[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 27/10/08
- Security relaxed at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's residence
- Junta must withdraw constitution: KNU
- UN Chief not likely to achieve much with visit
- Trade with China rising sharply
- Burma's democratic opposition faces trying times
- Myanmar's failed non-violent opposition
- Monks in Sittwe lose freedom
- Over 365 acres of farmlands confiscated in Rathedaung
- Monk activist flees to Thai-Burma border
- Army operations force closure of schools, clinics
- Long battle for Suu Kyi
- Cyclone relief - distrust of junta deters donors
- Over 200 villagers forced to work in rubber plantation
- MNDF-LA will not support election 2010
- 66,000 people displaced by Myanmar army abuses: aid group
- Australia extends sanctions against Myanmar junta
- Make Burma 'ungovernable'
- Impunity in Eastern Burma challenged
- Bogalay residents forced to work on reconstruction
- More aid 'will reform Burma'
- Asia Europe summit can help
- China's expanding oil ventures fuel anger in western Burma
- Statement of the Fourteenth KNU Congress
- KNU appoints Karen woman General-Secretary
- With aid money going to the Delta, an imbalance forms in Myanmar
Security relaxed at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's residence
BBC Burmese Service: Sun 26 Oct 2008
Authorities in Burma removed barbed wire barriers and reduced security around the home of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, an official from her party said.
Witnesses near the lakeside compound where the Nobel peace prize winner has been locked away for most of the past 19 years said that barricades and checkpoints preventing people from going near her house had been removed.
The gate to her compound remained closed, witnesses said.
Asian and European leaders meeting in China on Saturday urged Myanmar's junta to release detained opposition members, while American officials also put out a fresh plea for an end to Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest last week.
Junta must withdraw constitution: KNU - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Fri 24 Oct 2008
Burma's oldest and largest ethnic rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU), strongly condemned the ruling junta's state constitution, calling it a reactionary throwback to the country's age of imperialism.
David Takapaw, who was elected vice-chairman of the KNU at its recently convened 14th congress, said that the constitution reflected an ideology derived from the thinking of the Burmese kings Anawrahta, Bayintnaung and Alaungpaya - rulers of imperial dynasties that subjugated ethnic states and invaded neighboring countries.
Anawrahta, Bayintnaung and Alaungpaya were early leaders of the Pagan, Toungoo and Konbaung empires, respectively. They aggressively expanded their territory to include the kingdoms of the Mon, Arakan and other ethnic groups. King Bayintnaung even expanded his territory to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and some regions of Cambodia and Laos.
Takapaw said that the Burmese generals were trying to impose a similar reign to subjugate ethnic minorities under military rule - an approach that he said could no longer work.
"Now, it is impossible to establish an empire. Ethnic people will not accept this ideology," said Takapaw, who called on the regime to abandon its efforts to force its constitution on the country against the will of Burmese opposition parties and ethnic groups.
"According to the constitution, the Burmese military can announce a 'state of emergency' at any time, and requires the president to have military experience," he said, highlighting the army's prominent role under the constitution.
In September, the National League for Democracy, Burma's main opposition party, also called on the regime to review the constitution, calling it "one-sided" and saying it lacked the participation of democratically elected representatives from the 1990 general election.
The regime held a national referendum on the constitution in May and swiftly announced that it had won more than 92 percent approval. However, critics and dissident groups inside and outside Burma called the constitution and referendum a sham.
The state constitution is step three of the regime's seven-step "road map" to civilian rule. The fifth step is an election slated to take place in 2010.
UN Chief not likely to achieve much with visit: Win Tin
Irrawaddy: Fri 24 Oct 2008
Win Tin, a prominent member of Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), said he and the party would welcome a visit by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but added that he had strong reservations about what the UN head could hope to achieve in Burma.
"I am not sure what he could accomplish," said Win Tin, a senior member of the NLD and one of the country's longest-serving political prisoners, who was released from Insein Prison in September after serving 19 years.
"The government plays with the time factor and it knows very well how to manipulate the UN," Win Tin added.
Ban, who visited Burma several weeks after a deadly cyclone slammed into southern Burma in May, has said that he was contemplating a return to Burma in December. However, his visit is now in doubt.
"I understand that he doesn't want to leave Burma empty handed," said Win Tin, acknowledging Ban's reluctance to make a return trip later in the year.
Ban recently said that he was frustrated by the Burmese regime's failure to take meaningful steps to achieve national reconciliation. He also called for the release of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and urged the regime to makes its "road map" to civilian rule more inclusive.
Ban's statement earned him some rare praise from the NLD, but it fell far short of what many in the opposition expect from the UN.
"The pressure must step up," said a senior NLD member.
Meanwhile, the NLD is also coming under criticism from some of its own members. Last Thursday, around 109 youth members of the party resigned after complaining that the aging leadership had excluded them from the decision-making process.
This was followed by more bad news, with reports earlier this week that NLD Secretary U Lwin, who is 86 years old, had suffered a stroke, and that the party chairman, Aung Shwe, 91, was also ill with influenza.
Win Tin, who visited U Lwin yesterday, said that the party secretary seemed to be making a quick recovery and was eating well.
Win Tin also noted that his involvement in the party has been limited since his release.
"Since I was released from prison, I haven't attended any regular meetings at the NLD headquarters," said Win Tin. However, he said that Aung Shwe had welcomed him back to the party.
"I am looking forward to holding regular meeting at the NLD so that we can make policy statements," said Win Tin.
Trade with China rising sharply
Mizzima News: Fri 24 Oct 2008
Burmese Prime Minister General Thein Sein has said trade with China has risen by sixty percent over the last three years, despite a campaign of stringent trade sanctions against the Southeast Asian country led by the United States.
For the 2007/2008 financial year, trade between China and Burma amounted to 2.4 billion dollars, accounting for almost 25 percent of Burma's total foreign trade. In 2005/2006, trade between China and Burma came to only 1.5 billion dollars.
Major Chinese investment is in the oil and gas, electricity, industrial and mining sectors.
