[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 2/9/08
- Special Statement No. 15/08/ 08
- Aung San Suu Kyi continues to refuse food supplies
- Soldiers still watch Suu Kyi
- NLD criticizes Gambari
- It's a process perhaps, but a failed one
- Burma's activists still in prison
- Junta authorities force carpenters to build high school
- Campaigners hail, ARIG's decision to pull out of Burma
- U.N. loves Burma's generals
- U.N. mission in Burma not accomplished
- Helping Burma's nonviolent struggle
- More deaths reported from famine in Chin State
- Dialogue Suu Kyi's real motive
- The UN at dead-end in Myanmar
- Suu Kyi - A living legend
Special Statement No. 15/08/ 08
National League for Democracy: Fri 29 Aug 2008
1. From 1994 to 2007, the United Nations General Assembly successively adopted resolutions on Burma, that call [for the Burmese military regime] to;
- Implement the result of the 1990 elections,
- Establish a democratic country, and
- Commence the meaningful political dialogue (with democratic opposition parties).
On 11 October 2007, the United Nations Security Council also issued a Presidential Statement on the situation in Burma, in which the Security Council called (for the Burmese military government) to;
- Release all political prisoners and detainees, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, immediately and unconditionally, and
- Commence meaningful political dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, political parties and ethnic leaders, immediately.
We found no tangible progress from the recent visit of Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, on 18-23 August, which was the sixth of its kind, to facilitate the UNGA resolutions and UNSC Presidential Statement on Burma.
2. During the visit, Mr. Gambari was not able to meet with senior officials of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) [official name of the Burmese military regime], who are the real decision makers. He also couldn't meet and discuss the situation with ethnic political parties that won significant seats in the 1990 elections, ethnic leaders, as well as leaders of democracy forces. He only followed the arrangements of the SPDC and spent most of the time, which is precious and irreplaceable, without any benefit.
3. When the leaders of the NLD met Mr. Gambari (on 20 August), NLD leaders explained that the 1990 multi-party election results, which represented the decision and free will of the voters, should not be ignored, and that without honoring the free will of the people of Burma demonstrated in the 1990 election, establishing a democratic country could not be possible, and asked him how would he considered the 1990 election result. Mr. Gambari didn't answer that question.
4. NLD leaders also explained to him that the 2008 constitution, which was approved by the SPDC, is actually written by the SPDC without having the right to do so, that the referendum held in May 2008 was also not a process in which the people could express their real desire, but a step to approve the constitution forcibly by use of fraud, threats and vote-rigging, and that the NLD has already declared clearly that it would not recognize the referendum and the constitution. Therefore, NLD leaders asked Mr. Gambari not to consider and speak for the upcoming election.
5. Despite our concerns, when he met with the Spokes Authoritative Team of the SPDC, Mr. Gambari advised that "the SPDC should accept expertise from the United Nations in the general election to be held in 2010 in order to win the trust of the international community", and "UN would like to coordinate matters for rendering expertise after the election commission has been formed." Hence, general dissatisfactions (on his performance) among the Burmese people are now growing.
6. The NLD Chairman told Mr. Gambari that for him to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is within the control of the SPDC, [as she is a detainee of the regime]. However, Mr. Gambari requested the NLD to find a way for him to meet with her. Then, NLD Chairman and Secretary told him to try to have a meeting between the NLD leaders and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with the impression that there may be a good result if Mr. Gambari meets Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
7. Mr. Gambari came to Burma six times with his diplomatic mission. However, we found no development whatsoever as of today such as;
- Release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,
- Realizing of meaningful political dialogue between the SPDC, and democracy forces including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and
- Democratization in Burma.
As per decision made by the Central Executive Committee meeting on 28 August 2008,
Central Executive Committee
National League for Democracy
No. 97B West Shwegondaing Street
Bahan Township, Rangoon
Aung San Suu Kyi continues to refuse food supplies - Zarni
Mizzima News: Fri 29 Aug 2008
Burma's detained opposition leader and democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi continues to refuse food deliveries, even after nearly two weeks of receiving her last supply on August 15, her party leaders said.
"As far as we know, she has not yet accepted any food supplies," Nyan Win, spokesperson of her party - the National League for Democracy - told Mizzima on Friday.
However, it is still not clear why she is refusing food supplies.
"Everything is still unclear, and we are still trying to get confirmation about her situation and why she is refusing supplies," Nyan Win added.
But meanwhile, the government has refuted the information that Suu Kyi is refusing to accept food supplies saying it is rumour. Besides, the military junta also said Suu Kyi has not submitted any demands.
But news that Suu Kyi is fasting is spreading and causing great concern both at domestic and international levels.
Aye Thar Aung, an ethnic political leader and secretary of the Committee Representing the Peoples Parliament, formed with elected members of parliament in Burma's 1990 election, said, "It is hard to speculate as even her party members are not able to communicate with her. But I think it could be that she is demanding her rights."
Similarly, Nyo Ohn Myint, foreign affairs in-charge of the NLD in exile said, "I think her main demand will be about politics but it could also include a meeting with her lawyer."
The US Department of State on Thursday said it is concerned over the information that she is refusing to take food deliveries.
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman of the Department of State, told reporters in Washington, "We're obviously concerned. We've seen reports that she is not taking food deliveries."
But Wood said he was unable to confirm the information as Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest.
"But it's very hard for us to be able to confirm the information, but obviously her situation is an ongoing concern to us," Wood added.
Meanwhile, a political activist in Rangoon said Suu Kyi has demanded that the government allow a meeting with her lawyer and her family doctor. Earlier this month, she was allowed to meet her lawyer twice and her family doctor once.
