[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 15/10/08
- Burmese cyclone survivors fear food aid to "dry up" soon
- Lawyer appeals for freedom of Myanmar's Suu Kyi
- India for expanding border trade with Myanmar
- Rice prices rise in Rangoon markets
- Burma's garment industry to suffer with global financial crisis
- Thailand, Singapore further energy investments in Burma
- Britain pledges to do all it can for Burma
- The intricacies of Ban's role in Burma
- New constitution - radical change or fig leaf?
- Cyclone victims forced into reconstruction work
- Ceasefire groups divided
- Rise in prostitution in Kachin State
- Tay Za joined Maung Aye on visit to Bangladesh
- When nations kill their own
- Bangladesh-Myanmar to raise trade volume to US$500 million
- UN outlines steps to improve Burma's human rights
- Regional NLD branches laying low
- Ban tries to avoid a fruitless visit
- One year after the Saffron Revolution
Burmese cyclone survivors fear food aid to "dry up" soon - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Tue 14 Oct 2008
Cyclone survivors in Laputta Township in the Irrawaddy delta are struggling with a recent reduction in food distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP) and are worried that international food aid will soon dry up altogether, according to sources in Laputta.
Some sources in the area said that the WFP will stop delivering food by the end of October, as relief efforts shift to reconstruction projects in the cyclone-affected region.
Aye Kyu, a resident of Laputta, said that many cyclone survivors are turning to other local people to supplement their meagre supply of food, while some are making ends meet by catching fish and crabs and growing vegetables. They are all worried about what will happen if the WFP stops distributing staple foods such as rice, oil and beans, he said.
"If the WFP stop its food distribution, cyclone survivors will definitely be in trouble," said Aye Kyu.
He also said that cyclone survivors are now facing difficulty in finding drinking water, as there has been no rain for the past ten days. As Burma's rainy season comes to a close in the coming weeks, the lack of drinkable water is likely to become an even more severe problem.
Paul Risley, a spokesperson for the WFP, confirmed that his organization has reduced its distribution of food, but was unable to verify reports that it was planning to stop providing food relief at the end of October.
"I don't have any specific information on that right now," said Risely. "At present, we are continuing distribution."
Meanwhile, another resident of Laputta said that local donors - another important source of aid - have stopped visiting refugees living on the outskirts of town because of restrictions imposed by the Burmese authorities.
"The authorities ask every visitor to report about their visit," she said. "They check every visitor."
A relief worker in Bogalay Township also reported that the WFP is reducing food deliveries to cyclone survivors in the area, as local authorities oversee a shift to reconstruction work.
He added that residents of Shwe Pyi Aye, a village in Bogalay, are now being forced by the authorities to work on reconstruction projects every day. He claimed that people who refuse to work are fined 2,000 kyat (US $1.70).
Laputta and Bogalay were among the areas most severely affected by Cyclone Nargis when it struck on May 2-3. According to official Burmese estimates, the cyclone left around 140,000 people dead or missing.
Eight opposition youth arrested - Than Htike Oo
Mizzima News:Tue 14 Oct 2008
Burma's ruling junta, continuing its detention of opposition activists, has arrested eight youth for their alleged involvement in the dissemination of politically sensitive tracts.
Four members of Generation Wave and four other youth were arrested on the 9th and 10th of October for their believed to be connection with the distribution of anti-government pamphlets.
"They were arrested at 4 p.m. after distributing pamphlets. It seems they were followed by someone after distributing the pamphlets and were all later arrested from one of their houses," said Moe Thway of Generation Wave.
Seven youth were arrested from a house in South Okkalapa Township on the 9th of October and another was arrested the following day, based on statements given during interrogation.
Moe Thway said the pamphlets, bearing the Generation Wave logo, incorporate the words, ‘2008: The end of dictatorship.'
The whereabouts of arrested Generation Wave members Khaing Mon (also know as Nyein Chan), Ye Thu Ko (also knows as Nyi Nyi), Zin Min Aung and Aung Paing are still not known.
However, the four others - as of yet unidentified - are being held at the South Okkalapa Police Station.
Following last year's monk-led protests, known as the Saffron Revolution, several youth began forming clandestine activist groups, a movement which has slowly gained in momentum.
In one of the distributed pamphlets, Generation Wave urges people to topple the military regime through a mass movement like the 2007 protests.
Lawyer appeals for freedom of Myanmar's Suu Kyi
Associated Press: Tue 14 Oct 2008
A lawyer for Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Friday that he has filed an appeal with the country's military government against her detention.
Kyi Win said the appeal, delivered Wednesday by his assistant, was based on nine grounds including the fact that "she was never a threat to the security of the state."
Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi has been detained continuously since May 2003. There is a worldwide campaign urging her release.
The 1975 anti-subversion law under which she has been confined without trial says detentions of up to five years at a time are permissible for those who could be a threat to public order.
Her house arrest was extended by one year in May this year, an apparent violation of a law that stipulates that no one can be held longer than five years without being released or put on trial.
But a commentary in June in the state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper, which closely reflects government opinion, said detentions are permissible for as long as six years.
Asked if there is any indication if or when the government will hear the appeal at a court, Kyi Win said, "we still don't know, but we have to be hopeful."
Suu Kyi, who has been detained for more than 12 of the past 19 years, has been allowed to meet Kyi Win at her lakeside house since August to draft the appeal and the lawyer said he plans to meet her once again this month for further discussions.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a nationwide pro-democracy uprising. It held elections in 1990 but refused to honor the results after Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory.
