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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 28/3/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Activists Stage Protest against Constitution 2.. Burma, land where people wear the tattered shreds of the Saffron Revolution 3.. Human rights abuses at
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 28, 2008
      1. Activists Stage Protest against Constitution
      2. Burma, land where people wear the tattered shreds of the Saffron Revolution
      3. Human rights abuses at heart of Burma's ills
      4. Junta steps up screening of visa applicants
      5. Govt okays Rs. 535 cr Myanmar project to help North East
      6. Are Burma's generals really looking at Indonesia model?
      7. India wooing Myanmar junta despite being hoodwinked
      8. Monks denounce referendum call
      9. Time's up, Gambari!
      10. Pro-junta militia forces people to relocate
      11. Daughter raped, mother beaten, villagers robbed

      Activists Stage Protest against Constitution - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Thu 27 Mar 2008

      A group of activists staged a rare protest in front of the Rangoon headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) on Thursday, calling on Burmese citizens to vote against a proposed constitution which will give sweeping powers to the country's armed forces.

      A member of the NLD said that more than 30 protesters wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the word "No" gathered at the party's headquarters as hundreds of others came to attend a ceremony marking Burma's Armed Forces Day.

      Protesters in front of the National League for Democracy headquarters in Rangoon.

      According to the NLD member, some the protesters wore prison uniforms and shackles, while others held the flags of the United Nations and the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, Burma's main political party prior to the military takeover in 1962.

      "They shouted slogans against the junta's constitution and called on people to vote ‘no' at the polling stations," the NLD member told The Irrawaddy on Thursday, adding that some members of the party joined in the protest.

      The rare show of defiance lasted just 30 minutes and attracted the attention of security forces stationed around the NLD's headquarters, who photographed the protesters.

      According to witnesses, the demonstrators also distributed pamphlets calling on voters to go to the polls and vote against the constitution. Under a new law enacted in February, it is illegal to publicly criticize the referendum or the constitution. Violations are punishable by fines and three-year prison sentences.

      Meanwhile, sources said that a signboard with the words, "Never Deceive the Nation," appeared today in front of the home of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      "The signboard has the words and a portrait of [Burmese independence hero and father of Aung San Suu Kyi] Aung San, painted by Suu Kyi," said a member of the NLD.

      Burma, land where people wear the tattered shreds of the Saffron Revolution - Kenneth Denby
      The Times UK: Thu 27 Mar 2008

      He wore the traditional Burmese man's skirt, spoke with an out-of-town accent and, right up until the moment of horror, there was no suggestion that the young man was anything out of the ordinary. It was Friday evening and thousands of people were praying at the Shwedagon Pagoda, the golden monument that towers above Rangoon. Before the plain-clothes police could react, the young man whipped out a placard denouncing the junta and placed it round his neck. Then he produced a bottle of petrol, shook it over his clothes and set himself alight.

      "He was still standing and he was trying to shout something but I couldn't hear it," a young Buddhist monk who witnessed the immolation said. "He was trying to speak but the flames were round his face. And then the police jumped on him."

      Six months ago tens of thousands of monks and students demonstrated in the streets of Rangoon, demanding freedom from the brutal junta of General Than Shwe after 45 years of military rule.

      But the marchers were beaten and arrested, the monasteries were raided and, six months later, the stirring spectacle of the "Saffron Revolution" has been reduced to this - the agonising suffering of a nameless man. He is reported to be in hospital but with 70 per cent burns his prospects for survival are poor.

      It was hard to imagine a Burma worse off than it was in September 2007 but it has come about because all of the frustrations that drove the demonstrators on to the streets last year have redoubled. Food and transport prices are higher than ever, political oppression is greater and the violent treatment of the country's revered monks has increased popular contempt for the regime.

      But, for all their bravery, opposition activists in Burma are in disarray. Their figurehead and icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, has spent 12 years under house arrest and, after the crackdown in September, the remaining senior leaders have nearly all been arrested.

      Those who remain at large are in hiding, their networks broken or in the hands of young and inexperienced activists. And having been physically crushed they face the danger of being politically outflanked after a remarkable move by Than Shwe's government - in February it announced a national referendum will be held on a new constitution, to be followed by a general election in 2010.

