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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 17/11/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Reporter covering Nargis victims sentenced to two years 2.. Villagers forced to porter during junta campaign against rebels 3.. Road repaired to prepare
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 17, 2008
      1. Reporter covering Nargis victims sentenced to two years
      2. Villagers forced to porter during junta campaign against rebels
      3. Road repaired to prepare for official visit; infrastructure elsewhere neglected
      4. Burma to export biofuel resource to South Korea
      5. Regime tightens reins on the internet
      6. U Win Tin says Ban Ki Moon should not visit Burma
      7. Burma lays landmines along the Burma-Bangladesh border
      8. UN rights envoy says Burma's judiciary system flawed
      9. In Burma, business ventures start with military
      10. Burma moves to silence the opposition
      11. India must use BIMSTEC to push for change in Burma
      12. Tay Za logging in Karen State
      13. Burma, North Korea sign visa agreement
      14. 'Catalonia' prize for Aung San Suu Kyi and Dr. Cynthia Maung
      15. Council of European Union conclusions on Burma/Myanmar
      16. Court sentenced blogger for over 20 years, poet for two years
      17. People from Chin state are forced into labour by the local authorities in the western part of Myanmar
      18. Mon language axed from state schools in Thaton
      19. Burma vote illegitimate unless Suu Kyi freed
      20. Burma resolution introduced in the UN

      Reporter covering Nargis victims sentenced to two years - Myint Maung
      Mizzima: Fri 14 Nov 2008

      A local woman journalist, attached to weekly 'Ecovision Journal' was sentenced to two years in jail by a court in Rangoon's Tamwe Township on Friday.

      The sentence handed out to reporter Ein Khaing Oo, barely 24-years-old, during a close-door trial without being allowed a defence lawyer, comes after several detained activists were sent to long terms in prison of up to 65 years earlier this week.

      "The sentence was read out this afternoon. She was not permitted a defence lawyer. The judge read out the sentence. Her family members could learn the sentence when she was taken back to the prison.

      She was accused by the police of taking photographs of Nargis victims so that she could sell it to the foreign media.

      The reporter has spent five months in Insein prison. She was arrested while filing stories on the Nargis Cyclone victims who were approaching Rangoon-based international NGOs for help on July 10.ho

      Kyaw Kyaw Than, a friend who followed her was also arrested and sentenced to 7 years in prison. The regime accused him of instigating public riots and travelling abroad illegally.

      Ein Khaing Oo was working in Ecovision for two months before she was arrested.

      Cyclone Nargis lashed the poverty stricken country on May 2 and 3 in which at least 130,000 people were killed or went missing.

      Villagers forced to porter during junta campaign against rebels - Hseng Khio Fah
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Fri 14 Nov 2008

      Burma army units active in areas of Mongkeung township, southern Shan State, has been forcing many villagers to porter and guide them during the recent operations against the Shan State Army (SSA) South, according to sources.

      Since earlier in the month, the Mongnai-based Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #518, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Thant Zin Latt, has been patrolling in the areas of Mongkeung and Kehsi townships in order to search the rebel group.

      They went to catch villagers from Harmngai, Wan Mong, Mong Hkun, Wan Khem, Wan Khong, Mong Kao and Wan Kieng village tracts, to carry things and weapons including to show the way to the locations of the rebel.

      "There were at least 10 to 20 people caught for one patrol," said the source.

      The villagers were forced not only to porter but also to stand watch at night for the soldiers during the patrols, said a villager from Mongkeung.

      "It took at least over a week to provide the service. We even have no time to work for our livelihood. It is very hard for us to survive with this situation," complained the villager.

      The LIB#518 is active in the area of Mongkeung and Kehsi townships. It comes under the command of Col Khin Maung Tin of Mongnawng-based Military Operations Command (MOC) #2.

      Road repaired to prepare for official visit; infrastructure elsewhere neglected
      Independent Mon News Agency: Fri 14 Nov 2008

      Roads needed for a recent visit from Major General Tha Aye were recently repaired while roads elsewhere in Mon State continue to be neglected. Local military officials do not care about local development projects, says a major in administrative department, and infrastructure repairs only occur in preparation for visiting officials.

      Maj. Gen. Tha Aye visited Ye Township, in southern State, and adjacent Tennasserim Division on November 8th. The main road linking Moulmein, Mon State's capital, with areas to the south were repaired. According to government controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper, the Maj. Gen. inspected repairs to the road at Belamine village in Ye Township.

      According to a witness, workers used sand and rocks to make minor cosmetic repairs so that the road would appear well cared for. The repairs have not lasted, said the source: "The road returned to the same condition after a few days. The stone and sand blew away."

      A person who recently traveled to Ye Town said that roads in the area were not in good condition. "Motorbikes are driving beside the road instead of on it because some parts don't have the coal tar on the highway. A taxi driver in Moulmein agreed, and said that the majority of roads in Mon State are in ill repair and in need of government attention.

      According to a source close to the major, most of the high ranks do not care about local infrastructure like roads. If the upcoming election, scheduled for 2010, is to keep the army out of politics and in the barracks, the thinking goes, there is no reason to waste time on public services.

      Burma to export biofuel resource to South Korea - William Boot
      Irrawaddy: Fri 14 Nov 2008

      Burma is to export yet another energy resource - this time the raw product for ethanol manufacture to make biodiesel.

      Thousands of tons of oil from jatropha plants are to be shipped to South Korea for that country's growing biofuel needs.

      The Burmese military government has been forcing tens of thousands of Burmese to cultivate jatropha plants, also known as physic nuts, supposedly a national effort to provide the country with an alternative to expensively imported plain diesel.

      But Burma has no refining technology to convert the oil-rich plants into ethanol, which is the essential ingredient in biofuels.

      Now, one of the government's closest linked commercial companies, First Myanmar Investment (FMI), has signed a supply contract with Enertech to ship partially processed jatropha "crude" to South Korea.

      FMI, owned by junta-linked businessman Serge Pun, is contracted to ship 5,000 tons of jatropha oil to Korea in 2009, and has plans to expand plant cultivation in Burma beyond its existing 100,000 acres of plantations - some of which was confiscated from Burmese farmers, say human rights groups.

