[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 19/3/08
- Burmese monks call for exam, constitution boycott
- Grassroots members question NLD's stance on referendum
- Burma: Back to child recruitments
- Burmese military intelligence arrested leader of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions
- U Gambira held in solitary confinement
- Sanctions on Myanmar may take sparkle out of Thai jewellery
- PM's remarks favourable to junta panned
- Divergences work in favour of Myanmar junta
- Thai PM ignored the other side of the coin
- Burmese Censorship Board threatens two Weeklies
- 'Vote Yes' Junta tells civil servants
- Arakan NLD urges action against referendum
- Soldiers surround Rangoon's Kaba Aye Pagoda
- Kyaing Kyaing's health deteriorates not Than Shwe's
- Exim bank to complete Burma loan
- Investment Protection Agreement signed between Thailand and Myanmar
- ASEAN ignores Burma's jailed teachers
- Suppression of activists in Burma normal
- Bullets cannot kill freedom in the heart
- Prospects for Burma's New Constitution
Burmese monks call for exam, constitution boycott - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Tue 18 Mar 2008
Burmese Buddhist monks will take part in a broadly based boycott of state-run examinations which are scheduled to start on March 24, according to monks inside Burma.
The All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA) released a statement on Tuesday calling on all Buddhist monks and citizens to remember the September 2007 crackdown and boycott the state-run examinations and May's referendum on the constitution.
Many monks living in monasteries in Rangoon, Mandalay, Pakokku, Pegu Division and Arakan State have joined the symbolic protest against the military government for its bloody crackdown on the civil uprising in 2007.
Ashin Mandala, a monk in the New Masoeyein Monastery in Mandalay, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, "No monks in new and old Masoeyein monasteries will sit for the exams because of the September crackdown."
About 4,000 monks live in New Masoeyein Monastery and Old Masoeyein monastery, he said. Many monks form other monasteries in Mandalay including Mya Taung Monastery and Maha Withutayon Monastery will also boycott the exams.
Monks in Baw-di-Man-Dai Monastery in Pakokku in Magwe Division will not take the exam because they are still enforcing patta ni kozana kan, a refusal to accept alms from members of the armed forces and their families, a senior monk at the monastery told The Irrawaddy.
Pakokku was the location of a bloody clash between Buddhist monks and Burmese security forces, in which several monks were beaten with batons and rifle butts.
Many monks are still exercising patta ni kozana kan in protest of the bloody suppression of the peaceful demonstrations, in which at least 31 protesters died.
U Pyinya Zawta, a leader of the underground monks alliance group, said, "In support of the protesters and monks who were arrested, we urge all monks in Burma not to sit for the state exams. We also want citizens to show bravery and vote "No" in the referendum."
Suppression of democracy activists and religious leaders will be worse if the draft constitution is approved, he said.
"They [Burmese generals] are ruling the country informally, yet they dare to brutally suppress citizens and religious leaders," he said. "If the constitution is officially enforced, then the overall situation will be worse."
"So long as the junta is in power, the Burmese people will never be liberated from suppression," said U Pyinya Zawta.
On February 9, the military regime announced the referendum will be held in May and a multi-party election in 2010.
Meanwhile, a number of protesters who were arrested during the uprising, including monks, went to court on Monday in Bahan Township in Rangoon. They were charged under article 505 (B), which involves a threat to the government's stability, said Aung Thein, a Burmese lawyer.
"If found guilty, they [monks and protesters] will face two years imprisonment," he said.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy activists in Rangoon are facing increased pressure from the buildup of security forces last week, according to dissident sources.
On Sunday, two pro-democracy activistsKyaw Ko Ko and Nyan Linn Aung, both members of the All Burma Federation of Students Unionswere arrested by authorities, according to a statement released on Tuesday by the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).
Also, one leader and more than a dozen members of a dissident group known as Generation Wave were arrested recently.
Rangoon authorities raided the home of Kyaw Kyaw, a leading member, and later arrested him and eight of his colleagues at their hiding place, said a Rangoon source. Since March 6, about 18 members of the group have been arrested.
Grassroots members question NLD's stance on referendum - Min Lwin
Irrawaddy: Tue 18 Mar 2008
Several grassroots members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), elected members of parliament and the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP) have openly rejected the constitutional referendum to be held in May, according to Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the CRPP.
However, Aye Thar Aung criticized the NLD's ambiguous stance toward the referendum. "The NLD should tell people whether they should go to the polling stations and vote 'No' or boycott the process entirely," he said, adding that the NLD was the key player in the Burmese political arena.
Rangoon-based observers said that the grassroots NLD members were raising serious concerns and there would be more pressure on the NLD leaders to identify their policy regarding the constitutional referendum.
The observers said the NLD grassroots members will continue to condemn the regime's draft constitution, rejecting the government's Road Map and advocating a "Vote No" campaign.
An NLD member from Kyaukpadaung in Mandalay Division said that members of the NLD's divisional levels met recently in Mandalay to discuss the referendum. However, he could not provide further details of the meeting.
A source close to the NLD told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: "Most NLD members want the current NLD leadership to remain at the forefront of the democracy movement.
"However, the fact that the monks led the September uprising is an indication that the NLD was not playing a leading role," he added.
NLD spokesman Nyan Win reportedly said that the party didn't think the referendum was the final fight.
"We will probably release a specific statement later about the constitutional referendum," Nyan Win told The Irrawaddy by phone on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Burmese intellectuals continue to debate and second guess the NLD's dilemma. A five-page pamphlet written by a leading Burmese academic is being distributed among Burma observers inside and outside the country. The pamphlet examines the NLD leadership's role with regard to the constitutional referendum.
Last week, Ludu Sein Win, a prominent journalist and former political prisoner, addressed a recorded message to Burmese both inside and outside the country, totally rejecting the referendum. He said that neither dialogue nor the UN Security Council would help the political situation.
Burma: Back to child recruitments - Marwaan Macan-Markar
IPS: Tue 18 Mar 2008
Till last September, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) office in military-ruled Burma had received few complaints about children being forced to join the army. But that is no longer the case.