      The constitution, which has not been published in full, is based on the 14-year-long deliberations of an assembly of handpicked members, which contained no representatives of Ms Suu Kyi or members of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

      It is expected that it will guarantee 25 per cent of parliamentary seats to the military and to disbar Ms Suu Kyi from politics on the basis that she was married to a foreigner - Michael Aris, the late, British academic.

      Western diplomats and members of the opposition assume that the Government will manipulate the result of the May referendum to ensure a yes vote. But for the opposition the vote has shifted attention from the blatant iniquities of the regime to the question of how to campaign.

      A "vote no" campaign seems to be the emerging choice but some members of the opposition argue that rejecting the constitution will remove the only hope of a transition to some form of democracy in Burma, however imperfect.

      A boycott campaign would be risky - Burmese law makes an offence, punishable by years in prison, of any criticism of the referendum.

      The NLD has yet to announce its official position - either by necessity, because it is divided internally, or deliberately, so that the eventual call for a no vote will have all the more impact for being close to the date of the referendum. Meanwhile the activists who remain at liberty do what they can to prepare in a country where any criticism of the government can lead to jail.

      Anti-junta manifestos and vote no posters are circulated by e-mail and occasionally posted in university campuses, before being torn down hastily by the authorities. Activists distribute T-shirts bearing "NO!" in huge letters, with the word "smoking" tucked unobtrusively at the bottom - thus disguising a political slogan as a public health message.

      Perhaps the most unexpected piece of political contraband is the latest instalment in the Rambo series, a film of predictable brutality, in which the eponymous hero righteously mows down his enemies. The difference is that in this case the film has a South-East Asian setting and the enemies of Rambo are the Burmese Army.

      The film has become an underground hit and the authorities have responded with a predictable lack of humour: three weeks ago Ko Thant Zin and Ko Tun Tun, two young men, were arrested and locked up for a uniquely Burmese offence - watching a Sylvester Stallone film.

      A zoo has been opened in Naypyitaw, the remote, administrative capital of Burma, by the junta who hope it will attract tourists. The attraction includes animals taken from zoos in Rangoon and Mandalay. Civil servants, who are required to live in Naypyitaw, had complained that there was nothing to do in the city.

      Diary of a protest

      • As many as a hundred thousand ordinary Burmese people and Buddhist monks took to the streets last year to demand democratic reform and protest against the country's violent military regime
      • The confrontation developed from a small-scale protest against a doubling of state-controlled fuel prices announced on August 15, 2007
      • Police attacked monks who joined the protesters
      • Outraged by the violence, thousands more monks from monasteries across the country marched to demand an apology
      • As the protests grew, pro-democracy activists and ordinary citizens joined them in their tens of thousands
      • After a period of indecision, the regime cracked down with military force on September 25. Troops entered the cities of Rangoon and Mandalay, firing live ammunition and teargas
      • One Japanese journalist and an unknown number of Burmese were killed
      • Many witnesses reported seeing soldiers indiscriminately firing volleys into crowds and bloodied bodies dragged from Buddhist temples

      Sources: Federation of American Scientists; Free Burma Campaign

      Human rights abuses at heart of Burma's ills
      Mizzima News: Thu 27 Mar 2008

      The British government has concluded that the rabid abuse of human rights by Burma's military government is the principle reason for the country's myriad of problems.

      In its annual report on the global human rights situation, the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) states, "The Burmese regime's persistent violations of human rights – not least the denial to its citizens of the right to take part in the government of their own country - is at the heart of Burma's political, economic and social problems."

      Calling for the Burmese government to respect the freedom of media, trade unions and the judiciary, the FCO cautions that despite modest progress in some areas, including a working arrangement with the International Labor Organization, Burma remains a country in the grips of corruption, patronage, impunity and a failing economy.

      With more than 30 percent of the Burmese population believed to live on less than one dollar a day, the FCO warns that "without serious progress on political and economic reform, leading to a transparent, accountable and inclusive government that respects human rights, the situation in Burma will continue to deteriorate."

