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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 26/8/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. UN Burma envoy wasted his time 2.. Suu Kyi refuses to accept food 3.. Suu Kyi refusal to meet envoy sends a strong message 4.. Myanmar gems lure buyers
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 26, 2008
      1. UN Burma envoy 'wasted his time'
      2. Suu Kyi refuses to accept food
      3. Suu Kyi refusal to meet envoy sends a strong message
      4. Myanmar gems lure buyers despite ban
      5. Authorities extort money from cyclone victims
      6. Thai PM says West uses Myanmar's Suu Kyi as political tool
      7. Burmese protests not allowed in Singapore
      8. No photo Op for Gambari
      9. The lingering disaster in Burma
      10. UN ends its relief flights from Bangkok to Burma
      11. Ethnic opposition leaders not allowed to meet UN Envoy
      12. ASEAN legislators reject Burma counterparts' request to join meetings
      13. In a five-day trip to Burma, UN Envoy spent only 20 minutes with representatives of Burma's democracy movement
      14. Junta disrobes, charges leading monk
      15. Migrants flow out of Burma as economic woes deepen
      16. Resentment simmers in Burma a year after unabated
      17. Children die in Chin state famine
      18. Voters and officials punished for 'No' votes
      19. Myanmar natural gas sales up 25 percent
      20. Junta benefits from regional economic tug-of-war
      21. Myanmar exchange scam fleeces UN

      UN Burma envoy 'wasted his time'
      BBC News: Mon 25 Aug 2008

      Burma's main opposition party has dismissed the latest visit by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari as a waste of time.

      Nyan Win, of the National League for Democracy (NLD), said Mr Gambari had not established any dialogue between the military rulers and the opposition.

      He was also annoyed that the envoy appeared to have given tacit backing to the junta's planned election in 2010.

      Detained NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi refused to meet Mr Gambari, fuelling speculation she is unhappy with the UN.

      And Mr Gambari was not invited to the remote capital of Nay Pyi Taw to meet the junta's top leader, Senior General Than Shwe.

      The BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, says Mr Gambari now seems to have used up all the credibility he had.

      After more than two years of failure his statements remain relentlessly upbeat - yet he seems to put no pressure on the generals, our correspondent says.

      Consolidated power

      Nyan Win expressed particular annoyance with Mr Gambari for negotiating with the generals over their "roadmap" to democracy, which plans for elections in 2010.

      "We have made very clear to the UN envoy that the mission should not discuss the upcoming 2010 elections, as the NLD does not recognise the military-backed constitution," he said.

      "The UN envoy was wasting his time on matters that he was not supposed to deal with."

      He added that Mr Gambari had also failed to make any progress on the other major theme of his mission - to secure the release of political prisoners including Ms Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.

      During his six-day visit, Mr Gambari did hold talks with the NLD and meet Prime Minister Thein Sein - a figurehead who holds little real power.

      But diplomats conceded that nothing concrete had come of his visit.

      The NLD won a general election in 1990 but the junta refused to allow the party to assume power.

      In recent months, the generals have further consolidated their grip on power, pushing through a constitution which reserves 25% of the seats in any future parliament for the military.

      They have also extended Ms Suu Kyi's house arrest for another year. She has spent more than half of the past 20 years in detention.

      Suu Kyi refuses to accept food: Exiled NLD
      Irrawaddy: Mon 25 Aug 2008

      Detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi refused to accept a food delivery to her home one week ago, according to the exiled National League for Democracy-Liberated Area. It isn't clear if she has started a hunger strike.

      The exiled group released a statement on Monday saying that Suu Kyi has refused to accept food from members of her party for nine days.

      However, the NLD headquarters in Rangoon has yet to confirm the news. Nyan Win, a spokesperson for the NLD, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the party was trying to confirm the report.

      Suu Kyi told an NLD member, Myint Soe, who regularly delivers her food not to bring any more after the middle of this month, according to her family lawyer, Kyi Win, who was allowed to meet her twice on August 8 and 17 to discuss legal issues surrounding her continued detention.

      One senior NLD member in Rangoon also said that Suu Kyi had a plan to "cut food supplies" unless her demands to meet her lawyer for further discussions were met by the military authorities.

      Suu Kyi was concerned with restrictions imposed on her by the regime, the lawyer told The Irrawaddy over the phone from Rangoon on Monday.

      The lawyer explained that under restriction (a), Suu Kyi is not allowed to meet and hold talks with diplomats or political organizations. Under restriction (b), she is not allowed to leave her house.

      Under these restrictions, Suu Kyi could not, according to the regime's own rules, meet Gambari or any visiting UN envoys. Kyi Win said that the way the UN officials called her to come out of her house with a loudspeaker would have forced her to violate the restrictions.

      Two of Gambari's aides shouted with a bullhorn in front of Suu Kyi's house that the envoy wanted to meet her last Friday, the last scheduled day of his sixth visit to Burma for national reconciliation talks between the regime and the NLD. Gambari later added a day to his trip.

      Observers said that Suu Kyi's refusal to meet the UN envoy last week showed her disappointment with his failed attempts to broker a solution to the country's decades-old political standoff.

      Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years. During most of this time, her food has been supplied exclusively by her colleagues.

      In 2003, soon after Suu Kyi's motorcade was attacked by junta-backed thugs in Upper Burma, the US State Department said that she had started a hunger strike.

      Suu Kyi refusal to meet envoy sends a strong message, say observers - Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Mon 25 Aug 2008

      Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's refusal to meet with United Nations Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his visit to the country last week has put a strong spotlight on the UN's failed diplomatic efforts, said observers and members of the country's opposition.

      "I think she sent the message not only to Gambari but also to the UN and the Burmese people that there is no tangible consequence from the last meetings," said Win Naing, a spokesperson for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in Rangoon.

      In a surprise move, Suu Kyi cancelled a meeting with Gambari last Wednesday and refused to meet with him again on Friday. Her refusal came amid criticism of the envoy's meetings with groups formed by the ruling junta as a means of shoring up support for a military-drafted constitution and planned elections in 2010.

      But Suu Kyi was not the only person who did not want to meet Gambari on this trip. Some observers said that the refusal of Snr-Gen Than Shwe to meet the UN envoy was one of the reasons Suu Kyi declined to meet him.

