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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 21/4/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Voters worry: Will officials be able to track us down? 2.. Vote No posters appear in more towns in Northern Burma 3.. Constitutional training for
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 21 2:46 AM
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      1. Voters' worry: Will officials be able to track us down?
      2. Vote 'No' posters appear in more towns in Northern Burma
      3. Constitutional training for government employees
      4. Pro-Junta Thugs Continue Attacks on Activists
      5. Burmese junta seeks constitutional amnesty
      6. KWAT urges people to cast "No" vote
      7. Government staffs forced to sign pledge to cooperate on referendum
      8. Youth group distributes 'Vote No' leaflets
      9. Junta targets revered Shan monk
      10. Myanmar monks pray for democracy
      11. Cracks in constitution divide Myanmar
      12. Myanmar junta detains 'No' campaigners
      13. Junta Begins 'Vote Yes' Campaign

      Voters' worry: Will officials be able to track us down?
      SHAN: 2008-04-20

      As 10 May draws near, one of the growing concerns among eligible voters in northern Shan State is that the polling officials will discover who they are if they vote 'No', according to sources on the Sino-Burma border.

      "The ballot papers will either have our signatures or thumb prints and our serial numbers," one Muse resident told SHAN when asked whether she would put a cross standing for 'No', or a tick standing for 'Yes'.

      A number of other respondents also voiced the same concern.

      They calmed down only when SHAN explained to them that part of the ballot paper containing the voter's identity and serial number, in civilized countries, would remain with the polling officials while the other part where the voter would either tick or cross as he/she wishes would have nothing to pinpoint him or her.

      A Thai citizen, upon learning the plight, traced up a sample of the ballot paper used at the 19 August 2007 referendum on the kingdom's latest draft constitution for SHAN from the Thai website: www.ect.go.th .

      However, it appears that Burma's ballot paper will have only a single blank to put in either a tick or a cross, according to sources.

      Of all the respondents, only one, a southern gentleman, replied he had decided to say 'Yes'. "This is the first chance to fight the system from within," he told SHAN without elaboration.

      Only two of the respondents say they have read the draft charter while others swear they have yet to see them. Copies of the draft charter were released for sale to the public only 11 days ago.

      Vote 'No' posters appear in more towns in Northern Burma
      KNG: 20-04-2008

      The campaign against the Burmese military junta's referendum in May to approve the constitution is gaining ground in Kachin State. Hundreds of A-4 size Vote 'No' posters were pasted yesterday evening yet again in more major towns in Kachin State, in Northern Burma, local activists said.

      The posters and handouts with the same contention were pasted and distributed in Bhamo Township, N'mawk (Momauk) town, Shwego town and Manje (Mansi) town, a student leader Shadang Naw Awng told KNG today.

      The movement is being organized by a local underground university students' organization known as the All Kachin Students Union (AKSU). The organization was formed just before the September Saffron Revolution in 2007, according to students' leaders.

      The posters and handouts put up by students also demanded that the junta stop the two biggest dam projects in Myitsone in Mali Hka (Irrawaddy River) and Chibwe in upper N'mai Hka (May Hka River). It also wanted the regime to stop the fruitless castor oil tree plantation project in Kachin State, added a student activist.

      AKSU has organized successive poster movements by students. They pasted anti-referendum posters twice successively within a week. The poster movement is designed to encourage people to cast the 'No' vote against the regime's new constitution in the countrywide referendum to be held on May 10, student leader Shadang Naw Awng said.

      At the moment, all levels of the regime's civilian administrators in Kachin State are busy with emergency meetings regarding the referendum in May and they have been forcibly summoned by the regime to attend, local sources said.

      In Kachin State, all eligible voters have been told to vote in the constitutional referendum on May 10 by the regime's campaigners, locals said.

      Constitutional training for government employees
      Khonumthung News: 2008-04-19

      April 19, 2008: Local Burmese junta authorities have force clerks from all government departments and school teachers from Matupi town in Chin state, Burma to attend a training programme on the constitutional referendum held in the first week of April.

