[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 10/11/08
- Saffron revolution monks given lengthy jail terms
- Myanmar cyclone survivors stuck in makeshift homes
- Senior North Korean diplomat visits Myanmar
- Pushing the boundaries of intervention
- Ethnic leaders welcome the UN Secretary-General's report on Burma to the General Assembly, and call on Ban Ki-moon to ask the Security Council to act
- Doctor visits Suu Kyi
- Teachers and pupils struggle in temporary schools
- Internally displaced persons increase along Thai-Burma border
- Myanmar lifts rice export ban
- Myanmar, South Korean companies to produce bio-diesel
- Gambari should visit Burma on his own terms, says MNDF leader
- Burma's pro-democracy movement in crisis
- Why India shifts its policy on Burma
- Partners in oppression
- Burmese monks and students call on the United Nations Security Council to reinforce Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's mandate for realizing democratic change in Burma
- Burmese censors outline news management plan
- Army training school seizes, resells monastery land in northern Mon State
- The absent neighbor: China looms large in every aspect of India's Myanmar policy
- Children not in school six months after cyclone
- Farmers detained for reporting army abuses to ILO
- Fund crunch halts on going projects till 2010
- Burma's stolen elections
- Burmese constitution published in English
- Myanmar allots land for more local, foreign IT companies to work in cyber city
- Burma's foreign earnings to decline
- The baron who holds Burma's purse strings
- Pope to visit Burma
- Chevron whitewashes its website of Burma
Saffron revolution monks given lengthy jail terms
Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 7 Nov 2008
Two monks arrested in connection with last year's Saffron Revolution have been given lengthy jail terms by Rangoon Kyauktaga township court yesterday morning, according to legal sources.
Sayadaw U Indaka, abbot of Maggin monastery was sentenced to 16 and half years imprisonment while another monk U Eindriya who was staying at the monastery while it was raided by government officials in November 2007 was given 8 years, a lawyer told DVB on condition of anonymity.
The lawyer said the sentences were only for one of the many charges piled against the monks, and he also expressed concern over the remaining charges which could lead them into receiving more sentences in the future.
Myanmar cyclone survivors stuck in makeshift homes
Reuters: Fri 7 Nov 2008
One month after Cyclone Nargis swept away his home and four children, Myint Oo returned to a makeshift tarpaulin shelter in his obliterated village in the Irrawaddy delta to try to rebuild his life.
Now, six months after the storm hit Myanmar, killing nearly 140,000 people, he is still there - and still stuck in the same sweat-box hut cobbled together with bamboo poles and bits of cyclone debris.
As with tens of thousands of others, there is little prospect of him being able to build a proper house in the next year.
"We had no money to buy anything," Myint Oo told Reuters as he sat with his wife in the corner of their bamboo hut, a tiny two-room shelter built by aid agencies for returning villagers.
"If not for the donors, we won't even have a place to sleep."
Another man in the village, 140 km (100 miles) southwest of Yangon, bemoans the bamboo matting on the floor of his hut, which has already worn thin, and the stifling heat created by the tarpaulin roof.
"It leaks when it rains and it becomes unbearably hot when it doesn't," the villager, who did not wish to be named for fear of recrimination from Myanmar's military rulers, added.
Normally, natural materials such as thatch from the palm trees and shrubs that used to grow across the delta provided cheap, rainproof, and relatively cool roofing.
But the May 2 cyclone destroyed all the trees as well as all the homes.
"The plants for thatch have only just started growing again so we will have to wait until next summer before we can start using them," one middle-aged woman in a village in Hlwa Zar, also deep in the delta, said.
"For now, we'll just have to live as is," she said, with a stoicism that typifies the toughness of the 2.4 million people thought to have been left destitute by the cyclone.
After one of the most violent storms ever to hit Asia, the task of rebuilding is massive, with the Myanmar government estimating in July that Nargis had completely destroyed 450,000 of 800,000 homes hit.
Aid agencies have gradually been given greater access to the delta - the Red Cross says it is planning to help with 10,000 new homes in January - and the junta has made much in its official media of the "model villages" that have been built for survivors.
Despite this, one in three families are still living in makeshift accommodation, according to a report about to be released by U.N.-HABITAT Myanmar, the United Nations housing agency.
"The majority of them expect to have no funds to upgrade their houses in the next six months," U.N.-HABITAT acting director Bruno Dercon said. (Reporting by Bangkok bureau; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Alex Richardson)
Senior North Korean diplomat visits Myanmar
Associated Press: Fri 7 Nov 2008
A senior North Korean foreign ministry official is visiting Myanmar to strengthen relations between the two countries' authoritarian regimes.
Myanmar officials, speaking anonymously because they are not authorized to release information, say Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il arrived Thursday (6 Nov) on a five-day official visit.
Myanmar, which faces an arms embargo by the United States and European Union countries, has reportedly bought weapons from North Korea.
The two countries agreed in April 2007 to restore diplomatic ties and Pyongyang subsequently sent an ambassador to Myanmar. Relations were broken off in 1983 following a bombing in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, by North Korean secret agents targeting South Korea's then President Chun Doo-hwan.
Pushing the boundaries of intervention - Michael Vatikiotis
Irrawaddy: Fri 7 Nov 2008
It is ironic that just as the much-heralded Asean Charter received its final approval through ratification by Indonesia, two Asean member states faced off across a disputed patch of land and started shooting at each other.
It was an inauspicious start for what the charter's preamble refers to as "a region of lasting peace, security and stability". The Thai-Cambodian border isn't the only faultline that threatens peace in Southeast Asia.
In recent weeks, Malaysia has rattled Indonesian nerves with the threatened exploitation of disputed waters off the island of Borneo. The reaction in Jakarta? Instead of requesting the good offices of the Asean secretary-general to mediate, as envisaged in Article 23 of the charter, security agencies hurriedly planned a military exercise to practise confrontation with the Malaysian navy.
Why worry? Southeast Asian nations have lived in relative peace and harmony for the past half-century, but have been reluctant up till now to formalise the mechanism by which peace is maintained.