      "She obviously wants to send the message to the junta and to the UN that she is frustrated with the lack of progress," said Larry Jagan, a British journalist who specializes in Burmese issues, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday.

      Meanwhile, Burma's ruling military regime moved quickly to exploit the situation. State-run television showed Gambari's aides and Burmese officials standing in front of Suu Kyi's house - one holding a loudspeaker - calling her to come out.

      Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, who in a previous encounter with Gambari severely upbraided him for his supposed bias towards the pro-democracy leader, said: "We deeply regret that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi declined to meet with Your Excellency."

      Many Burma watchers and Burmese groups in exile were less sympathetic. Several Burmese bloggers ridiculed Gambari's mission and UN efforts.

      A Western diplomat with a keen interest in Burma said that the outcome of Gambari's trip was "quite disappointing."

      "Her [Suu Kyi] tactic was clearly the result of frustration at the failure of the regime to take her and Gambari seriously," said the diplomat, noting that this was the third time that Than Shwe had failed to meet Gambari.

      Although he was only supposed to meet with mid-ranking officials on this trip, the regime's prime minister, Gen Thein Sein, finally made himself available after Suu Kyi's cancellation.

      Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the both Arakan League for Democracy and the Committee Representing the People's Parliament, blasted the UN envoy, calling him "just a guest of the junta."

      "He is doing what the junta asked for. He is like a representative of the junta," said the Rangoon-based Arakanese politician, echoing the sentiment of some who believe that Gambari endorsed the 2010 election.

      "Mr Gambari hasn't achieved any concrete result from this trip at all," said Jagan. "There is no improvement in the political situation. There was no discussion of the release of political prisoners."

      "I think his mission now must be at an end," said Jagan.

      Myanmar gems lure buyers despite ban
      Associated Press: Mon 25 Aug 2008

      YANGON, Myanmar - Thousands of sapphires, rubies, diamonds, emeralds, jade and other gems glitter in long glass display cases as merchants haggle with professional buyers - most of them foreigners - and tourists.

      Business is good here at the sales center of the Myanmar Gems Museum, despite legislation signed by President George W. Bush last month to ban the import of rubies and jade into America. Yangon gem sellers dismissed the sanction against their government as a symbolic gesture unlikely to have much impact on their lucrative trade.

      "Our buyers are almost all from China, Russia, the gulf, Thailand, India and the European Union, and we can barely keep up with their demand," said Theta Mar of Mandalar Jewelry, a store in the museum gem shop, where prices range from a few hundred dollars to about $18,000.

      Myanmar produces up to 90 percent of the world's rubies and is a top international supplier of other gems and jade. The government-controlled sector, often criticized for harsh working conditions and poor environmental controls, is a major source of export revenue for the military.

      No recent or reliable official statistics on the gemstone trade are publicly available, but analysts and human-rights groups say it likely brings the military regime $300 million to $400 million a year.

      The embargo on gems is the latest U.S. move to apply financial pressure on the junta. Many Western nations have instituted economic and political sanctions against the military government, which seized power in 1988, violently suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations by monks last September and hindered foreign aid after a devastating cyclone in May.

      The U.S. bill bans all import of gems from Myanmar. U.S. officials say Myanmar had been evading earlier gem-targeting sanctions by laundering the stones in third countries before they were shipped to the United States.

      The United States also has been trying to persuade the UN Security Council to consider introducing international sanctions, and has demanded that the junta release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

      Exiled Myanmar pro-democracy activists hailed the new U.S. measure.

      "This legislation sends a strong signal to Burma's military regime that the United States stands firmly on the side of my country's democracy movement," said Aung Din, co-founder of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma, which lobbies for political change.

      However, the junta has not issued an official response. And local officials have privately told foreign diplomats the embargo will have no effect on the sector's foreign sales unless the wider international community joins in.

      Such a move seems unlikely anytime soon. Although the European Union has edged closer to the punitive U.S. position toward Myanmar's military rulers, Yangon's regional trading partners - China, India and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - have argued that engaging the junta will be more productive in the long run than isolating it through sanctions.

      The junta holds regular gem auctions for foreign merchants during which it sells thousands of lots of valuable stones, which are said to generate upward of $100 million in foreign currency per sale. The last such event, held in November, drew more than 3,600 foreign buyers.

      Authorities extort money from cyclone victims
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 25 Aug 2008

      Villagers in Irrawaddy division have complained that local authorities have continued to extort money from cyclone victims under various pretexts, despite a letter of complaint they sent to SPDC leaders to report the practice.

      U Than Zin, chairman of Mangay Kalay village Peace and Development Council in Dadaye township, PDC members and U Khin Kyaw (also known as U Htin Kyaw) of the township land survey department extorted money from villagers for receiving aid from donors.

      U Ba Kyi, a farmer from Mangay Kalay, said locals had been forced to pay for diesel fuel that had been donated to them.

      "There were 1383 gallons of diesel, and they collected 500 kyat a gallon from us – so 919,000 kyat," U Ba Kyi said.

      "But these were actually given to us as donations."

      U Ba Kyi said each household was also told to pay money to help cyclone victims.

      "They collected 500 kyat each from 432 families on the pretext of helping the storm victims," he said.

      "We had to pay 216,000 each time and we had to pay four times, totaling around 864,000."

      The authorities reportedly told villagers they needed to collect money to fund the accommodation and hospitality for donors.

      "Not satisfied with that, they collected 8000 kyat each from 212 farmers in order to buy fertiliser from the state agricultural organisation – 742 bags of fertilizers – amounting to exactly 1,696,000," U Ba Kyi said.

      "They have been misappropriating the money they have collected."

      The villagers sent their letter of complaint, which they had each signed and given their national identity card number, to junta leader senior general Than Shwe, prime minister general Thein Sein, the social and relocation minister and hotel and tourism minister, and the commander of Western Command, but no action has so far been taken by the authorities.

      Similarly in Talokehtaw village in Rangoon division's Twante township, the village authority chairman and members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association and the Women's Affairs Federation have been profiting from aid, a villager told DVB.

