[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 23/7/08
- NLD releases Martyrs' Day statement
- UN Humanitarian chief visits Burma to assess post-cyclone situation
- CNF blocks trade route to protest tax rise
- Myanmar denies Suu Kyi release
- Myanmar opposes investigative powers
- Burmese MPs urge UN to reject new constitution
- Millions in Myanmar cyclone aid still to be released
- ASEAN turns blind eye to Burma rights
- Burma makes us all look like fools again
- Political prisoner dies in Mandalay prison
- A new generation of activists arises in Burma
- Three more Rohingya refugees die of starvation in Lada camp
- Another Burma promise
- Divided opinion among Kachins over Gen. Aung San's promise of autonomy
- UN to end Myanmar aid flights on Aug. 10
- Burmese opposition ready to escalate pro-democracy fight
- Is Burma ready for a new election?
- Members of Parliament-elect from Burma: Announcement on the 2010 Elections
- Burmese junta profiting from aid funds?
- Cronyism; unhealthy competition in media market
- Monks continue regime boycott
- Donated fishing equipment taken back from villagers
- A call to arms?
NLD releases Martyrs' Day statement - Maung Too
Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 22 Jul 2008
The National League for Democracy has reiterated its demands for parliament to be convened and political prisoners to be released, in a statement issued by the party to mark Martyrs' Day.
The NLD called on the ruling State Peace and Development Council to immediately convene the people's parliament with representatives elected by the people.
The party also urged the military regime to immediately and unconditionally release NLD leaders Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo, Shan ethnic leaders including Shan state NLD chairman Khun Htun Oo and secretary Sai Nyunt Lwin, and all other political prisoners including members of the 88 generation students group.
A recent article in the Burmese state media said that the enactment of the new constitution had rendered the 1990 election results obsolete and challenged the NLD to contest the 2010 election.
The NLD's Martyrs' Day event on Saturday was attended by about 600 people including diplomats from six foreign embassies in Rangoon and veteran politicians.
NLD spokesperson Dr Win Naing said the celebration was held under the watchful eyes of the authorities who blocked entrances to the road leading up to the NLD headquarters with military and riot police trucks.
UN Humanitarian chief visits Burma to assess post-cyclone situation - Solomon
Mizzima News: Tue 22 Jul 2008
John Holmes, United Nations Humanitarian relief chief, on Tuesday arrived in Rangoon and immediately left for Bogale town in cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta to survey post-cyclone humanitarian assistance, a UN spokesperson in Rangoon said.
Laksmita Noviera, spokesperson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Burma said, "He [Holmes] is already here and he has left for Bogale and he will return to Rangoon later this afternoon."
Holmes, who is in Burma on a three-day visit, will meet Burmese Minister for National Planning and Economic Development and Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Noviera said.
Holmes is visiting Burma a day after overseeing the release of the UN-spearheaded latest report on the post-cyclone situation in Burma's Irrawaddy and Rangoon division.
On Monday, the Tripartite Core Group, consisting of the UN, members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Burmese military government released a new report by the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment.
The report said the damage wrought by Cyclone Nargis that lashed military-ruled Burma on May 2 and 3 is about US$ 4 billion and will require at least US$ 1 billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation.
Dr. Anish Kumar Roy, Special Representative of the ASEAN Secretary General, Surin Pitsuwan, in Burma said, the report helps the donor countries to understand the extent of devastation caused by the cyclone.
"Now the donor community knows exactly what is needed. That is important," Dr. Roy said.
While the new report on Monday does not include fund raising, Dr. Roy said, donors can now use the report as a credible document to view the extent of damage and start donating for the reconstruction.
Noviera said so far the UN has been able to raise a total of 39.6 per cent or US$ 187 million out of the revised appeal of US $481 million made on July 10.
CNF blocks trade route to protest tax rise - Khin Maung Soe Min
Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 22 Jul 2008
The Chin National Front claims it has blocked access to the India-Burma trade route (2) between Rid town in Chin state and the Indian border state of Mizoram, halting the flow of trade.
CNF military coordinator Pu Solomon told DVB that transportation between the two areas has stopped almost completely with no vehicles travelling on the route apart from a few convoys which were provided with security by the military.
"We are doing this at the request of traders in the region because authorities in Mizoram decided to increase the tax collected from traders who already have to pay a lot of tax to the Burmese authorities and that left them with no profit," said Pu Solomon.
"We will reopen the route when Mizoram authorities agree to reduce the tax to the usual amount."
Pu Solomon said the CNF has strictly prohibited vehicles from accessing the route and those who do not comply with their rules will be severely punished.
He added that the CNF itself has been collecting tax from the border trading businesses in the area, but has only taken 3 percent of their profits.
The CNF has previously blocked the route when Mizoram authorities increased the tax on border traders, but reopened it after Mizoram agreed to reduce the tax.
Myanmar denies Suu Kyi release
Aljazeera: Tue 22 Jul 2008
Myanmar's military government has denied that the country's opposition leader will be freed by the end of the year, saying that reports of her early release from house arrest were incorrect.
Nyan Win, Myanmar's foreign minister, said his statement about Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom had been misunderstood by his counterparts at the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) meeting, according to Singapore officials.
The clarification on Tuesday comes a day after Singapore's foreign minister quoted Nyan Win as hinting that Aung San Suu Kyi could be released within six months.
George Yeo said on Monday that Myanmar's foreign minister had told him that according to law a political detainee could be held for a maximum of six years, and that the limit was approaching in about "half a year's time".
The remarks were widely reported as offering a new glimmer of hope for Aung San Suu Kyi's early freedom.
But on Tuesday Singapore's Straits Times newspaper quoted Yeo as saying that the six-year period will only be reached in the six months after May 2009, when her latest one-year detention period expires.
The newspaper quoted Yeo as saying that Asean ministers had "misunderstood" Nyan Win.
In May, Myanmar's ruling military announced it was extending Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest for another 12 months.
The Nobel peace laureate has been held under house arrest or in Yangon's notorious Insein jail for most of the past 18 years.