In a new report, the ILO makes a pointed reference to the shift noticed since September 2007, the month when the Burmese junta launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful street protests led by thousands of Buddhist monks chanting a prayer for "loving kindness."
Prior to that month, the majority of complaints received about forced labour "concerned public works under local administration with only a few military-related complaints and cases of underage recruitment," reveals a report submitted to the ILO's governing body, which is currently meeting at the labour rights agency's headquarters, in Geneva.
"Since September that pattern has been reversed with majority of complaints now being military-related and underage recruitment cases," adds the report prepared by the ILO's Rangoon office of the 15 "child soldier/forced recruitment cases" between Feb. 26, 2007 and Feb. 25, 2008.
What happened to an ILO account of a 14-year-old Burmese boy in late October may be typical. He had gone to a market in Rangoon, the former capital, to lend a hand at a stall run by his elder brother. But he was stopped by soldiers and taken in a truck to an army recruiting office.
In fact, the ILO admits that its record of young boys forced to swell the ranks of the 'Tatmadaw', the Burmese name for the armed forces, is not an accurate picture. "We believe that the number of complaints we have received does not reflect the size of the problem. It is the tip of the iceberg," Steve Marshall, the ILO's liaison officer in Rangoon, said in an IPS interview.
"We understand there are some people who operate as brokers. They use force or trickery to take children to recruiting officers," he added. "We have lodged complaints with the government and it has responded quickly, discharging the recruit and disciplining the recruiting officer."
But human rights groups warn the international community not to be fooled by the junta's claims that it is trying to end the scourge of forced conscription. The London-based Burma Campaign UK has "dismissed as total nonsense" claims by a state-run newspaper that "hundreds of children have been returned to their families in recent years".
In 2004, the military leaders in Burma, also called Myanmar, responded to growing international criticism about the recruitment of child soldiers by setting up a high-powered group to deal with the problem. But the record of the Committee for Prevention of Military Recruitment of Underage Children has proved wanting, with its regular statements tending to denounce reports of child soldiers in the country than helping to curb this on-going violation of labour and children's rights.
A November 2007 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirms the failure of the junta's special committee to save children from the Tatmadaw. "Children as young as 10 are being targeted by Burmese military recruiters and threatened with arrest or beaten if they refuse to join," revealed the report by the New York-based global rights lobby.
"Child soldiers are sometimes forced to participate in human rights abuses, such as burning villages and using civilians for forced labour," adds the report, 'Sold to be soldiers: The recruitment and use of child soldiers in Burma'. "Those who attempt to escape or desert are beaten, forcibly re-recruited or imprisoned."
The dismal tone of this report echoed a similar tone of a 2002 report by HRW dealing with the growing number of child soldiers in Burma. That report, 'My gun was as tall as me', estimated that "70,000 or more of the Burma army's estimated 350,000 soldiers may be children."
And the hunting ground for the army's recruiters to grab children has changed little over the last five years. Soldiers and civilians assigned the job target markets, railway stations, bus stations, ferry terminals, streets and festivals. The rewards for such forced conscription missions have varied, though, with some being paid in cash of up to 25 US dollars per child or given a bag of rice.
The gap between the junta's rhetoric and the reality in the South-east Asian country is stark, says David Scott Mathieson, HRW's Burma consultant. "There is a massive disconnect between the laws and regulations the Burmese regime has made and the reality on the ground."
"There is widespread forced recruitment of children into the army," he told IPS. "It is part of a mercantile system. The battalions have to meet their quotas of recruits, and if they do so they are rewarded."
The junta's hunger for young Burmese boys to fatten the ranks of the Tatmadaw is rooted in a shift in military policy after 1988. That year saw a pro-democracy uprising, drawing tens of thousands of civilians to the streets, to challenge a military dictatorship that had been in power since a 1962 coup. And the army responded with bullets, killing some 3,000 unarmed demonstrators.
Soon after, the Tatmadaw, which was a much leaner and smaller and had no record of child soldiers, was ordered to expand to strengthen the junta's grip on power. It went from being a force of some 180,000 to its current number of nearly 400,000 - at least on paper.
Yet, as a Burmese military analyst notes, the Tatmadaw has been hit with a high desertion rate, adding to the number of soldiers it keeps losing in the on-going conflict in the border areas with ethnic rebel groups. "A northern commander reported that during a four-month period in 2006 the army had lost an entire brigade of soldiers due to desertion," Win Min, who lectures at Payap University in northern Thailand, said in an interview. "That is over 3,000 soldiers based on the strength of a battalion in Burma."
It was worse during the previous year, when internal military records reveal that during a four-month period in 2005 the Tatmadaw was hit with 4,701 deserters across the country, adds Win Min. "My estimate is that by the end of last year the situation may have got worse. The army may have been hit with nearly 15,000 deserters in 2007."
But how many soldiers fled the Tatmadaw after being ordered to fire on the highly revered Buddhist monks who led last September's protest still remains unknown, he revealed. "This may come out when the commanders have their next quarterly meeting, which has not been held since May last year."
Burmese military intelligence arrested Kyaw Ko Ko, leader of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions
Asian Tribune: Tue 18 Mar 2008
Burmese Military Inteligence Unit arrested on 17 March Kyaw Ko Ko, the leader of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, taken away from his hiding place. Earlier, with the help of supporters, Kyaw Ko Ko twice had escaped arrest. Nyan Linn Aung, another ABFSU leader, was also arrested together with Kyaw Ko Ko. It is not known where they were taken.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has expressed concern over the arrest of Kyaw Ko Ko and Nyan Lin Aung. Military authorities are notorious for torturing political prisoners, and often the most severe treatment occurs during the interrogation stage following the arrest.
Kyaw Ko Ko is a student who is attending in Economic University from Yangon for a master degree. He is 25 years old and a son of U Kyaw Gyi. He is a leader of All Burma Federation of Student Unions which was reestablished on 28 August 2007.
Burma's first student union, the Rangoon University Students' Union, was founded in 1931 by national independence hero Gen Aung San and his friends.