Thein Sein, speaking at the China-ASEAN Economic and Investment Meeting held in Nanning, China, on the 22nd of this month, further said that Chinese investment in Burma accounts for the fourth largest sum of investment in the country.
In the aftermath of the Burmese junta's brutal crackdown on monk-led protests against government policies in September of last year, in which at least 31 people were killed, Washington and the European Union each renewed wide ranging sanctions against Burma.
ASEAN countries, as a whole, are the biggest investors in Burma.
Burma's democratic opposition faces trying times
Mizzima News: Fri 24 Oct 2008
Accelerated by the current global financial crisis and with potentially grave repercussions for Burma's democratic opposition, the world may be witnessing a relative weakening in liberal-democratic values as political power shifts from North America and Europe to Asia, speculates one Burmese expert.
Writing for the forthcoming November edition of The World Today, Ashley South suggests that the post-Cold War surge behind a Western doctrine of universal human rights and justice, already threatened, could be in terminal decline as the impact of the global financial crisis continues to take its toll.
What this means in the end, argues South, "is not to deny the legitimacy of liberal-democratic values, but to recognise their historical contingency, and therefore limited universal applicability, and declining political capital."
For Burma, in particular, such realignment in the international theater could have a drastic impact on the options available to Burma's democratic opposition, not to mention chances for success.
"Shifts in the global balance of power have reduced the power and willingness of western actors to promote values of liberalism and democracy, and to intervene in conflict-affected countries, such as Burma," warns South.
"Opposition networks in countries such as Zimbabwe and Burma are likely to have to rely less on the patronage of western supporters. These movements include many who struggle - often with great heroism - for democracy and justice," continues the long-time Burma hand.
As humanitarian and political intervention grounded in a rights-based theory is increasingly put to the test, Asian countries, typically not drawn to rights-based approaches, will see their position strengthened.
Elaborating on the theme, South continues, "any decline in the west, and associated weakening of the liberal-democratic view, will present challenges to pro-democracy groups in conflict-affected and other developing countries."
The weakening of liberal-democratic values in the realm of foreign policy is said to have been on clear display in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma in the first week of May this year, causing cataclysmic destruction.
Spreading further doubt as to whether the nascent doctrine of a Right to Protect could ever be effectively implemented, the international community and the concept of humanitarian intervention are said to have appeared "powerless" in the wake of the natural disaster; a perception epitomized by the warships from the United States, Britain and France sent to the coast of Burma, only to subsequently be withdrawn without having any discernable impact on the decision making of Burma's generals.
"The response to Cyclone Nargis," South conjectures, "might therefore be said to herald a new era of regionalised 'humanitarianism with Asian values.'" And such values will undoubtedly reflect those of the much more authoritarian governments of the region.
According to Freedom House, only two countries in all of mainland Asia can be said to be entirely "free", Mongolia and South Korea.
Ultimately, the author encourages Burma's democratic opposition forces to "realistically assess their positions, and re-orientate their strategies towards morelocalised, or at least regional, centres of power and legitimacy."
And one of the first issues that demands thorough assessment in lieu of shifting international power paradigms is said to be the question of how to approach the Burmese junta's proposed 2010 general election.
Myanmar's failed non-violent opposition - Norman Robespierre
Asia Times: Thu 23 Oct 2008
The one-year anniversary of Myanmar's military crackdown on non-violent protests in Yangon and several other cities calling for political change came and went without incident.
While the Buddhist monk-led demonstrations briefly raised global awareness of the Burmese people's plight, it also highlighted the failure of the opposition's long-held non-violence strategy as the best means to bring change to the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) regime that views the failure to use violence as a sign of weakness.
While outwardly a spontaneous gesture in reaction to economic woes, the demonstrations were the culmination of years of planning by opposition forces inside and abroad for non-violent action to confront the regime. Opposition to the ruling regime is figuratively headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, the founding father of Burmese independence. Her commitment to non-violent struggle for political change has earned her the Nobel Peace Prize and global admiration, but two decades since soldiers opened fire on unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators, there is little else to show for her two decades of non-violent struggle.
The resounding victory of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the 1990 elections was the political high-water mark for the opposition. While the regime refused to honor the poll's results, the election provided political legitimacy to the NLD and a handful of opposition activists. Many of those elected still cling to demands that the election's results be honored, but with each passing year those claims to legitimacy become less germane. Close to 40% of the elected members of parliament have been dismissed or resigned and a full 20% have died.
The opposition defined broadly is comprised of a plethora of political organizations. Among the best known are the National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma, headed by Dr Sein Win, Suu Kyi's cousin, the All-Burma Student's Democratic Front (ABSDF), Democratic Alliance for Burma, National League for Democracy-(Liberated Areas).
Additionally, there are several umbrella organizations such as the democratic Alliance for Burma (DAB) and the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB), which count membership from various political groups and ethnic insurgent armies. These organizations receive substantial backing from Western organizations, such as the Open Society Institute and National Endowment for Democracy.
The vast majority of the opposition follows Suu Kyi's guidance that political change can and should be achieved through non-violence. That doctrine was further promulgated by the Albert Einstein Institute of Geneva and New York. In 1994, it sponsored a consultation on political defiance for Burmese democracy leaders. Included in the audience were representatives of ABSDF, NLD-LA, DAB, and the NCGUB, represented by Dr Sein Win. A key speaker at the pivotal event was the institute's founder, Gene Sharp.
Sharp's involvement with the Burmese opposition was specifically mentioned in a June 1997 press conference condemning foreign support to terrorists by then Secretary-1of the SPDC, Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt. In hindsight, rather than condemnation, Khin Nyunt should have heaped laurels on Sharp for promoting non-violence.
The opposition's adherence to non-violence has given the regime a monopoly on fear that allowed it to solidify its position, condemning generations of Burmese to life (and in some cases, death) under the military regime. Additionally, limiting the prospect of violent consequences removed one aspect which may have motivated the regime to negotiate change.