In a rare move on Monday the 10-nation Asean grouping issued a strong rebuke to Myanmar at the opening of a four-day annual security summit expressing "deep disappointment" at Aung San Suu Kyi's continued arrest.
Asean has traditionally had a policy of not commenting on the internal affairs of member states.
The joint statement also urged Myanmar's rulers to engage in a "meaningful dialogue with all political groups and work toward a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future".
Asean has faced international criticism, especially from the West, for not putting enough pressure on Myanmar's rulers to move toward democracy and free political prisoners.
Myanmar opposes investigative powers - Jim Gomez
Associated Press: Tue 22 Jul 2008
Myanmar's junta has indicated it will oppose any effort to give a Southeast Asian human rights body the power to monitor or investigate rights violations in the region, diplomats said Tuesday.
A high-level panel of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations started work Monday to set up the rights body. The panel will lay down the body's future makeup, role and powers, which will be presented to a summit of ASEAN leaders in December.
But in a closed-door session with the panel Monday, Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win said the human rights body should uphold ASEAN's bedrock policy of noninterference in each other's affairs, a diplomat present at the meeting told The Associated Press.
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.
Another diplomat who attended a separate meeting between all 10 ASEAN ministers and the panel also said Nyan Win made clear his opposition to the rights body having any monitoring authority.
Myanmar's military government, which has been strongly criticized by Western governments and even fellow ASEAN members for its dismal human rights record, has used the bloc's policy to parry any attempt by outsiders to intervene on behalf of human rights victims in the military-ruled nation.
It has already been decided that the rights body will not have the power to impose sanctions or seek prosecution of violators. But Myanmar's objections, if honored, will make the body even less effective.
A majority of other ASEAN foreign ministers, led by Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, separately told the panel that the human rights body should at least be empowered to monitor violations and offer advice to prevent such problems, said the first diplomat.
Myanmar officials were not immediately available for comment but in the past they have said the human rights body should only serve as a "consultative mechanism" and that it should not "shame and blame" any ASEAN nation.
The rights body is being set up as part of ASEAN's proposed new charter, which seeks to make the organization rule-based.
ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said the charter will serve as a guide to the panel drafting the terms of reference for the rights body.
"They're going to follow the charter very, very closely - its principle of promoting, upholding and protecting human rights," Surin said.
The international community has condemned Myanmar's junta for its refusal to restore democracy and release pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees. ASEAN has also been criticized for not doing enough to pressure Myanmar's military leaders.
ASEAN foreign ministers, disappointed with the Myanmar junta's foot-dragging on democracy, expressed "deep disappointment" in a statement Sunday at the junta's May decision to extend Suu Kyi's detention.
ASEAN's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Burmese MPs urge UN to reject new constitution - Lalit K Jha
Irrawaddy: Tue 22 Jul 2008
Reflecting a growing sense of frustration, Burmese parliamentarians who were elected in the 1990 general elections urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and members of the UN Security Council to declare that a new constitution adopted by the country's military junta through a "sham referendum" is not legitimate.
Spokesperson to the secretary-general, Michelle Montas, told reporters at UN headquarters in New York that the UN chief had received a letter from five parliamentarians calling for the declaration. The issues raised by these parliamentarians are being discussed, Montas said in response to a question.
The letter comes before a planned consultation in the Security Council on Burma later this week and an expected visit to the country by Ibrahim Gambari, the UN special envoy on Burma, to meet with members of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in mid-August.
"Now is the time for the United Nations to declare that the seven-step road map of the SPDC is no longer relevant and the constitution is not legitimate," the parliamentarians said. Copies of the letter have also been sent to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US First Lady, Laura Bush.
The letter also called on the UN to exert greater effort to support reconciliation talks among Burma's major political forces "by instructing the SPDC, with a binding resolution, to abandon its road map and start negotiating with the [opposition National League for Democracy] and ethnic representatives immediately for a negotiated political settlement within a specific timeframe."
Two permanent members of the Security Council-China and Russia-have threatened to veto any attempt to pass a binding resolution on Burma, after having rebuffed similar efforts in the past by the United States, France and Britain.
Referring to the secretary-general's recent strong statements on Zimbabwe, the Burmese parliamentarians said they hoped he would take a tougher position on Burma, too. "We expect that secretary-general will also stand for the rights of the people of Burma/Myanmar, who were unable to express their real aspirations in the referendum conducted by the SPDC," the letter said.
On June 30, the secretary-general said that the outcome of a run-off presidential election in Zimbabwe did not reflect the true and genuine will of the country's people or produce a legitimate result.
"We applaud the courage of the secretary-general and his expression of moral authority, defending the right of the people of Zimbabwe to choose a legitimate government in a free and fair election," said the letter.
Referring to the unilateral steps being taken by the Burmese military junta, despite requests made by the international community, the parliamentarians said the regime's seven-step roadmap is no longer relevant.
"The referendum was a sham, the constitution is illegitimate and we continue to call for the SPDC to establish a meaningful and time-bound dialogue with the NLD and the ethnic nationalities," the letter said.
"As we are the ones who will have to decide the future of our country, we have decided not to recognize the constitution and not to join in the SPDC's process," wrote the parliamentarians.
Reflecting deep frustration over the UN's inability to get things moving in Burma, they added: "When we are faced with the military regime, which has never been reluctant to crush any peaceful activity by brutal and excessive force, we expect the United Nations would be able to change the murderous behaviors of the SPDC by diplomacy and pressure."
"At the very least, we don't want the United Nations siding with the dictators, and forcing the people of Burma/Myanmar into an untenable position," they wrote.
Expressing confidence in the UN and the Secretary General, the parliamentarians indicated that their patience was running out.
"We trusted the secretary-general, his good offices role, and his special envoy and hoped that the secretary-general, with the support of the Security Council, would be able to persuade the SPDC to make the road map process credible and include the NLD and ethnic representatives," they wrote.
