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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 29/5/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi s Detention Should Be Added to the List of the SPDC s Crimes Against Humanity 2.. Suu Kyi detention will not affect Myanmar cyclone
    Message 1 of 1 , May 28 9:40 PM
      1. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's Detention Should Be Added to the List of the SPDC's Crimes Against Humanity
      2. Suu Kyi detention will not affect Myanmar cyclone aid, say donors
      3. Democracy and death in Myanmar
      4. UN Gambles With Junta - Forgets History
      5. Myanmar's cyclone survivors bullied by military; forced to work, return to demolished homes
      6. Salt and fisheries industries at a standstill
      7. Local authorities skim money off farm subsidies
      8. Even with access, distributing aid in Myanmar is difficult
      9. Asean-led mechanism a waste of time
      10. French supplies for Burma unload in Phuket
      11. 'Window of opportunity' in Burma
      12. A sign of hope for Burmese
      13. Women's underwear needed in fight for democracy in Myanmar

      Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's Detention Should Be Added to the List of the SPDC's Crimes Against Humanity

      On May 27, the SPDC extended Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest. She was originally detained in May 2003 pursuant to the 1975 State Protection Act, which has a maximum detention period of five years. The five-year period has expired and thus she must be released immediately. Continuing to detain her is a flagrant violation of the SDPC's own law. Moreover, there is no other applicable Burmese law under which the SPDC can continue to hold her, such as the Penal Code, because she has not committed any crime.

      Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's detention should also be considered a crime against humanity because it is targeted not only at her, but at the entire Burmese population. She is no ordinary citizen. She is the embodiment of liberty, democracy and human rights in Burma. Her popularity among the people and her undying charisma won her the Nobel Peace Prize. If someone so distinguished and honored can be unlawfully detained, how can common people ever hope to oppose the regime without fearing for their own freedom and safety? The reality is, they cannot. The SPDC knows that the extended detention of Suu Kyi will continue to spread intimidation throughout the country, and fear strengthens their rule.

      Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's detention fits the technical definition of crimes against humanity. These crimes include "imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law" (Rome Statute, Art. 7, § 1(e)). Suu Kyi's detention is clearly one that violates fundamental rules of international law because she was detained for purely political purposes, not for any wrongdoing.

      From the legal perspective, some may argue that Suu Kyi's unlawful detention is a single, isolated crime, and therefore does not meet the requirement that it be part of a "widespread" or "systematic" attack. The BLC disagrees with this position. First, a single detention or other crime can qualify if it is meant to "intimidate the entire civilian population" (Jean Graven, Les Crimes Contre Humanite; see also, FRANCISCO FORREST MARTIN, ET AL., International Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, Treaties, Cases, & Analysis ("Although it is correct that isolated, random acts should not be included in the definition of crimes against humanity, … an isolated attack can constitute a crime against humanity if it is the product of a political system based on terror or persecution.")). Moreover, her detention is a part of the long SDPC campaign to arrest, intimidate, torture and murder civilians. "As long as there is a link between the widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population, a single act could qualify as a crime against humanity" (Prosecutor v. Mrksic and other, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, 3 April 1996, IT-95-13-R61).

      The BLC urges all supporters of peace and justice to continue pressuring the UN Security Council to refer the heinous crimes in Burma to the International Criminal Court.

      Burma Lawyers' Council May 28, 2008
      For detailed information, please contact:
      U Aung Htoo, General Secretary, 66 (0) 815330605

      Suu Kyi detention will not affect Myanmar cyclone aid, say donors
      Wed, 28 May 2008 14:08 HKT

      YANGON (AFP) -- Outrage over Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest will not detract from relief work, key donors said, as the United Nations on Wednesday reported small gains in getting aid to cyclone survivors.

      The military regime quietly informed the Nobel Peace Prize winner that she would spend another year confined to her home in Yangon, where she has been locked away for most of the last 18 years.

      The decision came just two days after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon left Myanmar following a donor conference that generated tens of millions of dollars in aid pledges in response to the cyclone that left 133,000 dead or missing.

      Ban said that while he regretted the extension, Myanmar appeared "to be moving in right direction" with cyclone relief by allowing some international aid workers into the most devastated regions of Irrawaddy Delta.

      That region had been sealed off to foreigners for three weeks after the storm, even though 2.4 million people were in desperate need of food, shelter and medicine.

      During Ban's visit here, he convinced junta leader Than Shwe to give foreign disaster experts access to the region so that aid agencies can mount a full-scale aid effort.

      "I hope that this marks a new spirit of cooperation and partnership between Myanmar and the international community," he said, adding that he planned to return to the country soon.

      The United Nations estimates that only 40 percent of the people in need have actually received help, and most of those still languishing without emergency supplies are in remote parts of the delta.

      US President George W. Bush, one of the regime's fiercest critics, said he was "deeply troubled" by Aung San Suu Kyi 's detention but also said politics would not affect humanitarian aid in the country, formerly known as Burma.

      "The United States will continue to help the people of Burma recover from the devastation of Cyclone Nargis and will continue to support the Burmese people's long-term struggle for freedom," he said.

      Despite condemnation pouring in from around the world, aid agencies said they had seen signs of improved cooperation with the regime.