Asean member states have displayed an allergy to formal security cooperation that draws on memories of colonial rule. They have preferred instead to use informal channels and personal connections to resolve disputes.
This was a fine arrangement when Southeast Asia was a more clubbable place, its leaders more or less on the same authoritarian political plane, sharing the same demons (communist insurgency and uppity peasantry).
But today, Southeast Asia has become a patchwork of rather different political landscapes.
In Indonesia, a vibrant democracy has injected nationalist stridency to the country's diplomacy; in Thailand, bitter domestic political conflict is doing the same as one side seeks to undermine the other by questioning its nationalist credentials. In the Philippines as elections approach, congress holds the threat of impeachment over the president's head and makes it hard for the country's chief executive to follow a consistent foreign policy agenda.
Pluralism, therefore, is making it hard for Asean officials to knit together the much-vaunted regional consensus that has always been proffered as an excuse for the lack of formal diplomatic structures and processes.
Now more than ever, Asean needs to build a framework for dispute resolution that will allow the collective security of the region to trump domestic politics and nationalist breast-beating. The Asean Charter lays a good foundation for doing so and has now been ratified by all member states.
But despite the charter's ratification, there are few signs this is happening. When Thai and Cambodian troops started trading fire, Asean officials were at a loss to know how to intervene.
Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan asked regional leaders such as Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to appeal for restraint, which he did. Foreign ministers from Indonesia and Malaysia fell over themselves to offer mediation, but no invitation came from either of the parties. The Asean chairman, Thailand, is a party to the dispute.
Eventually, calm was restored when it emerged that the Thai and Cambodian leaders would meet on the fringes of an Asia-Europe meeting in Beijing, which they did. That's hardly an endorsement of Asean's ability to resolve disputes.
At the heart of the problem is the reluctance of Asean member states to yield an inch of sovereignty in the interests of collective security. The past few months have seen a number of attempts to gently push the boundaries of acceptable intervention, but it has not been easy.
Witness how brashly Indonesia has volunteered its mediating services to Thailand in resolving the conflict in southern Thailand, or how easily domestic politics derailed a Malaysia-brokered deal between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao.
Often, when regional mediation does get under way, jealous or competitive neighbors seek to sabotage or hamper these efforts. Not only has Bangkok been reluctant to embrace Jakarta's good offices as a mediator in the southern Thailand conflict, Malaysia appears to be unhappy to see Jakarta involved in a dispute along its border with Thailand.
Aspiring regional mediators also need to be mindful of allowing domestic politics and personal ambition to spoil the delicate task of peacemaking. Ever since the high-profile resolution of the long-running conflict in Aceh on the back of the devastating December 2004 tsunami, many in the region see the so-called "Aceh model" as a path to peacemaking glory easily replicated elsewhere, which is not necessarily the case.
Without a more formal mechanism to channel and regulate conflict management, with the implicit role of third-party intervention, Asean's efforts to forge a region of peace and lasting security will fall on stony ground.
For while the primary purpose of the charter as set out in Article 1 is "to maintain and enhance peace, security and stability and further strengthen peace-oriented values in the region", there is something of a built-in contradiction between bedrock principles in the charter, which on the one hand, stress respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and on the other, a "shared commitment and collective responsibility" for peace and security.
How can Asean ensure the peaceful resolution of disputes when the charter insists on non-interference in the internal affairs of member states?
This contradiction needs resolving, for when neighbours can't settle quarrels among themselves, outsiders will be called on to do so. The irony of not allowing more space for regional mediation is that it leaves the door open for larger powers, like China in the case of the current Thai-Cambodian dispute, to act as the mediator.
Michael Vatikiotis is Asia regional director for the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. This article was first published in the New Straits Times recently.
Ethnic leaders welcome the UN Secretary-General's report on Burma to the General Assembly, and call on Ban Ki-moon to ask the Security Council to act
United Nationalities Alliance: Fri 7 Nov 2008
(1) The United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), a coalition of 12 ethnic political parties that together won 67 seats in the 1990 election, strongly welcomes and supports the report of the UN Secretary-General on Burma, submitted to the UN General Assembly on Oct 20, 2008.
(2) In his report, Secretary-General indicated his clear understanding of the position of "key stakeholders in Burma, including the National League for Democracy party, a group of 92 persons elected as Members of Parliament in the 1990 elections, and the United Nationalities Alliance, as well as other relevant groups, such as the 88 Generation Students' group, the All Burma Monks' Alliance and the All Burma Federation of Student Unions," who all "formally announced their rejection of the new constitution and the process by which it was adopted and reasserted long-standing demands for the release of political prisoners and an all-inclusive national dialogue".
(3) The Secretary-General also admitted that "specific suggestions of the United Nations to improve the credibility and inclusiveness of the political process have thus far not been taken up by the Government." The Secretary-General insisted that "it remains the primary responsibility of the Government of Myanmar to genuinely demonstrate its stated commitment to cooperating with the United Nations by working constructively through tangible results with the good offices process".
(4) We wholeheartedly support the assertion made by the Secretary-General in his report that "there is no alternative to dialogue to ensure that all stakeholders can contribute to the future of their country. In this regard the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners will be the key for the resumption of an enhanced, all-inclusive, substantive and time-bound dialogue".
(5) We request the Secretary-General to call on the UN Security Council to take effective action against the Burmese regime if it fails to release all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and start a meaningful and time-bound dialogue by the end of December 2008.
Doctor visits Suu Kyi
Agence France-Presse: Thu 6 Nov 2008
A doctor visited Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday, witnesses said, two months after her refusal of food supplies sparked concerns that she was malnourished.
Her regular doctor Tin Myo Win and his assistant went into the lakeside compound where Aung San Suu Kyi is detained in the early afternoon and stayed for about two hours, witnesses near her Yangon home told AFP.
There was no information about the nature of the visit, but a spokesman for her National League for Democracy party has previously said that Aung San Suu Kyi was given a clean bill of health after the doctor's last visit in October.