      None of the South Korean biodiesel will be sent back to Burma, a country suffering energy shortages despite its abundant natural energy resources. Virtually all Burma's huge natural gas resource is shipped to buyers abroad. Electricity to be generated by a swathe of hydroelectric dams will go to Thailand, India and China.

      Serge Pun told the Rangoon-based The Myanmar Times this week the South Korean deal is "an important milestone in the development of renewable energy sources in Myanmar [Burma]."

      One of Malaysia's big ethanol producers, Golden Hope, is also involved in Serge Pun's export venture.

      There is a surge across Southeast Asia in ethanol production for cheaper biofuels. The biggest producers are Malaysia and Indonesia, although Thailand is also catching up.

      "It's not surprising that this Burmese raw energy material is going abroad," energy industries consultant Colin Reynolds told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

      "Burma does not have the technical resources to produce the final product, and even if it did, it's doubtful if many of the country's ageing vehicles could efficiently use biofuels."

      Regime tightens reins on the internet - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Thu 13 Nov 2008

      Burma's military government has turned to a 12-year-old law to justify its latest crackdown on dissidents, about 60 of whom have received lengthy prison sentences so far this week.

      On Monday, blogger Nay Phone Latt became one of the first to be punished under the

      1996 Computer Science Development Law, receiving a prison sentence of twenty years and six months for violating the hitherto little-used law. The next day, the court handed similarly harsh sentences to 14 members of the 88 Generation Students Group, also accused of committing various offenses under the law.

      Lawyers for the detained activists said that the use of the law was a departure from the regime's usual practice of invoking older laws to suppress dissent.

      "Normally, the government would charge the activists under Section 5(j) of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act for making anti-government speeches and agitating unrest," said one lawyer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

      "There is another reason to use this law," the lawyer added. "They can tell the international community that they have no political prisoners in the jails, only criminals."

      The law provides for sentences of up to 15 years' imprisonment for offenses such as accessing the Internet without official authorization. Several of the accused who were sentenced earlier this week faced as many as four charges under the law.

      The law was enacted in September 1996 by the State Law and Order Restoration Council, as the current regime was known at the time, and gave the Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs the power to specify exactly what constituted the lawful use of computers.

      Failure to obtain the ministry's approval before establishing or accessing a network is punishable by a prison sentence of not less than seven years and not more than 15 years, and may also be liable to a fine. The same punishment is also prescribed for anyone who uses a computer network or information technology to undermine state security or "community peace and tranquility."

      The Burmese authorities have become increasingly uneasy about the way the Internet is being used in the country since last September, when blog sites and online chat rooms were a major source of information about massive monk-led demonstrations and the regime's subsequent crackdown.

      Burmese bloggers and "citizen journalists" uploaded news, photos and video clips of the uprising to the Internet, revealing the junta's brutal suppression of the protests to the international community.

      Since then, military authorities have stepped up their efforts to regulate Internet traffic, closely monitoring Internet cafés and individual users.

      By sentencing Nay Phone Latt, a popular young blogger, to more than 20 years in prison, the regime has signaled that it has no intention of relaxing its hold over the Internet anytime soon.

      Some Burmese bloggers living abroad even suggested that the move showed the junta was not merely targeting political activists, but was going after anyone who seemed to regard the Internet as a forum for free speech.

      "Nay Phone Latt is not political," said Gyit Tu, a Burmese blogger based in Singapore. "He is just a young person who didn't tolerate injustice.

      "The government has given notice to other young bloggers that if they write blogs, they will be punished like Nay Phone Latt," she added.

      This is not the first time that the regime has used draconian restrictions on the use of new technology to imprison its critics. In 1996, Leo Nichols, a businessman and honorary consul for Norway and Denmark, was arrested and given a lengthy sentence for illegal possession of fax machines.

      Nichols was tortured and denied medicine by prison authorities. He died soon after being placed in detention.

      U Win Tin says Ban Ki Moon should not visit Burma - Htet Aung Kyaw
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 13 Nov 2008

      Recently released veteran journalist and pro-democracy leader U Win Tin said the visit of United Nations' Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Burma could end up as a nod to tyranny.

      During an interview with DVB, U Win Tin said he welcomes concerns for Burma by the international community and world leaders but he insisted that state visits could end up endorsing oppression in the country.

      "It is very good that world leaders are interested in our political affairs, but this kind of visit will give blessing to dire situation here. We welcome their interest but not the visit," said U Win Tin.

      "I even want to say clearly to Mr. Ban Ki-moon, don't come (to Burma)," he said.

      "In this kind of situation, world leaders need to think because while they (Burmese generals) are creating this atrocious situation and if people like Ban Ki-moon come and follow their plan, see what they show and listen to what they say, they will end up supporting, promoting and blessing the military government."

      Burma lays landmines along the Burma-Bangladesh border
      Kaladan News: Thu 13 Nov 2008

      Burma has laid landmines on the Burma-Bangladesh border following tension between the two neighboring countries over gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal, according to a source close to Burma's border security force, Nasaka.

      Nasaka laid mines on Burma–Bangladesh borders from pillar No. 37 to 41, which is located at Wayla Daung since November 7, 2008, bringing porters from rural areas.

      Burma's ruling junta has not agreed to the Mine Ban Treaty. Burma abstained from voting on the pro-Mine Ban Treaty in the UN General Assembly Resolution 57/74 in November 2002. SPDC delegates have not attended any of the annual meetings of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty or the Inter-sessional Standing Committee meetings. Burma was one of the two ASEAN countries that did not participate in the seminar. Burma has been producing at least three types of antipersonnel mines: MM1, MM2, and Claymore-type mines.

      Burma is not known to have imported or exported any antipersonnel mines. Burma has obtained and used antipersonnel mines manufactured in China, Israel, Italy, Russian, United States, and unidentified manufacturers, according to sources.

      In 2002, mines were laid along much of the Bangladesh-Burma border which remain embedded in the ground and continue to claim victims despite continued diplomatic protests by Bangladesh. Later all the mines in Burma- Bangladesh border were removed by the SPDC authorities following complaints from the Bangladesh side.

      Burma also reinforced its troops in the border areas and at least deployed 50 to 100 soldiers at all Nasaka camps which had only 35 soldiers earlier. There are about 300-400 army personnel in Aungzu camp and about 2,000 soldiers were deployed in border areas since November 7. The Nasaka also made trenches in every camp, according to an aide of Nasaka.

