[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 22/4/08
- Shan party urges "No" vote for genuine democracy
- Junta says no democracy without support for draft charter
- Authorities in Kachin state campaign for 'Yes' vote
- Deputy Home Minister visits Western Border for referendum
- Burma army offensive drives villagers into hiding
- Myanmar arrests keep pressure on "no" campaign
- Vote 'No' posters appear in more towns in Northern Burma
- Voting begins at Burmese embassies
- Even abroad Burmese afraid to vote 'No' in referendum
- Upcoming political uncertainties hover over Burma
- Myanmar's sham, India's shame: silence over the subversion of democracy
- Persistent threats to basic health rights of detainees
Shan party urges "No" vote for genuine democracy
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 21 Apr 2008
The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy has called on the Shan people to vote against the draft constitution in the 10 May referendum, saying it does not guarantee democratic or ethnic rights.
SNLD spokesperson U Sai Lek told DVB that the party was opposed to the constitution as its elected representatives had not been involved in the drafting process.
"Since the constitution was written by delegates handpicked by the SPDC authorities, it has nothing to do with the SNLD," Sai Lek said.
"If the people want to see a situation where the SPDC regime continues to benefit then they should vote 'Yes'. But, if the people prefer genuine democracy, then they should vote 'No'," he said.
"We believe that the people are capable of making the right decision."
When asked what the party could do before the referendum, Sai Lek said the party had made some preparations but could not discuss them because of the current restrictive political climate.
The SNLD received the second highest number of votes in the 1990 elections, winning 23 seats.
The SNLD is a key political ally of the National League for Democracy and is the only elected ethnic political party with an official standing.
The party's operations have been hampered since SNLD chairperson U Khun Tun Oo, secretary U Nyunt Lwin and other party leaders were imprisoned in 2005.
Junta says no democracy without support for draft charter - Hseng Khio Fah
Shan Herald Agency for News: Mon 21 Apr 2008
Since March, the junta has been extensively campaigning for the people of Shan State to support the junta drafted constitution in the upcoming referendum in May, according to sources from Southern Shan State.
On 15 March, Kunhing based Area Operations Commander Tin Maung Swe and Chairman of Township Peace and Development Council Ngwe Toe held a meeting with village tract and quarter headmen at the Township Peace and Development Council's office.
In the meeting, they urged the headmen to teach people how to vote 'Yes' in the upcoming referendum.
Ngwe Toe said, "If there are more crosses than ticks, the democracy that people are looking forward will not be achieved. Then, we will be forced to return to the National Convention again and draft another constitution. That's why people have to support it."
Again, on 2 April, Kyaw Swe , Chairman of Township Peace and Development Council of Mongpiang, Eastern Shan State, summoned the village tract headmen and provided referendum training to teach people to tick " Yes" in support of the junta drafted constitution.
He threatened, "Officials and people who are in the training must under to train the people to support the constitution according to the methods that we have taught you. People who oppose the constitution will go to prison for 3 years with Kyat 100,000 (US $ 90) fine."
Officials from 28 village tracts of Mongpiang Township attended the training. The training was held for 3 days, according to a source.
After attending the training, the headmen were forced to hold referendum workshops each in his own area.
Junta newspapers have called in bold headlines yesterday for the people to give full support to the charter.
Authorities in Kachin state campaign for 'Yes' vote - Myo Gyi
Mizzima News: Mon 21 Apr 2008
Local Burmese military junta officials in Chibway Township of Kachin State in Northern Burma have reportedly begun wearing T-shirts with stickers emblazoned with the words 'Yes Vote' to campaign among local villagers to support the ruling junta's draft constitution in the ensuing referendum.
Polling station officials, members of the junta-backed civil organization, Union Solidarity and Development Association and Swan Arrshin, peoples militia, fire fighters, and ward and village level authorities since the beginning of April have started wearing T-Shirts with 'Yes vote' stickers, local residents said.
