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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 1/4/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Proposed Myanmar charter bars Suu Kyi from office 2.. Burma constitution leaked amid No vote push 3.. Burma voices: Six months later 4.. Burma military
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2008
      1. Proposed Myanmar charter bars Suu Kyi from office
      2. Burma constitution leaked amid 'No' vote push
      3. Burma voices: Six months later
      4. Burma military pressures people to vote Yes
      5. Junta split may hasten civilian rule
      6. Sino-Burma border meeting held at KIA headquarters
      7. Slain Karen leader: Rebel effort is self defense
      8. India, Myanmar to seal deal on a port near gas field
      9. Burma's second in command to visit New Delhi
      10. U Myint Thein: Burmese democracy campaigner
      11. Burmese MPs blast 'weak' UN response to plight
      12. An appeal letter from Members of Parliament from Burma (Myanmar) to parliamentarians around the world
      13. Asian (con)fusion: Burma

      Proposed Myanmar charter bars Suu Kyi from office - Aung Hla Tun
      Reuters: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      Detained Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not be allowed to stand for election in army-ruled Myanmar because she was once married to a foreigner, its proposed new constitution says.

      A copy of the charter obtained by Reuters on Monday confirmed that a "person who is entitled to rights and privileges of a foreign government, or a citizen of a foreign country" cannot run for office.

      Suu Kyi, 62, was married to British academic Michael Aris from 1972 until his death in 1999, and as such was entitled to hold a British passport.

      However, rather than being an invention of the former Burma's military junta to keep their nemesis at bay, the clause has simply been copied across from Myanmar's two previous constitutions of 1947 and 1974, experts said.

      The proposed charter, a key step in the generals seven-point "roadmap to democracy", goes to a referendum some time in May and has left opponents of the junta in a quandary, unsure whether to vote "Yes" or "No".

      Integral to the "discipline-flourishing democracy" advocated by the generals is a proviso that 25 percent of seats in parliament are reserved for the military.

      The commander-in-chief of the armed forces will also be the most powerful person in the country, with the right to suspend the constitution at will.

      However, the charter also enshrines many rights that have been absent for nearly the last two decades.

      Under the proposed charter, the southeast Asian nation's 53 million people will be allowed to form political parties and unions and freedom of the press and religion will be protected.

      Myanmar's myriad ethnic groups, many of whom have waged years of guerrilla war since independence from Britain in 1948, will also be accorded the specific right to promote their own languages and cultures.

      While some people are refusing to approve any constitution spawned by a reviled military regime, others say it is better to have a bad constitution than none at all.

      "We can't expect it perfect at the initial state and we should not delay till it is perfect," one lawyer who asked not to be identified said. "There will be freedom of expression, press, association, procession and so on that we haven't got now."

      Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said last week the charter would be open to incremental change after multi-party elections slated for 2010.

      (Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Michael Battye and Alex Richardson)

      Burma constitution leaked amid 'No' vote push - Kenneth Denby
      The Times of London: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      Burma's generals intend to block the Burmese democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from ever leading her country, according to leaked copies of a new constitution drafted by the country's military junta.

      The 194-page draft constitution, which was circulating yesterday among Burmese and foreign journalists in Rangoon, states that anyone with family connections to foreigners is not eligible to stand as president. But the document, which will be put to a constitutional referendum in May, does not impose the same restriction on ministers or those who run as members of parliament.

      Ms Suu Kyi's two sons by her late husband, the British academic Michael Aris, are British citizens, which would seem to rule her out unequivocally from the highest post. But the clause on the eligibility of parliamentary candidates only eliminates anyone with "allegiance or adherence" to a foreign government.

      According to the British government, Ms Suu Kyi no longer has British citizenship, although her continuing support for foreign sanctions against Burma might be taken by the junta as evidence of such "adherence". The junta may use this ambiguity as a bargaining chip with Ms Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy - in order, for example, to encourage her to drop her support for sanctions in return for release from her continuing house arrest and a seat in parliament.

      Overall, foreign governments and members of the opposition in Burma regard the constitution as a means of perpetuating the power of the military dictatorship under a new, civilian guise, and a "Vote No" campaign is gradually gathering momentum.

      The leaked version of the constitution, which has still not been seen by ordinary Burmese just weeks before the referendum, is the first document of its kind in Burma to guarantee basic rights such as freedom to form political parties and unions, as well as freedom of the press and religion and the rights of minorities. However, these seemingly liberal precepts are outweighed by clauses which would leave power securely in the hands of the army which has ruled the country since 1962.

      The constitution states that it cannot be amended for ten years and, even then, only with a three quarters parliamentary majority. Since one quarter of seats in both houses of parliament is reserved for members of the military, the country's current rulers will continue to exercise a veto.

      Although the president would notionally be a civilian, he would be allowed to transfer full legislative, executive and judicial power to the commander in chief of the armed forces for as long as a year in case of a state of emergency. Rather than coming into force immediately after the May referendum, the constitution will be activated only after the convening of a new parliament, due to be elected in 2010.

      "Not everything in here is bad, perhaps 80 per cent in OK," said a western observer in Rangoon. "If this was coming out of East Timor, for example, you'd say this was something to work with. But with this government there is simply no trust. Given their record it's difficult to grant them the benefit of the doubt."

      A statement from the All Burma Monks' Alliance and the '88 Generation Students, which launched the vast pro-democracy demonstrations which were suppressed by the government last September, said: "We all are determined to "Vote No" on the junta's sham constitution in the upcoming referendum. As the military junta is aggressively and desperately pressuring the people to vote in favour of the constitution, our challenge to reject it will surely be met with a bloody response by the junta."

