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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 17/3/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Thailand to tell other countries Burma s message 2.. Singapore says immense patience needed in dealing with Burma 3.. Burma activists launch vote no
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 17, 2008
      1. Thailand to tell other countries Burma's message
      2. Singapore says "immense patience" needed in dealing with Burma
      3. Burma activists launch "vote no" referendum campaign
      4. NLD calls for constitution to be made public
      5. NCUB urges people to vote No in referendum
      6. The 88 Generation Students in Burma say "VOTE NO"
      7. Noppadon rejects sanctions, Burmese to ‘vote no'
      8. Myanmar's courts stretch laws
      9. Burma sanctions don't work
      10. Ban the Dam, say activists
      11. China arms Myanmar military
      12. Crackdown fallout hits Myanmar tourism hard
      13. Don't blame Gambari!
      14. Outgoing UN rights expert on Myanmar says government has OK'd visit
      15. Disappearance of Army Chief of the New Mon State Party
      16. Junta forces villagers to plant teak
      17. Junta-back militia group employs locals without wages
      18. Monastery set ablaze after bulldozing

      Thailand to tell other countries Burma's message : PM
      The Nation: 17/3/08

      Burma agreed to re-open talk on purchase of gas from Burma : Samak

      Burma has briefed Thailand about its restoration process of democracy and Thailand will further brief other countries interested including European countries, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said Saturday.

      He will inform other countries the information he obtained from Burma when he attended the UN General Assembly in New York this September, Samak said.

      He did not elaborate about the information Burma briefed him.

      Samak made an official visit to Burma on Friday as an introductory trip as a new prime minister of Thailand. During the one-day visit, Samak met Burma's super boss; Gen Than Shwe and Prime Minister Thein Sein.

      Moreover, Burma has agreed to re-open talk again with Thailand on the purchase of gas from its block M9 in Yadana gas field in the Gulf of Mataban.

      "Myanmar government said it is willing to talk about our offer to buy gas from block M9. Both officials will meet and arrange purchase agreement soon," Samak told reporters.

      This showed that Burma is willing to resume gas purchasing negotiation with Thailand after long delay.

      Thailand's PTT has proposed to buy natural gas from block M9 in the Gulf of Mataban since the government of Thaksin Shinawatra but the negotiation delay due to differences of price offers and political difficulty of both countries.

      Samak also said both countries has agreed to build a land link to connect deep sea ports.

      Samak said his visit to Burma Friday was successful and the two countries agreed to build a land link for their deep sea ports.

      the land link will connect Thailand's Laem Chabang deep sea port with a deep sea port being constructed in Burma's Tavoy to facilitate shipping between the Indian and Pacific oceans.

      Singapore says "immense patience" needed in dealing with Burma
      The Nation: March 17, 2008

      Singapore - Authorities in Burma missed an opportunity to engage UN special envoy Ibraham Gambari more substantially, but his visit last week was not a failure, a spokesman for Singapore's Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

      Gambari's mission "is a very difficult one," the spokesman said in a statement. "The Myanmar issue is complex and demands immense patience and sustained effort."

      Singapore and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) will continue to strongly support him, the spokesman said. ASEAN groups Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma.

      Singapore currently holds the ASEAN chairmanship.

      The spokesman urged the international community to keep giving Gambari the support that he needs.

      Gambari made his third trip to Burma since last year's bloody crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests.

      The military government rejected a UN offer of observers for May's constitutional referendum and 2010 elections.

      Noting that Gambari did speak to a wide range of people, the spokesman said, "These are positive developments."

      He mentioned several Burmese ministers; the Commission on Holding the Referendum; the Committee on Drafting the Constitution, and the National League for Democracy. Gambari also met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi twice.

      She led the National League for Democracy to victory in 1990 elections, a result that was never recognized by the regime.

      "Much needs to be done to ensure an inclusive political process," the spokesman said. "We urge the Myanmar authorities to reconsider their position.

      "Whatever the difficulties, Gambari remains the best prospect for moving the political process forward," he noted. "His continued engagement with the Myanmar authorities is therefore necessary if there is to be progress in the process of national reconciliation in Myanmar."

      Burma is under US and European sanctions which were tightened after the crackdown on protests last September.

      Burma activists launch "vote no" referendum campaign
      The Nation: 14/3/08

      Rangoon - Burma pro-democracy activists on Friday launched a "vote no" campaign, urging the population to reject the military-drafted constitution in a referendum planned in May.

      A statement issued by The 88 Generation Students urged Buddhist monks, students and the people to vote against the constitution in the referendum planned for a still undisclosed date in May on the grounds that the country's new charter was drafted without public participation and will perpetuate military rule in the country.

      "This constitution is designed to protect and promote the interests, wealth and security of generals and their cronies," said the statement. "This constitution will allow the military dictatorship to perpetuate in Burma."

      The 88 Generation Students comprises pro-democracy activists whose political careers started in the 1988 anti-military demonstrations, that ended in an army crackdown that left an estimated 3,000 people dead.

      Many of the group's leaders, who were also linked to the more recent anti-government demonstrations that rocked Rangoon last September, are now in jail.

      Burma's ruling junta has pledged to hold a referendum to seek public approval for a draft constitution that will then pave the way for a general election sometime in 2010.

      The military-appointed national convention set up by the regime to draft the constitution - a process that took 14 years - has been judged a "sham" by many international observers.

      It is widely believed that the referendum will be similarly shambolic, as the regime can control a large portion of the population through threats and rewards.

      "There is no clear indication of what the junta will do if the majority of the voters reject the constitution. The junta is apparently planning to win anyhow," noted The 88 Generation Students statement.

      United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who was in Burma last week, requested that the regime allow for international monitors to observe the referendum process and assure it is free and fair.

