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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 16/3/09

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Major parties not to contest polls unless constitution is revised 2.. Political prisoners doubled in two years, say activists 3.. Burmese people sacrificed
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 16, 2009
      1. Major parties not to contest polls unless constitution is revised
      2. Political prisoners doubled in two years, say activists
      3. Burmese people sacrificed on the altar of economic interests, says Indian priest
      4. RSF lists Burma among 12 "Internet Enemies"
      5. The military mind-set
      6. Cyclone relief coordinator sentenced to 17 years
      7. 'Suu-Parliament-Meet' movement in Northern Shan State
      8. Free Burma's political prisoners now
      9. Chinese nuclear expert dies in Burma
      10. Wa continue to resist census taking
      11. Chinese company secretly spirits away minerals from Northern Burma
      12. Burma's Rohingyas in flight and the solutions to their plight
      13. Myanmar's military as a Ponzi scheme
      14. China may start receiving Myanmar gas through pipeline in 2013
      15. QBE pulls out of Burma
      16. No home, little hope
      17. Activist arrested for supplying news

      Major parties not to contest polls unless constitution is revised - Nem Davies
      Mizzima News: Fri 13 Mar 2009

      The leader of the 'Committee Representing People's Parliament' (CRPP) Aye Thar Aung has declared that they will not contest the 2010 general elections in Burma unless the constitution is amended.

      In the course of its regular meeting held yesterday, CRPP Chairman Aye Thar Aung said that the constitution must be reviewed and amended.

      "Since this constitution does not have democratic principles and does not guarantee the right of ethnic people, the constitution must be reviewed and amended. Only after that, we will consider contesting the 2010 general elections," he said.

      But the junta had said that they were implementing their 7-step roadmap in accordance with the democratic principles and the constitution has been approved by 92 per cent of the voters who turned out in the 2008 constitutional referendum. However, independent observers were not allowed to monitor the referendum and there were widespread reports of rampant vote rigging and irregularities in the referendum.

      The opposition political parties see the constitution as deliberately designed for the legitimacy and supremacy of the military in Burmese politics.

      "The main point that needs to be amended is lack of democratic fundamentals especially the No. 6 point in the basic principles which says 'enabling the Defence Services to be able to participate in the National political leadership role of the State'. Many points under this principle must be amended," he added.

      All the member political parties in the CRPP namely the main opposition party the National League for Democracy, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), Zomi National Congress (ZNC) and Mon National League for Democracy agreed not to contest the 2010 general election unless the constitution is amended.

      "We must engage in dialogue for this purpose. The ethnic nationalities, NLD and SPDC (junta) must review the constitution and make necessary modifications and insertions in it," Aye Thar Aung said.

      Political prisoners doubled in two years, say activists - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Fri 13 Mar 2009

      The number of political prisoners in Burma has almost doubled since July 2007, according to activists who launched a campaign on Friday to press for their release.

      Before the start of demonstrations in August 2007, it was estimated that Burmese jails held 1,100 political prisoners. Today the number stands at 2,100, said Khin Ohmar, a leading Burmese activist at the launch of the campaign "Free Burma's Political Prisoners Now!" (www.fbppn.net) in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

      "Unless political prisoners are released, there is no peace and stability in the country," she said.

      The "Free Burma's Political Prisoners Now!" campaign is organized by the Thailand-based Burmese Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) and the Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB), an umbrella dissident group of seven organizations in exile.

      Khin Ohmar, of the FDB, was banned from attending the Asean summit in Thailand last month, along with a Cambodian activist.

      The current campaign aims to collect a symbolic 888,888 signatures on a petition for the release of Burma's political prisoners. The petition will be circulated in Thailand, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.

      In Thailand, the launch was held at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok and Chiang Mai University's International Center.

      Friday was chosen for the launch because March 13 was proclaimed Burma's Human Rights Day by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other leading dissidents to mark the anniversary of the deaths of activists Phone Maw and Soe Naing in clashes with police in 1988.

      The petition calling for the release of political prisoners will be circulated until May 24, the day that Suu Kyi should be released from her current term of house arrest under Burmese law. It will be sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,

      The UN General Assembly has been urging the release of Burma's political prisoners for more than a decade.

      AAPP Secretary Tate Naing said at Friday's launch that the 2010 election would be meaningless if political prisoners were still behind bars on polling day.

      "The release of political prisoners is number 1 priority for national reconciliation and democratization in the country," he said.

      Burmese people sacrificed on the altar of economic interests, says Indian priest - Nirmala Carvalho
      AsiaNews.it (Italy): Fri 13 Mar 2009

      Clergyman slams the "silence" of the international community, including India, and their tendency to dismiss human rights as an "internal affair" and do business with the dictatorship. In Myanmar today is Human Rights Day, but democracy "will be reached only on the long run."

      The silence of the international community with regards to the tragedy unfolding every day in Myanmar is "shameful". Even India is interested only in "economic and commercial opportunities" and is doing nothing about "human rights", dismissing the whole thing as "an internal matter" with the result that the military dictatorship is "enjoying all the privileges" whilst the population "continues to suffer", this according to Father A Cyril, a Jesuit priest from Madurai, southern India, who was born in Myanmar and spent there the first ten years of his life.

      The clergyman's outcry coincides with Human Rights Day in the former Burma. For the occasion activists have launched a campaign to free Aung San Suu Kyi and the other 2,100 political prisoners held in the country's prisons.

      For Father Cyril the campaign is "good sign" and can be used to "reawaken the conscience of the international community", but it "will not have any effect in Myanmar where the government will continue to play big brother. Anyone who puts his or her name to the signature campaign is in danger of arrest, torture and persecution."