      U Than Oo, Chairman of Township Peace and Development Council of Matupi Township issued instructions for all clerks from government offices and school teachers to attend the first batch of constitutional referendum training programme.

      "In the training programme the trainees were told that they must cast the "yes vote" in the referendum. They were threatened with dismissal from their jobs if they did not comply," a teacher from Matupi said.

      Moreover, the local authorities were said to have warned the people in Matupi town that those who cast the 'No' vote would be arrested, a teacher from Matupi said.

      The authorities recently also restricted government employees travelling from one place to another and asked them to submit a report to the TPDC office once a month.

      "The training was actually organized by the TPDC authorities but the participants paid for their own travel expenses and food," said a participant from Chin state.

      The military junta Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Brigadier Thura Aung Ko recently arrived in Matupi to launch the campaign for the referendum in Chin state.

      Meanwhile, the local authorities have prohibited any opposition groups from campaigning for boycotting the referendum to approve the draft constitution.

      Pro-Junta Thugs Continue Attacks on Activists
      Irrawaddy: April 19, 2008 - Wai Moe

      Pro-democracy activists in Burma face continuing harassment ahead of next month's national referendum on a military-drafted constitution, according to the country's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

      Nyan Win, a spokesperson for the party, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that unidentified thugs attacked NLD members in two different areas of Rangoon in the past week. He said that harassment also continued in other parts of the country.

      "Ko Thi Han, an NLD youth leader from South Dagon Myothit Township was attacked by unknown thugs with batons on April 16 because he was wearing a 'No' T-shirt," said Nyan Win. "He was returning to his home by bicycle when some people in a car started to follow him and then got out to attack him."

      Another Rangoon-based NLD activist, Win Thein, and several members of his family were similarly assaulted while they were walking home from a bus stop in North Okkalapa Township, he added.

      "Other harassment of NLD activities occurred in Taunggok Township in Arakan State and Wakema and Dedaye Townships in Irrawaddy Division," said Nyan Win.

      "Authorities in places all over the country seized copies of an NLD statement titled 'Request to the People,' calling on people to vote against the constitution because it is fundamentally undemocratic."

      He added that the ruling junta has begun a campaign to win support for the constitution using pamphlets and the state-run media, "so dissident groups have right to take part in a 'vote no' movement."

      An NLD member in South Dagon Myothit Township also said that a colleague, Tin Win, was arrested on April 15 because authorities suspected him of posting "No" signs on billboards during last week's Thingyan water festival. Tin Win's family has not received any contact from him since his arrest.

      Meanwhile, around two dozen activists were arrested last Sunday in the Arakan State town of Sittwe for wearing "No" T-shirts urging people to vote against the constitution. They were released the next day after interrogation, according to reports.

      Burmese junta seeks constitutional amnesty
      Mizzima News: Friday, 18 April 2008

      New Delhi - A major flaw that the Burmese military junta's draft constitution has is a clause that grants amnesty to all military officers for crimes they have committed, a group of Burmese and international lawyers said.

      The junta, in Chapter 14 of its draft constitution, provides immunity to all military officials from being tried and prosecuted, which groups including the Burma Lawyers Council, Global Justice Centre and Burma Justice Committee said is totally against international law.

      Article 445 of the junta's draft constitution states that, "No legal action shall be taken against those (either individuals or groups who are members of SLORC and SPDC) who officially carried out their duties according to their responsibilities."

      Aung Htoo, General Secretary of the BLC said, "This is an attempt to constitutionally grant amnesty for all the crimes they have committed and is totally against any international law."

      The BLC, GJC and BJC in a statement said, the junta by seeking amnesty is recognizing the serious crimes that it has and is committing.

      "The regime cannot, however, simply give itself immunity as it is seeking to do "This immunity is invalid under international law and cannot be accepted by the international community," the groups said.