Tin Myo Win gave Aung San Suu Kyi an intravenous drip on September 14, about a month after she began refusing food rations delivered to her home, prompting her lawyer Kyi Win to describe her as "malnourished."
The NLD and Kyi Win always denied the 63-year-old was on hunger strike, but said she was only eating small amounts of food to call for greater human rights in Myanmar and to protest her detention.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who has no other source of food aside from the daily supplies provided by the military regime, started accepting the food rations again a few days after being given the drip.
The Nobel peace prize winner had been detained for most of the past two decades. She is kept mostly isolated from the outside world, only receiving occasional visits from her doctor and lawyer.
Her NLD won a landslide victory in a 1990 election but the military never allowed it to take office and instead cemented its decades-long grip on power.
Teachers and pupils struggle in temporary schools
IRIN: Thu 6 Nov 2008
Of the 4,000 schools damaged or destroyed when Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwady Delta in May, almost half have been restored.
However, according to Thierry Delbreuve, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Myanmar: "Schools are being rebuilt but there are still 2,500 schools which need particular attention.
"These are still temporary schools. They need to be adequately equipped and buildings need to be constructed as some extensive damage has been done," he said.
Scores of schools were left with unusable latrines, while others reported widespread loss of school furniture, teaching and learning materials.
But despite the physical damage many have resumed classes, bringing a much-needed sense of normalcy to thousands of children.
At the Pyi Thar Yar primary school in the Ayeyarwady Delta, 56 students continue to hold classes in a temporary shelter, covered with little more than tarpaulin sheeting, while others are slightly better off. The primary school in the village of Hmaw bi, about 2.4km from Pyapon and also in the delta, has been up and running since June despite the fact that its building collapsed.
Currently housed in a local monastery, the school accommodates close to 250 children up to grade five.
"Can you hear me? Read the sentence I have written on the blackboard," Aye Min Latt, a fourth-grade teacher instructs the pupils. "We need to shout very loud for them to hear us. We are tired, but the children are tired as well," the 29-year-old teacher said.
There is no space for tables and chairs for the teachers, forcing them to sit alongside the students on long wooden benches instead. The only table has been put aside for the headmaster.
But while there may not be much space, the school has furniture, blackboards, and textbooks and materials provided by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Gate Way and other private donors.
Hmaw bi primary school is just one of 2,038 schools (1,519 in Ayeyarwady and 519 in Yangon) receiving UNICEF support, comprising roofing sheets, furniture and textbooks.
"UNICEF is only one agency with limited resources and human capacity. Addressing other schools is done by the government and other organisations," UNICEF's Myanmar education chief, Niki Abrishamian, said.
Cyclone trauma continues
Meanwhile, as agencies address the physical needs of the schools, psychological problems also need to be addressed.
Scores of children were badly traumatised by the storm and continue to need psychosocial support.
Nay Lin Tun, a 10-year-old third grader in Hmaw bi, still misses friends who perished in the storm. "I'm not happy in the school like before because I miss my friends," he said.
"Sometimes I call out their names by mistake," Aye Min Latt admits. "I try not to mention their names in the class," she said.
Many of the children in her class have lost interest in their studies.
"I have to repeat things many times to make them understand. Sometimes they just look at me with empty eyes without listening to me," she said.
The teachers are not immune. "When I see windy and rainy weather, I simply stop," Aye Min Latt said.
To cope, UNICEF, with the Ministry of Education, has prepared thousands of handbooks - including tips for teachers to help children better cope with the effects of the cyclone - to be distributed soon.
According to experts, getting children back into the classroom is viewed as critical to the long-term recovery of the cyclone-affected area.
Internally displaced persons increase along Thai-Burma border - Solomon
Mizzima News: Thu 6 Nov 2008
Another 500 ethnic Karen in eastern Burma were displaced in October alone, in the wake of fresh fire fights between rebel groups and Burmese Army soldiers, a Committee working for the displaced said.
The Committee for the Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), a group helping displaced persons along the Thai-Burmese border, said more than 500 Karen villagers were forced to flee their homes as a result of fresh clashes.
Sporadic skirmishes had been going on throughout the past month between troops of the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) and the joint forces of the Karen splinter group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Burmese Army soldiers, KNU officials said.
Iris, coordinator of the CIDKP, said the displaced persons are now roaming the jungles along the Thai-Burma border without any help and are afraid to return home.
"They [displaced people] are wandering along the border on the Burmese side. They have nowhere to go, because the Burmese Army has burnt their food stocks and their houses," Iris said.
She said the internally displaced persons, dare not cross the border to Thailand because they will not be accepted by the Thai authorities.
"We don't know the reason why they [Burmese soldiers] are attacking civilians but it may be possible that the junta has accused the villagers of having a nexus with the Karen National Union," Iris suggested.
The KNU, an armed Karen rebel group, has been fighting the Burmese government for nearly half a century. Lately, the KNU faced severe and persistent attacks by a joint force of the splinter group DKBA and the Burmese Army.
Last week, the KNU lost one of its outposts in Khalelawse to the joint DKBA and Burmese Army after a two-day onslaught.
David Takapaw, the Vice Chairman of KNU, said only a few Karen villagers are left in the KNU controlled areas, as most of them have fled to Thailand for fear of attacks launched by the junta's army and the DKBA.
He added that the Karen people living in the areas of control of Burmese troops face severe human rights violations including being used as forced labour, and are forced to pay excessive taxes.
"We have heard that there will be yet another stronger offensive launched against us by the joint forces [junta's army and DKBA]," said Takapaw.
Meanwhile, a Christian NGO based in London has voiced strong concern over the ongoing attacks and the forcible displacement of hundreds of Karen villagers. It has called for immediate cessation of hostilities among the armed groups.
The Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), in statement released on Tuesday said it has received reports that at least 250 Karen villagers have been forcibly evicted from their homes in eastern Burma in late October.
The group condemned the Burmese troops and soldiers of the DKBA for continuing attacks on the KNU that leads innocent villagers to flee for their lives leaving their homes.
The CSW strongly condemns these killings and the forcible displacement of so many innocent Karen villagers, the statement said.