      According to sources, the Nasaka will continue laying mine in border areas up to pillar No. 58, which is located in Busi Par (Busi Mountain).

      UN rights envoy says Burma's judiciary system flawed - Solomon
      Mizzima: Thu 13 Nov 2008

      United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, says Burma's judicial system, which sentenced over 30 dissidents to long prison terms on Tuesday, is flawed and manipulated by the ruling junta.

      Quintana, in an interview with Mizzima, said, "There is no independent and impartial judiciary system [in Burma]," referring to the sentencing of dissidents earlier this week to up to 65 years in prison.

      Quintana, who made his inaugural investigative trip on the condition of human rights in Burma in August, said the proceedings that sentenced the activists "cannot be taken as a fair trial" and that the government should reconsider the convictions.

      However, despite the UN rights expert's and the international community's condemnation of the Burmese military junta's earlier convictions, 11 more National League for Democracy members were today handed sentences of seven and half years imprisonment.

      Yesterday, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary General said in a statement that Ban Ki-moon is deeply concerned by the severe prison terms imposed on activists in connection with last year's peaceful demonstrations in Burma.

      "He calls once again for all political prisoners to be released and for all citizens of Myanmar [Burma] to be allowed to freely participate in their country's political future as part of an inclusive national reconciliation process," the statement read.

      With their words, Ban and Quintana joined the growing chorus of international condemnation over the junta's actions, which opposition groups say are aimed to eliminate all activists before the planned election in 2010.

      Quintana stressed that the convictions of the activists should be reconsidered as they had not received a fair trial. He also said he will raise the issue of a fair court and an independent judicial system during his second visit to the country, which he believes will occur prior to March 2009.

      "I am trying to go back to the country before March 2009, this [the judiciary system] will be part of my discussion in the country," Quintana told Mizzima.

      In his earlier visit in August, the UN envoy proposed four core human rights elements to the Burmese junta for consideration, one of which was a review of national legislation in accordance with the new constitution and international obligations - in addition to the release of political prisoners, a review of the armed forces and look at how authority is exercised.

      Quintana noted, "One of my goals for the next mission is to establish with the government for the implementation of these four core human rights elements."

      "The human rights situation [in Burma] is a challenging task for me and for other human rights agencies," added the Special Rapporteur.

      In Burma, business ventures start with military - Daniel Pepper
      San Francisco Chronicle: Thu 13 Nov 2008

      Located in dense jungle hills, this jade mining town is a prime example of the nation's business climate.

      The northern town of 20,000 residents is connected to the outside world by a single crumbling road, a bone-crushing 16 hours to the closest transport hub during the rainy season. Ancient hulking trucks putter along in the mud, some stuck for days. Like a cruel joke, red road signs announce: "The Government has arranged for road repair from each company in Hpakant," meaning companies with lucrative government contracts are expected to pay for highway upkeep even though the military regime takes a hefty profit from each venture.

      In Burma, residents call this business as usual.

      More than 450 private companies and some 100 joint ventures operate in the area, the majority of which are owned by Burmese with Chinese heritage, according to Sai Joseph, 34, a gregarious family man and manager of a midsize jade company.

      "There are only a few wealthy people in Burma - those who get in with the political people, the authorities who have power," said Joseph. "This is a good chance to get rich."

      All of Burma's big-ticket industries are based around natural resources, including oil, natural gas, timber and mining. In essence, the country is run like a mafia, from the languid tea shops of Rangoon to this remote jungle area of Kachin state, where the mining town of Hpakant is located and provides much of the world's jade.

      In 2007, sales of natural gas brought in some $3 billion, while teak and other lumber earned about $480 million. The jade industry earned an estimated $400 million.

      "You name it and they (military) have figured out a way to flip it and make money out of it," said a former Western diplomat who asked not to be named. "If a businessman wants to do something - build a hotel, import cards, export lumber or get a government contract - he hooks up with an army officer who can influence the decision. There are some outright cash payoffs, but mostly it works on favors in kind."

      Shining a light

      Uncovering information about the regime's business deals is notoriously difficult. But in September, Earth Rights International (ERI), a Thailand-based environmental and human rights organization, released a report detailing the investments of 68 Chinese multinationals in 88 hydropower, oil, natural gas and mining projects.

      Pieced together from a range of Chinese companies and government Web sites and news sources, the report aimed to raise awareness for the nation's 48 million inhabitants, who are kept in the dark on government's dealings and a global movement to pressure the military into making reforms.

      "The Burmese regime has successfully convinced these companies that nothing will compromise its grip on political power," said Matthew Smith, a project coordinator with ERI. "This is a conviction the regime doesn't hesitate to demonstrate, as we've seen through its political imprisonments and violent treatment of dissent."

      The report showed that Burma's generals continue to thrive off their relationship with China, evidenced by new air-conditioned supermarkets and shopping malls, packed with Chinese-made goods in major cities like Rangoon and Mandalay - products only a few Burmese can afford. Signs of conspicuous consumption are evident by a small group of multimillionaires whose wealth stands in direct relation to their proximity to junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe and other top generals.

      Many pro-democracy exiles regard China as the linchpin for meaningful change, which may be hope prevailing over logic. China is the largest supplier of military equipment to Burma and is a crucial veto on the U.N. Security Council to stifle harsher economic sanctions by the international community.

      In Hpakant, jade businessman Joseph estimates that there are as many as 3,000 mines set among a series of denuded hills slowly eaten away by heavy machinery. Green plant life bursts forth where it can, but most earth is an excavation site, undulating for miles into the distance.

      What was once depicted as a scene out of "Dante's Inferno" - the few outsiders who had visited jade quarries here described thousands of half-naked men, women and children clawing at rocks - is now a largely mechanical process characterized by large yellow Caterpillar and Volvo backhoes and industrial-size dump trucks. A few mines still employ human diggers, and weeks before I visited Hpakant, one mine collapsed killing 20 people.

      The jade trade

      Just before the start of the Beijing Olympic Games, President Bush signed into law the Burma Jade Act, adding Burmese jade and rubies to a long list of restricted goods. Even though such prominent jewelers as Bulgari and Tiffany & Co. have gone along with the ban, jade sellers in the crowded outdoor markets of Rangoon told me they are doing landmark business thanks to China, India, Thailand, Singapore and Arab gulf states.