      "All the major obstacles we've been facing have been resolved. Now the relief effort will scale up more quickly," said Richard Horsey, spokesman for the UN's disaster relief arm in Bangkok.

      He said more than 200 international staffers were now in Myanmar working with the United Nations, and that those who have entered the delta have not encountered any major problems.

      "My understanding is there haven't been any problems so far and they've been able to go where they've wanted to go, which is mainly the most-affected regions," Horsey said.

      "Than Shwe has now accepted a flexible stance," he added.

      Two helicopters arrived in Bangkok and were being assembled Wednesday to help the World Food Programme distribute supplies to regions inaccessible by road. Seven more are on the way, WFP spokesman Paul Risley said.

      Myanmar's state media has also taken a more open tone toward aid from foreign agencies, as well as from private donors, after three weeks of insisting the military could handle the relief effort itself.

      The government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday again highlighted the work done by WFP and charities like Doctors Without Borders.

      The paper also insisted that private donors were free to deliver food and clothing to cyclone victims in the delta, where some local authorities had tried to stop volunteers from entering.

      "Everybody may make donations freely. Everybody may make donations to any person or any area," the paper said.

      "However, wellwishers are urged to avoid unsystematic donations and acts that may tarnish the image of the nation and its people," it added.

      Democracy and death in Myanmar
      By Larry Jagan

      BANGKOK - Amid Myanmar's perhaps worst-ever natural disaster, the ruling junta has pushed through a new constitution which guarantees its future hold on political power. Over the weekend the military government held a referendum on the new charter in the country's worst cyclone-hit areas, completing a voting process many onlookers have characterized as flawed, rigged and even immoral.

      The military government proceeded with the vote amid a gathering humanitarian crisis, where over 100,000 are believed to be dead or missing and as many as 3 million left homeless by Cyclone Nagris, which first hit Myanmar on May 2 and 3. Officials controversially went ahead with the first round of voting on May 10, while postponing the polls until May 24 in the worst cyclone-hit areas.

      In the official statement announced by the state media, less than a week after the first round of voting, the Myanmar attorney general and head of the committee that organized the vote, Aung Toe, said that 99% of the 22.5 million eligible voters had turned out to vote, and some 92.4% voted yes on the new charter. A day after the second round, where nearly 5 million voters were registered to vote, the government announced a 90% voter turnout and that 92.9% had approved the constitution.

      Many analysts, diplomats and unofficial election monitors strongly question the veracity of those results. "To suggest that the areas affected by the cyclone got 93% turnout just highlights what nonsense this process is," said John Virgoe, the International Crisis Group's Southeast Asia regional director. "It's the final act in a tragic farce," a Western diplomat based in Yangon told Asia Times Online. "While millions struggle to survive, the generals forced people to vote for a constitution that few had seen and even fewer supported - and then they had the audacity to say virtually everyone cast their ballot in favor."

      It took the military regime over 14 years to draw up the charter, which will replace the one the army abrogated in September 1988 when it seized power in a bloody coup. The new charter was drafted by a National Convention comprised of a thousand delegates hand-picked by military authorities, which effectively rubber-stamped the proposals unilaterally put forward by the regime.

      The new constitution effectively enshrines the junta's hold on political power and legally excludes detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from ever holding office because of her marriage to a foreigner. (On Tuesday, the government extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest by a further year. She has been under house arrest for the past five years.)

      The new charter also reserves 25% of parliamentary seats for military representatives - which through their numbers will make it nearly impossible for civilian politicians to amend the constitution.

      The new charter also mandates that the president - who will be the future head of state - must be a military man, while the army will retain control of key ministries, including the Defense, Interior and Border Affairs portfolios. The constitution drafting process was the military's political counter to prevent the pro-democracy political parties from forming a civilian government after Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), swept democratic elections in May 1990.

      The junta annulled those election results and have since maintained an ironclad grip on political power. The NLD was part of the original constitution drafting convention, but boycotted the process in November 1995 due to draconian free speech restrictions, including possible seven-year jail terms for criticizing the convention's deliberations.

      The process was then suspended for nearly 11 years and was eventually reconvened in May 2006 to complete its task. The alleged positive result of the constitution referendum represents a significant step in the regime's so-called seven-stage "road map to democracy", which if followed through will wind up in 2010 with multi-party democratic elections.

      That roadmap, first outlined by former prime minister and intelligence chief Khin Nyunt, previously called for a period of political liberalization in the lead-up to the constitution referendum, including conciliatory gestures such as the release of political prisoners, the resumption of political party activities and permission for the establishment of grassroots community organizations. Senior General Than Shwe, the junta leader, has crucially skipped over that step in the original reform plan.

      If the regime honors its pledge and indeed holds multi-party elections in 2010, the generals would presumably have to give political parties a measure of freedom to function and campaign if the polls are to have any credibility with the international community. Judging by how they handled the constitutional referendum, it seems likely the general elections will be just as farcical.

      Crude fraud

      In the run-up to the referendum, state-controlled media strongly urged voters to support the constitution, casting the vote in patriotic terms. The television appeals were supported by performances of popular singers and other celebrities, some chanting slogans such as "the approval of the draft constitution is the responsibility of every citizen".

