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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 16/12/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Promotions seen as part of 2010 election plan 2.. Ethnic Chin group rejects junta s 2010 election plans 3.. Burmese defense lawyer flees to Thailand,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 16, 2008
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      1. Promotions seen as part of 2010 election plan
      2. Ethnic Chin group rejects junta's 2010 election plans
      3. Burmese defense lawyer flees to Thailand, blasts regime
      4. Gems auction in Myanmar
      5. UN chief visit would help Myanmar: EU envoy
      6. Isolation or engagement? It's Than Shwe's choice
      7. SPDC raises gas prices in attempt to recoup revenue lost to declining energy markets
      8. Chin, faced with food shortage, entering Thailand
      9. Nobel laureates launch appeal for Aung San Suu Kyi
      10. Myanmar junta sweeps clean for 2010 polls
      11. Looking beyond 2010 election in Burma
      12. Child trafficking continues, but not fuelled by cyclone
      13. More companies ignore sanctions on Burma: BCUK
      14. Junta turns blind eye to rising landmine casualties
      15. Burma accused of elephant smuggling
      16. Russian business presence becoming stronger in Burma
      17. UN was "Disrespectful" in approach to Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD leader says
      18. ASEAN human rights body: Will it have an impact on Myanmar's junta?
      19. Factory worker jailed for 19 years after ILO report
      20. Ban urges "group of friends," corporates to influence Burma

      Promotions seen as part of 2010 election plan - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Mon 15 Dec 2008

      Burma's military government, the State Peace and Development Council, has promoted a number of senior officers and created new positions in what observers see as part of preparations for the political structure that will follow the 2010 general election.

      Among those promoted is Maj-Gen Maung Shein, former commander of the Western Regional Military Command, who was appointed chief of the newly created Defense Services Inspection and Auditor (Army, Navy and Air).

      Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) commanders Khin Zaw and Thar Aye and Adjutant-General Thura Myint Aung were promoted to Lt-Generals, according to military sources.

      Five BSOs, four of which were established in November 2001, run all Burma's regional commands throughout Burma. The creation of a BSO command center created much confusion in the military's command system and structure.

      Unconfirmed reports suggested that BSO 5, created in 2006, retains Snr-Gen Than Shwe's loyal officer Lt-Gen Myint Swe as commander. Myint Swe previously oversaw the Rangoon division.

      According to exiled dissidents and military observers who have close connection with Burma's armed forces, at least three major generals were promoted to three-star lieutenant generals.

      Meanwhile, at a graduation parade in Maymyo, Mandalay Division, Than Shwe urged officers to learn four "outlooks" - military, political, economic and administrative. The junta leader was addressing the graduation parade of the 51 intake of the Defense Services Academy on December 12.

      "We will continue to implement the fifth step [of the road map] which is the holding of general elections in 2010, and the transfer of state power will be carried out accordingly," Than Shwe said.

      Than Shwe and his deputy, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, have served in the ruling junta since 1988, first in the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), and then in the State Peace and Development Council, which replaced SLORC in 1997.

      Ethnic Chin group rejects junta's 2010 election plans - Zalatmay
      Mizzima News: Mon 15 Dec 2008

      The ethnic rebel group Chin National Front announced today they will not accept the junta's planned general election scheduled for 2010.

      The CNF passed the resolution during their Fourth Congress held on the Indo-Burma border from the 8th to the 13th of this month, according to the organization.

      "We are facing real challenges in politics now. There may be changes too. So it is very important to us regarding how to respond to the 2010 election. We would like state our position on the election to the people in advance," CNF General Secretary Paul Sitha told Mizzima.

      The Congress also urged the Chin people to fulfill their wills and desires if they wish to compete in the election either through the establishment of a political party or as individuals.

      The CNF said they do not accept the junta's political roadmap and want only to pursue progress via the tripartite dialogue, which comprises various ethnic representatives and democratic forces in addition to the junta.

      "We shall continue our protest against the SPDC's [Burmese military government's] roadmap. Especially I'd like to urge other opposition forces to join with us in this protest," Paul Sitha said.

      Before the backdrop of an exodus of many Chin nationals due to unjust restrictions, repressions and violations of fundamental rights by the junta, the CNF believes the Chin are faced with a national security crisis which must be resolved collectively by all ethnic Chin people at home and abroad, says the resolution.

      The CNF, which is struggling for the establishment of a genuine federal union based on self-determination and equality for all ethnic people, was founded in May 1988 and maintains an armed wing called the Chin National Army which is based in the jungle on the Indo-Burma border.

      The Congress also elected 13 members to the Central Committee, including Chairman Zing Cung, Vice-Chairman (1) Thomas Thangnou, Vice-Chairman (2) Thang Yen and General Secretary Paul Sitha.

      The CNF convenes a Congress once every five years.

      Burmese defense lawyer flees to Thailand, blasts regime - Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Mon 15 Dec 2008

      A young Burmese lawyer sentenced to six months imprisonment for questioning court proceedings against his dissident clients has fled to Thailand after a hazardous journey from Rangoon.

      Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, 29, was one of four defense lawyers convicted of contempt of court after complaining of unfair treatment by the Rangoon court. The other three - Aung Thein, Khin Maung Shein and Nyi Nyi Htwe - are being detained by Burmese authorities.

      Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, who escaped to Thailand some two weeks ago, gave a press conference in the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot on Monday, accusing the Burmese courts of allowing themselves to become tools of the Burmese regime. He had been engaged to represent more than 20 political activists.

      In a telephone interview on Monday with The Irrawaddy, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min said:

      "There are no fair trials in Burma. Defense lawyers are denied the right to defend their clients. The Burmese authority is using the courts to pressure political activists by pronouncing long terms of imprisonment."

      By imprisoning young political activists, the Burmese authorities were trying to silence an entire political generation in the run up to the 2010 general election, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min said.

      Among those defended by Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min was the prominent human rights activist Myint Aye, founder of a rights advocacy group known as the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters.

      Myint Aye was sentenced to life imprisonment for his alleged involvement in a bomb attack on an office of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association in Rangoon's Shwepyithar Township on July 1.