      His request was rejected.

      Since 1962, Burma has been ruled by a military regime that has earned itself one of the world's worst human rights records after two brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy movements in 1988 and last September. Thousands of political dissidents, including Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, have been arrested under their rule.

      The last general election held in Burma, also known as Burma, was in 1990. The National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by Suu Kyi won that election by a landslide, but they have been blocked from assuming power for the past 18 years on the military's argument that the country required a new constitution before civilian rule could occur.

      Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest in her Rangoon home.//dpa

      NLD calls for constitution to be made public - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), released a statement on Friday criticizing the junta's tactic of announcing a referendum on a draft Constitution while withholding details from the public, according to an NLD official.

      Nyan Win, a spokesperson for the NLD, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the statement, known as "3/03/08," was released to criticize the junta for scheduling a referendum for May while the draft Constitution is unavailable to the public.

      "The statement also says that the junta has issued two referendum laws as mandates for holding the referendum. But we have not seen any technical law that specifically outlines the referendum," said Nyan Win. "Therefore, the NLD calls on the junta to follow the steps in statement 3/03/08."

      He added that citizens must be able to read the draft of the Constitution in advance of the referendum—then people would know more about the Constitution and could decide which way to vote.

      The NLD released its "special statement" during a visit to Burma by the new Thai Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej and Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, who met junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe and Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein.

      Before leaving for Burma, the Thai foreign minister told reporters that Thailand opposes Western sanctions on neighboring Burma and is ready to help the military-run country hold a referendum on a new Constitution in May.

      "Thailand disagrees with sanctions," he said. "If Myanmar [Burma] wants assistance from Thailand, we are ready to offer help as a friendly country."

      Commenting on Samak's one-day visit to Burma, Nyan Win said that Thailand should not only focus on trade, because foreign relations not only depend on trade.

      NCUB urges people to vote No in referendum
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      The National Council of the Union of Burma, an umbrella organisation of exiled opposition groups, has called on the people of Burma to vote No in the constitutional referendum.

      The Burmese military regime plans to hold a referendum on its proposed constitution in May this year.

      Khun Myint Tun, a member of the NCUB secretariat, said pushing for a No vote was part of a strategy to oppose the regime's seven-step roadmap at every stage.

      "The NCUB's policy is to oppose the whole roadmap system of the SPDC government," he said.

      "We have to oppose it at every stage and this is the basis of our decision."

      Khun Myint Tun said that voting against the constitution would deny legitimacy to the government's efforts to push through their own agenda.

      "The SPDC is going to force the outcome they want from the referendum and they are going to accomplish that using various methods of deception," he said.

      "We are urging people to tackle them so that they cannot use loopholes to escape."

      Khun Myint Tun also called on members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association to vote against the constitution.

      "Among the USDA members, there are teachers, government employees, and many of them don't accept the government's referendum," he said.

      "They are certainly not in a position where they can refuse to vote in the national referendum. We would like to tell them to vote, no matter what - but vote No."

      Using a football analogy, Khun Myint Tun said it was the people inside Burma who could make a difference.

      "The [opposition] leaders inside the country are the strikers of the game. It is their decisions which are important," he said.

      The 88 Generation Students in Burma say "VOTE NO"
      The 88 Generation Students: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      Let's not be Slaves of the Military

      Vote "No" to the Sham Constitution

      An Appeal of "the 88 Generation Students" to the People of Burma

      All our revered Monks, students and the people of Burma,

      (1) We call for the people of Burma to reject the state constitution, written by the Burmese military junta, in the upcoming referendum decisively, because;

      (a) The peoples' representatives elected from the 1990 general elections were not allowed to participate in the constitution writing process.

      (b) This constitution is not based on real federal system and does not grantee the equality, self-determination and minority rights for all ethnic nationalities.

      (c) This constitution does not intend to build a democratic society and does not protect the interest and security of the people.

      (2) The Referendum is expected to be a sham and the junta's plan is to steal and abuse the real desire of the people. Here is how the junta has acted in writing the constitution and planning to approve it.

      (a) According to the announcement 1/90, the junta claimed that elected representatives are solely responsible for writing the constitution. However, in violation of their own law, the junta did not allow the elected representatives to participate in writing the constitution.

      (b) The basic and fundamental principles were illegally adopted by the junta-sponsored mass rallies, in which all the attendees were forced to participate.

      (c) The national convention was just for show to approve these principles written in advance by the junta. Submissions by ethnic cease-fire groups were ignored.

      (d) The junta's order 5/96 threatens to punish with 20 years imprisonment the people who criticize the national convention and the constitution.

      (e) Freedom of expression and media are severely restricted.

      (f) The Commission for Holding Referendum was formed with the junta's handpicked persons and those whom people can trust are not included. The Referendum Law, issued on Feb 28, 2008, is also not in line with international and ASEAN standards. There is no clear indication of what the junta will do if the majority of the voters reject the constitution. The junta is apparently planning to win anyhow.

      (g) Thousands of democracy activists, including Buddhist Monks, Nuns, students, ethnic youths and our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, are still incarcerated.

      (3) This constitution is designed to protect and promote the interests, wealth and security of Generals and their cronies. Ordinary soldiers, who are actually sons and daughter of the people, would become an elite class, and will have more privileges than ordinary citizens, who are the root of them. This constitution will allow the military dictatorship to perpetuate in Burma.

      (4) What will happen if this constitution is approved?

      The people of Burma will be abused and oppressed more by the Generals, their families and their cronies. They will also monopolize the state economy and they will have a "License to Oppress".

      The people of Burma will become slaves of the military for generations.