      International election monitors were not allowed into the country to observe the referendum. Some diplomats were allowed to tour the referendum polling stations in the former capital Yangon on both polling days. "Few people seemed to be voting, there were no long cues of people as there were in the 1990 elections," said an Asian diplomat who visited polling stations.

      Unauthorized poll observers from various non-governmental organizations monitored the referendum without the junta's authorization. They likewise concluded that few voters actually showed up at the polls. In the worst-hit Irrawaddy Delta, where an estimated 2 million people were left homeless by the cyclone, most villagers failed to vote or those who did were coerced or cajoled into casting their ballot, according to a group of Thai unofficial election monitors, who were in the delta area to observe Saturday's vote.

      "We went by boat down to the delta - some three hours from [Yangon] - and saw no voting taking place," one of the monitors told Asia Times Online. "They had not eaten for three weeks and said they were waiting for food to come. We are not interested in voting, we are starving," one villager told the unofficial election monitor. The same villager said the local village headman had been led away by the authorities and voted "yes" on behalf of everyone. In other locations, soldiers promised cyclone-affected villagers access to food and aid in exchange for casting "yes" ballots.

      In Yangon, which was similarly hit by the cyclone, voters had to include their identification numbers on their ballots before casting them at the polling station, according to another activist who monitored the referendum. Civil servants and workers in large factories were required to vote early under the watchful gaze of soldiers.

      According to diplomats, many state employee voters were given ballot papers already marked with a "yes" vote or had the "no" vote completely blacked out. Other government employees were told by military officials that they had already cast their ballots when they arrived at the polling stations. "No one will take this result seriously," said a European diplomat who follows Myanmar affairs closely from Bangkok.

      "This is one of the most bizarre acts ever by this military regime," another Western diplomat based in Yangon told Asia Times Online. "People were angry when they still had to vote - and now they will be incredulous at both the 'official' result and the regime's callous behavior." It's altogether unclear how many lives may have been saved if the government had focused its military energies on search and rescue missions rather than carrying forth the referendum.

      On the first day after the storm hit, troops were reportedly on alert to be sent to the affected areas to help survivors and clear up the damage. Instead the country's top ruler, Than Shwe, stopped their deployment because he wanted troops to concentrate on providing security for the referendum, according to a senior Myanmar military source familiar with the situation.

      Amid a massive humanitarian crisis, Myanmar has entered into a new political era. What happens next, analysts say, is still a matter of conjecture. "The new constitution is Than Shwe's exit strategy," said independent Burmese political analyst Aung Naing Oo. "He knows he has to provide a facade of civilian rule, but retain most of the power. This constitution gives the Burmese perhaps 5% to 10% freedom."

      That is for those who actually survive the military junta's until now wholly inadequate response to the cyclone. Some say tensions are mounting within the army rank and file over the political direction being dictated by Than Shwe. Some younger officers are also allegedly disaffected about rampant corruption at the government's higher echelons, including most recently the widespread and systematic pilfering of international relief supplies earmarked for cyclone survivors.

      Other officers reportedly disapproved of the brutal military crackdown ordered by Than Shwe on street protesters last September, which according to the UN left more than 30 people dead. Now, as the true extent of the cyclone damage and loss of life comes into clearer view, and questions emerge about how many lives could have been saved if the government had acted more swiftly, popular resentment could grow dangerously in the months ahead.

      Rising food and staple prices, especially in Yangon, could spark new rounds of social unrest, a case scenario which diplomats say would put army unity to a delicate test, particularly if a significant number of foreign aid workers are by then allowed in the country.

      But even with a potential armed crackdown on starving cyclone victims, the generals' staying power is now constitutionally guaranteed.

      * Larry Jagan previously covered Myanmar politics for the British Broadcasting Corp. He is currently a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.

      UN Gambles With Junta - Forgets History
      Analysis by Marwaan Macan-Markar

      BANGKOK, May 27 (IPS) - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is optimistic that his four-day mission to military-ruled Burma has produced a breakthrough. But the troubled history of relations between the world body and the South-east Asian nation offers a warning against high expectations.

      Ban's views were shaped by signs that Burma's strongman, the reclusive Senior Gen. Than Shwe, had conceded some ground to a U.N. appeal to let in more foreign assistance and experts to help the country's cyclone victims. Significant for Ban was the 75-year-old ruler of Burma (or Myanmar) agreeing to meet him. Than Shwe had refused to take calls from the U.N. chief in the days after May 3, when Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy Delta.

      "I have been much encouraged by my discussions with Myanmar's authorities in recent days," Ban said at a late night press conference shortly after he touched down at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, on Sunday. "Senior Gen. Than Shwe agreed to allow all international aid workers to operate freely and without hindrance."

      "We agreed to establish several forward logistics hubs and to open new air, sea and road links to the most affected areas," added Ban, who had earlier participated in a day-long international conference in Rangoon, Burma's former capital, where officials from over 50 countries had gathered to pledge aid. "The Myanmar government appears to be moving toward the right direction to implement these accords."

      Ban's breakthrough with the notoriously secretive junta is being welcomed by international humanitarian agencies like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF- Doctors Without Borders), which has a presence in Burma but, like other relief agencies, has been denied access to most of the cyclone-hit delta.