      According to the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar, Myint Aye funded the bombing, which it said had been carried out by two members of the opposition National League for Democracy, Zaw Zaw Aung and Yan Shwe. Exiled Burmese dissidents based in Mae Sot had also helped fund the attack, the newspaper alleged.

      Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min said Myint Aye was innocent and he accused the Burmese authorities of illegally sentencing him.

      About 215 political activists, including members of the 88 Generation Students group, Buddhist monks, cyclone relief workers, journalists and bloggers, were given prison sentences of up to 68 years in a series of trials in November. More than 100 were transferred to prisons in remote areas around Burma, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

      According to rights groups, more than 2,100 political prisoners are estimated to be still behind bars in Burma.

      Gems auction in Myanmar
      Agence France Presse: Mon 15 Dec 2008

      MILITARY-RUN Myanmar announced on Saturday it would hold an auction of precious gems in Yangon early next year, despite economic sanctions banning their international trade.

      The auction would be held January 5-9 at Myanmar Gems Pavilion in Yangon, the Burmese-language Myanma Ahlin newspaper said.

      Buyers would have to pay an entrance fee of 10,000 kyats (S$12.70), with a higher charge for foreigners, the paper said.

      Sellers would also pay a commission fee of between one and three per cent to the state on top of a jewellery tax, it said.

      Myanmar last held a gems auction in October but did not reveal how much it made from the sales.

      At an earlier sale in March, 7,700 lots were sold, valued at more than 100 million euros (S$199 million).

      Myanmar, one of the world's poorest countries, is the source of some of the world's most beautiful rubies - a key source of revenue for the ruling junta.

      The United States blocked imports of Myanmar's gems in July, passing new legislation to prevent the gems entering US markets via third-party countries.

      Europe also intensified economic sanctions on the regime after a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters last year, while Washington and human rights groups have urged gem buyers to boycott the sales.

      Myanmar's two biggest customers, neighbouring China and Thailand, have continued to attend the frequently held gem auctions.

      UN chief visit would help Myanmar: EU envoy
      Agence France Presse: Mon 15 Dec 2008

      The European Union's special envoy on Myanmar said Monday a visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the military-ruled nation would have a positive impact and trigger dialogue with the opposition.

      Ban, who in May made the first visit by a UN chief to Myanmar in almost 45 years, said Friday that the atmosphere was not right for a return trip.

      EU envoy Piero Fassino, a former Italian foreign minister, said that a visit by Ban must be "carefully prepared."

      "We believe that a personal initiative by Ban Ki-moon could prove positive in establishing a serious dialogue between the junta, democratic opposition and ethnic minorities, which has not yet taken place," Fassino told reporters on a visit to Tokyo.

      Last week more than 100 former leaders wrote to the UN chief urging him to travel to Myanmar to secure the release of political prisoners including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent years under house arrest.

      Leaders who signed the letter included ex-US presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-Australian premier John Howard, former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and ex-Philippine leaders Fidel Ramos and Corazon Aquino.

      Fassino, who has not travelled to Myanmar in the year since his appointment, was in Japan as part of a tour of Asian nations.

      He called for the world to act now to ensure the fairness of elections that Myanmar's military regime says it will hold in 2010.

      "We cannot afford to stay still. We have to act now to obtain democratic guarantees," Fassino said.

      "We want Myanmar's society and citizens to decide their own future. We want the 2010 general elections to be held in a fair and free environment," he added.

      Ban said on Friday that he was frustrated at the failure of Myanmar's military to restore democracy.

      "At this time I do not think that the atmosphere is ripe for me to undertake my own visit there," he said.

      But he added: "I am committed, and I am ready to visit any time, whenever I can have reasonable expectations of my visit, to be productive and meaningful."

      The European Union and United States have both slapped sanctions on Myanmar, but most Asian countries have focused instead on dialogue. China is Myanmar's main ally, while Japan - in a rare break with Western allies - is a major donor to the country.

      Fassino said he was visiting Asia in hopes of finding a united front on Myanmar.

      "The main concern for Asian countries is to avoid the destabilisation of the region," Fassino said.

      "The EU and the US have implemented sanctions to force the opening of dialogue. The assessment of the tools to obtain this objective can differ but the goal is the same," he said.

      Fassino said Japan, with its historical ties to Myanmar, had a "very important role to play," especially from next month when it becomes a member of the UN Security Council.

      Isolation or engagement? It's Than Shwe's choice - Aung Zaw
      Irrawaddy: Mon 15 Dec 2008

      Since Gen Ne Win seized power in 1962, Burma has proudly proclaimed its neutrality in international affairs. Under Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the country's "active and neutral" foreign policy remains in place, although many question whether this accurately describes the way Burma now relates to the rest of the world.

      Than Shwe's regime has long been a target of Western sanctions, which include a visa ban that prohibits the paramount leader himself from traveling to the West. Relations with neighboring countries are, however, more cordial. This has produced a foreign policy that is more selective than neutral.

      Last week, the general who routinely snubs visiting UN envoys welcomed Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who received Than Shwe's special envoy, Foreign Minister Nyan Win, in September 2007 amid the brutal crackdown on monk-led protests.

      State-run papers reported that Than Shwe briefed the Chinese minister on Burma's domestic situation, including the progress of reconstruction work in the cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta. More importantly, the general reported on the country's "democratic process and economic development, based on the principles of independence and self-determination," according to China's Xinhua news agency.

      The junta chief also reassured his visitor that Burma continued to value its paukphaw (fraternal) friendship with China.

      Burmese leaders have traditionally used the term "paukphaw" to refer to relations with China. This special relationship has, however, been subject to numerous strains over the years. This was especially true in the 1960s and 70s, when China aided the Communist Party of Burma (CPB).

      Although the "big brothers" in Beijing dubbed Ne Win a "fascist," the Burmese strongman was pragmatic and visited China several times to repair ties. He held high-level talks with Chinese leaders and maintained a good relationship. In return, leaders from China also paid several state-level visits to Burma.

      But as Ne Win dined with leaders in Beijing, Than Shwe and other mid-ranking officers posted in the northern frontier region in the 1970s and 80s continued the fight against Chinese-backed communists. They would never forget China's efforts to overthrow the government in Rangoon.