      "In Myanmar the violation of human rights is total. The military junta does not provide a decent education and does not create job opportunities for people. There is no freedom; even religious freedom is heavily restricted. There is no freedom of movement and people are under surveillance, jailed if suspected of anti-government activities, and tortured in the most inhuman ways."

      "Real social and economic development" is an impossibility for the clergyman because the junta is not interested in "truly democratic reform."

      Father Cyril, who visited Myanmar after cyclone Nargis, spent four months in the country working in direct contact with displaced people.

      The most extensive damages caused by the tropical cyclone that hit the southern part of the county on 2 May 2008 were in the area of the Irrawaddy Delta. Even now, ten months after the tragedy, the situation there remains critical.

      Nargis killed about 140,000 people but affected about 2.4 million Burmese who are still waiting for assistance.

      The Jesuit clergyman is upset that the military dictatorship has created "obstacles" to help and shown "unwillingness to accept foreign aid."

      "We tried to help people who lost everything in the cyclone. We tried to give them food, aid, a home, but the government prevented us. But people are still willing to fight to free themselves from an oppressive tyranny."

      The priest is concerned about the "future of the country and its liberation" because if there is democracy "the nation can grow." Its soil is rich in mineral resources like gold and oil; its forests have precious wood; the land is fertile. But "capable and talented" people cannot express themselves because they have to "struggle to survive", living "in terror" under the constant threat of "guns and rifles" with many killed.

      "People are scared," said Father Cyril, "but there are still some who are fighting for democracy and freedom. It is a journey that will take a long time and will be reached only on the long run. But Myanmar and its people have all it takes to emerge."

      RSF lists Burma among 12 "Internet Enemies" - Mungpi
      Mizzima News: Fri 13 Mar 2009

      Paris-based media watchdog, Reporters Without Border (RSF), has listed military-ruled Burma among 12 countries, which it has called "Internet Enemies" for censoring online freedom of expression.

      In a report published on Thursday, entitled "Enemies of the Internet", the RSF identified 12 nations, that it said had systematically restricted the flow of information to the people by denying them access to the internet and banning sites that it deemed "undesirable".

      The list of such nations included, Burma, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Cuba and Tunisia.

      According to the report, Burma's military rulers have displayed their high-handedness on the few internet users in Burma, by arresting and sentencing at least 14 journalists and two bloggers to long prison terms.

      Out of an approximate nearly 50 million people, only about 40,000, mostly urban dwellers, have the privilege of access to the internet, the report said.

      In 1996, Burma had introduced a law on television, and video along with the Electronic Act, which banned the import, possession and use of a modem, without official permission. The offense was punishable with up to 15-years of imprisonment, for damaging state security, national unity, culture, the national economy and law and order.

      Burma has two government-controlled Internet Service Providers, namely the Myanmar Post and Telecommunication (MPT) and the Bagan Cybertech, which was later renamed as Myanmar Teleport.

      Besides monitoring public cyber cafes by conducting surprise checks on internet users and asking the café managers to keep track records of users, the prohibitive prices of getting a connection at home, also restricts the population from accessing the internet.

      The report said, the Burmese military junta due to its fear of losing control over the internet, had made laws relating to electronic communications and the dissemination of news online, the most dissuasive in the world, exposing internet-users to very harsh prison sentences.

      Internet users in Burma could be simply arrested and sentenced to long prison terms, if they were found surfing or browsing dissident websites, international news sites, and exiled Burmese Media sites, including Mizzima News.

      Nay Phone Latt, a 28 year old, owner of two cyber cafes in Rangoon, was arrested in January 2008, and sentenced to over 12 years of imprisonment, under the Electronic Act for possessing a film, which the junta said was "subversive".

      Similarly, popular comedian Zargarnar was also sentenced to 35 years under the Electronic Act, for posting pictures and information on the impact of Cyclone Nargis, which revealed the government's failure to adequately assist the victims.

      The report said, "All of these countries mark themselves out not just for their capacity to censor news and information online, but also for their almost systematic repression of internet users."

      The report, which made a study of 22 countries, also said there were "at least 69 people behind bars, for having expressed themselves freely online."

      The RSF also puts 10 other countries including Australia and South Korea, "Under Surveillance" for adopting worrying measures that could be the beginning of abuses on internet users and imposition of censorship on freedom of expression online.

      The military mind-set - Saw Tun
      Irrawaddy: Fri 13 Mar 2009

      I would like to try to explain what I believe to be the genuine attitude of the Burmese military government.

      What is the aim of the Burmese Tamadaw [the military]? How do they think?

      Until 1988, late dictator Gen Ne Win, who was the god father of the current ruling generals, didn't favour the communism and parliamentary democracy. He ordered prominent political theorists to draw up a middle-way political ideology. Finally, due to the economic decline, he began to follow the reforms conducted by China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

      However, Ne Win gave up his political control by the nation-wide democracy uprising, which produced the1988 student movements.

      His protégé, former spy chief Gen Khin Nyunt, also stated that the enemy of the military was the Communists and Western neo-colonialists [a phrase usually used by Communists] who were accused of controlling the opposition movement from behind the scenes. Until now, the generals continue to teach army officers along similar lines.

      Not like Ne Win, the current ruling generals lacked the experience of independent struggles or Cold War politics. They are not able to stand on a nationalistic platform and non-alliance ideology. They are not skilful in playing political theory games.

      But they have learned some effective ways to hold on to their power.

      My Brother's Lesson

      "What is military training?" asked my brother, who was a military officer, when I was young. I replied that the training taught me to be disciplined.