'Let's go to polling stations', 'Let's cast Yes vote' with Tick mark, 'Let's approve Union of Burma State Constitution' were printed in green colour on white T-shirts, a local resident from Chibway told Mizzima.
Besides, the local said, several billboards that urge the people to vote 'Yes' have been put up in the villages of Chibway Township.
"Several billboards have been set up in every village and wards in this township, with the words 'Let's approve Union of Burma State Constitution' written in green on white," added the local.
In a bid to woo government employees to cast the 'Yes' vote, authorities have also begun selling rice at subsidized rates to employees, local residents said.
"The current market price of a bag of rice is Kyat. 40,000 (USD 36) in Chibway, Lawkhaung. But they [authorities] are selling the rice at 18,000 (USD 16) per bag to the government staff and its organizations such as USDA and fire brigade members," another local resident said.
As Chibway and Lawkhaung townships are located in remote areas along the Sino-Burmese border, the junta is counting on a cent percent chance of obtaining 'Yes' vote in the referendum from these townships.
"They might think they have better chance in getting 'Yes' votes in this hilly remote area and mobilising the local people. There are no organisations campaigning for 'No' votes there either. Even in Myitkyinar, the authorities are not doing like that," he said.
Despite the local authority's efforts in the campaign by producing T-Shirts, many people refuse to put on the T-shirts.
"All the people are not wearing these T shirts. Only some of them are wearing and most of them are just holding them in their hands. These people dare not wear these T shirts," added the local.
According to local residents, these townships are under the control of a ceasefire armed group namely - the New Democracy Army (Kachin) or known as NDA-K - led by Sakhong Tin Ying, and the region is known as Kachin Special Region No. 1.
A source close to the NDA-K said the regime thought they had a better chance in winning supporting votes in the area as it is controlled by the ceasefire group.
According to the voters list prepared by local authorities, there are 3,694 eligible voters in Panwah region, in the NDA-K controlled. And reportedly authorities have ordered local residents to cast supporting votes in the referendum.
Meanwhile, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), another ceasefire group in Kachin State, has said they will remain neutral on the forthcoming referendum, by neither casting 'Yes' nor 'No' vote.
Deputy Home Minister visits Western Border for referendum
Narinjara News: Mon 21 Apr 2008
The Deputy Home Minster of Burma's military government, Brig-Gen Phone Swe visited the western border town of Maungdaw in Arakan State on Sunday to organize people to cast "yes" votes in the referendum, said a government official who refused to be named.
He said, "He came to Maungdaw yesterday and held a meeting with many members from local village administrative councils at Thri Radana hall in Maungdaw for the upcoming referendum."
The meeting began at 8:30 am and finished at 11:00 am, with about 750 people, including many village chairmen and clerks in attendance. The deputy minister asked the village chairmen during the meeting if there were any villages or people in Maungdaw Township who were against the referendum.
"All village chairmen replied to him that there were no villages or people against the referendum when he asked us if there were," said the official.
At the meeting, Deputy Home Minister Phone Swe also told the village chairmen that he is ready to go to the villages to organize people if any village has a plan to oppose the referendum.
The visit of the deputy home minister to Maungdaw was conducted by high authorities after information has been spreading that Arakanese people will be boycotting the referendum by refusing to go to the polls.
The Deputy Home Minister will reportedly visit another two towns in Buthidaung and Rathidaung to organize people for referendum after leaving Maungdaw.
Burma army offensive drives villagers into hiding - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Mon 21 Apr 2008
An ongoing Burmese army offensive has forced more than 2,000 Karen villagers from Mon and Kyauk Gyi Townships in eastern Burma's Pegu Division to seek shelter in the jungle, according to relief agencies active in the area.
The latest wave of Internally Displaced Persons began in early April following attacks by the Burmese army's Light Infantry Battalions 247 and 276 under Military Operations Command 16, according to the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), a Karen relief group.
The Burmese army has been building new camps in the area since the beginning of the month, fueling fears of further attacks, said CIDKP coordinator Saw Steve.
