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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Friends, after a short break, we are resuming our update news on Burma. Thank you for your encouragements. -CHAN Beng Seng- ... 1.. Cyclone Nargis offers
    Message 1 of 6 , Jul 14, 2008
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      after a short break, we are resuming our update news on Burma.
      Thank you for your encouragements.

      -CHAN Beng Seng-

      1. Cyclone Nargis offers sobering lessons, says environmentalist
      2. Burma's security force's cash in on rain damage
      3. Burmese needs divide the aid industry
      4. Rise of factions roils relations within Burmese junta
      5. Monks are heroes in Burma
      6. When a disastrous regime continues
      7. Burma's declining basic education
      8. Thousands of Karenni IDPs hide in jungle
      9. World Bank will not support junta, says NLD
      10. Indian company to start drilling gas in Myanmar
      11. Most ceasefire groups undecided on 2010 election
      12. Prosecution alters charge against blogger
      13. Junta profits from growing gap in value of cash and FECs
      14. Forced labor widely used in road construction
      15. Why the generals are winning
      16. Sons of 1962 and future of Burma's political freedom
      17. Burmese generals surfing the internet
      18. Myanmar cyclone victims saved from traffickers
      19. An alternative road map is needed now
      20. China signs natural gas deal with Myanmar

      Cyclone Nargis offers sobering lessons, says environmentalist - Violet Cho
      Irrawaddy: Fri 11 Jul 2008

      A prominent Burmese environmental group has found a silver lining in the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis on May 2-3: a growing awareness among both government officials and ordinary citizens about the need to pay greater attention to the environment.

      "It was a blessing from the sky," said U Ohn, general secretary of the Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association (FREDA). "It was terrible that many people died in the storm, but this cyclone also provided an effective warning to the stakeholders to open their eyes to the environment."

      The Rangoon-based FREDA, one of the few local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) devoted to conserving Burma's forests, has been active in establishing mangrove nurseries and installing mangrove plantations in abandoned paddy lands in the Irrawaddy delta, which bore the brunt of Nargis' fury.

      U Ohn said that both officials and ordinary Burmese had long taken the environment for granted, but after Cyclone Nargis, they now know that they ignore nature's delicate balance at their own peril.

      "This is the direct impact of the failure to protect the environment, so if we are not initiating efforts to preserve our forests now, we will definitely face this kind of catastrophe again," he added.

      Burma contains some 34 million hectares of natural forest - the second-largest area in Southeast Asia after Indonesia - but deforestation in the Irrawaddy delta region has been catastrophic, with more than 20 percent of mangrove forests having been lost between 1990 and 2000, according to research done by the Washington-based non-profit organization Conservation International.

      Cyclone Nargis also destroyed many self-sustaining mangrove forests in the Irrawaddy delta, in addition to the thousands of trees - some of them nearly a century old - felled by the storm in the former capital, Rangoon.

      According to an official from the Department of Garden and Playground Parks under the Rangoon City Development Committee, around 531 of the more than 10,000 trees destroyed by the cyclone were more than 50 years old.

      The Rangoon-based weekly, 7-Day News, reported on Thursday that Burma's military government was planning to use the roots and branches of cyclone-downed trees collected in the Rangoon municipal area to make sculptures to be auctioned to local and foreign entrepreneurs.

      Meanwhile, the local journal Bi-Weekly Eleven reported government plans to plant more than 30,000 shade-providing trees in cyclone-affected areas.

      Burma's security force's cash in on rain damage
      Kaladan Press Network: Fri 11 Jul 2008

      Burma's border security force is engaged in a lucrative business following damage to the Maungdaw-Buthidaung Road due to heavy rains over the last two weeks.

      Nasaka personnel are carrying passengers on their motorcycles over a distance of five miles and taking Kyat 10,000 per head on the Maungdaw-Buthidaung Road . The Nasaka of Maungdaw town has been ferrying passengers as there are no cars plying on the road due to the damage. The Naska offers a 15 minute ride on their motorbikes to passengers. They have not reduced the charges although the passengers have complained to the concerned authorities, said a trader in Maungdaw town.

      The Maungdaw-Buthidaung road was badly damaged due to heavy rain over the last two weeks. It is 16 miles long of which five miles have been totally destroyed and vehicles are not able to ply on the road.

      Passengers are able to go up to seven miles by car from Maungdaw town and after that they have to travel five miles on Nasaka's motorcycles. And the rest four miles distance can be traversed by car again, said a passenger who went to Buthidaung Town from Maungdaw Town .

      Some bridges have also been destroyed from the seven mile point to the 12 mile point. Therefore labourers charge Kyat 500 to carry a 50 kilogram rice bag over the five mile distance.

      Communication problems on the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road have led to a price hike of essential commodities in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships. People are in dire straits and the authorities are not bothered, said ex-school teacher.

      Villagers from both townships are forced to repair the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road without any support from the government. This season is important for farmers to grow paddy.

      The road is a key transportation link between Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships. Every year during the rainy season the road suffers blockages and bridges collapse but the authorities neglect to repair them in time.

      Burmese needs divide the aid industry - Aung Zaw
      Irrawaddy: Fri 11 Jul 2008

      If the deadly Cylone Nargis helped create a greater humanitarian space inside Burma, it would be welcome news indeed. More aid and more relief workers should be able to enter Burma and assist the Burmese.

      John Holmes, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, has told a press conference: "The relief operation is proceeding. The access for international humanitarian relief workers has improved markedly over the last six weeks; though we are still working on that. But, I think, we have made distinct progress."

      Questioned about access to the Irrawaddy delta, Holmes said conditions had changed a lot and relief workers were being allowed to go there - "Not unlimited as we would like, but it is improving all the time. Access is improving and is being made easier."

      Cyclone Nargis and its aftermath are doubtless a mega challenge for every humanitarian group. UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), who have previously played only a limited role in helping the needy, can now sense that their post-cyclone efforts could be expanded beyond the delta.

      If the generals are smart enough to relate to UN and international agencies and open more doors to them, more aid will flood into Burma.