      "No, it teaches you to immediately follow an order without thinking," he said. "When you hear 'Attention,' you follow the order at once, don't you? When you hear, 'At ease,' you follow it without thinking, don't you?'"

      The training and lectures eventually gives all soldiers a military mindset, which is comprised of the following characteristics:

      • We work harder than others for the sake of the country.
      • We sacrifice our lives to work for the sake of the country.
      • Our comrades are injured or killed by our enemies.
      • The enemies who injure or killed us are supported by a part of the population.
      • We must follow orders, live under the discipline of the army at all the time.
      • We are soldiers serving the country 24-hours a day.

      In a soldier's view, thus, ordinary people and civil servants live more easy-going lives. They are undisciplined and have many leisure hours. They do business to become rich.

      The result is that soldiers believe they have the sole right to hold state power due to their hard work and sacrifices. These basic opinions are what hinder the relationship between the people and the military, the military and opposition groups and also warp the military view of the international community, which is constantly telling them to give up their hold on power.

      Military officers were surprised when I, a scholar, travelled with them through the forests and mountains. They didn't think anyone except a soldier could do such hard work.

      When the army cracks down on peaceful demonstrators, they viewed them as lazy opportunists who are asking for rights without working hard.

      The army, in a way, blames the people for failing to develop the country. Although the army as a whole works hard, the people and civil servants don't work hard. Foreigners work and think smarter than lazy Burmese people, and these are the reasons developed countries are ahead of Burma.

      However, when ordinary people go abroad to seek job opportunity, they see foreigners as human beings like them. They work industriously because they receive advantages from their work. They are disciplined because reap advantages from performing well. They know exactly the things that Burma could not move forward because of the army's heavy handed control.

      The Influence of Communist Thought Patterns

      After removal of Ne Win from politics, the military generals didn't have anyone to give them effective policy guidance that could have gone about reshaping the country.

      Khin Nyunt, who was more broad-minded than others, formed the American-style Institute of Strategic and International Studies, and selected young military officers for the intelligence units and trained them in international politics.

      Using various underground political strategies, Khin Nyunt approached the United States, the European Union and Japan. He drew up the junta's political road map, the Naypyidaw plan, and the policies propagated in the National Defence College.

      Although the generals never believed in communism and socialism, they studied the tactics and methods of these ideologies, which are premised on hostility to politicians and negativism toward multi-party and federal systems.

      Clearly, the generals followed the dictum of Mao Tse Tung: "Crack down on the extreme minority, leave the educated to live in illusion, and label the majority of ordinary people as supporters."

      Today the generals are trying to divide Asean and educated Burmese people from the opposition groups. Speaking in Communist terms, they see Asean and the educated class as walking in illusion.

      The army believes students and the educated class get into politics because of their misconceptions. At first, they aimed at strictly controlling the student movement itself, but later in 2007, they labelled most students as part of the extreme group.

      Because of their highly indoctrinated, military mind-set, military leaders are cut-off and isolated from the people. They truly have no understanding of the people's plight.

      Military officers do not associate with the general population even if they are appointed to civilian positions, because they are trained not to be too close to the people. Military officers who understand the life of the people are dismissed from their positions.

      Military leaders who are retired from the army are isolated. Many incumbent military leaders are desperately afraid of being retired, because they know no other way of life - or thought.

      The author is a Rangoon-based observer of politics and military affairs in Burma.

      Cyclone relief coordinator sentenced to 17 years - Khin Hnin Htet
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 12 Mar 2009

      A man who organised rescue efforts via the internet for Cyclone Nargis victims has been sentenced to 17 years in jail.

      Min Thein Tun (also known as Thiha) was charged under the Electronics Act, Unlawful Associations Act and Immigration Act. The sentence was passed on 11 March in a court inside Insein prison.

      He had carried out the efforts whilst working legally in Malaysia, but was arrested on his return to Burma last year, his mother Thein Thein said.

      "On 11 July 2008 [the police] came to my house and searched it," she said. "They found nothing.

      They searched the house a second time and told Thein Thein that her son had been arrested.

      "When I asked [Min Thein Tun] what had happened, he said he was not involved in politics, just social work and support," she said.

      Six members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions are currently on trial following their arrest last year for collecting and burying corpses in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. They are defending allegations of sedition and Unlawful Associations Act.

      'Suu-Parliament-Meet' movement in Northern Shan State
      Network Media Group: Thu 12 Mar 2009

      Activists, who want 'Freedom for all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, convening of Parliament, and having a political dialogue' have started a movement in northern Shan State. The movement wants supporters to write the words 'suu-parliament-meet' on currency notes and spend it in the market.

      The movement was started in some regions in Burma after a respected journalist, U Win Tin talked to the foreign based media when he was released from jail.

      A local who participated in the movement said that the movement was started on March 8 at a religious ceremony Hsenwi (Theindi) town, northern Shan State.

      "Our movement does not represent a party or an organization. We, have a common feeling, gather a group and go about it without hurting anybody. We believe that the 'suu-parliament-meet' is the only way to solve the political problems in our country. Therefore we did it."

      We spent a total of 50,000 Kyat at a religious ceremony in Hsenwi's pagoda. We wrote the words 'suu-parliament-meet' with a ball-pen on the corner of a 1,000 Kyat note and a 500 note, and distributed them among local people, said the local.

      "We are creating a movement. We are focussing on it whether it is effective or not. We are doing what we can do. All the people can easily participate in this movement. If all people participate in this movement, wishes and desires of the people will spread to the whole country," he added.

      During the May 2008 referendum, 'vote no' leaflets were distributed and 'vote no' campaign was launched in Nang Kham and Muse region, northern Shan State.