      Speaking at the tome's official launching Tuesday in London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband remarked that the regime's heavy-handed response to last years peaceful protests "frustrated the demands of millions of decent people in Burma."

      Though admitting that the military has an important role to play within Burmese society, the FCO emphatically states that its role cannot be one of military dictatorship.

      The FCO asserts that the British Embassy in Rangoon played a crucial part during last year's Saffron Revolution, "immediately" responding to the crisis and playing "a leading role in bringing details of the human rights abuses to the attention of the world."

      From its outpost in Rangoon, the British Embassy is said to actively monitor the human rights situation in Burma and serve as a conduit for European Union initiatives aimed at protecting human rights defenders.

      Looking forward, the United Kingdom will continue to support the mission of the UN Special Envoy to Burma and insist that Burma's generals work with the United Nations and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      The report also alleges that, "It is widely recognized, including by countries in the region, that the regime's ongoing denial of the real situation in Burma is both unacceptable and unsustainable." However Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, following a visit this month to Naypyitaw, Burma's capital, severely downplayed the dire condition of human rights and democracy in Burma.

      Having already approved through the Department for International Development a doubling in aid assistance to Burma by 2010, to approximately $36 million, the FCO maintains that the British government stands ready to assist with even greater financial aid if there should occur "genuine political change."

      Junta steps up screening of visa applicants
      Mizzima News: Thu 27 Mar 2008

      With May's constitutional referendum fast approaching, the Burmese government is apparently tightening control over the issuance of tourist visas to the country.

      A vast majority of tourists to Burma enter via flight from Thailand, having secured a Burmese tourist visa from one of Bangkok's multitude of travel agencies. But the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok is now rejecting some passports unless the owner of the passport appears in person at the embassy.

      Specifically targeted by Burmese authorities are reportedly citizens of the United States, United Kingdom and Japan.

      According to a Chiang Mai-based travel agent, Burmese Embassy staff are now requesting to speak in person with those wishing to enter the country, requiring additional verification as to the identity of some applicants as well as further details of the applicant's profession.

      Asked whether it was now mandatory for persons from the U.S., U.K. and Japan to apply in person at the Embassy, a Bangkok travel agency confirmed that it was increasingly becoming the case. "We can still try to obtain the visa for them, but we cannot promise anything," stated an employee of Olavi Tours.

      Remarking that the new obstacles for hopeful travelers to Burma are a relatively new phenomenon, the agents expressed their belief that the restrictions will be lifted in some four to five months.

      Though the exact impetus for the actions of the Consular Services section of the Embassy are not known for sure, the steps are assumed to be related to the junta's desire to keep foreign reporters and journalists out of the country ahead of and during May's scheduled constitutional referendum.

      The junta accused foreigners of entering the country under the guise of tourism to report on and cover last year's Saffron Revolution, which culminated in the deaths of dozens of protesters at the hands of security forces.

      Kenji Nagai, the Japanese journalist shot dead at point blank range on September 27, had entered the country on a tourist visa.

      The loosening of visa restrictions in five months time, if proven correct, would coincide with the start of high season for tourism in the Southeast Asian country, an industry that was devastated by events in the latter months of last year and has yet to fully recover.

      Burmese Embassy staff in Bangkok were unavailable for comment.

      Govt okays Rs. 535 cr Myanmar project to help North East
      The Hindu: Thu 27 Mar 2008

      The government on Thursday approved a Rs 535.91 crore multi-modal transit transport project in Myanmar, which India will use for improving access to the North-Eastern states.

      The Union Cabinet sanctioned the funds under the ‘Aid to Myanmar' project for the upgradation of Sittwe Port and Kaladan Waterway. The money will also be used for construction of a road from Setpyitpyin (Kaletwa) to the India-Myanmar border.

      "The project will provide an access to Mizoram and to other North-Eastern states as well as an outlet to the sea," an official spokesperson told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

      The project, to be executed by the Inland Waterways Authority of India, also involves construction and improvement of 117 km road on the Indian side from India-Myanmar border.

      The government approved signing of the Framework Agreement and Protocol on Facilitation of Transit Transport and Protocol on Maintenance and Administration to facilitate the project.