The group was renamed the All Burma Students' Union in 1936 before switching to the ABFSU in 1951.Following Gen Ne Win's military coup in 1962, the office of the ABFSU in Rangoon was demolished and hundreds of students were killed by the army.
During the nationwide pro-democracy 8888 uprising, the ABFSU resurfaced under the leadership of Min Ko Naing and other prominent student leaders on 28 August 1988.
During th Suffaron Revolution ..
"Today we reestablish the ABFSU to take on the shifting roles of former students in a new generation to fight for freedom, justice and the building of a democratic country," Kyaw Ko Ko said on 28 August 2007 when the fighting peacock flag was raised again.
"I hereby encourage all students across the country to accept the shifting responsibilities on behalf of our former brothers and sisters," he added.
The influential All Burma Federation of Student Unions has resumed its struggle against the country's military government .
"Student unions must exist for the students in Burma," said Kyaw Ko Ko.
U Gambira held in solitary confinement - Aye Nai
DVB: Tue 18 Mar 2008
All-Burmese Monks Alliance leader U Gambira has been put in solitary confinement in Insein prison, where he is currently being held, according to family members.
U Gambira's sister Ma Khin Thu Htay, who visited him on Monday in Insein prison, said the 27-year-old monk had been put into solitary confinement in a cell inside the prison's main ward on 14 March for unknown reasons.
"During my visit to him yesterday, he told me he was moved into cell (4) of the main prison's ward (1) by himself on 14 March at around 5.30pm," she said.
"He said he had no idea why they had put him in solitary confinement."
U Gambira was arrested by government authorities in Magwe division's Sintgaing township on 4 November 2007 for his role in leading public protests in September.
He was later sent to Insein prison in the former capital Rangoon where he was charged with violations under section 17/1 of the Unlawful Associations Act, section 13/1 of the Burma Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act for illegal movement across borders, and article 5(j) of the Emergency Provisions Act.
Khin Thu Htay said it is likely that the charges under sections 13/1 and 17/1 will be dropped as Alone township court, where these charges are being heard, has not extended U Gambira's remand.
She added that Hlaing township court, which is handling the hearing for his alleged violation of article 5(j), cancelled his court hearing on Monday.
Khin Thu Htay said that her brother and other monks in Insein prison were continuing to respect the boycott against government officials.
"U Gambira said all the monks detained in Insein prison are still chanting metta, the main activity of the monk protesters during the events of September, and still practicing their boycott of communicating with government authorities," she said.
Monks at a number of monasteries in Burma have taken part in the boycott against the government, with some refusing alms donations from regime officials or passing them on to the poor, and others opting out of government-run monk exams.
The ABMA released a statement on 18 March urging Burmese monks to boycott the government-run Pahtamabyan Dhamma Sriya exams for monks, and not to forget the junta's brutal treatment of monks during the crackdown on public demonstrations last year.
Sanctions on Myanmar may take sparkle out of Thai jewellery
Independent-Bangladesh via AFP: Tue 18 Mar 2008
Thai jewellers are buying highly coveted rubies and jade at an official auction this week in Myanmar, who supplies stones for the kingdom's booming multi-billion dollars jewellery industry.
But once they cut and set the gems, they could face problems selling them as companies and western governments move to ban trade in precious stones from the military-ruled state.
Myanmar has about 153 million dollars worth of gems on the auction block this week, at the second official sale of the year in a country that produces some of the world's most spectacular stones.
Up to 90 per cent of the world's rubies are from Myanmar, including 'pigeon blood' rubies that are considered the finest in the world, sometimes costing more per-carat than a diamond.
Imperial jade - emerald green in colour - is another Myanmar treasure that is highly sought after. However, leading jewellers including Tiffany, Cartier and Bulgari, are refusing to sell the stones in protest at the military's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks in September.
Their boycott is backed up by tightened sanctions in the European Union, which ban trade in Myanmar's gems. The United States is also moving to close a loophole in its sanctions regime, which had allowed the sale of Myanmar stones as long as they were cut in Thailand.
That has cast a shadow over Thailand's jewellery exports, which soared 33 per cent last year to 185.15 billion baht ($5.8b). The kingdom's top buyer is the United States, followed by Hong Kong and Australia, according to government data.
'Sanctions over trade in gems from Myanmar by the US or the European Union will certainly hurt some gem and jewellery exporters in Thailand,' said Vichai Assarasakorn, president of the Thai Gem and Jewellery Traders' Association.
He estimated that up to two million dollars worth of gems, mainly rubies, are imported into Thailand from Myanmar each year. But he said there are no official import records, so it's impossible to know the exact amount.
The actual figure could be much higher. Myanmar sells more than 300 million dollars worth of precious stones every year, and Thailand and China are the two biggest buyers. Jewellers associations from around the world plan to meet in Switzerland next month to draft a letter calling on the United States not to ban all sales of Myanmar gems, he said.
'The US government and politicians need to thoroughly consider all the information, because their sanctions may not be the right answer to solve the problem,' he said.
PM's remarks favourable to junta panned - Achara Ashayagachat
Bangkok Post: Tue 18 Mar 2008
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was attacked by critics yesterday after making favourable comments about the ruling Burmese junta and indicating the government plans to focus on making economic gains from Burma.
Surapong Jayanama, secretary for political affairs to former premier Surayud Chulanont, said the Thai approach to Burma would benefit certain groups at the expense of human rights there.
He viewed the policy towards Burma as a resumption of that undertaken by the government under deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
"They [the ruling generals] know that Thai bureaucrats in collusion with politicians care about economic interests" while ignoring Burma's weak points, said Mr Surapong, a former career diplomat.
Mr Samak said he was impressed with the Burmese generals after his one-day visit to Naypidaw, the new Burmese administrative capital, on Friday.
The trip clearly showed the government's stance towards Burma and that Thailand cared less about human rights and democracy there and more about cooperation on infrastructure development, Mr Surapong said.