Earlier in September, the Thai-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a group of eleven NGOs helping over 140,000 Burmese refugees in nine camps along the Thai-Burmese border, in a rare report said, at least 66,000 people have been displaced in the past one year - 2007-2008.
Myanmar lifts rice export ban
Agence France Presse: Thu 6 Nov 2008
Authorities in Myanmar have lifted a ban on rice exports imposed after Cyclone Nargis devastated swathes of crucial agricultural land in the southwest delta, an official said on Thursday.
Myanmar banned rice exports after the May 2 and 3 cyclone, which left about 138,000 dead or missing and wiped out 85 per cent of rice seed stocks in the delta. More than 2.4 million people were affected by the storm.
'Rice exports were suspended for a while after Cyclone Nargis hit to make sure there was enough rice for local consumers,' a senior officer at Myanmar Rice Millers' Association told AFP.
'Export permission is now granted to companies if they have rice for export and buyers. We cannot give details on how many companies will get export permits as companies are still applying.'
Myanmar was not a major exporter of the staple grain, but the cyclone had a massive impact on fertile land crucial for domestic food stocks.
In Aug, the United Nations said US$51 million (S$75.56 million) would be needed to rehabilitate rice paddies in the Irrawaddy Delta.
Foreign aid has made its way down to the affected areas, but many farmers have been unable to replant ruined fields, either because they are struggling with housing or they have not replaced working animals lost in the cyclone.
When rice prices soared earlier this year amid global supply concerns, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh clinched deals with the military government to buy Myanmar's small surplus, but then the cyclone hit and exports were suspended.
Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962 and is under US and European sanctions because of human rights abuses and the long-running detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar, South Korean companies to produce bio-diesel
Bernama (Malaysia): Thu 6 Nov 2008
A famous Myanmar private company has reached a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a South Korean company on construction of a bio-diesel plant in Myanmar.
This comes as a response to the government's call on the private sector to join in producing bio-diesel to substitute fuel and cut diesel import, China's Xinhua news agency quoted the official newspaper New Light of Myanmar as saying on Thursday.
A total of 2000 acres (810 hectares) of land will be put under physic nut plants along the Pathein-Mawtinsun motor way under the MoU signed in Yangon Wednesday between the Agri-Tech Ltd of SPA/ FMI Companies Group of Myanmar and the Enertech Co Ltd of South Korea , the report said.
Bio-diesel, produced from the plant, will be supplied domestically and the surplus will be exported, the report added.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar agricultural authorities is also cooperating with some Japanese institutions to produce high-grade bio-diesel by forming a joint venture, according to earlier report.
Under Myanmar's Jatropha bio-energy program, a joint venture company, named Myanmar Bio Energy Company, will be formed between the Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, and Japan Development Institute (JDI) and Japan Bio Energy Development Cooperation (JBEDC) for the move.
Cultivation of Jatropha physic nut plants, establishment of trading center for such crops, raw edible oil factory and training of experts in the aspects will be carried out and the bio-diesel produced from the joint venture will be supplied for domestic use as well as for export, the earlier report said.
Myanmar has set a target to grow 3.23 million hectares of bio- diesel plants in 2008 in a bid to increase the bio-diesel output in the year to substitute diesel, the ministry said.
The Jatropha nuts were being initially planted on 648,000 hectares mainly in three dry zones of Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway divisions.
According to the ministry, Myanmar has about 6.41 million hectares of land suitable for growing Jetropha plants.
Gambari should visit Burma on his own terms, says MNDF leader - Sein Myint and Mi Kyae Goe
Independent Mon News Agency: Thu 6 Nov 2008
The United Nations should not accept a recent invitation to visit Burma, says Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF) vice-chairman Nai Ngwe Thein. Instead, Gambari should visit the country according to his own schedule, including meetings with opposition leaders.
The vice-chairman told IMNA in a recent interview that accepting the junta's invitation would mean visiting Burma as a guest, subject to the regime's schedule and complete control.
According to the Irrawaddy, Burma's ambassador to the United Nations recently invited UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari to visit the country in late November or early December. Gambari has yet to respond.
Gambari visited Burma from August 18th to the 23rd and viewed areas in the Irrawaddy Delta hit by Cyclone Nargis. He also met with a small number of opposition groups including the National League for Democracy (NLD), Burma's largest opposition party. Importantly, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, beloved Nobel laureate and head of the NLD who has been under house arrest for the better part of two decades, refused to meet with Gambari.
Prior to Gambari's visit, "Five Points" were agreed to by the UN Security Council and the "Group of Friends for Myanmar," made up of India, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Australia, Norway, Japan, South Korea and the EU presidency.
The five points urged Burma's military government to: release political prisoners; enter into dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi; begin a credible political process; address socio-economic issues; regularize the Good Offices role of the UN.
The junta continues to ignore the Five Points, said Nai Ngwe Thein, and is inviting Gambari in an attempt to engage him from a position of control. "The military will run their election in 2010. They want to avoid the five points," said Nai Ngwe Thein. "The UN has called on the military to enter a dialogue on national reconciliation, but the military will do the opposite."
Instead of complying, Nai Ngwe Thein said, the junta will continue on its "seven point" roadmap to "disciplined democracy." The fourth step was completed in May 2008, when the junta held a referendum on a new constitution. Both the referendum process and the constitution have been almost universally condemned as undemocratic, but the junta claims that the document won an approval vote of almost 92%.
The fifth step is scheduled for 2010, when Burma will hold its first national elections in twenty years. A variety of domestic and international voices have condemned the upcoming election, arguing that it is predicated upon an illegitimate document.
The MNDF-Liberated Area, based in Mae Sot, is expected to refuse participation in the election, reported the exile news agency Kaowao Newsgroup in late October. The New Mon State Party, the largest political party representing Mon people, has also said that it will not participate.
The MNDF has been a crucial Mon political party for over twenty years and won five seats in the 1990 election, which was later annulled. A number of MNDF leaders - including Nai Ngwe Thein - were arrested and the party was officially banned in 1992.