      (5) Let us transform the junta's sham national referendum into the "National Show of Peoples' Desire". We will prevent the country from falling into the depths with the junta's one-sided roadmap. "People Power" will prevail.

      (6) How will the people vote?

      People, who are eligible to vote, should go to polling stations and put "No" votes in the ballot boxes. You do not need to be afraid. The authorities have no right to arrest you for voting "AGAINST" this constitution. You are entitled to use your vote freely. By voting "AGAINST" this constitution, let us show the enormous power of the people. If you fail to do so, you will be afraid of the military for the rest of your life and of your next generations.

      (7) If the junta tries to claim that this constitution is approved, despite a majority of voters voting against it, we will continue our fight with various levels of peaceful acts. After the previous dictator Ne Win approved the one-party system constitution in 1974, there were mass protests in 1974, 1975 and 1976. In 1988, under the deluge of mass demonstration in August, the 1974 constitution was abolished. The history of our country has already proved that any constitution, which does not reflect the desire of the people, would not last long and is no more than a piece of paper.

      (8) Let us be responsible for what we, each and every one of us, need to do. Our united action will frighten the Generals. They will come to realize that we are not puppets, which they can crush as they wish. This will be a way for us to be free from all the crises we face.

      We will pave the way to freedom by ourselves.

      All the people have the right to draw the roadmap for the people.

      With our "No" votes, we will clean the blood and dirt stained on the bodies of our revered Monks by the soldiers.

      The 88 Generation Students
      Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma)
      Statement 5/2008 (88)

      Noppadon rejects sanctions, Burmese to ‘vote no'
      Bangkok Post: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      Thailand opposes the western sanctions on neighbouring Burma and will help to prop the Burmese military junta's planned constitutional referendum in May, Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said on Friday.

      "Thailand disagrees with sanctions," said Mr Noppadon before he took off with Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej for a quick, official visit to Burma.

      Mr Noppadon's statement put the Thai government firmly against Burmese activists who announced a "Vote No" campaign for the referendum.

      "This constitution is designed to protect and promote the interests, wealth and security of generals and their cronies," said a statement issued by The 88 Generation Students. "This constitution will allow the military dictatorship to perpetuate in Burma."

      The US and Europe have put heavy sanctions on Burma, and tightened them after the junta killed at least 31 people and tortured monks to suppress a peaceful pro-democracy protest last September.

      Mr Noppadon said Thailand wanted negotiations instead of sanctions. He claimed without a shred of evidence that talks with the dictators "could lead to positive developments in the country," where the military has ruled since 1962.

      "If Myanmar wants assistance from Thailand (for the referendum), we are ready to offer help as a friendly country," Noppadon said, using the junta's official name for Burma.

      However, the generals are likely to slap down any Thai offer to help. Last week, the generals brusquely refused UN technical assistance and foreign observers, saying Burma doesn't need any foreigners to help.

      The best-known political leader in the country, Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from all political activity because she was once married to a foreigner, the late Briton Michael Aris.

      The military-appointed national convention set up by the regime to draft the constitution - a process that took 14 years - has been judged a "sham" by many international observers.

      It is widely believed that the referendum will be similarly shambolic, as the regime can control a large portion of the population through threats and rewards.

      "There is no clear indication of what the junta will do if the majority of the voters reject the constitution. The junta is apparently planning to win anyhow," noted The 88 Generation Students statement.

      Myanmar's courts stretch laws - Ed Cropley
      Reuters: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      Not many people know that the law in military-ruled Myanmar enshrines the individual's right to criticise the government.

      The only problem is, mention Section 124A of the penal code in your defence in court and you are likely to be arrested, lawyers who have suffered that very fate say.

      It is just one of the many absurdities in the former Burma's court system being taken up by a small but growing number of activist lawyers in the wake of last September's monk-led pro-democracy protests.

      "The monks have played their role, the actors and celebrities have played their role, and now we're playing ours," said one of the lawyers in Yangon.

      By their own admission, the role of defence attorney is limited in a country that has been under military rule for 46 years and which held 1,100 political prisoners, according to the United Nations, even before last year's mass arrests.

      In another contravention of rights accorded to ordinary criminal suspects, lawyers for political prisoners cannot plead guilt or innocence before the court and cannot challenge any issue of law, the lawyers said.

      Judgements are often handed down the same day by civilian magistrates who are "just following orders", another of the lawyers said, of a junta which appears to have inherited an obsession with rules and regulations from British colonial times.

      Lawyers are also denied access to their clients in prison, meaning the only time they can see them is in the courtroom itself during a hearing.

      Burma sanctions don't work - Brahma Chellaney
      The Japan Times: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      Burma today ranks as one of the world's most isolated and sanctioned nations - a situation unlikely to be changed by its ruling junta scheduling a May referendum on a draft constitution and facilitating U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari's third visit in six months.

      The referendum and planned 2010 national elections are part of a touted road map to democracy. But the iconic opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, may not be able to contest because the still-undisclosed, military-drawn constitution - in the making for 15 years - is likely to bar anyone who married a foreigner.

      Burma is an important state. This is not a Bhutan or a Brunei but Southeast Asia's largest country. It is a resource-rich nation that can become an economic powerhouse if it can remedy its poisoned politics and ethnic divides and dispel international sanctions. And it is a land bridge between South and Southeast Asia. Such is its vantage location that Burma forms the strategic nucleus for India, China and Southeast Asia.

      The military has run Burma, once the world's leading rice exporter, for 46 long years. Indeed, Burma's present problems and impoverishment can be tracked back to the defining events of 1962, when General Ne Win deposed elected Prime Minister U Nu, one of the founders of the nonaligned movement.

      The callous Ne Win, a devotee of Marx and Stalin, virtually sealed off Burma, banning most external trade and investment, nationalizing companies, halting foreign projects and tourism, and kicking out the Indian business community.