"The nearer the summer approaches, the more we'll see ethnic groups along the Thai border battered. They will be sacrificed as the Thai government turns a blind eye for the sake of certain Thai traders' concessions in Burma," he said.
Mr Samak said he respected the Burmese generals because they meditate, like good Buddhists.
Pornpimon Trichot, a senior researcher on Burma at Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Asian Studies, said the junta tended to be smart when entertaining guests and first-time visitors have therefore been impressed by the image presented by the government.
But she said Thailand should realise that behind the peaceful, beautiful scenes on the surface there are far more threatening and heart-breaking situations.
Divergences work in favour of Myanmar junta - Salman Haidar
Malaysia Star: Tue 18 Mar 2008
PERSISTENT efforts by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari to encourage political change in Myanmar seem to have had some impact, but the further outcome is uncertain. In recent months, Gambari has visited Myanmar three times to try to persuade the ruling junta to be flexible towards Aung San Suu Kyi, thereby opening the way to democracy.
The generals, who have reigned for two decades with surly disregard for internal protest and international criticism, were jolted by last year's street protests led by Buddhist monks that spread across the country.
The world was shocked and alarmed, the UN Security Council weighed in, and demands for action against Myanmar's rulers made.
Though no concerted action proved possible, the UN dispatched an envoy to try to improve human rights practices and encourage moves towards democracy. This is no easy task: an earlier UN envoy with much the same mission persevered for some years but failed to get very far, the junta alternately encouraging and shutting him out.
But in the changed circumstances and with stronger international backing, Gambari seems to have been able to make greater headway. He has had a few meetings with significant personalities, including the military leaders and the incarcerated Suu Kyi.
At his urging, a minister of relations has been appointed to seek reconciliation between the junta and its democratic opponents. Suu Kyi herself has sufficiently been encouraged by these developments to make hopeful statements in recent months, expressing willingness to cooperate with the regime for the benefit of the country.
Gambari was again in Myanmar a few days ago where he met top personalities once more. Something seems to be stirring.
Yet these hopeful signs are balanced by discouraging ones. On his latest visit Gambari was unable to meet the chairman of the junta, Senior General Than Shwe.
Nor did he succeed in persuading the regime to permit a three-sided meeting between himself, Suu Kyi and a junta representative. This proposal was dismissed as "interference," and rejected with the usual rhetoric about upholding national prerogatives and refusing to bow to external pressure.
Myanmar has experience in stonewalling attempts by the UN and other international bodies hoping to persuade it to change. Thus, Than Shwe recently announced that he was ready to meet Suu Kyi, but on the condition that she stopped opposing his regime.
Some observers see the small signs of flexibility extracted by Gambari as essentially intended to head off the tough sanctions the UN Security Council could impose. In this view, there is no change of intent on the part of the junta, only an adjustment of tactics to deal with an immediate problem.
There is now little expectation that the referendum on the new Constitution slated for May this year will make any real difference. Gambari had asked for international observers to oversee the referendum, but it was dismissed on grounds that observers would infringe of Myanmar's sovereignty.
There are enough divergences within the international community to prevent a smooth and solid front taking shape against Myanmar, so that the junta has been able to find ways of surviving, even prospering.
The United States recently renewed its economic sanctions for another year. But there are others to take up the slack, so Myanmar can obtain all the goods it needs from abroad, including the lethal weaponry for perpetuating the junta.
From the start, the principal foreign supplier of goods has been China, whose policy of engagement has never been deflected by international pressures. The rapid growth of trade and communication links has underpinned a well-established and expanding relationship between the two countries.
In South-East Asia, Asean has remained cautious in expressing and acting upon its disapproval of Myanmar's policies. Thus for all the international admiration showered on her, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's incarceration has made no decisive difference to compel the junta to adjust its ways. - The Korea Herald / Asia News Network
* The writer is a former foreign minister of India.
Thai PM ignored the other side of the coin - Kyaw Zwa Moe
Irrawaddy: Tue 18 Mar 2008
"Burma is a Buddhist country. Burma's leaders meditate." Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej brought that information out of Burma last week after an official goodwill visit. Nothing about his statement is wrong, and I personally believe it's true: The generals meditate.
But the prime minister failed to answer a key question, "What are the generals meditating on?" I believe the generals meditate on things that would horrify true Buddhists.
First, the top generals probably meditate on how to rid themselves of their sins, or karma, after ordering security troops to shoot, kill and beat Buddhist monks in the September 2007 uprising.
Second, they meditate on how to rule the country forever, how to pass on power to the next generation of the military.
Actually, Burma's top generals have seriously been in deep meditation since 1988 on how to wash away the karma of killing 3,000 innocent people during the country's pro-democracy uprising.
The Thai prime minister also said, "They (Burmese leaders) say the country lives in peace."
If the prime minister and his delegation had been a little more sensitive when they signed their trade agreements (Thailand is Burma's third largest trading partner), they would have seen the spirits and ghosts of Burmese freedom fighters who sacrificed themselves while trying to win freedom for the Burmese people.
The Thai prime minister also said, "Killings and suppressions are normal there [Burma], but we have to understand the facts. The general view of this country has always been one-sided, but there are two sides to a coin."
Is Samak saying killings and suppression should be accepted? He totally ignored the other side of the coin, the side that shows the people's suffering and human rights abuses.
Will the Burmese people now see the Thai government as a good friend of their enemy, the junta? How will they answer the question, "Is Thailand a good neighbor?
In terms of foreign policy, it's a strategic mistake to place too much emphasis on friendship and cooperation between two governments at the expense of the people.
Doing the right thing in terms of friendship and cooperation between the people of both countries is more important and long lasting.
The current Thai government's "neighborly engagement" policy needs to be directed not only at Burma's government but also at the Burmese people.
Of course it's understandable that Samak's government wants to promote friendship, cooperation and strengthen economic ties with neighboring countries, including Burma.
It's understandable that Thailand needs to do business deals with the junta, especially in the areas of natural gas and hydro energy. But there's a wise way to do business deals while also promoting human rights.