      Are Burma's generals really looking at Indonesia model? - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 27 Mar 2008

      The UN special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, recently told Singapore's Straits Times that the military rulers in Burma were looking to the ‘Indonesia model' for the transition to democratic rule.

      He said in an interview with the newspaper, "I can reveal to you that the [Burmese] junta has been looking for a model closer to Indonesia where there was a transition from military to civilian rule and ultimately to democracy."

      However, according to an analyst, although the Burmese regime certainly wants to learn former President Suharto's tactic of prolonging his grip on power, the top generals in Naypyidaw don't want to put well-educated military officers who have studied abroad in important positions within the Tatmadaw (Burma's armed forces).

      "You know, during Suharto's rule, well-educated military officers were in significant positions," said a Burmese researcher in Bangkok. "Western-educated military officers became actors for reform in Indonesia. But in the Tatmadaw, well-educated officers cannot attain top positions.

      "Most of the generals in the ruling military council originated in the DSA (the Defense Service Academy)," he added. "People like Col Thaung Htike, a Western-educated military officer, never became top generals in the Tatmadaw. They retired with ranks no higher than colonel or lieutenant colonel."

      The military regime in Burma has previously imitated policies of the Suharto regime - forming a military-backed organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Organization (USDA) to legitimize military rule. The USDA is modeled on Suharto's Golongkan Karya (Golkar Party).

      However, Burma observers say the junta draws the line at copying the Indonesian commitment toward democratic reform in the late 1990s.

      "The Burmese junta had planned to follow the Indonesian model under Suharto for years to come," said Htay Aung, a Burmese military analyst with the Network for Democracy and Development. "But I don't see the top generals in Naypyidaw contributing toward democratization in Burma the same way the Indonesian generals did 10 years ago.

      "The Burmese generals might copy Indonesia, but they only think about prolonging military rule," he added.

      The Indonesian military junta's founder, Gen Suharto, came to power in the wake of an abortive coup in 1965. He imposed authoritarian rule while allowing technocrats to run the economy with considerable success.

      "Gambari should be clear what kind of ‘Indonesia model' he is talking about. The model in the Burmese generals' mind is Suharto's one. But even Suharto, he liberalized his country," said Aung Moe Zaw, a secretarial member of the National Council of Union of Burma. "As the UN special envoy, Gambari should be principled. Advocating the Burmese junta is unprincipled."

      Thakin Chan Tun, a veteran politician in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy on Thursday, "I don't understand what Gambari's talking about. I don't see the Burmese junta working toward a democratic transition as the Indonesian generals did."

      Some also suggest Gambari should understand the "big picture" in Burma, without looking to Indonesia for a model that leads "ultimately to democracy."

      Burma analyst Aung Naing Oo said that, under Suharto's rule, Indonesia's newspapers had more room than the current Burmese press.

      "If the junta really imitated Suharto's model in Indonesia, it would be better than the current situation in Burma," he added. "But I see no evidence that the Burmese generals are following what Gambari's saying."

      India wooing Myanmar junta despite being hoodwinked - Shyamal Sarkar
      Merinews: Thu 27 Mar 2008

      India has been wooing the wily generals of the Myanmar military junta on many fronts, from supply of armaments on territorial compulsions to making investments for the sake of its economic and energy needs. But is the junta reciprocating honestly?

      INDIA AND Myanmar are playing footsie and on many counts the larger neigbour is being taken for a ride. India, which has been cosying up to military ruled Myanmar for a number of years, now has been supplying military hardware to the junta. Among the armaments supplied is also an Islander aircraft that India passed on to the regime despite strong objections from the UK that supplied the aircrafts to India in the first place.

      India's idea behind arming the junta was to seek in return the flushing out of Indian insurgents from the northeast hold up in Myanmar from where they launch guerilla operations on the Indian armed forces. This is apart from the bilateral trade ties that the two countries have.

      Myanmar on its part seems to be playing a dubious game. Over a year ago it went through the motions of attacking an Indian insurgent camp on its soil but nothing much was heard about it afterwards. Myanmar shelters rebels from Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and other splinter groups in the northeast. There have been reports earlier that Indian insurgents based in Myanmar stay comfortably and have business interests in the country. Both the shelter and the business ventures have the patronage and the blessings of the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar military) yet India continued to supply armaments till the other day on the belief and conviction that these would be used against the Indian rebels. No such thing is happening.

