[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 4/4/08
- Burmese Authorities Stifle Opposition to Constitution
- Burmese Continues Pre-Referendum Arrests
- Kachin and Muslim organizations urge 'NO' vote
- Junta to announce voters' list week before referendum
- 88 generation students call for tougher UN action
- S'pore to probe alleged N. Korea rocket exports to Myanmar
- India, Myanmar discuss ways to increase connectivity
- India, Myanmar sign multimillion-dollar transport deal
- Arakanese Businessmen Lose Out to Burmans in Arakan
- China-made police trucks arrive in Yangon
Burmese Authorities Stifle Opposition to Constitution
Irrawaddy: April 4, 2008
By Min Lwin
Burmese authorities are stepping up their campaign to silence opposition to the proposed constitution, prompting the US on Wednesday to issue a statement condemning recent arrests.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement that on March 29 six "youth activists" had been arrested for taking part in "a peaceful rally against the regime's draft constitution."
McCormack said the US was renewing its call "for the Burmese regime to release all detainees and political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, and begin a genuine dialogue between the regime leadership and Burma's democratic and ethnic minorities leading to a transition to democracy."
According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political PrisonersBurma (AAPP), some 1,890 political prisoners are currently held in Burmese prisons, 52 of them detained in the past three months. An estimated 700 people arrested during and after the demonstrations in September 2007 were still behind bars, AAPP said. Activist sources say most of the political prisoners are in poor health.
The latest victim of the regime's continuing crackdown, solo protester Ohn Than, was sentenced to life imprisonment by Rangoon's west district court on Wednesday for protesting in August 2007 against sharp rises in fuel prices. Rangoon lawyer Aung Thein said Ohn Than was convicted under a provision of article 124 (A) of the criminal code relating to "acts that destabilize the government."
Ohn Than, who graduated from Rangoon University in 1971, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment in 1988 for taking part in that year's pro-democracy uprising.
National League for Democracy (NLD) sources in Taunggok township, Arakan State, said three activists had been detained there for their opposition to the proposed constitution.
An NLD source in Mandalay said three detained party membersShwe Maung, Wunnar Aung and Zaw Win Layand two monks had been moved from the city's prison to Rangoon's notorious Insein prison on March 30.
Shwe Maung was imprisoned for making a symbolic gold-coated copper hat, known as kha mauk (usually worn by Burmese farmers) in 2002. The hat is a recognized NLD symbol and was intended as a gift for NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Burmese Continues Pre-Referendum Arrests, says US
Asian Tribune: April 4, 2008
United States April 2 vehemently denounced the Burmese ruling military junta for continuing to arrest political dissidents who are peacefully opposing the draft constitution.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack issued the following statement at the daily briefing:
"We condemn the Burmese regime's continued arrests and attacks on peaceful political activists. On March 29, Burmese authorities arrested six youth activists who had participated in a peaceful rally against the regime's draft constitution. The following day, five Muslim community leaders in Rakhine state were arrested, reportedly for peaceful political activities. On two separate occasions over the past two weeks, democracy and human rights activists in Rangoon were assaulted and beaten with sticks. These blatant human rights abuses contribute to the climate of fear and repression in Burma as the regime prepares to conduct a referendum on its draft constitution.
"The democratic representatives of the Burmese people have made clear their opposition to the unjust process through which the regime seeks to impose its draft constitution, which it has yet to publish. Nonetheless, the regime is proceeding with its planned referendum. The regime's arrests of individuals campaigning against the constitution, its failure to publish the constitution and welcome independent referendum monitors, and its continued refusal to release political prisoners undercut any claim that this referendum will be free and fair.
"We renew our call for the Burmese regime to release all detainees and political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and begin a genuine dialogue between the regime leadership and Burma's democratic and ethnic minorities leading to a transition to democracy, as called for by the people of Burma and the UN Security Council in its October 2007 Presidential Statement."
Kachin and Muslim organizations urge 'NO' vote - Phanida
Mizzima News : April 4, 2008
Chiang Mai - The Myanmar Muslim Organization and the Kachin National Organization (KNO) are urging the entire population of Burma to cast a 'NO' vote in the upcoming constitutional referendum.
The organizations argue that the new constitution does not represent the ethnic people of Burma and will only perpetuate the rule of the military regime.
"If you go through the draft constitution, you will see it cannot protect Burmese people and Kachin people. And there are no democratic principles. So we urge the people to cast a 'NO' vote in the forthcoming constitutional referendum", said Duwar (Chieftain) Bawm Wam Layaw, Chairman of the exile-based KNO.