"It is true that she is demanding another meeting with her lawyer, though we are not sure whether she will be allowed it," Nyan Win said.
Soldiers still watch Suu Kyi - Min Lwin
Irrawaddy: Fri 29 Aug 2008
Although the Burmese generals don't want military personnel to show interest in domestic politics, detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's surprise snub of the UN special envoy last week has become a popular talking point among soldiers and officers in Burma, according to several military sources.
"We are interested to know why Suu Kyi did not meet Gambari," said an officer based in Naypyidaw military region command who declined to be identified for security reasons.
"We were surprised that the officials were so impolite - shouting with a loudspeaker outside the gate of Aung San Suu Kyi's residence," he said, referring to an incident last week when two of Gambari's aides, accompanied by Burmese officials, stood outside her house at Inya Lake in Rangoon and called in vain for her to come out and greet the UN envoy.
The officer told The Irrawaddy that most soldiers believe that the political situation in Burma cannot improve without Suu Kyi's involvement and that even officers admire her as the daughter of independence hero Gen Aung San, who was the founding father of the Burmese armed forces.
The officer said that many Burmese soldiers pay attention to the news, either from state-run media or through foreign-based radio stations. However, senior generals don't usually allow military personnel to listen to or watch Suu Kyi's political speeches.
"During the 1990 election, we recorded Suu Kyi's speeches and secretly listened to them," said a retired army captain.
In the 1990 general election, polls showed that soldiers and their family members throughout Burma voted for her party, the National League for Democracy, despite its anti-military stance.
Nowadays, most soldiers are still suffering from economic hardships: the government has suspended rations and stipends to family members of soldiers and officers.
"Like many people, we also are facing hard times," said the 24-year-old son of a warrant officer in the 77tth Light Infantry Division. "Military personnel and their families also want political and social changes," he added.
Meanwhile, VCDs of a well-known comedy troupe, Thee Lay Thee & Say Young Sone A-Nyeint, are widely available in military barracks and among soldiers' family members. The VCDs of the troupe's political satire performances both inside Burma and in exile are very popular among troops.
A sergeant in his early 30s from Rangoon regional military command said that soldiers made copies of the comedy performances and distributed them among themselves, despite a ban on Thee Lay Thee & Say Young Sone A-Nyeint VCDs.
In November 2007, the comedians performed at Rangoon's Kandawgyi Lake drawing a large audience, including military officials, intelligence officers and police, all of whom seemed to enjoy the show.
Jokes about the junta, Burma's increasing economic hardships and UN envoy Gambari's failed mission were generally well received by audiences, the officers said.
NLD criticizes Gambari - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Fri 29 Aug 2008
Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has slammed UN Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari's mission to Burma as a failure.
In a public statement released on Friday, the NLD said that although Gambari came to Burma representing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the mission had been unsuccessful.
The statement said that, during his most recent trip, the UN envoy met mostly with people who were chosen by the ruling junta.
"Mr Gambari has made six visits to Burma, but nothing has happened. We consider it a waste of time," NLD spokesman Win Naing told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
Gambari visited Burma from August 18-23 but failed to meet with leaders of the junta or Aung San Suu Kyi, who repeatedly canceled meetings with him.
Observers have wondered aloud whether Suu Kyi has grown frustrated by the inaction of the world body.
The NLD statement also said that during previous meetings between the NLD and Gambari, the opposition party had made clear that unless the 1990 election results were honored, it could not accept another election in 2010 as proposed by the military junta.
Despite the NLD's stand, the special envoy repeatedly told its representatives to endorse the 2010 election, promising that the UN would ensure the election was "free and fair," the NLD statement said.
In the general election of 1990, the NLD, led by Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, won more than 60 percent of popular votes and as much as 80 percent of the seats.
Also on Friday, state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported that the UN, Asean, the international community and regional organizations had expressed their support for the junta's "seven-step roadmap" and had urged the Burmese regime to hold free and fair elections.
Meanwhile, NLD spokesman Nyan Win told The Irrawaddy that Suu Kyi's lawyer, Kyi Win, had repeatedly attempted to meet with Suu Kyi in recent days, but the Burmese authorities had denied the lawyer's request.
It's a process perhaps, but a failed one - Aung Zaw
Irrawaddy: Fri 29 Aug 2008
UN special envoys to Burma have come and gone over the past 20 years, each time leaving the country empty-handed.
There have been eight of them, starting with Japanese diplomat Sadako Ogata, who was appointed in 1990 as an independent expert of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and ending now with the secretary-general's personal envoy Ibrahim Gambari.
At least one, the Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, quit in sheer frustration over the problems of dealing with an uncooperative and obstructionist regime. Now there are calls for Gambari to give up his job after the total failure of his latest mission to Burma.
To be fair, the UN has done its best. But, as in life itself, sometimes "best" is not enough.
The UN envoys all met Burma's political stakeholders - the regime's decision makers and their supporters; opposition members and respected ethnic leaders. But to no avail.
Burma remains a diplomatic graveyard, which now maybe awaits its latest incumbent - Gambari.
Despite UN attempts to put a gloss on Gambari's latest mission, the plain fact is that it was a complete waste of time and energy - not to mention the cost of such failed ventures that has accrued over the past 20 years.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, denied the mission had failed. Gambari's mission to Burma was a "process, not an event," she said.
"Process" was the description used by Gambari in an interview with The Irrawaddy early this year.
There's no denying that it is a process. But a process also demands progress and a discernable forward movement that inspires confidence and trust.
Gambari's mission can, in no way, be described in those terms. It's a failed process, which could lead to disaster.