      Free Burma's political prisoners now
      Burma Partnership: Thu 12 Mar 2009

      A global signature campaign for the release of Burma's political prisoners has been launched today, on Burma's Human Rights Day. The campaign aims to collect 888,888 signatures before 24 May 2009, the legal date that Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be released from house arrest. Over 150 Burma exile and solidarity groups are participating in the campaign. Events and activities will take place around the world, including in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, London, Dublin, New Delhi, Hong Kong, Manila, Seoul, Jakarta, Sydney, and Tokyo.

      The petition calls on the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to make it his personal priority to secure the release of all political prisoners in Burma, as the essential first step towards national reconciliation and democratization in the country. The target symbolises 8.8.88, the day the junta massacred some 3,000 people who courageously protested in Burma's largest democracy uprising.

      On 3 December 2008, 112 former Presidents and Prime Ministers from 50 countries sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to press for the release of all political prisoners in Burma by the end of 2008. 241 legislators from all over Asia also sent a public letter to the UN Secretary-General on 5 December conveying the same message. Over 2,100 political prisoners remain in Burma's jails.

      Tate Naing, a former political prisoner and secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), said, "Political prisoners are not criminals. They have simply stood up for freedom and democracy. Without the release of all political prisoners, there can be no peace and stability in our country. But we need the UN Secretary General to step in and show strong leadership on this issue. With this signature campaign, we want to show Ban Ki-moon just how many people around the world care about this issue."

      The global signature campaign will run from 13 March to 24 May. To sign the petition, visit www.fbppn.net.

      For media interviews, please contact:
      Soe Aung, Forum for Democracy in Burma: +66 (0) 81 839 9816
      Dr Naing Aung, Forum for Democracy in Burma: +66 (0) 81 883 7230
      Tate Naing, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma): +66 (0) 81 287 8751

      Chinese nuclear expert dies in Burma - Sein Win
      Mizzima News: Wed 11 Mar 2009

      A nuclear scientist from Beijing University died at the Central Hotel in Rangoon while attending a meeting organized by Burma's Nuclear Department under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

      Mr. Zhang Peixin (47) was found dead in his hotel room on the last day of the meeting.

      Mr. Zhang arrived in Burma on February 22nd, but failed to appear at the meeting hall on March 1st, his departure date. Personnel from the host Ministry and an Assistant Hotel Manager then broke into his room, finding him dead on the bed. After receiving the information from the hotel, police and medical personnel rushed to the scene for inspection. They later confirmed the death without finding any marks or injuries on the body.

      Doctors from Rangoon General Hospital's Forensic Department conducted a post mortem and found Mr. Zhang's heart's main arteries were blocked and narrow, according to police sources.

      Sources who investigated the case said that the deceased was alone in the hotel room when he died.

      His wife and daughter traveled to Burma and cremated his remains at Yeway Cemetery on March 6th at 4:20 p.m., returning to China with the ashes.

      Wa continue to resist census taking
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Wed 11 Mar 2009

      Latest reports from the Sino-Burma border say the United Wa State Army (UWSA) is still refusing entry to census takers coming from Kengtung, the capital of Shan State East.

      A team of 27 government officials who arrived on the Wa border checkpoint Kho-Hsoong on 26 February were forced to return to Kengtung.

      Col Than Tut Thein, G1 from Kengtung-based Triangle Region Command, was dispatched to Panghsang, the Wa headquarters last week. "He returned empty -handed on 6 March after spending two days in Panghsang," said an officer from the Wa's closest ally National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), commonly known as the Mongla group by the name of its main base.

      Meeting Col Sai Hsarm, Commander of the UWSA's Mongpawk-based 468th Brigade on his way back, he had reportedly stressed on two points:

      • To inform Kengtung as soon as Panghsang is ready to admit census officials
      • Not be swayed by exile media "trying to bring the two sides on a head-on collision course"

      Tension between the UWSA and the Burma Army has been high since the beginning of the year. According to the Wa's own estimates, they are being besieged by at least 50 Burma Army infantry battalions.

      Mongla, on the other hand, has permitted junta officials to conduct census in its domain, but refused to divulge the group's own roster.

      Local people meanwhile are skeptical about the process which is expected to last until the end of March. "They are taking back our white cards (temporary IDs issued before the May 2008 referendum) without issuing us a substitute in return," said a villager.

      A permanent ID is a pink card.

      The ruling military generals are taking a nationwide census in preparation for the 2010 general elections. The New Mon State Party (NMSP) has also refused to provide information on its members and their families, reported Independent Mon News Agency (IMNA) yesterday.

      Chinese company secretly spirits away minerals from Northern Burma
      Kachin News Group: Wed 11 Mar 2009

      While working on dam projects for hydroelectric power in northern Burma, Chinese companies are secretly spiriting away unidentified minerals to their country, said local sources.

      Two or more sub-Chinese companies in the Chinese government's China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) have been taking away different kinds of minerals to their country from areas around N'Mai River (N'Mai Hka in Kachin) hydropower project in Chipwi (Chibwe) east of Burma's northern Kachin State since the CPI's hydropower inspectors arrived in Chipwi in 2007, according to residents of Chipwi.

      Local eyewitnesses told KNG, that some unknown minerals are tidily put in wooden boxes and some are not. The trucks are covered with opaque plastic when minerals are loaded in the trucks and transported to China mostly at night, added the eyewitnesses.

      Local Kachin villagers always see the Chinese taking away mineral from the areas around them but they have no idea what kind of minerals are being taken away by the Chinese, local villagers told KNG.

      According to businessmen on the Sino-Burma border, minerals like Aluminium, Silver and Lead are found in the hydropower project site in Chipwi.

