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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 17/4/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. U.N. rights expert calls Myanmar vote plan surreal 2.. UN rapporteur warns Burma on vote 3.. Myanmar vote needs international observers 4.. Myanmar
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 17, 2008
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      1. U.N. rights expert calls Myanmar vote plan "surreal"
      2. UN rapporteur warns Burma on vote
      3. Myanmar vote needs international observers
      4. Myanmar detains at least 20 activists
      5. Suu Kyi can vote in Myanmar charter poll, her party says
      6. India, Myanmar discuss security
      7. Climate of fear in Myanmar ahead of referendum: monks, activists
      8. Junta urges people to support constitution
      9. Constitution "error" could prevent amendments
      10. Many townships forced to support the draft constitution
      11. Junta authorities warn villagers not to cast "No" vote
      12. Burma plans its "democracy"
      13. Chinese trucks to tow howitzer arrive on border
      14. Weekly business roundup

      U.N. rights expert calls Myanmar vote plan "surreal"
      Reuters : April 14, 2008

      by David Brunnstrom

      BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A United Nations investigator dismissed Myanmar's plans for a May 10 constitutional referendum as "surreal" on Monday and said he saw no credible moves towards political transition in the military-ruled country.

      "The government continues detaining people and repressing people who are trying to do some campaigning for a 'no' in the referendum," Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said in an interview.

      Myanmar's main opposition party last week urged that there be international observers of the referendum and said people campaigning against a new, military-backed charter were being assaulted and their materials seized.

      "How can you have a referendum when you make repression against those that are intending to say 'no'? This is completely surreal," Pinheiro, the U.N. special rapporteur on Myanmar, told Reuters.

      Speaking in Brussels, Pinheiro said Myanmar had seen none of the liberalization of political transitions in Asia, Latin America, Eastern or Southern Europe.

      "I don't see the most basic requirements," he said.

      "If you say a real political transition process is taking place in Myanmar, this would be almost offensive to countries in Asia like the Philippines and Indonesia or Thailand that passed through a transition process to democracy."

      Pinheiro, a Brazilian law professor who has held his independent post since 2000, will hand over to Argentine lawyer Tomas Ojea Quintana at the end of the month.

      He said there had been some progress in his time in gaining access for aid agencies, but his parting assessment would be "gloomy": "You don't have freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of organization, or functioning of parties."

      "You cannot have a political transition if you keep almost 2,000 political prisoners and you continue the crackdown after the repression of the end of last year," he said.

      Pinheiro said he had not been allowed a visa to return to Myanmar since a November visit and no response to requests for information on the whereabouts of 700 people missing since a crackdown on monk-led anti-government protests in September.

      He estimated the number of people killed in that crackdown at least 31, against an official figure of 15.

      The junta, which tightly controls Myanmar's media, has urged the country's 53 million people to back the charter, a key step in the military's seven-point "road map to democracy" meant to culminate in multiparty elections in 2010.

      Pinheiro said the constitutional process could not be considered democratic given that all delegates of the constitutional assembly had been picked by the government.

      He termed "a great mistake" provisions in the document excluding figures like detained Nobel Prize-winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the political process and retaining 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military.

      The charter, dismissed by Western critics as a ploy to entrench 46 years of army rule, also gives the commander in chief the right to suspend the constitution at will.

      "I don't think the population knows what it will mean to vote 'yes' or 'no'," Pinheiro said, adding it would be a "very bad sign" if the junta did not accept international observers.

      "I will end my mandate saying that this is not a democratic political transition," he said.

      UN rapporteur warns Burma on vote
      BBC News : April 15, 2008

      Burma's referendum next month will be a "ritual without real content" unless international monitors are allowed in, a top United Nations official has said.Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the Special Rapporteur on Burma, also accused military rulers of a clampdown on people campaigning for a "no" vote.

      The referendum, set for 10 May, is on whether to adopt a new constitution.

      Leaders say it will pave the way for elections by 2010, but critics say it is aimed at entrenching military rule.

      The charter was drafted by the generals without input from the pro-democracy opposition.

      It allocates a quarter of seats in parliament to the military and bans anyone who has been married to a foreign national from holding office - ruling out detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Her National League for Democracy has called on people to vote against the referendum.