Some observers found comfort in Gambari's meetings with Prime Minister Thein Sein, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
But the Burmese people and the international community want to hear honest statements from the UN and Gambari, instead of attempts to defend a failed mission. Gambari and Ban Ki-moon need urgently to take action on Burma's political deadlock.
Interestingly, detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared to refuse a meeting with Gambari during his latest visit to Rangoon, the first time she has snubbed him. The reason isn't known and observers are asking themselves whether the snub was a sign of frustration or a political maneuver.
There was even a suggestion that Suu Kyi could be on a hunger strike after her National League for Democracy colleagues said she had instructed them to stop deliveries of food and supplies to her home. This is a situation that must be monitored closely.
Suu Kyi is a prisoner of the regime, which has detained her in her own home for 13 of the past 19 years. Her detention was recently extended - unlawfully, according to her lawyer.
If the regime follows the letter of the law, it should lift restrictions on Suu Kyi's movements if it sanctions a meeting with Gambari or whomever else at a government location, for a photo op or whatever other reason.
Gambari could ask for a meeting at Suu Kyi's house, as Raszali Ismail accomplished. The meeting would then be in the nature of a prison visit, as undertaken by UN human rights investigators in Burma. A free and frank discussion could then be held with Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi's apparent refusal to meet Gambari could, therefore, be the expression of a wish to meet him and other envoys, as well as opposition colleagues and family members, at her home.
Diplomats and visiting UN officials were allowed access to her home during previous periods of detention. US Congressman Bill Richardson paid a personal visit in 1993, for instance.
Gambari's predecessor, Razali Ismail, always managed to meet Suu Kyi, other opposition politicians and ethnic representatives, after carefully doing his homework.
Unlike Gambari, Razali did not follow the regime's schedule faithfully. Diplomats and Burma watchers say that whatever advice and guidelines they provided to Gambari have rarely been followed.
During his last visit, Gambari blundered by meeting several pro-regime political groups and leaving little time for the NLD and ethnic leaders, creating increased friction among the Burmese and distrust toward his mission.
The blunder has prompted observers within and outside Burma to charge that the Nigerian diplomat doesn't do his homework and fails even to understand the basics of how to deal with Burma's political complexity. Or were his actions deliberate?
In previous visits, Gambari was virtually a prisoner of the regime, which kept him isolated in Naypyidaw, subject to an official itinerary that even included attendance at a rally in Shan State denouncing last September's pro-democracy uprising.
Rumors circulated for months about the true forces behind Gambari's mission and the source of the ill advice he was receiving. Perhaps they warrant some investigative reporting that could result in an interesting expose.
Some dissidents and opposition members inside Burma are beginning to suspect that the UN and Gambari are pushing for the 2010 election with or without the participation of relevant political parties, including Suu Kyi's NLD.
That won't win the UN envoy the regime's trust and confidence, however. The regime doesn't listen to Gambari.
Early this year, after visiting China and meeting Chinese foreign ministry officials, Gambari said that the Burmese government's proposal for a May referendum on a constitution written under military guidance and for general elections in 2010 was a significant step forward.
"This is a significant step as it marks the first time that we have an established time frame for the implementation of its political roadmap," Gambari said.
He then called for the creation of "an atmosphere conducive to credible elections," adding that this must include the release of political prisoners and relaxation of restrictions on Suu Kyi. The opposite has happened, however.
The regime forced the people to vote in the May referendum and tightened its reign of terror. There has been no relaxation of restrictions on Suu Kyi and the prisons admitted a new flow of political prisoners, including monks.
In my meeting with Gambari in Quebec, Canada, early this year, I discovered that he is sensitive to criticism and negative media coverage about his mission to Burma.
I also found out that he was quite clever at defending his mission, winning praise from some Canadian foreign ministry officials.
Despite these shows of diplomatic support for Gambari's efforts, there's no denying that his mission has lost steam and a new start is required.
The Burmese opposition and pro-democracy forces have virtually no more confidence in Gambari and the good offices of the UN, which have been snubbed and exploited at will by the regime.
Things have reached such a pass in Burma, in fact, that the name of the UN is in danger of falling into nearly as much disrepute as Than Shwe's.
Burma's activists still in prison
VOA news: Fri 29 Aug 2008
More than a year after pro-democracy demonstrations were violently crushed by the Burmese military junta, protest organizers remain in prison. Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, among others, are being detained under harsh conditions for what began as a peaceful protest against skyrocketing fuel prices.
The August arrests of the student leaders inspired tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and ordinary Burmese citizens to take to the streets in cities across Burma calling for freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights in Burma. Although the demonstrations remained peaceful, the regime reacted with brutality, killing many and arresting hundreds more.
According to the human rights group Amnesty International, there are still more than two-thousand political prisoners in Burma. And there seems to be no end to the arrests. Most recently, Burmese police took Myint Aye into custody after searching his home. He is a member and founder of the group Human Rights Defenders and Promoters. Myint Aye has been arrested and imprisoned at least five previous times since 1988. In April, he was attacked on the street by two unidentified men. The assault was one of several perpetrated against opponents of the new constitution backed by the Burmese regime.
Meanwhile, Burma's most famous political prisoner and pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest. Her latest period of confinement dates from May 2003. Aung San Suu Kyi has spent more than thirteen years of the last nineteen years under house arrest.
The United States renews its call for the Burmese regime to release all political prisoners and end its attempts to intimidate and silence those who seek the promotion of democracy and human rights in Burma. The U.S. also continues to urge the military junta to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Burma's democratic and ethnic minority leaders on a credible transition to democracy. And finally, the government should lift restrictions on the operations of all humanitarian organizations in Burma.
Junta authorities force carpenters to build high school
Independent Mon News Agency: Thu 28 Aug 2008
The Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) is forcing carpenters to build a high school in Sub Khawza Township southern Mon State, Burma.