KNO's appeal to the people says that the future and image of the entire country depends on the constitution. Therefore, the letter continues, the people should have a say in its drafting and the right to free criticism and discussion.
The missive states that these rights currently do not exist due to the junta oppressing and intimidating its own people. As it stands, the people do not even know what is in the constitution.
"The provisions in the constitution represent only the junta. So we can't accept the constitution and can't support it. We oppose this constitution", commented a spokesperson of the Myanmar Muslim Organization.
"One-hundred percent of our Muslim people in Burma do not support the junta at all. Their activities are disgusting", he added.
Junta to announce voters' list week before referendum
Kachin News Group: 03-04-2008
The voters' list will be announced a week before the referendum to approve the draft constitution in May. The announcement was made by the Burmese military junta authorities in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in northern Burma.
The Township chairman, U San Aung told quarter authorities at a meeting yesterday, held at the Township Peace and Development Council office (TPDC or Ma-Ya-Ka), to submit the voters list to the chairman's office before April 15 and to distribute it in the quarter before the referendum. The township office will announce the voter's list seven days before polling date, a participant at the meeting said.
According to a school teacher who attended the meeting, the Township chairman told them that all citizens have to vote for the constitutional referendum because it has taken 14 years to draft the constitution. If citizens do not vote many problems would surface.
The government will set up polling booths at the school or Da-mar-yon (community hall for religious purpose). One ballot box will be earmarked for 1,000 voters. There will be five members in the polling booth commission and if the number of votes cast is between 1,000 and 2,000, there may be seven members, a school teacher added.
88 generation students call for tougher UN action - Nay Thwin
Mizzima News: April 4, 2008
Chiang Mai - The activist group 88 generation students is urging the United Nations to take forceful action against Burma's junta, instead of relying on resolutions and statements.
88 generations' assessment came yesterday, ahead of an anticipated statement from the United Nations Security Council. A draft of the Security Council's position calls on the junta to permit pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders to partake in public debate and convene political meetings before the junta pushes ahead with any constitutional referendum.
"Only words such as 'disappointed', 'strongly condemn' and 'concern over' cannot resolve Burma's crisis. Forceful action is badly needed to resolve the crisis and achieve real change in Burma", they said.
The 15 member countries of the Security Council is expected to soon take up the draft resolution, which is jointly sponsored by the United States, Britain and France. The draft statement, as per Security Council protocol, can only be passed after receiving 9 votes in favor.
"If this non-binding statement draft is passed, it will also mean that China agrees with the position. It is non-binding but maybe it can lead to the release of some prisoners even if the junta won't allow Daw Aung San Kyi free political movement", Burmese observer U Win Min remarked.
The draft statement demands the junta allow Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political stakeholders to take part in all facets of the constitutional referendum process.
The draft statement, expressing the Council's dismay at the lack of progress on previous calls for reform, also reiterates demands made by the Security Council last September, appealing to the junta to engage in a genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and release all political prisoners.
"They should say that the junta has failed to engage in dialogue and to implement an all inclusive constitution drafting process. They should demand the junta implement all these demands first. Otherwise the UN should not and cannot recognize the junta's constitution, which doesn't reflect the people's desire and does not represent the people. They should say that the United Nations Security Council does not accept the constitution. Only such an action and statement can be effective for Burma's crisis", elaborated Ko Tun Myint Aung of the 88 generation students.
He further suggests that there should be an international forum on Burma if staunch supporters of the junta, such as Russia and China, continue to obstruct the Security Council's decision making process.
S'pore to probe alleged N. Korea rocket exports to Myanmar
Straits Times : April 4, 2008
SINGAPORE will investigate allegations that a local trading company was linked to North Korean exports of rockets to military-ruled Myanmar, the foreign affairs ministry said on Thursday.
Japan's public broadcaster NHK reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, that Pyongyang has started exporting multiple-launch rockets to Myanmar after the two nations agreed to normalise ties last year.
It said 'full-scale' exports of the weapons had been handled by an unnamed Singapore trading company but gave no further details.
'We take such allegations very seriously and will certainly investigate,' a spokesman with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
'We are committed to fulfilling our international obligations to prevent the proliferation and illicit trafficking of arms and weapons of mass destruction.'
NHK said the weapons exports are in violation of economic sanctions imposed on North Korea after the communist state conducted a nuclear test in October 2006.