      Many INGOs are waiting for the opportunity to work inside the country and to have more access to the local population. INGOs engaged in a wide range of work have their own agenda in advancing their operations inside the country.

      Perhaps the opportunity now arises for the international community to create a space inside Burma to open up local communities and work with them.

      Despite a measure of optimism, shared by John Holmes, much skepticism remains about the regime's policy toward the UN and INGOs.

      Wider implications also come into play. Because of the attention claimed by Cyclone Nargis, it is feared that there will be less money available to help more than 100,000 Burmese refugees living in camps along the Thai-Burmese border. Some observers express concern that border-based projects and cross-border operations will be jeopardized.

      In recent years there has been a shift in the attention given to the plight of the refugees and in the flow of aid.

      Burma watchers say that after the Global Fund stopped funding the fight inside Burma against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 2005, bitter competition over funding developed between INGOS working inside and outside the country.

      The Global Fund, which had pledged US $100 million over five years, said it halted its Burma program because of increased travel restrictions inside the country made it difficult for aid workers to function properly, although political reasons were also reported to be behind the decision.

      The Three Diseases (3-D) Fund took over the fight to control Burma's three main killer diseases, but competition between the INGOs over territory and funding continues. Concern deepens that long-established humanitarian projects will be neglected and refugees and migrants will be left alone and unprotected.

      There has never been much love lost between groups working inside Burma and those outside the country. Border-based INGOs accuse those working within the country of allowing themselves to be compromised by the regime and even kowtowing to the junta, mixing politics and humanitarian concerns.

      There are even reports of rowdy INGO parties in Rangoon's luxury hotels. "My downtown hotel was packed with INGO workers and the bar was doing great business," one US philanthropist told The Irrawaddy. "There were young aid workers there who had never stayed in such a hotel and who seemed to forget why they were there at all."

      A similar scene has been reported by some visitors to the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot, which also has a lively night-life.

      The foreign aid workers and policy makers advocating Burma-based projects often accuse border-based NGOs of being narrow-minded, political, divisive and of exploiting local communities for religious and political purposes.

      They claim that those with vested interests want to keep refugees in the camps - security officials, rebel and political groups are anxious to maintain the status quo and even rice traders with lucrative deals to supply the camps.

      It is indeed ironic that while more than 2 million Burmese are living and working in Thailand, 100,000 refugees continue to live in the camps.

      Relief missions working within Burma insist that more assistance is needed there given the degree of poverty and the large population. Refugees in the border camps, they claim, are better off than people in the rural areas of Burma. Cross-border aid is just throwing water into the sand, they maintain.

      Although the division between the two groups doubtless has an impact on local communities who really are in need of assistance, there's no sign of a reconciliation of views.

      At the same time, cooperation and communication between Burmese living on the border and those inside the country have increased and intensified.

      Burmese have been traveling in and out of Burma, establishing contacts and building networks and making friends. Exiled Burmese have organized fund-raising ceremonies and contributed donations to causes inside Burma.

      Several influential Buddhist monks inside and outside Burma have cooperated in raising money to help people in the affected areas.

      Cyclone Nargis swept away the old divisions. There is no more "inside" and "outside."

      After all, Burma is a poor and crisis-torn country and a perfect place for "emergency cowboys", consultants, international foundations and the UN to work.

      For the past 20 years, relief workers of all kinds have been coming and going, but at the end of the day it is the Burmese who have to work to rebuild the country.

      The relief workers thrive on crisis. Cyclone Nargis and its aftermath will soon be no longer an emergency that warranted huge international aid. The aid machine will move on, propelled by many who are building careers on crisis management.

      They will leave behind the true crisis managers - the Burmese themselves, on whose shoulders falls the greatest weight of reconstructing their shattered country.

      Rise of factions roils relations within Burmese junta - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Thu 10 Jul 2008

      On the surface, the high-ranking generals in the Burmese military junta appear to be united. But since a reshuffle in early June, speculation has been rife that the regime is undergoing a major realignment, with competing forces jostling for influence.

      There are persistent rumors that several of the former Bureau of Special Operations heads who were sacked in June are now under investigation on corruption charges. Some are even believed to be under house arrest, facing charges of high treason.

      Although international news agencies reported that around 150 officers were reshuffled, well-informed observers say the number who were reassigned or removed outright was probably closer to 400.

      It is believed that three powerful factions have now emerged, all of them loyal to Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who remains the commander in chief of the armed forces.

      The three factions are led by Gen Thura Shwe Mann, Lt-Gen Myint Swe and Lt-Gen Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo.

      Thura Shwe Mann, 60, is the third-ranking general in the military hierarchy, holding the title of joint chief of staff. He has been groomed to take over as commander in chief of the armed forces when Than Shwe sees fit to step down.

      Shwe Mann also has the lofty title of "Coordinator of the Special Operations, Army, Navy and Air Force" - a position that allows him to oversee all the main branches of the military, including the powerful Bureaus of Special Operations.

      Shwe Mann is seen as a protégé of Than Shwe. He is also close to several businessmen and scholars who have recently been involved in getting humanitarian assistance to cyclone-affected areas of the Irrawaddy delta.

      Shwe Mann's son, Aung Thet Mann, is involved in the fertilizer and rice mill business in the delta. The Shwe Mann camp has recently been releasing news that the general is business-minded and in favor of cooperating with the United Nations and the international community. His close friend and former classmate, Lt-Gen Soe Thein, was recently removed from his position as navy chief and named minister for industry (2).

      Another rising star is Lt-Gen Myint Swe, 59, who heads Bureau of Special Operations 5 (BSO-5).

      Myint Swe is an ethnic Mon who has played a key role in controlling security in Rangoon since the early 2000's. He is a distant relative of Than Shwe's wife, Kyaing Kyaing, and is known to be close to the senior leader. He was involved in several important operations against top leaders, including the arrest of former Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt, who was ousted in October 2004.

      Myint Swe has been seen in the state-run media more frequently since Cyclone Nargis slammed into Burma in early May, prompting observers to wonder if he is in line to assume a top commander position.