      The project site is protected by Burmese army soldiers and no one is authorized to go inside the projects site or watch the activities of Chinese workers, said sources in the Kachin ceasefire group in the area, the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K).

      A NDA-K officer told KNG recently, Chinese trucks loaded with unidentified minerals from Chipwi hydropower project site cross the Sino-Burma border which is controlled by the NDA-K. However, both NDA-K and Burmese military authorities are not authorized to check Chinese workers' activities in the project site and trucks crossing the two countries' border.

      In December last year, the number of Chinese workers in the Chipwi hydropower project site increased from over 300 to about 1,000, said residents of Chipwi.

      Under the agreement between the governments of China and Burma, the Chipwi hydropower project in N'Mai River is being implemented by Asia World Company in Burma and CPI.

      The project is one of seven hydropower projects in Mali and N'Mai Rivers, and the Mali and N'Mai Rivers' Confluence called the Mali-N'Mai Zup in Kachin or Myitsone in Burmese and it is estimated to generate 2,000 MW of electricity.

      Burma's Rohingyas in flight and the solutions to their plight - Vitit Muntarbhorn
      Bangkok Post: Wed 11 Mar 2009

      Much ink has been spilt over the plight of Rohingyas who have sought shelter in the Southeast Asian region in recent months, even though the situation is hardly new.

      Opinions range from the nationalistic to internationalistic - varying from defensive claims of national security immersed in an attitude of denial, to international law-based advocacy of their rights inviting a more open response.

      This group is currently of great interest to the international community, because they are primarily a Muslim minority originating in theArakan (or Rakhine) state of Burma with a particularly challenging history.

      Their outflow has, for a long time, been the result of a situation of great ambivalence in that country of origin where they are, in reality, treated as outcasts.

      Even though historically they have been there for many generations, their ethnicity was not adequately recognised at the time of Burma's independence.

      Even today, while the authorities there seem to be willing to recognise over one hundred ethnic groups in the country, they do not recognise Rohingyas as a legitimate group in that list.

      The past three decades have witnessed various disturbing facts which should help to inform the need for a balanced policy, nationally, regionally and internationally, concerning the group.

      They are not allowed to move freely in Burma. They are not allowed to marry without permission. They are impeded from accessing schools and other services. They are extremely poor and are marginalised politically and economically. They suffer from the uncertainties of being a stateless people.

      In effect, the Rohingyas are persecuted by a regime which instrumentalises Buddhism for political ends and plays on the fear of Islam.

      These factors thus provide for a scenario of explicit and implicit persecution of the group which, for lack of national protection, requires international protection.

      While they may at times fit into the category of economic migrants in their exodus, the likelihood is that concurrently, they are also refugees ("persons with a well-founded fear of persecution," according to the international definition of "refugee") - given the oppressive background that shapes their existence.

      The outflows date back many years. In the late 1970s, tens of thousands of Rohingyas were pressured to leave Burma, but they were later able to repatriate to the country with UN help.

      In the early 1990s, another massive outflow took place - of several hundred thousands. Most were able to seek temporary refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. Again with UN help, many were able to return voluntarily to Burma.

      However, a residual number remained in camps in Bangladesh and even today, there are some 20,000-30,000 officially in the camps there.

      It is estimated that there are also some 200,000-300,000 outside the camps who do not enjoy the formal protection offered by the camps.

      Nor is their influx into Thailand new.

      Today, it is estimated that there are some 20,000 Rohingyas in Thailand. In the past few years, several thousands have been trickling into the region by boat. Over the past few months, it is evident that the arrivals have been mainly men. It is suspected that they are helped by third parties - smugglers or traffickers, in their precarious voyage.

      While many seem to be searching for work, the background of their departure should not be forgotten - especially the environment of discrimination noted above which may be interlinked with persecution.

      Sadly, recent arrivals have been subjected to numerous cruelties in the Southeast Asian region, with several reports of push-backs ("refoulement") at sea, and physical violence and other violations committed against them.

      In composition, these "boat people" may also be mixed flows; news reports indicate that while some are Rohingyas coming from the camps or around the camps in Bangladesh, others are coming directly from Burma - while others are Bangladeshis (non-Rohingyas) sharing the boats.

      But how can the world be really certain?

      Before conjecturing too much, it is important that there be ways of talking with the arrivals to ascertain their background and their reasons for departure from their homesteads and/or recent shelters.

      It is important to have credible third parties accessing them to listen to their life histories and the reasons for their departure from their country of origin and/or their country of transit.

      The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is traditionally the best placed organisation to do so, in cooperation with the authorities of the country of refuge.

      If it is found that the circumstances and personal situation of those who seek refuge - objectively and subjectively - indicate that they left their country of origin because of actual or potential persecution, they are entitled to international protection. They should not be pushed out or pushed back from the country of refuge, whether at sea, on land or by air; this encapsulates the international law principle of "non-refoulement".

      It is important to relay that message emphatically to border authorities, including the armed forces, immigration officials and police, as well as the message of the duty to rescue people at sea.

      The tendency to classify arrivals as "illegal immigrants" under national immigration law should not undermine that overarching duty.

      And what is to be done?

      After a rather haphazard beginning in recent months, the various countries of refuge, particularly Thailand, are now moving towards more humane solutions, based upon dialogue, consultation and shared responsibility.

      Yet, one of the strange ironies of the current situation is that while there has been much advocacy vis-a-vis countries of refuge in relation to deficiencies in their treatment of those who seek refuge, much less has been said concerning the country of origin. Clearly, it is Burma which is the most important element of the equation and which should bear the brunt of the responsibility.