      "We welcome the news. Since the cyclone struck three weeks ago, MSF has been trying to get more international aid workers into the delta, particularly those with expertise in emergency situations," says Jean Sebastian Matte, MSF's emergency coordinator. "Now, hopefully, MSF will be able to bring more international emergency experts into Myanmar -- most urgently to the delta region, the worst-affected area."

      The restrictions placed by the junta on aid workers travelling to the devastated terrain south-west of the country is only the latest demonstration of the oppressive grip the powerful clique of military leaders has on the country. Consequently, not only has urgently needed relief like clean water, food, medicine and shelter been denied to the survivors, but the actual human cost has also been kept out of the public eye.

      Currently, estimates of the human toll range from 130,000 deaths to as high as 300,000 deaths in Burma's worst natural disaster. The people affected by the cyclone in the delta range from 2.5 million to four million. The flat terrain over which Nargis swept, with wind speeds of 190 km per hour and carrying a wall of sea water that rose 3.5 m high, had the highest population density in the country.

      But the junta's signs of concession to the U.N. and a regional body that has reached out to help -- the 10-member Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- follow a familiar path. They came after the regime was condemned in many Western capitals for its reluctance to aid the victims, including denying foreign experts familiar with post-disaster relief operations entry into the country.

      "They have made concessions bit by bit in the past when in trouble," Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst living in exile in Thailand, told IPS. "It is a way of reducing international criticism. That is what we are witnessing again. But we have to see if the promises by Than Shwe translate into reality in the next few days."

      Late last year the junta played a similar card. That followed international condemnation of the junta for brutally crushing a peaceful pro-democracy public protest led by thousands of saffron-robed monks in September. In a sign of concession, Than Shwe agreed to meet with U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

      But hope for change to a more inclusive democracy was short-lived. Once the heat was off its back, the regime dismissed Gambari's relevance, breaking all the promises for political reform it had made to the Nigerian diplomat. And during his third visit since the crackdown, the junta's contempt for Gambari was clear. Brig. Gen Kyaw Hsan, information minister and a close ally of Than Shwe, pitched into the U.N. envoy verbally.

      Burma's dictator has treated the six envoys from the U.N. with different mandates for change since the early 1990s in a similar manner. It begins with initial signs supportive of engagement and then takes a hostile turn, reinforcing the notion that the military has to have absolute control of the country, with no exceptions.

      This has also been true when there is no U.N. involvement, too. In August 2003, Gen. Khin Nyunt was appointed prime minister and soon revealed plans for the junta's seven-point roadmap to democracy. It followed international outrage from the West and even in South-east Asia for the attack on and subsequent detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      But Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, marking over 12 years that the Nobel Peace laureate has been kept in isolation. And the promised new constitution, as part of the roadmap, is flawed. Its final draft has sought to perpetuate the junta's power.

      Even the referendum held this month to approve the charter barely provided any space for dissenting views and the threat of a jail sentence hung in the air for those who wanted to campaign against it. Reports of alleged rigging and the junta's domination of the electoral process also enabled the regime to proclaim that 92.4 percent of the voters had supported it.

      "This regime always goes for what they think they can get away with when there is pressure," Debbie Stothard of ALTSEAN, a regional human rights lobby, told IPS. "The U.N. should not be allowed to fall into the trap of lowering the bar of expectations. This is what the regime wants."

      Myanmar's cyclone survivors bullied by military; forced to work, return to demolished homes
      Associated Press: Wed 28 May 2008

      The flimsy bamboo hut built near a road is all Aye Shwe has to keep his family of eight dry. They lost their home to the cyclone and fear they may soon be uprooted again by soldiers ordering them to leave.

      Myanmar's reclusive government has opened up slightly to the world in the past week, allowing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to meet with the country's ruling general and inviting 50 countries for a donors conference to raise money for victims of the May 2-3 storm that killed 78,000.

      But survivors in the clobbered Irrawaddy delta say the junta and its soldiers are as iron-fisted as ever, making some victims return to their flooded, collapsed homes and forcing others to work. Even some Myanmar volunteers donating food and supplies to survivors are being stopped, and the government has started impounding cars.

      "Where my house used to be is still filled with water up to my waist," said Aye Shwe, who was ordered by soldiers to leave the hut. "How can I build a new house there?"

      In the nearby town of Bogalay, about 120 survivors were crammed into the Sankyaung monastery, filled with the sound of rattling coughs and wailing children.

      They heat up food delivered by donors, mostly meals of rice and vegetables, about twice a day. But abbot Kawvida said no aid has been provided by the government.

      Those stuck outside aren't as lucky. Bodies line the monastery walkway lying atop tarps and rattan mats. Plastic sheets strung from the roof provide limited shelter from the daily rains, but some able-bodied survivors are being forced to leave for work.

      "Some of the survivors were sent to Ma-ubin last week to build roads now that reconstruction has started," said the monk, adding he has heard they are being paid about 1,000 kyats (US$1) a day. "They have told me that they are being exploited by some generals."

      Ma-ubin is a delta town northeast of Bogalay, which also was slammed by Cyclone Nargis. Some 1.5 million people remain homeless from the storm, facing hunger and disease. The government has blocked most foreign aid workers from accessing the delta, but the country's ruling general last week promised to allow in outside help.