India for expanding border trade with Myanmar - Sujay Mehdudia
The Hindu (India): Tue 14 Oct 2008
India will seek to expand border trade by opening more trading points along the 1,600-km border its shares with Myanmar during the two-day talks to be held at Mandalay beginning October 14. Minister of State for Commerce and Power Jairam Ramesh will lead a high-level delegation to Myanmar during the crucial talks.
At present, only Moreh in Manipur is the only operational trade centre on the border. India will propose two additional such centres - Avangkhu in Nagaland and Zowkhathar in Mizoram. Mr. Jairam said border trade centres in Arunachal Pradesh were not under discussion because of security and other considerations on the Indian side.
In addition, he said India would propose an expansion of items to be traded. India is also expected to reiterate its offer to include Myanmar in the duty free tariff preference scheme announced by it for Least Developed Countries . The details of the financing mechanism to facilitate expanded bilateral trade will be also be firmed up during the Mandalay talks. Union Bank of India has already signed an agreement with the Foreign Trade Bank of Myanmar for establishing such a mechanism.
Myanmar will be the beneficiary of the FTA with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be signed by India and ASEAN in Bangkok on December 18. Myanmar is also a member of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) Agreement involving Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.
India is hosting the BIMSTEC Summit in New Delhi in mid-November. India's exports to Myanmar in 2007-08 amounted to about $185 million, while its imports from Myanmar were valued at around $810 million, mostly comprising pulses.
On October 16, the Myanmar Prime Minister and Mr. Jairam will inaugurate a Centre for Enhancement of IT Skills established at Yangon with Indian assistance of $2 million. This Centre, to be run by Indian professionals, is equipped to train 1,000 youth every year who will be awarded a diploma from the Pune-based C-DAC (Centre for the Development of Advanced Computing) which is an institution under the Ministry of Information Technology.
Rice prices rise in Rangoon markets - Kyi Way
Irrawaddy: Tue 14 Oct 2008
The price of low quality rice has increased around 4,000 kyat (US $2.50) a bag in local markets here because of low rice productivity following Cyclone Nargis and the exporting of rice, say local dealers.
Only about one-third of the normal rice stock was coming into the market in the last week of September and the first week of October, dealers said.
Before the export crunch, low quality aemata rice, also known as 25 percent of "broken rice," was priced around 14,000 kyat ($1.60) per bag. It has risen to about 18,000 kyat now, about a 20 percent increase.
High quality hard rice price has risen from 16,000 kyat to 22,000 kyat per bag, while there is no low quality rice in some vendor's stock.
Price of low quality pawsanmhwe rice has increased from 15,000 to 20,000 kyat per bag; middle quality from 22,000 to 25,000 kyat per bag and special high quality from 32,000 to 35,000 kyat per bag.
"Dealers who bought the rice for export have caused less rice to come to market," said a rice vendor. "In the last days of September, the government has given the purchasing and selling permits to rice export firms."
In Rangoon, rice from Pegu Division and Irrawaddy Division are the most in demand.
According to an official at the Myanmar Rice Producers Association, aemata rice was exported to Bangladesh and China in September.
According to the official figure, about 20 percent of the rice agriculture sector in the delta was damaged following Nargis. Important rice growing areas such as Phyapone, Bogalay, Laputta and Myaungmya in Irrawaddy Division and Kawmhu and Kwanchangone townships in Rangoon Division were seriously damaged by the cyclone. The areas were inundated by saltwater and efforts to plant seed generally failed to produce sprouts.
About 17 million acres were planted during this monsoon season which will produce an estimated 16 million tons of rice harvest; about 2.5 million tons is scheduled to be exported, according to Gen Htay Oo, the minister of agriculture.
However, about 400,000 tons of rice was exported in 2007.
Rice can be exported from only three regions - Irrawaddy, Pegu and Sagaing divisions.
Burma's garment industry to suffer with global financial crisis
Associated Press: Tue 14 Oct 2008
Burma's vital garment industry could suffer factory closures and layoffs because orders are sharply down due to the continuing global financial crisis, an industry executive has said.
"Since the financial crisis, orders for new consignments have reduced, and we will see serious impact by the middle of December," Myint Soe, the chairman of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, told reporters Monday.
The success of the country's apparel industry is largely tied to global demand, so the fall in orders could lead to workers being dismissed and the closure of some production facilities, Myint Soe said.
Burma's textile industry experienced a downturn after the United States imposed economic sanctions in 2003, but rebounded two years later when the European Union imposed limits on imports from China, Myint Soe said. Those restrictions led to increased European textiles orders for Southeast Asian nations, including Burma, he said.
About 30 percent of Burma's garment exports go to Japan, another 30 percent to the EU and the rest to Latin America, Turkey, South Africa, Mexico and Argentina, Myint Soe said.
He said the industry suffered a setback early this year when South Africa's biggest clothing retailer canceled orders, citing a military crackdown on massive anti-government protests in September last year.
That ban led to the closure of about 35 factories in Burma, he said. About 100 garment factories remain, employing between 80,000 to 100,000 workers, compared to more than 270 factories before 2003, he said.
According to official statistics, Burma earns US $282 million from garment exports in the 2007-2008 fiscal year.
Thailand, Singapore further energy investments in Burma
Mizzima News: Tue 14 Oct 2008
Thailand and Singapore have upped the stakes in the quest to secure access to Burma's lucrative energy market, agreeing to a further investment into hydropower production with the ruling junta last Thursday.
According to yesterday's New Light of Myanmar, Burmese officials, on October 9, inked the latest memorandum of understanding (MoU) on hydropower projects with the Thai-based Italian-Thai Development Public Co. Ltd and the Singapore-based Windfall Energy Services Ltd of the British Virgin Islands.
The MoU, for a reported 600 megawatt hydropower project, is but the latest in a series of investments in Burma's hydropower market, as regional actors race to secure resources to meet burgeoning domestic energy needs.