      It was not until nearly three decades later that a new generation of military leaders, motivated by Deng Xiaoping's modernization program in China, attempted to ease Burma's international isolation through tentative economic reforms without loosening political controls. Such attempts came much after the military's brutal suppression of the 1988 student-led protests that left several thousand dead or injured - a bloodbath that coincided with the numerology-devoted Ne Win's announcement of retirement on the "most auspicious" day of Aug. 8, 1988 (8.8.88).

      While Western aid cutoffs and other penal actions began no sooner than the Burmese junta refused to honor the outcome of the 1990 elections, won by the detained Suu Kyi's party, Burma became a key target of U.S. sanctions policy only in the Bush years.

      The new missionary zeal in the U.S. approach, reflected in the 2003 Burma Freedom and Democracy Act banning all imports from that country and several subsequent punitive executive orders, has occurred because of the White House president's wife. Laura Bush's Burma fixation has put the policy establishment in a bind: The more the United States seeks to punish the regime, the more it undercuts its ability to promote political reforms in Burma, and the more its actions threaten to disrupt the lives of ordinary Burmese.

      As then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Daley told Congress in late 2003, many garment workers made jobless by U.S. sanctions "have entered the flourishing illegal sex and entertainment industries" in Burma or neighboring states.

      While prohibiting new investment by American citizens or entities, Washington has protected the business interests of Chevron Corp., which acquired a stake in the Yadana natural-gas export project in Burma when it bought Unocal Corp. in 2005. Because Unocal's investment in the project, in which France's Total SA holds the biggest stake, predated the imposition of U.S. sanctions, Chevron has used a grandfather clause to stay put in Burma - one of the few large Western companies left there.

      The junta, through its remarkable shortsightedness, has only aided Laura Bush's activism. Its crackdown last September on monk-led protests - which, according to a U.N. special rapporteur's report, left at least 31 dead - invited a new round of U.S.-inspired international sanctions. The regime not only continues to detain Suu Kyi, now 62, but also has isolated itself from the public by moving the national capital to remote Nay Pyi Taw, located between Rangoon and Mandalay.

      The big losers have been Burma's 58 million people, bearing the brunt of the sanctions, while the only winner is China, a friend of every pariah regime.

      Democracy offers the only path to bringing enduring stability to diverse Burma. Genuine participatory processes are necessary to promote ethnic reconciliation in a country that has been at war with itself since its 1948 independence. While the ethnic Burmans, of Tibetan stock, constitute the majority, the non-Burman nationalities (including the Shan and the largely Christian Karen, the first to take up arms) make up one-third of the population.

      The oversize Burmese military fancies itself as the builder of a united Burma. Given that ethnic warfare began no sooner than Japanese-trained General Aung San (Suu Kyi's father) persuaded the smaller nationalities to join the union, the military has used the threat of Balkanization to justify its hold on politics.

      It trumpets its successes between the late 1980s and early 1990s in crushing a four-decade-long communist insurgency and concluding ceasefire agreements with other underground groups, with just a few outfits left in active resistance. The period since has been viewed by the military as a time to begin state-building, while to the opposition it has been an unending phase of political repression.

      Given Burma's potent mix of ethnicity, religion and culture, democracy can serve as a unifying and integrating force, as in India. After all, Burma cannot be indefinitely held together through brute might. But make no mistake: The seeds of democracy will not take root in a stunted economy, battered by widening Western sanctions.

      The junta restored the traditional name Myanmar for nationalistic reasons as a break from the colonial past. But Myanmar, meaning the Burman land, carries an ethnic connotation, and Suu Kyi's party continues to use the name Burma. A name change ought to have the imprimatur of an elected government citing a national consensus in favor.

      Sanctions have sent Burmese society into a downward spiral of poverty and discontent while strengthening the military's political grip. Today, under the cumulative weight of sanctions, Burma has come full circle: Its 74-year-old senior general, the ailing and delusional Than Shwe, an astrology aficionado, has amassed powers to run a virtual one-man dictatorship in Ne Win-style.

      Burma illustrates that sanctions can hurt those they are supposed to protect, especially when they are enforced for long and shut out engagement.

      Such is Laura Bush's ability not only to influence U.S. policy but also to orchestrate an international campaign in which she announced Dec. 10 that "India, one of Burma's closest trading partners, has stopped selling arms to the junta."

      New Delhi has neither confirmed or denied that. Who can contradict a first lady whose fury on Burma reputedly flows from a meeting with a Karen rape victim and information from a relative with an erstwhile connection to that country?

      If the Burmese are to win political freedoms, they need to be first freed from sanctions that rob them of jobs, cripple their economic well-being and retard civil-society development. It is a growing civil society that usually sounds the death knell of a dictatorship.

      Years of sanctions have left Burma bereft of an entrepreneurial class but saddled with the military as the only functioning institution - to the extent that the spokesperson for Suu Kyi's party admits the military will have an important role to play in any future government.

      To avert looming humanitarian catastrophes, the same international standard applicable to autocratic, no-less-ruthless regimes in next-door China, Bangladesh and Laos should apply to Burma - engage, don't isolate.

      * Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, is the author, most recently, of "Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan."

      Ban the Dam, say activists - Violet Cho
      Irrawaddy: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      Ethnic Karen people living along Burma's Salween River gathered today in colorful traditional dress to pray to the spirits of the river and the land around it for protection against the planned construction of a dam which threatens to devastate the area's fragile ecosystem.

      Over 250 villagers from 18 villages in the area affected by the planned Hut Gyi Dam took part in the ceremony, which was organized to show respect for the river and to express opposition to the project.