      Much of the relief effort has instead been carried out by ordinary Myanmar volunteers and the local staff of aid agencies, packing their vehicles with food, water and supplies. They hand out rations every day to hungry survivors begging along roads going into the delta, but several donors have reported being harassed by police or having their vehicles impounded.

      "We didn't drop food on the road, and we didn't violate any traffic regulations," said Nyi Nyi Zaw who was stopped on his way back from dropping supplies at a delta town. "I cannot understand why we were herded into a compound and held there for several hours. This is absurd and very unpleasant."

      Some have reported having their driving license and car registration taken by authorities and being told they will be charged with a traffic violation. In some cases, worried volunteers have abandoned plans to deliver their aid.

      That means people like 93-year-old Khin Mya, whose only form of shelter is a flowered umbrella and a plastic bag, may have one less meal.

      "I get very worried every evening because I have to find a place to sleep  - maybe under a tree, or if I can share a hut with someone," she said. "I must come to the road to receive food from donors or else I will starve."

      Salt and fisheries industries at a standstill - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Wed 28 May 2008

      The salt and fisheries businesses in the Irrawaddy delta have been unable to reopen in the wake of Cyclone Nargis due to the deaths of much of the workforce and the destruction caused to all material aspects of the industries.

      Laputta Township - perhaps the area most affected by the killer cyclone - was the center of Burma's salt industry, producing salt for the entire country, according to merchants at Bayint Naung wholesale market in Rangoon.

      Dr Aye Kyu, a representative from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in Laputta, said the cyclone has destroyed business premises, warehouses, salt mills and fish farms in the area to the extent that the industries are now almost nonexistent.

      He said that most of the land had been flooded by seawater and mud, and that the surviving salt mill owners were unable to dry out the inundated salt.

      "The salt industry in the delta will not be operational for months," he said. "Nargis has destroyed not only human resources, but also the material resources."

      A local businessman from Laputta said that most of salt industry was run by a local oligarchy. He said they had invested an enormous amount of money in the industry in recent years.

      Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, the businessman said, "All the salt stored in coastal areas has been destroyed."

      "Now the local oligarchy doesn't even have enough money to pay their workers," he said. "To open a small salt farm in the delta, a businessman has to invest at least 2 million kyat (US $1,770), but now they can't even afford that amount of money," he said. "Hundreds of millions of kyat in investment have been lost in the salt industry in Laputta," he added.

      Cyclone Nargis has also claimed many lives and livelihoods from the delta's fishing industry. As many as 20,000 fishermen and fishery-related workers are reported to have been killed in the natural disaster.

      According to state-run Burmese Fisheries Department, 13,000 fishermen and fishery workers from Laputta Township alone were killed in the storm of May 2-3.

      A source close to private cooperative Myanmar Fisheries Federation told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that Cyclone Nargis had destroyed many of the fish and prawn farms in both Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions. In Irrawaddy, the fish industries in the townships of Bogalay and Dedaye were devastated, as were those in Kayan, Thongwa, Kyauktan and Twante townships in Rangoon Division.

      "Almost all of Twante's fish-breeding farms were totally destroyed by the cyclone on May 3," he said.

      Local authorities skim money off farm subsidies - Naw Say Phaw
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 28 May 2008

      Farmers in Zee Gone township, Bago division, have been forced to give almost one fifth of their state agricultural loans to local authorities, a local farmer said.

      A farmer from Nwartehgone village said the authorities were demanding 1500 kyat for each of the thousands of acres of farmlands in the area.

      "The actual agricultural loan given to us by the government for one acre of cultivation is 8000 kyat but local authorities are cutting 1500 kyat from each acre," the farmer said.

      "They told us we had to pay 700 kyat to the township authorities, 300 kyat for ballot station expenses, 200 kyat for cyclone victims and the rest goes to the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation's funds and the government's custard plant growing program," he said.

      "But our village Peace and Development Council chairman used the money from the cyclone victims' fund for himself and then took another 200 kyat from us to replace it."

      The farmer said locals were also being forced to grow summer paddy, which is unlikely to produce a successful crop.

      "The village PDC chairman is controlling our lives as he has close ties with the township PDC," the farmer said.

      "He forces us to grow crops that won't make any profit for us and he destroys our farmlands under various pretexts when we don't give him the money he demands," he said.

      "Some farmers have complained about the village PDC chairman to the Union Solidarity and Development Association and the township PDC but they have not taken any action against him."

      Zee Gone township PDC office and the local branch of the state Agricultural Bank were unavailable for comment.

      Even with access, distributing aid in Myanmar is difficult
      International Herald Tribune: Wed 28 May 2008

      A sport-utility vehicle for $250,000 and a cellphone for $3,000. As foreign aid workers test Myanmar's commitment to allowing them to operate inside the country as part of the relief effort for Cyclone Nargis, they face not only administrative hurdles erected by a xenophobic military government but also an economy warped by years of misrule.

      Myanmar's military limits the sale of cellphones, bans satellite phones, sharply restricts car imports and rations gasoline to one or two gallons (between 3.5 and 7 liters) a day. The main beneficiaries of this system are government employees and military officers, who profit by selling permits, gasoline and many other items on the black market.