      Today the CPB is gone, and its troops never did march down to Rangoon. China has been the regime's major ally since the military coup of September 1988, supplying the regime with military and economic aid. Border trade between the two countries has also expanded, to an estimated annual level of US $1.5 billion.

      Now China is planning to build a gas pipeline in 2009, linking Sittwe on the Arakanese coast with China's landlocked province of Yunnan. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) will head the $2.5 billion pipeline project with a 50.9 percent stake, while Burma's state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) will hold the rest.

      Besides the MOGE's stake in the project, Beijing will also be counting on the regime to keep armed groups along the China-Burma border under control.

      Although military leaders in Burma have expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of some of the military hardware and jet fighters they have purchased from China, they still appreciate Beijing's unwavering support, including exercising its veto at the UN Security Council.

      However, it is important not to overestimate China's influence over Burma. China could also be looking for an alternative to Than Shwe, and like everyone else, Chinese officials are looking at the post-Than Shwe era and beyond the planned 2010 election.

      Chinese know that the aid policy and economic cooperation over the past 20 years has not paid off much.

      Chinese remain skeptical that the aid, economic cooperation and investment in Burma will translate into meaningful economic development. It is obvious that Burma is descending into a failed state. China is only helping to preserve the regime.

      It is unfortunate that China, which once sought to overthrow the Ne Win regime, is now backing one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Than Shwe often tells his generals that as long as he can count on three countries - China, India and Russia - for backing, his regime will survive. Of these three, China is obviously the most crucial.

      Increasingly, however, the junta has been looking beyond China for new friends, new markets and economic cooperation.

      This month, Burma confirmed that it will open an embassy in Kuwait. Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Burma and Kuwait.

      Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah visited Burma in August and signed an agreement on economic and technical cooperation between the two countries.

      During a meeting with the visiting prime minister, Than Shwe informed him of his "road map" to "disciplined democracy" and explained the need for the army to safeguard Burma's unity and stability. Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint visited Kuwait recently looking to expand Burma's trade and business activities there.

      This is not the first time the regime has looked to the Middle East to expand its diplomatic relationships. In 2006, Iran's deputy minister for oil paid a visit to Burma to express his country's interest in cooperating with the junta.

      In April of last year, we also saw Burma formally restore its ties with North Korea. Relations between the two countries had been severed for more than two decades after North Korean state-sponsored terrorists launched a deadly bomb attack on a high-ranking South Korean delegation of politicians who were visiting Rangoon.

      However, a clandestine diplomatic relationship had been restored as early as the 1990s. In recent years, North Korean technicians have been seen in Rangoon and in the newly built capital. Well-informed sources reported that North Korean agents usually stay at state-owned guesthouses on the outskirts of Rangoon. The lack of transparency surrounding the North Korean agents' frequent visits to Burma has fueled rumors about the nature of the cooperation between these two "outposts of tyranny."

      But even as Than Shwe looks to broaden Burma's diplomatic horizons, it is clear that he remains very selective when choosing potential allies. In May, Cyclone Nargis offered an opportunity to forge friendlier ties with the US and the West, but Than Shwe opted to spurn their offers of assistance because they came in warships.

      The paramount leader doesn't really count the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as an ally, but maintains a normal relationship with the regional grouping. His regime's recent decision to send prominent dissidents to jail demonstrated his disregard for the principles laid out in the Asean charter.

      With regard to Burma's closest neighbor, Thailand, we have seen many ups and downs in the relationship over the past two decades. Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire Thai prime minister who was ousted in 2006, cultivated close business ties to the Burmese junta. But even during the relatively amicable period of Thaksin's rule, Burma felt compelled to buy state-of-the-art MiG 29 jet fighters from Russia to counter the Thailand's F16 jet fighters.

      When looking for new friends, Than Shwe steers clear of countries that take are likely to take issue with his regime's human rights record. His treatment of the democratic opposition and detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and 2,000 other political prisoners are also taboo topics.

      To return to Ne Win - the charismatic leader frequently visited Western countries for medical treatment or annual vacations. Ne Win and the ministers and generals who served under him acquired a taste for the finer things the West had to offer, even if they had no appetite for Western democratic values.

      Ne Win had bank accounts in Switzerland and liked to stay in London. He and top leaders had TVs and video players long before Burma officially introduced these marvels of technology in the late 1980s. Top leaders and their wives were encouraged to go to hospitals in Europe when they needed to have check-ups - not to Singapore, where Than Shwe regularly visits for medical examinations.

      Ne Win and his senior ministers often visited Europe to get aid and loans. The former Federal Republic Germany, or West Germany, was a favorite destination. Germany's Fritz Werner Company helped Burma to build an arms industry as early as the 1950s to suppress ethnic insurgency.

      Thanks to his "engagement" with the West, Ne Win even received military assistance from the US to suppress narcotics in the 1970s. US-made helicopters were also used to attack ethnic civilians and insurgents, but there was no protest from Washington.

      Under Ne Win, Burmese army officers were not only sent to Asian nations but also to the US and UK for military education. Under former spy chief Gen Khin Nyunt, dozens of army officers were CIA or UK-trained. Ne Win and Than Shwe all benefited from this sort of engagement and cooperation from the West.

      Until 2004, Burma's feared secret police agency ran a ruthless and efficient spy network inside and outside of the country. Ironically, this would not have been possible without the contributions of countries that now regard Burma's current rulers as international pariahs.

      Every time Than Shwe shakes hands with a visiting state leader or foreign diplomat, critics of his regime shake their heads in dismay at the willingness of many in the world to ignore his egregious crimes against the people of Burma. Than Shwe's occasional forays into international diplomacy may help him to stay in power, but they will do nothing to improve the plight of Burma's oppressed people.

      SPDC raises gas prices in attempt to recoup revenue lost to declining energy markets - Blai Mon
      Independent Mon News Agency: Fri 12 Dec 2008

      Burma's military government has raised official gas prices, say sources in Mon State and Rangoon. According to Burma experts, the move is likely at attempt to save revenue as the country feels the effect of a declining international energy market.

      On December 1st, the government increased the cost of a gallon of petrol to 2,500 kyat, says an IMNA reporter in Moulmein and sources in Rangoon. The increase marked a jump from the highest government price of 1,900 kyat at the end of November, the result of a slow, but steady, rise from 1,500 kyat in September and October.