The hydropower plant, to be located in Burma's southern Tanintharyi Division, will reportedly produce over 35 billion kwh annually.
Just last month, India invested in two similarly scaled projects, while Burma's second in-charge, Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, discussed the prospects of additional hydropower plants with Bangladesh counterparts in Dhaka last week.
China and South Korea, in addition to Thailand, India, Singapore and Bangladesh, have also been actively engaged in Burma's hydropower market over recent years.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Burma, said by the United States Department of State to be just under 15 billion dollars as of the close November 2007, is dominated in dollar terms by hydropower projects.
Hydropower projects represent 43 percent of FDI in Burma as of 2008, and account for twice as much as the oil and gas sector and six times the figure for hotels and tourism.
Thailand is far and away the biggest supplier of FDI to Burma, accounting for half the total. Britain, for whom the Department of State includes British territories such as the British Virgin Islands, is listed as the second biggest source of FDI to the cash-strapped Southeast Asian country, providing an infusion of some 1.9 billion dollars.
FDI in Burma is now at the highest level it has achieved since 1988.
Britain pledges to do all it can for Burma - Mungpi & Solomon
Mizzima News: Tue 14 Oct 2008
The British government has pledged it will do all it can to help usher in democracy in Burma. This was in response to an online petition submitted by campaigners in United Kingdom.
The British government's response to the petition, which is posted on the Prime Minister's website ( www.number10.gov.uk/Page17117 ), said the political situation in Burma has continued to be a priority for the Government and the Prime Minister personally over the last 12 months. It pledged that it will do all it can to help the people of Burma.
"The Government will continue to do all it can to help the people of Burma achieve the peaceful, prosperous and democratic future they deserve," the response said.
The Government was responding to an online petition launched by the Burma Campaign UK in the wake of the brutal suppression of peaceful protesters in September 2007 by Burma's military rulers.
The response, posted on October 9, also extended the Government's concern over the Burmese peoples' plight, who not only endure continued oppression at the hands of the military regime, but also faced the devastating impact of Cyclone Nargis, which lashed the country in May, killing tens of thousands and devastated more than 2.4 million lives.
The online petition signed by more than 5,000 people congratulated the British Government for continuously supporting the Burmese democracy movement but urged Prime Minister Gordon Brown to personally engage world leaders on the issue of Burma and set a time frame and benchmarks for change.
"We call on the Prime Minister to set benchmarks and timelines for change in Burma, after which, if no progress has been made, steps will be taken to increase political and economic pressure on the regime," the petition said.
Meanwhile, a Burmese human rights activist, Zoya Phan, on Monday highlighted the sufferings of Burmese people under the repressive rule during her talk at the 12th annual Forum 2000 Conference being held in Prague, in the Czech Republic.
Zoya Phan, International Coordinator of the BCUK, who is attending the conference being held from October 12 to 14, said she was able to make a great number of people aware on the situation in Burma.
"A lot of people don't know about Burma, after my speech they came to me and asked about the country," Phan said.
Phan is on a lobbying trip to the Czech Republic and is one of the speakers at the conference which is being attended by senior politicians from all over the world, including former Presidents, Prime Ministers, and opposition leaders from Russia, Zimbabwe and other countries with terrible human rights records.
"Still most people in European countries don't know what is going on there [in Burma] and governments are still doing business with the regime, while they are not giving enough humanitarian assistance [to the Burmese people],"Mark Farmaner, Director of the BCUK said.
Zoya Phan is the daughter of the deceased Pado Mahn Shar La Phan, leader of ethnic Karen rebels, Karen National Union, and is currently residing in UK, where she is actively involved in campaigning and lobbying on the issue of Burma.
The intricacies of Ban's role in Burma - Nehginpao Kipgen
Irrawaddy: Tue 14 Oct 2008
Earlier this year I authored an analytical article entitled "Don't Blame Gambari" in reference to how Ibrahim Gambari's unyielding mission to Burma had been largely perceived.
The article discussed how the UN special advisor was assigned a critical diplomatic task without an enforcement power from the UN Security Council. His latest visit in August was decried by the Burmese opposition as abject failure. The National League for Democracy (NLD) called it a "waste of time."
With the UN special advisor's diplomatic efforts seemingly waning, voices of concern and frustration have overwhelmed the good offices of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
One advantage the secretary-general might have over his special advisor, who is a Nigerian diplomat, is that Ban was a South Korean career diplomat who may be better versed in dealing with Asians.
When Ban became the first Asian to hold the secretary-general's post after U Thant of Burma, there was high expectation for some sort of solution to Burma's political problems.
Unambiguously, the office of the UN secretary-general has embarked on a number of unprecedented initiatives in attempts to effect change in Burma. One most notable aspect of Ban's involvement is the formation of the "Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar [Burma]."
In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, the UN secretary-general made a humanitarian visit to Burma. Although not expressed explicitly, Ban could have sensed the xenophobic nature of the isolated military leaders. This was the last meeting between Snr-Gen Than Shwe and the UN leadership.
Last month, Ban convened a "high-level" meeting of the Group of Friends. The Security Council reported: "The members of the Group expressed continued support for the Secretary-General's Good Offices and encouraged Myanmar to use this channel to address key issues of concern to the international community."
Burma activists and analysts alike are divided on whether Ban Ki-moon should make a second visit to Burma. Proponents are of the view that his visit may boost the democratization process; whereas other analysts are skeptical of the probability of any democratic change without the Security Council's mandate.
While the majority of political pundits may agree on the necessity and vitality of the UN's continued engagement in Burma, opinions are noticeably differing on approaches and existing applied strategies.