Further, the promotion of non-violence undermined the united opposition against the regime. Under the tutelage of Khin Nyunt, the regime succeeded in enticing numerous armed ethnic opposition groups to surrender their arms and "enter the light" - or at least accept a ceasefire. Khin Nyunt used a variety of incentives to the groups and particularly their leaders to gain their cooperation. The elevated principle of non-violence made it easier for group leaders to accept the bribery.
The success of the regime's effort to pursue ceasefire deals continues to haunt the opposition with fragmentation and conflicting interests. Ethnic armies whose cooperation could have tilted the "Saffron" revolution to effect real change, sat and watched, perhaps out of concern that armed rebellion would jeopardize their lucrative mining or other concessions. As a result, the regime was able to focus its military might on the unarmed protesters and monks.
Incentives and self-interest affect not only limited ceasefires and peace groups, but also some ethnic armies that continue to put forces in the field against the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw. According to a senior Thai military officer, the SPDC is able to continue to benefit from the vulnerable Yadana-Yetagun gas pipelines because the Mon insurgents in the area are receiving payoffs from both the regime and the Thai authorities. Construction of a third foreign exchange earning pipeline in the same area is reportedly slated for this dry season.
A valuable experience
The Einstein Institute's website comments that while the non-violent struggles in Myanmar, China and Tibet "have not brought an end to the ruling dictatorships or occupations, they have exposed the brutal nature of those repressive regimes to the world community and have provided the populations with valuable experience with this form of struggle".
How 20 years of mostly ineffectual resistance can be summed up as a "valuable experience" is a mystery. One wonders to what valuable experience those sitting comfortably in their ideological ivory towers refer: languishing in a Myanmar prison, being knocked senseless by a police truncheon, having family members disappear, torture, death? How much longer before the Burmese people realize the opposition's strategy of non-violence is ineffective against those who have the means and determination to kill to maintain control and decide to pursue a different, more assertive course?
Opposition optimists say that the regime was weakened by last year's crackdown, arguing that the violence police and soldiers perpetrated against Buddhist monks irked the populace and many military officers, the majority of them Buddhist. Further, they cite perennial rumors of infighting among the generals and lower ranks that could lead to fractures in the leadership and eventually a democracy-promoting mutiny.
However, earlier leadership struggles in which top generals fell from grace - including Tun Kyi, Saw Maung, Ne Win and Khin Nyunt - only brought changes in military personalities, not a transformation of the military-dominated system. Indeed, the system is highly resilient and endures with a new crop of military officers entering the top ranks of the Tatmadaw each year. Although many of the officers are not enthusiastic that monks were beaten, most believe that the majority of the protesters were recent novices who had donned monk's robes expressly to carry out illegal political demonstrations.
The optimists also claim that the regime's inadequate response to Cyclone Nargis, which killed over 80,000 people and adversely affected the livelihoods of over 2 million, also weakened the SPDC. As evidence, they mention that many military personnel and government workers had relatives in the worst-hit Ayeyawady Division and were upset at the delayed response. The actual intensity of disenchantment caused by the slow reaction to the killer storm, of course, is hard to quantify without public opinion polls.
However, the fact that Burmese people are used to being self-sufficient and not in the habit of relying on the government for anything likely means the fallout from such a callous official response was less severe than it would have been in other countries. Whatever disenchantment the government's limp response to Nargis and the September 2007 crackdown may have sown, to date it has not been exploited to cause the Tatmadaw to split or the military government to fall.
From another perspective, it could just as easily be argued that Cyclone Nargis made the regime stronger by opening up a new tap of foreign aid. Millions of dollars of humanitarian aid poured into the economy as foreign nations rallied to assist the storm's survivors. The regime's multi-tiered foreign exchange system allowed them to extract an estimated 20% to 25% from all foreign exchange certificates converted into the local kyat currency.
The diversion of United Nations (UN) funds alone resulted in at least US$1.5 million (some estimates are as high as $10 million) of humanitarian aid being delivered straight into the regime's coffers. The tilted exchange system also affected non-UN aid agencies for an undetermined amount of donations. Hard currency intended to relieve the suffering of cyclone survivors instead directly benefited the regime.
Nargis also brought a recent call from the International Crisis Group (ICG) to repeal sanctions and provide more aid than beyond what is necessary to recover from Nargis to develop the impoverished country. While few share the ICG's sentiment, which in the past was criticized by the Open Society Institute for its unscholarly approach with respect to Myanmar, its call would allow the regime to reap even more foreign money to consolidate its position.
Nargis brought not only financial benefit, but also is believed to have increased the regime's confidence. Certainly, the regime's confidence soared when French and US warships withdrew from waters off Myanmar's coast in the aftermath of the killer storm. While the vessels were sent to deliver humanitarian aid, antagonistic rhetoric about the humanitarian "right to protect" Myanmar's citizens by Western diplomats preceded the vessels' arrivals, raising the regime's suspicions about their mission.
Rather than appear to submit to Western threats, and fearful of a possible uprising by opposition activists should foreign forces land on Myanmar soil, the regime barred the aid from being delivered by other than their own naval personnel. Eventually the vessels withdrew without a shot being fired and much of the aid went undelivered. The regime's ability to diplomatically ward off the perceived threat posed by French and American warships is believed to have boosted the regime's confidence in its ability to stand up to neo-colonialist adversaries.
Confidence in the regime's decision-making, often portrayed as daft or worse in the international media, has recently reportedly grown among the rank and file. In particular, the decision to move the political capital to Naypyitaw from Yangon is - after the cyclone which hit the old capital - viewed in a favorable new light. Prior to Nargis, the abrupt move in late 2005 was widely criticized for its exorbitant expense and ridiculed for its reliance on astrology. It is now looked at by many Burmese as cosmic confirmation of the wisdom and even prescience of the senior leadership - or at least that of their astrologers.