      Lt-Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo, the quartermaster-general who was named secretary-1 of the State Peace and Development Council in 2007, is the putative leader of a third faction.

      Burmese observers believe that Tin Aung Myint Oo was one of the regime's main opponents of foreign assistance and UN involvement in the Cyclone Nargis relief effort. He recently visited the Irrawaddy delta and was named deputy head of the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee.

      All three powerful generals have visited the affected area. Shwe Mann accompanied Than Shwe, while Tin Aung Myint Oo went with Maung Aye, the deputy commander in chief of the armed forces and army chief, along with other powerful commanders, including air defense department and intelligence chiefs. Myint Swe toured the affected area alone, giving "necessary instructions" to officials.

      Insiders have noted that all three are close to Than Shwe and his family, removing any likelihood of a coup against the top commander.

      Meanwhile, Maung Aye, the army chief, remains the second-most powerful military leader in the armed forces. Maung Aye was locked in a bitter fight with Gen Khin Nyunt, and Than Shwe benefited from the power struggle between the two. Now Maung Aye, who has little political ambition, is not a threat to Than Shwe.

      But if speculation about the emergence of three powerful factions within the top command turns out to be true, it is likely that further purges and changes at the top are in store.

      Monks are heroes in Burma - Tad Trueblood
      The Spectrum: Thu 10 Jul 2008

      They are more prominent in the villages right now, since the government has cracked down on them in urban areas, but they're everywhere in Burma. With shaved heads and flowing maroon colored robes (yellow "saffron" robes are worn elsewhere), Burmese monks are at the forefront of flood relief efforts and man the front lines of a not-so-quiet resistance movement.

      Boys as young as 7 can enter monkhood, and young men often join for a short time as a way to honor their families. Only about 15 percent of Burma's monks decide to make it a lifelong calling.

      There are about 500,000 monks in Burma, and they don't stay in isolated shrines. They live among the people, are supported by them and serve in many capacities. They also have a strong tradition of activism that has frequently crossed into the political sphere. They supported pro-independence groups during British colonial rule. In 1988, they supported a pro-democracy movement that was able to change the junta's leadership (after 3,000 people were killed) and wrested some reform measures from the authoritarian government.

      When an emboldened democratic opposition won elections in 1990 and the junta refused to step down, the monks "excommunicated" the regime by refusing all government donations. In Buddhist culture, the giving of alms (through the monks) conveys blessings and legitimacy. The government responded by tightly restricting activities of senior monks and making a clumsy PR effort to highlight the building of temples.

      In September of 2007, unrest surged again joined by thousands of monks. The protests initially were about poor economic conditions but morphed into demands for greater freedom. In successively larger marches, thousands of red-robed monks walked peacefully through the streets. The regime, however, eventually sent soldiers to violently disperse protesters (monks among them) and imprisoned many. Only a few deaths among the monks were reported, but numbers are disputed.

      The 2007 "saffron revolution" drove the wedge between the people and government even deeper, and for most everyday Burmese the bravery and dedication of the monks was highlighted. During the mass marches, students and regular citizens walked alongside the monks, forming human walls to protect them from soldiers' batons and bullets.

      The devastation of Cyclone Nargis in May (more than 80,000 dead and about 50,000 missing) and the despicable reaction of the government has increased the stature of the monks still further. While the regime refused to allow most foreign aid organizations in and turned away a U.S. military humanitarian task force, the monks have been at work.

      Again, they have refused donations from the regime (pointedly denying the junta any popular legitimacy) and are coordinating with donor organizations directly. Many donors are now only working with the monks to deliver aid.

      Fortunately, a second wave of deaths (from hunger and disease) has been averted. But across Burma, the credit goes to monks who stood with the people, died with them in the floods and mobilized to help them recover. The regime is more reviled than ever. It is the monks who have legitimacy.

      * Tad Trueblood has more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and the national security community. He blogs at www.thiscouldgetinteresting.com.

      When a disastrous regime continues - Nava Thakuria
      The Seoul Times: Thu 10 Jul 2008

      The devastating cyclone Nargis that struck southern Burma two months ago, has revealed to the world that it was even less disastrous than its military regime, which can ignore its own people in urgent needs and even could prevent and restrict relief from international communities for the hundred thousand victims of the disaster with the apprehension that it might create an atmosphere for another people's uprising in the country.

      Since August 2007, Burma continued to receive massive international media headlines. After 1988, it was for the first time, when hundred thousands Buddhist monks and common people of Burma came to the streets raising voices against the military regime known as the State Peace and Development Council. The movement was crushed by the military people and its thugs. Nearly hundred died and thousands were sent to jails, many of them are still behind the bar.

      But this time, the junta has been challenged by the nature. A tropical cyclone moved towards the Burmese land from the Bay of Bengal on the night of May 2 and it devastated the entire Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions of the country. The deadly cyclone Nargis also embraced three other divisions and states (Bago, Mon and Kayin) to kill nearly ninety thousand people and made another few thousands homeless. Nargis also left its trail of devastation on social infrastructures and killing thousands of livestock and also causing flood to paddy fields, which were made ready for Burma's primary crops (rice cultivation).

      According to the latest government information, the storm killed 84,537 people, leaving 53,836 missing and 19,359 injured. The United Nations estimates that Nargis affected 2.4 million people and directly made hundred thousands homeless. At the same time, over 300,000 water buffalo and cows died in Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon localities. More over, nearly 1,000,000 acres of farmland in Irrawaddy and 300,000 acres in Rangoon Division were destroyed. Over one million acres of fertile lands also were flooded with the salty seawater during Nargis.

      But the response to the disaster by its own rulers was very shocking. First the rulers couldn't provide immediate relief to the victims and then they tried to prevent (and restrict) the international aid for their very own people, who were in desperate need of food, medicine and shelter. Thirdly the junta went ahead with the referendum (in two phases) in the country with a number of pro-military provisions for their new constitution amidst all the chaos. Fourthly, the rulers extended the detention of the pro-democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for one more year that prompted harsh criticism from the international communities.