      "The rule of law must replace military might. This constitution and its illegal amnesty provision cannot bring sustainable peace to Burma," said the group.

      The groups also called on the UN Security Council to create an Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the crimes and see to criminal accountability of those members of the military regime who have committed international crimes.

      Sappho Dias, Chairman of Burma Justice Committee said they have begun a move to push the UN to impose criminal sanctions against Burma's ruling generals.

      "We are trying to get the UN to try to impose criminal sanctions against the Burmese generals and international communities should support this move," Dias said.

      Besides the amnesty provision, the junta's draft constitution, which it seeks to approve through a referendum on May 10, has also come under attack by critics for providing immense power to the military, also known as 'Tatmadaw.'

      According to the draft charter, the Tatmadaw members, with the direct appointment of the Military Chief, will automatically lay claim to 25 per cent of parliamentary seats in both the houses.

      Critics said this provision is the junta's effort to ensure that the military will play a leading role in Burma's future politics.

      In a bid to guarantee that any future government cannot easily amend the junta's constitution, the junta has made the amending procedure extremely rigid.

      Under Chapter 12 of the draft constitution, the junta has made it clear that any bill for amendment will need 20 per cent support by legislatures before it can be accepted as a bill.

      And it says that at least 75 per cent of the legislature must endorse the bill before it can be introduced to the people in a referendum.

      KWAT urges people to cast "No" vote
      Kachin News Group: Friday, 18 April 2008

      The Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT) today urged citizens to cast the "No" vote in the ensuing referendum on the constitution to be held on May 10. It released its vote "No" campaign letter in Kachin language that was released earlier by the Women's League of Burma on April 4, 2008.

      "The reason for campaigning regarding vote "No" is that the constitution the Burmese military junta is trying to approve through the referendum is drafted with handpicked people of the regime and does not reflect the people's desire and rights" said Mary, spokesperson of KWAT.

      The campaign letter, says "the newly drafted constitution which is to be approved in the forthcoming referendum is exclusively drafted by the Burmese military junta and does not reflect the opinions and attitudes of the 1990 election winning parties, ethnic leaders and the people's desire. It is merely designed to legalise military rule. Women will continue to suffer from the injustices, discrimination and violence including sexual violence if this constitution is approved."

      "We, the Kachin people have suffered for over 40 years under military dictatorship. The education and health sectors and the economy have deteriorated under the dictatorship. We have migrants working in neighbouring countries, and women are trafficked to other countries," Mary said.

      "For these reasons, we of the KWAT urge the people to go the polling stations and cast a "No" vote in the forthcoming referendum for the sake of democracy in the future," she added.

      Government staffs forced to sign pledge to cooperate on referendum
      IMNA: Friday, 18 April 2008

      Departmental officers of the Burmese government have been made to sign a pledge that they will work in coordination with the referendum commission to campaign to the people to cast the 'Yes' vote.

      A school administrator in Mon State, "We had to sign that we are going to cooperate and help them in the coming referendum". All staff members of schools and other departments were forced to sign.

      "We will help out the commission in the polling booths and the referendum process in May", she said. Their signatures will be submitted to the top authorities.

      Departmental offices in Mon State were forced to sign by their relevant ministry from the end of March.

      To get the 'Yes' vote, the Burmese regime has not closed government offices for civilian staff members during the water festival even though it had declared closure during the festival.

      After the Burmese regime ordered the closure for the duration of the water festival, the Township department officers were reordered not to close the office and stand by at the office by their concerned ministry.

      According to some civilian department officers, the officers have to take the responsibility of explaining to their staff members about the new constitution.

      "It was a mix up. We can't do our job well due to such contradictory orders," the school administrator said.

      Youth group distributes 'Vote No' leaflets -  Hseng Khio Fah
      S.H.A.N.: Friday, 18 April 2008

      At midnight, on April 16, leaflets urging people to vote against the junta's draft constitution on the May 10 referendum were seen on the streets in Namkham, northern Shan State, according to sources.