      Aid workers from the United Nations and private aid agencies continued Wednesday to travel into the Irrawaddy Delta, the area hardest hit by the May 3 cyclone, after an agreement last week reached with the Myanmar government. Richard Horsey, the spokesman for the UN relief effort, said the military was requiring aid workers to give 48 hours' notice before traveling into the delta but that he was hearing only positive news about their access.

      "I'm not aware of any rejections or people not able to go where they wanted to go," Horsey said.

      By government count, the storm left 134,000 people dead or missing, and the United Nations estimates that 2.4 million survivors face hunger and homelessness. Yet as the number of aid workers increases, Myanmar's capacity and willingness to accommodate their needs are likely to be stretched.

      "I assume we will be running out of quite a lot of things when the influx comes," said Hakan Tongul, deputy country director in Yangon of the World Food Program, a UN agency delivering supplies to the victims of the storm. "There will be logistical problems for sure."

      In the days after the storm, the World Food Program asked for permission to import six vehicles, Tongul said. "We haven't heard anything from the government."

      To the outside world, the government's torpor in reacting to the cyclone has come across as callous indifference. But dysfunction has also been a factor. When a domestic Myanmar Airways passenger plane crashed in 1999 only five kilometers, or three miles, from the airport in Tachileik, near the border with Laos and Thailand, it took the authorities five days to locate the wreckage.

      "Passengers who might have been saved all perished," said a frustrated Myanmar government official who requested that his name be withheld because talking to a foreign reporter could cause him to lose his job or worse.

      "The same thing is happening now," the official said, referring to the cyclone. "We don't have the infrastructure for the kind of rescue work we need in times like this. In this country, where everything moves through the military chain of command, no government official takes the initiative."

      China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and other countries struck in recent years by natural disasters have varying degrees of political restrictions. But they all allow something Myanmar has lacked for the past 46 years under military rule: the right to do business.

      Myanmar's government controls many of the country's largest industries - including timber, gems and petroleum - and requires permits for the importation of the most basic items, including rice. The World Food Program, which fears shortages later this year, has been denied permits to bring in foreign rice. "It's an issue of pride," said Paul Risley, the agency's Asia spokesman.

      The economy is highly inefficient. Electricity - even in most parts of the commercial capital, Yangon - is available just five or six hours a day. To ride in a taxi in Yangon means a rickety journey on 20-year-old shock absorbers.

      India, Myanmar's neighbor to the west, is preparing to roll out a $2,500 car. To the east, Thailand exports half a million pickups. But those fortunate enough to own a car in Myanmar are often stuck with a leaking jalopy. The government allows only a few thousand cars to be imported each year, many fewer than are needed in a country with nearly 50 million people. Import restrictions have skewed the prices of used cars to levels that would be considered absurd in neighboring countries: A 1986 Toyota Chaser, a model the company stopped selling eight years ago, sells here for $16,000. Those vehicles allowed for import are parceled out among high-ranking military officers and civil servants. The richest residents of Yangon have been seen driving Hummers and Italian sports cars.

      In such a restrictive environment, the black market thrives. Rationed gasoline, which goes for $2.50 a gallon, or about 65 cents per liter, sells for at least twice that at the roadside bamboo shacks that serve as illegal but tolerated gasoline stations. The military, which has easier access to cheap gasoline, is one of the largest sellers, say drivers who regularly fill up with the illegal fuel.

      Government officials and military officers also make money from reselling mobile telephone numbers and car and motorcycle registration documents, all of which are very difficult to obtain.

      The Myanmar official gets $120 a month for his official salary, but that hardly meets his needs. "Everyone must find a way to survive," he said. The police collect bribes at checkpoints from truck drivers. At airports, pilots and ground crews split the extra-luggage surcharges from passengers. "Everyone is doing it," the official said. "If you don't or can't, you are doomed."

      Business people in Yangon say it is impossible to do business without connections to generals or their children.

      "Do you see the car out there?" the Myanmar official said, pointing to a used Japanese sport-utility vehicle parked outside a restaurant. "It will probably cost $50,000 to import that car. But it's sold here for $250,000. The $200,000 balance is for all kinds of government permits."

      The going rate for a cellphone on Yangon's black market is $2,500 to $3,000.

      The government also makes money by doing business with the United Nations. Each UN agency was allowed to buy 10 cellphone numbers - at $1,500 each, according to Tongul, of the World Food Program. In Thailand, by contrast, cellphone numbers are sometimes given away by companies counting on making their money back on use of the phone.

      A Chinese-made motorcycle in the northern city of Mandalay costs $300 but sells for around $1,000 when the black-market registration is included.

      "They squeeze you for money," said a retired teacher in Yangon who did not want to be named for fear of retribution. "You know the Abraham Lincoln speech about government of the people, by the people, for the people?" the teacher asked. "The people get nothing here, and the military takes everything."

      Asean-led mechanism a waste of time - Solomon
      Mizzima News: Wed 28 May 2008

      The lives of many survivors are at stake and many are dying because of the slow pace at which Burma's military rulers are allowing relief supplies and aid workers to reach cyclone-hit regions, campaigners and local aid workers said.