Thai governments often act as if they have no real power when dealing with Burma. Blindly supporting the military regime only guarantees that serious issues including refugees and migrant workers will continue.
Yes, Samak should remember a coin has two sides. He should send a clear message to the Burmese people that Thailand wants to do business deals with Burma, but it is first and foremost a friend of the people.
Thailand must not be viewed by the Burmese people as a neighbor that is insensitive to the democracy movement in their country. Thailand should be an eternal friend of the people, truly a good neighbor.
Burmese Censorship Board threatens two Weeklies
Irrawaddy: Mon 17 Mar 2008
Burma's military-controlled censorship board has suspended one weekly magazine for publishing news about a murder case near the home of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and warned another about its coverage of the same incident, according to sources in Rangoon.
An official with the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Irrawaddy on Monday that Maj Tint Swe, head of the PSRD, summoned editors from two weeklies, Seven Day News and The Voice, to warn them about "crossing the line" with their reporting on the incident, which occurred two weeks ago. According to the official, Seven Day Journal was subsequently ordered to suspend publication for one week.
In its March 10 issue, The Voice ran a story on the killing of five members of the richest family of the parliamentary era, prior to the military takeover in 1962. The article, "The Sein Lae Kan Thar Street Murder Case," provided background information on the family, while a report in the March 13 issue of Seven Day News carried photographs of the funeral. Both publications were in violation of censorship laws, said PSRD officials.
The PSRD head also reportedly threatened the journals without an outright ban. "Maj Tint Swe told them that the censorship board has the authority to ban journals. He also said that journals should not break the rules after they have signed," said a journalist in Rangoon, referring to the procedure for dealing with violations of censorship laws, which requires that offenders sign a written statement promising not to repeat the infraction.
A newsagent in Bahan Township, Rangoon said that all copies of the two weeklies, which provided more complete coverage of the sensational murder than other publications, had sold out this week, even after distributors doubled the price to 800 kyat (around US $0.80).
A veteran journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity said that sales of the two weeklies were strong because they contained factual information. He added that other magazines should follow suit if they want to increase demand in the news-starved society, where there are severe restrictions on press freedom.
The killing of members of Burma's wealthy elite has fuelled fears among rich residents of the former capital and other urban centers, prompting many to hire private security guards, according to business sources in Rangoon, Mandalay and Myitkyina.
Police have made no arrests in the murders. Rumors are rife that the crime was committed by a family member or a business rival.
'Vote Yes' Junta tells civil servants - Min Lwin
Irrawaddy: Mon 17 Mar 2008
The Burmese junta are systematically preparing for the referendum in May, threatening civil servants into supporting the draft Constitution, according to observers in Rangoon and Mandalay.
State-run New Light of Myanmar has confirmed that the Burmese authorities have been holding meetings at state and division sub-commission levels to bolster support for approval of the regime's draft constitution.
A civil servant form Sagaing Township, upper Burma, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that township level authorities had instructed government servants to vote "Yes" at the national referendum in May.
She added that citizens must have the right to learn the draft of the Constitution in advance of the referendum, but she complained that she cannot read a copy of the draft Constitution anywhere.
Residents from Kyaukpadaung in Mandalay Division said that local authorities and the Township Department of Immigration and Population have been compiling a list of voters - over 18 years old - who are able to vote in the draft Constitutional referendum.
"Civil servants from immigration departments and quarter level authorities have issued temporary resident cards in quarters and villages," a resident from Insein Township in the outskirts of Rangoon said.
"The green-colored card, known as a temporary resident card, can be used for six months," she added.
According to well-informed sources, the commission for the referendum has formed sub-committees at divisional, district and township level, each with 15 members, including 10 members from the civil service and five civilians.
However, it is not clear how much involvement the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) has in the committee selection.
Rangoon residents suspect that if the authorities fail to hold a free and fair referendum, there will be another uprising in Burma, just as in September.
"We need international agencies to monitor the referendum," a Rangoon resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Irrawaddy on Monday. "If the agencies are not in Burma for the referendum, the junta's puppet commission will try to perpetuate army control."
Burma's military government recently rejected UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari's proposal to have international monitoring at the national referendum in May.
Arakan NLD urges action against referendum
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 17 Mar 2008
National League for Democracy members in Arakan state and Magwe division have said they are ready to oppose the constitutional referendum the government plans to hold in May.
Arakan state NLD members vowed to sabotage the upcoming referendum and said they hoped other NLD branches would do the same.
U Than Hlaing, secretary of the Arakan NLD organising committee, said a meeting of committee members and 1990 elected people's parliament representatives had agreed it would call on people within the state and in other regional NLD branches to join them in their activities to oppose the national referendum.
"We are going get in touch and cooperate with NLD organising committees from other regions of Burma," said Than Hlaing.
"At this time, they already know what should be done and we are all going to do it together."
In a statement released by the Arakan NLD representatives and organising committee members, the group said it firmly opposed the SPDC's draft constitution.
"We are making a very clear statement here of our strong denouncement of the SPDC government's unbalanced constitution, written without the full involvement of true ethnic leaders and parliament members elected by the people, and of the upcoming referendum where votes will be collected to approve it," the statement said.
"We stand firm on our policy of not giving the SPDC a chance to hold the referendum successfully and bring all the people of Burma under the military dictatorship, and we will organise effective campaigns and encourage people to work with us."
In Yay Nan Chaung township, Magwe division, the local NLD denounced the planned referendum in their monthly meeting, which was held on Thursday at the house of chairperson U Khin Win.
U Than Aung, a member of the Yay Nan Chaung NLD communication committee said the group would follow any instructions from NLD headquarters on how to work against the referendum.
"This national referendum is illegitimate and we cannot accept it in any way," Than Aung said.
"But we are ready and standing by to deal with it according to whatever guidelines the headquarters gives us."
Soldiers surround Rangoon's Kaba Aye Pagoda
Mizzima News: Mon 17 Mar 2008
Soldiers and riot police have surrounded Kaba Aye monastery in Rangoon and have increased their presence at other monasteries as well, local eyewitnesses say.