More important is the regime's growing confidence in the reliability of government forces to deploy as instruments of control. The ability to successfully extinguish the pro-democracy protests in September 2007, without notable dissension within the ranks of the police and military, left the Tatmadaw stronger and the regime more self-assured. According to several foreign diplomats based in Yangon, the regime is now reportedly more confident in the loyalty of its forces and its ability to control unrest.
On the other hand, the position of the political opposition is decidedly weaker. More opposition members are in prison than before, while countless others have fled the country due to very real concerns for their personal security. An untold number have perished. Despite the overwhelming support of the populace, the opposition was unable to capitalize on social discontent in 2007, when the junta removed fuel price subsidies and fuel costs shot up 500% overnight. Nor have they been able to leverage the chaos and suffering brought on by the junta's inept handling of the cyclone disaster this year into a renewed call for political change.
Instead of maintaining offensive pressure and preparing adequate defensive measures to protect their supporters, they have blindly clung to the gospel of non-violence in the hope that international pressure would eventually lead to democratic change. As many Saffron Revolution demonstrators can attest, hope is a weak defensive shield against a police baton, a charging truck, or the ammunition of soldiers trained to kill.
While pursuing a moral high ground of non-violence, the opposition has ceded the battlefield to its military enemy. Unlike themselves, the ruling SPDC junta is more than willing to use violence to achieve its goals. One means at the regime's disposal are Swan-ar-Shin thugs, whose actions undoubtedly are directed by elements of the military regime, most likely the Sa Ya Pha , or military intelligence. Swan-ar-Shin often intimidate and cower the populace with the threat of violence and physical assault and many were captured on film beating unarmed demonstrators after they had been arrested.
The regime's asymmetric use of violence breeds fear in the populace, forcefully enabling the regime to squash even the faintest hint of opposition to its rule. Viewed through that lens, the Swan-ar-Shin has been an unqualified success for the regime and instrumental in its staying power. Their ability to use violence with impunity and intimidate those holding dissenting political views has muzzled open expression of support for political change.
As the Einstein Institute's Sharp points out in his writings, it is the fear of violent sanctions, rather than the violence itself, that creates the climate of fear which causes the populace to yield. In the absence of a functioning legal system, the opposition would be wise to pursue extra-legal action against the regime's violent henchmen. For instance, makeshift justice squads of the people could be formed to mete out street punishment to the Swan-ar-Shin members known to be guilty of the most heinous abuses.
These Swan-ar-Shin agents are well known to their neighbors and a few instances of vigilante justice would no doubt cause others to consider the consequences of their unjust actions and embolden those who oppose them. While opposition-led vigilante squads may not totally remove the climate of fear, at least fear would be more equally distributed to both sides of the political aisle.
In February, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported on a rare example of focused direct action against the junta's henchmen. According to the report, a regime-linked United Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) member from Hlaing Tharyar township with a local reputation for abuse was found beheaded. The circumstances of his death caused other USDA members to fear a similar fate and their harassment of people noticeably reduced, according to the report. Were this fear of retribution more widespread, the regime would have fewer resources to strangle dissent and added incentive to negotiate with the opposition.
Instead, the exiled opposition blindly adheres to non-violence and is now mounting a major effort to petition the UN to revoke Myanmar's diplomatic credentials. There is nothing original in petitioning the UN: a similar initiative met with no success in 1996 and there is no reason to think the current initiative has any better chance of succeeding. Numerous other countries in the UN General Assembly are also far from being democracies and they would be reluctant to support such punitive measures out of fear that some day a similar procedure might be launched against them.
China and Russia certainly are no proponents of democracy and without their support inside the UN Security Council the latest effort will also fail. Even were the effort successfully staged and Myanmar lost its seat at the UN, the domestic impact on the regime would be marginal. While the UN initiative helps maintain global awareness, the opposition's international efforts might be better deployed in targeting the regime's primary enabler, Singapore, which is particularly vulnerable because of its global commercial interests, including the recent stakes it took in big Western banks.
Singapore has successfully deflected criticism for its role by pointing the finger at China or other neighboring countries as principal supporters of the regime. But it is Singaporean support that is the regime's lifeblood. Many of the regime's leaders and their family members are known to have Singaporean bank accounts. The regime's tyrants frequently travel to Singapore for state-of the-art medical treatment and receive cordial official welcomes. Burmese democracy activists in Singapore, on the other hand, risk arrest or revocation of their visas should they protest their regular arrivals.
Singapore also allows numerous Myanmar businesses with direct links to the regime to incorporate in Singapore. Singapore's willingness to sacrifice ethics for money gives the Myanmar regime a cloak of international legitimacy to do business and enables it in many cases to circumvent financial sanctions imposed by Western countries. One example of Myanmar's Singaporean commercial fronts is Silver Wave Energy, reported in the media as a Singaporean company that brokered oil and gas deals between the regime and Indian and Russian companies. However, research into the firm indicates its phone numbers and offices are in Yangon at the Trader's Hotel.
Meanwhile, the expatriate opposition leadership continues to be led by the same inept strategists that espouse non-violence as the sole implement to effect political change in Myanmar. Nearly two decades have passed without a democratic election and the opposition's leadership has grown stale, devoid of new ideas and lacking a coherent strategy. Indeed, they continue down the path of failed tactics that has degraded the opposition into its present sad, ineffectual state.
Perhaps the opposition finds itself in this position because it relies so heavily on Western financial aid, which is explicitly tied to non-violent action. Accepting such financial aid should not preclude coordinating a unified offense that complements non-violent action, nor should it divert resources from potentially successful operations targeting the regime and its enablers with violent and non-violent methods to those historically proven to be without merit.
Expatriate opposition leaders are known to travel in business class on democracy grants and other donations recycling old ideas that simply don't work in Myanmar's military-run context. They are neither up for re-election, nor beholden to an electorate - apart from their Western government patrons. Many, it seems through conversations, expect to retain their exile status and cushy positions for life. They suffer no adverse consequences for their failed policies, although those actually inside Myanmar often bear a heavy burden for their bravado.