"We have expected that under the facilitation of the secretary-general and his special envoy, the seven-step roadmap would become the venue of a meaningful political dialogue and an all-party inclusive process. Therefore, we agreed to support the mission of the secretary-general and prepared ourselves to work with the SPDC within the seven-step road map framework," they said.
Millions in Myanmar cyclone aid still to be released
Agence France Presse: Tue 22 Jul 2008
More than 5.8 million dollars in emergency aid for victims of Myanmar's cyclone Nargis is still to be released by donor countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Tuesday.
WHO has reviewed emergency aid following May's devastating storm and now puts the amount needed at more than 12.8 million dollars.
Donor countries - including Australia, Britain, Denmark, Italy, Monaco, Norway, Romania and the United States have already released seven million dollars for the aid effort, a WHO spokesperson told journalists.
In total, aid to Nargis victims and reconstruction will cost a billion dollars, WHO and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said on Monday.
It is estimated that a little over a billion dollars is needed over the next three years with priorities including food, agriculture, and housing as well as assistance to restore livelihoods, they said in a statement.
Myanmar's ruling generals attracted worldwide condemnation after the cyclone for blocking entry to many foreign aid workers and relief shipments, relenting only after a personal visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The disaster left at least 138,000 missing or dead.
ASEAN turns blind eye to Burma rights - Hannah Beech
Time: Tue 22 Jul 2008
A new charter for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was signed on July 21 with much flourish and a promise to "strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms." An admirable undertaking, except that the person formally ratifying the charter was Nyan Win, the Foreign Minister of Burma, a country with one of the world's most appalling human-rights records. Indeed, Burma's signing of the document during this year's ASEAN ministerial meeting in Singapore threatens to render meaningless the lofty humanitarian goals set by the organization's 10 member nations.
Burma's economy limps along with help from its regional neighbors, including ASEAN members such as Thailand and Singapore as well as non-members India and China. Critics of ASEAN say the forum has not done enough to pressure Burma to end human-rights abuses. Although Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines indicated earlier that they might delay their own ratifications of the charter until Burma cleans up its human-rights record, they have been less publicly forceful in their demands since then. While the U.S. and the European Union have tightened sanctions against Burma's ruling military junta since it violently crushed monk-led protests last year, ASEAN has continued with a "constructive engagement" approach that it hopes will, through dialogue and investment, convince Burma's leaders to treat its people more kindly.
So far, the approach has failed. Since Burma's junta took over the country, also known as Myanmar, in 1962, its people have gone from some of the richest in Asia to among its poorest. An election won by the opposition was duly ignored. Political prisoners crowd jails. The most recent example of the generals' callousness came in May when Cyclone Nargis devastated the country's Irrawaddy Delta, leaving 138,000 people dead or missing and causing $4 billion in damage, according to an international assessment released on July 21. Yet instead of promptly accepting offers of help from around the world, the regime spent weeks refusing visas to foreign aid workers and setting up roadblocks to stop international agencies from delivering relief supplies. Even today, after Burma promised in an ASEAN-brokered deal to stop impeding foreign aid groups, non-Burmese still have to apply for special permits from the country's Ministry of Defense to visit the delta.
So for ASEAN's nine other members not to at least arch an eyebrow when Burma signed the charter is nothing short of willful ignorance. Yes, ASEAN did speak forcefully on July 20 when Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo said the bloc's members felt "deep disappointment" that Burma in May prolonged the detention of opposition figurehead and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. But any mention of that negative emotion was excised from the formal communiqué issued by ASEAN the following day. And an initial flurry of excitement caused by Yeo when he said that his Burmese counterpart had told him Suu Kyi might possibly be released in six months' time turned out to be a misunderstanding. A clarification was quickly issued in which the Burmese government was quoted as saying the earliest Suu Kyi might be freed would be after May 2009.
Of course, ASEAN's kid-gloves approach toward Burma isn't unique. Another item on the agenda at this year's meeting? A treaty of amity and cooperation with none other than North Korea. After buddying up to Burma for so long, ASEAN, it seems, isn't too picky about its friends.
Burma makes us all look like fools again
The Nation (Thailand): Tue 22 Jul 2008
Now is the time to put more pressure on the junta to make its planned election free and fair.
The foreseeable future for Burma is clear: there will be no opposition to worry the junta. What is emerging from the Asean ministerial meeting is an indication that Burma has again outwitted its fellow Asean members and the international community. It is a win-win formula for the regime, which has shown defiance to the whole world. Foreign Minister Nyan Win was succinct in stating that Aung San Suu Kyi will be further incarcerated until the end of next year.
In a joint communiqu้ released at the end of the meeting, Asean urged Burma to take bolder steps towards a peaceful transition to democracy and a free and fair election in 2010. Asean foreign ministers also repeated their appeal for Suu Kyi's freedom. However, it is useless for Asean to express any disappointment over her continued detention. Burma will not budge, knowing full well there is nothing Asean can do. Of course, what the junta is doing is to ensure that she is isolated from the political process. The junta will hold the planned election in 2010 and it will be a fait accompli. The generals will use all kinds of trickery to maintain their power and dodge international sanctions. If the national referendum in May was any indication, the future poll will certainly be rigged.
Burma's ratification of the Asean Charter was timed for maximum benefit. For the first time, the pariah state was able to say it is committed to the values and norms of Asean. In the 11 years since Burma joined Asean, it has caused only headaches for the group. Now, Asean and the international community are committed to help revitalise Burma after Cyclone Nargis. An assessment report by Asean, the UN and Burma said that at least $1 billion dollars is needed over the next three years.
The amount is much less than what the junta had originally proposed when the international donors met for the first time in Rangoon; they had asked for a staggering $11 billion. Recently, the UN agencies assessed that $303 million would be needed over the next twelve months to improve health, housing and other priorities.
As the international cooperation and the recovery continue, Burma has invited UN special envoy Ismail Gambari to return. It remains to be seen how he will be treated by the junta. Is he in for more humiliation or more cooperation? Initially it is possible the generals might treat him more respectfully this time, granted the increased role of the UN and international community in assisting the victims of Nargis. But nothing is certain because the junta could easily abandon any such etiquette. Burma's engagement with the UN will be time-consuming to ensure that, within two years, such engagement will mitigate all possible hostile reaction from Western countries to the junta's reluctant move towards recovery and rehabilitation.