      "Some people agreed with the contents of the leaflets while some were afraid to keep the leaflets so they tore them into pieces," said a civilian who wished to be anonymous.

      The name Moe Pyar (Blue Sky) was written on top of the leaflets. They talked about the first president of Burma Prince Sao Shwe Thaike of Yawnghwe, Gen Ne Win and Senior General Than Shwe. The paper urged people not to support the referendum.

      The leaflet said," Oh, people of Shan State, don't allow yourself to be conned for the second time". (Panglong where Shans, together with Kachins and Chins, joined hands with Burma to launch the struggle for joint-independence, is generally regarded as the first con.)

      However, there is as yet no response from the authorities concerning the leaflets, according to a source.

      In March, officers from the Township Peace and Development Council called on the people to support the junta's draft constitution. They were threatened with three years in prison of they fail to comply with the order.

      "The leaflets signify that people are becoming intolerant," said a source.

      An unconfirmed report says the group Moe Pyar is made up of youth and that there are over 100 people in it.

      Junta targets revered Shan monk
      S.H.A.N. Friday, 18 April 2008

      Compact discs of religious discourses and leaflets of revered Shan monk Venerable Sukhaminda were recently confiscated by paranoid Burmese military junta authorities in northern Shan State, according to sources coming from the north.

      According to one of his devotees, junta officials were deeply disturbed by one of the leaflets titled "Samwega questions" (Red alert warnings), which asks elderly believers seeking answers to questions like:

      Your age has advanced, but is your mind still going backward?

      Your head has been becoming hairless; isn't it time to make yourself kilesa-less (purified)?

      Your teeth are falling, but your pride is still refusing to?

      "These questions are for all those who are no longer getting young," explained a woman devotee. "I doubt he was thinking about generals Than Shwe and Maung Aye when he wrote them."

      Both generals are reportedly the only remaining septuagenarians in Burma's armed forces: Than Shwe is 75, and Maung Aye is 71.

      Venerable Sukhaminda (46) better known as Sao Sukham, MA from both Burma's State Pariyatti Sasana University and Sri Lanka's University of Kelaniya, has been teaching mediation for 18 years, according to The Triple Lotus, a book published last year. He was also been conferred Kammatthanacariya (Master of Meditation) title by the military government last year in recognition of his efforts in promoting vipassana meditation. Abbot of Loi Teungkham monastery in Muse, on the Sino-Burma border, since 2000, he is known as one of three blooming lotus flowers in Shan Buddhism, the other two being Khruba Boonchoom Nyanasangvaro of Mongphong, Tachilek, and Venerable Dr Khammai Dhammasami of Oxford Buddha Vihara.

      Other Burmese monks whose lectures are being closely scrutinized are U Kovida and U Nyanissara.

      Myanmar monks pray for democracy
      (AP) : April 17, 2008

      PDT BANGKOK, Thailand - Monks who helped lead last year's protests against Myanmar's junta urged the country to mark the traditional New Year on Thursday with prayers for democracy.

      The All Burma Monks Alliance, a coalition of activist monks in Myanmar, denounced the country's military leaders for having "mistreated and abused the religion and Buddhist monks" during its crackdown on peaceful protests.

      In a statement, the alliance called on the devoutly Buddhist country to pray "for the success of the democratic movement and to pray that those who committed sins against the religion … face retribution."

      The alliance was instrumental in organizing last September's pro-democracy protests. Most of its leaders were arrested or are in hiding. The statement with the group's seal was sent by e-mail from the same address it has used in the past.

      Calls for democratic reforms in Myanmar intensified after the junta quashed the protests. The United Nations estimates at least 31 people were killed and thousands more detained during the crackdown.

      Cracks in constitution divide Myanmar
      atimes: April 17, 2008

      BANGKOK - Myanmar's military regime is under fire for the language in a new constitution to be approved at a national referendum on May 10. The full text of the charter was made public only a month ahead of the plebiscite.