Opposition leaders inside the country, including Suu Kyi, have likewise failed on numerous fronts. They failed to capitalize on the regime's temporary weaknesses in 2004 when it disbanded its military intelligence network amid an intra-junta power struggle. They failed to coordinate offensive actions of the various ethnic armies to support the broader movement for political change. Meanwhile, the opposition as a whole continues to fail to adequately target Singapore, China and other key international enablers of the regime. In sum, they have failed to seize the initiative. And they still fail to realize that they will fail again if they use the same tactics under the same conditions.
Brothers in arms
Perhaps the opposition's biggest failure has been its lack of a concerted effort to split the armed forces. This should be their most critical strategic objective if they are ever to liberate their country from the SPDC's oppressive rule. Although the Tatmadaw itself generally follows collective responsibility and duty, outsiders placing collective guilt upon all members of the army serves to unite the armed forces rather than divide them.
As an example, an opposition supporter authored a list entitled "Enemies of the Revolution" that anonymously circulated on the Internet. The list, while notable for its implicit threat of violence, was unfocused and included the director of medical services for the military. Presumably, he was placed on the list for the crime of wearing a uniform. However, the simplistic, carte blanche approach of painting the entire Myanmar military as evil is self-defeating and undermines the strategy needed to weaken the strongest pillar of the regime.
Unfortunately, this has been the general approach used by the opposition as well as many Western diplomats. The opposition needs at least some military officers to support them in order to fracture the regime's main power base. Despite this, rarely will an opposition leader talk of any positive accomplishments of the armed forces. Rather the military is universally equated with the regime rather than being seen for what it is: an implement of national power, as necessary for the opposition should it assume control as it is for the current regime.
Opposition leaders would be well advised to cultivate junior military officers by openly recognizing the national importance of the military and outlining how military service and the abysmal conditions soldiers currently endure would be better under a more democratic government. Last year's crackdown clearly demonstrates the opposition has failed to undermine government forces' reliability to impose violent sanctions on behalf of the regime.
The opposition has had two decades to infiltrate the military with those who would willingly carry the banner of democracy to leapfrog their own promotions. It has had 20 years to tempt military officers to abandon the carrot of self-interest that supporting the military government holds for them. The opposition should have sought to reassure the army and police that they would have a key role in any new government and that a system of compensation and benefits will be maintained and in places improved. It has made little headway in that direction and there is scant evidence to suggest they even really endeavored to do so. Had they swayed even a faction of military or police officials that political change offered a better future for them and their families, last September's "Saffron" revolution could have had a decidedly different finale.
The failures of the past two decades may in large part be attributed to the movement binding itself too tightly to Suu Kyi's personality cult and the philosophy of non-violence. Her reported intolerance of any type of violent dissent and willingness to dismiss members who seek alternate solutions to problems may be why the NLD and other opposition groups have failed to groom a new generation of leadership. In any case, the "Saffron" revolution may have succeeded where Suu Kyi has failed. A number of her supporters now recognize that non-violent dissent alone will not change the status quo and her increasing marginalization from years of house arrest may yet serve as impetus for more confrontational tactics.
Violence alone, of course, is not a solution. But tougher tactics coupled with constructive engagement or inducements for the regime to change its behavior would mark a welcome departure from the current dogmatic adherence to non-violence. The opposition now suffers from 20 years of pushing for change without a logical and realistic strategy.
To be sure, its leadership has suffered immensely from arrests and crackdowns. But unless the opposition soon infuses a dose of realism into its strategic mix and uses all available tactics at its disposal, including efforts to undermine support within the military for the SPDC leadership, its efforts are unlikely to result in democratic political change. Meanwhile, the next generation of emboldened soldiers will come of age and take up positions of power in defense of the oppressive status quo.
Norman Robespierre, a pseudonym, is a political scientist and freelance journalist specializing in Southeast Asian affairs.
Monks in Sittwe lose freedom
Narinjara: Thu 23 Oct 2008
Monks in Sittwe are suffering from a loss of freedom as authorities are watching them closely whenever they move about the city, said one monk there.
The monk said, "Since many intelligence officials and informers are closely watching us in Sittwe we have lost all of our freedom here. We have no chance right now to go anywhere freely."
The monks in Sittwe are impacted most during the time of food offerings, when intelligence officers follow behind them on motorbikes.
"In Sittwe, monks usually walk on the streets in groups of 10 or 20 from a monastery to get food offerings. At those times, the officials follow us on motorbikes to see what we do," he said.
The government began the surveillance after monks staged a demonstration against the Burmese military government in Sittwe during their traditional food offering procession on 27 September, 2008.
"The authority is now taking care during the food offering time of the monks in Sittwe and is worried that another demonstration will emerge. So authorities are following monks on motorbikes during the food offering times," the monk said.
Security has been tightened in general in Sittwe, but security forces have been dressing in plain clothes in an attempt to operate clandestinely among the public in the city.
According to a local witness, many officials from the police, military intelligence, or Sarafa, and the army are wearing plainclothes while patrolling Sittwe on motorbikes to prevent any further monk demonstrations.
Monks in Sittwe declared publicly in September that they would stage anti-government demonstrations to continue the Saffron Revolution in Sittwe for the people of Burma. It is because of this declaration that the authorities continue to carefully watch the monks' activities.
Over 365 acres of farmlands confiscated in Rathedaung
Kaladan News: Thu 23 Oct 2008
The Burmese military junta authorities confiscated 365 acres of farmland from the Rohingya community in Razabil (Auk Nan Yar) village in Rathedaung Township recently without citing any reason, said a school teacher from Rathedaung.
The farmlands are owned by 65 families in Razabil, who eke out a living from cultivation.
The seizure was ordered by the Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) number 538. Military officers told village authorities that anybody wishing to cultivate their land must give nine tins of paddy per acre as ration for the Burmese Army, he added.
"We are working in our land, but, we have to give paddy to the army. We will starve, if the weather destroys our crops. We have to give paddy at any cost to the army," said a farmer from Rathedaung.