"Soldiers have surrounded Kaba Aye monastery. We don't know why but they have closed the gates and do not allow anyone to enter. In front of the gate there are several soldiers and four trucks," an eyewitness told Mizzima.
Authorities in Rangoon have placed heavy security in the vicinity of several Buddhist monasteries in addition to encircling the famous Kaba Aye Buddhist monastery in Rangoon.
The eyewitness calculated, from the four trucks present at Kaba Aye, that the number of soldiers must exceed one hundred.
While the reason for the latest security measures remain unclear, it is likely to be connected to the rumor that the Buddhist clergy is gearing up for another round of activities in defiance of military rule, which has governed the country since 1962.
Another local eyewitness commented that soldiers are also positioning themselves in and around Bo Tathaung Pagoda, along the Rangoon River.
Kyaing Kyaing's health deteriorates not Than Shwe's
Mizzima News: Mon 17 Mar 2008
Even as rumors spread that Burma's military strongman Snr. Gen. Than Shwe is seriously ill, reliable sources in Rangoon, Burma's former capital, said it is his wife Kyaing Kyaing who is ailing.
The source, speaking to Mizzima on condition of anonymity, said while Than Shwe is in perfect health, his wife, Kyaing Kyaing's health is deteriorating.
However, the source did not mention what Kyaing Kyaing is suffering from.
While the information could not be independently verified a Burmese official in the Ministry of Information said, Than Shwe is in fine health but declined to comment on Kyaing Kyaing's health.
Rumors that Burma's military supremo Than Shwe is seriously ill has spread in Rangoon since last week.
A few internet blogs, operated by Burmese inside and outside the country, says, "Than Shwe is dead."
An expatriate in Rangoon, who is following the news of Than Shwe's health, told Mizzima on Friday that, "a team of Singaporean doctors landed this morning [Friday] and headed for Nay Pyi Taw."
But the source said, "I was told by a reliable source that it is not the old man whose health is deteriorating but it is the old woman," referring to both Than Shwe and Kyaing Kyaing as old man and old woman, as most people in Burma refer to them.
Exim bank to complete Burma loan
Bangkok Post: Mon 17 Mar 2008
The Export-Import Bank of Thailand is cleared to hand Burma any remaining funds from a four-billion-baht soft loan to the junta that had been suspended due to alleged irregularities, Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said yesterday.
Thailand will also push ahead with construction of the Tasang hydropower dam and other infrastructure projects in Burma, he added.
The fresh move came as Thailand tried to foster closer economic ties with Burma following the first official visit to the country on Friday by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej since he took office last month.
The issue of outstanding money from the loan was not tabled for discussion when Mr Samak and other Thai officials met with Burma's junta leaders including Sen Gen Than Shwe on Friday in the country's new capital of Naypyidaw.
Asked in Bangkok about the future of the loan meant to help improve Burma's infrastructure facilities, Mr Noppadon said the government will not allow political wrangles in Thailand to obstruct attempts to strengthen relations with Burma and other neighbours. Thailand's internal problems "have no effect on the right of Burma to get the money," he told a press conference.
It remains unclear how much of the four-billion-baht loan has yet to be handed to the ruling junta in Burma.
Mr Noppadon said yesterday that only one billion baht had been given to Burma so far; however, the bank said in a statement released in September last year that all but 341 million baht of the loan had already been handed over.
The loan was signed between the Export-Import Bank of Thailand and the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank in June 2004, when then premier Thaksin Shinawatra was in power.
However, the military-appointed Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC), set up by the coup makers after ousting Thaksin's government from power in 2006, agreed in August last year to press criminal charges against the former premier for alleged abuse of his position in ordering a one-billion-baht increase in the amount of the loan, allegedly for the benefit of his family's satellite and broadband businesses.
The additional money was approved for the Burmese government to develop telecommunications facilities, including buying goods and services from the satellite broadband and fibre-optic firm Shin Satellite Co, according to the ASC.
The panel has not yet forwarded the charges on the loan to prosecutors.
The Burmese junta also raised the issue of the 7,110-megawatt Tasang dam, which Thailand won a concession to build 10 years ago. There has been little progress since then however.
Mr Noppadon said the government would urge the private sector to go ahead with the project, which would boost energy security for the kingdom.
The Tasang dam is the largest of the proposed hydroelectric projects on the Salween River in Burma's Shan State, about 130 kilometres from the Thai-Burmese border.
The 228-metre-high dam is slated to be the tallest dam in all of Southeast Asia. The reservoir will flood hundreds of square kilometres of land, according to Salween Watch, a coalition of NGOs based in Chiang Mai which monitors the issue.
Thai firm MDX signed an agreement with the Burmese junta in 2002 to develop the project. However, the planned dam has met with stiff opposition from environmentalists and other activists because it could force several thousand people to leave their homes and land and move elsewhere.
Thailand has also pledged to develop the Tavoy deep-sea port in Burma to open trade and investment links with western Thailand, Mr Noppadon said.
Thailand is one of Burma's biggest investors and trading partners, spending billions of dollars annually to tap into the country's natural gas and hydropower resources.
The kingdom is at odds with the West over ways to deal with Burma's military regime, which sparked global outrage following its deadly crackdown on peaceful protests in September 2007. The United States and the European Union tightened sanctions against Burma's ruling generals after the suppression.
Investment Protection Agreement signed between Thailand and Myanmar - Chietigj Bajpaee
Global Insight: Mon 17 Mar 2008
Thailand and Myanmar signed an investment protection agreement during the one-day visit of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to Myanmar last week. The agreement was signed following a meeting between Samak, his counterpart, Prime Minister Thein Sein, and other senior officials of Myanmar's State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) government in the capital, Naypyidaw. Both sides also discussed the construction of a deep-sea port in Tavoy in south-east Myanmar. Samak's visit to Myanmar was the first since his People Power Party (PPP)-led government took office on 7 February.