Burma's pro-democracy movement in crisis - Nga Zaw
Mizzima: Thu 6 Nov 2008
Burmese pro-democracy groups, especially along Burma's borders and abroad, are in crisis. And the crisis recently got worse as the exile government NCGUB along with some other Burmese groups didn't endorse the failed credential campaign at the UN filed by an alliance of exile groups, namely the NCUB led by Maung Maung.
The Burma Day Conference held last week in Brussels further divided the movement on positions of sanctions versus anti-sanctions and engagement versus anti-engagement.
It has been twenty years since Burmese activists fled to neighboring countries, many to the Thailand-Burma border, from where they have continued the pro-democracy movement commenced in 1988.
Many of the activists have also resettled in third countries such as the USA, Australia, Canada, Norway, England and Sweden. They remain little engaged in the movement by participating in random demonstrations in front of Burmese embassies in their respective countries. A few of them have come back, after getting better education in the West, to the Thailand-Burma border, where many groups conduct missions to restore democracy in Burma.
The groups are mainly headed by one-man-show leaders. The leaders hardly cooperate and share little information with one another in their efforts to bring democracy to Burma. No doubt, resettlement programs have impacted leadership. Yet, longstanding and hard-to-work-with leaders have led many subordinates and new generation members to leave for third countries for good, their progress in the leadership ranks of opposition groups being blocked.
For instance, Dr. Sein Win has served as Prime Minster for the exile government since its inception in December 1990. There are more than 20 Burmese organizations more or less led by one or two people. One strong man or woman at the top has led to many problems - lack of transparency, lack of efficiency, lack of policy and a lack of strategy.
Opposition groups label the Burmese junta as being "an old wine in a new bottle" whenever they come up with new plans in their efforts to cling to power. In fact, activists and the opposition movement have been "old wine in old bottles" for nearly two decades. You see the same faces in different meetings taking place all over the world.
The movement is in crisis. It is because of a lack of trust, lack of respect, lack of cooperation, lack of sharing and a lack of teamwork. The success of a social change lies in cooperation among stakeholders, sharing information with one another and working on a common goal through different tactics. Burma won't be democratized any time soon until Burmese democrats come together.
The movement needs new blood, new methods, new ideas and new strategies.
Why India shifts its policy on Burma - Nehginpao Kipgen
Kangla (India): Thu 6 Nov 2008
The international community keeps eyeing the political turmoil in military-ruled Burma. Understandably, neighbors better understand. Let us analyze why India seemingly has a lukewarm interest in the Burmese democratic movement?
It was the 1988 uprising which brought India significantly into the Burmese politics. This was the time when Burmese people contemplated bringing down the military regime.
The failed uprising forced hundreds of refugees across the international border into India. From 1988 to 1992, India's policy vacillated between support for democracy movement and diplomatic isolation.
The P.V. Narasimha Rao's (1991-1996) "Look East" policy basically changed India's foreign policy toward Burma. The dramatic policy shift, however, happened during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's (1998-2004) administration.
There were two major factors responsible for India's policy shift: (i) to ounterweight the strategic influence of the People's Republic of China; and (ii) to deal with insurgency problems in the Northeast India. Economic interest also contributed to it.
Of the two, countering China's regional influence remains to be the number one concern for India. Having experienced a bitter war with China in 1962, India feels insecure and threatened when China's influence is broadened.
China-Burma bilateral trade hit US$2.057 billion in 2007, up 40.9 percent compared with 2006. China's exports to Burma took US$1.686 billion, up 39.6 percent, while its import from Burma stood US$371 million, up 46.9 percent. China enjoyed a trade surplus of US$1.315 billion.
Similarly, India's exports to Burma in 2007-2008 amounted to about US$185 million, while its imports from Burma were valued at around US$810 million. In addition to the Tamu-Kalay-Kalewa highway upgrade, India has made investments in projects such as energy and gas exploration. Most recent India's assistance was the US$200 million project in IT program.
All these moves and counter-moves are the direct result of scrambling for power by the two Asian powers. India, at least for now, sees engaging with the military regime an effective means to narrowing the influence of China.
Another important factor for India's foreign policy shift was due to the rise of insurgency problems in the restive Northeast India. About 20,000 insurgents from different groups of Northeast India have bases in Burma, mostly in the Northwestern part Sagaing Division.
Talks for coordination between India and Burma security forces in counter-insurgency operations have taken momentum in recent years. During his visit to New Delhi in 2004, Senior General Than Shwe assured the Indian government that he would not allow his country to be used by anti-India elements.
Sometimes, bilateral talks and agreements have not really been put into practice.
Although the Burmese military, in a number of occasions, has asked the Indian government to silence its Burmese dissidents, New Delhi so far seems to pay a wishy-washy response. Similarly, Nay Pyi Taw appears to be not fully engaged in dismantling the bases of Indian insurgents operating from Burma.
India apparently is not totally ignoring her support for the Burmese democratic movement. One evidence is the presence of more than fifty thousand Burmese refugees (no official figure available) taking refuge in India, including some leading dissidents.
India rather acts in tandem with her national interest and security in the face of China's influence in the region. By engaging with the military regime, India feels better served. To many, this looks as if India has adopted a double-standard policy toward Burma.
In the event of Burma becoming a democratic country, India is expected to be one of the first to throw her support. Till then, India will continue to compete with China, while the Western world is likely to continue with traditional sanctions.
Partners in oppression - Kay Seok and David Mathieson
Far Eastern Economic Review: Thu 6 Nov 2008
Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win visited North Korea on Oct. 27 to hold the first high-level meeting since diplomatic relations were severed 25 years ago. When the two countries normalized diplomatic relations in April 2007, the reaction was largely twofold: banal and alarmist.
The banal views argued that both authoritarian states were merely re-establishing formal diplomatic relations severed after North Korean agents bombed the Martyrs Mausoleum in Rangoon in 1983, killing several members of the South Korean cabinet.