U Kyaw Moe, chairman of TPDC in Khawza divided carpenters into three groups to build the high school in rotation. Each group has about 7 to 8 people. Nai Plaing, Nai San Win, and Nai Ong are heading the carpenters.
"We have to build the high school on orders from the TPDC. The authorities have not paid the cost of construction. We have to bring the materials and food," a carpenter said.
The carpenter said that each group was forcibly sent to build the school and have to be at the construction site twice a week. So far they have made the windows and the ceiling of the school.
Even though they have to work in rotation to build the school, U Kyaw Moe ordered all the groups to come to the local hospital between August 14 and 16 to decorate the ceiling before high ranking officials visit Khawza.
The authorities started building the high school in 2004 in Khawza. About 18 villages in Khawza Sub Township have only this high school and a middle school. Khawza village upgraded a Sub-Township in 2003.
After the authorities started building the school, they persuaded students to join from the Mon National School controlled by the New Mon State Party, the ethnic armed ceasefire group which signed a pact with the Burmese regime in 1995.
Campaigners hail, ARIG's decision to pull out of Burma - Solomon
Mizzima News: Thu 28 Aug 2008
Arab Insurance group (ARIG) has announced pulling out of Burma's insurance market after campaigners pointed out that its presence in the market helps the military rulers of the country profit, Burma Campaign UK said.
After a month of releasing a report titled "Insuring Repression" by the BCUK which revealed how international insurance companies finance Burma's military junta, ARIG, is the second international insurance company to withdraw from the Burmese market.
"It is welcome news, we hope that other companies will pull out of Burma soon," Johnny Chatterton, author of the report and Campaigns Officer of BCUK told Mizzima over telephone.
ARIG is a Bahrain based company dealing in insurance, reinsurance and other services. Its decision to withdraw comes a week after another international insurance company, XL limited, announced its withdrawal from Burma.
BCUK said, ARIG has informed the group that "After a review of the current situation it has taken a corporate decision to refrain from renewing any of the isolated risks previously written in Myanmar [Burma]."
But no officials of the ARIG Company were available for comment on Thursday.
According to the BCUK, despite ARIG and XL's withdrawal, 14 more international insurance companies are still in the market in Burma helping finance billions of dollars to the military rulers of the country.
Among them are Lloyd's of London, Hannover Re, Catlin, Atrium Underwriting, Tokio Marine, Sompo Japan, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, QBE, ACE, Labuan Re, OCBC Bank, Pana Harrison, Target Insurance Broker and AI Wasl.
BCUK has begun a campaign that urges insurance companies worldwide to stop insuring in the Burmese market and the group in its report, has divided the companies into three categories - the dirty list, shame list and clean list.
"The time has come for governments to take action and shut down the regime's financial lifeline," Chatterton said is a statement released on Wednesday.
"Today we reiterate our call to the UK government to take the lead and push for EU wide targeted financial sanctions that stop insurance companies helping finance the military junta," he added.
According to a July 29 report released by BCUK's, 16 companies highlighted as their members or subsidiaries sell insurance to companies in Burma, while 203 companies are on the shame list, 218 are on the clean list.
Chatterton said his group is pushing the British government to pressure the European Union to implement financial sanctions that will not allow insurance companies to operate in Burma.
"There could be other insurance companies that we don't know of which is why we are pushing for EU sanctions because Europe is an important centre for the insurance industry," said Chatterton.
Lloyd's of London, which has three of its market members - Catlin, Atrium and Tokio Marine - cited the lack of sanctions as the chief defence for the actions of their members who continue to be involved in Burma.
Insurance companies, the BCUK said, are funding millions of dollars to the Burmese junta which use it to buy more guns and weapons and strengthen its stranglehold on power to further oppress its own citizens.
U.N. loves Burma's generals
The Wall Street Journal: Thu 28 Aug 2008
The United Nations has long been an enabler of Burma's tyrannical leaders. Last week it reached a new low.
Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N.'s special envoy to Burma, spent six days in the country, meeting almost exclusively with government ministers and government-backed "political parties" to discuss the junta's "road map to democracy," under which "elections" will be held in 2010. As during prior trips, the junta rejected Mr. Gambari's offer of U.N. election monitors for 2010.
The fact that Mr. Gambari is focusing on the next sham election instead of the current lack of political freedoms is a diplomatic victory for the generals. The ruling junta has already ignored international criticism for its crackdown on peaceful demonstrators last year and its mishandling of Cyclone Nargis, which killed 85,000 in May.
Things have gotten so bad that Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, is reportedly on a hunger strike. She refused to meet Mr. Gambari last week, despite his efforts to see her. Several NLD members have been quoted as saying the snub was intended to send a message about what she thinks of the U.N. mission. Mr. Gambari met twice with other members of the NLD's central committee.
Since Mr. Gambari began his job two years ago, he has visited Burma six times. The last three times, top general Than Shwe has refused to meet him. Why bother? With no real resolve at the U.N. or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to bring about political change in Burma, Mr. Gambari's visits are meaningless. The generals recognize that. It's time the U.N. did, too.
U.N. mission in Burma not accomplished - Zin Linn
United Press International: Thu 28 Aug 2008
U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari left Burma on Aug. 23 after failing to secure meetings with senior military leaders or detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Optimism has been waning for the start of talks between the lady and the generals after the junta forced the adoption of a new Constitution through a referendum in May.
The international community hoped that Gambari would succeed in persuading the military to open a genuine political dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic groups to create a national reconciliation process leading to a genuine democracy.