      Like many business activities, the military junta takes a hefty percentage - 50 percent of profits from private companies and 80 percent from joint ventures - leaving jade miners destitute and diseased (HIV is believed to be rampant among miners, though exact statistics are impossible because international aid groups are not allowed in Hpakant).

      But jade mines are a prime example of how the military regime co-opts even its enemies. Burma is home to more than 130 ethnic groups, and some continue to fight for an independent homeland. For years, some of these rebel groups financed their armed struggle through the sale of opium and jade.

      Militants to middlemen

      Kachin rebels, one of the most formative armed forces and mostly an animistic hill people, once mined jade illegally to buy guns. But after signing a cease-fire with the military regime in 1994, they have become "middlemen for the state's revenue generation, much of it semi-legal and all designed to prop up military rule," said David Matthieson, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

      Engaging in business rather than war with the military junta is tacit acknowledgement that real power is determined by proximity to the ruling generals.

      "Without having personal ties with high-ranking personnel in one way or another, no businesses could survive or expand," said Win Kyaw Oo, a former journalist who is now in the private import business.

      Change comes, if slowly, to Burma

      Despite an economic growth rate of 5.5 percent in 2007, resource-rich Burma remains one of the world's poorest nations. The country ranks 132 out of 177 countries in the United Nations' Human Development Index. It is tied with Somalia for being the world's most corrupt country, according to Transparency International's 2007 rankings.

      Burma is also known around the globe for government repression.

      The military junta's use of detention and torture has been denounced even by the neutral International Committee of the Red Cross. The nation's most famous champion of democracy, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for most of the past 19 years, and more than 2,500 political prisoners languish in prison, according to Amnesty International. At least 900 have been locked up in the past year, and 14 pro-democracy activists were given harsh prison sentences on Tuesday.

      Yet, Burma is also a nation where change is occurring - albeit at a snail's pace.

      In recent years, Internet cafes have more than tripled in major cities and are even sprouting in backwater towns carved out of the jungle. In the afternoons, young people gab on G-talk and check their profiles on Orkut, Hi5 and Friendster. Signs posted openly explain how to circumvent government censors through proxy servers and Web sites such as www.yoyahoo.com and www.bypassany.info.

      The music of Zayar Thaw, a well-known hip-hop artist who was jailed this year, is an increasingly dominant genre of choice among many young Burmese.

      Access to the Internet and to satellite TV is further eroding the regime's monopoly on information, a giant step in a nation where people once solely relied on crackling shortwave radios for a connection to the outside world.

      Burma moves to silence the opposition - Larry Jagan
      Asia Sentinel: Wed 12 Nov 2008

      If there was any doubt about the Burmese military rulers' real intentions, they have been revealed clearly with a spate of harsh sentences handed out to scores of dissidents. They have sent a clear signal that they intend to eliminate and silence anyone who opposes their authority, especially in the lead-up to planned elections in two years time.

      The crackdown must also put into doubt the forthcoming planned visits to Burma by top UN officials. The UN secretary-general's special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, was considering a return visit to Burma in the next two weeks, and the special rapporteur for human rights in Burma was also contemplating a fresh mission as well in the coming weeks. It may also have put paid to any prospect of the UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon's visiting after attending the ASEAN summit in Thailand in mid-December.

      In what is the biggest crackdown on the opposition in Burma since the massive pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988, all activists who the regime believes pose a challenge to their control are being targeted. A series of harsh sentences have been doled out to many artists, activists, bloggers, journalists and lawyers.

      More than 40 dissidents, including Buddhist monks, members of the 88 Generation Students group, a prominent labor activist and community activists have been sentenced to jail for up to 65 years. As a result, the number of political prisoners languishing in Burma's prisons has more than doubled in the last 12 months.

      "The junta is clearly conducting a major crackdown on all dissent in the country," Zin Linn, a leading Burmese dissident and former political prisoner based in Bangkok said in an interview. "They want to silence all opposition before the planned elections in 2010."

      In the latest case earlier this week, 14 leading Burmese political activists, including five women, from the 88 Generation Students group were each sentenced to 65 years in jail for their involvement in the monk-led uprising, dubbed the Saffron Revolt, against increased fuel prices and rising food costs. Most of them had been detained before the brutal crackdown on the demonstrators in September 2007.

      According to the United Nations, at least 31 people were killed when Burma's military rulers sent in troops to end the mass demonstrations led by columns of shaven-headed Buddhist monks - the biggest challenge to military since it seized power 20 years ago. Opposition activists put the figure at more than 200; several thousand people were also arrested and are still detained, many without trial.

      The 14 were convicted of various charges, including a law under which anyone who demonstrates, makes speeches or writes statements undermining government stability can be given 20 years. They were also found guilty of having links to illegal groups and violating restrictions on foreign currency, video and electronic communications.

      The sentences were handed down behind closed doors - members of their families and the groups' defence lawyers were barred from the court. "Is this [65 years] all you can do?" one of the activist, Min Zeya reportedly shouted at the judge. What is most absurd, according to human rights advocates, is that these sentences are far longer than the expected life-span of the defendants.

      Nine other leaders of the group, including the top two - Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi - were recently sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of court. They continuously interrupted the court proceedings shouting down with the judge. They refused to accept the court's authority and insisted they would continue to oppose the judicial system using Gandhian tactics of non-violent civil disobedience.

      More than 20 members of the group, including those already found guilty of contempt, face more than a dozen other charges in the coming days. They are also likely to be given hefty sentences for their activities during the anti-government protests last year.

      "The current convictions are only the tip of the iceberg," Benjamin Zawacki, the Burma officer for the UK-based human rights organization, Amnesty International told Asia Sentinel. Most of them have been held for more than 12 months without trial - and in some cases without being charged, he added. "This is probably only the start of a season of trials and convictions," he said.

      Many of the group's members were at the forefront of the mass pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 and were tortured and given lengthy prison terms after the military coup 20 years ago. The activists resumed political activities after they were freed in November 2004, and have spearheaded the protests against the junta - usually focusing on the country's deteriorating economy.

      Many analysts believe that the junta fears the students even more than the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi which convincingly won the 1990 elections, but was never allowed to form a civilian government. Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest in her home in Rangoon.