      They were joined by Burmese opposition politicians, environmentalists and student activists, who also called on Indian, Thai and Chinese companies to end their join-venture projects with Burma's military regime to construct dams on every major river in the country.

      Thay Law, coordinator of the Burma River Network (BRN), told The Irrawaddy on Friday that Burma's neighboring countries should stop investing in dam-building projects in the country. "International companies should not build dams there because the Burmese government does not have effective environment impact assessment, public participation in decision-making or equitable benefit sharing," he said.

      Several organizations campaigning against dams in Burma held events today to mark the International Day of Action for Rivers (also called "Anti-Dams Day"). They used the occasion to point out the various impacts and consequences of dams.

      According to a joint statement released by BRN and the Kuki Students Democratic Front (KSDF), dam projects are causing large-scale displacement, militarization, human rights abuses and irreversible environmental damage affecting the livelihoods and food security of millions of people.

      The statement also pointed to negative consequences for "the rich biodiversity and ecological balance in the region due to the dramatic changes in riverbeds."

      Chinese companies have been involved in the construction of 25 massive dams on the Irrawaddy, Salween, and Sittaung Rivers and their tributaries. The dams will produce an estimated capacity of 30,000 megawatts and cost a total of more than $30 billion to construct.

      The Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG), based in Mae Hong Song, has urged China to reconsider its investments, which the group says create problems for Burmese people.

      In a statement issued today, the group claimed that since Chinese investors started construction on Karenni State's third power plant, there have been cases of forced labor in affected areas, including cases involving eight Karenni villagers who were injured by landmines when they were clearing land around the two Lawpita hydropower plants near Loikaw.

      "The Lawpita hydropower projects have turned our farms into minefields. On this International Day of Action for Rivers, we urge China to consider the human costs of investing in such projects," said Moe Moe Aung of KDRG.

      Burma's military regime has shown a strong interest in nationwide dam-building projects, as most of the electricity generated by the dam projects can be exported to neighboring countries, providing the junta with a long-term source of income.

      Chinese and Thai companies are planning to build five dams along the Salween River in Burma, which will be permanently change Southeast Asia's longest un-dammed river and impact indigenous communities, including the Karen, Karenni and Mon people.

      However, BRN's Thay Law expressed his deepest concerns over dams on the Irrawaddy River. "Based on the loss of sediment, sudden water releases and salt water intrusion, millions of people living along the Irrawaddy River, especially in the delta regions, will be badly affected by dams," he said.

      Burma's military regime has plans to build seven hydropower projects on the Irrawaddy River. The largest, the Myitsone mega-project, would produce more than 3,600 MW, according to the state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar.

      The fifth most heavily silted river in the world, the Irrawaddy River flows through the country's heartland, passing the country's second largest city, Mandalay. It has been Burma's most important commercial waterway throughout the country's history.

      The delta of the Irrawaddy consists of a large and fertile plain which provides nearly 60 percent of Burma's total rice production and supports more than three million people, according to a report by the All Kachin Student and Youth Union.

      There are many issues tied together, making it difficult to predict the exact impacts of damming the Irrawaddy River, but environmentalists say there are plausible models which can give some idea of the consequences of building the dams.

      One worst-case scenario would be an earthquake in a highly seismically active area in Kachin State or on the edge of the Shan Plateau. If this occurred, it could destroy a dam, unleashing devastation all the way down to the delta, according to Steve Green, a Thailand-based environmentalist.

      Another, less dramatic, scenario could be equally damaging, said Green.

      Once a dam is built, nutrient-rich sediment carried down from the forest will become trapped, leaving land that is flooded with nutrient-poor water unstable and infertile. Because of the lack of nutrients, people will be forced to depend more on chemical fertilizers, which is a big problem for people who depend on farming for their living.

      If the flow of fresh water decreases, it could lead to a rise in sea level, which would in turn result in climate change, he added.

      The Irrawaddy originates at a confluence of two rivers in Kachin State, both of which start in the southeastern Himalayas.

      The Irrawaddy is one of a the world's thirty high-priority rivers, supporting a high biodiversity and high vulnerability to future pressures, according to the United Nations Environment Program's World Conservation Monitoring Centre. The river is a dwelling place to 79 known fish species and several endemic bird areas in the basin.

      China arms Myanmar military - Andrei Chang
      UPI Energy: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      China has exported two 16 PA6 shipborne diesel engines to Myanmar to be fitted on its navy's indigenous patrol ships, a representative of the German MAN Diesel Co., which designed the original engines, has confirmed.

      The PLA navy's 054A missile frigate uses four 16 PA6 engines, produced by China under license from MAN Diesel. MAN Diesel was originally the SEMT Pielstick Co., under French ownership, but changed its name following restructuring last year.

      China's export of these engines will help Myanmar upgrade its patrol vessels. Since 1998, Myanmar has built three Sinmalaik-class patrol vessels, with help from China in the design and construction of the vessel hulls.

      The Sinmalaik-class patrol vessel has a full-load displacement of 1,000 tons and is not fitted with ship-to-ship missiles. The Myanmar navy apparently has plans to develop its own light-duty offshore patrol vessels with China's assistance, and China's provision of the 16 PA6 engines is likely related to this plan.

      Most of the major surface combatants of the Myanmar navy were supplied by China, so the navy resembles the PLA navy in many respects. It has acquired Chinese 40-kilometer-range C-801 ship-to-ship missiles along with 037-G high-speed missile patrol boats. The Myanmar navy altogether has four 037-G fast missile boats, which were all delivered between 1995 and 1997.

      China officially issued an export license for its new C-802A ship-to-ship missiles six months ago, intending to promote sales to South and Southeast Asian countries. The C-802A has a range of 180 kilometers and is a replacement for the earlier C-801 and C-802 SSMs.