"More than 200 villagers are from Kyauk Gyi Township and over 2,000 are from Mon Township," Kyaw Ber, a relief worker who recently returned from the area, told The Irrawaddy on Monday. "They are still hiding in the jungle without sufficient food and medicine. They are also afraid of going back to work on their farms."
The Burmese troops are now patrolling around the villages, said Kyaw Ber. Villagers will likely remain in the jungle as long as the Burmese troops remain in the area, he added.
Similarly, more than 2,000 Karen villagers from eight villages in Karen State's Papun District have been forced to flee into the jungle since early March following fresh attacks by the Burmese army, according a Karen relief group, the Free Burma Rangers (FBR).
A joint campaign against ethnic Karen rebels was launched by Military Operations Commands 4 and 16 in northern Karen State, according to a recent FBR report. It added that government troops have been destroying any food or property they can find, and are hunting down villagers seeking shelter in the jungle.
The Burmese army has constructed over 60 new military camps in northern Karen State since the beginning of its dry-season offensive in 2006 and has completed a new road through Papun District, according to the FBR report.
A Burmese military offensive that began in February of 2006 in northern Karen State has killed more than 370 villagers, including children, and displaced more than 30,000 people. More than 5,000 displaced persons fled to the Thai-Burmese border area, according to relief groups.
Myanmar arrests keep pressure on "no" campaign - Aung Hla Tun
Reuters: Mon 21 Apr 2008
Myanmar's junta is intensifying its campaign of intimidation against dissidents, and conducting a propaganda drive, to ensure its new constitution gets passed in a referendum next month, opposition leaders said on Sunday.
At least 60 people have been arrested in Sittwe, capital of northwest Rakhine state, since last week's traditional New Year celebrations for wearing T-shirts urging people to vote "No" in the May 10 plebiscite.
"More than 30 have been released but at least 20 are still in detention, and the arrests are still going on," Ko Thein Hlaing, a senior member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in Rakhine, told Reuters.
The NLD, whose leader Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, is leading the campaign to reject the constitution, which has been drafted over the last 14 years by an army-picked committee.
The NLD boycotted the process because of Suu Kyi's detention, and refuses to accept some of the main clauses of the charter, in particular those guaranteeing the army 25 percent of seats in parliament and the right to suspend the constitution at will.
Other underground opposition groups are also pushing for the former Burma's 53 million people to reject the charter, most notably the "88 Generation Students" who led a brutally crushed 1988 uprising against decades of military rule.
In addition to the Sittwe arrests, NLD spokesman Nyan Win said one party official had been arrested in Yangon for putting up a "No" poster, and several other party members had been beaten or assaulted for campaigning.
Perhaps mindful of 1990, when they allowed an election only to suffer a humiliating defeat - which they then ignored - to Suu Kyi's NLD, the generals are also pulling out all the propaganda stops to ensure the charter passes.
State-run MRTV has been broadcasting programmes and songs calling for a "Yes", while government workers and soldiers have also received orders on how to vote.
Regime-controlled newspapers have also been carrying slogans, articles, commentaries and poems urging people to vote in favour.
"To approve the State Constitution is a national duty of the entire people today," the New Light of Myanmar, the junta's official mouthpiece, blared in a front-page headline.
Inside, the paper carried a sinister commentary accusing dissidents of being "the axe-handles and mouthpiece of the colonialists".
(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
Vote 'No' posters appear in more towns in Northern Burma
Kachin News Group: Mon 21 Apr 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.
Voting begins at Burmese embassies - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Mon 21 Apr 2008
Burmese embassies have been announcing to Burmese people who live and work abroad that they can go and vote at embassies for the constitutional referendum, according to exiled Burmese.
The voting process has already begun at Burmese embassies in South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia.
Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur-based Burmese embassy urged Burmese people who possess legal documents, such as Burmese passports or work permits, to come and vote at the embassy from April 19 to 27.
There is an estimated 500,000 Burmese people currently living in Malaysia, of whom about 180,000 possess legal documents, according to sources in Malaysia.