In his October 7 press briefing, Ban told reporters in New York that "…you should also know that without any tangible or very favorable results to be achieved, then I may not be in a position to visit Myanmar." The NLD was quick to welcome the statement.
It is very unlikely, at least for now, that the military that proceeded with a referendum to adopt a new constitution in the midst of Cyclone Nargis will swerve or scuttle the proposed seven-step "road map" before the 2010 election.
The State Peace and Development Council understands the ineffectiveness of the United Nations' engagement in the absence of Security Council's mandate. The recent strained relations between Western countries and Russia might have also widened the gap of cooperation within the Security Council.
The good offices of the secretary-general have given it a shot - but with no bullets. If no change is happening from within Burma, the international community might have to wait a day for the Security Council veto system to change, or a surprise move by China and Russia to side with the three other permanent members or abstain from voting.
At this juncture, even if Ban chooses to visit Burma, not much should be expected out of it. However, the UN's continued engagement is very essential.
* Nehginpao Kipgen is the general secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).
New constitution - radical change or fig leaf? - John Feffer
Inter Press Service: Tue 14 Oct 2008
After more than 15 years in the drafting, Burma unveiled its new constitution in February. The 194-page document has generated a widely disparate response.
In May, just days after Tropical Cyclone Nargis hit Burma and killed tens of thousands Burmese, the military government reported that 92 percent of the population supported the new constitution in a referendum vote.
The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), however, has categorically rejected the new document. And outside observers generally treat the constitution - as well as the referendum results - with scepticism.
From the current Burmese government's point of view, the constitution provides for a stable transition to democratic rule. Elections are scheduled for 2010, after which the new constitution would go into effect. The military has reserved 25 percent of the seats in both houses of parliament, but the remaining seats will be open to qualified candidates.
Some measure of autonomy is accorded to the states.
The third in Burma's history - after an initial 1947 post-colonial document inspired by British common law and a socialist-era document drafted by the military junta in 1974 - the new constitution provides at least the trappings of the rule of law. For instance, the constitution mandates the creation of a constitutional court, which will administer and interpret the law as well as preside over disputes between different branches of government.
According to Dominic Nardi, a Georgetown University law student and speaker at an Oct. 8 seminar in Washington, DC sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, the court has a third critical function as an "elite insurance mechanism''.
"If the political situation changes dramatically, if the opposition takes over one or both houses of legislation, a constitutional court ensures that minorities will have some protection under the law,'' says Nardi. ‘'In transition from less liberal to more liberal forms of government, we see authoritarian leaders establish courts so that they have protection from prosecution after the transition."
The constitution also rules out demonetisation. In 1987, the government introduced a new currency and wiped out the savings of millions of Burmese. The constitutional prohibition against demonetisation is therefore a positive lesson learned, says David Steinberg, professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown University.
At the same time, Steinberg notes that the constitution contains a get-out-of-jail-free card for the leadership: "No one can be tried for any crimes committed by the government in the past."
The military has protected its position in other ways. In an emergency, the president can hand power over to the military commander-in-chief for a year. Moreover, changing the constitution requires the consent of three-quarters of lawmakers. So it is quite difficult to change the army's leading role, the process of choosing the president or even the process of amendment itself.
Nardi points out, however, that the U.S. constitution is also a notoriously difficult document to amend, so that U.S. leaders have gotten around the amendment process by focusing on judicial appointments and constitutional interpretation.
"Many people think the amendment procedure is a horrible provision. I don't think it will matter as much as many people in the opposition believe," Nardi argues. Other provisions in the new constitution "allow the speaker and the president to appoint judges to a constitutional tribunal. If you can't amend the constitution, you could appoint judges more favorable to you and influence judicial interpretation."
Brian Joseph of the National Endowment for Democracy believes the constitution does nothing to advance democratic rights.
"The constitution drafting effort and the draft constitution offer us virtually nothing to hold on to," he says. "It may have some provisions that allow for protections or legislative action.''
But the essential characteristic is that the military can dismiss the government without cause,'' Joseph added. ‘'Whoever is governing, once they overstep their bounds, will be dismissed. So the government will constantly be looking over its shoulder."
Joseph does not believe that there will be any true power-sharing under the new constitutional order or any creation of space for the opposition. "They might hold elections in 2010," he observes. "The important thing is not the technical details of the constitution but whether people can organize, whether there's freedom of speech and mobilisation. If parties can't organize, this is all just an empty exercise."
Joseph pointed out that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi cannot run for president because she was once married to a foreigner, which disqualifies her according to a provision of the constitution.
Steinberg acknowledges that the military has no intention of undermining its own power and that the constitution will be a continuation of military rule by other means. At one time, in the 1950s and 1960s, social scientists looked to the military in developing countries as forward-looking and relatively immune from corruption. Today, however, perceptions of the military junta have changed.
"Maybe there will be some people within the military trying to change the operation of power under the constitution," he concludes. "But right now it is an unlikely possibility."
Cyclone victims forced into reconstruction work - Htet Yazar
Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 10 Oct 2008
Residents of cyclone-devastated townships in Rangoon have complained that they are being forced by local authorities to do unpaid reconstruction work, preventing them from earning money.
A resident of Shwe Paukkan township said one person per household was required to take part in the tasks.
"We were given orders by the ward Peace and Development Council that one person per household must help clean up roads and drains - those who refused to work were denied permission for guest registrations," he said.
"They gave us no money for our work, just a pyi of wet rice for each person but the rice was not edible."
A woman from Khayan-Thone Gwa township said local residents were unable to continue with their usual work because of the authorities' demands.
"We were forced by local ward authorities to rebuild farms destroyed by the cyclone with no money for the work," she said.