Significance: The investment accord intends to protect Thai investors operating in Myanmar while increasing foreign investment in the country. Myanmar is facing increasing international isolation following the military junta's crackdown on pro-democracy protestors last August-September, the lack of genuine reform in its seven-step "roadmap to democracy", and the continued detention of pro-democracy leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi.
Nonetheless, the military regime continues to receive crucial support from neighbouring countries, notably China, India and nations in South-East Asia. Thailand has continued its conciliatory approach toward Myanmar under Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Aside from being Myanmar's largest buyer of natural gas, Thailand is also the second-largest buyer of Myanmar's precious stones after China. Notably, Myanmar began a 12-day auction to sell an estimated $153US-million worth of gems yesterday. Despite a boycott on buying gems produced in Myanmar by major jewellers, including Tiffany, Cartier and Bulgari - a move backed by the European Union and United States - 20 countries are represented at this week's auction. An estimated 90% of the world's rubies are from Myanmar; these are often sold internationally via a loophole that allows the sale of Myanmar gem stones cut in Thailand.
Suppression of activists in Burma normal: Samak
The Nation: Mon 17 Mar 2008
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej Sunday described Burmese leader Senior General Than Shwe as being religious person and killings and suppressions in the neighbouring country were 'normal' things.
Speaking during his Samak's Talk programe broadcast live on Channel 11, Samak said Burma is a Buddhist country.
"Killings and suppressions are normal there but we have to know the fact," Samak said.
"And Senior Than Shwe practices meditation. He said he prays in the morning and the country has been in peace and order."
ASEAN ignores Burma's jailed teachers - Awzar Thi
United Press International: Mon 17 Mar 2008
Hong Kong, China, In most countries teachers with talent and commitment are valued; in Burma some are jailed.
U Aung Pe is one. Last month he walked out of the central prison, and kept going all the way back to his town 17 miles away. After three years he needed fresh air, he told a journalist by phone.
Aung Pe's crime was to have taught underprivileged children without a license. In fact he had had one, but couldn't get it renewed as he didn't get along with the local education board. He says that its officials had kept asking for extra payments, which he refused, pointing out that he had rented a room at his own expense and was tutoring orphans and poor students for free.
He was arrested in February 2005, and charged under a 1984 law on tuition, which stipulates prison terms for offences such obtaining a permit improperly, unauthorized advertising, and holding private lessons inside school premises. He was convicted in August.
But the court's verdict betrays the real reason that Aung Pe was put behind bars; a reason not covered by the tuition law at all.
On a national holiday, Aung Pe had lectured his students on Aung San, and led them in paying respects to the independence martyr. What is more, he had "hung a t-shirt bearing the image of Aung San Suu Kyi" in his classroom, the judge stated in finding him guilty.
Aung Pe's lawyer appealed to the Supreme Court. He pointed out that lessons on the national hero are a normal part of the school curriculum, and that the portrait of his Nobel Prize-winning daughter is not prohibited from public display, but to no avail. His client spent his 50th birthday locked up.
Before Aung Pe's time was over, another dedicated and popular tutor was given the same treatment.
Min Min, a 30-year-old living in the central town of Pyay, had previously taught at a room alongside his house, but had closed up and gone to instruct at a center nearby.
In July 2007, he made the mistake of having a private talk on human rights in his old classroom. The police accused him of reopening lessons there without approval.
Hundreds of students and residents came to lend support at the trial and testify on his behalf. But the judge said that his evidence was not "firm" enough to prove his innocence, and away he went too.
Ironically, Min Min was jailed on the same day that his government was putting its name to a new charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The charter includes an article to establish a regional human rights body ostensibly to protect those very things that Min Min had been talking about with friends.
Lawyer Thongbai Thongpao in his Bangkok Post column said that the body was good news. A regional rights agency would have more independence and courage than its national equivalents and would suffer less interference from governments, he said, pointing to the European human rights court as an example.
The stories of Aung Pe and Min Min suggest otherwise. Their cases speak to the vast difference between the human rights setting in Europe and that in Southeast Asia. The difference is not just in the scale and nature of abuse; it is in the structural barriers to redress.
Europe's human rights body works not because of any regional formula but because domestic institutions also work. Nowhere are courts, parliaments and government departments perfect, but in Europe they perform their roles more or less as described. This means that where its regional bodies decide on something, domestic agencies are beholden to comply. Where they do not, they risk pressure from citizens and sanctions from neighbors.
None of this holds true for ASEAN nations, and least of all for Burma. In Southeast Asia, courts, parliaments and government departments do not function as described. In some countries they perform diametrically opposite roles to those of their European counterparts. Thus Burma's justice system is more aptly labeled an injustice system, and its law enforcers, merely enforcers.
Where no means exist to protect human rights nationally, talk about regional mechanisms is pointless. If the courts in Burma have the express purpose of putting people like Min Min and Aung Pe in jail, ASEAN isn't going to break them out. Its rights body won't open any doors, just toe official lines.
Aung Pe was released because his time was up. But he can't tutor anymore. The last date for renewal of his permit passed a few days before he was freed. He will either have to work again illegally or the orphans will have to make do without him.
Min Min has over two years left to serve. A human rights group has specially raised his case with the ASEAN secretary-general. It has not yet received any reply.
(Awzar Thi is the pen name of a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission with over 15 years of experience as an advocate of human rights and the rule of law in Thailand and Burma. His Rule of Lords blog can be read at http://ratchasima.net .)
Bullets cannot kill freedom in the heart - May Ng
Mizzima News: Mon 17 Mar 2008
"The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart," teaches Buddha.
Until the Saffron Revolution, images over the Internet were not expected to have much impact in Burma, since most people in the isolated country lack access to the Internet. But when, following widely available images of the opulent wedding of General Than Shwe's daughter, August's fuel price hike left poor Burmese on the verge of starvation, the people's anger was aroused.
During September's Saffron Revolution, the Burmese military was at a loss as to how the closely guarded country leaked pictures and information about the bloody protests to the worldwide media. And after killing, imprisoning and driving political protesters underground, the Burmese army and its supporter, China, confidently announced to the world that peace and order were restored in Burma.