      Recent accounts in the Myanmar media in exile suggests that an Indian insurgent group from Manipur state in northeast India has set up an elaborate establishment in Maungdaw Town near the Bangladesh border and is into lucrative business ventures. The group was said to have set up an office in Myoma Ka Nyin Tan (Sidar Para) village in Maungdaw Township last year. It has been based in the neigbouring country since 2002.

      The office is reported to be well equipped with computers cellular telephones and the works. The Manipuri rebels use the Internet to keep in touch with the outside world and are in constant touch with Myanmar military officers. The Myanmar army was said to have gone to the extent of building houses for them and Nasaka, Myanmar's border security force provides security wherever they go.

      Of the several business ventures that the group has one is operating vehicles on hire through agents. The group has bought buses, cars and jeeps and then hired it out to locals to ply between towns. The real money, however, comes from poppy cultivation in the jungles away from the town where locals are prohibited from going. Locals and shopkeepers were quoted as testifying that the rebels were flush with money, as they deal in heroin.

      It is not that India's intelligence agencies are unaware of what is going on. No major offensive against the Indian rebels, as was done in Bhutan against the ULFA, has come to light in Myanmar. India seems to have reasons not to push too hard in having the rebels flushed out because it has larger and more immediate interests at stake. It is set to put the seal on the Kaladan Multi-Model Project. The project envisages the development of Sittwe port on the Bay of Bengal in Arakan state of Myanmar. It will connect Mizoram state in landlocked Northeast India through the Kaladan River. Built by the British the port is in disarray. The Myanmar junta's number two man Maung Aye will arrive in New Delhi on April 4 and finalise a host of business deals including the Kaladan project.

      The project envisages an Indian expenditure of about $ 100 million. The Myanmar military regime has Promised Land but had been extremely reluctant to invest funds. After much haggling India gave in to the junta's whims and granted a soft loan of $ 10 million to Myanmar. The target for completion for the Kaladan project is about four years. Rail India Technical Economic Services (RITES) will execute the project.

      As in the case of the Kaladan project where India has had to given into the junta's demands the country has had to accept the junta's decision to give precedence to China on access to gas reserves in Myanmar. Despite all this India continues to woo the Myanmar Tatmadaw much to the chagrin of the international community, which views the Southeast Asian nation as a rouge state

      Monks denounce referendum call - Lincoln Tan
      The New Zealand Herald: Thu 27 Mar 2008

      The head of the International Burmese Monks Organisation yesterday denounced a junta-backed constitutional referendum in Myanmar as "unlawful" and called on the New Zealand Government to reject it and join other world leaders to help the country get back on track towards "true democracy".

      Venerable U Pannya Vamsa, a revered Burmese Buddhist leader who is in New Zealand on a three-day visit, made this call in a declaration at the Ratanadipa Buddhist Temple in New Lynn yesterday.

      The 83-year-old abbot will also be meeting politicians, including Green MP Keith Locke, community leaders and journalists this afternoon to help garner local support to the Burmese cause.

      Mr Vamsa is calling on the Government "to bring its target sanctions policy into line with Australia, United States and European Union policies" and "to use its embassy in Thailand to regularly meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and her party".

      He is also asking New Zealand to start a "Burma democracy fund" to help finance pro-democracy movements outside Myanmar, similar to the Zimbabwe Democracy Fund established by Australia.

      There are about 2000 Burmese in Auckland and the temple has become a meeting place for the community, where hundreds flock to during weekends.

      Ma Maung, who entered New Zealand as a refugee last year, said life here was "like living in heaven" compared with where he came from. An estimated 90 per cent of the population in Myanmar lives on about US$1 ($1.25) a day.

      "Some people complain here about how hard life is and how poor they are in New Zealand, but I think no one knows what is being poor unless you have lived in Burma," he said. "There is also no freedom, and you have to watch every word and every movement, otherwise the Army will be ever ready to get you."