"We earn money with our daily work to feed ourselves but since we have been forced to do work for the authorities, we could not do any work of our own."
A Thanlyin township resident said locals had not received any support when they became ill after working.
"We were forced by the ward PDC chairman U Zaw Win to work but he wouldn't give us any medical insurance or assistance when we got sick from doing his work," he said.
Ceasefire groups divided
Shan Herald Agency for News: Fri 10 Oct 2008
Major armed groups that had ceasefire agreements with the Burmese Army are inevitably divided between "doves" and "hawks," as pressure to surrender arms and contest the 2010 elections mounts, according to sources inside Shan State.
In the United Wa State Army (UWSA), considered the strongest ceasefire group, the division appears to be between pro-Bao Youxiang and pro-Wei Xuegang factions.
While Wei, who commands most of the brigades along the Thai-Burma border, and his associates have voiced their support for the majority decision to resist pressure by the Burmese Army to surrender, at meetings, they are reported to be privately making their own plans. "The Burmese Army has offered to buy them off, which means giving them business concessions," said a source close to the UWSA in Mongton, opposite Chiangmai. "They think they should accept the offer and, if possible, retain their arms as pro-junta militias."
Members of the Wei faction were formerly ex-Kuomintang officers and men. The Kuomintang was driven out of China following its defeat in 1949. Most of them are scattered out in Shan State, Thailand and Laos.
Meanwhile, followers of the ailing Wa leader Bao Youxiang are preparing for "the eventual showdown" with the Burmese Army. "Bao may retire," said an insider, "but he has placed high hopes in the hard-liners led by his nephew Ta Long. Many officers at present have been attending combat courses organized by Panghsang (Wa capital on the Chinese border)."
Ta Long (41) a native of Kunma, is officially the mayor of Namteuk (also written Namtit), north of Panghsang. "I didn't meet Wei Hsaitang (a hardline officer who was released from prison last year and later reported to have been transferred to Namteuk)," said the source. "But he is believed to be Ta Long's chief counsel in military matters."
Similar reports have been received by SHAN with regard to the Hsengkeow-based Shan State Army (SSA) North and Mongla-based National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS).
A recent report says the SSA-North would be setting up a political party and had already consulted Maj-Gen Aung Than Tut, Commander of the Lashio-based Northern Region Command of the Burmese Army. The group has declined either to confirm or deny it.
"Anything can happen before 2010," said a long-time border watcher, "and I won't be the first to make any predictions until and after the electoral law has been announced."
The electoral law is due to be promulgated by the end of the year, according to some sources. In the mean time, political campaigns by pro-junta groups have already begun following approval by Naypyidaw of its draft constitution in May.
Rise in prostitution in Kachin State
Kachin News Group: Fri 10 Oct 2008
The unstable political and economic situation in Burma (which was renamed Myanmar by the ruling junta) is driving a section of women in Kachin State into prostitution, sources said. They have been frequenting night clubs.
There are a number of women, especially ethnic Kachin women, who frequent the ‘Northern Star Night Club' in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in northern Burma to find clients and earn money every night, said a resident in Myitkyina.
"Fees are earmarked for the women by the club. Almost all the women drink whisky to enjoy themselves," a resident told KNG.
Women, who do not get clients in the club, go to the night shops and wait for prospective customers. This is how they earn money, an eyewitness said.
According to a resident, despite night curfew in Myitkyina since September 18, the night shops remain open in town. The police are in every street corner and quarters in the town.
Tay Za joined Maung Aye on visit to Bangladesh - Min Lwin
Irrawaddy: Fri 10 Oct 2008
The Burmese tycoon Tay Za, head of the Htoo Trading Company, accompanied the junta's number two, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, on his recent three-day visit to Bangladesh, according to business sources in Rangoon.
The sources, close to the Htoo Trading Company, said Tay Za led a Burmese business team, which had talks with the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) on improving trade between the two countries, included launching direct shipping lines between Bangladesh and Rangoon.
Tay Za's presence in the Burmese delegation that visited Bangladesh was not mentioned in reports on the trip carried by state-run newspapers.
The delegation reportedly travelled to Bangladesh aboard an aircraft of Tay Za's company Air Bagan.
Tay Za, who enjoys close business ties with the military regime, plans to transfer control of Htoo Trading Company to his elder son, Phyo Tay Za, according to one source.
The Burmese delegation also discussed with their Bangladesh hosts the purchase of 100,000 tons of rice from Burma, besides energy cooperation, the construction of a trans-border road and the delimitation of maritime boundaries.
A report by the Reuters news agency, quoting a Bangladesh energy official, said the Burmese delegation agreed to supply natural gas to Bangladesh to help it produce fertilizer for use in both countries.
Reuters said Bangladesh will establish a urea-manufacturing factory in its Chittagong region, near the Burma border, with an annual production capacity of 600,000 tonnes, using up to 200 million cubic feet of gas daily.
Tay Za is among a number of Burmese military officials and businessmen on a US sanctions list that freezes any of their US assets.
The sanctions have reportedly hit Tay Za's businesses, including those with Singapore links - Pavo Trading Pte Ltd, Air Bagan Holdings Pte Ltd and Htoo Wood Products Pte Ltd. Pavo Trading is a sister company of the Htoo group of companies run by Tay Za.
When nations kill their own - Gareth Evans
Christian Science Monitor: Fri 10 Oct 2008
At the height of the bloody suppression by the Burma (Myanmar) regime of protesting monks last year, the heated question was whether the international community should intervene. In response, a well-known Chinese professor told an American newspaper "China has used tanks to kill people on Tiananmen Square. It is Myanmar's sovereign right to kill their own people, too."