"After our land was confiscated we are unable to look after our families as the authorities have restricted our movement. So, we are unable to go to Akyab or other towns to find jobs and here we are unable to procure food for our families. When I return home, the kids cry for food. What shall I do?" asked Ali Ahmed, a farmer who lost his land recently.
Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims live in Rathedaung Township , whereas 2,485 Rohingya families live in Razabil village.
Monk activist flees to Thai-Burma border - Khin Hnin Htet
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 23 Oct 2008
A monk who played a leading role in last year's Saffron Revolution in Burma has fled the country for Thailand due to fear of arrest for his political activities.
U Eitthariya, a member of the All Burmese Monks Alliance from Mandalay, reached Thailand on 21 October, he told DVB.
"I came out of Burma because it was not safe for me. I was involved with the young people of Generation Wave and other political groups," U Eitthariya said. "We distributed leaflets and gave training and when the eight people in Nyein Chan's group were arrested, the situation became worse for me," he said.
"They found out where I was and shadowed all the places I frequented. I came here because I had nowhere to hide."
U Eitthariya said the majority of monks in Burma were continuing with their boycott of the regime.
"[The boycott] will only be withdrawn with the consent of all monks in Burma," he said. "This is a very serious matter as it was taught by the Buddha himself and the monks who try to undermine this are also traitors to the monkshood," he went on. "Only when the SPDC apologises to the monks and all the monks agree will we be able to overturn this."
But U Eitthariya said the government had so far not only refused to apologise, but had stepped up its harassment of monks.
"They are asking their thugs to watch the monks," he explained.
"These people send anonymous letters to monks to intimidate them and are making lists of monks to make the monks feel uncomfortable."
U Eitthariya said spies had been placed in the monasteries and monks had been told not to harbour any politically active monks.
"They send letters to monks and tell them to report monks who are politically active," he said.
"If they refuse, they hint that even the abbots will be imprisoned when monasteries are raided."
The Burmese authorities have kept a close watch on monasteries since the monk-led demonstrations in September last year.
Monasteries were targeted for raids in the aftermath of the protests and many monks were arrested.
A directive was issued to monks in Magwe last month in the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of the protests warning them to avoid political activities.
Army operations force closure of schools, clinics - Than Htike Oo
Mizzima News: Thu 23 Oct 2008
Schools and clinics in villages of Kawkareik Township were forced to close following operations launched by the Burmese Army and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an NGO assisting these said.
Italy based 'Help without Frontiers Refugees for Burma' said that five schools and two clinics were opened in Phawbulahta and Hawphokee villages in Kawkareik Township after clashes occurred in late September.
"These areas are under the control of the DKBA and the Burmese Army. So, we have to move from the villages. We are not sure if we can reopen the schools and clinics as long as the soldiers from the two sides are present. We are in a wait and watch mode," Benno Röggla, the Chairman of the NGO official told Mizzima.
Teachers and students dare not come to the schools. To make matters worse the joint forces of the DKBA and the Burmese Army looted medicines and other items from the clinics. So the clinics had to be closed too, he said.
The villages are on Thai-Burma border, 45 kilometres south of Mae Sod.
The NGO is currently running about 30 schools and three clinics along the Thai-Burma border. It started the charity work in 2002.
The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA, which is waging war against the junta, said that Infantry Battalion (IB) 401, 407 of the Burmese Army and IB 907, 906, 33 of the DKBA entered these areas after September 24.
Long battle for Suu Kyi - Editorial
The Nation (Thailand): Thu 23 Oct 2008
Today, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will have been incarcerated for 13 years. The more the appeals for her release - from the United Nations, Asean and numerous world leaders - the more the Rangoon junta leaders harden their resolve not to let her free.
Why? They have learned that in the real world, nobody really cares about others. They do so for a period of time, but not all the time. It has been extremely unfortunate for the people of Burma and Suu Kyi since 1988. Whenever the international community came together, something happened that diverted attention away from Burma.
When Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in early May, the world's sympathy immediately and readily poured into Burma to help the people. Suddenly, the atrocities of the armed soldiers against protesting monks and the ordinary people were pushed to the back burner. Of course, the junta leaders have benefited from the influx of financial aid as never before seen. They have not changed a thing and seriously they do not need to. Obviously, international humanitarian organisations have used the Burmese crisis for their own benefit.
The Western world and international organisations automatically dropped their hardline criteria because they wanted to help the cyclone-affected Burmese people. Earlier Burma's recalcitrance to allow foreign relief and rescue teams caused additional deaths. Now, nobody is talking about political reforms and ongoing political suppression. International organisations are happy because they have earned a name for themselves by helping the poor Burmese. They said more aid should be channelled to the junta leaders and their organisations because they will learn how to deal with foreign assistance. Never mind if they have benefited from all the assistance. After all, the Burmese people will get direct help. The problem is, the junta has not given anything away that could facilitate national reconciliation and dialogue.
Apparently, the junta leaders are very confident that their sevenpoint road map will serve as the main instrument to eventually establish their legitimacy. Come 2010, it will be a fait accompli. The ongoing global financial crisis will take the focus away from Burma. UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon believes that he can influence junta leader General Than Shwe to free Suu Kyi because he has made a good impression on the general. He is scheduled to visit Rangoon on December 19 after the AseanUN summit in Bangkok. Ban should not risk his reputation and that of the UN by such an endeavour. The UN's special envoy on Burma, Ismail Gambari, needs to improve his performance. He has yet to facilitate or bridge the gap between the junta and the opposition.
From the regional point of view, it is a win-win strategy for Burma. Just look at Thailand, which is in the political doldrums. As long as the Asean chair is in perpetual chaos, it cannot raise the Burma issue because it would be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Indeed, it was fortunate that Singapore was the Asean chair last year during the Saffron Revolution because the island republic could issue a strong statement condemning the junta's heavy use of arms against protesters.