      "If a regime is challenged by the people, the rulers might have choices to deploy its forces and the SPDC did during last year's popular uprising. But this time, the junta has been challenged by none other than the nature (read cyclone). So what did military rulers do? As they can never go against the nature, they went against the innocent people! Have you heard of a government, which not only denied timely and adequate relief to those victims of circumstances, but also bent preventing the same from outside sources?," commented a Rangoon based political activist Win Naing (name changed).

      Answering queries from Asia Sentinel, Naing, a supporter of the pro-democracy movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, also added, "The military regime at Nay Pyi Taw always remained blind to the political power and they can go to all extends to maintain it. Hence they could ignore all the troubles faced by the cyclone victims. The SPDC chief Senior General Than Shwe got time to visit those victims only after international criticism surfaced in a bigger way. Mind it, they can easily sacrifice the people, but never tolerate international access (through the aid workers) to its common people."

      The callousness of the junta was also criticized by Suzanne DiMaggio, Director of the Asia Society's Social Issues Program (and former Vice President of Global Policy Programs at the United Nations Association of the USA) saying that ‘for nearly five decades, Burma's military rulers have systematically undermined the interests of their own citizens'.

      Referring to the cyclone Narigs, she stated that the junta-controlled news media failed to announce warnings about the approaching cyclone.

      "The entry of UN humanitarian personnel, has been delayed due to the government's refusal to allow aid workers into the country without first applying for visas. Moreover, the military leaders are dragging their feet on easing restrictions on the import of humanitarian supplies and allowing a UN assessment team into the country," she added.

      Similar views were expressed by a Burmese exile living in Europe, who claimed that nearly two million people, mostly farmers and their families, were still living in horrible situations. Talking to Asia Sentinel from London, Tyaza Thuria expressed his anger that the military regime was only interested in retaining its power.

      "Hence they have gone ahead with their plans for referendum (only to forcefully approve the pro-military constitution) and finally to install a puppet civilian regime after the 2010 polls," he asserted adding that the junta had done nothing for the rehabilitation for the cyclone victims. They did not also put any effort to warn the people about the deadly storm. In reality the junta just doesn't care about the people.

      The junta went with their own ‘roadmap to democracy', where the Army would enjoy the emergency power in need and could even topple an elected government (for the National security). Moreover seats will be reserved for the people with Armed forces background in the Parliament. The new constitution will also prevent Suu Kyi from contesting the election as she had married a non-Burmese (an Englishman).

      More to add it, the junta had extended the period of house arrest for Suu Kyi for one more year. The Nobel laureate had already spent five full years under detention since May, 2003. Hence the decision of the junta on Suu Kyi's detention invited prompt and harsh criticism from the world communities. From the United Nations to European Union and the United States to other pro-democratic regimes, all came out with stronger words of condemnation against the military regime.

      Mentionable that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon visited Burma and met the SPDC chief Than Shwe on May 23, days ahead of junta's decision (on Suu Kyi) and he had no other option than expressing regret on the development. He however commented that ‘the sooner the restrictions on Suu Kyi and other political figures are lifted, the sooner Burma will be able to move towards inclusive national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy and full respect for human rights'.

      Even the UN chief also invited criticism from various advocacy groups that he was silent about Suu Kyi's prolonged detention while discussing with Than Shwe in Burma. Of course, he made it clear, while talking to media persons in New York, that ‘his trip was a purely humanitarian one intended to save lives, not to press a pro-democracy agenda,'

      The Secretary-General also added, "I went there with a message of solidarity and hope, telling the survivors (of cyclone Nargis) that the world is with you and that the world is ready to help you."

      Nargis hit the country in a critical period of the year. The month of May in English calendar year brings the season for preparing rice seedlings, to be planted later. Like many South and Southeast Asian countries, rice is the primary crop (also the staple food) of Burma. The traditional rice plantation needs to be completed within the rainy season, more preferably by the July end. The harvesting time starts from October.

      Hence the May 2-3 disaster can put a heavy toll on rice production in Burma. The cyclone in one hand flooded the arable lands with the salty sea water, destroyed the already grown saplings and on the other hand it killed the water buffalos (also cows), which remained essential for the poor Burmese cultivators for ploughing. If immediate actions are not taken to support the farmers with tiller and fresh rice saplings, it can be guessed that Burma might face food crisis at the end of the year; Because the Irrawaddy (river) delta region produces most (almost 60 %) of the country's rice.

      Besides rice, the region also contributes in fish productions. The cyclone damaged most of the fishing ponds, hatcheries and shrimp farms of the area and it could add more people under poverty tag in the coming days.

      Meanwhile the UN Undersecretary-General Noeleen Heyzer issued a clarion call for supplying fuel (to run the power tillers) for the Burmese farmers. Heyzer had reportedly stated that this initiative was crucial for the affected Burmese farmers ‘to meet their planting season' to rebuild their livelihood.

      Earlier the Burmese Agriculture minister Htay Oo informed that they urgently needed diesel (it might be a volume of five million litre) to run around 5,000 power tillers. It may be mentioned that, understanding the real and immediate difficulties of the rice growers, many countries including China and Thailand donated the power tillers to the farmers.

      Burma, which was once known as the rice bowl of Asia, has slowly lost the volume of rice production. Four decades of non-governance under the military rule and disastrous economic policies of the junta has left Burma in such a pathetic condition that the farmers now lost their interest and motivation for surplus productions.

      Amidst all the troubles and uncertainties looming over Burma, Win Naing, who keeps a closer look at the political developments in the entire country, hopes for a major uprising in the country. And he has arguments what he and many of his friends are expecting.

      "The cyclone has taught the Burmese people that there is nothing like governance in Burma and they have to face all the problems with their own with outside supports. In fact, they come to realize the presence of outer agencies in a bigger way after the disaster. It will definitely enrich their optimism for a change," Naing argued.

      He also added, "During the saffron revolution (September, 2007), the Burmese people (over 80% of them are Buddhist) witnessed how their government could torture the monks, the most respected community in the country, to remain in power. This time, they have seen the cruelty of the government towards them. I apprehend try the junta will slip into a bigger trouble very soon as the regime has started losing its influence on the monks and the common people. We expect if it would happen little earlier!"