That is about as chilling and abhorrent a statement as it gets for many in developed countries. It's an apparent apologia not only for Tiananmen and the October crackdown, but the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocide in Rwanda, the bloody massacre of Srebrenica, and the crimes against humanity continuing in Darfur.
The statement reflects a feeling that seems to ignore the developments in international human rights law since 1945 - from the Universal Declaration and the Covenants, to the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court. And it seems to embrace the starkest possible interpretation of Westphalian principles; not only that what happens within state borders is nobody else's business, but that sovereignty is a license to kill.
For many others, however, the Chinese professor's statement, while probably chilling in its directness, and certainly less diplomatically expressed than it could have been, captures a sentiment that has great resonance in the developing world. It's also one that has too often been ignored by enthusiastic human rights campaigners arguing for "the right to intervene," by coercive military force if necessary, in internal situations.
While the right of humanitarian intervention might be seen in most of the developed world as a noble and effective rallying cry, it had the capacity elsewhere to enrage. And it continues to do so, not least among those new states emerging from the post World War II period, proud of their identity, conscious in many cases of their fragility.
To try to resolve this tension between competing worldviews, the concept of "the responsibility to protect," or R2P, was devised as a new rallying cry to replace the call for "the right to intervene."
The core of R2P is that sovereign states should retain the primary responsibility to protect their own people from mass atrocities. But if they manifestly fail to do so, through either incapacity or ill will, then it becomes the collective responsibility of the international community to take appropriate action. Sovereignty conveys no immunity when massive human rights violations are involved. The emphasis is on prevention and assistance for states in need. And any further response necessary stresses using the least coercive and intrusive effective means possible. Force might be needed, but only in extreme and exceptional cases, and with Security Council approval.
The R2P concept was proposed by a Canadian-sponsored international commission in 2001, and it took only four years - just a blink of an eye in the history of ideas - for the principles to be adopted, without dissent, by the UN General Assembly.
But celebration remains premature: It is one thing to have a new norm of international behavior up in lights, quite another (as the Chinese professor's comment shows) for it to be genuinely universally accepted, and yet another thing for it to be effectively applied.
The international community's immediate response - and by diplomatic rather than military means - to the postelection explosion of ethnic violence in Kenya at the beginning of this year was an excellent example of the new norm. And it provides very stark contrast to the cynicism and indifference that greeted the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
But other cases, like the Burma cyclone and the Russian invasion of Georgia, have been either prematurely labeled or mislabeled as R2P ones. And while Darfur is properly labeled a case of acute R2P concern, it is one where the international response has so far been very ineffective.
Three big challenges remain for like-minded governments and civil society organizations who understand and accept the power of the R2P norm:
First there is the conceptual one of ensuring that its scope and limits are fully understood, so that it is not seen as either too broad to be useful or too narrowly militarily focused to be acceptable. Second, there is the institutional one, of ensuring diplomatic, civilian, and military capacity is available to respond effectively to new situations.
And last, there is the political one of ensuring that, when preventive or reactive action becomes necessary, the will is there to mobilize that capacity.
If we are never again to have to say "never again," these challenges simply have to be met.
[Editor's note: The original version's subhead misstated the ‘responsibility to protect' doctrine.]
• Gareth Evans, former Australian foreign minister, is president of the Crisis Group and author of "The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All."
Bangladesh-Myanmar to raise trade volume to US$500 million
Asia Pulse: Thu 9 Oct 2008
Commerce Adviser Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman Wednesday said Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to raise their bilateral trade volume to US$500 million in the next fiscal year.
"To achieve the target, we'll increase export and import between the two neighboring nations, as we have huge potentials for that," he said while addressing an FBCCI meeting with the visiting Myanmar business delegation at its conference room.
He, however, regretted that the business potentials between the two countries cannot fully be exploited due to poor road communication and banking system, lack of air connectivity and complicated visa process.
According to available statistics, the total trade volume between Bangladesh and Myanmar was US$27 million in 2007 although a target had been set in 2004 to raise the trade volume to US$100 million.
The Adviser said Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to arrange a trade fair of Bangladeshi products in Yangon on January in 2009.
Zillur also said the government is keen to sign a deal with Myanmar to import 1 lakh metric tons of agro-products for creating a buffer stock in the country to ensure food security.
He also said government officials will visit Myanmar next month smooth trade and remove trade barriers.
Myanmar Commerce Minister Brig Gen. Tin Naing Thein, National Planning and Economic Development Minister Soe Tha, FBCCI President Annisul Huq and Bangladesh Myanmar Business Promotion Council Chairman Syed Mahmudul Huq were, among others, present at the meeting.
The meeting focused on increased economic cooperation between Bangladesh and Myanmar, as economies of the two countries are primarily based on agriculture.
The meeting was told that there are 131,000 hectares of cultivatable wasteland and 33,000 hectares of fallow land available in the Rakhine state where Bangladeshi businesspeople can invest under current agricultural land lease policy of Myanmar.
UN outlines steps to improve Burma's human rights
Irrawaddy: Thu 9 Oct 2008
Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN special reporteur on human rights in Burma, outlined "core human rights elements" that should be put in place before the 2010 general election, in a statement released on Wednesday.
The elements include:
- Amend domestic laws that limit freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly.
- Release of political prisoners.
- Repeal discriminatory laws.
- top the recruitment of child soldiers.
"Respect for international human rights standards is indispensable" for the regime's proposed "roadmap to democracy" to gain international acceptance, Quintana said.
He said full enjoyment of human rights does not exist in Burma, according to "reliable reports on the extension of detentions and/or new arrests of political activists."
The release of political prisoner would reduce tension and inspire political participation among stakeholders in Burma, he said.