      "In Twante's Talokehtaw village, when they're distributing rice or medicine, there have been incidents when they have failed to give out the aid or extorted money," the villager said.

      The villager said that goods had mainly been distributed to people who supported the authorities, while others had to pay to receive materials.

      "One day, they gave things out using a raffle ticket system, but each house had to pay 300 kyat to enter the raffle," the villager said.

      "Even if you won something you had to pay 1500 kyat [to receive it]," he said.

      "U Maung Thaung, U Aye Thaung and Daw Cho are the main people involved in that."

      Thai PM says West uses Myanmar's Suu Kyi as political tool
      Agence France Presse: Mon 25 Aug 2008

      Thailand's prime minister on Monday criticised Western nations for pinning their efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar on the release of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Samak Sundaravej met Ibrahim Gambari, the UN's top envoy to Myanmar, on Monday and told the diplomat that efforts to engage the military regime would be more productive if the Nobel peace prize winner was left off the agenda.

      "Europe uses Aung San Suu Kyi as a tool. If it's not related to Aung San Suu Kyi, you can have deeper discussions with Myanmar," he told reporters after the Bangkok meeting.

      "Aung San Suu Kyi is one thing. The (international community) should talk about how to bring democracy in Myanmar and focus on the constitution and the elections," he added.

      Samak said he would relay that message in a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York next month.

      Gambari left Myanmar on Saturday after failing to secure a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the last 19 years.

      Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party has branded the UN visit a "waste of time".

      Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide election victory in 1990, but was never allowed to govern.

      The regime instead unveiled its own "road map" to democracy and drafted a new constitution, which was approved in a much-criticised referendum in May.

      The junta says the charter will set the stage for elections in 2010, but the pro-democracy movement say the process simply enshrines the army's position in the nation it has ruled since 1962.

      Samak said that as the current chair of regional bloc the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Thailand would try to persuade the junta to allow observers at the promised election.

      Burmese protests not allowed in Singapore - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Mon 25 Aug 2008

      Myo Tun, one of three Burmese activists who took part in political activities in Singapore, says "Now I have no future." He is among three activists who were ordered to leave Singapore for demonstrating against the junta.

      On August 2, the Singapore government declined to renew visas permits or extensions for Myo Tun and two other Burmese activists for participating in public protests illegally.

      Public demonstrations are not allowed in Singapore without a police permit.

      In addition to Myo Tun, Soe Thiha and Hlaing Moe were also forced to leave the country. Myo Tun had resided in Singapore for nine years.

      The activists were part of a larger group of people who demonstrated against the Burmese junta in November 2007 during the Asean Summit meeting in Singapore.

      "I didn't break any of Singapore's criminal laws," Myo Tun said. "The Singapore government's treatment of us was unjustified."

      Myo Tun, 38, was jailed three times in Burma as a political prisoner following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. "It is apparent the Singapore authorities wanted to punish Burmese activists for working for democracy in Burma," he said.

      Burmese activists who are long-time residents of Singapore stepped up their pro-democracy activities following the September 2007 uprising.

      In April and May of this year, activists staged demonstrations in front of the Burmese embassy in Singapore against the new constitution.

      Hlaing Moe, a part-time student who is now living in Malaysia, said Burmese activists did not commit any crimes against Singaporean law.

      "The Singapore Immigration and Checkpoint Authorities didn't give any reason or explanation for rejecting the renewals or extensions of our visas and permits," he said.

      Kyaw Soe, a member of the Overseas Burmese Patriots (OBP), a group of about 50 Burmese activists, said nine other activists, all permanent residents of Singapore, who participated in public protests in November are not sure their future.

      "The Singapore government forced me to leave Singapore as quickly as possible," Kyaw Soe told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

      Meanwhile, The Strait Times newspaper reported on Saturday that Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs has warned Burmese political activists not to ignore repeated police orders to stop illegal public protests and anti-Burma activities.

      A ministry spokesperson said that the right of a foreign national to work or stay in Singapore is not a matter of entitlement or a right to be secured by political demand and public pressure, and the activists repeatedly ignored requests from government officials to meet to discuss the group's conduct, according to the newspaper.

      A spokesperson singled out the OBP which he said "has chosen to [conduct demonstrations] in open and in persistent defiance of our laws."

      No photo Op for Gambari - Marwaan Macan-Markar
      Inter Press Service: Mon 25 Aug 2008

      A United Nations-led effort to push political reform in military-ruled Burma plunged to a humiliating low on the weekend, raising questions about the effectiveness of the world body's special envoy to the country, Ibrahim Gambari.

      This shift was conveyed in the way Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained pro-democracy leader, treated Gambari during his six-day mission, which ended on Aug. 23. She refused to see him on at least two occasions. It was a silence of Gandhian proportions for the Nobel Peace laureate and, for the U.N. envoy, an unprecedented snub.

      Deprived, as a result, was the photo opportunity that Gambari had used after his three previous visits to Burma, over the past year, to give the impression that he was making headway with Suu Kyi in paving the road for political reform. The images of the Nigerian diplomat posing with the 63-year-old Suu Kyi, who has spent over 13 of the past 18 years under house arrest, suggested she had confidence in the U.N.

      But a scene outside the Rangoon home of Suu Kyi on Friday morning confirmed that Gambari's luck had run out. The leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party refused to open the gates of her rambling colonial mansion to two of Gambari's representatives who had come to invite her for a meeting, after she had turned down an invitation at a state guest house 48 hours before.

      "On Friday morning, two of Gambari aides were seen by neighbours outside the gate of Suu Kyi's residence, shouting Gambari's name. They left when nobody came out to meet them," reported 'The Irrawaddy', a current affairs magazine run by Burmese journalists in exile, quoting the Associated Press news agency.

      Gambari also left the South-east Asian nation without another possible photograph that may have suggested progress.

      It was the second time that Gambari had been denied an audience with the military leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe, who holds all the power in Burma.

      "Mr. Gambari had always exploited the photo opportunity he had with Daw Suu Kyi to give the impression that the political dialogue process that he was leading for the U.N. was working," says Zin Linn, a spokesman for the National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the democratically elected Burmese government forced into exile by the junta.