Alarmist views spoke of the specter of North Korea handing over nuclear weapons technology to Burma, even though North Korea has been supplying conventional weapons to Burma's military ruled State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) for years. The SPDC also announced the purchase of a 10 megawat nuclear reactor (the same size as North Korea's) from Russia, just weeks after the two countries restored ties.
While both perspectives hold truth, the real concern should be for the citizens of Burma and North Korea, who continue to suffer under the repressive regimes. Both countries rank among the worst human rights abusers, persecute those who attempt to flee, and severely curtail the ability of the outside world to help those in need.
In Burma, following the crackdown on peaceful protests for change led by monks in September 2007, more than 1,000 people were incarcerated, with many killed. In North Korea, basic freedoms have been restricted for so long and on such a scale that there has never been a public demonstration calling for freedom and democracy.
Those attempting to flee repression and poverty at home are routinely persecuted. For years, North Korea has threatened to severely punish all who are caught in China and repatriated. More than 1,000 North Koreans in the past year have trod a perilous route from their country through China into Laos, then across the Mekong River to Thailand with hopes to ultimately reach South Korea, or in some cases the United States.
Some have even attempted to transit through Burma. In light of the restored diplomatic relations between North Korea and Burma, some observers fear that North Koreans caught in Burma would be returned home to face torture and imprisonment.
The military offensives and other actions of Burma's SPDC has driven over 160,000 refugees across the border with Thailand, thousands more into India, while hundreds of thousands live precarious lives as migrant workers in China, Thailand and India.
The international community is often called on to respond to the government orchestrated misery of the people of North Korea and Burma. Efforts by relief and development agencies to alleviate this suffering are restricted by paranoid and often corrupt officials.
In North Korea, international aid workers have been struggling to properly monitor food distribution to ensure that the food reaches the most vulnerable population instead of the elite or the military. Aid workers often face rejection and restriction by North Korean officials.
In Burma, the initial government restrictions on the activities of foreign humanitarian organizations and United Nations agencies in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 have evidently eased. But this followed weeks of obstruction when over 2.4 million people waited for desperately needed aid to arrive. Such optimism is not the case in the rest of Burma, where government restrictions and surveillance have hampered aid programs for years.
Restrictions on organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has severely limited their access to prisons in Burma since late 2005, and the ICRC released a rare public statement in June 2007 pointing to frequent violations of international humanitarian law in ethnic conflict areas. In North Korea, the ICRC has yet to obtain access to its notorious detention facilities.
The U.N. expert on North Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, has never been permitted to visit the country, while Tomas Ojeo Quintana, the new U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, visited Burma in a short, tightly scripted visit in August this year. The U.N. Secretary General's Special Adviser to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has visited several times since 2005, and despite initial optimism he was making progress, was rebuffed by senior SPDC officials in August, and his efforts now seem stalled.
The chumminess of bilateral visits should not belie the effects closer ties could have on the people of North Korea and Burma. The renewed ties mean that both governments have a new, formal ally in prolonging and justifying their system of repression.
The people who suffer will not be the elites who rule, but those who exist precariously in the face of international banality and alarmism, which both the North Korean leadership and the Burmese military are relying on.
Burmese monks and students call on the United Nations Security Council to reinforce Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's mandate for realizing democratic change in Burma
All Burma Monks' Alliance and the 88 Generation Students: Thu 6 Nov 2008
1. The All Burma Monks' Alliance (ABMA) and the 88 Generation Students, two prominent organizations working to restore freedom and democracy in Burma, today issued a joint statement welcoming the report, submitted by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the General Assembly on October 20, 2008 on the situation of human rights in Burma.
2. We appreciate Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his clear understanding of the position of key stakeholders in Burma, including the National League for Democracy party, Members of Parliament-elect, ethnic political parties, as well as other relevant groups, such as the 88 Generation Students, the All Burma Monks' Alliance and the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. We all declared our rejection of the military junta's new constitution and its illegitimate conduct and use of force and fraud to adopt it. We sincerely believe that immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the realization of a meaningful and time-bound dialogue between the military junta, the National League for Democracy party led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic representatives are the most important issues to address in order to pave the way for national reconciliation and democratization.
3. In his report, the Secretary-General rightly stated that "specific suggestions of the United Nations to improve the credibility and inclusiveness of the political process have thus far not been taken up by the Government." We fully agree with the conclusion made by the Secretary-General that "there is no alternative to dialogue to ensure that all stakeholders can contribute to the future of their country. In this regard the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners will be the key for the resumption of an enhanced, all-inclusive, substantive and time-bound dialogue".
4. Thus far, we have found no evidence that the military junta in Burma is endeavoring to implement the recommendations made by the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy, contained in the successive resolutions from the General Assembly and Human Rights Council as well as in the Presidential Statements of the Security Council. More than 2,100 democracy activists are still incarcerated, hundreds more are before the kangaroo courts, all fundamental rights of the people are severely restricted, the junta's civilian militias are more aggressive in harassing NLD party members and human rights defenders, military offensives in ethnic areas have intensified, recruitment of child soldiers has become more and more widespread, and tens of thousands of people are fleeing the country every day to be free from human rights abuses.
5. Therefore, we earnestly call on the UN Security Council to take effective and collective action in support of the Secretary-General's good offices role in Burma. Without strong enforcement from the Security Council, the military junta that rules our country of Burma will continue to undermine the Secretary-General's good offices mandate and the United Nations, and more and more people of Burma will die unnecessarily.
Burmese censors outline news management plan
Mizzima News: Wed 5 Nov 2008
Mizzima recently got hold of a copy of a confidential document detailing the plan of the Burmese junta's information minister to improve the dissemination of information from various government agencies.
The following is an excerpt of a circular issued by the Information Ministry to all government ministries on the management of news and other sensitive information.