      Articles that have aroused anger deal with attempts by the junta to legitimize its role as the supreme political authority in the troubled country. Such clauses make the constitution's promise of a new democratic landscape meaningless, say critics.

      Article No 445 tops the list of concerns for the Burma Lawyers' Council (BLC) and groups like the US-based Global Justice Center (GJC). "No legal action shall be taken against those (either individuals or groups who are members of SLORC and SPDC) who officially carried out their duties according to their.

      Tha SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) and the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) are the official names the governing arm of the regime has been known by since military leaders staged a power-grabbing coup in 1988. The regime that it overthrew was itself military-based and had come to power following a 1962 coup.

      "That clause is to provide immunity to the junta for all the human rights violations it has committed since 1988," says Aung Htoo, general secretary of the BLC. "The new constitution will be meaningless if the perpetrators of violence can enjoy immunity after it is approved. What is the difference for the people, who are the victims? Nothing."

      It also undermines the hope of Myanmar transforming from a dictatorship to a democracy, he explained in an interview. "A constitution for a post-conflict society has to give justice and genuine national reconciliation a priority. That is what happened in South Africa. But the new constitution offers little to move Burma [Myanmar] away from its current conflicts."

      On Monday, the BLC and GJC issued a statement denouncing the military regime for trying to evade "criminal prosecution" through the constitution. "There is ample evidence that the military regime has committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and potentially even genocide through forced relocations, torture, rape, enforced disappearance and extermination," they said.

      Leaders of the Myanmar's ethnic communities are perturbed that the junta's much-vaunted promise to create regional assemblies through the constitution amounts to essentially toothless legislative bodies. The new charter is set to create 14 assemblies in areas that are home to the major ethnic groups, marking the first offer of political space to the non-Burmese minorities since the country gained independence from the British in 1948.

      "The regional assemblies will be under the junta, which has the power to appoint a fourth of the members and the chief minister for the region," says David Taw, joint general secretary of the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC), an umbrella body for the seven major ethnic groups. "Most of the people would like to choose their own chief minister through a ballot."

      The space for economic activity to meet the needs of the ethnic communities is also restrained, Taw added in an interview. "The local people will not be able to pursue their economic activity freely. It is a setback to our hope of achieving a federal system of government."

      The unresolved question of genuine political representation for Myanmar's ethnic communities has dogged the country since independence, resulting in bloody separatist conflicts that have lasted over six decades. "The attempt to adopt a constitution to lengthen the military dictatorship will [create] more problems," the ENC declared in a recent statement. "It will also lengthen the 60-year-long civil war caused by breaching the self-determination rights of the ethnic nationalities."

      The current constitution has been 15 years in the making. Some say the delay was created by the junta to stall the country's democratic parties, led by detained Aung San Suu Kyi, in claiming a stake in running the country. The junta refused to recognize the outcome of a parliamentary election in 1990, which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide. Instead, the military created a national convention soon after to draft a new constitution.

      The current charter is Myanmar's third, following the 1947 document, which was drafted by the country's resistance fighters ahead of independence from British colonialism, and the 1974 document, which was shaped by the military dictator at the time, General Ne Win.

      The second constitution, which established a one-party state to promote a socialist agenda, was torn up in 1988 by the current military regime. Consequently, the SLORC and SPDC governed without constitutional authority and were seen as lacking political legitimacy by a domestic and a growing international constituency.

      The only advance the new constitution has made over the 1974 document is its promise to create a multi-party democracy. But the prospect of such inclusive features has been undermined by the junta's move to limit the drafting of the charter to military-appointed delegates and its harsh restrictions on public discussion of the document.

      "The military has made sure that any amendments to the constitution introduced by political parties in the future will be harder to be approved," says Aung Naing Oo, an independent Myanmar political analyst living in exile in Thailand. "The conflict in the country will go on without the prospect of change and improvement."