      Burma's declining basic education - Moe Aye
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 10 Jul 2008

      Former Rangoon University lecturer Daw Nyein Khet Khet has criticised the two-tier education system in Burma for denying children from poor families an adequate basic education.

      Among the schools in Rangoon under the administration of the military regime's Ministry of Education, many that are attended by the children of government officials or those from rich families demand sizeable fees and contributions from parents.

      The schools in which the children of the elite study and those attended by the majority of ordinary students differ significantly in terms of teaching, collecting money, quality of teaching, exam results and the percentage of students who obtain distinctions in their exams.

      DVB interviewed Daw Nyein Khet Khet, a former lecturer from Rangoon University's Burmese Department, to find out about the declining state of Burma's basic education.

      DVB: Why are there differences between schools in terms of exam pass rates and so on?

      NKK: Teachers in Dagon (1) and Latha (2) schools pay close attention to the students they are teaching. They also teach those students outside classrooms in return for high tuition fees. As a result, the percentage of children from those schools who pass their exams has grown.

      Because of the high exam pass rate, those schools became popular and later, the number of students who wanted to study in those schools increased. Competition for school admission also came about. Paying more money and making donations became standard in order for children to attend those schools.

      In Burma, particularly in schools at ward level in Rangoon, people have to at least make a donation to be able to send their children to schools. I would say such practice is a bad practice.

      As you know our country faces economic hardship, there are parents who cannot even afford a small amount of money for their children's education. As a consequence, children cannot attend schools and many have to drop out.

      I don't think investing a lot of money to be able to select ‘good' schools for primary education is a good indication to basic education. If teachers in those schools have better teaching skills, it is only because of the mismanagement of the government.

      Every school must have qualified teachers who have the same teaching skills. And the government has the responsibility to train them to be qualified.

      DVB: What do you think is the root cause of these differences?

      NKK: I think the main reason lies in the very low rate of pay for teachers. Because of that teachers have to take on teaching outside the classrooms - private tuition - to make ends meet.

      To earn high tuition fees, teachers try to pay close attention to their students. And so rich parents who want better attention for their children send their kids to schools where those teachers are available by spending more money.

      As for teachers who want to make more money, they prefer teaching in those schools and they seem to take effective care of the children's education only when they are in those schools. These issues are all interrelated.

      On 7 July 1962, university students called for national education. Basically, they called for teaching on democracy, asking the government to develop an international-standard curriculum that includes political knowledge students should be aware of. I would say they called for freedom of education.

      If we had freedom of education in our country, we wouldn't need to worry about the crisis we are currently facing in Burma's basic education system. Teachers' salaries and school expenses for our children would also no longer be a concern.

      Despite changes in the basic education curriculum to bring it up to international standards, the military regime still doesn't consider the rights of those who work in education and those of the students. It shows that there is no freedom of education in our country.

      Thousands of Karenni IDPs hide in jungle - Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Wed 9 Jul 2008

      An estimated 4,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are currently hiding in the jungle near Hpasawng Township, about 94 kilometers south of the Karenni State capital Loikaw, according to a Karenni relief group.

      Daniel, a coordinator for the Karenni Social Welfare and Development Center (KSWDC), which provides aid to Karenni IDPs, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the villagers had fled their homes fearing attacks by the Burmese army.

      "More than 4,000 Karenni IDPs are now hiding in Hpasawng Township," said Daniel, who uses only one name. "It will be very difficult for them if they have to stay in the jungle for a long time."

      The Burmese army's Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 427, 428 and 337 patrol the area around Hpasawng and have clashed with Karenni rebels in the area six times so far this year, according to local sources.

      Some of the Karenni IDPs want to move to the Thai-Burmese border, but they fear possible attacks by Burmese troops along the way, said Daniel.

      Poe Byar Shay Reh, chairman of the Karenni Refugee Committee, said that more than 160 IDPs have arrived at Karenni refugee camps in Thailand's Mae Hong Son Province since the beginning of 2008.

      He said, however, that so far, none of the IDPs currently hiding in the jungle have reached the refugee camps.

      "None of them have arrived at the refugee camps, but we don't know if they'll start coming later," said Poe Byar Shay Reh.

      He added that some of the Karenni IDPs now sheltering in the refugee camps had fled their villages after being accused by the Burmese army and the ceasefire Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front of supporting the anti-government Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).

      The KNPP signed a ceasefire agreement with Burma's ruling junta in 1995, but the truce broke down after just three months when Burmese troops deployed on KNPP territory.

      There have been several failed attempts since then to restart talks, most recently in late 2004. However, the junta suspended all contact with the group following the ouster of Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt, who had masterminded a number of ceasefire agreements with ethnic rebel groups.

      Burmese military operations forced around 6,000 Karenni villagers to become IDPs in 2007, according to a survey conducted by KSWDC.

      More than 20,000 Karenni refugees are staying in two camps in Mae Hong Son Province, according to the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium and the Karenni Refugee Committee.

      World Bank will not support junta, says NLD - Khin Hnin Htet
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 9 Jul 2008

      The World Bank does not have any plans to provide the military regime in Burma with financial assistance, according to Dr Win Naing, a member of the National League for Democracy Information Committee.

      Dr Win Naing told DVB that a delegation from the World Bank met with five leaders from the pro-democracy party in Rangoon on Friday last week to explain about the financial institution's current policy on Burma.

      "They said they still stood firm on their policy of not giving any financial loans to the regime," said Dr Win Naing.

      "They also told us that they had been involved in the cyclone assessment process together with UN agencies."

      DVB has learned that the World Bank will submit their findings from the assessment to interested donors to inform their decisions on aid provision.

      "They said that based on their findings donors could calculate how to provide relief supplies to cyclone survivors," said Dr Win Naing.

      "They stressed that donors would not channel their support to the victims through the regime, but would instead provide aid through selected NGOs or agencies."

      In May this year, the World Bank's executive director Juan Jose Daboub told journalists that it currently did not have any plans to give financial support to Burma, which had lost USD 10 billion since Cyclone Nargis hit the country, because the junta had not paid off the previous debts it owed to the institution.