      "They think they can handle the NLD, but they know they cannot control the students," said a western diplomat in Bangkok who deals with Burma. These sentences will leave them in prison well past the election.

      Burmese courts have also been handing out harsh sentence to other dissidents this week. The prominent labor rights activist, Su Su Nway, was sentenced to more than 12 years in jail for her political activities. She hds already served nine months in prison some two years ago for her work to stop forced labor. Five monks from one of Rangoon's main monasteries were each prison sentences of six years and six months.

      Nine members of the NLD from Bogalay in the Irrawaddy Delta were also sentenced to between eight to 24 years in prison for their involvement in the anti-fuel prices protests last year, according to an NLD spokesman, Nyan Win.

      "These sentences are a clear signal to everyone that the regime will not tolerate any opposition in the lead up to the elections in 2010," said Mr Zawacki.

      The sentences for the 88 group came the day after the jailing of Burma's best-know blogger, Nay Phone Latt, for more than twenty years for publishing a cartoon of the country's top military leader, General Than Shwe on his website. His trial was also held behind closed doors in Insein prison special court; as well as a well-known poet, Saw Wai for two years after he published a poem mocking Than Shwe entitled "February 14″ was published in the Ah Chit [Love] Journal. The first words of each line of the poem spelled out "Power Crazy Senior General Than Shwe".

      The discrepancy between the sentences given to the blogger and the poet for essntially the same crime - belittling Than Shwe - suggests that the regime is particulalry worried about the opposition's use of technology, especially the internet. They were horrified by the reports, pictures and videos that were transmitted through the internet and mobile phones during the Saffron Revolt and the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

      "They [the junta] are extremely worried about things they don't understand and cannot control," said Mr Zawacki. "The bloggers's sentence reflects the greater level of threat they see in postings on the internet compared to poetry."

      In the lead up to the election in 2010, the regime is worried about how to control the flow of information, both inside and outside the country. During the Saffron Revolt they tried to control the internet by periodically shutting down the servers, often for days at a time. They also realise that firewalls intended to prevent access to certain websites has failed miserably in Burma, as they are easily by-passed. Now they are resorting to their tried and tested tactic of generating fear. "the message is clear, the dissemination of information and images through new technology will be severely punished," said Mr Zawacki.

      In recent weeks there has also been a spate of lawyers being convicted for contempt of court. At least five lawyers who have tried to defend these dissidents have ended up in prison - either for challenging the court on their clients' behalf or because their clients had dismissed them because of the futility have been represented in the court when they were clearly unable to do their job.

      "It's complete intimidation," said Amnesty's Mr Zawacki. "Lawyers are being punished for being the messenger. Theys are clearly being warned you must play by our rules and not any accepted rules of procedure," he said.

      Ther are more than fifteen journalists - reporters and photographers - still in dentention awaiting trial, according to the Burma Media Association. Most of them are accused of publishing material on the conditions in the cyclone-devasted area, and pointing out inadequacies of the relief effort. Several other bloggers are also awaiting trial.

      "The sentencing of the 88 activists and the further arrests in recent days - of journalists, bloggers and forced labour complainants - is further evidence of the extent to which conditions in this country are deteriorating in terms of basic political freedoms," a western diplomat based in Rangoon said on condition of anonymity. "It clearly shows what we can expect in 2010," he said.

      But above all the junta is deliberately snubbing the UN and the international community. In recent weeks the regime has been urged to honour its promises to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in the run up to the scheduled elections in 2010. The UN human rights rapporteur recently put forward several suggestions on how to make the election internationally credible – including the release of political prisoners and allowing the political parties to operate normally, free of harrassment and intimidation.

      The regime's clear response - lock up even more political activists. The number of political prisoners in Burma's jails has more than doubled to well over thousand, according to both the UN and Amnesty International. There are perhaps more political prisoners now than anytime since 1988, according to Amnesty International. And all this comes during a time when there is far more engagement between Burma and the international community, especially the UN than ever before. The UN rapporteur visited in and the UN envoy Gambari has made visits so far thos year. Some of the highest level UN visits have also taken place - with John Holmes (in charge of the UN's humanitarian ope4rtions) Nollen Heyzer (head of the regional UN office ESCAP) and even the SG himself visiting the contry - albiet related to the UN response to the devasting destruction wreaked by Cyclone Nargis in May.

      The international community needs to take stock of the situation - they can no longer cooperate with the junta on humanitarian issues related to the cyclone and turn a blind eye to the political crisis. It is time to see that the regime remains set in its military mentality. Burma has been under military rule of one form or another since 1962. Although the Generals may have scheduled elections in 2010, as one of the final stage in its seven-step "roadmap to democracy", its merely a ploy to maintain their power and control over the country.

      Everyone who is opposed to the regime's roadmap to democracy and the constitution it forced through a referendum by intimidation and manipulation, is being targeted. "It's business as usual," said Zawacki. "There is no shift in practice - they are using draconian prison sentences to warn people not to stand up to the regime, all that's changed is their rhetoric - there's no roadmap to political change," he said.

      India must use BIMSTEC to push for change in Burma - Salai Pi Pi
      Mizzima: Wed 12 Nov 2008

      Burma's neighbouring countries, particularly India, should use the Bay of Bengal Sub-regional group (BIMSTEC) summit to pressure the Southeast Asian nation to free detained Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, an Indian Human Rights group said on Tuesday.

      New Delhi based Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on Tuesday said India, being the largest democracy, should lead other Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries to urge Burma's military rulers to implement political reforms starting with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

      The ACHR's call came even as the seven-member group of BIMSTEC is scheduled to hold its 2nd Summit in the Indian capital New Delhi on November 13.

      "India, Nepal and Sri Lanka should be pressing Myanmar [Burma] for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi at the meet," said Suhas Chakma, director of ACHR.

      Burma's Prime Minister General Thein Sein, according to the junta's mouthpiece newspaper on Tuesday, will be arriving New Delhi on November 13 to attend the Sub-regional group's summit.

      Suhas Chakma said India should use the opportunity of Thein Sein's visit to the country and urge for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 13 of the past 19 years.

      According to the groupings rotating system of chairmanship, Burma will take over chairmanship of the group in 2009 from India, which is the current chairman.