      The government price hike brought fuel costs in line with dropping black market prices, most recently tabbed at between 2,500 and 2,700 kyat a gallon. The black market prices are a significant drop from recent past, when gas prices crept incrementally closer to 5,000 kyat per gallon from September through November.

      The black market gas prices are in line with dropping prices on the international market, which have seen a steady decline as a slowing global economy has dampened demand. According to a report released this week by the Paris-based International Energy Agency, for instance, global oil demand in 2008 will measure negative growth for the first time since 1983.

      It is, however, unclear why the regime is boosting domestic prices at this juncture. No official reason for the price increase has been given by the Ministry of Energy, which has controlled gas and oil prices in Burma since the sectors were nationalized in 1962. An official at the ministry was also unable to offer an explanation when pressed by IMNA.

      Some Burma analysts think the price increase is an attempt by the SPDC to increase revenue streams. "We've been hearing countless examples of regime money saving/grabbing, of which this is but the latest example," says Sean Turnell, economics professor at Australia's Macquarie University and author of the oft-cited yearly Burma Economic Watch. "Right now the regime seems to be running short of cash."

      The SPDC is assuredly feeling effects of the decline in oil and gas prices, Turnell told IMNA on Friday. According to Turnell's 2008 Burma Economic Watch, released in May, gas exports make up 40% of Burma's exports by value. The 2008 report also warned that Burma was "acutely vulnerable" to a drop in energy prices, as did the annual report released by the Asian Development Bank in March.

      "Hits that are being taken on the revenue side as Burma's gas exports decline in price," Turnell told IMNA. "Lifting the price of petrol saves the government on the subsidies it otherwise pays - both in terms of lower losses per unit of petrol, and in what they must hope will be lower demand. The [SPDC's budget] is improved, but so is the trade balance."

      How much revenue will be saved remains to be seen, however, as drivers appear to be responding by increasing their black market fuel purchases. In the past, drivers typically purchased two gallons per day at the cheaper government price – their maximum daily quota - and filled the rest of their need on the black market.

      "The price of government gas is increasing, so it doesn't matter where we buy our gas from. The outside price is the same," a bus driver in Rangoon told IMNA.

      A source from Mudon Township, Mon State, agreed and expressed disappointment with the rising government fuel price. "If I take the gas from the government, it is no different for me," she said. "I can just buy from the black market at the same price."

      Chin, faced with food shortage, entering Thailand - Lawi Weng
      Irrawaddy: Fri 12 Dec 2008

      More than 2,000 Chin migrants from northern Burma who are faced with food shortages have illegally entered Thailand through Three Pagodas Pass in recent months, say sources on the border.

      According to sources who are involved in smuggling migrant workers from Burma into Thailand through Three Pagodas Pass, scores of Chin are arriving at the border every day.

      "I have smuggled about 500 people [Chin] into Thailand during the last several months," said one source. "They plan to go to Malaysia."

      An estimated 60,000 Chin now live in Malaysia or India as migrants or refugees.

      Min Thang, a member of the Chin National Council who lives in Mizoram, Indian, said many Chin villagers have abandoned farming after their crops were destroyed this year by an infestation of rats. Women also believe that if they can find work abroad, they can earn enough money to survive and send some back home, he said.

      A Chin woman in Sangkalaburi in Kanchanaburi Province in Thailand said it took a week to make the journey from Chin State to Three Pagodas Pass during the rainy season. She said she paid about 150,000 kyat (US $119) to a smuggler to cross the border into Thailand.

      Leaders of the Chin National Council said in August that the Burmese military government was not allowing food supplies donated from foreign countries to reach the areas experiencing a food shortage.

      According to a Mizoram-based Chin relief group, the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee, about 100,000 of the 500,000 residents in Chin State face a food shortage, which began in December 2007. Many people are surviving on boiled rice, fruit and vegetables, said the agency.

      A famine is said to occur in the area about every 50 years when the flowering of a native species of bamboo gives rise to an explosion in the rat population, experts say. The International Rice Research Institute has warned of "widespread food shortages" in the region.

      Nobel laureates launch appeal for Aung San Suu Kyi
      Agence France Presse: Fri 12 Dec 2008

      Nobel peace laureates urged Europe and the United Nations on Friday to push harder to bring about national reconciliation in Myanmar and the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      "We are here today to remind the world of her courage and of the strength of this woman who has been unceasingly fighting for the freedom of her people," said a text read by Northern Ireland peace campaigner Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

      Suu Kyi, 63, who won the Nobel prize in 1991, has been detained for most of the past two decades, mostly isolated from the outside world, only receiving visits from her doctor and lawyer.

      Maguire was meeting in Paris with fellow Nobel peace prize winners Betty Williams and John Hume of Northern Ireland, F.W. de Klerk of South Africa and Lech Walesa of Poland.

      Together, they called on European leaders and institutions and the United Nations to "do their utmost to achieve the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners."

      They also urged world leaders to "force the Burma regime to start a peaceful reconciliation process in order to restore democracy and respect for fundamental human rights in this country."

      In their declaration, the laureates voiced concern that the drive for reconciliation launched in Myanmar by the United Nations after the political unrest of September 2007, was at a standstill.

      "We feel at risk of losing a precious opportunity for peace in Burma," they said.

      Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose foundation co-organised the Paris event but who was unable to attend for medical reasons, sent a message voicing his support for a global campaign in favour of Suu Kyi's release.

      Irish rocker-turned-activist Bono, speaking after receiving an annual peace award from the laureates for his global crusade to tackle poverty and disease, paid tribute to Suu Kyi in her absence.

      "We should acknowledge the Nobel laureate who should be here, but is not here. That is Aung San Suu Kyi," said the U2 frontman, whose 2001 single "Walk On" was dedicated to the Myanmar democracy icon.

      "We have to tell her and send out a message of love. She is still not able to move freely, and we look forward to the day when she will be."

      Last week, more than 100 former leaders wrote to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, urging him to travel to Myanmar to secure the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

      But the UN secretary general has ruled out such a visit and expressed frustration at the military regime's failure to take steps toward dialogue with the opposition.

      Ban visited Myanmar in May after its military rulers came under international fire for not allowing foreign aid in after a cyclone left 138,000 people dead or missing.