      According to AFP, Burma's military regime has not repaid loans borrowed from the World Bank since 1988.

      Indian company to start drilling gas in Myanmar
      Xinhua: Wed 9 Jul 2008

      An Indian oil company, the Essar, will start drilling test well at an inland block in Myanmar's western coastal Rakhine state to explore natural gas in the coming open season later this year, news journal 7-Day reported on Wednesday. The drilling will take place at block-L covering Sittway and Maungtaw regions of the state.

      Block-L stands one of the two blocks which the Indian company is to explore gas under a contract signed with the state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise in May 2005. The exploration on another block A-2 lying off the Rakhine coast will follow later, earlier report said. The Essar is another Indian company engaged in oil and gas exploration in Myanmar after the ONGC Videsh Ltd of India and the Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), both of which are being involved in similar activities since 2000 at Block A-1 and A-3 in the same offshore area in partnership with South Korea's Daewoo International Corporation and South Korea Gas Corporation. The consortium is led by Daewoo.

      Myanmar has abundance of natural gas resources especially in the offshore areas. With three main large offshore oil and gas fields and 19 onshore ones, Myanmar has proven recoverable reserve of 510 billion cubic-meters out of 2.54 trillion cubic-meters's estimated reserve of offshore and onshore gas, experts said, adding that the country is also estimated to have 3.2 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil reserve.

      Statistics revealed that foreign investment in Myanmar's oil and gas sector had reached 3.243 billion dollars in 85 projects as of the end of 2007 since the country opened to such investment in late 1988, standing the second in the country's foreign investment sectorally after electric power.

      In 2007, foreign investment in the oil and gas sector more than tripled to 474.3 million U.S. dollars compared with 2006, accounting for 90 percent of the total during the year which stood 504.8 million, according to the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development. More statistics show that natural gas topped Myanmar's exports in 2007-08 with 2.594 billion dollars, up 27.7 percent from 2006- 07's 2.03 billion dollars, representing 42.9 percent of the total exports during the year.

      Most ceasefire groups undecided on 2010 election - Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Tue 8 Jul 2008

      Despite government pressure, most ethnic ceasefire groups are undecided on whether to disarm and form political parties to contest the Burmese general election scheduled for 2010, according to sources close to the ceasefire groups.

      For one month now, Burmese military authorities have been urging the ceasefire groups to surrender - in effect, lay down their weapons - and form political parties. An alternative option for the ceasefire groups could be to enlist their troops as special combat police, said the sources.

      Two ethnic ceasefire groups - the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) - have not yet responded to the request of the Burmese authorities, according to sources in Shan State.

      The editor of Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), Khuensai Jaiyen, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that no statement had been made as yet. The UWSA just want autonomy, he added.

      The UWSA has an estimated 20,000 soldiers deployed along Burma's borders with Thailand and China while an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 Wa villagers inhabit areas of southern Shan State.

      Another ethnic ceasefire group, the National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State, also known as the Mongla group, has been under pressure to decommission its weapons or serve as a special combat police unit under government command, according to a senior official of the Mongla who was quoted recently by SHAN.

      The Mongla group, however, have not replied to the military government's call for surrender, the article added.

      Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Sai Murng, deputy spokesman of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), said, "I think the ceasefire groups have only two options. One is to surrender and do what the regime says. The other is to fight back against the Burmese army."

      Meanwhile, Nai ong Ma-nge, a spokesman for the ethnic Mon ceasefire group, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), said, "We haven't decided as yet whether to be involved in the 2010 election. It is a major political change, so we have to wait for a decision from headquarters."

      The NMSP entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese junta in 1995.

      A source close to a Karen ceasefire group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), said, "At this moment, it is impossible for the DKBA to surrender and form a party. The DKBA has no interest in being involved in the political process. They will retain their weapons and maintain their development and business interests in Karen State."

      The DKBA is a breakaway group of the Karen National Union - Burma's largest ethnic insurgency group. The DKBA signed a ceasefire with the military government in 1994 after splitting from the KNU.

      However, an ethnic Kachin ceasefire group, the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), will reportedly lay down its weapons and participate in the 2010 election, said Aung Wa, a Kachin source on the Sino-Burmese border.

      The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which is based along the Sino-Burmese border, will also take part in the 2010 election, said Aung Wa. However, it was still unclear whether the KIO would agree to a surrender, he added.

      The KIO, founded in 1961, was one of 17 ethnic armed groups that signed a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta in 1990s.

      Recently, the Burmese regime published an article in the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar calling the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy in the 1990 general election "illegal," and calling for the party to run in the 2010 elections.

      Prosecution alters charge against blogger - Phanida
      Mizzima News: Tue 8 Jul 2008

      Author and blogger Nay Phone Latt, in custody for six months, was charged again under the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act under section 5(j), a switch from the previous charge under section 32(b) of the Video Act.

      "His case has been changed to section 5(j) of Emergency Provisions Act. The Special Branch (SB) of Police informed him about it in prison on July 2, he said. He was previously charged under section 32(b). The hearing is now fixed for July 16. But he also said that he will not be produced before the court on July 16 but will be remanded again," Aye Aye Than, his mother, who met him in prison yesterday told Mizzima.

      Under section 32(b) of the Video Act, he is facing a maximum of six months in prison but now faces a maximum of seven years in jail under the new charge under section 5(j) of Emergency Provisions Act, if convicted, the defense lawyer Aung Thein said.

      "The authorities and the law enforcement agencies do not respect and abide by the law. They changed the charge according to their wishes. They couldn't produce the accused before the court as they do not have a sound case. They have just changed their charge sheet again and again under different sections of different Acts. He has been in custody for long time," he said.

      The authorities arrested blogger Nay Phone Latt on January 29 and remanded him until today without producing him before the court and now they have changed their charge against him.

      High court lawyer Aung Thein submitted an application to the authorities on June 16 seeking an interview to get his client's instructions, but has not got it yet.

      Aye Aye Than said she had requested the authorities to let him have treatment for his eye disease.