      While the rotating chairmanship is a consensus arrived at by all the seven nations based in an alphabetical order, Ramesh Ramachandran, a correspondent of the Asian Age newspaper in Delhi said, the chairmanship will need to come along with a certain degree of responsibility.

      Burma as the rotating chairman, will need to prove that its internal crisis is under control, Ramachandran said.

      However, the ACHR said Burma's presence in the grouping has brought down the image of other member countries, especially of India, the world's largest democracy, and its chairmanship will further reduce the credibility of the group.

      "If Myanmar [Burma] takes over the BIMSTEC chair, the people in the region will lose faith on the group," Chakma said.

      BIMSTEC was founded in 1997 with four Bay of Bengal nations - Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Burma joined the group in December 1997, while Bhutan and Nepal joined in 2003.

      In August, the group held its tenth ministerial meeting in New Delhi and agreed to review the group's achievement and further discuss greater economic cooperation among the group during the 2nd Summit to be held on November 13, in New Delhi.

      Tay Za logging in Karen State - Lawi Weng
      Irrawaddy: Tue 11 Nov 2008

      Burmese business tycoon Tay Za's Htoo Trading Company has recently started logging timber in Karen rebel-held territory, according to a source close to a delegation of businessmen negotiating the deal in Three Pagodas Pass on the Thai- Burmese border.

      According to the source, Tay Za got permission to begin logging in the Mae Kathr forest from the Karen National Union (KNU) by paying "taxes" in advance.

      The Mae Kathr forest had, until recently, been undisturbed for more than 60 years. It lies in Dooplaya District, about nine kilometers (5.5 miles) from Three Pagodas Pass in an area under the control of KNU Brigade 6.

      The source said that Htoo Trading Company has already cut down about 1,000 tons of timber in the forest.

      According to KNU Forestry Department data, the KNU has preserved two main forests, Mae Kathr and Kyunchaung, which both lie in Dooplaya District. Mae Kathr forest covers an area of 50,000 acres while Kyunchaung covers 20,000 acres. Both forests are rich in virgin hardwoods, including teak and ironwoods.

      A resident in Three Pagodas Pass told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the company has begun construction of timber-processing factories across a football park and 10 acres of land in Three Pagodas Pass. He said the company has lined up more than 20 trucks to carry the logs.

      According to the source close to Tay Za's delegation, three trucks are currently being deployed to ferry in and out workers who are preparing the road on which the timber is being transported. He said that Htoo Trading cuts and processes the logs at the factories in Three Pagodas Pass before transporting them to Kyar Inn Seikgyi Township in Karen State.

      However, Captain Htat Nay of KNU Brigade 6 denied that the rebel army had granted permission for Htoo Trading Company to log timber in the Mae Kathr forest. Speaking to The Irrawaddy by telephone on Tuesday he said that Tay Za's delegation has requested a permit to log the forest in the past, but that the KNU had refused permission.

      Previously, the KNU has only granted logging contracts to large timber companies like the Thailand-based Sia Hook firm. Revenue from logging contracts is reportedly the KNU's major source of income, from which it subsidizes its war against the Burmese army by purchasing arms.

      Meanwhile, a source at the New Mon State Party (NMSP) on Tuesday said that the Burmese junta and its main ally, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), are currently preparing for a dry season military offensive against the KNU in the Brigade 6 region.

      He said this might have forced the KNU's hand into accepting the quick cash from a logging contract with Tay Za in case they are forced to withdraw from the region and lose control over logging rights.

      The KNU, one of the oldest surviving rebel groups in Southeast Asia, has been struggling for autonomy since 1949.

      Burma, North Korea sign visa agreement - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Tue 11 Nov 2008

      Burma and North Korea have signed documents to eliminate visas for diplomats and government officials, a Burmese state-run newspaper reported on Tuesday.

      North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Young Il and his Burmese counterpart, Kyaw Thu, signed the agreement during an official four-day visit to Burma.

      A state-run-newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported that Kyaw Thu and Kin Young Il held the two countries' third bilateral consultation meeting at a hotel in Naypyidaw.

      "After the meeting, they signed the agreement between the Government of the Union of Myanmar and the Government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on visa exemption for diplomatic and service/official passport holders," the paper said.

      The newspaper said the ministers also discussed cooperation on trade and technology issues. Minister Kim Young Il visited Burma from November 6-10.

      During the trip, he also met with Secretary 1 of the junta, Lt-Gen Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, the Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win and the Rangoon City mayor, Brig-Gen Aung Thein Linn.

      Nyan Win visited Pyongyang in late October and high-ranking military officials have also visited the communist-ruled country this year.

      Burma and North Korea resumed diplomatic relation officially in April 2007. Burma cut its ties with the North Korean regime after North Korean agents attempted to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan and his delegate in Rangoon in 1983.

      Analysts say that military ties between two countries improved during in 1990s. Burma reportedly sought strategic weapons such as submarines and ballistic missiles from North Korea. Pyongyang reportedly exported nuclear technology and strategic tunnel building technology to the Southeast Asian nation.

      North Korea and Burma were described by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005 as an "outpost of tyranny," along with Belarus, Cuba, Iran and Zimbabwe.

      Among Burma's ruling generals, North Korea has become not only a strategic partner but also a model, analysts say.

      Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency reported on November 7 that Brig-Gen Aung Thein Linn, the Rangoon City Mayor, said that he was deeply impressed by the North Korean people who are "dynamically advancing" under the Communist policy of "Military First Politics," which serves as the core political system in the North Korean government.

      The policy elevates the Korean People's Army, granting it the position of "supreme repository of power" in the nation.

      Aung Thein Linn said: "It is my belief that the Korean people will surely build a great, prosperous, powerful socialist nation under the leadership of Kim Jong Il." Aung Thein Linn visited North Korea in September.

      'Catalonia' prize for Aung San Suu Kyi and Dr. Cynthia Maung - Zarni
      Mizzima News: Tue 11 Nov 2008

      Burmese pro-democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Dr. Cynthia Maung of the Mae Taw clinic on the Thai-Burma border were awarded the 20th 'Catalonia International Prize' today by the government of Catalonia State, Spain.

      The 'Catalonia International Prize' was awarded to them for their selfless sacrifice in promoting pro-democracy activities, freedom, and human rights in Burma.