Contrary to this, Gambari failed to have meetings with the senior general or the detained democracy leader. The Nobel laureate, Suu Kyi, did not attend a planned meeting with the U.N. special envoy on Aug. 20. It seems that she is taking a stand against the junta's setup of the meeting.
According to some analysts, the lady did not show up because she did not want to be exploited by Gambari so he could overstate that his mission is going well. It is Gambari's fourth trip to the military-ruled country since a deadly crackdown on anti-government demonstrators led by Buddhist monks last September sparked a large-scale challenge. Gambari and the Nobel laureate of Burma were due to meet as part of the United Nation's shuttle diplomacy to propel political reform in Burma.
Since 1962, Burma has been ruled by a military regime that has earned itself one of the world's worst human rights records after brutal assaults against a pro-democracy movement in 1988, during the Depayin incident on May 30, 2003, and against the Saffron Revolution in September 2007, as well as many other sporadic crackdowns. The junta has arrested over 2,000 political dissidents including Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been confined to her residence for most of the last 19 years.
The regime held a unilateral referendum at gunpoint on May 10 and 24 of this year and approved a new pro-military Constitution, which will legalize military rule in the 2010 elections. There is no doubt that the process will not be free and fair, similar to the recent gunpoint referendum. The socioeconomic atmosphere has been deteriorating due to repeated mismanagement by the junta.
The ruling Burmese junta has also committed a series of mistakes in dealing with political issues. It will face a desolate future if it continues to reject the national reconciliation process being urged by the key opposition groups of the National League for Democracy and the United Nationalities Alliance.
The NLD and UNA point out that the recent ratification of the Constitution is invalid since it was conducted against the will of the people and amid a lack of international norms. The junta also shows no respect toward the Presidential Statement of the U.N. Security Council issued in October 2007 and neglects the consecutive resolutions laid down by the U.N. General Assembly.
It appears that the junta has no plan to release its 2,000-plus political prisoners and undertake a tripartite dialogue among the junta, the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and representatives of ethnic nationalities, as has been called for by consecutive General Assemblies.
Analysts say the new Constitution and the junta's unyielding adherence to its seven-step roadmap toward the 2010 elections make Gambari's mission almost nonsensical.
Is Ibrahim Gambari the right person to act as a special envoy between detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Than Shwe, the head of Burma's military junta? Many pro-democracy advocates will give the same answer, "No, he's disqualified."
This is because Gambari cannot achieve anything since he complies with the Burmese regime's to-do list and spends most of his time with pro-junta groups or the junta's puppets. He should demand to meet the representatives of the group of 92 members of the Parliament-elect, who have sent letters to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council.
And he should, at least, urge the junta to release two members of this group, U Nyi Pu and Tin Min Htut, who were arrested on Aug. 12. Three representatives of this group, U Pu Chin Sian Thang, U Thein Pe, and Myint Naing, are accessible in Rangoon, but the U.N. envoy did not try to contact them.
Instead, Gambari met with the disreputable Union Solidarity and Development Association - a gang similar to Hitler's "Brown Shirts" - which carried out an assassination attempt on Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on May 30, 2003, and, in that premeditated attack, slaughtered scores of her supporters.
The worst of it is that, when he met with the NLD, he encouraged them that the 2010 elections will be free and fair. But, when asked, he could not give his opinion of the 1990 elections. Furthermore, he did not even recognize that the purpose of his current mission was to focus on resuming political dialogue with the key opposition to this military-ruled country, which was postponed after Cyclone Nargis hit in May.
Regardless, the Mission of the United Nations to Burma, led by the secretary-general's special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, should not be taking the wrong road in this situation. Gambari should not be advocating or supporting the military dictators' sham Constitution and sham 2010 elections. It will damage not only the mission but also the dignity of the world body.
In light of the fact that Burma's military regime has never paid any attention to the United Nation's recommendations to fix the country's conspicuous problems, it is vital for the U.N. Secretary General to take up the challenge and address the enduring crisis in Burma in a more direct manner.
(Zin Linn is a freelance Burmese journalist living in exile. He is the information director at the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma-East Office and vice president of Burma Media Association, which is affiliated with the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers.)
Helping Burma's nonviolent struggle - Frida Ghitis
Miami Herald: Thu 28 Aug 2008
Once again, the news from Burma rings with echoes of despair. The latest mission from the international community has ended in embarrassment - not for the despotic generals who rule Burma (renamed Myanmar by its illegitimate regime) - but for the United Nations and its ineffectual efforts. It seems no one who matters wants to waste any more time meeting with the U.N. envoy. Now, unconfirmed reports say the iconic leader of the pro-democracy opposition, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, may have started a hunger strike. Once again, Burma stands like a conscience-searing mirage on the Asian horizon, reminding us of our failure to help the most desperate.
The Nigerian diplomat chosen by the United Nations to conduct negotiations, Ibrahim Gambari, has left Burma without having met Gen. Than Shwe, the head of the ruling junta, or Suu Kyi, the woman who led the country's National League for Democracy to victorious elections 18 years ago, and has spent most of the time since then under house arrest.
Opposition leaders in exile and inside the country are fed up with Gambari, who served as his country's U.N. ambassador during Nigeria's military dictatorship. Burmese activists say his work has proven "worthless," a "failure." The United Nations defends him, calling for patience, saying that he is engaged in a "process."
But how much patience? Military rulers have governed Burma since 1962. In August 1988 - on the supposedly lucky date of 8-8-88 - street demonstrators demanded democracy. Soldiers massacred protesters, and a new junta took over. Reform was supposed to come after the 1990 elections, called by the junta in a miscalculation. Suu Kyi's NLD won by a landslide. The winners landed in prison, and the junta continued to grind its heel on the population. By then, Burma had suffered not only from widespread human rights abuses, but had been transformed from one of the more affluent countries in Asia to one of the poorest in the world. The Burmese, one would think, have good reason to resent appeals to patience.