      Not only the Myanmar navy but also its army and air force are equipped with massive Chinese military equipment. For the past 10 years, China has been the largest supplier of arms to the country. Japanese television news broadcast during last September's military crackdown on Buddhist monks showed Myanmar soldiers using Chinese-made Dongfeng trucks and even wearing Chinese helmets.

      The army has been equipped with more than 100 Chinese T-69-II main battle tanks and 55 new T-90 armored personnel carriers. A Google Earth satellite photo shows that at least two Chinese A5M attackers have been deployed in the northern city of Mandalay, which can be used for assaults on rebels in the northern part of the country.

      China sold more than 22 A5M attackers and at least 50 F-7 fighters to the Myanmar air force in 1991 and 1993. Satellite photos have also shown two Chinese-made Y-8 transporters at the Yangon airport. Also, 12 Chinese Lang Chang K-8 jet trainer aircraft have been sold to the country in the past seven years, the same type sold to the Sudanese air force.

      For its part, China is actively pursuing access to Myanmar's natural resources, especially its oil and natural gas. Last year China won a bid to extract natural gas from Myanmar's biggest offshore field, believed to hold as much as 7.7 trillion cubic feet of gas. The gas is to be delivered by a pipeline, yet to be constructed, via Mandalay to China's southern province of Yunnan.

      (Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)

      Crackdown fallout hits Myanmar tourism hard - Ed Cropley
      Reuters: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      Bagan, Myanmar - It may be awash with cultural splendors, topped off by the 1,000-year-old temples of Bagan, but a reviled military government has ensured Myanmar has never been flooded with foreign tourists.

      Six months after September's bloody crackdown on monk-led protests, that trickle of visitors - 350,000 in 2006 compared to 13 million in neighboring Thailand - has all but dried up.

      The former Burma's rigidly controlled domestic newspapers admit tourism almost halved in the three months after the crackdown, in which the United Nations says at least 31 people were killed.

      But in Bagan, a mystical plain studded with more than 4,000 temples and stupas on the banks of the mighty Irrawaddy River, hotel and restaurant operators say occupancy rates and takings are just 20-30 percent of the same time last year.

      Given that the unrest, and the shocking images of soldiers attacking monks and unarmed demonstrators, fell on the eve of the "cool season" - the traditional peak time for tourism - the decline is threatening many with ruin.

      "There are so few visitors at the moment," said tour guide Aung Myint with a shake of the head. "Many people are wondering how they will support their families during the low season. Now is when we're meant to be making all our money."

      Although it only took a few days for the junta to crush the biggest democracy protests in 19 years, pictures, including the shooting of a Japanese journalist, reinforced the image of the former British colony as an unstable, hostile place.

      Besides a growing number of Russian tour groups, the only visitors who appear to have shrugged off scruples or the perception of risk are German.

      "I don't know why but most of the tourists now are Germans," said Aung Thein Myint, owner of a swish open-air restaurant on the banks of the Irrawaddy, where takings in October and November were down by 80 percent.

      "They seem to think that until they start shooting Germans, it's still safe to visit," he said.


      In typically uncompromising tone, the junta - the latest face of 46 years of unbroken military rule - blames the decline on the foreign media and dissidents who smuggled out pictures and reports of atrocities on the Internet.

      "Some foreigners attempted to tarnish the image of Myanmar by posting in the Web sites the photos of the protest walks," Deputy Tourism Minister Aye Myint Kyu, a brigadier-general, wrote in state-run papers in January under a widely known pseudonym.

      However, in one sense he is right: coverage of the crisis put the oft-forgotten southeast Asian nation firmly in the world spotlight and bolstered the cries of many anti-government organizations telling potential visitors to stay away.

      Under the slogan "The cost of a holiday could be someone's life", groups such as the Burma Campaign UK argue that every tourist dollar props up a regime that uses forced labor, child soldiers and systematic rape of ethnic minority women - allegations the junta denies.

      Boycott campaigners also say that the jobs of people working in tourism are an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of the wider effort to overthrow the generals.

      "The tourism industry in Burma is tiny. The vast majority of people will never see a tourist in their life," said Anna Roberts of the Burma Campaign UK.


      Even though the call for a boycott came from detained Nobel peace laureate and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, it is not without its critics.

      In particular, detractors argue it is an empty gesture since the cash gleaned directly and indirectly from tourism is a tiny fraction of that from gems and natural gas, which made the generals more than $2 billion in sales to Thailand alone in 2007.

      They also say it pushes them further into the isolation on which they appear to thrive.

      "The boycott is totally pointless," said Ton Schoonderwoerd, an independent Dutch tourist watching the sun rise above Bagan's temples, the product of 230 years of building by Buddhist kings that came to an abrupt end with a Mongol invasion in 1287.

      "It may seem good to politicians in the U.S. and Europe, but out here it just means that people struggle even more to make ends meet," he said.

      Rather than coming down on either side of what is a passionate debate, backpacker bible Lonely Planet chooses simply to outline the pros and cons of visiting, and urges those who do to avoid government-run hotels and airlines.

      (Editing by Michael Battye and Megan Goldin)

      Don't blame Gambari! - Nehginpao Kipgen
      Irrawaddy: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      Ibrahim Gambari, a seasoned Nigerian diplomat who has been tasked with coordinating the United Nations' efforts to end the political impasse in Burma, wrapped up his latest visit to the country on March 10. The outcome of his mission, which ended without any improvement in the situation, was about as good as could be expected.

      In the absence of a mandate from the UN Security Council, there was little chance that the special envoy could achieve anything concrete. When the Security Council refused to pass a resolution on Burma on January 12, it effectively ensured that Gambari's efforts would become an exercise in futility.