      Burma voices: Six months later
      BBC News: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      Six months after protests in Burma ended in a military crackdown, people describe the atmosphere in the country and their fears for the future. Life has been hard as ever. No change or hope has come yet to us.

      People no longer talk about politics for fear of arrest, accusations, safety and other frightening things.

      But everybody desires to know something more and to talk freely about these issues. Some day we hope to have our freedom or right to speak. Ha ha. What a joke!

      Everything has been over for nearly six months now. But some of us still recall it.

      Here, a referendum on a new constitution is drawing near. People are talking about it and no-one really knows what it is going to look like.

      But almost everybody accepts that the government will win it whether the constitution is ratified or not by the people in May.

      Even now almost everybody has little understanding of what the referendum is and what has to happen.

      I have been in the capital Nay Pyi Taw for a few months now. More construction sites are still being built as more NGOs and private companies have to move here somehow.

      They say Nay Pyi Taw is the capital and its future lies with the new democratic government body. There is no sign yet of how the military will stand after the results are out.


      I tell people not to even think about voting 'No' or 'Yes' [in the forthcoming referendum on a new constitution]. It means that you consider and accept it.

      Actually, the junta does not have the right to do anything for the country. It is an illegal government.

      Even if the work done is good, and the result or outcome is exceptional progress as in China, it is unacceptable because it is a military dictatorship and the junta is unconstitutional - having no law, rules and regulations.

      Now the country suffers complete loss and ruin.

      Its people are totally destroyed both physically and mentally - the majority are living in a mess, eating junk food, leading a hand-to-mouth lifestyle.

      There is no guarantee for healthcare. If a man does not have enough money, in case one needs to go to hospital or a private clinic for serious cases, he should prepare to die. The cost is sky high.

      People now become mad and irrational as a result of poverty and a lack of education.

      Night is dark without electricity. Water is scarce. How is it like a modern and developed country to which, they say, they are marching?


      In recent times, we have not been able to use the internet because the government decreased the internet bandwidth during the visit of UN envoy Mr Gambari.

      Nothing has changed after six months in Burma. The military junta has arrested our leaders and many activists. Now they've spread many soldiers across Rangoon to break down any movements.

      They will have a constitutional referendum in May. They don't care for the UN and the international community.

      What would the UN do to get the true result from referendum?


      The internet connection was at its worst during the September revolution. There has been little improvement.

      Sending information to foreign media can be indicted by the junta and we will be jailed. But we the people of Burma take this risk by sending mails to foreign media because we have to let the people of the world know our situation in our country.

      The junta is putting heavy guards around Rangoon and monitoring the mails and the internet because they are going to hold a fake referendum in May.

      They haven't [at the time of writing] published the constitution we are to vote on. They dare not let the people of Burma study the constitution thoroughly and freely.

      Now the junta is showing its strength by patrolling around the town with trucks fully loaded with policemen and soldiers carrying guns. It is a warning to the people who go against the junta that they will be shot.

      Now the junta is arresting and putting into jail without giving reasonable explanation for the people who go against the junta.

      Burma military pressures people to vote Yes
      DVB: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      While pro-democracy groups are urging people to boycott the upcoming referendum or vote No, the Burmese authorities have been pressuring people to vote Yes to the new constitution.

      Residents of Arakan State said the military has been pressuring people to vote in favour in the May referendum.

      Officers from the Western Command have been travelling around Manaung and An townships and intimidating people into voting in support of the constitution, according to a resident of Taungup township who has been monitoring the situation.

      "A captain and three soldiers from the Western Command, who were fully armed and in uniform, arrived at Man Yon Taung Village Tract in An Township on 17 March and summoned villagers from six villages," the resident said.

      "Each village had to send one representative to a meeting where they were told that a group would be set up to punish those who oppose the referendum," he said.

      "They said that they only wanted to see Yes votes, otherwise all the villagers and their families and villages would pay for it."

      The same resident said Union Solidarity and Development Association members and the local army unit have also been lobbying for votes in Taungup.

      "USDA Organizer Soe Aung Tun and Maung Nyunt Win from the Village Peace and Development Council came to Myat Mon village in Taungup on 18 March," the resident said.

      "They summoned students who had sat matriculation examinations and told them that any student who did not do well in the examinations should join the USDA and vote Yes in the referendum," he said.

      "If they did that, they said the students would be guaranteed to pass the examinations."

      The resident said Maung Nyunt Win also threatened to take action against anyone who voted No in the referendum.

      Journalists and lawyers from Rangoon have also been speaking in favour of the referendum, the Taungup resident said.

      "Lawyers from Rangoon came to Manaung and praised the SPDC's constitution as the best Burma has seen and said that the people should vote in favour of it," the resident said.

      "Han Thura, Than Oo, and Moe Moe Than from the so-called Journalists' Association came to Kyaukpyu. They have been going round villages lobbying people to vote in favour of the constitution."

      Junta split may hasten civilian rule - Larry Jagan
      Inter-Press Service: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      By promising to hand over power to a civilian government within two years, Burma's top general has sparked speculation on the future of the junta that has ruled this country since a military coup in 1962.

      "As the new constitution has already been drafted, it will be put to a national referendum in forthcoming May, and subsequently multi-party general elections will follow in 2010 in line with the provisions of the constitution," Gen. Than Shwe told more than 13,000 soldiers, diplomats and other dignitaries assembled at the military parade for Armed Forces Day on Mar. 27.