      The Nobel winners were meeting in Paris for a three-day annual summit, coinciding with celebrations marking 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in the French capital.

      Myanmar junta sweeps clean for 2010 polls - Sahil Nagpal
      Deutsche Presse Agentur: Fri 12 Dec 2008

      The two pivotal events for Myanmar in 2008 - Cyclone Nargis and a national referendum - fell on the same month, highlighting the ruling junta's callousness in pursuing its "discipline flourishing democracy" at all costs.

      Myanmar's military this year demonstrated to the international community its extreme indifference to public welfare by pushing through a national referendum on a new constitution to cement its future political powers on May 10 - days after the cyclone slammed the Irrawaddy delta and Yangon, leaving almost 140,000 dead and missing and 2.4 million people in desperate need of assistance.

      Foreign aid organizations were outraged by the regime's delays in allowing emergency relief and experts as it concentrated its efforts on the national referendum in all but the worst-hit areas.

      The results were highly dubious: 92.47 per cent endorsement for a constitution that took 14 years to draft and guarantees the military a dominant role by granting it the right to appoint 110 members of the 440-seat lower house, and 56 members of the 224-seat upper house.

      Control of 25 per cent of both houses would bar effectively bar any amendments to the charter that might threaten the military's dominance.

      Adding insult to injury, the junta on May 27 extended the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi by another six months to a year, sparking further outcry from the international community that fell on deaf, helmeted ears.

      Myanmar junta is bulldozing the country towards a general election in 2010 on its "seven-step road map" to "discipline-flourishing democracy" with a ruthlessness that has already made the outcome unacceptable to most.

      Four months after the cyclone hit, while the population was still picking up the pieces of their shattered lives in the Irrawaddy delta, the regime was busy making sure there will be no surprises at the polls nor spontaneous uprisings in 2009, such as the August-September monk-led rebellion of 2007.

      The judiciary has proven an effective tool. In November alone, more than 210 political activists were sentenced to long prison terms, some up to 65 years in jail, according to a report released by the exile Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

      Most of them were arrested for involvement in September 2007 protests. The association estimates there are more than 2,000 political prisoners in various jails nationwide.

      The spate of sentences have decapitated Myanmar's organized opposition, such as the 88 Generation Students group, leaving a vacuum in the anti-government movement for 2009.

      This leaves it up to the main opposition party, Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD), which won the last general election of 1990 by a landslide but was denied power by the junta that declared a new constitution was needed before civilian rule could work.

      "It's likely that they will not contest the 2010 election because doing so would deny the legitimacy of the 1990 polls which they already won," said Win Min, a lecturer on Myanmar affairs at Chiang Mai University in Thailand.

      The NLD insists on a committee to reviews and amend the constitution before it will join elections, and lend some legitimacy to what will otherwise be an absurd and meaningless exercise.

      But some are critical of the NLD's stance. Last month, hundreds of members from the party's youth wing resigned over dissatisfaction with the way "the old men are managing the party."

      Without the daily leadership of Suu Kyi, who has been under house detention in near complete isolation from the party since May 2003, the NLD seems increasingly directionless.

      "The fate of the NLD is it must rely on Aung San Suu Kyi. She is the only one who can make changes within the party," a former party member said.

      That is why many analysts think that freeing Suu Kyi remains the most important matter for NLD's future, and Myanmar's.

      "We don't see any new and challenging strong opposition for the junta in near future," a retired professor from Yangon University said. "The only thing we can hope for is there will be international pressure strong enough to release all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi before the polls."

      Looking beyond 2010 election in Burma - Nehginpao Kipgen
      Asian Tribune: Fri 12 Dec 2008

      It is saddening to see a government's sentencing of prison terms ranging from 6 months to 65 years on its own citizens. The alleged convicts are none other than some of the most admired artists, revered monks and peaceful activists who dearly love their country.

      The international community's political rhetoric, without any substantive action, has emboldened the military generals to advance their seven-step roadmap toward a "disciplined and flourishing democracy," slowly but steadily.

      It was unsurprising to see the lukewarm reaction of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toward a largely symbolic petition submitted to him by 112 former world leaders, asking him to visit Burma in the wake of rampant arrests in recent weeks and months. The Dec. 3 petitioners include Jimmy Carter and Tony Blair, among others.

      Ban, out of frustration, through his spokesperson Michele Montas, responded to the letter by saying: "….will not be able to do so without reasonable expectations of a meaningful outcome, which is what we have been saying all along…."

      What could that paper tiger achieve, anyway? Had the same letter been sent by the same number of incumbent world leaders, it could have better leverage. The move was an encouraging sign, but will have a very minimal impact, if not none at all. It will be more efficacious if the 112 world leaders, rather, convince their own governments to take pragmatic actions in line with what the U.N. chief was asked to do.

      It is the U.N. Security Council that can initiate effective action that the offices of the Secretary General would implement, not vice versa. Ban Ki-moon sees the limitations his good offices can play in the absence of any enforcement mechanism.

      If Ban were to go to Burma without having to achieve any substantive results, he could demean the Secretary General's office. His basic demands, such as the release of political prisoners and initiation of dialogue with the opposition groups, have not materialized.

      Instead of listening to repeated calls for the release of political prisoners, the military authority in recent weeks has handed down long prison terms to anyone seen to be a disturbance to the upcoming 2010 election.

      On the other hand, the military was sending yet another clear message to the international community. Senior General Than Shwe was seen bragging about the 15-year existence of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and its growing 24.6 million members.

      On the fourth day of the association's 15th anniversary on November 29, Senior General Than Shwe was heard saying: "….plans are well underway to see to the remaining steps including the 2010 transition work program. So, it is fair to say that the future of the State structure is certain to materialize."

      In the new constitution, 25 percent of seats in both houses of parliament (House of Representatives and House of Nationalities) are reserved for the military. Amendment of constitution will require the approval of more than 75 percent of votes. In other words, the constitution has been designed to perpetuate military rule.

      The military generals learnt a lesson from the 1990 general election - any free and fair election will be in favor of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other democratic opposition groups. It is a question remains to be seen whether the NLD will be allowed to participate in the election.