      Prior to his visit to Burma, the UN special envoy headed to neighboring countries to build some sort of consensus. As anticipated by many, including Burmese opposition groups and members of the United Nations, nothing has come of Gambari's travels around the region.

      Gambari was reportedly encouraged when the countries he visited paid lip service to the need for real improvement in Burma. But in the end, all he received were words without concrete commitments. China remains as determined as ever to expand its influence in the country for its own purposes, while India is still primarily concerned with countering Beijing's growing clout.

      The game being played by China and India is not about national security or ideology; they are not interested in spreading communism or democracy. The driving force behind the Burma policies of the two countries is economic interest.

      Despite the shortcomings of UN efforts to date, however, we should acknowledge, with reservations, the good offices of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his efforts to bring about some resolution of Burma's longstanding conflicts. Although substantive results have yet to be borne, the first meeting of the 14-nation "Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar" was convened on December 19, 2007.

      There are two possible ways to end Burma's current situation: through international intervention or by a popular uprising (supported by disgruntled military personnel). Although it may be naïve to even consider it, the swiftest way to bring change would be by military intervention, either by the United States or by the United Nations.

      So far, the regime has easily withstood pressure from the international community, which has yet to make a truly concerted effort to address the situation in Burma. Change from within the country is also unlikely to emerge without the support of elements within the military that has run the country since 1962.

      Meanwhile, the regime continues to push a constitution that is deeply flawed and clearly undemocratic. Under the military-drafted constitution, 25% seats will be reserved for the military, which will also reserve the right to declare "emergency rule" at will.

      Gambari has become more of a negotiator than a mediator. A suggestion he put forward during his latest visit—allowing independent observers to monitor and provide technical assistance during the May referendum on the constitution—was rejected outright by the regime. This indicates that the military is not prepared to accept the role of the United Nations.

      The generals in Burma may one day regret that they did not listen to Gambari when they had a chance. If the regime had accepted his proposal, it would have muted criticism of the referendum and given greater legitimacy to the entire road map process.

      On the other hand, international acceptance of the regime's political process would lead to the marginalization of opposition groups. The result of the 1990 general elections would be officially nullified, and the military's draft constitution would be accepted as legitimate.

      But if a free and fair countrywide referendum were held in Burma today, it would in no uncertain terms reject the constitution. If the regime does succeed in forcing its constitution on an unwilling public, it will only mean that the country will be destined to repeat its unhappy history.

      Gambari gave it his best shot, but he was never given any bullets. Even if the UN secretary-general himself personally visited Burma, as many observers have said he should, it would not likely make a significant difference. The Burmese military has guns and resources, but Gambari and Ban Ki-moon only have rhetoric and no enforcement power from the UN Security Council to back it up.

      Don't blame Gambari for not achieving much. Blame China and Russia for exercising their veto powers to block a resolution on Burma!

      * Nehginpao Kipgen is the general secretary of the US-based Kuki International Forum and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004). He is also the editor of Kuki International Forum.

      Outgoing UN rights expert on Myanmar says government has OK'd visit
      Bangkok Post: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      The U.N. human rights investigator on Myanmar has been permitted to visit the Asian country, saying he was considering boarding a flight to Yangon on Saturday.

      Paulo Sergio Pinheiro had been denied a visa for several months.

      Pinheiro's mandate on Myanmar is due to end soon with the appointment of a successor by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

      But the Brazilian professor told journalists Friday in Geneva upon hearing the news of his visa that "If this means I am welcome, I will go of course."

      Pinheiro has strongly criticized Myanmar's military government for last year's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

      In a report last December, he challenged the government's account of how many people were killed when troops fired on protesters, saying the death toll was at least 31 and likely higher.

      Pinheiro said Friday that Yangon's assurances it is paving the way for free elections contrast with the reality on the ground.

      "There is a contradiction between what the government of Myanmar says it is doing, and what is really happening," he said, adding that the government is barring "excessive" numbers of people from taking part in planned elections, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

      "If you believe in gnomes, in trolls, in elves, you can believe in this process of democracy in Myanmar," Pinheiro said.

      He added that the U.N. rights council, in particular, and the international community, in general, risk damage to their credibility because Myanmar is ignoring external pressure to reform.

      Disappearance of Army Chief of the New Mon State Party
      Kaowao News Group: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      General Nai Aung Naing, the army chief of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), has disappeared after recently leaving for medical treatment in Rangoon, say Mon sources.

      In December 2006, Gen. Nai Aung Naing received permission from the NMSP in to obtain long-term treatment in Rangoon. But he disappeared after he checked in for medical care at Pang Hlaing health center in Rangoon, the former capital of Burma, said a source in the city.

      "Nai Aung Naing left from Three Pagodas Pass (Border Town) on the fourth of last month, and then from Than Phyu Zayat to Rangoon on February sixth. The party gave for him a pension of long-term health care first class. He disappeared after February sixth. We are still trying but cannot confirm where he is," Nai Ong Mangye, the NMSP spokesman, told Kaowao. A pension of first class health care is the highest available pension and gives Nai Aung Naing the chance to receive all expenditures for health care.

      Pamphlets opposing the upcoming referendum are being spread throughout Mon state, and now say that Nai Aung Naing was arrested by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The pamphlets ask for his release, in Mon and Burmese, and their publisher is unknown.

      Mon political analysts, however, mostly believe Nai Aung Naing is in willing contact with the SPDC, and may be negotiating disarmament.

      At the 6th Central Committee meeting held in at 2005, Gen. Nai Aung Naing became the army chief of the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), the NMSP' military wing. While he is seventy-six years old, he is renowned for his service as an excellent fighter who was wounded twice, once in the hip and once in the abdomen. He currently suffers from diabetes and a pain in the stomach.