The transition to a multi-party democratic and civil government, as planned under the new constitution, will require "an intensive process of incorporating democratic values," Quintana said.
He suggested a number of changes in the country's judiciary, which currently "is not independent and is under the direct control of the government and the military."
Proposed changes include guaranteeing the due process of law, establishing a fully independent and impartial judiciary and setting up a mechanism to investigate human rights abuses.
Quintana, who took up his post in May 2007, visited Burma in August and met with prominent political prisoners, including U Gambira, the head of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance, a leading force in the 2007 demonstrations. He met with Gambari in Insein Prison, where he was being held prior to standing trial for posing a threat to the security of the state.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday his planned visit to Burma in December might not take place unless he sees the regime is ready to produce tangible results toward progress in democratization.
Also, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, this week called for the release of all political prisoners including detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The junta now holds 2,123 political prisoners in various prisons across the country, according to a report compiled by the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) and the US-based Campaign for Burma.
Two leading activist groups in a joint letter to UN Secretary-General Ban released on Sunday said, "Dramatic increases in the number of political prisoners show the junta's defiance of the United Nations and international community, as well as its own people."
Regional NLD branches laying low - Khin Hnin Htet
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 9 Oct 2008
Since the Saffron Revolution in September last year, regional National League for Democracy branches have been keeping a low profile, with many not even managing to hold regular meetings.
This period of quiet is unusual; even when many NLD offices were sealed off after the Depayin incident in May 2003, party members were still active and able to meet regularly.
Is it the situation in the regions that has caused this dip in activities, or a lack of direction from NLD headquarters?
Mya Hla, an elected member of parliament from Bago, one of the most active regions, gives three reasons why NLD regional activities have stopped.
"Firstly, all the township offices have been closed down so we have nowhere to hold meetings and no one dares to host us," he explained.
"Secondly, the restrictions imposed on us, for example we have to inform the authorities when we are holding meetings, make not only normal members but also the central executive committee afraid to come to meetings," he went on.
"Thirdly, the headquarters haven't handed down any instructions or issues that we need to discuss and gain agreement on."
Despite these difficulties, some townships are continuing to hold regular meetings, but Mya Hla said that other townships genuinely could not hold meetings due to the restrictions imposed upon them.
While he insisted that party members remained staunch supporters of the NLD, he admitted that the lack of action could become an issue in the longer term.
In Mandalay division in central Burma the situation is slightly different, according to Myingyan MP-elect Paw Khin.
"The situation is quite good - we are able to hold two meetings a month, but that's it," he said.
"We are waiting for instructions from the headquarters. There have been no instructions for a while."
In nearby Magwe division, activities have been suspended since local NLD secretary Myint Oo was arrested in connection with last September's mass public demonstrations.
U Taa, an elected MP from Magwe division's Salin township, said the situation became too difficult to hold regular meetings.
"We could not meet because of the difficulty in finding a place to meet, and when we did hold meetings, they would come and check up on us," he explained.
"We stopped having meetings after repeated harassment."
In Karen state, Pa-an MP-elect Nant Khin Htway Myint said that local party membership had been weakened by the intense pressure and intimidation.
"The authorities have been causing stress and intimidation and forcing people to resign," he said.
In Kachin State in northern Burma, there were sporadic meetings in some townships up until September last year, but these stopped after party leaders were arrested and imprisoned.
NLD state organising committee member Ngwe Kyaing from Myitkyina blamed the situation on the lack of a safe place to meet.
"If we still had our office, we would always meet in the office. Now that our office is sealed off, we have no place to meet," she said.
"If we did, the place would be in danger as we would have to inform [the authorities]."
But Ngwe Kyaing insisted that, despite these difficulties, members would be willing to carry out any instructions sent from NLD headquarters.
Ban Lja, chair of Chin state NLD in northwest Burma, said that morale was suffering.
"There is nothing special going on here as we have not had any instructions from headquarters," he explained.
"We are just sitting around doing nothing and it's affecting our morale a little bit," he said.
"But the people in the townships meet occasionally and our party organisations in rural areas are still going strong."
In northern Shan State, economic difficulties contribute to the lack of political activities, according to Lashio MP-elect Sai Myint Maung.
"The closure of offices is one reason. Secondly, people are struggling to survive," he explained.
"I am surviving because I have my own little business. The rest are in trouble."
Senior NLD member and newly-released political prisoner Win Tin acknowledged that there were difficulties in coordinating the activities of the regional NLD groups.
"We are facing problems because we are unable to go to the regions to solve the problems and we can't afford to invite them to Rangoon," Win Tin said.
"But if we wanted to, we could still struggle on our own. The way places like Meikhtila are operating is amazing, encouraging and worth taking a lesson from," he said.
"I don't want people to just let the headquarters do the job without the regions. I want it to be more widespread. I want to hear the voices from the regions."
But Win Tin said the regional members should act on their own initiative to find ways to remain active.
"The HQs has many problems, so instead of waiting for instructions, do it from the bottom up, in your own ways," he said.
"We have leaders, firm policies and the strong support of the people. With these three things, there is no reason to feel dejected."
Ban tries to avoid a fruitless visit - Kyaw Zwa Moe
Irrawaddy: Thu 9 Oct 2008
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is clearly worried about his next trip to Burma. The reason: he doesn't want to visit the generals and end up like his UN envoys - coming home without any tangible political progress.
Ban expressed his doubts this week about his tentatively scheduled trip in December in a press conference at UN headquarters in New York. He hopes to go to Burma to kick off a dialogue between the military regime and opposition groups and to secure the release of all political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
But before he goes, Ban is clearly signaling Snr-Gen Than Shwe: You have to agree to a political concession.