      If the NLD is barred from election or the party chooses not to participate, the political scenario beyond the 2010 election could even become murkier. While the new government will be busy with its own agendas, the NLD will continue to lobby the international community to recognize the 1990 election results.

      The 2010 election will bring a transition in Burma, but the new government will still be directly or indirectly under the military. One other significant implication is that the result of 1990 general election will become a bygone history.

      As usual, the international community will send mixed responses of the election outcome. While most Western nations will not or perhaps only reluctantly recognize the result, many Asian governments will welcome it as a positive step toward democracy.

      It is these conflicting approaches that have given the military generals a political breathing space. Sanctions versus engagements and or appeasements by the international community are responsible for the survival of the military regime.

      One must not, however, believe that successful implementation of the State Peace and Development Council's seven-step roadmap will bring an end to the decades-old political problems of Burma.

      We will continue to see the simmering political turmoil in the country. The military generals are indifferent to and even anathema to any concept of federalism, which has been the basic demand of the country's ethnic nationalities, other than the Burmese.

      A long-lasting solution to Burma's problems needs the sincerity, honesty and the participation of all ethnic groups. Different ethnic groups should be brought into confidence, and their legitimate demands should be looked into. In sum, this process of democratization must have an inclusive approach.

      Burma's political landscape could still be dramatically changed before and after the 2010 general election, provided that the international community steps up to embark on a coordinated action using a "carrot and stick" approach.

      Meanwhile, the capability of the military junta should not be undermined. The regime has taken pride in having one of the largest armies in the region, with over 400,000 personnel. The military is also well protected by the U.N. Security Council's veto structure.

      If the international community is sincere and serious about finding a solution to Burma's political problems, it should take actions that would make a difference. There are ways to bring down or convince the military generals.

      Military intervention, a model of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear stand-off, and the U.N. Security Council Resolution will be some of the swiftest, if not most effective, tools to bring democratic change in Burma. However, none of the above is likely to happen in the near future.

      If no realistic action is on the agenda, the international community should look beyond the 2010 election and start planning for new policies and strategies to be pursued under a new military-controlled government.

      Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com), and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).

      Child trafficking continues, but not fuelled by cyclone
      IRIN News (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs): Thu 11 Dec 2008

      When Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in May, leaving close to 140,000 people dead or missing, aid workers feared an increase in child trafficking from the region.

      Burmese children have long been trafficked into Bangkok and other urban areas of Thailand where they are forced to sell flowers, beg or work in domestic service, according to World Vision. Others work in agriculture, fishing, construction and the sex industry, the NGO said.

      Today they make up the largest proportion of foreign child labour, Thailand's immigration detention centres report.

      However, despite the risks, no increases have been reported, although specialists caution that accurate figures are not available. "We've had no reports of an increase in trafficking numbers," Mark Thomas, chief of communications for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Thailand, told IRIN.

      "If there were such report[s] I would be cautious about using [them] since there are no accurate figures on the numbers of people who are trafficked on a regular basis prior to the cyclone," he said - a sentiment echoed by aid workers in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, from where so many Burmese enter the country.

      "Trafficking happens here every day," said Aye Aye Mar, founder of Social Action for Women, a local NGO providing shelter and training for Burmese women and children.

      "We saw one group of about 100 women from the cyclone region brought to Mae Sot by smugglers, but we haven't seen any cases involving children," said Aye Aye Mar.

      While most evidence of Nargis-related trafficking has been anecdotal, one NGO working in Myanmar intervened in seven trafficking cases in June, some involving children.

      "Children are at increased risk of being trafficked when they're separated from their parents or primary caregivers, as was the case with some children during Cyclone Nargis," said one field officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

      Those risks are exacerbated when families are impoverished and children are forced to undertake more exploitative work to contribute to family livelihood, the aid worker said.

      Job seekers

      Mae Sot lies on the principal land route into Myanmar through the border town of Myawaddy. It is also a key point on migration and trafficking routes between the two countries, with many Burmese coming to work in the town's factories and farms.

      It has Thailand's largest Burmese population, estimated at 80,000-plus, nine refugee camps, and probably the largest concentration of Myanmar-focused international and local NGOs in the country.

      Aid workers say trafficking works in several ways. Some involves highly visible activities where job brokers in Myanmar distribute posters, fliers and T-shirts advertising overseas work with free flights and high salaries - the average Burmese annual wage is about US$240.

      A more usual story is people wanting work contact the brokers.

      But with child trafficking, brokers approach poor families directly - offering cash to take their child to a city such as Bangkok to earn money by selling flowers or begging.

      Children vulnerable

      Many economic migrants fall into the trafficking trap upon arrival in Mae Sot, according to one local NGO.

      "Once migrant families arrive here [Mae Sot], their children become increasingly vulnerable to trafficking," a local aid worker, who did not want to be named, said.

      "This happens for a couple of reasons. First, their parents work all day and can't look after them, so they become more visible to the traffickers. Second, the family needs money," she said.

      "In poor families it is normal for children to work. So when a broker offers them 1,500 baht [$42.80] per month to take the child to Bangkok to sell flowers, they don't see it as human trafficking."

      But many families see only the first one or two payments from the traffickers, who quickly break off contact. Many never see their children again.

      "The children who are trafficked are very young," explained Aye Aye Mar. "They often can't remember where they come from, and don't know how to contact their family or village if they manage to run away from the brokers."

      Educating migrant families and vulnerable communities within Myanmar about the risk of trafficking, and the tricks and promises employed by brokers, is key to fighting the trade.

      This needs to be backed up with capacity-building at an institutional level, noted Ashley Clements, an advocacy officer with World Vision Myanmar.

      "Some of the most effective ways that World Vision has been working on trafficking has been the capacity-building of government officials, upgrading their skills to make them more aware of the associated issues and how to address them," he said.

      "But if we don't find solutions to help vulnerable people rebuild their livelihoods and start earning a living, then they will remain much more vulnerable to trafficking," he warned.

      More companies ignore sanctions on Burma: BCUK - Solomon
      Mizzima News: Thu 11 Dec 2008

      Despite a call for sanctions by the international community on Burma, companies are instead expanding their engagement in business relationships with the militarily-ruled country and as such are complicit in the torture of Burmese citizens, says a prominent activist group.