      Last month, Myanmar's military rulers announced they would hold a referendum on a new constitution in May to set the stage for a multiparty democratic election in 2010.

      Although China, Russia and some South East Asian countries have said this was a step in the right direction, the US and some Western countries saw it as being aimed at entrenching the military's role there.

      Mr Vamsa said the referendum was an attempt by the junta to "trick the international community" into believing they were heading towards democracy.

      "How can they say it is democracy when they have laws that are like guns pointing at our heads?" asked the abbot, who is living in exile in Penang, Malaysia. "The junta has imposed laws to make speeches and leaflets about the referendum illegal and even declared democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi could not participate because she was married to a foreigner who is now dead."

      He said the referendum was identical to the stalling tactic the regime used when it refused to recognise the democratic elections in 1990 that was won by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.

      "They are only trying to trick the community because they don't want the world to remember what happened in September last year," Mr Vamsa said, referring to the regime's crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising which left at least 31 people dead.

      Time's up, Gambari! - Min Zin
      Irrawaddy: Thu 27 Mar 2008

      The United Nation's mediation efforts in Burma have become snared in a trap. The special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, is now caught between an unsuccessful mediation and his reluctance to admit failure.

      Frustration abounds. Gambari appears to have become the target of mounting disappointments. Most Burmese opposition groups would say he deserves it.

      During his briefing on Burma with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on March 18, Gambari seemed anxious to prove how important his role as special envoy really was. Though he admitted his efforts had yielded "no immediate tangible outcome," he insisted the efforts of the UN good offices were "relevant" to both sides - the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the military regime.

      Gambari even said in his briefing that he had reason to believe that the Burmese government attaches importance to his mission and "continues to value the Secretary-General's good offices as the best prospect for further cooperation through mutual trust and confidence, and constructive suggestions."

      Unfortunately, the facts do not allow the special envoy grounds for such optimism.

      According to highly publicized state media reports, Burmese Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan urged him to support the junta's "Seven-step Road map" and stop pursuing alternatives suggested by Western democracies.

      The regime's information czar added that if Gambari tried to force the country to meet Western calls for reform, "We would be concerned that your task of offering impartial advice may be undermined."

      As a clear indication of the regime's lack of cooperation, military chief Than Shwe, the only true decision-maker in Burma, shunned Gambari on his last two visits.

      In fact, the junta has already rejected the UN's key proposals. It turned down suggestions that Burma should set up a broad-based constitutional revising commission in order to ensure an inclusive political process, and establish a poverty alleviation commission.

      After the two proposals were rejected, Gambari, on his last trip to the country, put forward one more suggestion to the junta - that Burma invite international observers to the upcoming referendum. Reportedly, the junta's information minister responded with a blunt "no."

      Additionally, senior Burmese military officials announced that the new constitution would bar Aung San Suu Kyi from running in future elections because she was previously married to a foreigner, a British scholar, who died of cancer nine years ago.

      Gambari's failure has become so severe that he could not even manage to persuade the Security Council members to release a much-anticipated Presidential Statement after his briefing. However, the Council may release a Presidential Statement on Burma next week, thanks to the hard work of US-led Western democracies. Council members are now negotiating the language of the statement. However, no one should not expect a strong statement from the UNSC, a diplomat warned. "It will be a statement with a very mild tone," said a source close to the UN.

      The faith of Burmese dissident groups in Gambari's mission is about to hit rock bottom.

      "We hoped he (Gambari) would ask the Council to strengthen the mandate of the Secretary-General in pressuring the junta for an all party-inclusive, transparent and democratic process of national reconciliation in our country. However, to our surprise and sadness, he misled the Council," read a joint statement issued by the All Burma Monks Alliance and the 88 Generation Students group on March 26.

      In fact, there may be a valid reason to consider broader factors for his ineffectiveness and do justice to Gambari.

      "Mr Gambari's efforts should be understood in a larger context, instead of over-focusing on his diplomatic skill. The success of Gambari's mission depends on the readiness of key international players to use their leverage over the Burmese junta," said Dr Thaung Tun, UN representative of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma - effectively the Burmese government in exile. "At the same time, we also need to review how Gambari engages the junta; whether or not he adheres to the line of principled engagement."