      But Than Shwe failed to announce a date for the ballot or reveal when the public would be allowed to see the final version of the charter, which has taken more than 14 years to draft. Criticising the constitution is illegal and punishable by a maximum of 20 years on jail.

      Armed Forces Day, held in the new capital Nay Pyi Daw, commemorates the establishment of the national army in 1945, under the independence hero General Aung San, the assassinated father of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi..

      Before addressing the crowd, Than Shwe reviewed the parade standing in the back of a new limousine, especially imported for the occasion.

      This is likely to be Than Shwe's last Army Day as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, according to Burmese military sources at the ceremony. His health is reportedly deteriorating rapidly. He is often short of breath and increasingly forgetful. He is known to suffer from diabetes and hypertension; his kidneys are failing and he suffers from acute coronary problems.

      There was little evidence though of his medical problems during his 15-minute speech, although his voice seemed weaker than usual, according to diplomats who attended the occasion. It was also shorter than usual, which may also reflect the general's ailments.

      Than Shwe's speech was as hard-line as usual, calling on the soldiers to join hands with the people and crush what he called "internal and external destructive elements trying to sabotage the stability of the state". He made no reference to the mass anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks last September.

      "The Tatmadaw (Burmese military) is on an historic mission, to perform this important national duty of transforming the era and the system of government in a smooth and systematic way," he concluded.

      But underneath this show of unity is the start of a new battle for Burma's future. This time it is not between the monks and the military, as it was last year, but between two factions in the army. In the past few months a major rift has emerged within Burma's military government over the country's political future.

      At the centre of the conflict are concerns over who should control the roadmap - Burma's plans for political change. The confrontation is now beginning to take shape — between those who currently control Burma's government administration and the country's economic wealth, and those who now prefer to see themselves as the nation's guardians and wish to protect the country from unscrupulous officials.

      The junta is no longer as cohesive and united as it was, as two major camps have clearly emerged. On one side there are the ministers and some members of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) who have major business interests and are associated with Gen Than Shwe's brainchild, the mass community-based Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). On the other side are the top ranking generals - loosely grouped around the second in command, Gen. Maung Aye - who want a professional army and see its main role as protector of the people. They have become increasingly dismayed at the corruption within government and understand that it is undermining the army's future role in the country.

      But the 'real' army, as these officers under Gen Maung Aye describe themselves, is going to have to act quickly if it is to remain a force to be reckoned with. The planned referendum for May and the election in two years' time will radically change the country's political landscape. The USDA, which is organising both the referendum and the elections, will significantly increase its power and control over the country's new emerging political process.

      Senior members of the army are increasingly resentful of the growing dominance of the USDA and the likely curtailment of the army's authority after the May referendum. ''It will bring an abrupt end to the army's absolute power,'' said Win Min, an Burmese independent government academic based at Chiang Mai University. Key ministers and members of the SPDC have amassed huge personal fortunes from smuggling and kickbacks. Everyone seems powerless to stop them at present, according to Burmese government sources.

      ''They are known as 'the Nazis' within the top ranks of the army,'' according to a Burmese businessman with close links to the military hierarchy. ''They have the money and they have their own militia. ''There are many within the army who view these developments with increasing concern. There is mounting resentment and frustration amongst the junior officers in Nay Pyi Daw.

      Many of the junior officers are divisional commanders in the late forties and early fifties. These are the army's ''Young Turks'', who are alarmed at the way in which the USDA is growing in influence at the expense of the army. ''They are watching their unscrupulous colleagues, hiding behind the uniform, building up massive fortunes from corruption in government and they are worried that this tarnishes the image of the army,'' said a source in Nay Pyi Daw.

      In the meantime there have been no promotions within the army for nearly a year as Than Shwe has continuously postponed the quarterly SPDC meetings for fear of being ousted by a push from those commanders who oppose the power of the USDA.

      "The top generals have not met [for the quarterly meeting] for months, since before the August and September protests, so during that time, apart from the appointment of three regional commanders, there have been no promotions," said Win Min.

      "The impact of this will certainly add to the growing frustration amongst some of the commanders who should have already been promoted," he said.

      This resentment is going to continue to simmer. They know that after the referendum in May their position will become increasingly less significant, as ministers and selected military generals move into the USDA and take up civilian roles in the future. At the same time they fear that widespread corruption will also destroy the country and its political stability.

      ''The real army is the only institution that can bring genuine democracy to the country in the future,'' a military man told IPS. ''The new generation of officers represents the real hope for the country.'' They would be open to a political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, he insisted, as they see themselves as the real guardians of the country.

      In the meantime, as Than Shwe's health deteriorates, he is increasingly withdrawn and reclusive. His position is now becoming progressively more perilous, despite his carefully planned schemes, according to many specialists on Burma's military.

      "It is not worth risking a crisis when nature may solve it for us legally and peacefully," Maung Aye recently told some of his close confidantes. But with the referendum only weeks away the army may yet have to move against the corrupt USDA lobby before it's too late.

      Sino-Burma border meeting held at KIA headquarters - Myo Gyi
      Mizzima News: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      Senior Chinese and Burmese military officials met in Kachin Independence Army (KIA) controlled Laiza today afternoon to discuss security on the Sino-Burma border.

      The meeting was attended by Burma's Northern Command Second-in-Command Brig. Gen. San Tun led delegation while the Chinese delegation was led by the Second-in-Command of Bao San Military Region Brig. Gen. level.