      'No transition'

      Speaking in Brussels, Mr Pinheiro said that the referendum would not have any credibility if opponents were prevented from speaking out.

      "How can you have a referendum without any of the basic freedoms?" he was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

      "It would be important to have international observers to validate the referendum, because if not it would be just a ritual without real content."

      In a separate interview with Reuters news agency, he accused the Burmese government of detaining "no" campaigners, and said that he saw no signs of political change there.

      "If you say a real political transition process is taking place in Myanmar (Burma), this would be almost offensive to countries in Asia like the Philippines and Indonesia or Thailand that passed through a transition process to democracy," he said.

      Mr Pinheiro last visited Burma in November 2007, weeks after a military crackdown on anti-government protests left at least 31 people dead.

      The Burmese government has since then refused to allow him back in.

      The full text of the constitution went on sale in government bookshops on 9 April.

      Myanmar vote needs international observers
      International The News : April 15, 2008

      BRUSSELS, Belgium: Myanmar's planned referendum on a new constitution will be reduced to a mere ritual" unless international observers are allowed to monitor the vote, according to a UN human rights investigator.

      The military regime in Myanmar will need to allow the opposition to organise and allow more free speech rights for the May 10 referendum to have any credibility, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said on Monday.

      How can you have a referendum without any of the basic freedoms?" he asked in an interview. It would be important to have international observers to validate the referendum, because if not it would be just a ritual without real content."

      Opponents of Myanmar's junta say the new constitution is designed to perpetuate military rule.

      Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party has also called for international observers and says the referendum cannot be free and fair because the rules are stacked against the opposition.

      Pinheiro said he had received reports of supporters of a no vote in the referendum being detained.

      How can you believe in this referendum?" Pinheiro told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a visit to the European Parliament. I haven't seen any sign of liberalisation," he complained.

      Junta officials rejected the idea of international observers when it was proposed to them by UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari in a meeting last month. State media said it was decided there was no precedent for it and it infringed on Myanmar's sovereignty.

      Pinheiro said there was little sign the regime would lift its ban on him visiting the country before he steps down at the end of this month after seven years as the UN human rights investigator. Hope, always I try to have, but I'm not expecting that the government will give me a visa in the next two weeks."

      The Myanmar authorities have refused to allow Pinheiro back into the country since November following his criticism of the government's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

      Suu Kyi's NLD has urged voters to reject the proposed constitution because it was drafted under the junta's direct control, without any input from the country's pro-democracy movement. The draft constitution will be adopted if more than half of eligible voters approve it in the referendum.

      The constitutional referendum is supposed to be followed by a general election in 2010, but the charter allows the military to keep wide powers and effectively prevent Suu Kyi from holding public office.

      Myanmar detains at least 20 activists
      Associated Press : April 16, 2008

      YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military junta detained more than 20 activists as they walked through the northwestern city of Sittwe in a peaceful rally against the country's proposed constitution, an opposition party spokesman said Tuesday.

      Meanwhile, Myo Nyunt, a youth member of the opposition party and a close aide of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested at his grandmother's home near Yangon, said Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy. He was taken from his home near Yangon on Tuesday morning.

      He was given a 15-day prison sentence by a court for failing to report to authorities when he spent a night at someone else's house, Nyan Win said.

      In Myanmar, the law requires that a person inform local authorities when staying overnight at a house where they are not listed as a member. But Nyan Win said Myo Nyunt was sentenced because he was an active member of the party.

      The arrests came ahead of the country's May 10 referendum on a new constitution that critics say was drafted to perpetuate military rule.

      The NLD has urged voters to reject the charter because it was drafted without any input from the junta's critics and the country's pro-democracy movement.

      The protesters were wearing T-shirts printed with the word "No," during a 5-day festival to celebrate Myanmar's traditional New Year's holiday.

      Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state in western Myanmar is known for its strong anti-military sentiment. It was the city where Buddhist monks first joined anti-junta rallies that swelled into nationwide protests last September. At least 31 people were killed when the military crushed the protests, sparking global outrage.

      On Sunday, some youth activists in suburban Yangon were reprimanded by authorities and warned not to wear the "No" T-shirts, said a member of the NLD who asked not to be named for fear of official reprisal.