      The London-based Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) has added at least 30 additional international companies to their dirty list of those who financially support the Burmese military junta directly or indirectly by investing in the country.

      BCUK director Mark Farmaner told Mizzima that the lack of effective action on and support for sanctions regarding Burma, including countries in Europe and Asia in addition to the United Nations, encourages an increasing number of companies to invest in Burma.

      "Because governments have simply not imposed sanctions, their governments have not taken action," said Mark Farmaner. "Though there have been strong sanctions for many years, they have failed," he added.

      "The UN, as well as EU and Asian governments have not taken action, leaving the Burmese democracy movement in torture," added Farmaner.

      BCUK lists170 companies in total in their new dirty list as investing in Burma and thus supporting the military junta's financial lifeline.

      "This list proves that the current sanctions are not working. More companies than ever are investing in Burma in the oil, gas and dam sectors," said Johnny Chatterton, Campaigns Officer for BCUK, in the report.

      Prominent companies on the list include Toyota, Qantas, TOTAL Oil, Orient Express, Kuoni, TUI, Schlumberger, BBC Worldwide, Lonely Planet, Daewoo, China National Offshore Oil Corp and Hutchison Whampoa, according to the report.

      "Almost 200 companies are listed as working in Burma, bringing in billions of dollars to the regime and showing that there are no real economic sanctions," said Farmaner.

      "The sanctions are simply not there. If there were sanctions by the UN and national governments, these companies would not be able to operate in Burma," said Farmaner.

      The BCUK director said the UN itself is silent in the matter of taking action against the junta, even though it has accused the military junta of human rights abuses as under the Geneva agreement.

      "The UN has got not one single sanction against the regime, not even an arms embargo," expounded Farmaner.

      There are many more companies investing in Burma apart from those on the list, including well-known names, as they are not considered to be significantly investing in the country.

      "We have seen that SPDC become richer and richer and human rights abuses getting worse and worse," added Farmaner.

      More than 100 companies, including Cotton Traders, XL, Trailblazer Guides, Jet Gold Corp, CHC, Aquatic, PwC, Rolls Royce, DHL, Swiss Re and Willis have pulled out of Burma after facing protests from BCUK and being placed on their dirty list, which premiered six years ago.

      However, as some companies have withdrawn from the country, the military junta has tried to replace them with regional companies, resulting in a lot of Asian companies now exploiting sectors of the Burmese economy such as natural resources.

      "Newly targeted sanctions against the regime must now be implemented if the international community is serious about cutting the regime's financial lifeline," said Johnny Chatterton.

      "To those that claim investment aids the people of Burma, the evidence shows the opposite is true. As investment has increased, the human rights situation has deteriorated," he continued

      The new dirty list companies mainly invest in the gas, oil, hydroelectricity and tourism sectors, according to the report.

      Junta turns blind eye to rising landmine casualties - Marwaan Macan-Markar
      Inter Press Service: Thu 11 Dec 2008

      Thanks to the callousness of its military rulers, Burma has aacquired another unenviable statistic. It has replaced Cambodia as the country with the highest annual number of landmine victims in the region.

      Yet the figure of 438 new mine casualties in 2007 in the South-east Asian country is a conservative estimate, says a co-author of the 'Landmine Monitors Report (LMR) - 2008'.

      These documented landmine explosions resulted in 47 deaths, 338 people injured and ''53 unknown,'' revealed the LMR, which is an annual assessment brought out for the past decade to build up global pressure to ban landmines. The report adds weight to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, signed or ratified by 156 countries.

      The toll, however, was limited to ''civilian casualties,'' based on what the report's researchers gathered from media accounts and information from humanitarian and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country.

      ''The Burmese government doesn't make public the list of combat casualties… We have almost nothing on soldiers injured from landmine explosions,'' revealed co-author Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan during this week's launch of the annual report in the Thai capital.

      A similar cloak of secrecy confronted researchers trying to get casualty figures from ethnic rebel groups in Burma, or Myanmar, who also use the antipersonnel mine as a weapon in their separatist war.

      ''Myanmar has moved up a notch. For the first time it has overtaken the casualties in Cambodia,'' added Moser-Puangsuwan. ''It comes third after Afghanistan and Columbia globally.''

      According to LMR figures on Burma, there were 132 new casualties reported in 2004, 231 in 2005, 243 in 2006 and 438 in 2007. Cambodia, by contrast, had 352 new mine victims in 2007, a decrease of 22 percent from 2006, when the figure was 450, and a dramatic drop from 2005, when there were 875 new casualties.

      Mines in Cambodia are a deadly legacy of the nearly two-decade-long war and internal conflict that began in the 1970s. The unexploded ordnance in Cambodia were the work of many armies, including the United Sates, during its war in Indo-China, and the Vietnamese troops, when it invaded Cambodia to drive out the ruthless Khmer Rouge regime.

      In Burma, on the other hand, mines are still actively used by both the 'Tatmadaw', as the military is called, and the many ethnic rebel armies, ranging from the Karen National Liberation Army , the Karenni Army and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army to the Shan Sate Army-South and the United Wa State Army.

      ''Burma is the one country that has consistently used landmines on a widespread bases; it is the only one doing so globally,'' says Moser-Puangsuwan. ''The military industry of Myanmar producers at least three types of mines. One is a plastic mine, which is very difficult to detect, and can remove an arm or a leg.''

      While 10 of the country's 14 states and divisions are contaminated with mines, the most heavily mined areas are close to its borders, such as the eastern one with Thailand, which are regions that are home to the ethnic minorities.

      ''The junta uses landmines to secure and defend its military bases close to the border and as a weapon to attack the ethnic rebel groups,'' says Win Min, a Burmese national security expert teaching in a northern Thai university.

      ''The mines are a very important as weapons for the Burmese army,'' he added during a telephone interview. ''But the problem is that most of the mines hit civilians, not the rebels. And the junta does not have a proper mapping system, so when the troops move on, they leave the mines behind.''

      Such mine warfare has taken a toll on the Burmese troops, too, Win Min confirmed. ''There are a lot of Burmese soldiers who are victims. You see many amputees in the military hospitals.''