      "The situation demands a large number of international aid workers or experts," said a local aid worker, who has been supplying relief material to victims in Irrawaddy region.

      Saving lives is now akin to 'a race against time' and more aid workers as well as an abundant supply of relief materials are needed as the majority of cyclone survivors still have not received aid, she added.

      "They (expert aid workers) are needed to monitor aid supply and to make sure that it reaches the right people at the right time," the aid worker, who declined to be named, said.

      She said despite several aid agencies already working to help the cyclone victims, the extent of devastation and the people affected by the cyclone does not match the amount of aid that has so far reached the area.

      Despite Than Shwe's promise to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that international aid workers will be allowed to enter the cyclone affected areas 'regardless of nationality', aid groups said only a few of their expatriate aid workers have so far received permission to go into the Irrawaddy delta, the region most affected by the cyclone.

      Paul Risley the spokesperson of World Food Programme in Bangkok said, "Our country director travelled yesterday and spent last night in Laputta and came back today. That was the first overnight stay by international staff from WFP in the delta."

      He said the WFP, with a few international aid workers who arrived recently, has 26 international staff members in Rangoon now.

      "We got visas for seven of our staff here in Bangkok on Monday. Several staff members are travelling today and tomorrow," Risley said.

      He also said they are hoping to send in several international staff members from Rangoon to cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta's Laputta, Pyapon, Bogale and other towns for a long term or over several weeks.

      "We have received permission for them to travel there [Irrawaddy delta]," Paul Risley said.

      However, the progress in the UN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Burmese government's agreement is too little, an advocacy group Alternative Asean Network on Burma (Altsean Burma) said.

      "The progress is tardy and it is just not enough," Debbie Stothard, Coordinator of the Altsean Burma said. "They (UN) are allowing Than Shwe to keep holding the people as hostages."

      "The problem now is not the suffering because of the cyclone but the problem is because of the junta, they are a bigger disaster than Cyclone Nargis," said Debbie Stothard.

      Amanda Pitt, spokesperson of the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Bangkok, however, said there has been some progress made on the promise made by Burma's military rulers.

      "The process is progressing but it is too early to say," Pitt told Mizzima, declining further comment on what the progress was.

      But not withstanding the UN's acknowledgement that there are signs of progress in terms of getting aid to the most affected people, Mark Farmaner Director of Burma Campaign UK said, Burma's rulers have lied on their agreement with the UN chief.

      "We have information that there is no proper access to the delta. In London aid workers have had their visas turned down," Farmaner, the London based campaigner said.

      "Ban Ki-moon's efforts have failed to secure a breakthrough which was needed," he added.

      Meanwhile, in a ridiculous development, the Burmese Embassy in India's capital city of New Delhi has told a few Indian social workers, who have volunteered to go into Burma to help cyclone victims, that their visa process would take at least two months.

      In Rangoon, international aid workers, who have been given visas for entry, are reportedly sitting in their office, as the government has not yet cleared their documents to let them into the delta region, Mizzima's correspondent said.

      But the correspondent said in a significant move six UNICEF workers have been let into delta on Tuesday.

      But the correspondent, who went visiting offices of international aid agencies, described the scene at the office saying, "International staff members are still sitting in the offices sipping coffee and tea in Rangoon."

      But in the Delta, where the cyclone hit the hardest, people are seen lining up on the roadside waiting for vehicles that may carry relief supplies, local aid workers said.

      The local aid worker, who talked to Mizzima over telephone said, "There is not enough food and relief supplies for the people and many more are without any aid as we cannot afford to go everywhere."

      Debbie Stothard from Altsean said, this is the time for the international community to act but they are playing games with the rules set by the military government.

      "It is no time for diplomacy, it is time to be realistic, it is time to tell the truth about what is going on," she added.

      (Editing by Mungpi)

      French supplies for Burma unload in Phuket - Salinee Prab
      The Nation (Thailand): Wed 28 May 2008

      The French navy ship Mistral docked Wednesday in the island resort of Phuket to unload tonnes of supplies for cyclone victims in neighbouring Burma after floating for weeks on the Indian Ocean waiting for permission to enter Burmese water.

      French Ambassador to Thailand, Laurant Billie, told The Nation that an agreement has been reach with the Burmese military government that Phuket would be the logistic points for French supplies heading for the victims.

      Burmese junta has refused foreign naval carriers or air force cargo plane from entering its territory of airspace.

      France's Mistral had been floating for two weeks on the Indian Ocean water before heading to Phuket to reload.

      The cargo will be kept in a warehouse until a commercial vessel can carry the aid to Myanmar, Billie said.

      The French military said on Monday that the supplies would be given to the UN's World Food Programme, which would then distribute it to the cyclone victims in worse hit areas.

      Mistral was reported to have been equipped with three helicopters and carries enough food to sustain 100,000 people for two weeks. The ship also has tents and tarpaulin sheets to provide shelter to 60,000 homeless people,

      Cyclone Nargis left 133,000 dead or missing when it struck Myanmar on May 2-3.

      French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he found it "deeply lamentable" that the regime had prevented delivery of the humanitarian aid, which arrived off the Burmese coast 10 days ago.

