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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 25/4/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. National League for Democracy Special Statement No 7/14/ 08 2.. Political Prisoners: The Right to Vote 3.. Rights Violations Increasing, Urges Close
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 25, 2008
      1. National League for Democracy Special Statement No 7/14/ 08
      2. Political Prisoners: The Right to Vote
      3. Rights Violations Increasing, Urges Close Monitoring of Situation
      4. Press forbidden to refer to campaign for a No vote in referendum on new constitution
      5. Anti-referendum campaigners arrested in Arakan state
      6. Factory workers pressured to cast multiple "Yes" votes
      7. Junta offers Burmese stark choice
      8. Junta using threats to win referendum vote, says NLD
      9. Junta woos rural people with rice and salt in referendum campaign
      10. More harassment, attacks on opposition activists underway
      11. UN disappoints many in Burma
      12. Burma's wealth gap breeds discontent
      13. Burma's neighbors line up for three port deals
      14. Sanctions on Burma To Be Extended

      National League for Democracy Special Statement No 7/14/ 08 (Unofficial Translation)
      Thu 24 Apr 2008

      The people will vote "The Draft Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar" in the upcoming referendum on May 10, 2008. From studying it, the referendum law and related procedures, we found there is no freedom and justice from the beginning.

      1. Chapter XIV, Transitory Provision of the Draft Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar 2008 states as follow;

      "(441) This Constitution, which is adopted in a referendum by the assenting votes of a majority of more than half of all the people who have the right to vote, shall come into force throughout the Union from the first day of the convening of the Pyihtaungsu Hlutttaw (Union Parliament)."

      According to this provision, the draft Constitution can be approved easily. This provision is created to approve the draft Constitution comfortably with the supporting votes of just more than 25% of all the people who have the right to vote. However, to amend provisions from some chapters of the Constitution, OVER 75% of supporting votes in the Parliament and over 50% of support of all the people who have the right to vote in a referendum are required. This is purposely designed to make any amendment difficult. While only over 25% support of all the people who have the right to vote is required to adopt the draft Constitution, any amendment can only be done with over 75% of the vote in the Parliament and over 50% of the vote in a national referendum.

      2. We also found that the Referendum Law and the detail procedures do not met with (international) standards. While there are provisions to prohibit the activities of the voters and penalties for those who violate any prohibition, we found no provision to punish members of the Commission and Sub-Commissions for Holding Referendum, if they violate their responsibilities, duties, powers and principles. It is totally one-sided.

      3. After closing the polling booth, the polling booth team is to count votes-in-favor, votes-against and cancelled votes and then prepares the list in the presence of not less than ten persons eligible to vote. However, people are not allowed to be present at the Commission and Sub-Commissions at all administrative levels, Village-track, Ward, Township, District, State and Division, which were formed by the authorities with the persons they trust, when they count the total numbers of votes-in-favor, votes-against and cancelled votes from the lists submitted by polling booths. This lack of transparency may lead to the opportunity to cheat.

      4. Furthermore, the Chairman of the National Convention Working Committee, the Commission to Draft the State Constitution, and the Commission for Holding Referendum for the Approval of the Draft Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar 2008 are the same person. This should not happen for freedom and justice. Because, when the Chairman of the National Convention Working Committee, which adopted the fundamental and detailed principles for the Constitution, became the Chairman of the Commission to Draft the State Constitution, he made the Draft Constitution almost identical to the fundamental and detailed principles that he helped adopt. Then when he became the Chairman of the Commission for Holding Referendum for the Approval of the Draft Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar 2008, he will surely try to get approval for the Draft Constitution. And this Commission is not an independent one and serves for the pleasure of the State Peace and Development Council.

      5. The contents of the Draft Constitution are not widely publicized through daily newspapers, radio and TV. People are not well aware of the contents, as the authorities have not tried to explain their meaning. As of today, the authorities have not widely distributed the Draft Constitution, so the people have not had enough time to study it.

      6. We also know that civil servants and factory workers, who will not be away from their respective areas and who do not have plans to travel to another region on the referendum day, are forced to cast their vote in advance unnecessarily and in front of the authorities, so they can secure their votes-in-favor. This is violation of the Referendum Law.

      7. Despite the fact that there are no democratic principles and democratic rights in the Draft Constitution, the authorities' mouthpiece newspapers are misleading the people, who are sincerely and actively demanding democracy, by placing slogans such as "For the Emergence of Democracy, Approve the Constitution", "Democracy Can Be Achieved through the Constitution", with big headlines.

      8. The State Peace and Development Council (the ruling military junta) allows all of the state apparatuses from the top to the bottom and its subordinate organizations to campaign freely and openly for the approval of the Constitution. These organs apply pressure, and use intimidation, cheating, misuse of power and the providing bribe to the people to get their support. However, they act differently in regards to publications of statements, appeals and facts that promote awareness of the conducts of the referendum, issued by the National League for Democracy.

      1. The authorities from Daedaye Township, Irrawaddy Division, tried to confiscate these literatures from the members of the NLD and interrogated two NLD members.
      2. The authorities from Wakhema Township, Irrawaddy Division confiscated these literatures and later returned only some of them. Township NLD organizers were also summoned and interrogated.
      3. The authorities also confiscated NLD publications and statements in Taung Twin Gyi Township in Magwe Division, Dala Township in Rangoon Division, and Sittwe Township and Taung Gok Township in Arakan (Rakhine) State. NLD members were also summoned, arrested and interrogated by the authorities.