After Nargis, the UN and international community promised not to politicise the issue of providing humanitarian aid. The US, UK and France dispatched ships full of medicine and food to the Bay of Bengal to save lives but they were turned away by the junta.
But aid was the precondition that Asean and its international partners agreed to and supported. It provides opportunities for Western governments and donors to use as a pretext to communicate with Burma's leaders. So, while the Burmese people suffered from the effects of the cyclone, the junta continued with the national referendum and renewed Suu Kyi's house-arrest. Although it was a blatant act of hostility, nothing could be done about it. The junta could not care less. Indeed, it fits the pattern of Burma's continued defiance. Therefore, it is important that in the months to come, the UN Security Council and the international community raise the ante and assert pressure on the regime to ensure that the national reconciliation process really takes place.
In other words, it is time to call for a political outcome. If the political status quo remains the same in the next two years, the Burmese junta will be the biggest winner. The losers will be the suffering Burmese people.
Political prisoner dies in Mandalay prison - Khin Hnin Htet
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 21 Jul 2008
Political prisoner Ko Khin Maung Tint has died aged 46 in Mandalay prison after suffering from tuberculosis, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Khin Maung Tint, also known as Htate Tin Maung Maung Yar Pyae and Yar Pyae, died on 18 July.
AAPP offered its condolences to his family in a statement and said that Khin Maung Tint was the second political prisoner to die in prison this year, and the 137th since 1988.
According to AAPP, Khin Maung Tint joined the pro-democracy movement around the time of the 1988 uprising and later joined the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (North).
After being mistakenly accused by the ABSDF (North) of being a government spy and being detained and tortured, he escaped back to Mandalay.
He continued to fight for human rights and democracy, and in 1998 was arrested and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for sedition.
U Myo Naing, a member of Mandalay NLD organising wing, said Khin Maung Tint had been ill for some time.
"Before Ko Khin Maung Tint's death, we heard news from his colleagues who were serving time in the same prison that he had been in the prison hospital for quite a while," U Myo Naing said.
"He was suffering from lung and liver diseases and he needed to take medication which would cost around 65,000 kyat," he went on.
"After we learned that, we raised money for him and ordered the medicine from Germany on 9 July. He had a chance to take the medicine but died on 18 July," he said.
"We can only hope that he didn't suffer a lot before he died because he had taken the medicine."
U Myo Naing, who spent time in prison with Ko Khin Maung Tint, said he was from the royal blood line of the Burmese monarchy and his full formal name was Htate Tin Maung Maung Yar Pyae.
Ko Khin Maung Tint is survived by his wife Ma Htay Htay Yee, a son and a daughter.
A new generation of activists arises in Burma
Washington Post: Mon 21 Jul 2008
They operate in the shadows, slipping by moonlight from safe house to safe house, changing their cellphones to hide their tracks and meeting under cover of monasteries or clinics to plot changes that have eluded their country for 46 years.
If one gets arrested, another steps forward.
"I feel like the last man standing. All the responsibility is on my shoulders.... There is no turning back. If I turn back, I betray all my comrades," said a Burmese activist who heads a leading dissident group, the 88 Generation Students, named for a failed uprising in 1988. He took command after the arrest last August of its five most prominent leaders.
In a nearly deserted Rangoon coffee shop one recent morning, he spoke in an urgent whisper, often glancing over his shoulder to look for informers.
The security apparatus of Burma's military junta was thought to have largely shattered the opposition last August and September, in a crackdown that included soldiers firing on an alliance of monks and lay people who had taken to the streets by the thousands to protest a rise in fuel prices. More than 30 people died. At least 800 were detained and many more were forced into exile, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
But a new generation of democracy activists fights on, its ranks strengthened both by revulsion over last year's bloodletting and the government's inept response after a cyclone that killed an estimated 130,000 people two months ago. Largely clandestine, these activists make up a diffuse network of students, militant Buddhist monks, social service workers and leaders of the 1988 uprising.
Some activists express impatience with what they call the largely passive policies of the National League for Democracy, the country's main opposition party and one of the few anti-government groups that operates legally. In 1990, the league won a national election by a landslide, but the military prevented it from taking office. Its emblem, a fighting peacock, endures as a symbol of resistance to the military for millions of Burmese.
From its closely watched headquarters in downtown Rangoon, a clutter of dusty wooden desks and chairs, the league is led by three octogenarians whom many people here call the "uncles." The men oversee the party while its leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, languishes under house arrest.
"Their biggest goal in life is to return the party to the lady," the honorific that sympathizers here use for Suu Kyi, said the leader of the 88 Generation. "They won't do anything. They are just guardians. . . . Because of them, their party is divided."
One woman who is active in the new opposition said she thinks that "the NLD has lost the trust of the people. They have been issuing many announcements, that the government must do this. But the government has not, and anyone who gets involved with the NLD gets in trouble."
Because of what it sees as an absence of clear direction from the NLD's leaders, the 88 Generation has acted on its own, issuing statements with the All Burma Monks Alliance and the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. The most recent statements criticized the junta for holding a referendum on a new constitution while the bodies of cyclone victims still floated in the waterways of the Irrawaddy Delta.
Since its founding in late 2006 by newly freed political prisoners, including legendary student leader Min Ko Naing, the group has launched a series of creative civil disobedience campaigns. Last year, people were invited to dress in white as a symbol of openness; to head to monasteries, Hindu temples or mosques for prayer meetings; and to sign letters and petitions calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. That effort resonated with so many that the group had to extend its closing date.
The group was at the forefront of the protests in August and reached out to monks, the 88 leader said.
"The struggle is still on," said a young lawyer who was sentenced to seven years in jail for starting a student union at a university. Since his release, four years early, he said, he has resumed regular contact with several groups of politically active current and former students. "Students will fight if they think it's just," he said, continuing a tradition among young people here that dates to the era of British colonial rule.