      "This is the first time the award has gone to Burmese ladies. The prize committee selected them for their sacrifices and devotion to the freedom of Burma, democratic struggle and social work," Ms. Teresa Salar, assistant secretary of the prize selection committee, told Mizzima.

      The award is presented annually to persons who have made remarkable contribution to the development of cultural, scientific or human rights anywhere in the world.

      Dr. Cynthia Maung will personally receive this award in Barcelona, capital city of Catalonia State at a prize giving ceremony. Spain based Burma Campaign coordinator Zoya Phan will receive the prize on behalf of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the same ceremony.

      "This prize shows that the world has not forgotten and recognizes Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's efforts for the people of Burma. The whole world also shows its sympathy and support for the Burmese people and their sufferings. So I feel very happy", Zoya Phan told Mizzima.

      The prize is the most prestigious award of Catalonia State in Spain and it will be awarded to the recipients by José Montill, President of the government of Catalonia.

      The recipients of this prize will get sculpture titled La clau i la lletra (The key and the letter) by Antoni Tàpies and will share a cash prize of Euro 100,000.

      This prize was first given in 1989 and has been awarded to many writers, scientists and historians around the world from France, Germany, US and Egypt, including Indian Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen.

      Council conclusions on Burma/Myanmar
      Council of the European Union: Tue 11 Nov 2008

      The Council adopted the following conclusions:

      The Council welcomed the Chair's Statement adopted at the ASEM Summit in Beijing on 24 and 25 October 2008, calling for the lifting of restrictions placed on political parties and early release of those under detention and encouraging the government to engage all stakeholders in an inclusive political process and to cooperate more closely with the United Nations. The Council also called upon the Burma/Myanmar authorities to facilitate the issue of visas.

      However, the Council deplores the lack of progress made this year towards a genuine transition to democracy in Burma/Myanmar since the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations by the military authorities.

      The European Union points out that the elections scheduled for 2010 will have no credibility unless the Burma/Myanmar authorities unconditionally release all political prisoners, in particular Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and initiate a political process with United Nations support on the basis of an inclusive, long-term dialogue in which the opposition and ethnic groups can participate fully.

      The Council reaffirms its firm and unconditional support for the UN Secretary-General's Mission of Good Offices and welcomes his renewed personal commitment to ending the current deadlock.

      The Council pays tribute to the work of European Union Special Envoy Mr Piero Fassino in support of the UN's efforts, aimed at closer cooperation with the countries of the region, and welcomes the renewal of his mandate.

      The European Union is prepared to revise, amend or reinforce the measures it has already adopted to keep pace with developments in the situation. It is determined to help the people of Burma/Myanmar to achieve stability, prosperity and democracy and remains ready to react positively to real progress towards democracy.

      The European Union welcomes the close cooperation between ASEAN, the UN and the authorities of Burma/Myanmar in reaction to Cyclone Nargis. The Council reiterates the commitment made by the European Union and its Member States to give substantial assistance to all those in need and to deal with the humanitarian situation in Burma/Myanmar in a more comprehensive way

      Court sentenced blogger for over 20 years, poet for two years - Than Htike Oo
      Mizzima News: Mon 10 Nov 2008

      A court in Rangoon's notorious Insein prison on Monday has sentenced a popular Blogger Nay Phone Latt to over 20 years in prison.

      Nay Phone Latt, who was arrested on 29 January, on Monday was sentenced by the Insein prison court on three counts including charges under section 505 (b) of the Penal Code - crime against public tranquillity.

      The Blogger's mother Aye Aye Than, told Mizzima that her son was sentenced to two years under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, three and half years under sections 32(b)/36 of the Video Law and 15 years under section 33(a)/38 of the Electronic Law.

      "We were waiting outside during the court proceedings and after the court session we asked the judge about the quantum of punishment. The judge and prosecutor informed us regarding the judgement," she said.

      The 28-years-old, Nay Phone Latt, a famous blogger, is also a youth member of Burma's main opposition party - National League for Democracy. He runs internet cafés in several townships in Rangoon including "The Explorer" in Pabedan Township, and "Heaven" in Thingangyun Township.

      His mother Aye Aye Than said that she had no idea why they had sentenced her son to such a long term in prison.

      "He is the first ever blogger to be arrested in Burma. I have no idea why they punished my son with such a harsh judgement. Blogging is perhaps a very serious crime in the opinion of the authorities," his mother said.

      Meanwhile, Nay Phone Latt's defense counsel, Aung Thein, was also sentenced to four months prison-term in absentia on November 7, for a charge of contempt of the court.

      Similarly, poet Saw Wei was also sentenced to two years in prison on Monday with charges of 'inducing crime against public tranquillity'.

      He was arrested in February, after his poem entitled 'February 14′ was published in the Weekly 'Ah Chit' (love) Journal. In his Burmese poem, putting together of the first words of all the lines spells out 'Power Crazy Snr. Gen.Than Shwe', which provokes the authorities and he was immediately arrested.

      "I am worried about his health. I want to arrange proper medical treatment outside the prison for him, where X-ray facility would be available in order to diagnose his back and waist pain. Currently, he cannot get these treatments inside the prison. He has to cover his body with a towel all the time. This morning too at the court, he could not sit for a long time and had to stand up frequently to ease his pain when speaking," Saw Wai's wife told Mizzima.

      Soe Maung, the defense counsel of Saw Wai said, despite of the court's verdict, he will continue filing appeals for revision, as he thinks the trial were not free and fair enough.

      "We will file an appeal against this judgment at all levels of the courts including an appeal for a revision case. We intend to do as much as the law and judicial proceedings permit us to, within the legal framework, until we reach the last stage. I am preparing for an appeal on my client's instruction," Soe Maung said.

      Meanwhile, media watchdogs the Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) and Burma Media Association (BMA) has slam the junta for its unfair trials on the two writers - Nay Phone Latt and Saw Wai - and the verdict to sentenced them.

      The two organisations said, they are appalled by the combined sentence of 20 years and six months in prison that a special court in Insein prison passed on Nay Phone Latt and two years to poet Saw Wai.

      "This shocking sentence is meant to terrify those who go online in an attempt to elude the dictatorship's ubiquitous control of news and information, and we call for his immediate release. Saw Wai, for his part, is being made to pay for his impertinence and courage as a committed poet," the two organisations said in a press statement.