      "Arrests of NLD members and intimidation against opponents of the regime's draft constitution are becoming more frequent," Nyan Win said, adding that several activists have also been attacked by unidentified assailants.

      Last week, the NLD called on international observers to take part in the referendum. Junta officials rejected the idea of international observers when it was proposed by United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari last month.

      The proposed constitution would ban anyone who enjoyed the rights and privileges of a foreign citizen from holding public office. This would keep Suu Kyi out of government because her late husband was a Briton.

      The proposed charter allots 25 percent of the seats in both houses of Parliament to the military.

      It also stipulates that no amendments to the charter can be made without the consent of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, making changes unlikely unless supported by military representatives.

      The constitutional referendum is supposed to be followed by a general election in 2010.

      Myanmar has been without a constitution since 1988, when the current junta took power and scrapped the previous charter after violently quashing mass pro-democracy demonstrations.

      Suu Kyi can vote in Myanmar charter poll, her party says
      AFP: April 16, 2008

      Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has the right to vote in a referendum next month on a military-backed constitution, her political party said Tuesday.

      "According to the law, (Aung San Suu Kyi) has the right to vote at the referendum as her detention was not a court order or sentence," said Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD).

      "It was just an administrative function," he told AFP.

      Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the past 18 years locked away by the ruling military junta in her sprawling lakeside home in Yangon.

      Her latest period of detention began in 2003 after a deadly attack on her convoy by supporters of the junta, and has been periodically extended since, with little sign that the generals plan to free her.

      The regime has called a referendum on May 10 on the proposed new charter, which they claim will - if approved - lead to general elections in 2010.

      Under the new constitution, which was drafted by a committee hand-picked by the junta, Aung San Suu Kyi would be barred from running for office because she was married to a foreigner, Michael Aris, a British citizen who died in 1999.

      People convicted of a crime by a court are not allowed to vote in the referendum, but detainees who have not faced trial can cast a ballot.

      There are currently about 1,850 political prisoners in Myanmar, at least 700 of whom were arrested after anti-junta demonstrations last September, which the military crushed, killing at least 31 people, the UN says.

      Next month's referendum will be the first balloting in Myanmar since 1990, when Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide victory, which was never recognised by the junta.

      The NLD and other activists are calling for a "No" vote on the charter, which analysts say simply enshrines the military's role.

      India, Myanmar discuss security
      UPI: April 16, 2008

      India said it discussed issues relating to security, intelligence-sharing and arms-smuggling with neighboring Myanmar.Junior Interior Minister V. Radhika Selvi said in a statement Wednesday an Interior Secretary-level meeting between the two countries was held March 7-10 in New Delhi.

      "At this meeting, various issues relating to security, intelligence sharing, arms smuggling, drug trafficking, border management, border trade, cross border projects, release of Myanmar fishermen arrested in India and Indian fishermen lodged in Myanmar jails and other issues were discussed," she said in response to a question in Indian Parliament.

      She said both sides agreed to work closely in these areas and toward peace along the border.

      Climate of fear in Myanmar ahead of referendum: monks, activists - P Parameswaran
      AFP: Fri 11 Apr 2008

      Military-ruled Myanmar is gripped by a climate of fear ahead of a May 10 constitutional referendum, according to three Buddhist monks who led a failed revolt against the junta and other activists.

      "People are threatened, (some) brutally beaten by unknown assailants," said U Kovida, who was in the forefront of last September's "saffron revolution" that was brutally suppressed by the military.

      "The closer the May referendum is, the more scared and concerned the people are about their safety and security," said Kovida, who fled to neighbouring Thailand and was recently accepted as refugee in the United States together with his two compatriots.

      He testified at a Congressional hearing Thursday that he was informed by his colleagues in Myanmar that security had been tightened with police and security forces deployed in the main streets of the former capital Yangon.

      Kovida, a leader of the "Monks Representative Group" which organized some of the first demonstrations, suggested that the junta might not accept any unfavorable referendum result.

      He cited the military's refusal to accept 1990 election result in which democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a landslide victory. She has spent more than 12 years under house arrest.

      "We cannot accept the constitutional referendum and planned general election in 2010 organized by the military government which totally ignored the results of the 1990 general elections," Kovida said. "We should reject any effort by the military government to legitimize itself."