One group of young people, whose members gathered as a book club, decided to organize votes against the proposed constitution, dismissing it as a sham that reinforces the military's control of the country. So they created hundreds of stickers and T-shirts bearing the word "no" and scattered them on buses, in university lecture halls and in the country's ubiquitous tea shops.
Another student said he and some of his peers acted as unofficial election monitors during the referendum, taking photos and interviewing voters who were given already marked ballots or coerced to vote yes.
The 88 leader said such efforts have given him a stock of evidence to show that the vote was neither free nor fair.
Despite the obstacles, the group has not ruled out trying to become a legal party to run for elections in 2010, he said. "People think that if you accept to run, that means you accept the constitution. No! I want to have a legal party to fight from within," he said.
Outside experts have compared the network to Poland's Solidarity movement in the early 1980s, a broad-based coalition of workers, intellectuals and students that emerged as a key political player during the country's transition to democracy.
Just as Solidarity organized picnics to keep people in touch, some new groups here meet as book clubs or medical volunteers but could easily turn at key moments to political activity, said Bertil Lintner, a journalist and author of several books on Burma.
Meanwhile, the devastation wrought by the cyclone has sometimes been a trigger for more overt political activities. A handful of members of an embattled activist group called Human Rights Defenders and Promoters headed to the delta after the storm to hand out relief supplies as well as copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to a lawyer. They were subsequently sentenced to four years in jail, he said.
Monks remain politically active, too, in spite of increased harassment from security forces since the protests.
Some have hidden pamphlets inside their alms bowls to distribute when they go out to collect food in the mornings, according to a Mandalay monk. They have smuggled glue and posters inside the bowls to stick on street walls.
Ten years ago, the monk said, he started a library that has since expanded to 14 branches across the country. Under cover of membership, patrons take classes in public speaking and pass around poems and pamphlets that are often scathing about their rulers, he said.
"I told people to read lots of books, so they can start to know, and then they can change the system," he said. "Because we want freedom. Because it is difficult to speak and write in this country."
The cyclone's aftermath has also spurred vast new stores of anger, sometimes among monks, who take vows of nonviolence.
"Now we want to get weapons," said a monk known to other dissidents by the nom de guerre "Zero" for his ability to organize and vanish without a trace. "The Buddhist way is lovingkindness. But we lost. So now we want to fight."
In the dormitory of a monastery one recent afternoon, he sat among piles of handwritten speeches and recent clandestine pamphlets stamped with names of groups such as Generation Wave and the All Burmese Monks Alliance. Two young monks listening from a tattered mattress nearby nodded excitedly, and a third pretended to wield a machine gun.
Because of his role as a chief galvanizer of the monks in the protests, the monk has been on the run since September, moving from one monastery to the next. But since the cyclone, he has managed nonetheless to make about 20 trips to the devastated areas, where he buried more than 200 bodies and coordinated with monks and lay people.
"In September, we lost because everywhere, every village did not follow, because of fear," he said. But in the post-cyclone period, "we can do more. Now I can grow and grow."
At a 1,500-strong ceremony commemorating the victims of the cyclone, 15 dissident monks and lay people pondered their options, he said. Should they organize a strike in September to mark the first anniversary of the protests? Hold one to coincide with the auspicious date of 8-8-08, twenty years since the 1988 uprising?
Asked about prospects for an armed struggle, the 88 leader demurred. "We are totally, from beginning to end, peaceful," he said. But the militant monk, he said, chuckling, was a force to be reckoned with.
From house to house, meanwhile, Burmese whisper a new slogan:
"Mandalay, pile of ashes" - for a fire that the government was barely seen to help extinguish.
"Rangoon, pile of logs" - for city trees felled by the cyclone and still cluttering the streets.
"Naypyidaw" - the generals' new capital - "pile of bones."
Three more Rohingya refugees die of starvation in Lada camp
Kaladan News: Mon 21 Jul 2008
Three more Burmese Rohingya refugees in the unofficial Lada camp died of starvation in July 2 to 19. They have been facing severe food crisis because incessant heavy rain and consequent lack of work to support their families, said Olison Majee from the camp.
The dead were identified as Md. Hussain (77), son of Ullah Meah, A-Block and Shed No.77, Mabia Khatoon (60), wife of late Mohamed, Block C, Room No. 02, and Eman Hussain (35), son of Mohamed Siddique, Block E, and Room No. 273. They were starving unable to go out to work as they had no bus fare to go to Teknaf, said Hafez Md. Ayub from the camp.
Md. Hussain (77) died of starvation on July 19, Mabia Khatoon (60), died on July 3, and Eman Hussain (35), died on July 2.
The situation in Lada camp is terrible. Though their living conditions have improved a little compared to the Dum Dum Meah camp but they are now facing acute food crisis and other problems relating to local villagers. The refugees were going out in search of work without any problems when they were in Dum Dum Mea camp and could walk to Teknaf. But, in Lada camp, the refugees are facing myriad problems in supporting their families, said another refugee on condition of anonymity.
The refugees have not been provided with rations from NGOs and other organizations. But they got some ration from the Islamic Relief Organization (IRO) when they were transferred to Lada camp. Since then they have received no rations from any quarter. The refugees thus have been trying to eke out a living by working outside the camp.
Besides, on July 15, a refugee Abdu Salam (45), son of Abdul Zabber, Block C, and Room No.193 of Lada refugee camp died of starvation.
Currently the Lada camp hosts 1,972 families.
Another Burma promise
Bangkok Post: Mon 21 Jul 2008
Burma ratified the charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Monday and vowed to uphold its democratic ideals, but dashed hopes of releasing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi within the next six months.
The country, vilified for its dictatorial government and human rights abuses, became the seventh of the 10-member regional grouping to ratify the document, which was signed by the leaders in November last year.
"Myanmar's ratification of the charter demonstrates our strong commitment to embrace the common values and aspirations of the peoples of Asean," Foreign Minister Nyan Win said, using the military dictators' new name for Burma.
"It is my honest hope that with the growing momentum of ratification, our common goal and commitment to complete ratification of the charter by all member states will be realized at the time of our leaders' summit in Bangkok" in December, he added.
While foreign ministers attending the 41st Asean Ministers Meeting watched, Nyan Win handed over the document to Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, to the applause of observers.
Burma was also among the Asean countries which unanimously set up a high-level panel on an Asean human rights body, and endorse its terms of reference.
"We urged Myanmar to take bolder steps towards a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future," and work towards the holding of free and fair general elections in 2010," said the minister's communique at the end of the meeting.
"We reiterated our calls for the release of all political detainees, including Suu Kyi, to pave the way for meaningful dialogue involving all parties concerned."
In a separate statement, Singapore Minister for Foreign Af`fairs George Yeo said Ngan Win had clarified that Suu Kyi would not be released in the next six months, but six months from May 2009, the expiry date of the existing one-year detention order.
Yeo, who is also Asean chairman, and other foreign ministers "misunderstood the point made by the Burmese foreign minister on the limit of the detention period," a statement said.
The "clarification" was made at the ministers' meeting Monday afternoon.
Suu Kyi has spent 13 years in detention since 1989. Her house arrest was recently extended.
Surin said he was sure the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia would soon ratify the charter and that he expected the ratification process to be completed by December.
"The charter will help us building an Asean community we can all be proud of," he said.
The document, which will turn the 41-year-old regional grouping into a legal entity, was initially opposed by the ruling junta because of its inclusion of human rights.
Several Philippine senators said they would oppose the ratification of the charter until the military junta that has ruled Burma since 1962 institutes democratic reforms.
In opening the meeting, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Asean had decided to press on with the charter's implementation without waiting for all 10 members to ratify it.
"The internal processes of member countries are different and some will be more difficult than others, Lee said.
The Burmese ratification occurred a day after Asean ministers expressed their "deep disappointment" over the continued detention of Suu Kyi and undetermined numbers of political prisoners.
Asean comprises Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Divided opinion among Kachins over Gen. Aung San's promise of autonomy
Kachin News Group: Mon 21 Jul 2008
Sixty one years after Burmese General Aung San's assassination opinion is still divided among ethnic Kachin leaders on autonomy arrived at by Gen. Aung San before Burma's independence. July 19 marked 61st year of the general's assassination.
Dr. Manam Tu Ja, the Kachin Independence Organization's (KIO) Vice-president No. 2, Head of Political Consultative Committee and former KIO delegate to Burma's ruling junta's National Convention said, "After Aung San's assassination, the U Nu led Anti-fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) redrafted the country's constitution as a unitary or centralized system which was opposite to Aung San's promise of genuine federal union for hill tribes. Unlike General Aung San's promise, autonomy of all hill tribes was neglected by Prime Minister U Nu led AFPFL government after Burma was given independence by the British on 4 January, 1948."
"If General Aung San was not assassinated, I think the country would have headed for a genuine federal union including autonomy of ethnic Kachins in keeping with General Aung San's promise to ethnic Kachins, Shans and Chin hill tribes," Dr. Tu Ja told KNG.
Maran Di La, chairman of Kachin Refugee Committee (KRC) based in Malaysia said, "In my opinion, Burman leader General Aung San just came and organized ethnic Kachins during Burma's independence together with Kachins and Burmans. This was cheating and he wanted to depress the Kachins and all Burma's hill tribes with Burmanization."
But, Ma Tu, a modern Kachin political study said, "The death of Aung San directly led to a loss of the cause for ethnic Kachin's autonomy because Kachin leaders signed a concrete agreement only with General Aung San. If Aung San was alive, the autonomy of Kachins was partly or fully guaranteed in the constitution as Aung San had promised."
88 generations Kachin students' leader Awng Wa said, "The question, 'Would Kachins get autonomy, if General Aung San was alive?' had arisen after Aung San's assassination. It is uncertain that Kachins would have got autonomy whether Aung San was alive or dead. This is because the 1947 constitution was similar to the constitutions of former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Yugoslavia ruled by dictators."
Duwa Bawmwang Laraw, vice-chairman of Thailand-based Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) and, chairman of Kachin National Council (KNC) and Kachin National Organization (KNO) warned, "If Burmans want ethnic Kachins as well as all other Burma's ethnic nationalities in a union, the country's constitution must be drafted based on equal rights and identity. If it is not so, secession would be better."
Agreement between General Aung San and Kachin leaders before Burma's independence
Before the Panglong Agreement was signed between ethnic Kachins, Chins and Shan leaders and Burman leader General Aung San on 12 February, 1947, Kachin leaders met General Aung San separately twice in Myitkyina Township, the capital of Kachin State in 1946.
During the meeting from November 28 to December 1 in 1946 in a school in Manhkring village in Myitkyina, about 30 Kachin hill rulers (Bum Du or Duwa) in Bhamo and Myitkyina districts met General Aung San.
Major agreements on the issues were:
- 1. Kachin territories must be ruled by Kachins themselves.
- 2. Burmans must not rule Kachins.
- 3. Kachin hill areas can be ruled under any system by Kachins.
- 4. Union level economy, security and foreign diplomacy sectors must be governed by the Union Administrative Council formed by Kachin leaders and representatives.
- 5. Practice their-own religion freely.
- 6. All Kachin hill areas must be ruled by Kachin Duwas.
The agreement was crucial for a Burman leader Gen. Aung San before he made second or final journey to England on Burma's independence issues. Gen. Aung San's first journey was failed because he demanded Burma's independence without consensus of hill tribes- Kachin, Chin and Shan.
Kachin struggle for secession
After Kachins and Burmans got independence from the British on 4 January, 1948, Kachins felt the autonomy was degrading and armed struggle began. The political-wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the armed-wing Kachin Independence Army (KIA) were officially formed on 5 February, 1961 demanding secession by Kachins.
Following the situations in the world and neighbouring counties, KIO/A changed its secessionist policy into one of autonomy as a state in the Union of Burma from 1976 to now. It even it signed a ceasefire agreement with Burma's ruling junta in 1994.
At the moment, the KIO/A have clearly declared that it will support till the end the junta's seven-step roadmap for disciplined-democracy in the country.
However, KIO/A leaders said, they will solve the political problems by political means through a meaningful dialogue on the table between the KIO/KIA and military rulers of Burma for Kachin State's autonomy.
UN to end Myanmar aid flights on Aug. 10 - Eliza Bates
Associated Press: Fri 18 Jul 2008
A United Nations decision to end aid flights to Myanmar next month could hurt relief efforts already struggling to reach millions of survivors with adequate food and water, humanitarian groups said Friday.
The U.N. plans to stop aid flights between Thailand's Don Muang airport and Myanmar's commercial capital, Yangon, on Aug. 10 and withdraw the last five U.N. helicopters that have been ferrying relief supplies to the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta. Five other helicopters have already stopped flying.
Without the helicopters, relief groups will be forced to depend on boats and trucks to get supplies to the delta. The cargo at Don Muang will be transported by sea.
"It is a bit of a blow not to have the helicopters guaranteed," World Vision emergency coordination specialist Ashley Clements said by telephone from Myanmar.
"We're already dealing with a load that we didn't have enough helicopters for, so now the pressure will be compounded even more," he said. "If we have to go by road it means that supplies will be delayed."
Christine Kahmann, a spokeswoman for Action Against Hunger, agreed that ending the flights would hurt the relief effort.
The U.N. World Food Program's Paul Risley said the move to end the flights is a routine step as relief efforts in Myanmar shift to reconstruction following the May 2-3 cyclone that killed 84,537 people and left 53,836 more missing, according to the government.
The U.N. helicopters have allowed relief workers to reach remote stretches of the flooded delta that were cut off when the cyclone hit.
U.N. officials and aid groups have criticized Myanmar's military junta for its slow response to the disaster and for restricting access to the delta, saying it prevented enough food, water and shelter from reaching survivors.
The U.N. says many survivors still lack adequate food and water.
U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said last week that one out of two families in Myanmar have food supplies of only about one day or less and some 60,000 children are at risk of malnutrition. He said the cyclone wiped out 42 percent of the nation's overall food stocks.
Burmese opposition ready to escalate pro-democracy fight - Clancy Chassay
Guardian (UK): Fri 18 Jul 2008
Members of Burma's battered and disparate opposition are growing disillusioned with the old methods of the pro-democracy movement and are seeking ways to escalate their armed struggle.
"There is a very real debate among us about how to begin a more sustained armed struggle," an organiser of last September's failed uprising told the Guardian. "We are ready for that kind of action, if we can get the supplies and training that we need."
Speaking from exile in Thailand, Soe Aung, the chief spokesman for the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB), an umbrella group representing nearly all facets of Burma's disparate opposition, said he was witnessing a significant shift in the public attitude across Burma.
"After the September uprising and then the terrible cyclone response, the anger is surging. Some are considering violent means the Burmese people are not that kind of people, there has been a real change."
Soe Aung spoke openly of how covert Western support, primarily from the US state department-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its subsidiary the International Republican Institute (IRI), had been fundamental to the success of the uprising.
"The US is certainly doing the most for the opposition. There has been real success in training and forming an underground movement through religious organisations and monastic organisations. These provide the best cover inside Burma. The monks can spread their training very effectively."
The NED describes itself as a private organisation but was created by, and remains accountable to, the US Congress. Set up under the Reagan administration in 1983, it has since played a leading role in influencing civil society and electoral processes in countries around the world unfriendly to US interests.
According to Brian Joseph, the man in charge of the group's Burma project, the NED gave $3m (£1.5m) to Burma in 2007. "We would send more, but there is a limit to what you can do in Burma," said Joseph.
Opposition activists both inside and outside Burma largely describe the improvements in political awareness and spread of information as a result of NED-funded projects, but also attribute them to the introduction of the internet to Burma in 2003.
"We could see in September how the advances were utilised. It wasn't just the monks but a massive increase of awareness among Burmese of all types. This was thanks largely due to media organs, the Democratic Voice of Burma, satellite TV, and, of course, the internet," said Soe Aung.
Is Burma ready for a new election? - Htet Aung Kyaw
Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 18 Jul 2008
Although the National League for Democracy and main ethnic parties didn't recognise the results of the constitutional referendum in May, the ruling junta is now gearing up to drag the opposition into a new election.
So is there any chance of a compromise before the 2010 election?
Many activists, including leading members of the NLD, were upset when the state media urged them to prepare for the forthcoming elections instead of clinging to the 1990 election results.
In fact, this is not first time in the last 18 years that the junta's propaganda machine has told them to forget the 1990 result. But it is the first direct challenge to the NLD since the junta adopted its new constitution last month.
"This has been forced through at gunpoint" said Thein Nyunt, constitutional affairs spokesperson for the NLD. "We don't recognize their announcement and so we won't prepare for a new election."
He claimed the NLD would pursue all avenues to challenge the SPDC on the fairness and legitimacy of the constitutional referendum.
However, the situation on the ground is not the same as it was in 1990. "We are preparing to form a political party for the 2010 election. This is an opportunity for us," says Za Khun Ting Ring, chairman of the New Democratic Army-Kachin, a ceasefire group based on the China-Burma border.
"If we oppose the seven-step road map, there is no way to move ahead. So we must follow it to bring about a civilian government," the 62-year-old former rebel leader told this correspondent in a telephone interview.
The NDA-K and dozens of former rebel armies who signed ceasefire agreements with the junta in the 1990s attended the government-backed National Convention in 2004 to draw up the guidelines for the constitution which the junta adopted last month.
Apart from the opposition and ethnic groups, the notorious pro-junta Union Solidarity Development Association is systematically preparing for the election. "Their latest move was to select two candidates to stand as MPs in each township who are well-educated, rich and respected in their communities," said Htay Aung, author of a book on the USDA called "Whiteshirts" which compares the organisation to Hitler's Nazi "Brownshirts".