      The two media watchdogs also call on all bloggers and poets around the world to show their solidarity towards Nay Phone Latt and Saw Wai.

      "There is an urgent need now for bloggers all over the world to demonstrate their solidarity with Nay Phone Latt by posing his photo on their blogs and by writing to Burmese embassies worldwide to request his release. Similarly, we call on poets to defend their fellow-poet, Saw Wai, who has been jailed just because of one poem," said the two organisations.

      People from Chin state are forced into labour by the local authorities in the western part of Myanmar
      Khonumthung News: Mon 10 Nov 2008

      In the second capital of Chin state Matupi, the Town Peace and Development Council (TPDC) force civilians to clean up tea plantation areas every day.

      In the month of October, the authorities had forced the people from Matupi Township to clean up the state-owned 70 acres of tea plantations, block by block. There are a total of four blocks and those who cannot work in the plantations had to pay money as a fine.

      "People from each block had to work three days in a week. If they did not they had to pay Kyat. 3000, as a fine," sources said.

      People in the four blocks - Lawngvan, Ngala, Khoboi and Cangbawng of Matupi township work for the state-owned tea plantations everyday.

      The authorities in Chin state did not force people into hard labour before the May 10 Referendum. But after the Referendum was through, they started forcing the civilians to work.

      "The people are very discouraged, if they do not work they have to find money for the fine so they are going every day to work," a local said.

      The TPDC authorities are also forcing people to work for them in other parts of Chin state.

      Mon language axed from state schools in Thaton - Lawi Seng
      Irrawaddy: Mon 10 Nov 2008

      State-run schools in Thaton District in Mon State will no longer conduct Mon language classes, according to the Mon National Education Department.

      The decision will directly affect some 3,000 primary and secondary school students at 30 schools in Thaton District.

      A senior member of the Mon National Education Department, which is under the control of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), told The Irrawaddy on Monday: "Most students were not interested in attending classes when they had to attend outside the regular school times. That was why we decided to stop running this curriculum."

      The Mon language curriculum - which was taught to Mon students between 7 and 8 a.m. On school days - was ceased in June due to a lack of participants, said the official.

      "The reason students did not attend the classes was because the schools' authorities introduced extracurricular tuition, making the students too busy to attend other classes," the source said.

      "We asked the school authorities many times to allow us to run our Mon curriculum," she said. "However, they said that the decision was passed down from higher authorities."

      Mi Hong Sar, a teacher in Thanbyuzayaut Township near the Mon capital Moulmein, said that many Mon teachers were worried that other schools would be ordered to cut Mon classes.

      According to statistics from the Mon National Education Department, there are currently 157 schools teaching in Mon language in Mon State, while 114 schools offer a mixed curriculum of Burmese and Mon-language lessons.

      Since the NMSP signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese junta in 1995, an informal understanding between all parties has allowed for Mon language to be taught in state-run schools in Mon State, said the source at the Mon National Education Department.

      In 2002, Mon classes became an integral part of school curricula in Mon State, a move seen by many Mon people as a benefit of the ceasefire agreement.

      However, relations soured in 2003 when the NMSP attended a national constitutional convention held by the regime, but left after a proposal to federalize Burma was rejected. Later the party simply sent observers to the convention.

      The NMSP released a statement rejecting the junta's referendum in early March 2008, citing fears that the process would strengthen the regime by giving it the veneer of democracy without resulting in any actual changes.

      In April, The Irrawaddy reported that Mon cultural activities were being banned or deliberately assimilated by Burmese and Thai policies. In Burma, the name of the Mon National Museum was changed to the "National Museum," and members of the Mon Literature and Culture Association were replaced by junta associates.

      In February, organizers of Mon National Day in Thailand were told not to play Mon songs or encourage traditional Mon dancing at the one-day festival. Officials also urged the Thai public not to support the event.

      Nai Santhorn, the chairman of the Mon Unity League, told The Irrawaddy on Monday he believed the Burmese authorities were not genuine. "What they say and what they do are different things," he said. "They parade ethnic people on TV saying they are promoting ethnic culture and literature. Indeed, what they are doing is dominating our literature and culture."

      "The language policy applied by successive [Burmese] military regimes has been to 'Burmanize' at the expense of the language and culture of indigenous nationalities," said Dr Thein Lwin, a Burmese education scholar.

      Derived from ancient Indian Brahmin script, Mon is one of the oldest and most influential languages in the region, its alphabet forming the foundation for Burmese, Thai, Khmer and Laotian scripts. However, there are now estimated to be less than 750,000 Mon speakers in Thailand and Burma.

      Burma vote illegitimate unless Suu Kyi freed
      Associated Press: EU: Mon 10 Nov 2008

      Multiparty elections scheduled for 2010 in Burma will be seen as illegitimate unless the ruling military junta frees all political prisoners - particularly Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the European Union said Monday.

      The remarks by EU foreign ministers came after opposition groups said Burma's military rulers have stepped up suppression of its political opponents and jailed a number of members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

      "Elections in 2010 will not have any credibility unless the authorities … unconditionally release all political prisoners, notably Aung San Suu Kyi," the ministers said in a statement.

      Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 19 years.

      EU foreign ministers also urged the military government to start talking with all opposition parties and minority ethnic groups ahead of the vote.

      The junta has announced general elections in 2010 as part of its "roadmap to democracy." It follows a national referendum in May that approved a set of constitutional amendments.

      Critics say these cement the power of the military in government affairs. But the government insists the changes are a major step forward in restoring civilian rule.

      The junta came to power in 1988 in Burma - formerly known as Burma - after crushing a nationwide pro-democracy uprising, killing as many as 3,000 people. It organized multiparty elections in 1990 but refused to honor the results after Suu Kyi's party won overwhelmingly.

      Burma resolution introduced in the UN - Lalit K Jha
      Irrawaddy: Mon 10 Nov 2008

      Forty-three nations voted to send a resolution highly critical of the Burmese government to the UN General Assembly for a vote, probably in December.

      Among the countries sponsoring the resolution were Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, South Korea, Britain and the US.

      The resolution, which will be debated in committee before it is taken up in the general assembly, urged the governing junta to ensure fu

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