      Aung Din, the executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, said he had received information that the military had hired "thugs" to attack rebel monks and other activists during a popular water festival next week. Burma is the previous name of Myanmar.

      The NLD's recent call to reject the constitution has raised prospects that the charter would be defeated, he said.

      "The situation is much stronger now even though the military regime is using maximum efforts to block the people's choice," he said.

      "Rejection of the constitution will be a big blow to the military because they have portrayed it as a key component of their so called road map for democracy," said Aung Din, a former political prisoner.

      U Gawsita, former leader of the All-Burma Monks Alliance which also led the September protests, said the group was now campaigning aggressively against the charter.

      "The alliance is very much alive although the lives of the monks are under threat," said Gawsita, who had worked in a monastery which also functioned as a sanctuary for HIV/AIDS victims.

      Another student monk leader U Pannyar Thi Ri asked the United States to push the UN Security Council to take action against the military generals for their bloody crackdown of peaceful protests, which according to the UN left at least 31 people killed and 74 missing.

      The US House of Representatives is considering adopting a bipartisan resolution condemning the "undemocratic constitution and the scheduled sham referendum to legitimize the constitition," a congressional aide said.

      "We believe strongly that a handpicked cabal of regime insiders cannot legitimately draft a constitution that excludes the Burmese people and their democratic aspirations," Republican lawmaker Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic legislator Rush Holt said in a statement.

      Junta urges people to support constitution - Mungpi
      Mizzima News: Fri 11 Apr 2008

      Burma's ruling junta on Friday publicly encouraged citizens to support its draft constitution, for which it will seek approval on May 10.

      In an open campaign, the junta, in its mouthpiece Myanma Ahlin Newspaper, urged the people of Burma to support the constitution, saying, "Democracy and freedom cannot be achieved through agitation and protests…But only through supporting the constitution in the upcoming referendum in May."

      For the first time the junta revealed that it has been conducting comprehensive campaigns across the country in the form of conducting mock elections and mass gatherings.

      The paper said, "Those who love the country, those who love freedom, those who love sovereignty, those who oppose foreign interference and those who oppose foreign stooges - must support the constitution."

      On Wednesday, the junta announced that it will hold the referendum on May 10, providing another milestone in its much prolonged 'roadmap to democracy'.

      In preparation for the referendum the junta also published its draft constitution on Wednesday, putting it up for sale in bookstalls in Rangoon. However, according to government distributors Sapay Biekman, only 10,000 copies were sent to them for further distribution.

      Despite previous reports suggesting that the junta has been extensively campaigning in rural areas, Friday's newspaper highlight is the first nationwide public campaign that urges the people of Burma to support the constitution.

      Sources in eastern and northern Shan state report that local authorities have conducted mock elections, teaching illiterate rural villagers how to vote 'Yes' in the upcoming referendum.

      According to the Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL), a Bangkok-based independent institution that monitors elections in Asia, "Mock elections are a sign of the lack of free and fair elections."

      The lack of freedom of speech and free debate on the constitution are great flaws to the referendum process and decreases the credibility of the result, ANFREL told Mizzima.

      Adam Cooper of ANFREL added that, "The lack of a presence of independent monitors is also a big flaw that makes the result dubious."

      Meanwhile, Burma's main opposition party - National League for Democracy - has called on the people of Burma to vote 'No', saying that confirming the junta's one-sided constitution will only cement military rule in Burma.

      Thursday, the NLD made fresh calls on the ruling junta to give equal opportunity to opposition groups in campaigning before the referendum.

      A NLD statement said the junta's referendum process is a sham, as opposition groups are made to fight the battle on an uneven playing surface. It also said that in recent days the junta has increased violence targeted at its party members.

      Constitution "error" could prevent amendments - Htet Aung Kyaw
      DVB: Fri 11 Apr 2008

      A clause in the Burmese junta's draft constitution requiring the agreement of all voters for any amendments to be made has been blamed on a typographical error by officials.

      An earlier outline of the constitution stated that changes to the constitution would need the support of 75 percent of parliament and more than half of all voters, already making change unlikely without the approval of the military, who are guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary seats under the charter.