      "He is suffering from eye disease and I requested the prison authority to let him have treatment. My son said tears come to his eyes at night and he cannot read books, his sole companion in prison. I worry about his eyesight. He must get proper treatment before it is too late. The doctor can prescribe him medicine and vitamins for his eye disease. The eye is the most delicate part of the human body," his mother said.

      Meanwhile another famous human right activist Suu Suu Nwe is suffering from high blood pressure in solitary confinement.

      "I couldn't meet her yesterday. I sent a food parcel to her through prison authorities. They said that prison meetings with family members are banned for violation of prison rules and discipline. Her blood pressure was 160-140 mm Hg when I met her last time on June 30, she said. Our family doctor prescribed medicines and we sent them to her through the prison authorities. We do not know whether she's got it," her elder sister Daw Htay Htay Kyi who went yesterday to meet her said.

      A heart patient Suu Suu Nwe hit her head against the brick wall after having quarreled with the prison authorities at the end of June. After that, she has been kept in solitary confinement in a prison cell.

      "I saw a notice pasted at the prison gate saying she had quarreled with the prison staff many times and made many complaints and argued with them so she was punished with 14 days solitary confinement," lawyer Khin Maung Shein said after visiting the prison on Friday.

      Suu Suu Nwe was arrested on 14 November 2007 in front of Myayeiknyo Hotel while she was into a poster campaign. She was then charged under section 143 & 145 (unlawful assembly), section 505(b) (inciting crime against public tranquility) and section 124(a) (committing disaffection towards the State) of the Criminal Code. She will be produced before the court again tomorrow.

      Junta profits from growing gap in value of cash and FECs - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Tue 8 Jul 2008

      The growing gap between the value of the US dollar and Burmese foreign exchange certificates (FECs) - introduced in 1994 to ensure that most hard currency that enters the country ends up in government hands - is turning Cyclone Nargis relief efforts into a major cash cow for Burma's ruling junta.

      All international aid agencies working in Burma are required to deposit money for operating expenses in accounts at the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB). These deposits - usually made in US dollars - can only be withdrawn in FECs, which are technically equal in value.

      However, since Cyclone Nargis struck on May 2-3, the actual value of the FEC has fallen considerably, from slightly lower than the US unit to just over 80 percent of the dollar's black market exchange rate.

      According to members of Rangoon's business community, FECs now fetch just 965 kyat per unit, while the dollar is worth around 1170.

      Businessmen say the price of FECs started to fall in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, as Burmese living overseas began to transfer large amounts of cash into MFTB accounts to support the relief effort.

      After the junta finally decided to allow major international aid agencies to enter the country in late May, the FECs dropped further.

      "The demand for FECs [from international relief groups] increased, so the government just printed more," said a Rangoon-based economic observer. "This drove down their value, because now the currency market is flooded with FECs."

      Besides international organizations and foreign-owned businesses, Burmese employed abroad are also required to hold MFTB accounts to send remittances to their families in Burma.

      "I have to transfer my dollar salary to my MFTB account, but when my family withdraws the money in FECs, it's worth a lot less," complained a Burmese engineer working in South Africa. "Nowadays we lose at least 200 kyat on the dollar."

      A Burmese relief worker said that the more aid that flows into country, the less the FEC will be worth.

      "International agencies and overseas Burmese deposit US dollars for local purchases, but they can only withdraw FECs. The more dollars that come into Burma, the more FEC there will be in the market," said the relief worker.

      Economic observers pointed out that the government, which has been driving down the value of the FEC by printing them in large numbers, is now effectively earning a 20 percent "tax" on all aid coming into the country.

      According to figures released by the United Nations, US $134 million has so far been spent on the international relief mission in Burma, some of it used to purchase supplies and pay for services locally.

      Forced labor widely used in road construction
      Narinjara News: Tue 8 Jul 2008

      A large number of people in Maungdaw Township have been used as forced labor by local authorities on repair work on the Buthidaung - Maungdaw roadway since the road and bridges collapsed in heavy rains, said a resident from Maungdaw.

      He said, "We have to go do the road repair along the motor road after the authorities summoned 50 people from each ward in downtown Maungdaw through Rayaka, the ward councils. The forced labor began on Monday."

      In Maungdaw, there are six wards altogether, and each had to send 50 people yesterday to the locations where the road was damaged with their own mattocks and pickaxes to do repair work. They had to work from 9 am to 4 pm yesterday without pay.

      "We had to work there from 9 am to 4 pm without payment, but the authority did not provide any assistance with any food or drinking water during the work time. We brought our own food from our homes to the road repair sites," the resident said.

      A local source said the authority not only summoned people from downtown Maungdaw, but also a large number of people from rural villages located along the Buthidaung - Maungdaw motor road.

      A witness said, "I saw a large number of people leave for the 7-miles bridge in many vehicles from the central market to repair the road, and most people were day laborers from Maungdaw."

      According to another report, many wealthier families have had to pay 2,000 kyat to the ward council in order to hire a day laborer if they were unable to send someone from their own families to do the work.

      In Maungdaw's government construction department, there is no machinery such as excavators or dump trucks to aid the repair work, so authorities have used locals as manpower to do all the necessary tasks.

      The road constructed is expected by some to take as much as a year to complete by the people without any machinery due to the heavy damaged it sustained in the rains.

      According to a local source, many people from Maungdaw are preparing to work at the road construction today after the township authority summoned them to do so.

      The Buthidaung - Maungdaw motor road is a key transportation link along the western border and is central to the border trade with Bangladesh. Every rainy season the road suffers blockages and bridge collapses but the authority has neglected to repair such weaknesses as they arise.

      Why the generals are winning - Kyaw Zwa Moe
      Irrawaddy: Tue 8 Jul 2008

      This year is the 20th anniversary of the democracy movement in Burma. In 1988, a few small student protests against late dictator Ne Win's Burma Socialist Programme Party ignited the flame of democracy which quickly developed into the strongest uprising in Burma's history.

      The flame still burns, and the spirit of democracy - though constantly suppressed - lives on. But to accomplish the task of bringing democracy to Burma, the country needs more than a flame - it needs a wildfire.