A Burmese doctor in Malaysia told The Irrawaddy that she voted "No" to the constitution on Sunday.
Last week, the Burmese embassy in Singapore announced dates for voting from April 26 to 29 while the embassy in South Korea has urged Burmese people to vote on April 27, according to Burmese people living in those countries. Voters are also required to bring legal documents such as passports and work permits, said sources.
Ko Myo, a Burmese migrant worker in Singapore said that he will go and vote "No" at the Burmese embassy on April 27. He added that many Burmese people are voting "No" in the national referendum.
Following the brutal crackdown on the peaceful protesters and monks in September 2007, many Burmese in exile refuse to support the draft constitution written by the military junta, said Ko Myo.
About 50,000 Burmese people are estimated to be currently living in Singapore, most of whom hold legal documents, said sources in Singapore.
Yan Naing Htun, a Burmese activist in South Korea, said that the Burmese embassy in Seoul is urging Burmese people in Korea to vote in the national referendum on April 27. He said the embassy was also lobbying people to support the junta-written constitution by voting "Yes" at the referendum.
He noted that some Burmese people are likely to vote "Yes" on April 27 even if they would rather vote against the constitution, because they are afraid of possible repercussions when they return to Burma.
Yan Naing Htun also said he was preparing to join a demonstration against the constitution on April 27 outside the Burmese embassy.
"We are going to hold a campaign against the draft constitution. We will go and set up an artificial ballot box in front of the embassy advertising the "Vote No" campaign," said Yan Naing Htun. "We will also chant slogans against the constitution."
There are estimated to be about 2,000 Burmese people currently in South Korea, said sources in the capital, Seoul, while more than 200,000 Burmese migrants live in Thailand.
In Burma, the national referendum on the draft constitution will be held on May 10, while multi-party elections are planned for 2010.
Even abroad Burmese afraid to vote 'No' in referendum
Asia News: Mon 21 Apr 2008
Myanmar nationals living abroad will be able to cast their ballot in the constitutional referendum at the end of April. Embassies send letters telling Burmese to bring their passport to vote, but many fear their vote will not be secret.
The fear of retaliation by Myanmar's military regime has created an atmosphere in which even voters living abroad are afraid to vote against the country's proposed constitution. In a few days overseas Burmese will be able to cast their ballots ahead of the vote back home (scheduled for 10 May). Last week in Singapore, Japan and South Korea Myanmar nationals received letters from their Embassies "inviting" them to go and vote, this according to Burmese dissident websites who speak of an atmosphere of intense fear among voters who would otherwise not back the new charter proposed by the military.
In Singapore Burmese nationals were told that all those who paid overseas taxes to the Embassy had the right to vote in the referendum and were advised to vote "Yes". The letter said that Burmese passport holders will be able to cast their votes at the Embassy between 25 and 29 April.
The same procedure was followed in Japan where voters were told that they had to show their passports at polling stations.
"I am worried that they might make a record of me and get me into trouble if I vote 'No'. But I am not going to vote 'Yes' either," a Burmese woman in Japan told the Democratic Voice of Burma agency.
Ko Yan Naing Htun, information coordinator for the National League for Democracy in Seoul, South Korea, said Myanmar passport holders in that country had also received invitation letters from the Embassy to participate in the referendum.
"A lot of people have said they might just cast 'Yes' votes as they are worried they might get into trouble if they vote 'No'," Yan said.
Upcoming political uncertainties hover over Burma - Kavi Chongkittavorn
The Nation (Thailand): Mon 21 Apr 2008
In less than three weeks the Burmese people will vote in a national referendum on the country's draft constitution. It will be a historic democratic battle between the iron-fisted government that wants to impose its rule and impoverished voters who want to be free. The draft constitution, which would give 25 per cent of parliament seats to the military, was recently completed after 15 years. Draft copies are now available in bookstores for 1000 kyats (Bt4,846) - something not all Burmese can afford.