      "But this time there was no photo. She has sent a strong message to the Burmese people by refusing to meet Mr. Gambari," Zin Linn explained in an interview. "She wants the people to know that they cannot rely on the U.N. to bring results. They have to stand up on their own feet."

      Other Burma watchers are as scathing. "Unlike Gambari, Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to be a pawn in the junta's game," says Debbie Stothard of ALTSEAN, a regional body campaigning for human rights in Burma. "This confirms that she has lost confidence in Gambari. She has said so through the only peaceful form of resistance available to her."

      Gambari's failure should "be a wakeup call to the Security Council's members that they can no longer be conned by the junta," Stothard told IPS. "Most of the key decisions makers at the U.N. used Gambari's shuttle diplomacy as an excuse not to act on Burma. But nothing has moved, and now there is little left to hope for."

      The world body, however, had different hopes when it sent Gambari to Burma last year. That followed the international outrage at the junta's harsh crackdown of peaceful street demonstrations, led by tens of thousands of Buddhist monks, on the streets of Rangoon last September. It was Gambari's third visit as a special political envoy.

      The initial visit appeared to have made some headway, since Gambari met Than Shwe and Suu Kyi and succeeded in getting the junta to appoint a minister to be a liaison officer to conduct talks with Suu Kyi. That U.N. mission fed a view that the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta is officially known, was receptive to some change and genuine reform.

      But as 2007 drew to a close, the junta began to flex its political muscle and reneged on some of the pledges made to the U.N. envoy as part of the "roadmap" toward democracy. The junta's old language that it would stick to its seven-point plan to impose a "discipline-flourishing" democracy - rather than an open and inclusive one that was part of the reform agenda - gained ground.

      By mid-March, when Gambari returned to Burma for his third visit, he was given a hostile reception by the junta. The information minister, Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan, told the envoy that the SPDC would not accommodate a U.N. request to amend the country's draft constitution, enabling legitimate political participation by the opposition, including Suu Kyi.

      The SPDC stood firm in May, pushing ahead with a referendum fraught with abuse and vote rigging to approve the new constitution, a week after Burma was devastated by powerful Cyclone Nargis which killed tens of thousands. It was a key step in the junta's march toward achieving political legitimacy at the 2010 general elections.

      But for the Burmese opposition, the events in May only held out the possibility of further oppression in a country that has been under the grip of the military since March 1962. It has also crushed the hopes of opposition leaders who won seats at the 1990 parliamentary elections - in which the NLD won a thumping majority that the junta refused to recognise.

      "Mr. Gambari has let the junta get its way by supporting their agenda [rather] than offering a political roadmap of his own," says Zin Linn of the NCGUB. "We are not surprised by his failure."

      The lingering disaster in Burma
      Cutting Edge News Asia Desk: Mon 25 Aug 2008

      Reign of terror in Burma requires genuine U.N. action - not just official visits - Benedict Rogers

      On July 27, Nhkum Hkawn Din, a 15 year-old school girl in Kachin State, northern Burma, was brutally gang-raped and then murdered by Burma Army soldiers. Her skull was crushed beyond recognition, her eyes gouged out, her throat cut, she was stabbed in her right rib cage and stomach, and all her facial features were obliterated. Her body was found after a three-day search, naked and mutilated, 200 meters from an army checkpoint near Nam Sai village, Bamaw District. She was on her way to bring rice to her brother.

      Against this backdrop, UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has just completed another visit to Burma last week for more talks with the country's brutal, illegitimate military regime. But instead of taking the regime to task for human rights violations, he spent two days talking with the regime and its cronies, and just twenty minutes with the leaders of Burma's democracy movement, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Even though his previous visits have yielded no change in the junta's behavior, and Burma's human rights record continues to deteriorate, Gambari rejected calls from activists to drop the diplomatic niceties and photo-calls and set out unambiguously the requirements for change.

      Instead he spent time talking with groups such as the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), the major funder of the regime's brutal proxy militia group "Swan-Arr-Shin". This group led the regime's efforts in attacking and killing peaceful monks and democracy activists during and after last September's Saffron Revolution. According to the US Campaign for Burma, Gambari also met with the Union Solidarity and Development Association, a group comparable to Hitler's "Brown Shirts," that carried out an assassination attempt on Nobel Peace Prize recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in May 2003. During that attack dozens of her party members were killed. Also on his schedule was a meeting with the National Unity Party, the military-backed political party that lost severely to the NLD in 1990 elections - gaining only 10 out of 485 seats in parliament.

      Since 1990, there have been 37 visits by UN envoys to Burma – yet the crisis in the country has worsened in that time. More than 30 resolutions have been passed by the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly, and the Security Council has held past two presidential statements, with little effect. Vague, timeless requests to the junta to engage in dialogue with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have led nowhere. She has spent more than 12 years under house arrest, and her detention has been extended again. Earlier this year the regime said she deserved to be "flogged". The Generals are not people who are persuaded at cocktail parties.

      Gambari's efforts have clearly failed. Now, activists say, it is time for the UN to set out some specific benchmarks for progress for the junta, accompanied by deadlines. The first benchmark should be the release of political prisoners, who currently number over 2,000. Many are in extremely poor health due to bad prison conditions, mistreatment, torture and the denial of medical care. In the past 20 years, 137 have died in custody. This year alone, there have been 267 arbitrary arrests. The UN should insist that the Generals release political prisoners before Ban Ki-moon's visit to Burma in December.

      Further benchmarks should follow – such as an end to the military offensive against civilians in eastern Burma which has destroyed 3,200 villages and displaced more than a million people since 1996, and an end to the culture of impunity and the systematic and widespread use of rape as a weapon of war against ethnic nationalities in Burma. Over a thousand cases of rape have been documented in Burma's ethnic areas, and many more go unreported. The pattern is nationwide – Kachin, Chin, Shan, Karen, Karenni and Mon women's organisations have all documented cases. Last year four schoolgirls in Kachin state were gang-raped by Burma Army soldiers – and then arrested and charged with prostitution when they reported it. The UN Security Council has recognized rape and sexual violence as a crime against humanity in Resolution 1820 passed on 19 June this year – something Mr. Gambari should have reminded the Generals this week.