At this juncture, it seems that Western countries as well as Asean are sharing similar assessments - that the Burmese regime is very strong and its grip on power and the people is absolute. Nothing can be done about it. The best way is to work with the junta and take part in its political schemes. Conventional wisdom believes this is the best way because the regime might crack. Refusing to take part in the political process would immediately cut off future bargaining chips that the opposition or democracyloving people have.
It is heartrending to look into the future of Burma, knowing full well the political hypocrisy and vanity surrounding this issue. One can only hope that Suu Kyi will remain strong and robust and in good spirit. This is going to be a long battle.
Cyclone relief - distrust of junta deters donors - Marwaan Macan-Markar
Inter Press Service: Thu 23 Oct 2008
Burma's military regime is struggling to attract international aid nearly six months after the powerful Cyclone Nargis tore through the country's Irrawaddy Delta. The financial shortfall has more to do with distrust of the junta than donor fatigue.
Currently, only 50 percent of the 482 million US dollars that had been sought in a U.N. flash appeal has come in, the world body states in its assessment of pledges for the natural disaster in Myanmar, as the country is also known.
The lack of funding is expected to hamper plans to meet the humanitarian needs of millions of victims and help in the early recovery programmes. Some 13 U.N. agencies and 23 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were due to dip into these funds for ''critically-needed assistance'' that was to last through April 2009.
According to a July report by a tripartite body that includes U.N. officials and representatives of the junta, the total damage caused by Nargis, which struck in the early hours of May 3, was put at four billion U.S. dollars. The official death toll, according to the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA), was 84,537 with 53,836 people missing and 19,359 injured.
''Data shows that some 2.4 million people were severely affected by the cyclone, out of an estimated 7.35 million people living in the affected townships,'' added PONJA, which has the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member regional bloc where Burma is a member, as its third partner.
Yet other estimates have put the human toll much higher, with possibly close to 300,000 people being killed and some 5.5 million people affected.
Critics of the regime are hardly surprised by the funding shortfall since the disaster, remarking that it is a vote of no confidence by the donor community against military leaders notorious for their history of oppression, corruption and the destruction of what had once been a promising economy.
''The international community has not forgotten Burma. The money has not come in because of a lack of transparency, accountability and because the military regime has come in the way of aid,'' says Sann Aung, a cabinet minister in the last elected Burmese government, now living in exile. ''The people are suffering as a result of the regime's terrible reputation.''
''It is not too late for the regime to allow independent monitoring of aid and support a system of accountability to make sure that the cyclone victims benefit from the aid,'' Sann Aung added during an interview. ''There are still many restrictions that prevent NGOs and the U.N. having proper access to the people in the delta.''
But not everyone agrees with such an assessment. The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, is calling for the international community, particularly the Western nations, led by the U.S. government, to re-examine their aid policies to Burma in the wake of Nargis.
''The international community should build on the unprecedented cooperation between the Mayanmar government and humanitarian agencies following cyclone Nargis and reverse longstanding, counter productive policies,'' the ICG argues in a new report released this week.
Holding back aid to pressure the junta into pursuing genuine political reform that ushers an open, vibrant democracy has not worked, reveals the 33-page 'Burma/Myanmar After Nargis: Time to Normalise Aid Relations. ''Twenty years of aid restrictions - which see Myanmar receiving 20 times less assistance per capita than other least-developed countries - have weakened, not strengthened, the forces for change.''
''Aid is valuable in its own right for alleviating suffering, as well as a potential means of opening up a closed country, improving governance and empowering people to take control of their own lives,'' says John Virgoe, ICG's South-east Asia project director.
The report is as critical of the Western governments' failure to fund the 482-million-dollar flash appeal. ''This is regrettable, not only from the perspective of the cyclone survivors,'' it notes.
''Many (donors) have been reluctant to extend their otherwise generous support for the affected communities into the recovery and rehabilitation work, raising doubts about how much international agencies will be able to do in this area,'' ICG said.
In fact, the ICG implies that the international community has been unfairly harsh in its aid policies towards Burma when set against international assistance to other repressive countries.
While the overseas development assistance in 2006 was 2.88 U.S. dollars per person in Burma, the average assistance for the other 50 poorest countries was over 58 U.S. dollars per person, it reveals in a footnote. ''Other countries with similarly repressive governments receive much more aid: Sudan (55 dollars per person); Zimbabwe (21 dollars per person); Laos (63 dollars per person).''
The misery caused by Nargis added to the woes of a country where over a third of its 57 million people live in absolute poverty and where along the borders - home to the country's discriminated ethnic communities - poverty rates are far higher, reaching over 50 percent in some areas. Child malnutrition affects over a third of the under five population, states a U.N. report.
The tough sanctions and aid restrictions imposed on Burma followed a brutal crackdown of a pro-democracy uprising in 1988, where thousands of protesters were killed by troops.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for instance, has had its hands tied by a 1992 U.S. law that threatens funding cuts if the U.N. agency has any programmes linked to a Burmese government agency.
But even if this appeal to normalise aid relations prompts a change attitude among the donors, it will amount to little for the victims unless the military regime agrees to abide by prevailing humanitarian aid principles and practices.
''These principles are not new, but the regime is refusing to recognise and implement these international norms,'' Khin Ohmar, coordinator of the Burma Partnership, a network of Burmese and regional NGOs, told IPS.
''The international community should understand that the Burmese in the delta survived with nothing before the cyclone, and it has continued even after the disaster,'' she added. ''We want the people to benefit from the aid, not the military regime.''
Over 200 villagers forced to work in rubber plantation
Kaladan News: Wed 22 Oct 2008
The Burmese military junta authorities are forcing 200 villagers to work in a rubber plantation near Aung Mamgala modern village from October 20, said a villager who worked as a forced labour.
The rubber plantation is around 3.40 acres and is controlled by Tactical Operations Command (TOC) in Buthidaung. The land was confiscated from the Rohingya community in the area.
The villagers had cultivated rubber seedlings which the TOC sold to villagers at 250 Kyats per seedling three years ago.
The authorities ordered the village headmen to send the workforce (which the junta calls to forced labour) to work in the rubber plantation. They are to fix fences, spread fertilizer and clean the grass around the rubber plants, said a village headman on condition of anonymity.