Bangkok-based diplomats and Burmese living in exile around the world have predicted that voters will certainly reject the draft constitution. Growing resentment over the increased price of gas and oil, which triggered the saffron uprising last August, continues to mount and is currently being compounded with increases in the price of rice and other basic-food commodities.
Unfortunately, the exact count will never be known or publicised. The results - whatever they may be - will depend
totally on the whip or rather the imagination of junta leaders. Without international observers, the referendum would lack creditability and legitimacy. There is also a strong possibility that there could be further violence after the referendum if the junta goes against the people's will.
To the junta, public affirmation and legitimacy - even if it has been fabricated to the hilt - is necessary and considered a pivotal step to put its seven-point roadmap for democracy in place. At issue here are the various post-referendum scenarios and the outside world's reaction to them. Whatever happens would inevitably affect Burma's future and its people's aspirations for democracy, including the planned 2010 election. Despite pessimism, Asean, the UN and the international community continue to look for ways to make Burma more democratic and inclusive in future political processes.
They are now trying to gauge the junta leaders' political moves, which have been surprising so far. After repeatedly failing to engage the Burmese regime even before September's crackdown on monks, they have been looking for new ways to keep channels with the junta open.
De-linking politics from humanitarian and development assistance, the approach currently taken by the EU, could serve as a new modus operandi. The idea of punishing the regime, coupled with increasing assistance to those most vulnerable inside Burma, is gaining currency.
With the US continuing to impose harsher sanctions, the EU approach is obviously more attractive at this point. However, it is still too early to tell if this path will lead to more positive outcomes. In past months, vulnerable Burmese have benefited more from increased humanitarian and development assistance, especially in heath care and education, than before. As a matter of urgency, the EU should provide more anti-viral drugs for additional HIV/Aids patients beyond the current 10,000.
Asean's inability to convince Burma to comply with norms of collective responsibility and group interest has been appalling. For over a decade, the Burma debacle has sapped the grouping's energies and marred the grouping's prospects of cooperation with dialogue partners. As the current Asean chair, Singapore, has tried and subsequently failed to engage both Asean members and major powers in resolving the Burmese quagmire.
Burma's bitterness over Singapore's handling of the political fallout from the September crackdown remains evident. The cold shoulder that Burma has been giving UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari over the past six months is linked to his aborted plan to brief East Asian leaders at November's Asean Summit in Singapore.
But the UN remains crucial for any future settlement and rehabilitation in Burma. With continued coordination between US, UK and France, the council is expected to add Burma to its future agenda. A tougher and more binding resolution could be expected.
In the previous council's discussion last year, China and Russia vetoed the resolution calling for sanctions. Given the current international political environment, there could be further trade-offs among the council's members.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's dealings with Burma have been quite exceptional. He has had personal correspondence with the reclusive General Than Shwe for quite some time. But it was only last week that the president's office had enough confidence to inform the media that Yudhoyono's efforts were not all in vain and that the general has answered his mail.
In his letter, Than Shwe assured Yudhoyono of the continuing democratic process in his country and pledged to continue communicating with him. "This is a unique process as every one of the president's letters has been replied to by General Than Shwe," said presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal.
It remains to be seen whether this "unique process" will lead to more tangible progress. After all, Than Shwe is still the leader who decides everything in Burma. With a presidential election scheduled for next year, Yudhoyono is also pondering his own political legacy. As Asean's largest member, Indonesia carries weight with whatever plans it undertakes, especially on regional issues.
To back up Yudhoyono's personal initiative, the Indonesian foreign ministry has fine-tuned a peace plan for Burma that would involve initially informal discussions among a handful of key stakeholders. It is essentially a mechanism similar to the informal talks held in Jakarta in the early 1990s to end the Cambodian conflict. Indonesia skilfully played the role of mediator and employed a strategy that allowed rival Cambodian groups to meet and subsequently agree on common ground, which eventually led to the Paris peace talks.