      Setting benchmarks, with realistic deadlines, would enable Mr Gambari – if he is kept in his post - to evaluate, incrementally, the progress – or lack thereof – that he is making. If the junta complies, so much the better. But if it continues with its policies of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, bold action should be taken.

      A universal arms embargo should be imposed through the Security Council – and maximum pressure placed on China and Russia not to use their veto. Major financial centres such as Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as the European Union, should impose carefully targeted financial sanctions against the Generals' personal assets and investments. And the international community should stop the diplomatic charade and call the Generals by name for what they are: criminals. The prosecution of Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir and the capture of Radovan Karadzic have set a precedent. Burma's Generals are guilty of every imaginable crime against humanity, and should be brought to account in the International Criminal Court or through another jurisdiction.

      The regime's credentials to represent Burma in the UN should also be challenged. The junta has no legitimacy, having overwhelmingly lost elections in 1990, manifestly rigged a referendum on a new constitution earlier this year, and proven itself criminally negligent in its handling of Cyclone Nargis. The junta ignored 41 warnings about the approaching cyclone, initially rejected international offers of aid and then restricted, obstructed and diverted relief. According to the UN, over a million cyclone victims have still not received help. At least 2.5 million are still homeless and over 140,000 dead. And now the UN says the regime has been stealing millions of dollars of aid money through its below-market fixed exchange rates. Burma is the world's second major opium producer and a leading producer of amphetamines – and the regime is knee-deep in drugs. The junta is unfit to govern, and there is a legitimate alternative in the form of those elected in 1990 now living as a government in exile.

      These may seem drastic measures, but the situation is dire. The regime has destroyed twice as many ethnic villages as in Darfur, civilians are shot at point-blank range, and forced labour, torture and the use of human minesweepers is widespread. Burma has the highest number of forcibly conscripted child soldiers in the world. It is widely believed that one reason the regime denied aid to some cyclone victims was because they were Karen. The regime has been conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Karen for decades, and it may have used a natural disaster to assist in its efforts.

      Last week, two Members of Parliament elected in 1990 were arrested for signing a letter to Ban Ki-moon. Several other signatories went into hiding. The letter refers to the Secretary-General's strong stand on Zimbabwe: "We applaud the courage of the Secretary-General and his expression of moral authority … We expect [the] Secretary-General [to] also stand for the rights of the people of Burma, who were unable to express their real aspirations in the referendum." It continues: "At the very least, we don't want the United Nations siding with the dictators, and forcing the people of Burma into an untenable position."

      The UN should not just call for the release of those arrested last week – Ban Ki-moon and Gambari should read their letter carefully. They should warn the Generals that if they do not change, calls for such action will grow louder, and pressure on Burma's protectors – China, India, Thailand and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) – will only grow stronger. The status quo is unsustainable, and Gambari's record is a failure. Both he and the junta need to change their act.

      Benedict Rogers is the author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People (Monarch, 2004), and has visited Burma and its borderlands more than 20 times. He also serves as Deputy Chairman of the UK Conservative Party's Human Rights Commission.

      UN ends its relief flights from Bangkok to Burma - Violet Cho
      Irrawaddy: Fri 22 Aug 2008

      The final UN relief supply flight for Burma took off from Bangkok's Don Mueang International Airport on Friday - the last of more than 230 operated by the UN's World Food Programme following Cyclone Nargis in May.

      Don Mueang became a major staging post in the massive international relief effort that followed the cyclone. "The air hub was critical for the provision of vital relief supplies to the people of Myanmar [Burma]," said Tony Banbury, WFP's Asia regional director.

      The WFP planes took nearly 4,000 tonnes of relief supplies to Burma, including building material, medicine, mosquito nets and water purification equipment. The 20,000 square meter warehouse at the airport used to store the supplies will also now be closed.

      The WFP said international humanitarian organizations will continue to supply food, medical supplies and relief equipment to the affected Irrawaddy delta areas. Nearly 28,000 tonnes of food have so far been delivered to more than 700,000 people in the region.

      Despite the continuing relief effort, refugees are still arriving in urban areas looking for food and work.

      "We do not have food in our villages," said a refugee from Dadeye Township, Irrawaddy Division. "We cannot resume our work, like fishing and farming, so we have to seek help from others."

      Ethnic opposition leaders not allowed to meet UN Envoy
      Independent Mon News Agency: Fri 22 Aug 2008

      Ethnic opposition party leaders have not been allowed to meet United Nations special envoy, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari who is in Burma on a five-day visit, though ethnic leaders demanded a meeting.

      Twelve ethnic opposition leaders from the UNLD sent a letter to the Burmese government authorities and the UN office in Rangoon for a meeting with the envoy.

      "We are not allowed to meet him. The junta only invited the envoy to meet ethnic political parties who would support its election," said Nai Ngwe Thein, Vice Chairman of Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF).

      "However we sent a letter to UN about our stand on the elections," he added.

      Twelve ethnic opposition parties, who won some seats in the 1990 elections demanded that the UN recognize the 1990 elections and not to recognize the May 10 referendum. They would boycott the coming election like the National League for Democracy (NLD).

      The Zomi National Congress, the Chin National League for Democracy, the Mon National Democratic Front, the Arakan League for Democracy, the Karen National Congress for Democracy, the Kachin State National Congress for Democracy, and the Kayah State all Nationalities League for Democracy and four other ethnic parties made the demand during UN Special Human Rights Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana's visit to Burma in the first week of August.

      However they were not allowed a meeting and were interrogated by the special branch of the police.

      The regime arranged for the UN envoy to meet representatives of Union Pa-O National Organization, National Unity Party and a Karen ceasefire group which support the government's election plans.

      The junta, however, arranged the UN envoy's meeting with the NLD for a short while but has not yet allowed a meeting with pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who is under the house arrest for more than 12 years.

      ASEAN legislators reject Burma counterparts' request to join meetings
      Kyodo News Service: Fri 22 Aug 2008

      Legislators from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Friday rejected a request by a group of Myanmar parliamentarians-in-exile to be allowed to take part in their annual meetings as members or at least as special observers.

      The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, which brings together legislators from the 10 ASEAN member countries, turned down the request made by the Myanmar parliamentarians' group known as the Members of Parliament Union on grounds that Myanmar is already represented in the assembly, albeit by the country's junta.

      "Our concern was a technical one - we cannot admit another body," said Abdullah Tarmugi, speaker of Singapore's Parliament, who is also the assembly's current chair.

      "But there was great empathy for the plight of the Myanmarese and we urged the Myanmar government to quicken the pace towards democratization and reconciliation," he said.

      In the absence of a functioning parliament, Myanmar's military government has special observer status in the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, which was established in 1971.

      Myanmar's delegation to the body's 29th General Assembly here was led by Deputy Attorney General Tun Shin, who Tarmugi said objected to the MPU's request for representation.

      A joint communique issued at the end of the meeting said the assembly's Executive Committee "decided that it will not be able to accede to the request at this juncture given that consensus could not be reached on the admission of the MPU."

      The MPU was formed in 1996 by parliamentarians who were elected in 1990 but are now in exile. The election then was won by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, by an overwhelming majority, but the junta refused to honour the results.

      MPU members, calling themselves the legitimate parliamentarians of Myanmar, want their fellow parliamentarians in ASEAN to allow their participation in the inter-parliamentary assembly as a sign of solidarity with the movement for democracy in Myanmar.

      More than 300 ASEAN parliamentarians attended the meeting, which also discussed issues such as food security and environmental sustainability.

      The next general assembly will be held in August 2009 in Thailand.

      ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

      In a five-day trip to Burma, UN Envoy spent only 20 minutes with representatives of Burma's democracy movement
      U.S. Campaign for Burma: Thu 21 Aug 2008

      Envoy Ignores Most Democracy Groups, Makes Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi Virtually Impossible

      Contact: Aung Din (202) 234-8022

      (Washington, DC and New York) According to informed sources inside Burma (also known as Myanmar); on Wednesday, August 20th the United Nations "seriously misrepresented" its mission to Burma led by the Secretary-General's Special Envoy Mr. Ibrahim Gambari.

      The misrepresentation offers a rare window into the reasons that the UN Secretary-General's special envoy to Burma has failed to make any progress despite a sizeable budget, the backing of the Secretary-General, and numerous trips to the country.

      According to a release issued by the UN press office in New York on August 20th, the special envoy Mr. Gambari, whose mission is to facilitate a meaningful and time-bound political dialogue between the Burmese military regime, the National League for Democracy, and the representatives of ethnic political parties, held "10 separate meetings with political parties and civil society groups, including members of the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy, student representatives and elected individuals from the 1990 elections."

      This statement is not only misleading but patently false - Gambari did not meet with "political parties and civil society groups," With the exception of the NLD. Instead, the UN Envoy met with nine Burmese groups, all of which are supporters and proxies of Burma's military regime.

      For example, Gambari met with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), the major funder of the regime's brutal militia "Swan-Arr-Shin". This group led the regime's efforts in attacking and killing peaceful monks and democracy activists during and after last September's Saffron Revolution. Gambari also met with the notorious Union Solidarity and Development Association, a group comparable to Hitler's "Brown Shirts," that carried out an assassination attempt on Nobel Peace Prize recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in May 2003. During that attack dozens of her party members were killed. Gambari also met with the National Unity Party, the military-backed political party that lost severely to the NLD in 1990 elections - gaining only 10 out of 485 seats in parliament. He also met with the 88 Generation Students and Youth, another pro-junta group, which had campaigned to support the regime's constitution. This group is not related to the major dissident group, the "88 Generation Students"; instead, it is a front group formed by the regime to counter the activities of real student activists.

      During the first four days of his five-day trip, Gambari appears to have spent most of his time meeting and dining with low level officials of the regime and pro-regime groups, with the exception of three hours of meetings with the UN Country Team, foreign diplomats and ICRC officials, while spending only 20 minutes with Central Executive Committee Members of the NLD on August 20, 2008, from 3:00 to 3:20 PM.

      "How can Gambari achieve anything when he allows the Burmese regime to dictate his schedule and spends only 20 minutes with pro-democracy groups?" said Jeremy Woodrum, co-founder of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. "Even in this rare 20-minute meeting, Gambari urged NLD leaders to participate in a sham 2010 election that guarantees all key government ministries to the military. The Burmese democracy movement is losing its trust in him and the United Nations," continued Woodrum. "Because Gambari has kowtowed to the regime on his schedule, he was even unable to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, because she had made a simple request that she meet with Gambari and her political party members at the same time."

      In contrast, Gambari did not meet with Burma's most influential opposition groups, including:

      1) All Burma Monks' Alliance (ABMA), a powerful organization of young Buddhist monks which led peaceful protests in September of last year. Many leaders of ABMA, including Ashin Gambira, are now in prison, sentenced to death.

      2) 88 Generation Student Group, prominent dissident group comprised of former student leaders who have spent 10 to 16 years in prison for their belief in democracy and human rights. Many leaders of the group, such as prominent figure Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Pyone Cho, Mya Aye and Htay Kywe, are in prison.

      3) The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), a major ethnic political party that won the second largest seats in the Parliament in the 1990 election. Its leaders Hkun Htun Oo and Sai Nyunt Lwin are in prison.

      4) The Committee Representing the People's Parliament, a group of parliamentarians that represent Burma's last democratically elected parliament.

      5) A key group of 92 members of parliament-elect, who have sent letters to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Security Council, among them, two, U Nyi Pu and Dr. Tin Min Htut, were recently arrested. Others important figures - U Pu Chin Sian Thang, U Thein Pe and Dr. Myint Naing - are available in Rangoon but have not been contacted by Gambari.##

      For More Information, Contact:

      U.S. Campaign for Burma
      1444 N St, NW Suite A2
      Washington, DC 20005
      (202) 234-8022
      (202) 234-8044 fax

      Junta disrobes, charges leading monk - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 21 Aug 2008

      The leader of the All Burma Monks' Alliance (ABMA), Ashin Gambira, has been disrobed by the authorities and charged with multiple criminal offenses in the aftermath of the 2007 uprising.

      His lawyer, Aung Thein, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that Gambira told him the authorities disrobed him after his arrest in November 2007 without following traditional procedures or consulting relevant monks' organizations.

      "Ashin Gambira said the authorities, under Buddhist rules, had no right to disrobe him or to charge him with criminal offenses," said Aung Thein.

      The ABMA was a key organization behind the 2007 nationwide uprising.

      Gambira appeared in court on Wednesday in Insein Prison with three other monks and five citizens, all of who face multiple charges under State Offence Act 505 A or B, Immigration Act 13/1, Illegal Organization Act 17/1, Electronic Act 303 A and Organization Act 6.

      His lawyer said the charges have to do with immigration laws, contacting banned organizations, illegal contacts with foreign organizations through the Internet and other offenses.

      The next court date for Gambari and his colleagues was set for August 27, said Aung Thein.

      Since 1962, many monks have been arrested and charged with criminal offenses, say people familiar with the military government.

      Burmese monks, often joined by students and laborers, have been leaders in many demonstrations protesting military rule. Monks were in the vanguard of the 2007 uprising in which hundreds of thousands of people across the country staged demonstrations in the largest mass uprising since 1988.

      The regime is also believed to have killed monks, hundreds of whom remain in prison or are still missing.

      The Burmese junta officially supports Theravada Buddhism and has banned other forms of Buddhism.

      "During British colonial rule, some monks were arrested for their political activities and imprisoned, but they were never disrobed by the colonizers," said Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, which has offices in Thailand.

      "Under the junta, many monks have been arrested and disrobed for their conscientious objection. on this basis alone, the junta's Buddhist faith is called into question," he said.

      Migrants flow out of Burma as economic woes deepen - Lawi Weng
      Irrawaddy: Thu 21 Aug 2008

      Burma's economic troubles have been a boon to human traffickers in recent months, keeping them busy at a time of year when wet conditions traditionally slow the flow of migrants across the border into Thailand.

      A source who is involved in smuggling migrant workers from Burma to Thailand estimated that about 300 Burmese migrants are illegally transported to Bangkok each day from border areas such as Mae Sot, Three Pagodas Pass, Mae Sai and Ranong.

      The most popular crossing point is Mae Sot, which is separated from the neighboring Burmese town of Myawaddy by the Moei River. Burmese routinely cross the river, either over the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge, which links the two towns, or on inflated inner tubes.

      According to the source, who is based in Mae Sot, about 150 people are smuggled from Mae Sot to Bangkok every day.

      Three Pagodas Pass, near the Thai town of Sangkhlaburi, is another major point of entry, with around 60 Burmese migrants leaving the area for Bangkok daily, according to local businessman Nai Lawi Mon.

      Some local observers suggested that the steady influx was due to the impact of Cyclone Nargis, which slammed into Burma's largely agricultural Irrawaddy delta on May 2-3, destroying cropland and leaving many farmers without any means of making a living.

      "Normally, very few people come to Thailand during the rainy season," said Nai Lawi Mon. "But this year we are seeing more and more people coming."

      Cyclone Nargis hit Burma at a time when inflation and unemployment were already at their highest levels in years, forcing a growing number of Burmese to flee to neighboring countries in search of work.

      It is estimated that there are more than a million Burmese migrants living and working in Thailand, of whom around 500,000 are registered with the Thai Ministry of Labor.

      The perils of their journey were highlighted in April, when 54 Burmese migrants suffocated to death while being transported in a container truck from Ranong, near the Burmese border town of Kawthaung, to the Thai resort island of Phuket.

      Although the tragedy prompted officials to step up efforts to stem the tide of illegal migrants into Thailand, Burmese continue to make the trip in a desperate bid to find jobs to support themselves and their families.

      Many end up in Mahachai, home to the highest concentration of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand. Located a short distance from Bangkok, Mahachai attracts thousands of Burmese with low-paying jobs in the fish processing industry that are shunned by most Thais.

      Mi Wot arrived in Mahachai a week ago and is still looking for work. She said she paid 460,000 kyat (US $383) for the trip. She made the journey, her first into Thailand, with ten other people, hiding in the back of a truck under a tarpaulin for three nights. The trip took so long, she explained, because of the numerous checkpoints along the way.

      While Thai efforts seem to be doing little to prevent illegal migration into the country, the Burmese authorities have been carrying out a crackdown on their side of the border that appears to be having some effect, at least for now.

      According to Maung Tu, a local businessman in Kawthaung, the human traffic into the neighboring Thai province of Ranong has slowed perceptibly in recent weeks.

      Normally, several hundred people cross into Thailand each day; at the moment, the flow has been reduced to a trickle of around 30-50 people a day, according to sources in the area. Similar numbers have been reported in Mae Sai, near the Burmese town of Tachilek.

      Meanwhile, the cost of smuggling migrants from Mae Sot to Bangkok has increased by about 2,000 Baht ($58) recently. It now costs 14,000 Baht ($412) make the trip to the Thai capital, sources said.

      Resentment simmers in Burma a year after unabated
      Mizzima News: Wed 20 Aug 2008

      The unabated crackdown by the military junta notwithstanding, resentment against the regime is not likely to diminish, activists and opposition forces inside Burma said on Tuesday.

      Members of Burma's main opposition party – the National League for Democracy - students and activists said on the first anniversary of the Saffron Revolution against the sudden fuel price hike and soaring essential commodity prices, that resentment is ever increasing despite the junta's brutal crackdown.

      "The discontent and resentment among people simmers. People are dissatisfied with the current situation," Nyan Win, spokesman of the NLD said.

      Aung Moe Hein, an activist operating secretly in Rangoon, said, "The resentment against oppression by the junta boils in the heart and soul of each person. We are determined to continue our struggle till victory is achieved."

      Nyan Win said, the violent crackdown by the ruling junta on protesters cannot resolve the current economic crisis. It is akin to wrong treatment for a severely ill patient.

      "This treatment cannot cure the root cause of the disease. They should not arrest individuals. They should strive for the betterment and development of the economy to stem unrests," he said.

      On August 19, 2007, several 88 Generation Students including Min Ko Naing led a peaceful protest march in solidarity with poor people who were hardest hit by the sudden fuel price hike that caused prices of basic commodities to escalate.