      "Yes, the meeting is being held at a Laiza hotel. The Second-in-Command of Northern Region Command from the Burma side is attending the meeting. But we don't know who is representing the Chinese. There were about 90 armed men in uniform and 200 in mufti deployed when Ye Myint came earlier," a local resident from Laiza told Mizzima.

      "The Second-in-Command of Northern Command Brig. Gen. San Tun, GSO(1) Col. Win Myint, a Colonel from Military Affairs Security (MAS) of Northern Command are attending the meeting and the Second-in-Command of Bao San military region is leading the Chinese delegation. GSO (1) Win Myint went to Bao San and picked up the Chinese team. They reached Laiza today via Yin Jiang. The Burmese delegation is stationed at Lajayan near Laiza", U Aung Kyaw Zaw, military analyst based on Sino-Burma border said.

      The Chinese delegation comprises about 10 members.

      This meeting is a routine quarterly meeting usually held at Bao San in Yunnan Province and Myitkyinar in Kachin State, Burma alternatively. This is the first ever such meeting held in the border town of Laiza.

      The meeting usually discusses drugs, fugitives fleeing to either side among other security matters and concludes with presenting gifts and dinners reflecting goodwill and friendship between the two countries.

      The Burmese Northern Command sent a letter to KIA on the March 24 informing them about the meeting to be held in Laiza.

      U Aung Kyaw Zaw speculates that this meeting is being held in Laiza this time amidst rumours spreading among local people that protesters involved in the recent Tibet protest led by Tibetan monks are planning to flee to the Indo-Burma border through the Sino-Burma border.

      "After the unrest in Tibet, security has been tightened in many parts of China including Jie Gao. Soldiers are patrolling in armoured vehicles in these areas daily. In some border checkpoints, the police armed with batons are manning the gates," he said.

      "Tibet is called the Jiang autonomous region. Some Tibetans are planning to flee to Burma through the Jiang-Lijiang-Dali route. The Chinese security forces received a tip off of that the KIA is planning to assist these Tibetan people by taking them to the Indo-Burma border so they are tightening the security here", he added.

      The local people have not liked the meeting being held at Laiza as there was pressure exerted on the KIA by the Chinese and Burmese authorities to transform Laiza as a port of entry for official trade, the local Kachin ethnic said.

      Lt. Gen. Ye Myint of the Ministry of Defence had a meeting with KIA leaders at Laiza on March 28.

      After the meeting, the local people were given more freedom in terms of trade on the Myitkyina-Bamo-Laiza trade route, the local Kachin ethnic added.

      U Aung Kyaw Zaw views this meeting between Ye Myint and KIA leaders as intimidation and persuasion of the KIA in regard to the constitutional referendum to be held in May this year.

      KIA family members did not register for the national ID cards being issued in the KIA controlled areas, but only local people are registering for the temporary ID cards.

      The local people said that KIA is concerned over being viewed as a historical blunderer for attending the government controlled national convention. In this convention, the junta turned down all the proposals and demands made by KIA while Kachin ethnic elders and Kachin people exerted political pressure on KIA.

      But the KIA spokesman was not available for comment and confirmation regarding this point when contacted.

      Slain Karen leader: Rebel effort is self defense - Anna Sussman
      CNN International: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      A Myanmar rebel leader killed in February said that his group is fighting for the preservation of the ethnic Karen minority, and for greater freedom throughout the southeast Asian nation.

      Mahn Sha is seen at his home in Thailand shortly before his slaying in February.

      1 of 2 Pa Doh Mahn Sha, the secretary-general of the Karen National Union (KNU), spoke in an interview three weeks before his death. He talked about his group's battle against Myanmar's military government.

      "Our struggle is to protect ourselves from the military regime," he said. "They always attack our villages, burn down our villages, burn our food supplies. We want to stop fighting but we have no choice."

      The government of Myanmar has blamed the KNU for waging attacks to destabilize the military junta.

      Mahn Sha was shot and killed at his home in Thailand on February 14, a KNU official said. During one of the last interviews Mahn Sha granted to international journalists, he posed in front of the Karen national flag hanging in his living room, and talked about the future of the Karen people and the KNU's fight for autonomy.

      He said the KNU's fighters would continue to battle the military junta in self-defense. "Our struggle is the same struggle as the monks who protested in September, the same struggle as [pro-democracy activist] Aung San Suu Kyi," he said. "Only in a different form, ours is a violent struggle, and we cannot give up until we have won."

      The 64-year-old Mahn Sha was shot and killed in Mae Sot, Thailand, just across the border from Myanmar, a KNU official said. As Thai police investigate his killing, speculation has varied on how the Karen leader was killed.

      There have been suggestions the killing may have been the result of internal differences within the rebel group. But some Karen blame Myanmar's military junta. The government has not commented.

      The killing came just days after Myanmar announced plans for a referendum on a new constitution, to be followed by a general election in 2010 as part of its "road map to democracy." The plan has been denounced by pro-democracy opposition leaders.

      A charismatic leader mourned

      Mahn Sha was the KNU's third in command, but widely respected as the group's acting leader, said KNU Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Taw. His death is viewed by many as a major setback for the already struggling resistance movement.

      "Mahn Sha [was] the strong guiding light," said Oscar Baaye, an ethnic Karen from the United States who was living with Mahn Sha prior to the rebel leader's death.