Before it is formally proposed to Asean, Indonesia wants to make sure that it has the support of its colleagues and the international community for a Burmese peace plan. China has already supported this peace plan and soon Asean would make its position known.
Myanmar's sham, India's shame: silence over the subversion of democracy
The Statesman: Mon 21 Apr 2008
Ever since 1962, when General Ne Win toppled the democratic government of U Nu and imposed military rule in Myanmar, Communist China has consistently supported the junta and its repressive policies. It has turned Myanmar into a dumping ground for its obsolete arms. The Myanmarese generals have been using these arms to crush ethnic insurgencies and the democratic movement of the people. The military government has accorded China the status of the most favoured trading partner that has secured the lion's share of Myanmar's oil and natural gas exports. Beijing has established strategic facilities for the PLA's blue-water naval operations and installed a technical network for collection of intelligence in Myanmar's southern coastal belt bordering India. In return, the Chinese have opposed and aborted all UN and other international and regional initiatives towards restoring democracy and human rights.
In contrast to the unwavering Chinese support to the military rulers, India has actively sympathised with the cause of democracy. After being deposed, U Nu was sheltered in India. The moral and material support provided to the heroic struggle for democracy in Myanmar in 1988 was almost universally acclaimed.
The abrupt reversal of policy towards Myanmar, effected by Delhi in the mid-nineties, is absurd. In effect, South Block has been supporting the junta, even describing its policy as a victory of realpolitik over the "failed pro-democracy policy". But the expected geo-economic and geo-strategic gains have not materialised. Over the past 15 years, the MEA, in its anxiety to please and placate the Myanmarese army, has virtually abdicated its responsibility to formulate and execute a meaningful policy consistent with our national interests. Indeed, the MEA appears to have been relegated. It is our generals who play a vital role in bilateral relations.
India has failed to forge close ties with the 45 million people of Myanmar. There is no reciprocity in the relationship. A steady supply of military hardware, provision of road and railway communication facilities and trade concessions to Yangon have served only to strengthen the repressive military regime.
The objectives of this policy have not been realised. The Myanmarese security forces have not provided the promised cooperation to their Indian counterparts in tackling the North-east insurgent groups operating from across the border. On the contrary, there are indications that the country's intelligence and security agencies continue to support the Meiti insurgents of Manipur. Myanmar continues to be the main source of supply of drugs to and through India with the connivance of its security forces. The junta has rebuffed Indian efforts to obtain natural gas from the Arakan-based sources, preferring instead to supply the product to China. The Chinese geo-strategic and geo-economic influence over Myanmar remains as strong as ever.
Because of India's policy of unmitigated appeasement, Myanmar's military intelligence outfit, operating from its embassy in New Delhi and consulate in Kolkata, has made significant inroads into the country's military establishment, civil services, intelligentsia, media and academic institutions. Its agents of influence have ensured that India's ruling class, intelligentsia and a section of the media maintain a studied silence over the junta's rejection of all international efforts aimed at a peaceful transition to democracy.
In September last year, the junta ruthlessly crushed the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations by the students and the Buddhist monks, butchering a large number of demonstrators and indefinitely incarcerating many more without trial. The democratic world by and large condemned the brutality, but the Government of India maintained a deafening silence over the mayhem.
Two other instances illustrate the influence of the Myanmarese military intelligence in India. In 1998, one Col. Bisawjit Singh Grewal, acting at the behest of the junta, lured a group of India-friendly Arakanese freedom fighters to the Anadaman islands, promising them operational base facilities with India's support. On their arrival at the designated spot, he shot eight of them and filed a case of gun-running and waging war against 34 others. The CBI chargesheeted the Arakanese. Later, their trial was shifted to a Kolkata court, but not a single prosecution witness has yet been produced. As a time-killing device, the hearing is being fixed from date to date without transacting any business. While the hapless prisoners have been rotting in jail for more than ten years, the junta has established Col. Grewal in a thriving business in Myanmar. He is now a resident of both Yangon and Mohali.