Calls for democracy don't just rise out of ideological passion for the rule of the people. No, Burma needs change because the generals have destroyed their country and their people's lives. According to the European Union, Burma spends less on healthcare than any country on Earth. It spends lavishly on one of the biggest military forces in the world, looting the country's vast natural resources to enrich top officers. Meanwhile, combined spending on health, education - and on helping those who lost everything after a catastrophic cyclone - reaches a few dollars a year per person.
The Beijing-backed generals are not completely immune to international pressure. After Cyclone Nargis killed 138,000 and left 800,000 homeless last May, the junta blocked international aid. With thousands facing death, the generals wouldn't budge. But then, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner uttered the magic words: The Responsibility to Protect.
The RTP doctrine says that governments have the duty to protect their people from crimes against humanity. When they become the perpetrators, the responsibility falls on the international community. That hinted at foreign intervention. The generals relented only enough to avert a major catastrophe. Witnesses say minimal aid has reached the victims, but not enough to rebuild their lives.
NLD officials say Suu Kyi has turned back food deliveries since mid-August and say they are extremely worried about the health of a woman revered by millions throughout Burma. Suu Kyi may want to scare the generals and shake the international community back into action. She has already made unimaginable sacrifices. No one knows how far she will go now.
History has shown that the junta responds only to extreme pressure, especially when it comes from its Asian neighbors - particularly China. Then it ignores earlier promises when the world looks away.
Reports in the region say the day after the Beijing Olympics ended, China's defense minister told his Burmese counterpart that he wants to strengthen bilateral ties. China and Burma, it seems, have short memories. After the cyclone and a year earlier, after brutal repression of an uprising by Buddhist monks, they seemed briefly ready to negotiate. Then the world looked away, soothing its conscience with a useless envoy.
Helping the Burmese people's nonviolent struggle requires outspoken, vigorous and relentless diplomacy. Beijing must hear that its post-Olympic international standing requires that it, too, pressure the junta to negotiate a transition of power.
Enough despair. It's past time that we had some good news from Burma.
More deaths reported from famine in Chin State - Lawi Weng
Irrawaddy: Wed 27 Aug 2008
Famine deaths are still being reported from a region of Burma's northwestern Chin State, where inhabitants of 45 villages are being forced to forage for food in the jungle because their rice stocks have been lost to a plague of rats.
The villages are in the State's Tlangtlang Township, the worst-hit area.
More than 40 children have already died in the famine, according to Chin humanitarian groups in exile.
Many of the children died from food poisoning as a result of eating plants foraged in the jungle.
"The people are hungry, so they are eating whatever they can find in the forest," said a Christian missionary in Vawng Tu village.
Exiled Chin groups say the famine is affecting about 20 percent of the state's population, or at least 100,000 people. Many are leaving for Chin State towns or even neighboring Bangladesh in search of food and assistance.
Several UN agencies and international non-government organizations are working on a relief program for the region. They hope to launch the six-month program in early September.
Dialogue Suu Kyi's real motive - Kyaw Zwa Moe
Irrawaddy: Wed 27 Aug 2008
The burning question is: What was the real meaning and motive behind Aung San Suu Kyi's refusal to meet UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari last week?
Does it represent the first step in a new political strategy to blunt the relentless march to the 2010 elections?
The Nobel Peace Laureate may feel that time is running out for the country's opposition, and the momentum is now in favor of the ruling military regime in its effort to establish a civilian government based on "disciplined democracy."
There's no doubt she sent a strong message to the world, and many observers call it a "smart, but risky move."
Yes, it's smart and risky, but she had no other choice. It was time for a bold move, and she made it.
Actually the motive is clear - to initiate an effective, long-sought direct dialogue between her and the top military leaders. She clearly believes a dialogue - with compromise on both sides - is the most effective chance to establish real democracy in Burma, which she has called for since she entered politics in 1988.
Last November, Suu Kyi sent a message through Gambari in which she again called for direct dialogue with top military leaders, rather than with Aung Kyi, the liaison minister appointed by the junta last year in a move to ease mounting international pressure following the monk-led uprising in 2007 September.
Also, Suu Kyi, in the past months, has sent a specific message to the UN, one critical of its lack of backbone in demanding a time-bound dialogue process and sticking to substantive issues, rather than allowing itself to be manipulated by the junta's efforts to legitimize itself.
Nyan Win, the spokesperson for her opposition group, the National League for democracy, quoting her when she met with seven NLD executive members in January 2007, said, "She must be really disappointed with the UN's current process because of the lack of a time frame,"
Nyan Win recently told The Irrawaddy, "It would be one of causes of her refusal to meet with the UN envoy."
"We can't continue to work with Mr Gambari under this condition without a time frame," said Nyan Win. During Gambari's latest trip, said Nyan Win, he discussed the upcoming elections in meetings with the NLD executive members, and he met with junta-backed political and civil groups. "That was not on the list of what he is supposed to do," said Nyan Win. "It's outside his mission."
Earlier, Gambari had said the UN has offered to assist in the upcoming elections in an effort to ensure fairness and establish international credibility. "We suggested that he not talk about the upcoming 2010 elections," said Nyan Win. "But he said nothing about our suggestion."
Gambari's publically stated mission includes securing the release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, and restarting direct talks between Suu Kyi and top junta leaders.
Nyan Win bluntly said Gambari's latest trip was a waste of time. Marie Okabe, a deputy spokeswoman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, countered such criticism, calling the envoy's visits a "process, not an event."