      9. Furthermore, the authorities are threatening the people, saying that they will know surely who votes against the Constitution, that those who vote against will be revenged by expelling students from schools, dismissing workers from work, confiscating lands from farmers, arresting villagers from their village, etc. The authorities are trying every way to make this referendum not free and fair.

      Nevertheless, the referendum will be conducted by a secret ballot system, and the referendum procedure stipulates that a person should make his or her desire by making a (X) mark on the ballot paper if he or she does not approve the draft constitution. For the people who have the right to vote, we would like to encourage again all voters to go to polling booths and make a (X) mark without fear, in order to create their own destiny and use their rights effectively.

      According to the decision made by the Central Executive Committee in the meetings on 21 April 2008

      Central Executive Committee
      National League for Democracy
      97B West Shwegondaing Road
      Bahan Township, Rangoon


      Political Prisoners: The Right to Vote
      NCGUB: Thursday, April 24 2008

      Therefore, we hereby declare that as stipulated by the law, the authorities bear the responsibility of ensuring that the abovementioned people are included in the voting roll and provided the opportunity to exercise their voting right.

      The National League for Democracy
      No (97/B) West Shwegondine Street
      Bahan Township, Rangoon

      21 April 2008

      The 1st Waning Moon of Tagu, 1370 Burmese Era

      Special Announcement No: 6/04/08

      1. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) proclaimed the Referendum Law as Law No 1/2008 on 26 February 2008.

      2. Article 11(d) under Chapter V ("Preparing Voting Rolls") of that law states:

      "The following persons shall not be included in the voting roll:

      1. Members of religious orders;
      2. Persons who have been adjudged to be of unsound mind as provided for in the relevant law;
      3. Persons serving prison terms, having been convicted under order or sentence of a court for any offence;
      4. Persons who are illegally abroad;
      5. Foreigners" and,

      Similarly, Article 14(A) of Chapter VI also states:

      "Every person who is included in the voting roll for the referendum is entitled to vote."

      3. Hence, the following people should be included in the voting roll and permitted to vote:

      1. Vice Chairman U Tin Oo and General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi o the National League for Democracy (NLD)
      2. (Dr Than Nyein, vice chairman of the Rangoon Division NLD Organizing Committee (also the elected representative of Kyauktan Township Constituency-1), and Dr Daw May Win Myint, member of the Rangoon Division NLD Organizing Committee (elected representative of Mayangon Township Constituency-2)
      3. U Than Lwin, vice chairman of Mandalay Division NLD Organizing Committee (elected representative of Madaya Township Constituency-2, and U Kan Tun, secretary of Mandalay Division NLD Organizing Committee, and member Daw Win Mya Mya
      4. Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, and other leaders of 88 Generation Students, and
      5. (Those who are detained under the Law Safeguarding the State from the Danger of Destructive Elements and those who are being detained without having been convicted or sentenced by a court for an offence

      Therefore, we hereby declare that as stipulated by the law, the authorities bear the responsibility of ensuring that the abovementioned people are included in the voting roll and provided the opportunity to exercise their voting right.

      As per the decision made at the meeting of the Central Executive Committee on 10 April 2008,

      Central Executive Committee
      Rangoon National League for Democracy


      Rights Violatons Increasing, Urges Close Monitoring of Situation
      NCGUB: Thursday, April 24 2008, 07:15 PM EDT

      Deeply concerned over the likelihood of human rights violations blatantly increasing and persecution of democratic and ethnic opposition widening as the referendum approaches, the NCGUB calls on governments, the United Nations, and the international community at large to closely monitor the political and human rights situation in Burma and use their resources to protect the people from being intimidated, harassed, and bullied.

      The National League for Democracy (NLD), the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, and all other major democracy and ethnic organizations have called on the nation to vote "No" in the upcoming referendum and reject the draft constitution that the Burmese regime has unilaterally written to perpetuate military rule in the country.

      Foreseeing stiff opposition from the democracy and ethnic organizations, the military regime has alerted its armed forces, police and riot police forces, and its "auxiliary forces" -- the Union Solidarity and Development Association, Swan Arr Shin thug groups, Fire Services Department, the Corrections Department, and even the Red Cross and GONGOs -- asking them to be "combat ready" for drastic action against public unrest.

      Presently these junta-affiliated forces are being used to intimidate, harass, and silence the opposition. The following sequence of recent perverse actions clearly indicate that the junta will resort to all means to ratify its constitution and stay in power: Ten NLD members from Thingangyun, Yenangyaung, and Taungup were taken into custody for wearing "No" T-shirts in public and/or opposing the junta's constitution; solo protestor against high prices U Ohn Than was given life sentence to serve as a warning to would-be protestors; and Human Rights Defender U Myint Aye of Myenigon, NLD Township Chairman U Myint Hlaing of Hlaingthaya, and NLD Member U Tin Yu of the same township were brutally attacked in separate incidents by assailants.

      Deeply concerned over the likelihood of human rights violations blatantly increasing and persecution of democratic and ethnic opposition widening as the referendum approaches, the NCGUB calls on governments, the United Nations, and the international community at large to closely monitor the political and human rights situation in Burma and use their resources to protect the people from being intimidated, harassed, and bullied.


      Press forbidden to refer to campaign for a No vote in referendum on new constitution
      RSF: Thu 24 Apr 2008

      Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association are outraged by the methods being used by the military government to prevent the media from freely covering the views and activities of the supporters of a No vote in a 10 May referendum on a new constitution.

      "The military government is stopping at nothing to rig a referendum that looks as though it is going to be a sham rather a free and transparent election," the two partner organisations said. "The supporters of a No vote must be able to express themselves freely in the media, and journalists must be allowed to report all viewpoints."

      The organisation added: "We ask the Burmese authorities to let the press do its work without prior censorship and to allow foreign reporters to visit Burma freely. This is a condition for the international community's recognition of the validity of this election."

      No Burmese media have been allowed to publish the views of the supporters of No vote. The state and privately-owned media have instead been forced to published articles drafted by official calling for a vote in favour of the military government's proposed new constitution. The election manuals that have been distributed make no provision for press coverage of the campaign and the polling.

      The slogans being used in the military government's propaganda are "Approving the constitution is a duty for the entire population," "To ratify the constitution, go and vote Yes," "We will always remain united despite those who try to divide us - vote Yes" and "Democracy cannot be attained through anarchy and violence, but through the constitution."

      These slogans are constantly being broadcast by the government TV and radio stations. Meanwhile, the Censorship Bureau is rejecting articles by journalists such as Ludu Sein Win criticising the constitution. According to sources in Rangoon, the intelligence services have drawn up a list of 34 journalists to be kept under surveillance in the run-up to the referendum.

      Pro-military journalists have been mobilised to explain the virtues of the new constitution. For example, an article by Si Thu Aung entitled "New Constitution and Union system" in The New Light of Myanmar daily on 1 April claimed that it was the only one capable of guaranteeing stability and development in a country made up of minorities. The same newspaper is also providing the campaign activities of government officials and the pro-government USDA militia with extensive coverage.

      Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has called for a No vote and has described the proposed constitution - which would endorse the army's political role and guarantee its impunity - as anti-democratic. The NLD insists that the No campaign does not violate a recently-promulgated law providing for three-year prison sentences for anyone caught distributing documents opposing the referendum. The NLD's views are being systematically censored by the press. But the accredited correspondents of foreign news agencies have been able to report on the tension surrounding the campaign.

      Several dozen NLD members have been arrested for campaigning for a No vote. In one case, six were arrested at their home in Rangoon on 31 March, four days after organising a demonstration in the capital calling for No vote.

      At least 60 people were arrested in the northern state of Rakhine at the start of April for wearing T-shirts calling for a No vote. Several of them are reportedly still detained. According to Mizzima News, T-shirt vendors in Rangoon stopped offering clothes displaying the Thai brand name Nobody after young pro-democracy activists started using them in their No campaign.

      The Burmese rap singer Yan Yan Chan was meanwhile arrested in Monywa on 17 April, possibly because of lyrics in some of his songs referring to the lack of press freedom.


      Anti-referendum campaigners arrested in Arakan state
      DVB : Apr 24, 2008

      Arakan state National League for Democracy said this week that more than 60 people have been arrested in Arakan state alone for campaigning for a "No" vote in the 10 May referendum.

      The latest activist to be arrested was Ko Zaw Naing of Chaunggauk village in Taungup township, according to Arakan NLD joint secretary U Thein Hlaing.

      "Ko Zaw Naing, a member of the Taungup township NLD from Chaunggauk village, was arrested by Taungup police for distributing pamphlets about the Arakan state NLD organising committee's stand on the referendum scheduled for 10 May," Thein Hlaing said.

      "NLD members Ko Myo Chit, Ko Aung Naing Lay and Ko Moe Kyaw were also arrested in connection with the Arakan State NLD's pamphlets on 27 and 28 March."

      Thein Hlaing said the four Taungup NLD members had been charged under section 452 of the penal code for trespassing, section 292 for the use of abusive language and section 506 for intimidation.

      The four were due to appear in court today.

      U Nyi Pu, chairperson of Arakan State NLD, said that youth activists had also been detained and remain in jail for wearing "No" T-Shirts during the Thingyan water festival.

      "We understand that approximately 60 people were arrested and about 20 are still being detained now," Nyi Pu said.

      "Of course, it is not easy to get the exact number because we have had to conduct our own investigation amid difficulties," he said.

      "As far as we know, the arrests are being made by the No 2 Police Station."

      Arakan NLD leaders said they had issued a statement and sent it to the authorities calling for an end to illegal arrests and the immediate release of those detained.


      Factory workers pressured to cast multiple "Yes" votes
      DVB: Apr 24, 2008

      Factory workers in Rangoon have been pressured by Industry (1) minister Aung Thaung to cast three "Yes" votes each in advance of the upcoming national referendum.

      A resident of Mayangone township in the former capital said female factory workers had already cast three "Yes" votes per person in advance, as directed by Aung Thaung via their factory employers.

      "They were making the women cast three 'Yes' votes per person - one as a member of the USDA, another as a member of the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association and the other one as a Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation member," the resident said.

      "It wasn't like they had to vote in person - the government officials took their ID card numbers and addresses and then the votes will be cast by the officials on their behalf."

      Reporting by Naw Noreen


      Junta offers Burmese stark choice - Michael Pan
      BBC News: Thu 24 Apr 2008

      Burma's military rulers have finally published a draft constitution - after a 15-year delay. The results have not met with universal approval. "As soon as I got the book, I thoroughly checked it to see if any page was missing," says Ko Moe.

      Moe, in his early 40s, describes himself as a "student activist-turned-businessman".

      He says he is surprised that teenagers today are interested in the draft constitution - which Burmese people are due to vote on in a referendum on 10 May.

      "At the bookshop, I saw teenagers and those in their early 20s, probably university students, buying the draft constitution," he says.

      "I said to myself - they were also stung by the Saffron Revolution," he says, referring to the protests led by Buddhist monks that were quickly suppressed by the military regime last September.

      Hopes of peace

      Moe took part in pro-democracy demonstrations 20 years ago, and many of his friends ended up in jail.

      The protests were followed by general elections in 1990, but the military rulers never handed over power to a civilian government.

      Instead, they began the long drawn-out process to draw up a new constitution.

      "I know that the majority of people do not like this constitution. Taxi drivers, manual workers and even government employees will reject this constitution," Moe says.

      But he knows it may not turn out the way he wants.

      The government-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar had a recent headline entitled: "Let us all cast 'yes' vote in the national interest."

      The military regime, after being in power for two decades, is not without its supporters.

      "I will support the constitution because it allows the military, politicians and people to live peacefully," says Ohn Lwin from Rangoon.

      Boycott calls

      Although many Burmese people would favour a constitution of some sort, there are lots of disagreements over this draft - and it presents a conundrum for some.

      Firstly the winners of the 1990 elections, the National League for Democracy (NLD), have declared the constitutional process illegal.

      They have insisted that the constitution must be drawn up by elected representatives and are calling for a "no" vote.

      Secondly the military has reserved substantial powers for itself in the draft constitution.

      For example, 25% of the seats in all assemblies are allocated to military representatives, and the chief of armed forces can assume state power under "emergency provisions".

      Critics say this is not a democratic constitution and will ensure continued military supremacy in Burma.

      Thirdly, credibility of the outcome is also an issue, as the ruling generals have rejected the UN's offer to monitor the referendum.

      Moreover many ethnic groups fear that the constitution does not guarantee their rights. Some ethnic groups are also calling for a boycott of the referendum.

      Prof Joseph Silverstein, a long-time Burma-watcher from Rutgers University in the US, thinks the role of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) is key.

      "If it were approved I think there would be protests and a lot of demonstrations, there would be criticism from the UN, United States and Western European countries," he says.

      "But in the end it will stand, because the position of the Asean and the world generally is that this is an internal matter."

      The draft constitution stipulates that the document will be approved if more than half of those turning out vote "yes". And a 50% turnout is necessary to make the referendum valid.

      In other words, the constitution could be approved by a "yes" vote from just over 25% of eligible voters.

      The regime has not said what would happen if the constitution was rejected.

      "No" campaigners say that rejection of the constitution would deepen the political crisis and force the regime to come to the negotiating table.

      But many doubt that view.

      It will certainly give the military more time to hold on to power, and start another process which may stretch for many more years to come.


      Junta using threats to win referendum vote, says NLD - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 24 Apr 2008

      Burmese civil servants have been told they face the sack if they fail to vote in favor of the draft constitution in the May 10 referendum, according to the opposition National League for Democracy.

      An NLD statement on Thursday said that farmers who failed to vote in favor of the proposed constitution would have their land nationalized and students who voted "No" would be barred from continuing their studies.

      NLD spokesman Thein Nyunt told The Irrawaddy that people across Burma had informed the NLD of the intimidation. Civil servants and members of the pro-government Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) were being told to vote in advance, Thein Nyunt said.

      Several government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the regime was planning to make school teachers, university lecturers and civil servants vote in advance in the presence of senior military officers.

      "This is clear intimidation to vote "Yes," said Win Min, a Burmese political analyst living in Thailand. "It's unacceptable, since it violates the basic right to vote in secret. "It also shows that the authorities are worried that these civil servants are likely to vote 'No' if they're free to do so."

      The NLD statement repeated an earlier call on the electorate to reject the draft constitution in the May referendum, calling it unfair.

      The statement said that although the draft could be approved by a majority of more than 50 per cent, any amendment would require more than 75 of parliamentary representatives to become law.

      Members of the referendum commission and sub-commission were immune from disciplinary action if they interfered in the voting process, the NLD said.

      The referendum laws excluded independent observers from monitoring the counting of the votes, and one sole individual, Aung Toe, leads the committee of the national convention and the committee of the constitution drafting, the NLD complained.

      The NLD statement also complained that the electorate had not had enough time to study the constitution draft, which had been available to the public for only one month.


      Junta woos rural people with rice and salt in referendum campaign
      KNG: Thu 24 Apr 2008

      With the referendum to approve the constitution just over two weeks away the Burmese military junta has been wooing rural people with rice and salt in Northern Burma, a local said.

      A special centre for rice and salt distribution for locals with commodities made available at discounted prices has been opened by the regime for nearly a week in Chibwe town in Kachin State, locals told KNG.

      Local civilians and government servants can buy a sack of milled rice at 18,000 Kyat (US $ 16) and a package of salt for 250 Kyat. These are being sold at 50 per cent discount, according to residents of Chibwe.

      There are over 10,000 people in Chibwe town and the people rely on government jobs and cultivation of paddy in the surrounding mountains, the residents added.

      Unlike other urban areas in Kachin State, the regime has prepared ready-to-vote conditions for the constitutional referendum on May 10 in all villages in Chibwe as well as the controlled areas of the main Kachin ceasefire group, the Kahin Independence Organization (KIO) in the Triangle Areas opposite Chibwe which is divided by the N'mai River, villagers in the areas said.

      According to KIO sources in the area, the KIO will be responsible for security of all the polling stations in its controlled areas of Nyawng Maw Pa and Washa Pa under Battalion (10) on the request of the junta.

      A local NGO worker in Myitkyina Township, the capital of Kachin State who came back last weekend from those areas told KNG, "Most residents of Chibwe are government servants and they will cast the 'Yes' vote for the regime' new constitution."

      "Most residents do not have any knowledge of the new constitution. The residents have less than ten radios per hundred people", the Ngo worker added.

      On the other hand, the Burmese military junta has assigned the KIO to monitor the polling booths in Nyawng Maw Pa and Wa Sha Pa which are KIO battalion (10) controlled areas.

      Meanwhile, voting stations are being set up in the villages in KIO and another Kachin ceasefire group, New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) controlled areas east of Kachin State outside Chibwe, the locals said.

      The KIO and NDA-K have allowed setting up polling stations and collection of voters' list in their controlled areas. However both groups have not suggested to the people whether to cast 'Yes' or 'No' votes in the referendum, according to insiders.


      More harassment, attacks on opposition activists underway - Aye Lae
      Irrawaddy: Thu 24 Apr 2008

      The homes of several members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in Rangoon and Mandalay were raided by authorities and attacked by vandals this week, according to local NLD members.

      The homes of two senior members of the southwest and northwest townships in Mandalay, Myint Soe and Aung Ko Ko, were pelted by rocks thrown from motorcycles on April 20, said Ko Gyi, a senior NLD member in Mandalay.

      "The attackers used catapults to throw rocks against the houses," Ko Gyi told The Irrawaddy from Mandalay. He said three motorcycles were involved in the attack. Myint Soe and Aung Ko Ko could not be reached for comment.

      Myint Soe filed a complaint at Police Station 7 in Maha Aung May Township, Ko Gyi said.

      Attacks against opposition arty members and other activists have increased since the NLD launched its "Vote No" campaign in early April against the junta's constitutional referendum. The referendum is May 10.

      NLD spokesman Nyan Win in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy on Thursday, "Such attacks clearly indicate that there is not law in the country."

      The spokesman said that several NLD members in Rangoon were similarly harassed recently as they walked home from a bus stop in North Okkalapa Township.

      On April 22, Nyan Win said the homes of three NLD members who live in South Dagon Myothit Township were raided at night by more than a dozen police and unidentified officials. The homes of Lay Lwin, Ma Cho and Thin Soe were thoroughly searched, he said, but no items were confiscated

      In recent weeks, two more NLD members, Thi Han and Myint Hlaing, were assaulted in Rangoon by unknown parties. Myint Hlaing, 72, was hospitalized for injuries.

      Other unconfirmed reports say NLD members in townships in Arakan State and Irrawaddy Division have been harassed and assaulted for their political activities.


      UN disappoints many in Burma - Aung Zaw
      Irrawaddy: Thu 24 Apr 2008

      Burma's military rulers are going ahead with their national referendum with no regard for the inclusive political and constitutional process demanded by the UN, which has lost face and the trust of the Burmese people.

      Burma's electorate and activists, within and outside the country, have lost faith with UN attempts to solve the country's crisis and with the failed efforts of Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Demands are growing louder for him to resign in order to demonstrate his honesty and acceptance of failure.

      On his last visit to Burma, top leaders even refused to meet him, and he and his delegation were compelled to sit through a long lecture by Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan on Burma's political process and history. The top generals who wanted Gambari to endorse the upcoming referendum and political road-map now shunned him.

      Gambari is unconcerned, however, by the criticism he is receiving from both sides, and he told The Irrawaddy: "Maybe if I am criticized from both sides, it means I am doing something right. I think these comments come out of some frustration."

      Frustration is certainly felt by campaign activists.

      Debbie Stothard, of Thailand-based Alternative Asean, said: "In rating Mr Gambari's performance, the lack of results on Burma speaks for itself.

      "Mr Gambari's skills seem to be focused on prolonging his career. He has gone along with the agenda of parties and governments that want to maintain the status quo on Burma. We have seen more setbacks than success at the UN level during his Burma assignment."

      There is no shortage of governments and officials who continue to support his mission, however. China, the US, the EU and Scandinavian countries continue to back his mission. Other countries that are beginning to question the mission and Gambari's performance still support him in public.

      A western diplomat who closely studies Burma said he suspected that Gambari and the UN want a greater UN presence in Burma, allowing the organization's "good offices" to play a more active role in delivering humanitarian assistance and to have a liaison officer there.

      After his last visit, Gambari told the 15-member UN Security Council in New York: "Whereas each of my previous visits produced some results that could be built upon, it is a source of disappointment that this latest visit did not yield any immediate tangible outcome."

      Some countries even believe Gambari's missions are counterproductive. Jeremy Woodrum, co-founder of the US Campaign for Burma, said: "Gambari has played directly into the hands of those that do not want change in Burma, such as China."

      China, Burma's political consultant and major arms supplier, continues to back Gambari, who often travels to Beijing. China has also played a role in persuading Burmese leaders to issue entry visas for Gambari.

      "By hiding behind Gambari's mission, China has invested Gambari with a bully pulpit and authority, but Gambari doesn't seem to realize this and hasn't used it to his advantage," Woodrum said. "When China says it supports Gambari's mission over and over again, Gambari has the chance to move China. He has not done that."

      Woodrum and many activists believe that Gambari has failed to read the whole picture of Burma.

      "Gambari's failure is that the content, tenor and tone of his reports after his missions to Burma have summarily understated the severity of the situation in Burma. These reports and public comments in the media - more than anything else - have unwittingly supported China's position that the UN Security Council should turn a blind eye."

      Jeremy argued that Gambari rarely mentioned Burma's political prisoners, whose number had increased at the start of his mission and now stands at nearly 2,000. The regime actually continued to arrest monks and activists and raid monasteries while Gambari was visiting Burma.

      "Moreover, the Burmese military regime has destroyed twice as many villages as have been destroyed in Darfur [where the UN Security Council has authorized up to 30,000 peacekeepers]. Yet Gambari never says this.

      "He has simply not stated the facts that would drive international action, and when he has said the right thing, he hasn't done it often enough."

      Woodrum said that when pressed on these matters, Gambari reverts to narrow, legalistic interpretations of his role, such as stating that he only works for the UN Secretary General and that his mandate comes from the UN General Assembly and not the Security Council.

      "The entire democracy movement accepts these points. He is correct in all of these points, but it is unfair for him to use these points to avoid answering serious questions on Burma. His use of these points to avoid answering serious questions undermines his own effort at building a stronger international consensus."

      Woodrum continued: "When asked by the media if it is useful for countries to sell arms to the military regime, he should state 'No, and I would like for them to stop.' When asked if the UN Security Council should do more for Burma, he should say 'While I work for the Council and I can not decide for them, I do think it would be helpful if the Council passed a binding resolution.' Instead, he simply avoids these questions."

      Gambari is acting no different than previous envoys, however. He, like Razali [Ismail], is playing the same broken record over and over again. Unless he changes tack, he (like Razali) will fail."

      Some Western observers say that UN officials and Gambari are on the defensive and quite sensitive to media criticism.

      A long-time Burma observer, speaking anonymously, said: "He has achieved very little but each time he visited Burma he came out and said different things. It is time to have 'Gambari Watch.'"

      Win Min, a former Burmese activist who now studies military affairs in Burma, said the UN mechanism and its ineffectiveness are to blame for Gambari's lack of success. It was time for Gambari to review his mission, he said.

      In a New York interview with The Irrawaddy, however, Gambari defended his last mission and denied it was a failure.

      "Contrary to what the press has generally reported, there were some positive elements from this visit," he said. "The fact that it occurred at all [was an achievement]. You recall that I was invited [to visit Burma] after the 15th of April. But it was moved up. At least the authorities were sensitive to the need to engage earlier than their initial plan. Secondly, they also extended the stay by one day. That may not seem a lot, but the fact of the matter is that at least there is willingness on their part to change their minds and to try to accommodate us as much as possible."

      This can hardly be viewed as a positive achievement. Observers say Gambari and UN officials still want to continue with the mission and the Nigerian diplomat seems determined to return to Burma. But there is not much he can do.

      Richard Horsey, former International Labour Organization officer in Rangoon and now working for the UN, thinks Gambari is a skillful diplomat and that he has achieved more than his predecessor, the Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail.

      Unlike Razali, Gambari has the backing of Burma's neighbors and the West and he enjoys rare access to China and India, Horsey said.

      But UN officials and diplomats sympathetic to Gambari say the envoy might have misjudged his last mission.

      "He should not say that his mission was not a failure," a Bangkok-based Western diplomat told The Irrawaddy. "He should not create false hope. It is just distracting. I wonder whether he just wants to preserve his job or wants to help the Burmese people."


      Burma's wealth gap breeds discontent - Danna Harman
      Christian Science Monitor: Thu 24 Apr 2008

      Tales of the junta's extravagances trickle down to average citizens, many of whom lack basic items. In a country where electricity is available only a few hours a day and those with a job can barely afford the bus ride to work, Burmese pack the teahouses here and gossip about the decadence of the top brass.

      "In Rangoon there is complete neglect, but in Naypyidaw everything is good," Min, a construction worker, tells his friends. He asks that only his first name be used for security reasons. Min is referring to the new capital 250 miles north, to which the top generals and their families have relocated and which cost between $122 million and $244 million to build, according to the International Monetary Fund.

      "They are building swimming pools and golf courses and very good roads," Min whispers to the others. "They have better Karaoke clubs too … with dancing girls!"

      The gap between the haves and have-nots in Burma (Myanmar) is growing every day. And it's this poverty and inequality, say observers, that fuels the discontent here - perhaps more than any yearning for democracy.

      "If [top leader, General] Than Shwe delivered on the economy," argues Robert Rotberg, director of Harvard's Kennedy School Program on Intrastate Conflict and Conflict Resolution, "[then] everyone would agree to wait for democracy. But the junta robs and strips the economy…. Indeed, the junta systematically loots."

      Not that the regime seems eager to deliver political reform, either: Many expect a constitutional referendum set for May 10 to further the junta's control, and do little for individual freedoms.

      "The key question is economic," agrees Zin Linn, a Burmese activist and journalist who was jailed for seven years by the junta, and today lives in exile in Thailand. "We are facing starvation because of the junta's policies of mismanagement and selfishness."

      Weeks' wages for rice

      At independence 60 years ago, Burma was regarded as the Southeast Asian nation "most likely to succeed" based on economic indicators at the time compiled by ALTSEAN, a regional human rights lobby. The country is awash with natural wealth, from extensive oil and gas reserves to world-renowned rubies.

      But the country today is aching with poverty. "This country is, how shall I put it, a disaster. A disaster of many decades in the making," half-jokes comedian U Lu Zaw, a member of the famous anti-regime Moustache Brothers comedy troupe in Mandalay.

      Within the past five years, the price of cooking oil in Burma has risen tenfold. One sack of the lowest quality rice here costs half of Min's month's wages. The UN estimates that the average household spends more than 70 percent of its income on food. The World Food Program recently announced it would spend $51.7 million over the next three years in food aid for up to 1.6 million vulnerable Burmese.

      The World Health Organization routinely ranks Burma's overall healthcare system among the worst in the world. Less than half of Burmese children go to primary school, compared with 70 percent of children in Southeast Asia who complete secondary school.

      What's happening? To begin with, the regime spends about half of its annual budget on its 400,000-strong military, shelling out billions of dollars for everything from warships from China and tanks from Ukraine to jet planes and a nuclear reactor from Russia. Less that 3 percent of the budget is spent on health services, and just 1 percent on education. Burmese officials blame economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union. But analysts say the rest of the story is one of mismanagement and corruption.

      Even the employed here can't afford to buy a 10-cent newspaper on a regular basis: According to the BBC World Service Trust, on average, a single paper is read by 10 adults, meaning people are pooling resources to buy them. Yet when the poor do open the papers, they find society pages filled with displays of extravagance: champagne parties, mansions bought and sold.

      Diamonds for the general's daughter

      In this environment, rumors breed freely. Few urbanites have not seen bootleg DVD copies of General Shwe's daughter's extravagant wedding. Were all those diamonds real? Was that tiara pure gold? And does Shwe's grandson really take a private plane to Singapore for school every morning?

      No one knows, but increasingly people are convinced they are poor because their leadership is stealing from them. "There are two different worlds in Burma, and one comes at the expense of the other," says Min.

      Many Burmese today are forced to buy generators or make do with candles. Burma has sufficient energy, but the leadership is selling it abroad. According to a 2007 report by the US Armed Forces' Pacific Command, Burma produced only 1,775 megawatts of power for its 53 million people in 2006 but sold neighboring Thailand 26,000 megawatts for its 63 million people. The monies from those sales have not been accounted for. It's a story that repeats itself in sector after sector.

      Bringing this up with the junta leads to stonewalling, or worse, as Charles Petrie, the most recent UN director in Burma, discovered. "In this potentially prosperous country basic human needs are not being met," Mr. Petrie wrote last October. The junta's response? Petrie "has acted … beyond his capacity by issuing the statement which not only harms [Burma's] reputation but also the reputation of the United Nations," they retorted - and kicked him out of the country within months.


      Burma's neighbors line up for three port deals - William Boot
      Irrawaddy: Thu 24 Apr 2008

      A successful bid by Thailand to develop a deep-sea port at Dawei on the Andaman Sea coast would complete three development deals by Burma's most influential neighbors to upgrade the military junta's seaways.

      At the other end of Burma, the old rice port of Sittwe on the edge of the Bay of Bengal is about to be redeveloped by India. And in between China is working on a major new port construction at Kyauk Phyu on Ramree Island.

      All three neighbors have been stepping up their business links with the Burmese military regime at a time when Western countries are seeking to isolate the generals.

      The future of Dawei, also known as Tavoy, was raised by Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama on recent visits to the capital of Naypyidaw.

      Few details of what the Thai government has in mind have emerged, but analysts note that Dawei is close to the Thai border and only 300 kilometers from the markets of greater Bangkok and Thailand's major electricity generating plants.

      "A port capable of handling ocean-going oil tankers and within easy reach of the Bangkok region would be very convenient for the Thais," Hong Kong-based logistics expert Vince Lomax told The Irrawaddy.

      "But that standard of port will take a lot of money to build, and would also need to be able to handle TEUs [Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit containers] and would need road upgrades and maybe a railroad link," said Lomax, an independent consultant involved in several major ports in East Asia, including Hong Kong.

      Ironically, Dawei was previously in India's sights for development as part of New Delhi's oft-discussed "Look East" policy. The Indians were in discussions with the Burmese generals in early 2005 on a plan to turn Dawei into a sea gateway to Southeast Asia, shortcutting the long sea route round the tip of Malaysia and the cluttered Malacca Strait.

      At that time, New Delhi spoke about a feasibility study on Dawei. Nothing more was heard of it.

      Observers think China's rising interest in the geography of Burma may have had some influence on ending India's ambitions beside the Andaman.

      Not only is Beijing quietly developing a naval logistic presence round the rim of the Indian Ocean, like the Indian navy, it sees in Burma both a source of raw energy and gas and a conduit to transport Middle East oil into Southwest China by a pipeline.

      The same shortcut avoiding the Malacca Strait seems to have occurred to the Chinese about the same time as the Indians.

      China has settled on a far more strategic location on the Burmese coast for its naval and economic plans - the isolated fishing port of Kyauk Phyu on Ramree Island adjoining Arakan State.

      But whereas Dawaei is handy for the Thais, Kyauk Phyu will necessitate a 1,500-kilometre highway and similar length pipeline to reach Kunming, the capital of China's bordering Yunnan Province.

      Few details about Kyauk Phyu have emerged, but the Chinese government news agency Xinhua has reported that the port will have a water depth of 20 meters. That would enable it to handle the biggest deep-draught container vessels.

      Even the port in Shanghai does not have such depth.

      Chinese engineers and other skilled labor are involved in the Ramree development, which is isolated from prying eyes. The leading construction manager is Asia World, a multiple-activity Burmese company whose owners, Lo Hsing-han and his son Steven Law, are close to the junta and blacklisted by the US government.

      Xinhua has said that Kyauk Phyu will also be linked by road with Sittwe, the dilapidated British colonial-era port in the far west near the Bangladesh border.

      "You could say that Sittwe is India's consolation prize," said Erik Lannson, an international freight manager in Bangkok. "They lost out on the Shwe gas to China, who may have blocked their Dawei ambitions, but they still get a kind of look-east seaside window even though it is a smaller one."

      Indian state companies will spend US $120 million to renovate Sittwe and dredge the Kaladan River which connects the port with the Indian northeast state of Mizoram.

      New Delhi now sees this as a key to opening up its landlocked northeast states.

      Sittwe seems certain to become important as a link port for the nearby offshore Shwe gas field where more than 200 billion cubic meters of proven reserves are waiting to be tapped.

      No one should expect any early developments at Dawei. The Indian government spent more than two years negotiating with the military before a formal agreement was reached on Sittwe earlier this month - with a loan sweetener of $10 million.


      Sanctions on Burma To Be Extended - David Cronin
      IPS: April 23, 2008

      BRUSSELS - Sanctions imposed by the European Union on Burma look set to be extended for an extra year because of the lack of progress on human rights in the military-ruled country.

      EU foreign ministers meeting Apr. 28 will review the measures they introduced against Burma in October last year, following the brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks who took part in street protests that have become known as the Saffron Revolution. These measures included a ban on the import of gemstones, timber and precious metal.

      Slovenia, the current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, expects the sanctions to be renewed for another 12 months.

      Janez Lenarcic, Slovenia's state secretary for European affairs, said he also expects the EU to formally exhort the Burmese authorities to begin planning for a "legitimate civil government" and to release political prisoners, including the iconic pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Yet some campaign groups have argued that it would not be sufficient to merely prolong the EU's sanctions. Human Rights Watch is urging both that existing sanctions should be bolstered and supplementary ones added.

      While the EU has frozen the assets of Burmese generals, Human Rights Watch contends that these financial measures should be made more comprehensive. In particular, it wants any use of bank clearing-houses or the conduct of any other financial transactions within the EU's jurisdiction by members of the junta to be forbidden.

      The organisation also wants to broaden the range of targets for sanctions. At present, oil and gas exports from Burma remain unaffected by the sanctions, as do contracts signed by the French energy giant Total for exploiting the Yadana gas field in southern Burma. Human Rights Watch is arguing that the sanctions should be extended to cover companies that finance the Burmese military, such as the state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

      Lotte Leicht, Brussels director with Human Rights Watch, argued that sanctions can have an influence on the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the Burmese government calls itself, but only if their application is monitored vigorously.

      "The way forward for an effective sanctions regime on Burma is to think small and adaptive," she said. "Go after the real perpetrators and profiteers of Burma's military rule and target their ability to access international financial networks to hide their profits, to buy arms and other repressive tools. And do it constantly with updated information and listing of key SPDC officials and military controlled companies.

      "The EU must cooperate with other sanctioning states such as the U.S. and Australia, and share information and coordinate action. To do anything less makes sanctions a hollow tool, and plays directly into the hands of the military regime who are accustomed to hard talk and soft measures as a result of divergent international approaches."

      Members of the European Parliament have called, too, for tougher sanctions during an Apr. 23 debate. Plans by the Burmese junta to hold a referendum on a new constitution next month were denounced by MEPs.

      Brian Crowley, a representative of Fianna Fáil, Ireland's largest party, noted that the constitution would reserve one-quarter of all seats in the Burmese parliament for the military and that Aung San Suu Kyi would not be allowed seek election "because she is married to a foreigner."

      Hélène Flautre, a French Green who chairs a parliamentary committee on human rights, said that while efforts to draft a constitution may initially have appeared positive, they "very quickly turned into a Machiavellian scheme."

      Richard Howitt from the British Labour Party argued that a U.S. ban on banking and financial transactions by the Burmese authorities has denied them foreign currency. He urged the EU to take similar action.

      Some MEPs also exhorted the EU to press China to use its influence with Burma, in which it invests heavily, so that human rights are respected there.

      Ten members of the European Commission, the EU's executive, are visiting China this week, including José Manuel Barroso, the institution's president. One of the commissioners remaining in Europe, Jacques Barrot, said his colleagues would be raising the situation in Burma during their trip.

      Meanwhile, Amnesty International said that if Barroso's visit will have any meaningful result, he must obtain firm commitments from the Chinese government to allow free expression ahead of this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. Among the commitments being sought by Amnesty are an end to the harassment of Chinese human rights activists, guarantees that journalists will be allowed work unrestricted, and greater transparency about how many executions are carried out.

      "Such a high level visit one hundred days before the start of the Olympics is a crucial opportunity to press the Chinese government to change its tactics," said Amnesty spokeswoman Natalia Alonso. "The EU's commitment to include human rights concerns into all its policies is at stake."


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