      However, the regime deploying its puppet civilian organizations – the Union Solidarity and Development Association and Swan Arrshin – cracked down on sporadic protests that started since August 19, 2007.

      The regime reacted swiftly crushing protests by arresting 13 of the key 88 generation student leaders including Min Ko Naing during a midnight raid on August 21.

      Despite the junta's attempt to put down the protests, the discontent of the people eventually snowballed when the peaceful protests were joined by Buddhist monks. It inflamed further when Burmese Army troops harshly cracked down on protesting monks in the central Burmese town of Pakokku.

      This led to the monks calling for a nation-wide boycott of the ruling junta and ignited what was to be known later as the 'Saffron Revolution'.

      But the junta, which has a history of brutality in dealing with public protests, violently cracked down on protesting monks and civilians, by opening fire on the marching crowds on September 26, 2007.

      While the United Nations has gone on record as saying that the junta killed at least 30 people, opposition parties and observers said more than 200 were killed while over 6,000 people were detained.

      Activists said, despite a year having gone by, the junta continues to arrest activists and protesters and keeps a close watch on activists and politicians.

      "I can see a lot of people around my house keeping watch over my movement. There are about three or four people keeping vigil round the clock near my house including at bus stops," a woman member of the 88 Generation Students said.

      A NLD Youth member who took part in the 1988 popular uprising and 2007 September protests told Mizzima that they live under constant fear and anxiety over their safety. He said that they could be arrested by the junta any time, anywhere.

      "Whenever I wake up, I wonder whether I will still see my friend whom I talked to yesterday or whether he will be arrested. I also fear whether it will be my friends or me who will be arrested first. I am in constant fear wondering when they will come and arrest me," he said.

      Despite the junta's unabated efforts to arrest and search for activists, those including NLD youth members and 88 Generation Students said the crackdown will not break their spirit and will not stop their activities. They would continue their struggle for change.

      "We are making sacrifices for the Burmese people. We will continue our struggle to achieve the goal of democracy and restoration of human rights. This is our task. To arrest us is their task," Aung Moe Hein said.

      "We shall win one day. I firmly hope and believe that the people standing and fighting for truth and justice shall someday prevail," he added.

      Children die in Chin state famine – Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Wed 20 Aug 2008

      More than 30 children have died in a famine in Chin state, western Burma, according to the Chin National Council, an exile rights group.

      The famine was caused by a plague of rats, which ate rice stocks in many of the state's villages.

      Another Chin group, the Chin Human Rights Organization, said the famine had hit about 20 percent of the state's population, or at least 100,000 people.

      "They have no food," said Lian H Sakhong, a leader of the Chin Humanitarian and Relief Committee. "Unless we provide sufficient relief soon, the situation will become worse."

      He pleaded with donors to contact the Chin Humanitarian and Relief Committee so that relief can be rushed to the stricken areas.

      The famine occurs about every 50 years when the flowering of a native species of bamboo gives rise to an explosion in the rat population. The International Rice Research Institute has warned of "widespread food shortages" because of the crisis.

      Voters and officials punished for 'No' votes
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 19 Aug 2008

      Local officials in charge of areas that voted No in the constitutional referendum in May have been dismissed, while No voters have also faced retaliation from the authorities, local residents told DVB.

      Officials in charges of some wards and villages in Katha, Sagaing division, where residents voted overwhelmingly against the military regime's proposed constitution, have been removed from their posts in the last month, according to local residents.

      In Yenangyaung in Magwe Division, the authorities cut off the electricity supply and street lights in wards whose residents had voted against the constitution, while wards inhabited by the authorities and the pro-junta Union and Solidarity and Development Association members have been given 24-hour electricity.

      Authorities have also been collecting lists of those who voted No to the referendum in other states and divisions.

      The Burmese military government enacted its new constitution after referendums on 10 and 24 May which were marred by reports of intimidation, corruption and vote-rigging.

      The regime claimed the constitution was approved by over 92 percent of voters, but is has been dismissed as a "sham" by pro-democracy groups and international commentators.

      Myanmar natural gas sales up 25 percent
      Associated Press: Tue 19 Aug 2008

      Myanmar's natural gas sales soared nearly 25 percent to US$2.5 billion in the financial year through March, official statistics seen Tuesday said.

      That's up from US$2.03 billion, the data from the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development showed.

      The ministry said natural gas sales constituted 40 percent of Myanmar's total commodities export revenue of US$6.4 billion in 2007-2008, with neighboring Thailand being the primary market.

      Myanmar has exported natural gas since 1998 from its two major offshore gas fields in the Gulf of Martaban. Thailand uses the natural gas mainly to produce electricity.

      Myanmar exported 515,689 million cubic feet (14,604 million cubic meters) of natural gas in 2007-2008 compared to 460,087 million cubic feet (13,029 cubic meters) the previous year.

      Myanmar, ruled by the military government in 1988, faces economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union which hope to pressure the regime into improving its poor human rights record and hand over power to a democratically elected government.

      Junta benefits from regional economic tug-of-war
      Mizzima News: Tue 19 Aug 2008

      India and ASEAN have announced that talks on services and investment are set to commence next month ahead of a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) to be signed later this year, according to Indian officials.

      This latest step in deepening regional economic integration, with an Indian-ASEAN FTA hopefully to be finalized this December at ASEAN's Bangkok summit, is further evidence of an ever expanding matrix of competing regional economic interests, of which Burma finds itself at the heart of.

      ASEAN, India and China are all working toward an expanded and interconnected web of economic relations – bilateral as well as multilateral – to be set in place by the first half of the next decade.

      The agreement to undertake talks on services and investment between India and ASEAN comes two months after the signing of four additional economic pacts between the two entities, including the Bilateral Investment Promotion Agreement, and indicates India has little desire to stray from its Look East Policy.

      China, India's regional hegemonic neighbor and rival, had previously reached an understanding with ASEAN over the services industry in January of 2007. China and ASEAN hope to have the world's largest FTA in working order by 2010 – though ASEAN's less developed countries, including Burma, are not slated to join till two years later.

      While India and China continue to compete for favoritism with ASEAN as a bloc, they are also vying for supremacy in the arena of bilateral relations with members of the ten nation bloc.

      Both India an

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