condition of health, exacerbated due to meager management in jail, which has included torture, inadequate access to medical treatment, being held in a cell without bedding, and being deprived of nourishing food and clean water for long periods of time.

      In 1994, US Congressman Bill Richardson met U Win Tin in Insein jail. Since that time he has continuously suffered from various health problems such as spondylitis, hernia, heart disease, failing eyesight, and urethritis, as well as piles. Most political prisoners were surprised how that gallant journalist was so tough even with so many health troubles. For the junta, U Win Tin is really a man of steel. Although they wish to defeat his sturdy spirit, they could never do it.

      Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights marks its 60th Anniversary, people of Burma have been still suffering various human rights violations under the cruel military regime for almost five decades. U Win Tin's case is a good example for one of the most inhumane human rights violations under undemocratic regime.

      The UDHR's article 1 says: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." But, U Win Tin cannot even enjoy its first item.

      The UDHR's article 5 says: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." But, U Win Tin has been suffering a variety of tortures and languishing 3 unjust punishments for almost 19 years.

      The UDHR's article 7 and 9 say respectively: "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination." (A.7)

      "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile." (A.9) However, the Burmese junta's arbitrary court sentenced unfair imprisonments toward U Win Tin in the absence of public including his lawyer.

      The UDHR's article 19 says: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." But, several journalists including U Win Tin in the military run country are taken into custody for their dissident opinions.

      According to Freedom House's 2008 report, Burma has no freedom at all for political rights and civil liberties together with other 42 countries in the world.

      Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International PEN, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans Frontieres) and Burma Media Association (BMA) has repeatedly urged the junta or State Peace and Democracy Council (SPDC) to immediately and unconditionally release U Win Tin.

      To materialize the essence of UDHR, the international civil societies and rights groups should help finding ways to release the Burma's longest serving prisoner of conscience as a test case. As for now, U Win Tin has to celebrate his 78th Birthday lonesome behind bars in the absence of his comrades, fellow-journalists, friends and people who admired the saintly journalist.


      Junta rejects UN proposal for observers at referendum

      Junta Saturday refused to accept foreign observers at a referendum set for May, further dimming any hopes for reforms to bring democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi into their elections plans.

      The rejection came just hours after UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari was allowed a rare meeting with the detained Nobel peace prize winner and top leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

      Throughout Gambari's visit, the military has rebuffed international pressure to bring Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD into its election plans, while casting an accusing eye at UN efforts to mediate a dialogue between the two sides.

      Gambari offered UN technical assistance and help with facilitating observers at the planned referendum when he met Friday with members of the commission tasked with organising the vote, according to state television.

      Thaung Nyung, a member of the commission, rejected the offer, saying the referendum was a domestic affair.

      "We have enough experience, but we take note of your offer," Thaung Nyung said, according to state television late Saturday.

      "Holding the referendum on the constitution is within the country's sovereignty," he said. "For internal affairs in the past, we have never had observers from outside."

      The commission answered few of Gambari's questions about the referendum and declined to give an exact date for the balloting, saying only that it would take place on a single day, state television reported.

      The information minister, Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, told Gambari on Friday that the junta would not make any changes to the constitution going into the referendum, and then accused the envoy of bias in favour of Aung San Suu Kyi.

      State media gave no details of Gambari's talks with the democracy leader, but broadcast images of their meeting. She dressed in a traditional red longyi, and appeared serious in their conversations.

      Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest, and is allowed little contact with the outside world. Her image, and even her name, rarely appears in official media.

      The military surprised the world by announcing its election timeline one month ago, announcing the referendum which it says will pave the way for multiparty elections in 2010.

      A new law governing the referendum also sharply limits her party's ability to campaign by criminalising public speeches and leaflets about the vote.

      Western countries have decried Burma's vote plans for failing to include the NLD. On Saturday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown demanded that Aung Suu Kyi be released and allowed to run for office.

      Brown hailed her meeting with Gambari, but said: "But what we want is that she is freed from house arrest for good, and all those political prisoners are released and she is allowed to stand in democratic elections in Burma where, after all, some years ago, she was elected to be leader of the country."

      Gambari arrived here Thursday on a mission to press the regime to open up the voting process.

      He began trying to open a dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime following the violent crackdown in September on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks, which left at least 31 dead, according to the United Nations.

      But Kyaw Hsan accused him of bias in favour of Aung San Suu Kyi, blasting him for releasing a letter from her after his last visit here in November.

      "Sadly, you went beyond your mandate. Hence, the majority of people are criticising it as a biased act," Kyaw Hsan said in the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

      "Some even believe that you prepared the statement in advance and released it after coordinating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi."

      The comments cast further doubt on how much Gambari's mission could achieve, especially when the junta's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, has shown no willingness to meet with him.


      Ministry of Education running fake diploma mill
      Kaowao: March 2, 2008

      For a small fee, the Ministry of Education, Myanmar Examination Board is handing out illegal recommendation marks obtained in matriculation examination for university graduates.

      According to a Burmese student who studies in Thailand , "Any student who wishes to study abroad but who was unsuccessful in the matriculation examination could obtain the tenth standard official document and other various kinds of recommendations from the examination board through brokers."

      He claimed, "A certificate for tenth standard recommendation is 50,000 or 60,000 kyat, a university degree goes for 100,000 kyat through a broker. Moreover we could buy subjects, at least 3, written into the certificate."

      Daw May Nyein, a retired Burmese Lecturer at a Burma University commented, "The youth lack many opportunities, they have no access to education, no training opportunities and they have no chance at receiving high quality education, so I have proposed to the Burmese authorities to take responsibility in solving this ongoing fabrication of certificates and degree and apply justice as soon as possible."

      She continued on by saying that young people from Burma have no exit. In time they discover the only way out is to go overseas and they don't really care whether it's legal or illegal. In reality this is not good but their lives inside Burma are very restricted from having no opportunities, no economic prospects, no training whatsoever. The government must do something fast and do it with justice and fairness.

      A student with fabricated documents from a broker told a Kaowao reporter, "Only the Myanmar Examination Board has the power to produce fake matriculation certificates however we now can get it from a dealer costing 60,000 kyat. This document is for used obtaining immigration benefits for leaving the country." He admitted that some of his friends hold fake certificates and now attend university.

      A foreign service agent; however, (overseas broker) claimed that these recommendations are not fake, they help the student to study abroad and it costs approximately between 60,000 and 100,000 kyat in Burma.

      A broker from Rangoon explained, "This recommendation includes a red symbol stamp after an agreement from the Myanmar Examination Board minister and chairman for Non- Migrant Worker ED (Education)." He added, "Except photo, one needs nothing we can do everything. A red symbol and other stamps are real but in an illegal way."

      Ko Soe Naing who is studying at a Thailand university complained about Burma 's education system saying, "how terrible the system is and that corruption is hindering the education of young people."


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