Suu Kyi must believe that she has very little time left to craft a constructive agreement with the junta that could bring true democracy to Burma. She knows the junta is good at using "a process" to stall. The countdown to the 2010 elections draws nearer with each day.
Indeed, Suu Kyi has probably made a risky move, but it may be the only chance left to alter the junta's march to a "disciplined democracy," a euphemism for military rule.
The UN at dead-end in Myanmar - Larry Jagan
Asia Times: Wed 27 Aug 2008
While the United Nations heaps praise on Myanmar's ruling junta for its collaborative spirit in dealing with the Cyclone Nargis disaster, the military regime has made it clear that cooperation stops when it comes to UN attempts to mediate a political breakthrough in the country.
UN special envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari's latest mission to break the deadlock between the military junta and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi ended in failure over the weekend. His ongoing efforts to establish a dialogue between the two sides collapsed and the diplomat left the country embarrassingly empty-handed.
Even Aung San Suu Kyi, the charismatic leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), refused to see him during this trip, although he had met her on all previous visits. More crucially, Gambari, a former Nigerian foreign minister, also failed to meet any senior members of the country's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
"It's clearly the end of the road for Gambari - his role as an interlocutor is finished if he is unable to talk directly to either Aung San Suu Kyi or [junta leader] Than Shwe," said a Western diplomat based in Yangon. "He has no more cards to play."
Gambari's failure raises doubts about the UN's future role in Myanmar's political impasse and perhaps other conflict resolution efforts around the world. In an exclusive interview with Asia Times Online earlier this year Gambari said: "It is our job, and a continuing challenge at the UN to make the impossible possible, and will continue my efforts at mediation regardless."
He added: "Nonetheless, I sometimes wonder whether it is realized that if I fail, and the UN fails, this would have negative consequences for the role of the organization in terms of mediation, conflict prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts, not only in [Myanmar] but throughout the world."
Gambari was scheduled to meet Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretary general Surin Pitsuwan after leaving Yangon. The UN had clearly hoped to build on the goodwill generated from the joint cyclone relief efforts with ASEAN and the Myanmar government to push its mediation agenda and encourage the junta to make their planned transition to democracy by 2010 more credible in the international eye.
With the UN's failure "the ball is now back in Asia's court", said academic Win Min, an independent academic based in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. "ASEAN and China have been happy to hide behind the UN. Now they will have to take the lead to try to convince the junta to make their roadmap credible and acceptable to the region and the international community."
Gambari had prioritized kick-starting the stalled talks between the two sides, pressing for the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi who is still under house arrest, and discussing the junta's roadmap to democracy and the planned elections in 2010. He is believed to have pressed these matters on certain government ministers, including the prime minister, General Thein Sein, on the last day of his visit.
He also passed along a letter to Than Shwe in relation to a tentatively planned visit by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon later this year, according to diplomats in Yangon. "The SG has also indicated his intention to return to Myanmar, when conditions are right, to continue his dialogue with the Myanmar leadership," a senior UN spokesperson, Marie Okabe told journalists earlier this week.
Gambari also met many groups nominated by the regime to brief him and convince the envoy to endorse the regime's roadmap to democracy, which will culminate with elections in 2010. These groups included small splinter ethnic groups, a break-away faction of former student activists and defectors from the NLD. He also held talks with the government-linked Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which was responsible for the brutal attack on Aung San Suu Kyi five years ago and expected to transform itself into a civilian political party before the planned 2010 elections.
Many of these organizations are likely to stand candidates in the forthcoming elections, according to activists and diplomats in Yangon. Senior junta leaders, including the top general Than Shwe, who are all ensconced in their new capital Naypyidaw some 400 kilometers north of the old capital, meanwhile kept Gambari at arm's length, as they have done on his last two trips.
The UN envoy originally planned to meet opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi at the state guesthouse on Wednesday, but she did not show up, according to NLD sources in Yangon. The UN envoy also sent two of his assistants to her residence on Friday morning, but the pro-democracy leader did not respond.
"She's making a point - that she is no longer willing to be wheeled out like a circus act just so the regime can convey a bogus impression of 'dialogue'," according to a Western diplomat based in Yangon.
"Aung San Suu Kyi is refusing to see the UN envoy before he sees a senior representative of the SPDC," an opposition source close to the detained leader told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity. "She feels there is no point in meeting Gambari at the moment, as he has nothing from the generals to report or offer," he said.
To certain Asian diplomats, though, Aung San Suu Kyi's actions were an affront. "It's un-Asian to let the envoy wait in vain for her to show up," said a Japanese diplomat, who closely follows Myanmar. "It seems unusually rude, to the extent that it gives the impression of being insensitive."
It will only serve to further undermine Gambari's credibility and strengthen the regime's belief that Aung San Suu Kyi is "ill-tempered and uncompromising", the diplomat added. Indeed the regime made the most of the snub over their tightly controlled media, with one broadcast showing Myanmar government officials outside her personal residence shouting to her through a megaphone: "Mr Gambari wants to meet you."
The visit represented Gambari's sixth overall visit and fourth in the aftermath of the regime's brutal crackdown on Buddhist monk-led street protests last year since replacing the previous UN envoy, Ismail Razali, more than three years ago.
In November 2007, Gambari smuggled out and made public a letter from the opposition leader that appealed to the country's military leaders to put aside their differences with her and to work together on national reconciliation for the sake of the whole country. The disclosure infuriated the regime, who denounced her and Gambari in the state media for weeks afterwards.