      Twenty years may not be too long when one talks about changing a country's political system, but it's a long time in a person's life. Many democracy leaders, activists and sympathizers have died, knowing the country was still in the hands of totalitarian dictators.

      Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi once told me that we should be prepared for a "lifelong struggle" to restore democracy in Burma. Yes, it may take an entire lifetime, especially if the pro-democracy movement fails to unite into an unbeatable political force, one truly strong enough to overwhelm the powerful, ruthless military regime, which is intent on ruling Burma for decades to come.

      Over the past 20 years, many committed leaders and activists have joined the struggle, all willing to give everything they had. Their dedication was beyond words: no matter how many times they were imprisoned, they would rejoin the movement when freed. Many thousands of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, have spent most of the past 20 years in the junta's notorious prisons.

      During this time, the movement has lacked the one essential, most important factor: unity. The movement has never been able to gather everyone - leaders and average Burmese people - into one, united political force.

      After 1988, when political parties were allowed to form and contest the 1990 elections, more than 200 political parties mushroomed into existence. It was the first indication of a lack of unity in the pro-democracy movement. Even popular political figures such as former premier U Nu, Suu Kyi and former Brig-Gen Aung Gyi couldn't provide a collective leadership capable of uniting the disparate political groups opposing the regime.

      For instance, even the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, formed around three leaders, Aung Gyi, Suu Kyi and Tin Oo. Aung Gyi, who was chairman of the NLD, later broke away to form his own political party. He was followed by others.

      However, the people of Burma are smart. They knew there was a danger of diluting their voting power among the various opposition parties. They voted for the NLD, giving it 82 percent of the ballots cast.

      Unfortunately, the proliferation of too many political parties and organizations has become a trend in recent decades, not only inside the country but in the exiled community as well, often weakening the overall movement. Many groups are simply names, with no worthwhile activities.

      In the activist community, there's a joke that if two Burmese people meet, they will form three groups. First, each person forms his own group and then they both form a coalition group.

      It's a joke, but it captures a shameful truth. The pro-democracy movement lacks the discipline for unity and power.

      Recently, one of Burma's most respected monks, Dr Ashin Nyanissara, noted the lack of collaboration in Burmese society, saying there have been thousands of pro-democracy groups formed since 1988, but little unity. He's right.

      No matter what obstacles we face in the future, the chief priority for all pro-democracy leaders should be to build a single force capable of uniting the country around one goal: democracy.

      When asked what she wanted to say to pro-democracy groups in an interview with The Irrawaddy in 2002, Suu Kyi replied, "I have always wanted to see unity."

      In every struggle, unity can bring success and disunity can bring failure. All Burmese opposition groups must focus on unity. Otherwise, the flame of democracy in Burma will never burst into the wildfire that's needed to sweep away the military dictatorship.

      Sons of 1962 and future of Burma's political freedom - Ma Ng
      Mizzima News: Tue 8 Jul 2008

      The Burmese Army grabbed political power in a coup on 2 March 1962; and Burma again lost its political freedom 14 years after independence, to the native military dictatorship instead of a foreign colonial power.

      Within a few months, in a move to crush the students protest against the army takeover the Burmese military dynamited the Rangoon University Student Union building on 7 July 1962. And from the beginning the military dictators proved to be more ruthless and destructive than the foreign invaders.

      During the 1962 crackdown, the army generals were no doubt confident that the last of students' rebellion has been extinguished, for good. But 26 years later, Ko Min Ko Naing and Ko Moe Thee Zun who were born in 1962, like many others in their generation, became student leaders of the 1988 uprising. The number of student protesters exploded from a few hundreds in 1962 to hundreds of thousands in 1988.

      Ko Moe Thee Zun, the student leader in exile said that, in 1988 the military did not expect the student rebels to survive the harsh and difficult conditions in the opposition camps. But like the Karen, Shan and other ethnic organizations that came before them, after decades of trials and errors, the student organization led by Ko Moe Thee Zun has also matured into one more challenger to the junta's rule.

      While the military's credibility as the saviour of the nation and protector of the people has diminished, the students' political commitment has earned respect and credibility. It became evident when the 2007 fuel price protest led by the ‘88 student leaders escalated into a full blown Saffron uprising last fall.

      While the military generals are increasingly isolated in their citadel; according to Ko Moe Thee Zun, the difficulties experienced by the students in the jungles, since 1988 have helped Burman majority urban-elites gain greater understanding of the ethnic political movement. An invaluable common bond and respect has also been forged among the students and ethnic political oppositions to help shape durable peace in Burma, later.

      The ethnic armed rebels, who were perceived to have been more concerned with the ethnic right of self determination instead of aiming for a larger political change, are finally evolving into more politically correct organizations after decades of violent conflicts with the military regime in Burma. The surviving armed rebels are no longer tainted with drug trafficking or political and ideological confusion. Their aim for a genuine democratic change, and, their support for Aung San Suu Kyi and the legacy of her father, has never been clearer.

      China which claims to be rising peacefully has nevertheless unilaterally supported the military dictatorship in Burma. China's support for the Burmese regime has been devastating for the armed resistance in Burma.

      However, since the end of the Vietnam War, long before the war in Iraq, armed conflicts alone no longer determine the political future of a country. After the cold war, many nations gained democracy through mass protests and peaceful political uprising, in places where civil wars have already ended.

      The enormous military apparatus in Burma is a threat mostly to the military junta which has to feed and support such an enormous and costly apparatus that do not contribute to the wellbeing of the rulers or the citizens of Burma.

      There is no need for such a large army even just to suppress the urban dissidents or the armed rebels. It is only for the psychological need of the generals. And it reflects the operational inefficiency of the Burmese military.

      The end result of such great inadequacy is calculated to be in billions of dollars of losses for Burma. Within weeks after the Tsunami in December of 2004, the storm relief efforts received two and a half billion dollars worth of pledges from around the world. The United States alone provided 90 helicopters involving military assistance with 12,600 personnel and 21 ships, immediately after the storm.

      Whether the people in Irrawaddy delta a

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