      The new wording, which states that any amendments would need the approval of all eligible voters, effectively rule out any future changes to the constitution.

      Regime officials have blamed a typographical error for the wording of the clause and claim it will be corrected in the final draft.

      But opposition groups have questioned whether the government intentionally included the controversial clause.

      NLD special information officer U Thein Nyunt said it was surprising there could be such a major error.

      "It is very surprising that there is such a serious error in such a vital paragraph of the draft constitution, which is a very important thing for the country," he said.

      "Actually there should be no mistakes in it, only changes that have been made deliberately."

      Thein Nyunt also criticised the government for not making the text of the draft constitution more accessible to the people of Burma.

      "When Thailand held its election, their government distributed the constitution text books free of charge to every household and let Thai citizens and the media discuss it freely," he said.

      "But in Burma, our country is selling the books for 1000 kyat which is unaffordable for an average Burmese family."

      The book containing the text of the draft constitution is now available at book stands but it is still unclear whether the supposed error has been corrected in the copies that have been on sale since yesterday.

      The Burmese public will vote on the draft constitution in a referendum planned for 10 May.

      Many townships forced to support the draft constitution - Hawkeye/Lieng Lern
      SHAN: Fri 11 Apr 2008

      Many townships in Shan State have been ordered to support the draft military's constitution in the referendum in May with threats on those who might say no to the draft with arrests by the military, according to local sources.

      At the end of the March 2008, Mongyai Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) Chairman U Nyunt Tin with Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), Army and Policemen held meetings with 3 village tracts, Wanpung, Panghai and Wanpai village tracts.

      "At the 3 meetings, the villagers were threatened by the local authorities to support the draft constitution. If they [local authorities] find out who is against the draft constitution they will arrest him/ her," said the source.

      Every participant was forced to promise at the meetings that they would support the draft constitution.

      Since March 2008 Area Commander Lieutenant Colonel Gyi Myint held several public meetings ordering civil servants and the local populace in Mongyai to support the draft constitution. Any civil servant found to be against the draft constitution would be fired, he said.

      Since the beginning of this month, every village tract in Mongpiang Township in eastern Shan State has also been threatened by the junta.

      "The local authorities said that they didn't want to see any vote against. All the votes must be in support of the draft constitution. The immigration officials will then change their temporary cards to permanent cards after the polling".

      Junta TV announced on 9 April that the referendum would be held on 10 May. Limited copies of the draft constitution have also been made available for public review on the same day.

      Junta authorities warn villagers not to cast "No" vote
      Kaladan Press Network: Fri 11 Apr 2008

      The Burmese military junta authorities warned villagers of Taungbro Sub-township in Maungdaw, Arakan State, yesterday not to cast the "No" vote in the ensuing constitutional referendum to be held on May 10. If the villagers cast votes against the regime the country will be overtaken by hardships, they cautioned, said a source close to the police.

      The warning comes in the wake of the ruling military junta's announcement that the referendum would be held on May 10. Though the authorities are mobilizing villagers to cast the "yes" vote, some village leaders are urging voters secretly to reject the draft constitution. The village leaders say that it will not bring democracy to the country, which has been ruled by the military since 1962.

      On April 9, the Maungdaw Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) members, United Solidarity Development Association (USDA) members, Village Peace and Development Council (VPDC) members and members of People's militia went to villages on the north of Maungdaw Town to mobilize villagers to cast "yes" vote in the referendum.

      The authorities held meetings summoning villagers and said to support the draft constitution. All of the participants were forced to promise at the meeting that they would support the draft. They also told that they didn't wish to see any vote against the draft constitution and after the referendum people will elect a suitable government. Don't believe outsiders and the National League for Democracy (NLD) because they will destroy the country.

      Since 1962, people have been suffering at the hands of the present ruling junta, as a result, people are secretly determined not to cast the "yes" Vote" though the authorities are after the people, said a village elder who did not want to be named.

      Burma's military government on 9 April set May 10 as the date for referendum on a new constitution.

      Taking no heed to international outcries Burma's ruling military junta are going to carry out military supremacy in running to the country eternally through unilaterally holding a referendum on May 10, said a schoolteacher from locality.