      A rumor from Mergue (Myeik),Tennasserim, southern Burma, holds that Nai Ong Naing disappeared because he is attempting to contact the Monland Restoration Party, an armed Mon rebel group which does not currently recognize the 1995 NMSP-SPDC ceasefire.

      To clarify the NMSP position on the referendum, last month the Bureau of Special Operation from the SPDC met with NMSP officers at Three Pagodas Pass. On March ninth the NMSP released a statement opposing the referendum because of problems with the constitution and the fact that it was not drafted with input from a tripartite dialogue.

      Junta forces villagers to plant teak - Lieng Lern
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      Villagers are being forced by military authorities of Burmese junta to plant teak in Mong Pieng Township, eastern Shan State according to local sources.

      On 23 February 2008, Maj. Khin Tun, together with 36 soldiers from Infantry Battalion (IB) 43, based at Yang Kham village, went to the villages in the township and instructed villagers to plant teak. Every household was required to plant 150 teak saplings. Each family had to pay Kyat 100,000 ($80) to the battalion if they did not want to plant teak, said a villager of Yang Kham.

      "They ordered us to plant teak beside the road between linking villages of Wan Na Kaw, Wan Maikawngka, Nam La and Ho Yang, across the villagers' tea plantations," said the source.

      The tea growers reportedly went to Maj. Khin Tun and said they could not plant teak on their farms. Each villager was than fined Kyat 50,000 ($40) for refusal and told that it was their [battalion's] land and they could do teak plantation wherever they wanted to.

      There are seven Shan villages, three Palaung villages and two Lahu villages in Mong Kien village tract, Mong Pieng Township, which is 65 miles west of Kengtung, eastern Shan State capital.

      Timber export is one of Burma's main sources for foreign currency. Illegal loggings, especially along the border areas, have much depleted the country's forests. In many cases, the regime's ban on logging of hardwood is flouted by its own officials, according to environmental activists.

      Junta-back militia group employs locals without wages
      Kachin News Group: Fri 14 Mar 2008

      Local people are being used in road construction work without wages by a Kachin militia group, the Rebellion Resistance Force (RRF) backed by Burma's ruling junta in Kachin State in Northern Burma, local sources said.

      Although, hundreds of local people were employed with the promise of reasonable wages in a new horse-road construction project between the military bases of the militia group in Hkawnglang Hpu and near Gi Gi Pass on the Sino-Burma border, most workers were not paid, a resident told KNG today.

      The Hkawnglang Hpu is one of the junta's under implementation development projects in Kachin State and the junta's high ranking officials often visit the area every year.

      According to a resident near the Hkawnglang Hpu, the road construction is a joint project of the RRF and it was started late last year. They had asked local workers to work on the promise of payment of Kyat 800,000 (est. US $ 727) per mile or Kyat 100,000 (est. US $ 91) per one-eighth of a mile as construction wages.

      The construction of the road is mainly aimed at transporting a kind of timber known as the Hong-htu-shar in Chinese name which can be produced the precious oil for medicinal purposes from Hkawnglang areas to China, locals said.

      "The construction of the road is very difficult and dangerous because the area is very mountainous. Now, the local workers have gone back home because they did not get any wages as promised," the resident added.

      The workers are not only from the areas near the Hkawnglang Hpu but also Nawmung Township, Putao Township and Machyangbaw Township, according to local sources.

      The RRF is used to demanding and looting rice from villagers in Laja Ga, Nau Ra Yang and Hkanghti Dum villages near the RRF military headquarters whenever they face shortage of rations, said the sources close to the those villages.

      The RRF was formed by a businessman and owner of Myitkyina-based Mali Hka Recording Ah Dang and the group was established with the direct support of the ruling junta with rations, finance and arms in early 2006.

      Last year, before the Buddhist monk led Saffron Revolution across the county, over 200 men from RRF were urgently transported to Naypyidaw, the new capital of Burma.

      They have not returned to their controlled areas in Putao District, according to local sources close to the RRF.

      Monastery set ablaze after bulldozing
      Narinjara News: Thu 13 Mar 2008

      A monastery in Kyauktaw Township was set on fire after being bulldozed by army authorities because the abbot of the monastery was involved in the recent Saffron Revolution.

      The 79-year-old abbot, Tilawka, told Narinjara News about the incident soon after he arrived in Bangladesh from Burma.

      "The army authority set fire to my monastery after bulldozing it for two reasons. The first reason is that I was involved in the Saffron Revolution and the second reason is that I accepted four monks, who were also involved in the revolution, to take shelter in my monastery," the abbot said.

      The monastery that was razed was the Theik Thapon monastery in Theik Thapon Khami Village near the ancient Mahamuni temple in Kyauktaw Township, 80 miles north of Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State.

      The abbot said, "We all escaped from arrest by the army as we received information early, before an army platoon reached our monastery. When they reached the monastery, they bulldozed it and set it on fire angrily because they could not arrest any monks from there."

      After the incident, the abbot left the area for Bangladesh to seek refuge. The monk's journey to Bangladesh took nearly six months, and he luckily arrived on Bangladesh soil on 8 March, 2008.

      "It was impossible for me to come here wearing my robes, so I came to Bangladesh dressed as a layperson, but Nasaka forces were looking for me at several monasteries in Maungdaw," the monk said.

      A local resident in Maungdaw said that the man who secretly ferried the monk to Bangladesh in his row boat, Bo Thein Dan, was arrested by authorities in Aung Bala ward of Maungdaw by authorities on 10 March.

      Tilawka has been a monk for 13 years, and is now staying in Bangladesh to seek asylum with the UNHCR office in Dhaka.

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