      Unless the root causes of displacement and the marginalisation of the Rohingya people are dealt with effectively there, there can be no genuine, long-term solutions. And the plight of the Rohingya people is closely intertwined with the challenge of human rights and democracy in Burma as a whole.

      The issue of statelessness also needs to be dealt with concretely by the country of origin. Food security, economic and social development, respect for their religion and culture, freedom of movement, political participation, property ownership, access to schools and livelihood opportunities, and the right to marry are but some of the key issues to be dealt with at the source.

      Even if those who are now seeking refuge in other countries did not have Burmese nationality before their exodus, there are still ways of ascertaining that they were long-time residents there. Evidence of this status can be gauged from the various forms of registration in Burma, such as "family lists". In the event of their possible return to the country, they need to be reinstated on such lists and to be assured that they will be treated humanely.

      Indeed, it is worth recalling the international position that even those who do not have a country's nationality are entitled to respect for their human rights - as human rights are the rights of all persons irrespective of nationality and other origins.

      In the quest for solutions, there are various possibilities open to dialogue and related action. There is the 10-country Asean channel, but Bangladesh is not part of this forum. There is the channel known as the Bali process which involves over 50 countries on measures to deal with aspects of migration in the Asia-Pacific region. However, to date, this process has tended to deal with transnational crime, and human trafficking and smuggling, rather than the plight of those who seek refuge.

      If the Bali process is to be used in regard to the latter, there needs to be strong injection of the human rights element and refugee protection into the forum.

      On another front, there is a possible tripartite/quadripartite process, involving Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh and the UN. Or there could simply be a bilateral channel between Thailand and Burma on aspects of the Rohingya issue.

      The door should thus be open and not closed, on the basis of shared responsibility and humanitarian responses.

      Vitit Muntarbhorn is a Professor at the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University. He has helped the United Nations in a variety of capacities, including as an expert, consultant and Special Rapporteur. He is the author of "The Status of Refugees in Asia," published by Oxford University Press.

      Myanmar's military as a Ponzi scheme - Norman Robespierre
      Asia Times: Wed 11 Mar 2009

      Rank inflation and an ever-expanding flag officer corps are unable to provide sufficient promotion opportunities within Myanmar's military, known as the Tatmadaw. The civil government structure is at risk of further militarization as the country slowly moves towards the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military regime's unique interpretation of democracy.

      On September 17, 1988, the day before the Myanmar military staged a coup and formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), there were only two officers above the rank of major general in the entire Tatmadaw. They were General Saw Maung, the defense forces chief of staff, and then-Lieutenant General Than Shwe, the army's vice chief of staff.

      In current nomenclature, these positions would be referred to as CINC (defense forces) and CINC (army). Today, the Tatmadaw has no less than 24 senior flag officers serving in lieutenant-general or above billets on active service (See Table).

      The 1,200% increase in senior flag ranks far outpaces the approximate 250% increase of the entire Tatmadaw over that same period. This expansion of the upper tier has been central to Senior General Than Shwe's ability to stay firmly in control.

      By expanding promotion opportunities within the Tatmadaw, Than Shwe has successfully ensured continued loyalty of the officer corps. The expansion of the flag ranks provides more opportunities for advancement, allowing Than Shwe to dangle the carrot of self-interest that often entices officers' to continue to support the system.

      Expansive reorganizing

      Illustrative of Than Shwe's efforts to expand promotion opportunities was the reorganization of the Tatmadaw in November 2001. According to a senior Myanmar military official intimately familiar with the Ministry of Defense's planning process at the time, the major reorganization of the Tatmadaw was done to expand promotion opportunities for the officer corps and reduce the power of regional commanders.

      The morale in the Tatmadaw had been particularly poor in the late 1990s. A 500% raise for the military granted on Armed Forces Day in 2000 improved the situation somewhat. However, according to the source, there remained an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among field-grade officers over the scarce opportunities for advancement.

      That was caused in part by the long tenures of regional commanders, who used their positions to consolidate significant powers. They were essentially warlords and controlled virtually all of the weaponry and manpower of Myanmar's ground forces, which were engaged in combat with ethnic insurgent groups. Than Shwe could not risk taking action against any one regional commander as the others might band together and stage a mutiny against him.

      At the time, the regional commanders were also members of the SPDC, a designation which made them technically higher than ministers. As a result, ministerial decrees were difficult to implement, with regional commanders deciding on which decrees to enforce or ignore. The dilemma was resolved then by luring the SPDC-member regional commanders from their fiefdoms to accept promotions within the War Office. In a policy shift, new regional commanders were not made SPDC members.

      To ensure allegiance of the new regional commanders, they were not selected from the corps of officers next in seniority. Instead, Than Shwe promoted officers from several rungs down the ladder. The rationale apparently was that an officer next in line by seniority would have assumed the position with the attitude he had earned it through his own hard work. Conversely, one promoted early would recognize the value of his mentor's assistance and be indebted with a sense of loyalty.

      The plan required considerable expansion of the lieutenant-general positions to accommodate the regional commanders. A number of lieutenant-general positions were opened up by a variety of means: two lieutenant-generals were terminated for corruption just before the 2001 re-organization. The Bureau of Special Operations (BSO), which co-ordinates operations across regional commands, was separated into four entities.

      Additional billets also were created with the new position chief of staff (army, navy and air force) and by forming Offices for Defense Industries, Air Defense and Training. In the Myanmar military, offices are headed by lieutenant-generals and directorates by major generals. The creation of offices to justify a third star was done previously.

      In August 1993, the Office of Special Studies (OSS) was created to justify the promotion of the former head of intelligence, Khin Nyunt, to the rank of lieutenant-general. The OSS's function and personnel were not readily distinguishable from headquarters staff of Khin Nyunt's Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI).