      Mahn Sha had been described as a skilled mediator between different Karen factions, as well as other ethnic groups in the region and those working for democracy in Myanmar.

      "Mahn Sha's assassination was a blow to the entire democracy process," said Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. "A lot of people saw him as a potential figure to work on national reconciliation. He was able to connect the Karen struggle to the bigger picture," he said.

      "He built bridges between all groups, that was one of his strengths," said Phil Thornton, author of Restless Souls, who has been reporting on the Karen for seven years and lives in Mae Sot.

      Young Karen, in particular, said they felt inspired by Mahn Sha's approach to the democracy movement in Myanmar. "He had a very clear vision of our struggle," said Nicky Zaw, who attended Mahn Sha's funeral.

      Dwindling numbers

      The KNU's military, a ragtag group of soldiers who often wield World War II weaponry, has come under criticism, accused of recruiting child soldiers and carrying on what many have called an unwinnable war in civilian-occupied territory. The KNU has denied using child soldiers.

      In his interview, Mahn Sha said that the KNU had the support and backing of the villagers who are caught in the middle of this conflict.

      "The military regime might have big numbers, but they don't have the support of the people," he said, claiming that for every KNU soldier there are at least 25 government soldiers. "We can protect them because we have their support," he said.

      Still, humanitarian groups such as the Free Burma Rangers regularly report attacks in Karen villages by the military regime carrying out counterinsurgency operations. Thousands have fled the fighting.

      Prior to his death, Mahn Sha had just returned from a Karen Unity Seminar, in which Karen from around the world gathered at a secret headquarters in Myanmar to discuss the future of their movement and their people.

      The KNU has been fighting the government of Myanmar for about 60 years, since shortly after the departure of the British from the country then known as Burma in 1948. It is one of the world's longest-running insurgencies.

      But during the past decade, their troop numbers have dwindled from 20,000 to a mere 4,000, said David Taw. The KNU has suffered huge losses as members tire of war and resettle in places such as Europe and the United States, he said.

      The group also still suffers from crippling infighting and another splinter group, a faction commonly called the Karen National Union Peace Council, recently broke ranks to sign a peace agreement with the government of Myanmar - like many other groups.

      While KNU leaders have been clear that they will continue their battle against Myanmar's military regime, they say the loss of Mahn Sha was a huge blow for the movement.

      At Mahn Sha's funeral, more than 1,000 mourners gathered in the jungle inside Myanmar, including representatives from nearly every regional ethnic group and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.

      India, Myanmar to seal deal on a port near gas field - Krittivas Mukherjee
      Reuters: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      India is likely to sign a deal with Myanmar this week to develop a port and build waterways and roads there, an official said on Monday, as New Delhi vies with China for access to Myanmar's oil and gas reserves.

      The deal, to be signed during the visit of the junta number two Maung Aye to New Delhi beginning April 2, is aimed at cutting travel time between the Indian mainland and its remote northeast, officials say.

      But it will also give India a foothold on the Myanmar city of Sittwe, on an island near the mouth of the Kaladan river, which will become the onshore hub of Myanmar's gas industry once vast reserves in the Shwe fields in the Bay of Bengal are developed.

      India turned to Myanmar's military rulers after Bangladesh, which sits between the Indian mainland and its far-flung northeast, refused India transit facilities and played hardball over access to its own gas fields.

      So, under the new deal, India will help Myanmar develop a port in Sittwe and build roads which will open India's landlocked, underdeveloped and troubled northeast to international trade through the Bay of Bengal.

      Goods can be shipped from India's eastern coast across a 540-km stretch on the Bay of Bengal to Sittwe from where trucks can carry them to the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram, bypassing Bangladesh.

      "The agreement is important for us and mutually beneficial," an Indian foreign ministry official said, adding that India would extend nearly $100 million in aid for the project.

      India has courted the junta since the early 1990s in a bid to counter Beijing's influence in Myanmar and access its rich oil and gas reserves in a turnaround of a policy that initially supported democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Critics say the policy makes a mockery of India's democratic ideals.

      It has made only a muted call for political reform there despite the violent response to democracy protests last year.

      It is also building roads and railways there and has supplied arms.

      But New Delhi was disappointed when Myanmar agreed to sell gas from two offshore fields to China last year, even though Indian firms have a 30 percent stake in those fields.

      India is also seeking Myanmar's help in combating insurgent groups with bases inside its neighbour.

      Burma's second in command to visit New Delhi - Mungpi
      Mizzima News: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      In an apparent indication of India's success in gaining a foothold in Burma, an agreement for India to develop Sittwe port will be signed during the upcoming visit of Burma's Vice-Senior General.

      Sources in India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said Burma's Vice-Senior General Maung Aye is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi on April 2 for a four-day visit to the country.

      During the trip Maung Aye's delegation will ink the final agreement on the Kaladan Multi-Model Project, which has been under negotiation since 2003, one source added.

      "He [Maung Aye] will arrive on April 2, and will meet both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minster," an official at the MEA told Mizzima.

      The official added that while the agreement will be signed by junior ministers from both the countries, Maung Aye will witness the ceremony.

      Other sources close to the MEA said Maung Aye will be received by Indian Vice-President Shri Mohamad Hamid Ansari and will meet Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minster Pranab Mukherjee as well as calling on President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil.

      The Kaladan Multi-Model Project includes the upgrade of Sittwe port and waterway and the construction of a road linking Kalewa in Burma's Sagaing Division to the border town of Moreh in India.