"As to my visit, when I said I will be personally engaged, that meant that I would be willing to pay a return visit to Myanmar [Burma] at an appropriate time," Ban said. "But you should also know that without any tangible or very favorable results to be achieved, I may not be in a position to visit Myanmar without any expectations."
Ban is right to suspect the generals won't pay any attention to the usual UN proposals for democratic reform. For his visit to take place, he clearly needs a signal from the junta in Naypyidaw that it is ready to make some concessions, to guarantee he can leave with some "tangible results."
Real political dialogue is the best means to resolve the country's political issues and the release of all political prisoners is essential to build confidence between the two sides for a meaningful dialogue.
Late last month, the regime released a handful of political prisoners among a government amnesty for 9,002 prisoners. But the number of political prisoners in Burma has nearly doubled, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).
"By nearly doubling the number of political prisoners, the Burmese regime is directly defying the United Nations, including the UN Security Council," said a joint statement by the human rights group and the US Campaign for Burma based in Washington DC.
If Ban goes to Burma without a guarantee of some concrete political breakthroughs, he will further jeopardize the credibility of the UN. Many UN envoys, including the current special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, have repeatedly fallen victim to the general's manipulation for their own purposes.
By signaling the regime that he will visit only if they agree to some of the UN-mandated changes, Ban is taking a tougher stand.
If the junta fails to come up with some compromises before his visit, Ban will be in a better position to go back to the Security Council and seek new measures to achieve UN-mandated goals.
As a result, the generals may face even more pressure. Ban is exercising tactical diplomacy, putting pressure on the junta prior to his visit. Nyan Win, a spokesperson of Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy, called Ban's move "right."
But the question is what more can Ban and the Security Council do? In October 2007, the council approved a presidential statement on Burma, calling for the release of political prisoners. Anything stronger would require the approval of permanent members China and Russia, two staunch Burma supporters, who are likely to baulk.
In the past two decades, Burma has become a diplomatic graveyard, running through the previous seven UN special envoys to Burma.
What will play out in the coming weeks is an effort by Ban to play the best card he has and to avoid another frustrating, fruitless trip to a government that has repeatedly shown it has no regard for world opinion.
One year after the Saffron Revolution - James Rose
Korea Times: Thu 9 Oct 2008
Last September, peaceful demonstrations let the world know that the Burmese people have had enough of the crushing oppression of the military junta, yet, today, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, still languishes in a haze of terror and deprivation.
Another year goes by and those monks who are left after the military cracked down after the demonstration are contemplating huge risks once again because the world just didn't get it last time.
If Myanmar is a part of the global family it is perhaps its most neglected, like a child cast away simply because it was mugged by some bullies and held hostage by them ever since. As with most situations of this kind, ostracization is as much the story of the ostracizer as the ostracized.
It certainly doesn't make sense to ignore the Myanmarese (Burmese). Most risk their lives daily in keeping the Saffron Revolution alive and in trying to get the message to the world, they need help.
Led by a community of monks in the devoutly Buddhist country, known as the Sangha, a network of activism has firmed throughout the country since last September. Monks have boycotted the military and continue to thwart their attempts to crush Myanmar's spiritual soul.
The military have been largely cut off from the Buddhist clergy and the monks have openly campaigned for an international arms embargo as a means of taking the tools of oppression away from their oppressors.
The Sangha provided the aid and accommodation services the military refused to give to some 70 percent of homeless survivors from May's Cyclone Nargis in the Yangon (Rangoon) and around the Irrawaddy delta.
This is a case of the civil overwhelming the political, of citizens and their spiritual, not their political, leaders taking up the slack left neglectfully dangling by the dispirited goons of the olive drab government.
Perhaps this is why the community of nations finds it difficult to respond more firmly in Myanmar ― notions of state sovereignty run deep and tend to undermine many of the good souls who would dearly love to effect positive change in a much maligned country.
A flavor of this was seen in the immediate aftermath of Nargis as civil aid groups found it more or less impossible to deliver aid over and around an unwilling state government.
Perhaps this is why the global community and its more influential members refuse to demand the release of some 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, nor can find the will to dam the arms trade flowing in from Russia and China.
Perhaps this is why the world will not act even as the military backbone to the ruling junta bends and weakens under the force of its own people clamoring for an end to the nightmare.
Structural shifts, widespread dissatisfaction among the ranks, including regular desertions, are enfeebling an already untenable organization, yet still no-one moves to show the generals the door.
Myanmar continues to win all the sort of awards no one wants to win. It has the largest number of child soldiers anywhere in the world, many fighting the world's longest running civil war; it is the world's most corrupt country and it has probably the world's highest military spending as a percentage of budgetary funds (40 percent).
It has Asia's second highest child mortality rate and is the third largest source of refugees in the world.
This in a country with the 10th largest natural gas reserves in the world and in an economy which already, despite huge natural resources remaining untapped, receives some $150 million per month in energy export revenues alone.
One year on from the Saffron Revolution, the world is highly distracted by an economic crisis largely of its own making.
As the graphs and stock charts head southward, attention is justifiably on the family home, keeping one's job and hoping the whole shooting match doesn't end up with blood everywhere.
But, this isn't the time to get caught up in ones own crises. This is an opportunity to extend crisis thinking outwards. It is a time to remember that even as the world reels, there are those in Myanmar as in Sudan, Tibet, North Korea, Chad, Zimbabwe, Western Sahara and elsewhere who need some crisis thinking of their own.
In dealing with the economic crisis, lets use that energy and fix-it thinking to extend to other areas. One year after the Saffron Revolution another opportunity has appeared to help the long-suffering people of Myanmar.
* James Rose is advisor to the Burma Fund, policy think tank of the New York-based National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma.