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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 27/3/09

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. U.S. Diplomat, Burmese official meet; White House is reviewing policy toward nation 2.. Monks protest banning of Dharma Lectures 3.. Senior CPC official
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 27, 2009
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      1. U.S. Diplomat, Burmese official meet; White House is reviewing policy toward nation
      2. Monks protest banning of "Dharma Lectures"
      3. Senior CPC official meets Myanmar top leader
      4. Changes proposed on US economic sanctions
      5. Isolated heroine still haunts Burma
      6. From 'people's army' to 'enemy of the people'
      7. Thai Mediator Role: Foreign Minister needs in-depth study on Burma's ethnic conflict
      8. SSA opposes junta's political process calling it undemocratic
      9. Thailand offers to mediate Burmese talks
      10. Burma key to war on drugs
      11. Bound by Burma
      12. Coalition group will not contest 2010 election
      13. Gem sales earn Myanmar $191 million
      14. Army capitalists: the junta's wealth
      15. Number of Internet cafes jumps in Myanmar
      16. World's longest war nears its end
      17. Burma's generals are afraid of telephones and the internet
      18. International court condemns Burma junta for its illegal and "grotesque" record on detention
      19. UN DECLARES NOBEL PEACE PRIZE LAUREATE AUNG SAN SUU KYI OF BURMA'S DETENTION ILLEGAL

      U.S. Diplomat, Burmese official meet; White House is reviewing policy toward nation - Glenn Kessler
      Washington Post: Thu 26 Mar 2009

      A senior U.S. diplomat met with the Burmese foreign minister in the ruling junta's jungle capital yesterday, possibly signaling a softening in the tense relations between the two countries.

      The Obama administration is conducting a high-profile review of its policy toward Burma, including whether unilateral sanctions have been effective, and the State Department issued a statement late yesterday saying the visit by Stephen Blake, director of the office for mainland Southeast Asia, "does not reflect a change in policy or approach to Burma."

      But the government of Burma, also known as Myanmar, has not recently granted access to the foreign minister to any visiting U.S. official, and the government's official newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, trumpeted the meeting in an unusually glowing account. Normally, if the state-run media mention the United States, they focus on the negative, such as casualty figures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      The government newspaper said Blake and Foreign Minister Nyan Win held "cordial discussions on issues of mutual interests and the promotion of bilateral relations between the Union of Myanmar and the United States."

      Blake made a rare visit to Naypyidaw, the new capital, and also traveled to Rangoon, the former capital, where he met with members of the opposition party.

      The junta's decision to grant Blake an audience with the foreign minister is highly significant, said David I. Steinberg, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University who met with government officials in Burma this month. During his talks, he added, government officials "indicated they are interested in improving relations."

      Last month in Indonesia, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the administration was reviewing its Burma policy. "Clearly, the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn't influenced the Burmese junta," she said, adding that the route taken by Burma's neighbors of "reaching out and trying to engage them has not influenced them, either."

      Burma is regarded as one of the world's most oppressive nations, ruled by generals who have enriched themselves while much of the country remains desperately poor. The National League for Democracy, the party of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide electoral victory in 1990, but the military leadership refused to accept it. Since then, she has been under house arrest for most of the time, as have hundreds of her supporters.

      European officials have been looking for guidance from the United States on Burma policy, deferring a decision on whether to extend sanctions. But the administration has given little hint of its approach, with officials saying yesterday that the review is still incomplete.

      "While we have not yet finalized our approach, we remain committed to encouraging a genuine dialogue between the Burmese authorities and opposition that leads to a free and democratic Burma that respects the rights of its diverse citizens and is at peace with its neighbors," the State Department said.

      Prodded by the Bush administration, Congress has imposed increasingly tough sanctions on Burma. But on Capitol Hill, there is also an increasing willingness to reconsider the sanctions approach, including whether to use humanitarian relief as a wedge into the country.

      Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plans to make a Burma policy review a key part of his agenda this year, because "he is dissatisfied where we are" in trying to promote the return of civilian rule, a congressional aide said. Paul Grove, the senior Republican aide on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for foreign operations, also recently visited Burma's delta region to examine assistance efforts.

      Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), the new chairman of the East Asia panel of the Foreign Relations Committee, is a fierce critic of the sanctions approach and will play a major role in the congressional review. "I have said for several years that it is to the benefit of all involved that we speak directly with Burma's leadership and work toward resolving our differences," he said yesterday.


      Monks protest banning of "Dharma Lectures" - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Thu 26 Mar 2009

      Monks in upper Burma have launched a petition calling for an end to an official ban on so-called "dharma lectures" featuring the Buddha's teachings, according to sources in Mandalay and Magwe divisions.

      A monk in Kyaukpadaung Township, Mandalay Division, said the authorities in Salay Township had banned not only dharma lectures but the production, copying and sale of VCDs and CDs featuring the lectures. He said the ban had been in force since January.

      Novice monks from a monastery shave each others heads, in western Rangoon. (Photo: AP)

      "We are collecting signatures among the monks, and then we will send them to state senior monks," he said.

      The banned VCDs and CDs feature some of Burma's most respected senior monks, including U Thumingala, U Nyanithara and U Kawvida.

      The dharma lectures are based on classical Buddhist stories, but are often interpreted as criticism of the government and its policies.

      U Kawvida, a Buddhist scholar with a PhD degree, says in one VCD that the worst disease is hunger, and that if people are poor and hungry it is a universal truth that they will struggle.

      In one banned CD, titled "The Way of Dumb People," U Nyanithara, also known as Thitagu Sayardaw, criticized the popular belief in numerology and astrology.