      UN officials maintain that "the role of the good offices is still very intact" and "very much a work in progress."

      "I do understand there is the expression of frustration, but you can't expect miracles to happen to a situation that has been going years and years," said Choi Soung-ah, a UN spokeswoman. "Mr Gambari currently is the world's only tie into the government of Myanmar [Burma]. From the UN perspective, it is very important not to take drastic action immediately because we don't want to shut down the only channel."

      This channel, however, can prompt disservice to genuine international mediation efforts on Burma.

      According to senior diplomats in Europe, the argument prevailing among Asian countries - including China and even some European nations - is that they support the UN special envoy's mediation. So long as Gambari says his mission is relevant and can yield positive results, they will not undermine him. They will support him - and wait and see.

      "In fact, they justify their handoff policy by hiding behind Gambari's mission," a senior diplomat from the EU told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity. "Unless Gambari admits that he can't do anything with the present mandate, he is unwittingly dragging the mediation effort into the swamp. No better alternative will be found."

      Aung Din, the executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, agrees.

      "Burma is now being hijacked by Gambari," said Aung Din. "His effort has failed miserably again and again and again. Unless the mission is enhanced and strengthened by the UN Security Council, nothing positive can be expected. But instead of admitting that, he is still acting like he remains relevant and can do magic. It is a high disservice to international mediation efforts. For the people of Burma, we feel betrayed."

      In fact, Gambari has already exhausted his capacity for persuasion, the principal source of leverage that a mediator wields. Instead of drowning himself further in quagmire, he may want to use another source of leverage - his own termination.

      As a mediator, he can say "I withdraw now. I can't make any progress with the current mandate. I need stronger Security Council support to deal with the Burmese generals."

      Of course, his withdrawal will not have a direct impact on the military junta - the generals in Naypyidaw are not so sensitive to such threats. But it will make China and Asean feel more pressured to cooperate with Western democracies to resolve Burma's crisis.

      At least, it will be easier for US-led Western democracies to compel China and Asean (especially two current Council members: Indonesia and Vietnam) to approve a stronger Council mandate for the UN special envoy.

      All in all, if Gambari uses the threat of withdrawal skillfully it could yield a greater opportunity to raise the Burma issue in the UN Security Council.

      Pro-junta militia forces people to relocate
      SHAN: 2008-03-28 05:31

      Former Shan State Army (SSA) South's 758th Brigade commander Sao Mong Zeun who surrendered to the Burmese military in 2006 has forced people in Pa Hsang village tract to move to Na Poi village tract under his control in Nam Zang Township.

      The order was issued on 21 March at a meeting called by him. According to the order, they were to complete their relocation within 5 days. Failure to comply with has been threatened with unspecified punishment. Even families of his members were not exempted.

      Daughter raped, mother beaten, villagers robbed
      SHAN: 2008-03-28 05:34

      A Burma Army patrol had last week robbed villagers in Southern Shan State, where a girl was raped and her mother was beaten, according to local sources.

      By: Kwarn Lake (Tel:++6683 9474191)

      On 21 March, over 40 soldiers from Laikha-based LIB 515 led by Captain Kyaw Myint Thein arrived at Park Yarn village, Mong Yai village tract, Mong Nawng sub-township Kehsi township. One of them went into a house in the village and raped a 17-year-old girl and beat her mother who was trying to stop the man, said a local.

      A resident of Mong Nawng said, "Her mother was beaten by the soldier with a fire wood and her head was bleeding wetting her whole body. As villagers heard her crying, they came to try to stop [the man], but the rest of the soldiers came and beat the villagers who were then dispersed".

      The source added, "While villagers scattered, the soldiers fired their guns into the air about 15 shots. Then the whole village became deserted. Some soldiers then went into the villagers' houses and took whatever they wanted in the houses".

      Among the villagers who lost their property where Nai Mai [not real name] and Nang Aye Am [not real name]. Their losses were mats, chickens and cash, Kyat 5,000 ($ 4.54) and Kyat 20,000 ($17.9) respectively, according to the source.

      LIB 515 is often found patrolling in Mong Keung, Kehsi and Laikha townships, said another local.

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