      The project envisages connectivity between ports on India's eastern seaboard with Sittwe on Burma's west coast, continuing from Sittwe via riverine and road links to the Indian state of Mizoram.

      The project focuses on developing a trade route between the two countries along the Kaladan River in Burma's Arakan state. The Kaladan River is navigable from its confluence point with the Bay of Bengal near Sittwe up to Kalewa in Burma.

      From Kalewa, India is to develop a road connecting the riverine terminus of the system to the Indo-Burmese border.

      In preparation for the signing ceremony and ahead of the arrival of Maung Aye, the Indian government last week cleared approximately $133 million to Burma.

      Sources said the Union Cabinet, on March 27, sanctioned the expenditure under 'Aid to Myanmar' funds for the upgrading of Sittwe Port and the Kaladan Waterway and construction of a road to the Indo-Burmese border from Kalewa.

      While the Burmese military government had been reluctant to sign an early agreement, India has been pushing to see the realization of the project since 2003. In the intervening period there have been six rounds of talks regarding the project, with India demonstrating a keen interest in exploiting Burma's natural resources and geographic position.

      Both countries have already initiated a Draft Framework Agreement on the Project, Draft Protocol on Facilitation of Transit Transport, Draft Protocol on Financial Arrangements and Draft Protocol on Joint Maintenance and Administration.

      Despite the international outcry over the Burmese military junta's continued human rights violations, India has been pushing for a closer relationship with its Southeast Asian neighbor for several years.

      The signing of the Kaladan Project is one of many projects that India is urging the Burmese military junta to agree on, according to a senior Indian journalist who closely monitors the Indo-Burmese relationship.

      "During the trip, Maung Aye is also likely to discuss various other issues, including trade and the bilateral relationship," added the journalist.

      India and Burma have exchanged several high level visits since Burma's Senior General Than Shwe's visit to India in October 2004. Maung Aye will be the highest Burmese official to visit India in 2008.

      U Myint Thein: Burmese democracy campaigner - Andrew Buncombe
      The Independent UK: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      For many years, Myint Thein was one of the few political dissidents in Burma able or willing to allow his name to be attached to the comments about the need for democratic change in a country headed by a regime that rules with an iron fist. As spokesman for the National League for Democracy, the party of the imprisoned political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Thein regularly met with journalists ­ usually in secret ­ and tried to draw the attention of the outside world to the movement's struggle.

      Active in the democracy movement since 1988, the year that thousands of civilians were killed by the military after a democracy uprising, he was imprisoned for a number of years. His most recent incarceration followed last September's protests, initiated by civilians but taken up by Buddhist monks, which saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets of Burma's biggest cities in a remarkable display of defiance.

      He was held in Rangoon's notorious Insein Jail, where his health deteriorated rapidly. Released at the end of October, Thein was told he had severe gastritis and a problem with his gall bladder. Doctors recommended he travel to Singapore for treatment, a process that took two months to arrange, with the authorities allegedly refusing to speed up the process. He eventually arrived in Singapore General Hospital at the end of January where he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

      Born in 1947, Thein was elected as an MP from Kyaikmayaw Township in Burma's Mon State ­ a region dominated by the ethnic Mon people. He became a leading member of the state's NLD apparatus in the aftermath of the 1990 general election which the party easily won but whose victory was ignored by the military. A close ally of Suu Kyi, he was appointed party spokesman in 2004.

      Thein always remained optimistic that international pressure could bring about change. Shortly before his arrest in September, he said: "We believe that if the international community makes enough pressure to release Suu Kyi they will. She is a Mandela. She will unite all the people."

      * Myint Thein, political campaigner: born 8 October 1947; married (one son); died Singapore 28 March 2008.

      Burmese MPs blast 'weak' UN response to plight
      Bangkok Post: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      Politicians elected to the Burmese parliament in 1990 and then prevented from taking office by the ruling junta issued an appeal to parliamentarians around the world Monday, rejecting the new military-dominated constitution and criticising the United Nations' "weak" efforts to promote democratic rule.

      Fourteen of the would-be Burmese parliamentarians said efforts by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari have been ineffective in pressuring the military government to moderate it's authoritarian policies and bring national reconciliation.

      "The UN Security Council, the highest authoritative body of the United Nations, has failed to take an effective and timely action to stop one-sided act of the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) and to enforce realising of real national reconciliation and democratisation in Burma," the parliamentarians' letter said.

      "UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has remained weak, not using his position to call for the UN Security Council action on Burma and his Special Envoy Mr Gambari is apparently misleading the world body in favour of the military junta."

      The junta announced on February 9 that it would hold a constitutional referendum in May of this year followed by a general election in 2010.

      Ban Ki-moon sent his envoy Gambari to Burma on March 6 to try to persuade the SPDC to launch a credible process of national reconciliation.

      The parliamentarians and other critics of the junta have lambasted the proposed constitution as a blatant attempt to perpetuate permanent military rule and exclude opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) from participating in the transition to democratic rule.

      Suu Kyi's NLD won a landslide victory in the country's only democratic election in 1990, but the junta jailed or exiled most of the winning candidates. Suu Kyi remains under house arrest in Rangoon.

      In its open letter to the world's fellow-parliamentarians, congressmen and senators, the elected Burmese MPs called for the UN Security Council to impose a binding resolution instructing the junta to implement genuine democratic reforms.

      It also called on the world's governments to ban all weapons sales to Burma and urged the "Chinese government to stop protecting the Burmese military regime and start cooperating with members of the UNSC (UN Security Council) to enforce positive change in Burma."