Since then the Burmese junta has been playing a cat and mouse game with web-surfers, deliberately slowing down the Internet connection. China reportedly employs thirty thousand cyber hackers to infiltrate individuals and governments across the globe. Last year Russia shut down a neighboring governments' Internet access during a period of heightened conflict.
In response to cyber censorship throughout the world, Reporters Without Borders launched the first Online Free Expression Day on March 12. They remarked, "We are giving all Internet users the opportunity to demonstrate in places where protests are not normally possible. We hope many will come and protest in virtual versions of Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Cuba's Revolution Square, or on the streets of Rangoon in Burma. At least 62 cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned worldwide, while more than 2,600 websites; blogs or discussions forums were closed or made inaccessible in 2007″.
The Burmese military is being trained in Russia in computer technology and China gives enormous support, including Internet technology, to the Burmese army. Burma related news and information network sites are under constant attack by cyber assailants in support of the Burmese junta.
Similar to events during the Saffron Revolution in Burma, the latest information from Tibet is now being delayed and distorted as the autonomous region is witnessing widespread unrest to Chinese rule. While Beijing told the world a few days ago that the outbreak of protests in Tibet has been under control and inconsequential, the situation has escalated, involving death and destruction. Instead of taking responsibility, China points the finger at exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and accuses him of plotting the violence as part of "separatist sabotage."
As fires burn in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, neither has the iron grip of Beijing prevented Tibetan news from reaching the world, nor have the iron rods beaten the desire for freedom from the hearts of Tibetans.
For six decades China has conquered the Tibetans' sky but not their hearts. To do so China must begin with truth and tolerance, which takes a lot more courage and determination than the challenges of the Olympics.
For now, China and its partner, the Burmese junta, are clearly not up to the task of facing truth or tolerance. Until they do, the Beijing Olympics will be a mockery of the ultimate human aspiration for peace and freedom.
* May Ng is a Burmese member of Justice for Human Rights in Burma.
Prospects for Burma's New Constitution - Ashley South
Independent Mon News Agency: Mon 17 Mar 2008
In February the SPDC military government announced that a referendum will be held this May, to endorse a new constitution. Following the referendum (presumably, if the regime is successful in engineering a 'yes' vote) elections are scheduled for 2010.
The government-controlled constitution-drafting process of 1993-2007 did not involve significant participation from elected representatives (the NLD, and 67 ethnic nationality MPs-elect, including five from the MNDF). Although several ceasefire groups (especially the NMSP and KIO) attempted to include federal principles in the constitution, their efforts were frustrated by the government. Under the new charter - which has not yet been made public - the Burma Army would control 25% of the seats in parliament, as well as the key portfolios of defence, home affairs and border affairs. The military would also retain institutional autonomy, and control the police and paramilitary organizations. Therefore the new constitution is widely perceived as deeply flawed.
The basic territorial division of the country into seven ethnic States and seven predominantly (but not exclusively) Burman-populated Divisions would be retained in the new constitution, with the creation of new semi-autonomous, sub-provincial administrations for six ethnic nationality groups (five in Shan State). The new constitutional arrangements would provide for legislatures, with very limited powers, at the state level, while at the central level there would be a lower 'house of the people' (Pyithu Hluttaw) elected by popular vote, and an upper house (Amyotha Hluttaw), containing equal numbers of representatives from each of the Divisions and States.
It is worth asking whether this new structure, despite its obvious faults, might allow for a slightly more open expression of political views. For example, it may be that the new legislative assemblies will find some freedom to debate important issues. The creation of ethnic State legislatures may allow for the participation of local political and civil society organizations, in at least some sectors of public life, as well as providing a forum to argue for greater allocation of resources to ethnic nationality-populated areas.
According to this view, any constitution is better than continued direct rule by the military. Although the space available to ethnic nationality and other parties under the new constitution is likely to be very limited, it will at least allow them to participate in above-ground politics, from 'within the legal fold'.
Regarding the referendum - calls to boycott the process, or vote 'No', are understandable. However, the referendum seems to represents a 'win-win' situation for the military government: if the constitution is rejected, presumably this will mean many more years of military rule, while the generals take their time before presenting new proposals.
Regarding any future election - whatever its deficiencies, this will probably confer at least a degree of legitimacy upon those elected. Ethnic nationality politicians and communities are therefore likely to be faced with a dilemma, regarding whether and how to participate in elections organized by the SPDC.
It will be interesting to observe whether - given the choice - ethnic nationality communities will choose to support all-Burma parties (such as the NLD), or to endorse specifically ethno-nationalist groups. Historically, elites representing some ethnic groups, such as the Mon, have successfully competed in elections in Burma (e.g. in the 1950s and in 1990), while others, such as the Karen, have not. Will the ceasefire groups be prepared to risk testing their electoral popularity? Despite several positive developments since the ceasefires (such as the re-emergence of civil society networks, which I have written about in detail elsewhere), the continuation of human and civil-political rights abuses have led many to criticise these agreements. Such complaints have weakened the standing of most ceasefire groups, at least in some sectors of the community. This is a common phenomenon in post-conflict situations: leaders and organisations which are prepared to make political compromises often find their position undermined by 'hard-line' critics.
One of the most important and interesting questions, thirteen years after the ceasefire, is what the future holds for the NMSP. The party still retains most of the characteristics, and opposition-oriented political culture, of an insurgent organization. Will the NMSP be able to re-invent itself as a dynamic political party (and rival to the partly-dormant MNDF) - or will it continue to guard the frontiers of the ceasefire zone, while exercising a declining influence over the wider Mon population?
While it may be argued that Burma's armed ethnic groups have little to gain from participating in future elections, something is perhaps better than nothing. A continuation of the present armed stand-off mostly benefits the military government, at a time when the regime is undergoing a generational change, and seems to be establishing the ground rules for politics in Burma over the coming decade.
Ashley South is an independent writer and consultant on humanitarian and political issues in Burma and South-East Asia. This article is derived from his forthcoming book, 'Ethnic Politics in Burma: States of Conflict' (Routledge 2008).