      Some of the civilian casualties are being aided by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) through its Hpa-an orthopaedic centre, set up in 2003 in the Karen State, in south-east Burma. ''We treat 600 people a year. Most of those being helped with our prosthetic services are adults,'' Djorde Drndarski, deputy head of the ICRC delegation, said in a telephone interview from Rangoon.

      This service of artificial limbs by the global humanitarian agency comes after the victims have been treated for their blast injuries at local hospitals, added Drndarski. ''The persons have to be first cared for at the hospitals. We take over after that. There is also an outreach programme we run with our partner, the Myanmar Red Cross Society.''

      It is in this region, in fact, that Human Rights Watch revealed that mines are being used by the junta to ''kill, maim and starve civilians'' from the ethnic minorities. Researchers for the New York-based global rights lobby painted a grim picture, where the Tatmadaw have been laying landmines ''in front of houses, around rice fields, and along trails leading to fields in order to deter civilians from harvesting their crops''.

      And the likelihood of the junta changing course and joining the other countries in ratifying the 1997 international treaty appears remote. In addition to ignoring the treaty, the regime has also refused to open its doors for international humanitarian assistance to help landmine victims - unlike Cambodia which drew 30.8 million US dollars for mine action funding in 2007.

      Burma also stands apart from two other neighbours, Laos and Vietnam, that has still to endorse the treaty but have responded to the global anti-mine movement positively. The junta has stayed away from international meetings dealing with the global landmine ban and has also abstained from voting at the U.N. General Assembly.

      ''The Myanmar government does not want to admit that there is a problem,'' says Alfredo Lubang, regional representative, of Nonviolence International, a global NGO. ''There is no systematic mine-risk education programme.''

      Consequently, the international anti-landmine movement ''has established a very special campaign for Burma,'' he told IPS. ''It is the Halt Mine Use in Burma Campaign; no other country has been targeted like this.''

      Burma accused of elephant smuggling
      Agence France Presse: Wed 10 Dec 2008

      Burma is at the centre of an illegal trade in elephants and ivory, with more than 250 live animals smuggled out of the country in the past decade, a report said on Wednesday.

      Most of the elephants were destined for use in the tourist trekking industry in neighbouring Thailand, said the report by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

      Smuggling of live elephants and ivory is in "blatant contravention" of national laws and of the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the group said.

      "Our research found evidence of corruption allowing the illicit smuggling of ivory and elephants to take place," Chris Shepherd, senior program officer with TRAFFIC, was quoted as saying in a statement.

      "Females and juvenile elephants are particularly targeted to supply the demand from the tourism industry in Thailand, where they are put to work in elephant trekking centres," said Shepherd.

      Smugglers took elephants over the frontier by bribing border officials, the report said, citing one guard as saying he had charged up to $US200 ($A304.65) per animal because he was saving up to fly to Germany for the 2006 World Cup.

      Yet no cross-border trade of live elephants had been reported to CITES by either Burma or Thailand, and some traders said elephants had disappeared from parts of Burma owing to numbers captured for the live trade, it said.

      A survey by the group of 14 markets and three border markets in Thailand and China, which both adjoin Burma, also found 9,000 pieces of ivory and 16 whole tusks for sale, it said.

      Reports of elephant disappearances and the amount of ivory on sale "suggests that trade poses a significant threat to the survival of Asian elephants in Burma," said Vincent Nijman, a co-author of the report.

      Burma has the largest elephant population in South-East Asia, with an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 animals, the report said.

      TRAFFIC and conservation group WWF called on authorities in Burma to work closely with enforcement officers in Thailand and China to address the illegal trade.

      "Both Thailand and China must do much more to increase enforcement and crack down on this insidious trade," Susan Lieberman, director of the WWF international species program, was quoted as saying in the TRAFFIC statement.

      It called for greater monitoring of domestic elephant populations in Burma, including the use of microchip and tattoo-based identification systems to prevent illegal cross-border movement.

      Russian business presence becoming stronger in Burma - Moe Thu
      Mizzima News: Wed 10 Dec 2008

      With several Russian firms directly investing or having businesses interests in Burma and with the closer cooperation between the two countries, a Rangoon based observer said, Russia is likely to emerge as a major investor in the near future in the Southeast Asian country.

      The observer, who closely follows Russian-Burmese relationship, said since about eight years ago Russia's private and public enterprises slowly emerged in Burma and began investing and operating businesses in sectors including gold and copper mining, onshore-offshore oil and gas explorations, steel manufacturing and even had a finger in garment and the fisheries industries.

      Of the many businesses ventures in cooperation with Russian enterprises are the prominent Russian Oil and Natural Gas Company Silver Wave Sputnik Petroleum Pte Ltd., Victorious Glory International Pte Ltd., and Technoprom Exports of Russia.

      Russia's Oil and Natural Gas companies had conducted two onshore and two offshore projects, with each project estimated to be valued at between US$ 30 million to US$50 million, the observer, who declined to reveal his identity for fear of reprisal told Mizzima.

      "As a principle, the military government [of Burma] does not allow any foreign company to be involved in onshore exploration and production. But the Russian case is an exception," the observer said.

      Another important project the US$160 million development of a steel manufacturing facility by 'Technoprom Exports' of Russia is also nearly complete in southern Shan State.

      According to the observer, the project, which has a capacity of producing 200,000 tonnes of cast iron per annum, is expected to be commissioned in early 2009 and that the iron produced would be fed to a steel mill run by the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a major business undertaking of the army based in Myingyan of Mandalay Division.

      The facility located in the town of Pingpet in southern Shan State, will have a commercial-scale coal-powered generator that produces 65 megawatt of electricity. The coal will be transported to the plant from Tigyit coal mine, Burma's biggest coal mine located in Tigyit village of Pinlong Township, about 22 miles south of Kalaw town in Southern Shan State.

      The observer said Russia is likely to emerge as a major investor in Burma, because it is one of the foremost world powers. Burma's military rulers are seeking stronger support by giving them secret business deals in the country.

      While Burma has publicly declared that it maintains a policy of non-alignment, it is apparent that Burma needs an alliance with some major power like Russia, in order to survive in the long run in the international arena, he added.

      Meanwhile, another informed industrial source claims that a Russian firm is now seeking business deals in Burma's garment and fisheries industries. "A Russia

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