Multiple-launch rockets are 24cm in diameter and about one metre long, each with a range of about 65km, according to the report - AFP
India, Myanmar discuss ways to increase connectivity
IRNA: April 3, 2008
India and Myanmar discussed ways to increase connectivity and opening more border points between them, even as New Delhi urged the junta to expedite political reforms and make these more broad-based to include imprisoned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Maung Aye, the second-highest ranking general in Myanmar's ruling military junta, began his five-day India visit Wednesday with a series of meetings with the Indian leadership.
Maung held talks with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday afternoon, followed by a call on President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Later in the evening, he held extensive discussions with his counterpart, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, at Hyderabad House, followed by a ceremony to sign agreements.
The current situation in Myanmar came up for discussion in all meetings with Indian leaders, with the Myanmarese general briefing his hosts on recent initiatives of the military regime, including its decision to hold a referendum on the new draft constitution in May and general elections in 2010.
According to a statement of the external affairs ministry, the prime minister did note the 'positive steps' of the Myanmar government but also 'underlined the need for Myanmar to expedite the process and make it broad-based to include all sections of society, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the various ethnic groups in Myanmar'.
Ansari reiterated India's stance that sanctions could be 'counterproductive' and expressed his support for the efforts of the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari.
Hosting a banquet in the visiting general's honour, Ansari termed Myanmar as a natural bridge between the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
Besides political issues, trade was also on their mind, with the two sides agreeing to open border points in India's northeast to increase bilateral trade. They talked about intensifying cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector, and India committed to support Myanmar's IT and telecommunication sectors.
Both sides also discussed cooperation in security matters on the India-Myanmar border, with India requiring Myanmarese cooperation in controlling insurgency groups in north-east, which often slip across the border to set up camps when pursued by Indian police.
Despite western rights groups' criticism of Myanmar's handling of pro-democracy demonstrations six months back, India has maintained contacts with the ruling military junta. India's intensification of ties with Myanmar has been partly a result of the military junta coying up to China, which had rung alarm bells in New Delhi.
An agreement and two protocols on the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport project, which will allow sea access to the north-eastern states, bypassing Bangladesh, were signed.
The Kaladan project includes upgrading the Sittwe port and Kaladan waterway and construction of a road from Setpyitpyin (Kaletwa) to the India-Myanmar border at a cost of Rs.5.3 billion.
Meanwhile, exiled pro-democracy Myanmarese activists here have been on a sit-in since March 31 to protest the policies of the ruling State Peace and Development Council.
"We have been protesting against the SPDC, its new constitution and the upcoming referendum," said L.R. Sanga, president of the Chin Students Association. He added that 27 pro-democracy associations in India have organized the protests under the banner of Burma Campaign India.
"We have not yet made plans for protests in other parts of the country, but we may do them at the last minute," he said.
India, Myanmar sign multimillion-dollar transport deal
The Times of INDIA :April 3, 2008
NEW DELHI: India has agreed to build a multimillion-dollar (euro) seaport and transportation system in Myanmar as it presses ahead with investment in its much-criticised neighbour.
The agreement was signed on Wednesday by officials during a meeting between the second-highest member of Myanmar's ruling junta, Vice Senior Gen. Maung Aye, and Indian Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, India's Foreign Ministry said.
India has been investing in Myanmar despite international calls for sanctions on the Southeast Asian country's military government, which violently suppressed pro-democracy protests several months ago.
A ministry statement gave no details of the deal.
Earlier, Indian officials said India would upgrade waterways and highways along Myanmar's Kaladan River and develop the port of Sittway in the country's northwest in the US$120 million (euro81 million) project.
"This project will greatly enhance connectivity between Myanmar and India, in particular with India's northeast states," the ministry statement said.
India has established deep economic and military ties with Myanmar's ruling junta over the past decade and has said it believes talking quietly is a better approach than sanctions.
During his six-day trip to India, Maung Aye has also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who reiterated New Delhi's commitment to support Myanmar in telecommunications and information technology, the statement said.
The general, whose visit ends Saturday, said he appreciated India's assistance with infrastructure projects, road construction, lines of credit and setting up an information technology centre in Myanmar, it said.
The agreement was signed the same day as detained Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party urged voters to reject a military-backed draft constitution, saying it was undemocratic and written under the junta's direct control.
The charter will be voted on in a referendum next month. The junta has also announced general elections in 2010.
The Indian ministry's statement quoted Prime Minister Singh as saying Myanmar needs to speed up its promised democratization process.