      Burma plans its "democracy" - Hannah Beech
      Time Magazine: Fri 11 Apr 2008

      The announcer on Burmese state television only had two sentences to offer, but they were supposed to herald good news. On May 10th, he declared, Burma would hold a constitutional referendum, giving citizens a rare chance to participate in the political process. In the wake of global condemnation of crushed protests last year, Burma's secretive junta had apparently committed itself to a modicum of reform. Among the first steps would be a plebiscite on the army-drafted charter. (The previous constitution was torn up by the junta 18 years ago, and the country has operated without a basic law since then.) Then would come multi-party elections in 2010. The end result would be what Burma's generals refer to as "discipline-flourishing democracy."

      But, as you might expect from one of the world's most repressive regimes, the Burmese junta's version of democracy comes with plenty of catches. First, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader who has spent more than a decade under house arrest, will be barred from the 2010 elections because of a peculiar clause in the constitutional draft that disqualifies candidates who have family members who are foreigners. (Suu Kyi's husband, who died in 1999, was English, and her two sons hold British passports.) Second, despite several mentions of the word "democracy" - albeit always attached to the strange phrase "discipline-flourishing" - the draft ensures that the military will continue to exert great control over the nation. A quarter of all parliamentary seats will be filled by military officers, while the president must have a military background. And just in case a true democracy manages to flourish despite all the clauses designed to hinder it, the junta grants its members an amnesty from future prosecution.

      Few Burmese will have the opportunity to peruse the 194-page charter draft. Currently, official copies are available only at government-run bookstores - and they must be purchased. Samizdat versions are available, and some pro-democracy activists have been poring through the text to publicize what they contend are the myriad ways in which the constitution subverts true democratic principles. But even if the draft were widely available, the majority of Burma's 53 million mostly impoverished residents are hardly likely to sit down with a 15-chapter tome.

      The country's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, has called for Burmese voters to reject the draft. But given that Burma's generals (who prefer to call their country Myanmar) rejected a plea by the United Nations to allow international monitoring of the referendum, no outside observer will be able to indicate whether voting irregularities take place. Furthermore, a February law has made criticizing the referendum a crime punishable by imprisonment - hardly an ideal environment for open debate on the charter draft. Amnesty International estimates 700 political prisoners still crowd the country's jails as a result of last year's protest movement.

      And politics aside, most Burmese are mainly focused on filling their bellies, as food prices keep climbing skyward. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese have already fled the country for economic reasons, sometimes with tragic consequences. On Wednesday, police in neighboring Thailand discovered a cold-storage container mounted on a truck that was crammed with 121 Burmese illegal immigrants who were hoping to find work as day laborers. At least 54 of the passengers had suffocated to death. Even though the incident highlights the dangers of illegal immigration, plenty more Burmese will likely flood over the border. And there's little chance that a constitutional referendum is going to stem that tide.

      [NOTE: The junta that runs the country imposed a systematic name change several years ago, decreeing that Burma was to be called Myanmar and the capital Rangoon was to be Yangon. The opposition has never accepted these changes; neither has the U.S. government. TIME continues to use Burma and Rangoon.]

      Chinese trucks to tow howitzer arrive on border - Myo Gyi
      Mizzima News: Fri 11 Apr 2008

      Over 50 Chinese trucks to tow howitzers, which were transferred to Burma, arrived on the Sino-Burma border town of Ruili on Friday morning, eyewitnesses said.

      Local residents in Ruili said they spotted the Chinese made howitzer towing trucks being parked at a car wash.

      "The trucks arrived this morning. There are more than 50 trucks. Many are now in car washing service shops," a local resident from Ruili said.

      The military trucks are said to have been produced by a Chinese company called 'Dong Feng' (East Wind) and are equipped with three axles (six wheels).

      "These are not passenger trucks, they are designed to tow the howitzer and can also be used to transport military supplies such as ammunition and foodstuff," Aung Kyaw Zaw, a military analyst based on the Sino-Burma border said.

      Aung Kyaw Zaw added that these trucks are bigger than the previous FAW and Dong Feng trucks and are tougher and sturdier. These are specially designed to tow howitzers. They can tow both 105 mm and 155 mm howitzers.

      A local resident on the Chinese border town of Jae Gao, opposite Burma's Muse, said that the trucks were seen parked at the Jae Gao car park.