The villagers had to bring their food to work. No daily wage is paid.
"The rubber plantation is situated near the Aung Mamgala Natala (Modern) Village, but the authorities didn't order Natala villagers to work. The order was meant only for Rohingya villagers," said a village former headman.
Rohingya villagers who are working in the rubber plantation face starvation as most of them are daily workers.
"The authorities seized our land and than ordered us to buy the seedlings. Now, they have ordered us to work in the plantation area as forced labour which they call people's workforce for the country," said a school teacher from Maungdaw.
Recently, senior officers of the junta visited the border area and told the township officers to develop the area with help of the public. On the other hand they ordered them to confiscate lands from the Rohingya community.
"Nearly 150 acres of land from the Rohingya community will be confiscated soon for development of Taungbro as a modern town," said a politician from Maungdaw.
MNDF-LA will not support election 2010
Kaowao News: Wed 22 Oct 2008
The Burmese military junta sponsored ensuing general election in 2010 will not be supported, it was stated by the Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF-LA) during the 20th anniversary of its founding held on the Thai Burma border.
The MNDF-LA's Joint Secretary General Nai Hong Mon said, "support to the elections scheduled for 2010 is not an acceptable way forward". The MNDF also called the international community to isolate the SPDC government and support a peoples' movement towards democracy.
The 20th anniversary of the MNDF was attended by Mon National Democratic Front (Liberated Areas) with distinguished guests and democratic friends on October 11. Buddhist monks also led in the blessing for civilians who have been facing hardships under the brutal regime.
In March before the referendum, the MNDF (LA) urged the Burmese military junta to comply with the United Nations Security Council to initiate a tripartite dialogue with the opposition and the ethnic nationalities. The MNDF-LA also urged Mon people not to approve the draft constitution which would only legitimatize the power of the military to rule the country.
With larger participation by politicians and youths the MNDF-LA was formally founded in Maesot in September this year led by an exiled MP, Nai Thaung Shein and other MNDF members who fled Burma.
The MNDF played a major role among the Mon population and won five seats in the 1990 general elections. The MNDF leaders inside Burma recently discussed the ensuing general elections in 2010 during the honouring ceremony for Mon national leader Nai Thein Maung, in Paung, Mon State.
66,000 people displaced by Myanmar army abuses: aid group
Agence France Presse: Wed 22 Oct 2008
Up to 66,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes in eastern Myanmar in the past year because of systematic abuses by the country's ruling military, an aid group said Wednesday.
The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), which provides aid to hundreds of thousands of refugees who flee Myanmar, formally known as Burma, said in a new report that the junta's actions could constitute crimes against humanity.
"The extent of persecution and suffering in the border areas has been largely unseen and under-reported for decades," said Jack Dunford, TBBC's executive director.
"Yet the same brutal army that crushed protests on city streets last September marauds with impunity in rural Burma, bringing fear and disrupting the lives of villagers on a day to day basis."
The TBBC report accuses the military of systematically forcing villagers from their homes in Myanmar's eastern Karen and Shan states.
Forced labour, land confiscation, and restricting people's access to farmland and markets also has a devastating economic impact, it added.
The group said that their findings appeared to support London-based Amnesty International's report that the violations in eastern Myanmar "meet the legal threshold to constitute crimes against humanity."
Amnesty said in a June report that Myanmar was committing crimes against humanity by targeting civilians during its military offensive against ethnic rebel armies who have been battling the junta's rule for decades.
Civilians living in the areas affected have been subjected to abuses including torture, forced labour, killings, arbitrary arrest and the destruction of homes, villages, farmland and food stocks, Amnesty said.
The TBBC estimated that there are more than half a million people currently internally displaced within eastern Myanmar.
"Approximately 66,000 people were forced to leave their homes due to the effects of armed conflict and human rights abuses during the past year alone," the group said, referring to the time period between July 2007 and June 2008.
There are also about 120,000 refugees living in camps along Thailand's border with Myanmar. Most are refugees from Myanmar's many ethnic minorities, the majority from the Karen group.
Australia extends sanctions against Myanmar junta
Associated Press: Wed 22 Oct 2008
Australia extended financial sanctions against another 45 of Myanmar's military leaders Wednesday as a protest against the junta's lack of progress toward democracy.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the new list of 463 individuals singled out for sanctions included members of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, government ministers and military officers as well as the regime's business associates and relatives.
It replaces a list of 418 people announced a year ago after the junta brutally crushed pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.
"This was, unfortunately, only the most recent very public instance of the brutal treatment meted out to civil society in that country and to those seeking to make Burma a better society and a nation based on democratic norms and ideals," Smith told Parliament.
"Australia will continue to press Burma's regime for meaningful political progress toward democracy," he added.
Smith said the detention of 2,000 political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is "a major impediment to political progress."
The junta's initial response to the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in May was "very disappointing" and the referendum days later that approved Myanmar's new military-backed constitution was "a sham," Smith said.
The cyclone killed more than 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing, according to the government - the worst natural disaster in the nation's modern history.
Australia has long banned defense exports to Myanmar and denies travel visas to members of the regime.
Make Burma 'ungovernable' - Salai Za Ceu Lian
Mizzima News: Wed 22 Oct 2008
The prospect of Burma transforming into a democratic state from totalitarian rule seems to be diminishing, as the junta gears up to implement their own seven-step roadmap to so-called 'disciplined democracy'.
The fact that the regime is hell-bent on its own roadmap is clearly indicative of the considerable weakness of the democratic opposition of Burma as a whole. For the last 18 years, since Burma's 1990 general election, the military junta has shown no real sign of flexibility and willingness to find a negotiated settlement to the country's long crisis concerning the democratic opposition. As long as the junta sees no potential threat to their power from the opposition, no one should be under any illusion that the military regime will actually hand over power or make a concerted effort to compromise.
It should be understood that the junta's leadership will try to cling to power at all costs.
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