      'Window of opportunity' in Burma
      BBC News: Wed 28 May 2008

      A 'window of opportunity' for political progress in Burma now exists, a former UN official has said.

      Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, told the BBC that the cyclone crisis had helped achieve more active dialogue with the junta.

      On Tuesday pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest was renewed.

      Foreign donors condemned the decision but acknowledged that the donation of aid wouldn't be affected by it.

      Mr Pinheiro pointed out that the international relief operation could have positive ramifications for Burma's future democratic development.

      But he said this would depend on "the capacity to transform this humanitarian dialogue into a dialogue for transition".

      He acknowledged that "terrible obstacles" to progress still existed inside the junta which he described as paranoid.

      A sign of hope for Burmese
      Bangkok Post: Wed 28 May 2008

      With the departure of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from Burma after Sunday's donor pledging conference for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, it would seem the people of Burma are once again left to rely on the slim mercies of the ruling generals.

      For a few remarkable days the presence of the figurehead of the premier global organisation for the advancement of international cooperation and human rights, brought a glimmer of new hope to the people who live under one of the world's most reclusive and repressive regimes. Now, with the doors still forced partly open because of the magnitude of the disaster which struck on May 2, aid agencies are determined to see that the ruling generals make good on the promise given on Sunday to allow them freedom of movement. Reuters news agency quoted the head of one major relief agency as saying on Monday that his organisation was "going to head out today and test the boundaries".

      Preliminary reports are that restrictions have been eased to some extent. Kathleen Cravero of the UN Development Programme said visas had become more easily available and access to affected areas was getting better. She added that more was needed and the UN would continue to monitor the Burmese government's stance.

      Secretary-General Ban remarked that he is "cautiously optimistic that this could be a turning point for Burma to be more flexible, more practical, and face the reality as it is on the ground". His words were directed to the crisis at hand but it goes without saying that if such a turning point has truly been reached, it will have ramifications even beyond the disaster relief efforts.

      The fact that the conference was held and promises were made shows the generals are not completely unaffected by the opinions of the world and the suffering of their people, as has long been supposed. But the promise of opening up the country to foreign relief workers carries within it another, unspoken promise which will be much harder to deliver on.

      The flexibility Mr Ban referred to is anathema to Burma. Allowing freedom of movement to foreign relief agencies for a protracted period of time, no matter how cautiously it is done and no matter how deferentially it is undertaken by the relief agencies themselves, constitutes a direct challenge to a regime that has been built upon stifling such freedom and strictly curtailing contacts between the masses and the outside world.

      The more such contact is allowed, the louder the cries will become both within and outside Burma for greater personal freedom and human rights for its people. The Burmese leaders may have only two options: to abruptly close the door opened by Cyclone Nargis, or to begin taking true strides on the road to democracy, as has so long been promised.

      Unfortunately, yesterday's news that police in Burma had detained more than a dozen members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) does not suggest the necessary radical departure from the status quo by the junta. That would mean releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and allowing her NLD full participation in the political process.

      Mr Ban told reporters before leaving Bangkok for New York on Sunday night that he personally would remain "fully, continuously and personally engaged" in the crisis and return to Burma "before long". These are welcome words, as his high-level presence is essential if there is to be any hope of delivery on the promises the generals made in Rangoon.

      Women's underwear needed in fight for democracy in Myanmar
      Associated Press: Wed 28 May 2008

      Women are being asked to volunteer their undergarments in an international effort to shame Myanmar's ruling junta into giving citizens greater access to humanitarian aid and human rights.

      Organizers launched the Canadian edition of the Panties for Peace! campaign this week with a call for women to send underwear to the Myanmar embassy in Ottawa. According to the campaign, Myanmar's embassies in Europe, Australia and Brazil, among other places, have been receiving female underpants in the mail.

      The campaign plays off what the groups says are regional superstitions that contact with women's panties can sap a man's power. Activists claim the fear is shared by the leaders of the country's military regime.

      "If you don't believe me, you can bring this to the Yangon airport  - you will be shot dead," activist Thet Thet Tun Tuesday as she clutched a pair of white undies. "So we use this against them."

      Spearheaded by a pro-democracy group based in Thailand, the campaign was launched last year to draw attention to human rights abuses against women in the country, also known as Burma.

      At the time, the junta was accused of violently suppressing a pro-democracy uprising by the country's Buddhist monks.

      The Canadian version of the international campaign, co-ordinated by the Quebec Women's Federation and Rights and Democracy, hopes to also raise funds for victims of Cyclone Nargis.

      More than 130,000 people are thought to be dead or missing in the wake of the cyclone that struck earlier this month. The United Nations estimates that 1.5 million survivors have not yet received any aid.

      "I think there have been more victims from the cyclone from the fact that the military prevented aid from getting through," said Mika Levesque, Rights and Democracy's program officer for Myanmar.

      Humanitarian workers have only just begun reaching the remote, hardest hit areas of the country.

      Levesque said Rights and Democracy will funnel any money raised to known aid groups working along the Myanmar-Thai border. She refused to name the groups for security reasons.

      Tun, who fled the country seven years ago, described a society suffocating under state control and widespread misogyny.

      "Our daily clothes are separated from a man's clothes, our towels are separated from their towels," she said. "That's what everyone still believes."


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