      A former military intelligence officer said in an interview that outsiders and Western analysts attached too much significance to the formation of the OSS, as it was essentially a paper shuffle to justify Khin Nyunt's third star.

      Rank inflation

      The November 2001 reorganization is just one factor in the subsequent expansion of the Tatmadaw's flag officer corps. Creation of new ranks, development of new positions, and military infiltration of the civil service has fostered rank inflation and growth of the flag officer corps.

      The trend toward a larger flag officer corps was established just 18 months after the SLORC seized control of the country, when mass promotion of generals and some colonels took place in March 1990. To maintain a pyramid structure to military command, Than Shwe's predecessor, Saw Maung, elevated himself to the newly created rank of senior general.

      The creation of a new rank was repeated in September 2002 when the regime's No 2 man, Maung Aye, was knighted with the rank of vice-senior general, equating to 4.5 stars. The new rank allowed him to maintain rank superiority when his rival Khin Nyunt put on his fourth star.

      Khin Nyunt's promotion to general required a paper shuffle similar to that associated with his previous promotion. To justify his fourth star, Khin Nyunt was designated special advisor to the senior general. Later, his appointment as prime minister justified the rank. Khin Nyunt fell from power in a 2004 internal purge and is currently being held in house arrest.

      While justification of Khin Nyunt's promotions may have been an exercise in paperwork, operational positions have been created to expand the flag ranks. Following the precedent of the November 2001 reorganization, two more BSOs were activated: BSO-5 covering Yangon Division and BSO-6 with responsibility for Rakhine State and Magwe Division.

      The most recent lieutenant-general position to be created is that of Defense Services Inspection and Auditor General. While there may be some operational utility to the creation of the BSOs, the latest created position appears to do little more than add an additional layer of bureaucracy.

      The military bureaucracy has likewise expanded below the lieutenant-general grade. The formation of new regional commands, an increase in the number of operational control commands, and inception of division-level control commands for artillery units and armor, has significantly contributed to the expansion of the flag-level officer corps.

      Bloated civil service

      Parallel to the regime's expansion of the military bureaucracy is an ever-expanding civil bureaucracy. Shortly after the SLORC took over in 1988, the government consisted of the Office of the Prime Minister and 18 ministries led by nine ministers. Of the nine, eight were military officers serving in positions under the Ministry of Defense.

      Since then, the civil bureaucracy has grown to provide additional opportunities for Than Shwe to reward kleptocrats for their support of the system. Today, in addition to the Prime Minister's Office, there are 32 other ministries, each headed by its own minister. Only seven ministers are "civilians" and most have prior military service, including a few ex-generals.

      According to a Myanmar source with close connections to senior military officials, during a 2004 meeting of senior officers discussing manpower issues, Than Shwe directed an end to the practice of ministers holding multiple portfolios in order to provide additional promotion opportunities.

      The practice came to an end last June when Major-General Maung Maung Swe relinquished the Ministry of Immigration and Population portfolio. While U Aung Kyi is Minister for Labor and Minister for Relations, the latter is purely titular with no actual brick-and-mortar ministry. With the exception of the Minister of Defense, no minister holds an MOD operational position.

      While the creation of new ministries has broadened the avenues for advancement to military personnel, it threatens to saddle the country with an even more bloated and inefficient bureaucracy. If the reins of power do some day pass to a democratically elected government, as envisaged in the upcoming 2010 elections, it will likely find its ability to govern handicapped by a dysfunctional ministerial structure developed under military rule.

      Moreover, the infiltration of the civil bureaucracy by military members is likely to increase in both depth and breadth. The appointment of four brigadier generals to the Civil Service Selection Board in 2006 foreshadowed the expected increased military involvement in the civil service sector.

      According to a recent Internet report, students of the National Defense College (NDC) were reportedly warned by an instructor that due to increased class size, graduates can no longer count on being rewarded with postings at regional or division commands. Instead, they may have to accept postings at the director-general level in ministries outside the MOD.

      Fractures in the pyramid

      In some respects, Than Shwe has run the Tatmadaw like a typical pyramid or Ponzi scheme.

      Early investors in a pyramid scheme are paid with the investments of newcomers and everyone benefits as long as the pyramid continues to expand. When the pyramid ceases to expand, the early investors have reaped huge rewards and the latecomers have little or nothing to show for their investment.

      The current regime leadership invested their loyalty in the system early and has been rewarded with lucrative positions and concessions. As the recent NDC graduates have discovered, individual rewards become smaller as the upper tiers of the pyramid become more crowded.

      The Ponzi-like nature of the system has maintained pressure for the Tatamadaw to expand. In some units, soldiers are not allowed to retire until they have recruited two replacements from training. This pressure has increased unsavory practices of shanghaiing bystanders and recruiting child soldiers. A new directorate of recruitment was added to the Tatmadaw in 2007, either to address these issues or to focus on achieving recruitment goals.

      Further manipulation of the military and government structure to provide more promotion opportunities for military officers is likely as the regime moves the country toward its own version of democracy. Past methods could be repeated to create more billets. Several of the current BSOs could be split to provide additional three-star positions.

      New regional commands could be sprouted in Magwe Division, in Karrenni State or in Karen State, boosting the number of two-star and one-star positions. Eventually rank inflation may see BSO chiefs move up to the position of general and the regional commanders become lieutenant-generals.

      The further infiltration of military officers into the civilian government structure, and the creation of new branches of the bureaucratic tree, threaten to saddle Myanmar with an ineffective government structure under continued military domination in the name of democracy. From where the resources to sustain this bloated system will arise is another important question for Myanmar's political future.