Towards the end of February this year, the Kolkata-based Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, fully funded by the Centre, organised a two-day seminar on Indo-Myanmar Partnership with the Yangon-based Burmese Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies. The local speakers were far outnumbered by the guests who were all government officials without any representative from the Myanmarese academia and media. Barring a retired general, the Indian participants were mainly officials of the institute. The topic of discussion was decided and the speakers selected by an old and trusted contact of the local consulate. He is a teacher in Calcutta University and a fellow of the institute. On the advice of the consulate, the person imposed a veil of secrecy around the seminar to the point of insulting anyone who showed even the slightest interest in the matter. The media was totally barred. Questioned about the rationale behind the hush-hush manner of conducting the seminar, a senior official of the institute pleaded helplessness, saying that this was done at the instance of the Ministry of External Affairs.
After dragging its feet for fourteen years, the junta, euphemistically called State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has finally produced a draft constitution scheduled to be put to a referendum on 10 May. It bars Aung San Su Kyi from contesting the parliamentary election on the specious ground that her late husband was a foreigner. It provides 25 per cent representation in parliament to the defence forces and imposition of military rule in the event of declaration of national emergency. In other words, the draft constitution is a recipe for the perpetuation of military rule.
Even if it is endorsed in the referendum, it will be sometime before Myanmar is put on the road to democracy. The roadmap will not be effective before the parliamentary election, scheduled to be held in 2010. Meanwhile, the SPDC is using its stooge organisations, including the notorious Union Solidarity and Development Association, to campaign for adoption of the constitution in the referendum. Unidentified vigilantes in Yangon and other parts of the country have been assaulting Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy workers and others opposing the draft.
Clearly, in the name of restoring democracy, the generals are determined to enact an enormous constitutional fraud on the people. It is a shame that democratic India has not yet raised its voice against this massive deception in our neighbourhood.
(The writer is former Additional Secretary, Research and Analysis Wing)
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission:
BURMA: Persistent threats to basic health rights of detainees
Mon 21 Apr 2008
According to news reports of the last couple of days, leading human rights defender and political activist Min Ko Naing is among those persons detained in Burma since the nationwide uprising of last September whose health has worsened. The Voice of America Burmese service reported on April 15 that he has asked for a specialist to look at an apparent eye infection, but his request has so far been denied as an eye doctor only comes to the central jail were he is housed once per month. His elder sister says that this is one among a variety of conditions that he is facing at the moment, despite his long years of prior experience with jail.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is alarmed to hear of this latest case of a detainee whose eyes are going untreated. The news comes some two months after it issued a special humanitarian appeal for emergency eye treatment for 70-year-old U Than Lwin, who has been detained in Mandalay also since last September. Although he subsequently did obtain an operation, it was too late to save his sight in one eye; Than Lwin has retained only partial eyesight on his right.
These two detainees are among many others whom are reported to be in bad health and not obtaining the medical attention that they need. The AHRC has received lists of prisoners with various ailments, including forcibly disrobed monks and nuns, whose lives and limbs are at risk as a result of the appalling conditions in Burma's jails and their concomitant neglect. Indeed, many among those taken and held illegally since last year over the protests against military rule are in even worse physical and psychological circumstances than other detainees, as they may be isolated from fellow prisoners as well as the outside world.
The Asian Human Rights Commission takes this opportunity to reiterate its concerns for the health and physical integrity of all Burma's detainees, not least of those who are being arbitrarily held and dragged through shoddy closed-door trials since last year, and to call for all of them to obtain proper medical treatment at all times. It especially stresses its concern about the continued denial of access to places of detention of the International Committee of the Red Cross under the terms of its mandate, and calls for it to be granted that access without further undue delay. And the AHRC reiterates its calls for the release of all persons who since last September have been detained without regard to correct procedure of arrest, charge or trial under domestic law, to say nothing of international standards, without which the forthcoming constitutional referendum of May 10 will be rightly seen by the world as nothing but farce and nonsense.
(The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.)