With Gambari's failure, Asian countries are expected to play a bigger future role in seeking to influence the intransigent regime. The international community, especially China, had exerted substantial pressure on the junta behind the scenes to allow the UN envoy to visit the country. He originally wanted to return to Myanmar before the constitution referendum held in May despite the devastation caused by the Cyclone Nargis the week before the poll was scheduled.
In recent months Indonesia has also been trying to develop an international consensus on Myanmar at several high-level but informal meetings at the UN in New York. Now a member of the UN Security Council and an important ASEAN member, the Indonesians have taken a leading role in trying to find news ways of exerting international influence on Myanmar. Jakarta is also working closely with China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and India to convince the junta they must make their democratic roadmap credible to the international community.
"Myanmar claims to have a new constitution and these elections [planned for 2010] will be multi-party elections, but what is important for us at ASEAN is to ensure that a more credible process is taking place," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told journalists in Jakarta earlier this week. Recently taking over as ASEAN's chair for the next 18 months, Thailand, a junta ally, will also look for ways to nudge the junta.
Thailand's new Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag has just completed a two-day visit to Myanmar. There is no doubt that Myanmar's roadmap featured prominently during his talks with the regime. It is presumed he was given a warmer reception and more candid briefing than Gambari received during his more high-profile, and most likely, last visit.
* Larry Jagan previously covered Myanmar politics for the British Broadcasting Corp. He is currently a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.
Suu Kyi - A living legend - Marwaan Macan-Markar
Inter Press Service: Tue 26 Aug 2008
Nyo Ohn Myint still remembers the moment, 20 years ago, when the legend of Aung San Suu Kyi began. He was there when she gave a stirring speech and became the symbol of hope for a country under the oppressive grip of military rule since 1962.
The then history teacher at Rangoon University was in a convoy of five vehicles that had taken Suu Kyi, on the morning of Aug. 26, 1988, from her colonial-era home in the Burmese city to a public meeting in front of the great, gold-topped Shwedagon pagoda.
It was slow going, Nyo Ohn Myint, then 25, recalls. They had taken an hour to cover the three-mile distance. And that first major public appearance for Suu Kyi gained significance in the wake of the brutal crackdown over two weeks before when Burmese troops had shot to death some 3,000 unarmed people protesting against the military dictatorship. That Aug. 8 protest drew hundreds of thousands of people, the largest crowds since anti-government demonstrations had begun earlier that year.
The crowds had swelled to nearly 500,000 to hear Suu Kyi, then 43, who was only known as the daughter of Burma's independence hero, Gen. Aung San, and an occasional visitor to the country from Oxford where she was living with her British academic husband and raising a family. Nyo Ohn Myint stood on a side stage and watched Suu Kyi establish her political credentials in Burmese.
That day she emerged "as the person who could lead our country," the former confidant of Suu Kyi said during a telephone interview from the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. "She impressed the crowds and was totally committed to take on the political challenge of dealing with the military regime."
Other student activists who were in the vanguard of the 1988 anti-government protests feel likewise about Suu Kyi's debut on Burma's political landscape. "She gave people hope with her speech," says Myint Myint San, then a 22-year-old final year botany student at Rangoon University. "She did a tremendous job to help people understand what democracy means. And she dared to speak to the army and confront (then dictator) Gen. Ne Win."
In the days that followed, the tapes of her speech were in high demand. "People kept playing it again and again," Myint Myint San told IPS. "People began to talk of Burma getting its second independence after we got our first when the British (colonisers) left (in 1948)."
It was a dramatic turn of events for a woman who had come home in March 1988 to care of her sick mother and with no thought of political activism on her mind. "When I returned home to Burma in 1988 to nurse my sick mother, I was planning on starting a chain of libraries in my father's name. A life of politics held no attraction to me," she said in a 1995 interview with 'Vanity Fair'. "But the people of my country were demanding for democracy, and as my father's daughter, I felt I had a duty to get involved."
Yet, two decades later, the hope for a new Burmese independence - free of military oppression - appears remote. The junta remains firmly in control, with a tighter grip on the political landscape than in 1988. And Suu Kyi's democratic mission has been forced to the margins.
But that has not diminished Suu Kyi's stature as a democracy icon in the non-violent mould of Mahatma Gandhi. It has come at great personal sacrifice, though, given the over 13 of the past 19 years she has spent under house arrest, and the harsh limits the junta placed on her meetings with supporters and family members.
She was vindicated in 1990 when a new party she led, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won with a huge majority at a parliamentary election that the junta refused to recognise. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, the first among 40-odd international awards she has won. And in the years since, international attempts to nudge Burma towards political reform have had to turn to the charismatic Suu Kyi - detained or free to ensure credibility and public support.
"She has become the rallying point for the democracy movement in Burma. She has contributed tremendously to the growth of democratic culture in the past 20 years," says Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst living in exile in Thailand. "Her struggle has put Burma's political problems and its suffering on the world map."
Take her out of the picture and the NLD will be nothing, he explains in an interview. "It is also true of the Burmese democracy movement: it is likely to lose its momentum if she is not in the scene."
Her two decades in Rangoon have also helped build bridges between the majority Burman community and the South-east Asian country's many ethnic communities, 17 of which had rebel movements fighting separatist campaigns against the Burmese troops. Leaders of these ethnic communities have confirmed that reconciliation between the majority Burmans and non-Burman minorities is possible through dialogue with Suu Kyi.
They relate to her views of a democratic Burma that she has articulated over the years in her speeches and writings. "When we ask for democracy, all we are asking is that our people should be allowed to live in tranquility, under the rule of law, protected by institutions which will guarantee our rights, the rights that will enable us to maintain our human dignity, to heal the long festering wounds and to allow love and courage to flourish," she is once reported to have said. "Is that such a very unreasonable demand?"