India shifted its policy from supporting Suu Kyi to engaging the junta's generals in the early 1990s, partly because of a desire for access to Myanmar's large natural gas reserves.
The transportation system will give India greater access to the reserves, which it needs to fuel its rapid economic growth.
India has also recently sought to increase its influence in Myanmar in an attempt to counter China, which has become the junta's main ally.
In addition, India has been eager to secure the cooperation of the Myanmar military in containing separatist groups fighting New Delhi's rule in north-eastern India near the Myanmar border. Several of the groups have set up bases across the 1,331-kilometer (830-mile) border and used them to launch attacks in India.
Arakanese Businessmen Lose Out to Burmans in Arakan
Sittwe: Burma and India signed an agreement on Wednesday for India's investment of USD 130 million to develop a transport project in western Burma that enhances connectivity between the two countries.
The project includes building a waterway, roads, and developing Sittwe Port on the edge of the Bay of Bengal, in order to link Arakan to Mizoram through the Kaladan River, the largest river in Arakan.
The investment of India is significant, and the hope is that it will help develop the region of Arakan. Many Arakanese people, however, do not believe the project will be beneficial for the locals.
A businessman from Sittwe said, "Everybody may believe the project will develop Arakan, and people will get opportunities from the project, but in reality the situation is very different, because it will be impossible for Arakanese people to gain any opportunities from the project."
To add to his point, he described a recent business auction held by authorities in which local Arakanese businessmen lost out to Burman businessmen.
On 27 March, 2008, the high authority in Arakan State invited businessmen to submit tenders for bridges located along the Sittwe-Rangoon motor road. The auction was held in Ann Town, where Western Command Headquarters are located.
The bridges are rented to businessmen on a yearly basis, and the businessmen collect tolls from vehicles and people crossing the bridges.
Many businessmen attended the auction, but the authority later awarded the tender to a Burman businessman who happens to be a friend of Western Command Commander General Maung Shing.
The businessman said, "All bridges up for auction were awarded to U Time Myint, who is a close friend of the western command commander, and or Arakanese businessmen did not receive any bridge contracts in the auction."
Business sources in Sittwe said that U Time Myint bid 5 million kyat on the Gassipani Bridge located near Kyauktaw, 9 million kyat on the Ramon Bridge located near Minbya, and 5 million for the Michaung Bridge located Ann for the 2008 - 2009 fiscal year.
There is a regulation on the auctions conducted by the authority that priority must be given to local businessmen over those from other regions if their bids are comparable. But in practice, local businesses rarely receive opportunities at such auctions.
Five years ago, the oil company Dawn Min, which was owned by an Arakanese businessman, was seized by the military authority after it began competing with Htoo Company owned by Teza.
The company's owner, U Soe Aung, managed to escape to Malaysia before he was arrested, but his youngest brother Khin Maung Than was arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Although some Arakanese are happy about India's investment in development in the region, there is little hope that the project will benefit the local people as much as it will be Burmese army officials and their close associates.#
China-made police trucks arrive in Yangon
Earth Times : April 3, 2008
Yangon - China has delivered 80 FAW transport trucks to police grounds on the outskirts of Yangon in what may be an effort to beef up preparations for more protests, witnesses said Thursday. They reported seeing about 40 of the 2.75-ton trucks at the Kyaik-Ka-San police grounds in Bahan Township, Yangon.
Informed sources said another 100 trucks for transporting police and troops were due to be delivered soon.
There was speculation that the trucks were part of preparations for more disturbances in the former capital, as the country gears up for a controversial referendum on a new constitution in May.
Opposition groups are urging citizens to vote against the new charter, which was drafted by a military-appointed forum and will legitimize the military's role in Myanmar's political future.
On Wednesday, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) issued a statement requesting all people to "bravely vote no" against the constitution because it was drafted without participation by elected members of parliament.
Although the NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the last general election of 1990 in a landslide, the party has been blocked from power by Myanmar's ruling junta for the past 18 years on the claim that the country needed a new charter before civilians could rule.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962, when General Ne Win seized power in a coup that toppled the elected government of former premier U Nu, and turned the once-prosperous nation into a socialist state.
Anti-military riots first rocked Myanmar in 1988, before they were stopped by an army-led bloodbath that left estimated 3,000 protesters dead.
In August and September, peaceful protests broke out against the regime's mismanagement of the economy, led by Buddhist monks. Troops cracked down on the protesters on September 25 to 26, killing at least 31 people.