"…2. In this IT age, tactful 'pre-emptive' action taken by governmental departments in releasing their news is better than the total control and blackout of the said news…
"…3. The private media conducts its coverage of the government departments by gathering information by all possible means and writing commentaries and features when they cannot get official news from the departments concerned. In these cases, the departments concerned frequently issued objections, elaborations and clarifications. Sometimes they have to take action against the media in such instances…
"…(a) In the press censorship policy adopted, positive writing on government departmental news has been allowed. Thus, the government departments should understand this situation to some extent and should cooperate with the private media for the benefit of their respective departments…
"…(b) Since the people want to know the progress of work being performed by the government departments, they should form an information committee for the occasional release of official news on the work being conducted by them for the benefit of state and people. In this way, the people can get in-depth information on what work is being done for the long-term benefit of the state and people, their progress, their future plans, etc. By doing these, the people will cooperate more with the government departments. The people will appreciate the transparency of the state whenever they see this occasional news released officially by the government departments. It will also deter rumors being circulated among the people. Government departments can release this official news either by inviting media themselves or through our Information Ministry. At present, the Yangon (Rangoon) City Development Committee (YCDC) and People's Police Force (PPF) have established their own press committees for the release of official news through these committees. Thus, the media can easily get the official, confirmed news from them and cover this news in their media. This system is found to be successful and functioning smoothly…
"…(c) If the departments concerned have some news which is to be withheld, concealed, and censored and not to be circulated publicly to the people, they should send a written request to the Information Ministry ahead of time. The ministry will then control the release of this news in desired form by using appropriate means. Therefore, the ministries should coordinate with us in releasing information from time to time in accordance with their needs…
"…(d) Moreover, the ministries should have 'contact points' concerning the media for the verification, confirmation and clarification of official news released by the ministries and departments."
Army training school seizes, resells monastery land in northern Mon State
Independent Mon News Agency: Wed 5 Nov 2008
The Burmese Military Training School in Thanpyuzayart Township, Mon State is selling land confiscated from a nearby monastery, say local sources.
According to a layman at the monastery, Training School (TS) No. 4, based in Wekali village, seized about 140 acres last week. At least 100 acres have already been resold at 500,000 kyat per acre.
TS No. 4 promised to give the monastery 100,000 kyat for each acre sold, but the monastery has yet to receive any the money.
According to a monk from the monastery, the abbot is unhappy because he could not stop the seizure and resale. The officer in charge of the training school came to the monastery to discuss things with the abbot, the monk said, but was going to sell the land regardless of whether he left with an agreement.
Over twenty years ago, the abbot made the land an animal sanctuary on which hunting and logging was prohibited. "Mon and Karen armed groups never dared to take this land," the Monk said. The Burmese army does not appear to have shared these reservations, and had even been using the sanctuary for training exercises prior to the seizure.
Unfortunately, the monastery's land was not officially registered with the government. The army contended that the monastery was only permitted five acres, and any extra land could be confiscated.
Gaining official permission for a monastery to own land requires navigating a long and complicated process that includes negotiations with the Village Peace and Development Council (PDC), Township PDC, Land-surveying Department, District PDC, all before the proposal can reach the State level. After which the state reports to the central of Religious Affair Department in Kabaraye.
Elsewhere in Thanpyuzayart, the Khonekaroat village monastery has been trying to gain official control of their land for over a year. In spite of paying significant bribes, the process is still not complete.
The absent neighbor: China looms large in every aspect of India's Myanmar policy - Krishnan Srinivasan
The Telegraph (India): Wed 5 Nov 2008
In the vast number of publications on India's foreign relations, Myanmar is a neighbour that has remained mainly absent. In part, this is is because of the reclusive nature of that regime, and partly because Myanmar is not regarded as an important international player; but mainly because relations between the two countries were virtually non-existent in the three decades between the military coup that deposed U Nu in 1962 and the mid-Nineties.
Burma was the largest province in British India, and only in 1937 was it acknowledged as an independent entity within the British Empire. Indians were drafted in large numbers into the colonial army during the three Anglo-Burma wars of the 19th century, and about 4 lakh Indians were sent there to run several public services. Added to these were the immigrant, Tamil-speaking Chettiars and agricultural workers. The persons of Indian origin on the eve of the Japanese invasion numbered 1.1 million, mainly in urban centres. These people became a bone of contention, being treated as resident aliens and discriminated against, though they had lived in Burma for generations. Despite these privations, the Indian government estimates - mainly guesswork - that there are nearly three million persons of Indian origin in Myanmar today, and in contrast with most such communities living abroad, this one is neither well-off nor well regarded.
In the late Eighties, India supported the pro-democracy uprising and offered sanctuary to Burmese dissidents. But a few years later, New Delhi switched to constructive engagement with the military regime in Yangon as part of its 'look east' policy, to counter growing Chinese influence, and the desire for closer ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The need for new sources of energy played its part, and a powerful ingredient in India's thinking was the imperative to develop the Northeast without the disruption of insurgencies.
The first border trade agreement was signed with Myanmar in 1994, involving points in Manipur and Mizoram and, the next year, a joint military operation against insurgents took place. High-level military-to-military contacts began in 2000. Heads of state visited each other, and accords were concluded on security, culture, hydro-electricity, petroleum, remote-sensing, and Buddhist studies. Indian loans of $40 million were offered to Yangon.
The rationale for India's policy to befriend Myanmar despite that regime's ill-treatment of people of Indian origin and repression of its own citizens is understandable, but the lack of beneficial results from the new orientation is harder to comprehend. The new strategy has failed even partially to open a closed polity, and insurgency in the Indian Northeast has not diminished because India and Myanmar have varying types of problems with different sets of insurgents and do not share the same priorities in addressing them. Cooperation against the cross-border militants has tailed off. It was hoped that greater border trade with Myanmar would introduce regeneration in our Northeast and help to quell narcotic and arms trafficking and AIDS. But only one of the two proposed border posts is open, for which India blames Myanmar, the road on the Indian side to Moreh is sub-standard, two-way trade is constrained by the small list of tradable goods, excessive regulation and restrictions, and is negligible compared to trade across the Myanmar borders with China and Thailand. Our Northeast is swamped by goods of Chinese origin, but there is hardly any movement of Indian exports in the opposite direction. The benefits of economic prosperity seen in other parts of India have not yet touched the region.