      Since January, China has transferred about 1,000 trucks to Burma through the Jae Gao-Muse route on the Sino-Burma border.

      Some of the Chinese made trucks are painted with the colour and emblem of the Burmese police force and were transferred to the Riot Police battalions in different parts of Burma including to Kyatpay (Naypyitaw), Rangoon and Mandalay last month, sources said.

      Weekly business roundup - William Boot
      Irrawaddy: Fri 11 Apr 2008

      Extortion Gangs Halt Trade on India's Main 'Look-East' Route

      India's much talked about idea of accessing the markets of Southeast Asia via a trans-Asia highway seemed farther away from reality this week as rebel extortion gangs yet again brought commercial life to a halt at the Moreh Indo-Burma border trade crossing.

      All transport on the main road from the Indian Manipur State capital of Imphal to Moreh was halted for a week after bus and truck operators withdrew services.

      They were protesting "huge monetary demands by over a dozen armed rebels operating in the region," said the main newspaper in Imphal, the Sangai Express.

      New Delhi is seeking to invest large sums in its remote northeast states to improve trade and development, but the region is plagued with ethnic rebel groups who appear to operate freely—and often cross the border into Burma's even more isolated territory to escape Indian army pursuit.

      Some bus and truck operators plying the Imphal-Moreh route say they have withdrawn services indefinitely until security is assured.

      Imphal is the main urban link in the trade corridor between India and Burma and is receiving development aid from the Asian Development Bank. But the road link and the Moreh-Tamu border towns have suffered from ethnic violence and travel-fee extorting gangs.

      India has just signed a US $120 million agreement with the Burmese government to develop another trade link between Mizoram State and the Burmese port of Sittwe.


      Stripping of Burma's Forests Intensifies with Chinese Loggers

      Logging of valuable Burmese primary forest timber for China has intensified despite "official" bans on both sides of the border, say observers in Kachin State.

      As many as 150 truckloads a day are crossing from Kachin into Yunnan "making a mockery of [China's] own ruling banning timber imports from northern Burma that it imposed in late 2005," says a report by the Kachin News Group.

      The independent KNG says its observers have recently counted more than 100 trucks crossing at Laiza daily, and about 50 laden trucks a day moving into Yunnan via China's Nong Dao border point.

      The loggers are mostly Chinese, felling teak and other high-value hardwoods from forested areas west of the Irrawaddy River in the Bhamo District and Sagaing Division.

      The KNG says the Chinese are paying bribes in gold to the Kachin State military commander, Maj-Gen Ohn Myint.

      The report accuses a company called Awng Mai, controlled by Ohn Myint's family, of coordinating the logging.

      These reports support allegations last year by several international environmental NGOs, including Greenpeace, which tracked illegally logged Burmese timber to furniture factories in China.


      Mystery 'Ruptures' in Burma Pipeline Slow Gas to Thailand

      The halt in gas transmissions from the Burmese offshore Yetagun field because of a pipeline leak is likely to mean only a blip in rising fuel exports to Thailand.

      The Thai state-controlled oil and gas operator PTT says it lost 500 million cubic feet a day per day after the pipeline was shutdown temporarily.

      Thailand is the main buyer of gas produced by the Yetagun and Yadana fields in Burmese waters of the Gulf of Martaban - a fact underlined by record sales for 2007 just announced amounting to US $2.7 billion.

      The main operator of the Yetagun site, Malaysia's Petronas, described the cut in supply as caused by pipeline "ruptures" at some point in the short Burma onshore segment of the 480-kilometre pipeline before it crosses into Thailand a Ban-E-Tong.

      "Petronas is a very tightlipped state-controlled organization and said only that it would take about five days to repair the ruptures," industry consultant Collin Reynolds in Bangkok told The Irrawaddy.

      "What has not been explained by either Petronas or PTT is what caused the ruptures."

      Construction of the Yetagun and Yadana pipelines through Burma was mired in controversy over allegations that the Burmese military forced local villagers to work on them at gunpoint without payment.

      Burmese gas fuels 70 percent of Thailand's electricity generation. After initially denying that power output was affected by the leaks, PTT said there had been some unspecified reduction at Ratchaburi power plants near Bangkok.

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