      An appeal letter from Members of Parliament from Burma (Myanmar) to parliamentarians around the world

      Committee Representing the Peoples' Parliament: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      The Military Junta's Sham Constitution Should Be Rejected by the People and Not Recognized by the International Community

      Honorable Congresspersons/Senators/Members of Parliament

      We are Members of Parliament from Burma, elected by the people in the 1990 general elections, with the mandate to lead the country towards democracy.

      Burma is also known as Myanmar, renamed by the ruling military regime, officially known as the "State Peace and Development Council" (SPDC). The 1990 elections were conducted by the SPDC after a bloody crackdown on nationwide demonstrations in which millions of Burmese people called for democracy, human rights and an end to military rule. Despite threats and pressure by the SPDC to vote for the candidates of the military-back National Unity Party (NUP), the people of Burma voted to award 85% of Parliament seats for the candidates of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by detained Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and its allied ethnic political parties. By doing so, the people of Burma clearly proved their desire to be free from the military dictatorship and live in a democratic society. However, the military regime has refused to honor the election results and instead has tried to perpetuate military dictatorship by creating a state constitution that would legalize military rule in Burma and grant the supreme power to the head of the military, Commander-in-Chief.

      Under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, we have called for the SPDC to engage in a meaningful and time-bound dialogue with the election winning party NLD and ethnic representatives. The United Nations and governments around the world have also repeatedly called for the SPDC to hold such a political dialogue in order to achieve national reconciliation and democratization as well as to save the country from decades-long social, political and economic crises. The first-ever UN Security Council Presidential Statement, issued by unanimous consent of all members of the Council on October 11, 2007, stressed "the need for the Government of Myanmar to create the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all concerned parties and ethnic groups, in order to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation with the direct support of the United Nations" .

      So far, the SPDC has ignored the repeated requests of the UN and the international community. It still holds more than 1,800 political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Nearly 100 more activists were arrested since November 2007. Military offensives against ethnic minority civilians are ongoing and have intensified. The SPDC offensives have forced hundreds of thousands of ethnic people to become internally displaced persons (IDPs) and burnt or destroyed thousands of villages in eastern Burma alone. As a result, thousands of people, including infants and children under the age of 5, have died and more than two million people have fled the country to become unwanted refugees in neighboring countries. Over seventy thousand children under the age of 18 are forcibly recruited to the SPDC's armed forces and soldiers rape thousands of ethnic women and girls with impunity.

      On February 9, 2008, the SPDC announced that it would hold a constitutional referendum in May 2008 to approve the state constitution, to be followed by a general election in 2010. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent his Special Envoy Mr. Ibrahim Gambari to our country on March 6, 2008 in an attempt to persuade the SPDC to launch a credible process of national reconciliation. However, his effort to convince the SPDC to work constructively with the democracy forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and with the United Nations apparently has demonstrably failed. On March 7, 2008, Brig-General Kyaw Hsan, who is Information Minister of the SPDC and leader of the SPDC Spoke Authoritative Team, responded to Mr. Gambari by rejecting all recommendations made by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the United Nations.

      For 18 years since 1991, United Nations has tried to persuade the SPDC to stop human rights abuses and to commence positive change. This has taken the form of over thirty resolutions from UN General Assembly, the UN Commission on Human Rights (now UN Human Rights Council), Economic and Social Council, the International Labor Organization and several discussions and the most recent Presidential Statement by the UN Security Council. All the efforts at the United Nations have failed again and again, while the situation in Burma has transformed from bad to worse. Now, the SPDC is planning to perpetuate military dictatorship in our country with a sham constitution. However, the UN Security Council, the highest authoritative body of the United Nations, has failed to take an effective and timely action to stop one-sided act of the SPDC and to enforce realizing of real national reconciliation and democratization in Burma. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has remained weak, not using his position to call for the UN Security Council action on Burma and his Special Envoy Mr. Gambari is apparently misleading the world body in favor of the military junta. Chinese Government, the major trade partner and major arms supplier of the SPDC, has threatened to use its veto power to reject any action by the UNSC on Burma.

      In light of this situation, we, on behalf of the people of Burma and Members of Parliament, urgently appeal to our fellow Members of Parliament, Senators and Congresspersons around the world to:

      (1) Call for the SPDC to comply fully and immediately with the recommendations made by the UN Security Council and call for their respective governments to apply diplomatic and economic pressure against the SPDC to fully cooperate with the UN and democratic forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

      (2) Declare that they will not accept or recognize the SPDC's constitution, written without participation of the NLD and ethnic party representatives and without meeting the expectation of ethnic nationalities and urge their governments to do the same.

      (3) Call for the UN Security Council to impose a binding resolution, which will instruct the regime to fully comply with the recommendations made by the UN Security Council, and strengthen the mandate of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and urge their governments to do the same.

      (4) Urge their respective Governments to stop selling weapons and intelligence systems to the SPDC immediately and also urge their governments to call for the UN Security Council to impose a global arms embargo and financial and banking sanctions against the SPDC, a call supported by ten Nobel Peace Laureates on February 19, 2008, including South Africa Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu and President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica.

      (5) Call for Chinese Government to stop protecting the Burmese military regime and start cooperating with members of the UNSC to enforce positive change in Burma with all-party inclusive and democratic process, and urge their governments to do the same.