      The likelihood of the constitution adding to the political fires already burning in Myanmar arises from the deep divisions that plague the country. "Burma is a different country today than it was in 1974. When the constitution was passed then, we were not so divided," Aung Naing Oo added. "Now it is different, and now the entire world is also watching."

      The junta, for its part, appears confident that it has drafted the best constitution for Myanmar. "Approving the constitution is the responsibility of all citizens in the country. All who support our national interests must vote in favour," declared the page-one headline of a state-run newspaper on the week the referendum campaign was officially launched.

      Myanmar junta detains 'No' campaigners
      REUTERS : April 17, 2008

      YANGON - Authorities in military-ruled Myanmar arrested around two dozen men at the weekend for wearing T-shirts urging people to vote against the constitution in a referendum next month, a resident said yesterday.

      The men, whose shirts had simply borne the slogan "NO", were picked up after raucous Myanmar New Year celebrations in the northwest town of Sittwe on Sunday, but were released the next day, the local source said.

      "The T-shirts were seized and the men were freed after interrogation," the source said. "They said some unidentified people distributed the T-shirts to the revellers, including them, free of charge." The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) has urged the former Burma's voters to reject the junta-drafted constitution in the May 10 plebiscite.

      Junta Begins 'Vote Yes' Campaign - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: April 17, 2008

      The Burmese military junta has initiated a "Vote Yes" campaign and is staging "referendum exhibitions" across the country in a bid to convince the people of Burma to endorse its constitution in May's referendum, according to the headlines and news reports in The Myanma Alin on Friday.

      The front-page headline in Myanma Alin - the Burmese version of The New Light of Myanmar - stated: "Approving the constitution is the responsibility of all citizens in the country. All who support our national interests must vote in favor."

      The front page also carried a news report with two photographs relating to the forthcoming referendum. The main picture shows Aung Toe, chief of the Referendum Holding Commission and head of the Supreme Court observing a referendum exhibition at a polling station in Naypyidaw.

      Referendum exhibitions were held yesterday in Naypyidaw, Kachin State, Mon State, Mandalay Division and Rangoon Division. There were also various meetings between the main Referendum Holding Commission and its sub-commissions, said the Myanma Alin report.

      In a sub-headline, Myanma Alin said that authorities are arranging polling stations so that all people in Burma can vote and that there will be advance voting for people who are unable to vote on May 10, as per the earlier referendum law.

      On Friday Myanma Alin ran a five-page report relating to referendum exhibitions and meetings of the referendum commission and its sub-commissions. The Friday editorial cartoon in Myanma Alin was also about the referendum.

      The newspaper said copies of the draft constitution, referendum laws and referendum guidelines had been distributed to sub-commissions and local authorities across the country in mid-March.

      A source close to the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) told The Irrawaddy on Friday that, during the past few days, high ranking officials have been meeting regularly with township-level officials of the administrative council and the USDA.

      "Brig-Gen Aung Thein Lin, the mayor of Rangoon, recently told at a meeting with township-level officials that people who are pro-colonialist and undemocratic won't vote in favor of the constitution," said the source. "But Aung Thein Lin added that people who are anti-colonialist and democratic will vote 'Yes' to the constitution."

      Soe Tun, a member of the 88 Generation Students group, said that unless freedom of speech and freedom of association for dissidents could be established in the country, the referendum could not be free and fair. "The 88 Generation Students group are urging people to vote 'No' against the constitution," he said. "It could put Burma under military rule for many more decades. All Burmese need is honesty for the future of the country."

      Meanwhile, US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack criticized the draft constitution in a press conference yesterday.

      "A first reading indicates issues of serious concern," he said. "It would appear only to perpetuate the will of the existing military junta in Burma. It does not provide for the kind of open, serious and sustained dialogue with the democratic opposition forces in Burma that we as well as others in the international community have called for."

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