India interacts with Myanmar in several economic fora - the Bay of Bengal Initiative, the Kunming Initiative, and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Initiative. Apart from China, Myanmar is the only one of India's neighbours that exports more to India than it imports, and India does not even rank among Myanmar's top five import sources. Trade is hampered by both countries not accepting direct payment methods such as telegraphic transfers or letters of credit, forcing the involvement of third parties, such as Singapore. Transaction costs are high and the disparity between the real and official rates of exchange is another disincentive, as is the difficulty in obtaining export credit and insurance. Many Indian companies are even disinclined to reveal they are operating in Myanmar.
India has given $100 million credit for Myanmar infrastructure, while $ 57 million has been offered to upgrade Burmese railways. A further $27 million in grants has been pledged for road and rail projects, but there is little yet to show for this approach in terms of concrete benefit. The Tamu-Kalemayo 160 kilometre road in Myanmar has been built by India, and India and China are planning to rebuild the Stillwell Road, on which the Chinese work has already started. The Kaladan river project to link a newly constructed Sittwe port to the Indian Northeast involves dredging the river to create a trans-shipment terminal and will take several years. A proposed railway from Hanoi to Imphal and a 1,500 km Trans-Asian highway from India to Bangkok are still being talked about. The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation is working three offshore blocks off the Rakhine coast, but the debate continues on whether the energy extracted would be transported to India by pipeline or as liquefied natural gas, while Bangladesh blows hot and cold on the use of its territory for transit. Meanwhile, China has predictably moved faster. It is building pipelines to Yunnan, a deep-sea port at Kyaw Phuy, and a road linking that port with Kunming.
China looms large in every aspect of India's Myanmar policy, but after the barren years since the Sixties, India has to play catch-up with a weak hand. India's desire to regenerate the Northeast is matched by China's wish to develop Yunnan and Sichuan and to integrate the economies of autonomous Burmese border regions with southern China's economy. Large numbers of Chinese investors and traders and the large Chinese diaspora in Myanmar, estimated at 2 million, are assisting actively in this process.
New Delhi takes some comfort from the view that Myanmar wishes to balance the preponderance of China with relations with India and the Asean, but in the jostling for influence in the spaces along India's frontiers, India is faltering in Myanmar with adverse consequences for the 'look east' and Northeast strategies. Departments in our capital blame one another for the loss of momentum, and no one is prepared to drive forward the agenda without a clearer directive of priority from the political leadership,
India's maritime strategy focuses on threats in the Indian Ocean. New Delhi is not reassured by Burmese promises that its territory would not be used for military purposes against any third party, and the Indian military is concerned about China modernizing naval bases at Hanggyi, Cocos, Akyab, Mergui and the port at Kyauk Phuy. This has become an unequal triangular relationship where one party seems to be reaping all the benefits. New Delhi was reluctant to condemn Myanmar during the monk-led fuel-and-food protests of 2007 and quick to send relief after the recent cyclone. But while this was noted positively in the new capital of Naypyitaw, a realistic assessment is that if India had not responded in the way it did, there would have been a negative fall-out. The outcomes of the energies expended by India over the past two decades have been negligible. The situation calls for a re-appraisal designed to turn the tide more in our favour.
Children not in school six months after cyclone - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Tue 4 Nov 2008
An estimated 300,000 children are still unable to attend school six months after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, according to a leading relief agency, Save the Children in Burma.
Andrew Kirkwood, the country director of the relief agency, said that following the cyclone: "There's a huge demand for this, from communities and children. There were about 400,000 children who were not able to go to school. Now, we've managed to get 100,000 of those kids back into school through, for example, the rebuilding of temporary schools, using relatively inexpensive materials."
Save the Children has rebuilt more than 350 temporary schools, according to a report it on October 31, highlighting the critical role of education in helping children recover.
"It's hard to overstate the importance of getting children back to school," said Kirkwood.
"The best way to deal with emotional distress is to normalize the lives of children, get them back into a routine and enable them to pick up what they were doing before the cyclone."
The father of a student in Bogalay Township said many children are not able to attend school because their family focuses on their daily survival, and they believe the children can live without an education for now.
A housewife in Bogalay said, "You can see many children along the roadside, some begging, some stealing things, some surrounding rubbish baskets and collecting plastic to sell it to earn money. Some parents of children don't want their children to go to school, and they tell their children to beg."
The relief agency estimated that around 40 percent of the 140,000 people who were killed or disappeared in the wake of the cyclone disaster were children. Many who survived were orphaned or separated from their parents.
According to a UNICEF report, it identified 220 orphans, 914 children separated from their parents, 302 "unaccompanied" children and 454 judged to be "extremely vulnerable."
More than half of all schools in the Irrawaddy delta were destroyed, according to Save the Children.
Recently, Kyaw Thu, Burma's deputy foreign minister and chairman of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG), the humanitarian assistance task force comprising Asean, the UN and the Burmese government, said in a press release: "Children are back in school, people are working again, the rice crop is due for harvesting shortly and transport and health facilities are again accessible."
Farmers detained for reporting army abuses to ILO - Khin Hnin Htet
Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 4 Nov 2008
Three farmers who reported the seizure of their farms to the International Labour Organisation's office in Rangoon had been detained by the army, according to a local farmer.
U Hla Soe, U Sein Steen and U Nay Lin from Natmauk township's Myetyehkan village in Magwe Division, were arrested on the night of 20 October by a team of police on the order of the army along with 43-year old Ko Zaw Htay from nearby Aunglan who helped them report their grievances to the ILO.
They have all been detained at Natmauk police station.
Fifty farmers from Myetyehkan, Kyaungywalay, Ywathit, Nyaung Pauk villages reported the ILO that more than five thousand acres of their farmland were seized by the army and that the soldiers had been extorting money from them.
"We have to pay 30,000 kyat a year for an acre of land. It is not easy to make 30,000 kyat profit a year however fertile the land is," a farmer said.
"We are not allowed to visit our farms to pick our maturing vegetables by the order of the army, they say. And we are not allowed to grow our sunflowers for this season," he added.
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