      During the 1988 popular democracy uprising, at least ten thousands peaceful demonstrators were brutally killed by the military regime. As reported by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Burma Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, at least 31 people were killed, nearly 100 are missing, and about 700 additional political prisoners remain with the 1,100 political prisoners, which were incarcerated before the peaceful protests led by Buddhist Monks in August and September last year. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International estimate that the number of deaths during the protests in August and September are much higher. We have lost tens of thousands of innocent lives during the 19-year non-violent struggle for democracy.

      We are now organizing the people of Burma to "VOTE AGAINST" the military junta's sham constitution in the upcoming referendum and majority of the voters will do so. However, we also expect that the military junta will claim the victory anyhow by cheating and fraud. As general dissatisfaction of the people of Burma against the military regime grows higher and stronger, and as we are about to face off against the military regime to block its attempt to legalize military rule with the sham constitution, another round of confrontation between the peaceful and un-armed protestors and the brutal and merciless forces of the SPDC seems unavoidable. We hope you will take our appeal into serious consideration and take immediate actions to help stop more brutal killings in Burma.

      Sincerely yours,

      Members of Committee Representing the Peoples' Parliament
      Members of Parliament, Union of Burma (Myanmar)

      Contact Persons

      (1) U Pu Chin Sian Thang
      Member of Parliament, Tiddim-2 Constituency, Chin State
      Chairman, Zomi National Congress
      Member, Committee Representing the Peoples' Parliament (CRPP)
      Member, United Nationalities Alliance (UNA)

      (2) Naing Tun Thein
      Member of Parliament, Thanbyuzayat-2 Constituency, Mon State
      Chairman, Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF)
      Member, Committee Representing the Peoples' Parliament (CRPP)
      Member of Presidium, United Nationalities Alliance (UNA)

      (3) U Htawng Kho Thang
      Member of Parliament, Tamu Constituency, Sagaing Division
      Member, Committee Representing the Peoples' Parliament (CRPP)
      United Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD)

      (4) U Thein Pe
      Member of Parliament, Kantbalu Township (1) Constituency, Sagaing Division
      IndependentMember, Committee Representing the Peoples' Parliament (CRPP)

      (5) U Soe Win
      Member of Parliament, Bago (Pegu) Constituency (1), Bago (Pegu) Division
      Secretary, Party for National Democracy (PND)
      Member, Committee Representing the Peoples' Parliament (CRPP)

      (6) Dr. Myint Naing
      Member of Parliament, Kantbalu Township (2) Constituency, Sagaing Division
      National League for Democracy

      (7) U Nyi Pu
      Member of Parliament, Gwa Township Constituency, Arakan (Rakhine) State
      National League for Democracy

      (8) Dr. Tin Min Htut
      Member of Parliament, Pantanaw Township (1) Constituency, Irrawaddy Division
      National League for Democracy

      (9) U Thein Myint
      Member of Parliament, Tamwe Township Constituency (2), Rangoon Division
      National League for Democracy

      (10) U Tin Aung Aung
      Member of Parliament, Mandalay Northwest Township (1) Constituency, Mandalay Division
      National League for Democracy

      (11) U Ohn Maung
      Member of Parliament, Nyaunglebin Township (1) Constituency, Bago (Pegu) Division
      National League for Democracy

      (12) Daw Nan Khin Htwe Myint
      Member of Parliament, Pa-an Township (3) Constituency, Karen State
      National League for Democracy

      (13) Daw Khin Htay Kywe
      Member of Parliament, Chaungzon Township (2) Constituency, Mon State
      National League for Democracy

      (14) U Nyunt Hlaing
      Member of Parliament, Aunglan Township (1) Constituency, Magwe (Magway) Division
      National League for Democracy

      Asian (con)fusion: Burma - A brave voice now lost - Andrew Buncombe
      The Independent UK: Mon 31 Mar 2008

      When I met U Myint Thein in Rangoon last September, our meeting almost went very badly wrong. I had arranged to meet the spokesman for the National League for Democracy - the party of imprisoned leader Aung San Suu Kyi - at a location in the city that even now better remain unspecified.

      I got there early and sat and waited, read my book and kept looking at my watch. An hour went by and I decided Mr Thein had given up on me. Later, I discovered he had been there all along but had been in the upstairs of the building while I was downstairs.

      Later that day I finally got to speak with him, and then, the following day, I met him again with five other dissidents in similarly secretive circumstances.

      Mr Thein and his colleagues were very pleasant, highly cautious and yet hopeful about the future of their country. All of them had served time in jail for their activism and as we were meeting, the military regime that rules Burma was actively looking for activists who had been involved in sporadic demonstrations just weeks before.

      When I asked him how he believed the fight for democracy in Burma could be won, and he replied: "I do not know what to tell you. We do not have any right to connect [with each other] or demonstrate. The younger generation know every little [about the struggle.]"

      Just days later, after I had left safely for the outside world, Burma would see unprecedented scenes when tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and ordinary civilians took to the streets in protest.

      I do not know if Mr Thein was among them but very soon afterwards the 62-year-old spokesman was among hundreds or even thousands of people detained and thrown into prison by the regime. His friends said that in the six weeks he was in Rangoon's notorious Insein Jail his health suffered badly and by the time he came out he required treatment that could only be provided outside of the country. He applied for a passport and two months later he was able to fly for treatment at Singapore General Hospital.

      When he arrived he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and it appears there was little the doctors could do. Mr Thein died last Friday, with his wife and son at his bedside. Burma's struggle for democracy - barely permitted to whisper inside the country - has lost a very important voice.

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