Founded in 1993 and the darling of general Than Shwe, the USDA civilian wing is now 27 million strong in a country of 55 million people. The USDA has played key roles in attacking Aung San Suu Kyi's motorcade in 2003, organising the mass rallies in support of the National Convention in 2006 and forcing people to vote "Yes" in the constitutional referendum in May.
Major Aung Lin Htut, a key member of former prime minister Gen Khin Nyunt's spy network, said that most of the USDA's leading members were opportunists who were trying to win the favour of general Than Shwe. "But they not yet getting any support from army chief general Maung Aye and front line troops." the former spy says.
Another challenge for the USDA and Than Shwe will be to gain support from former rebel armies, he pointed out. "Many know well how general Than Shwe broke his promise on the 1990 election result but very few know how he ignored his promises to ceasefire groups," major Aung Lin Htut said.
This view is shared by the New Mon State Party, one of 17 former ethnic rebel groups. "We walked out of the National Convention when they rejected our proposals. That was broken promise which they agreed in 1995 ceasefire agreement" said Nai Aung Ma-nge, a spokesperson for the Thai-Burma border-based Mon rebel group.
"So we do not accept the referendum, constitution or election. The SPDC should seriously consider how to guarantee the futures of 100,000 strong troops from former rebel groups before the election," the outspoken rebel leader said.
In this scenario, can there be any opportunity left to reconsider the SPDC-led seven-step road map before the 2010 election?
Yes, if the UN-led international community works seriously for Burma this time.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and other world leaders well knew how badly the SPDC had dealt with the aid operation to support millions of survivors after Cyclone Nargis struck on 2-3 May leaving 135,000 people dead and missing.
But Ban did not say a word about politics when he meet Than Shwe in Naypyidaw and focused only on humanitarian mission. However, Than Shwe didn't listen to the UN chief's warnings but went ahead with all his political plans; the constitutional referendum in May, the adoption of the constitution in June and now the preparations for an election.
As Than Shwe's seven-step road map draws near completion, the UN special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, was invited to visit Naypyidaw in mid-August. Although there was no tangible outcome from his last visit in March, the door is still open for dialogue. Aung Kyi who was appointed minister for relations with Aung San Suu Kyi after last September's Saffron Revolution is still in post but has been left twiddling his thumbs at the moment.
Former UN special envoy to Burma Razali Ismail supports keeping the way clear for dialogue but warns that the Burmese themselves must do more. "The ability to talk to the regime must be maintained in all aspects, including the political," he told this correspondent in a telephone conversation.
"I don't think the people of Myanmar should lose hope in the UN. The UN is doing the best it can," he went on. "When I was working there, I was doing the best I could, but finally it is up to the government and the people of Myanmar to make all the necessary changes."
* Htet Aung Kyaw is a journalist for the Oslo-Based Democratic Voice of Burma.
Members of Parliament-elect from Burma: Announcement on the 2010 Elections (Unofficial Translation)
Fri 18 Jul 2008
(1) With the aim of emergence of democratic system in Burma, the people of Burma effectively toppled the single-party dictatorship in 1988. However, the military generals took control of the state power on 18 September 1988 and since then they are ruling the country with the name of SLORC (later SPDC) [State Law and Order Restoration Council (later State Peace and Development Council)], aggressively oppressing the people, and trying to transform the military dictatorship to a legal government.
(2) In the statement (1/88) issued by the SLORC (SPDC), the generals stated that "the military takes over the country's sovereign power to carry out the four major tasks", and that "holding a multi-party general election will be their last task". The SLORC successfully held the multi-party general elections on 27 May 1990 and therefore, the military has completed its last task dutifully.
(3) The Election Commission acknowledged that the National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a landslide victory with securing 82% of the parliamentary seats. The Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces also said on 30 May 1990 that "this election was actually free and fair." In her speech on 2 July 1999, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi clearly said that "until and unless the 1990 election result is implemented, we have no reason to think about the next election". Without implementing the 1990 election result according to the existing laws, new elections should not be carried out. If do so, it will not be free and fair.
(4) Therefore, we, Members of Parliament elected from the 1990 elections, will not recognize and accept the 2010 election, and will not contest in that election. We clearly announce that we continue to try to solve the problems in Burma by means of political dialogue and for emergence of a democratic government, as wished by the people of Burma.
Date: 18 July 2008
- Members of Committee Representing the Peoples' Parliament
- Members of Parliament
- Members of States and Divisions Organizing Committee
Burmese junta profiting from aid funds? - Mungpi
Mizzima News: Thu 17 Jul 2008
Even as cyclone victims reel under the devastating impact of Nargis, the military rulers are lining their pockets from the aid funds donated by the international community including the UN. The money is being made by way of a twisted currency exchange mechanism - dollar to local Burmese kyat, a source in the Burmese military establishment said.
Following the killer Cyclone Nargis lashing Burma on May 2 and 3, several international non-governmental organizations as well as UN aid agencies rushed in to help cyclone victims.
The source, who declined to be named for fear of reprisal, said the ruling junta is making a huge killing from these donations by keeping a margin in the conversion rates - from foreign currency to Burmese Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC).
According to the source, the government-owned Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank is the principle bank that is used by aid agencies for transferring funds. And when aid agencies withdraw their money from the MFTB, it is given in the form of Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC), which is treated as equivalent to the US dollar.
While the information cannot be independently verified, the source said the difference in exchange rates between the dollar and FEC is the margin that the government makes.
A businessman in Rangoon, who is into exchanging foreign currency in the black market said, currently a US $ is worth 1,175 Kyat while the FEC is valued at 850 Kyat. While the rates continue to fluctuate depending on the market, the US Dollar and FEC have never been treated equally in the market.
"The rate between the FEC and Dollar is only equal in the government exchange rates but here in Burma things are done only in the black market," the businessman told Mizzima.
The source, who is also close to the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank, said, while the bank retains the in coming foreign exchange, it also profits from the marginal difference in the conversion.
The UN World Food Programme,
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