      Norman Robespierre, a pseudonym, is a freelance journalist specializing in Southeast Asian affairs. He may be reached at normanrobespierre@...

      China may start receiving Myanmar gas through pipeline in 2013 - Shinhye Kang
      Bloomberg (US): Tue 10 Mar 2009

      China, the world's second-biggest energy consumer, may start receiving natural gas from Myanmar's Shwe project through a cross-border pipeline in April 2013.

      China will import 400 million cubic feet of gas a day from Myanmar's offshore fields, U Aung Htoo, director of planning at state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, said in an interview in Seoul today.

      A group led by Daewoo International Corp. signed an agreement in December to sell gas from Myanmar to China National Petroleum Corp. The group — which includes Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise, India's Oil & Natural Gas Corp., GAIL India (Ltd.) and Korea Gas Corp. — will supply the fuel to China's biggest oil company for 30 years.

      China and Myanmar are still in talks on how the gas link is to be built and how construction costs may be split, Aung Htoo said. China shares with Myanmar a mountainous land border of 2,185 kilometers (1,355 miles).

      Gas will account for 8 percent of China's overall energy consumption by 2015 compared with 3.3 percent in 2007, Cui Yingkai, a director at PetroChina Co.'s gas and pipeline unit, said on Nov. 27.

      Prices will be negotiated with China on a quarterly basis to reflect global market conditions, Daewoo International said in December. The Shwe, Shwe-Phyu, and Mya areas in the A-1 and A-3 blocks are estimated to hold between 4.5 trillion and 7.7 trillion cubic feet of gas in total, according to the Seoul- based company.

      Daewoo International has a 51 percent stake in the fields while Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise has a 15 percent share. Oil & National Gas owns 17 percent, GAIL India 8.5 percent and Korea Gas 8.5 percent.

      Zawtika Project

      Commercial output at M-9 gas block in Myanmar will begin in 2015 or earlier, Aung Htoo said. The project in Zawtika field is developed by PTT Exploration & Production Pcl, Thailand's only publicly traded oil and gas explorer, and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, he said. As much as 250 million cubic feet of gas will be exported to Thailand, Aung Htoo said.

      PTT Exploration will postpone output at the M-9 block to 2013 from 2012, Krungthep Turakij newspaper reported last month. The block is estimated to have at least 1.5 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves, which can be supplied over 20 years. Thailand, which buys about 30 percent of its gas from neighboring Myanmar, uses gas to generate about two-thirds of its electricity.

      Proven gas reserves in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, jumped 39 times to 21.19 trillion cubic feet at the end of 2007, equivalent to almost a quarter of Australia's proven reserves, according to the BP Statistical Review.

      Myanmar's daily gas production will almost double to 2.235 billion cubic feet by 2015 from 1.215 billion cubic feet currently, Aung Htoo said.

      To contact the reporter on this story: Shinhye Kang in Seoul atskang24@... .

      QBE pulls out of Burma
      Insurance Times (UK): Tue 10 Mar 2009

      QBE Insurance has cancelled insurance it provided to Burma and is to cease providing insurance to companies operating in the country, according to the Burma Campaign UK's Insurance Campaign.

      In a statement to the Burma Campaign UK, Frank O'Halloran, QBE's chief executive, said: "QBE has always had a policy that the company does not fund the current ruling party in Burma. To provide further certainty that the policy is being adhered to, QBE has reviewed its various portfolios around the world and has cancelled the few incidental Burmese exposures on multinational insurance policies which could have a direct or indirect benefit for the current ruling party in Burma.

      QBE does not have an office, an agent or any employees in Burma and does not provide insurance for any business owned in Burma."

      Johnny Chatterton, campaigns officer at the Burma Campaign UK, said: "Foreign insurers provide a financial lifeline to Burma's brutal regime. They insure the projects that make the regime billions of dollars a year. These billions don't help the people of Burma, they entrench military rule and fund campaigns of ethnic cleansing in Eastern Burma.

      "QBE's welcome decision shames insurers like Catlin and Atrium that continue to help fund the Burmese regime."

      The role of QBE in the Burmese insurance market was highlighted in the Burma Campaign UK report, "Insuring Repression" published in July 2008.

      QBE was added to the "Insurance Dirty List" after an investigation by The Burma Campaign UK discovered company documents detailing two correspondent offices in Burma.

      Insurers that have already stopped writing business in burma include AIG, Allianz, Aon, Aviva, Axa, ING, Munich Re, SCOR, Swiss Re and Willis.

      No home, little hope - Greg Torode
      South China Morning Post: Tue 10 Mar 2009

      Myanmar's consul general in Hong Kong, Ye Myint Aung, sparked outrage when he wrote to his diplomatic peers last month to describe the Rohingya boatpeople as "ugly as ogres". Yet, as undiplomatic as his remarks may have been, Ye Myint Aung highlighted just how difficult the problem of the stateless Muslim tribe will be to solve, and showed the depth of official antagonism they face in Myanmar.

      Thousands of Rohingya have fled their homes in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state in recent months to risk crossing the Bay of Bengal and then the Andaman Sea in rickety boats in the hope of reaching Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. It is an annual migration that takes advantage of winter calms, and appears to grow every year.

      A recent series of reports in the South China Morning Post has shown just how dangerous that crossing has become. We revealed a new Thai army policy of detaining Rohingya in camps on isolated islands before towing them out to sea in powerless boats and abandoning them. At least 1,190 were abandoned in such fashion. Hundreds are now dead or missing.

      As Thai authorities investigate reported abuses and quietly rein

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