      His criticism was thought to have been aimed also at junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who is famous for basing important decisions on his astrologer's advice.

      In VCDs and CDs that achieved wide popularity, U Nyanithara also talked about democracy and open society.


      Senior CPC official meets Myanmar top leader
      Xinhua: Thu 26 Mar 2009

      Li Changchun, a senior official of the Communist Party of China (CPC), met with Than Shwe, chairman of the Myanmar State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), here on Thursday, during which they exchanged views on developing good-neighborly and friendly ties between China and Myanmar.

      Li, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, was on a visit at the invitation of the Myanmar government.

      Li conveyed greeting from Chinese President Hu Jintao to Than Shew in the meeting. "China and Myanmar are good neighbors, friends and partners, and the China-Myanmar friendship, which was built on the basis of Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, has withstood the ordeal of time and the changes in the international situation," Li said.

      He described the features of China-Myanmar ties as "mutual respect, equally treatment to the other, mutual trust and sincere cooperation." Bilateral ties scored new progress after the ardent of the new century with frequent high-level contacts and increasingly mutual trust in political areas, he said, adding that the two nations also collaborated with the other in regional and international issues.

      The development of good-neighborly, friendly and cooperative ties with neighboring countries constitutes an important part in China's foreign policy. "As friendly neighbors and developing nations, China and Myanmar face similar tasks of development. We should seize the new opportunity to develop bilateral ties under the complex international situation," he said.

      He urged both to push forward concrete cooperation. China encourages the Chinese enterprises to carry out mutually beneficial cooperation with Myanmar in energy and resources, infrastructure, agriculture, industry, mining and telecom sectors, he said.

      Li also highly spoke of the progress made by Myanmar on political construction, national reconciliation, economic development and the improvement of people's life.

      Than Shwe commended China's socio-economic achievements. Myanmar is one of the first countries which recognized the new China after its founding in 1949. "The people of Myanmar is proud of this," Than Shwe said, adding that "the further growth of bilateral ties comply with the fundamental interests of both."

      He reiterated that Myanmar supports China on issues related with China's core interests.

      Li flew from Yangon earlier this morning to Nay Pyi Taw. Myanmar is the second-leg of Li's four-nation tour which will also take him to Republic of Korea and Japan. He has already visited Australia.


      Changes proposed on US economic sanctions - Lawi Weng
      Irrawaddy: Thu 26 Mar 2009

      A high-level US official told the Committee Representing People of Parliament (CRPP) on Wednesday that some existing economic sanctions may be withdrawn while other targeted sanctions may remain in place.

      Aye Thar Aung, secretary of CRPP, said that Stephen Blake, the director of the US State Department's Office of Mainland Southeast Asia, made his remarks at a meeting in Rangoon. No details of the new policy were available.

      The CRPP was formed following the 1990 election and is made up of elected members of parliament and various opposition groups.

      Meanwhile Nyan Win, a spokesperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD), said that the NLD urged the US government to initiate talks with the Burmese regime to help move the reconciliation process forward.

      During a four-day visit, Blake also met with Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win at the administrative capital of Naypyidaw.

      Burma was Blake's last stop on a tour of Southeast Asia that also took him to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.

      Aung Naing Oo, a Burma political analyst in exile, said that it is good sign that US officials are meeting with high-level members of the Burmese junta.

      However, he said that the US will not change its Burma policy dramatically as long as the regime detains political prisoners, including democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

      The US is Burma's strongest critic among the international community. In 1996, it began economic sanctions by freezing US investments in Burma because of its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

      In July 2003 following a junta-backed attack on Suu Kyi and her convoy in May 2003, former President Gorge W. Bush placed tighter economic sanctions on Burma which banned imports from Burma.

      In October 2007, after a crackdown on the monk-led demonstrators in September 2007, the US used a new method by imposing targeted sanctions, visa bans as well as financial sanctions on Burmese regime members, their family and business cronies. Since then, at least six businessmen with links to the junta cronies have been placed under US-targeted sanctions.

      In July 2008, President Bush, the US Senate and House signed a new Burma law, the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act 2008, which imposed new financial sanctions and travel restrictions on the leaders of the junta and their associates; tightened the economic sanctions imposed in 2003 by outlawing the importation of Burmese gems to the US; and created a new position of "US Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma."


      Isolated heroine still haunts Burma - Peter Goodspeed
      National Post (Canada): Thu 26 Mar 2009

      Despite years in detention and forced isolation, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi still has the power to encourage her followers and enrage Burma's military rulers.

      The charismatic daughter of independence hero, Aung San, and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle to bring democracy to her country, she has been confined to her home without any contact with the outside world since September, 2000.

      Known fondly to the residents of Rangoon simply as "The Lady," she has lived in virtual solitary confinement for 13 of the last 19 years in a heavily guarded, whitewashed villa on the south shore of Inya Lake.

      Surrounded by soldiers and coils of barbed wire, the sickly 63-year-old widow is allowed to see only her doctor — every two months — a live-in maid and her jailers.

      Not since Nelson Mandela became the personification of South Africa's struggle against apartheid, despite spending 27 years in jail, has anyone else approached the same level of political heroism in the face of repression.

      Now, the United Nations has declared, for the fifth time in 18 years, Ms. Suu Kyi's detention is arbitrary and a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But this time, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention added a twist to its ruling by declaring it also violates Burma's own constitution.

      The working group, an arm of the UN Human Rights Council, said Ms. Suu Kyi is being held under Burma's 1975 State Protection Law, which provides for the detention of anyone deemed a threat to the "security of the state or public peace and tranquility" for up to five years.

      Under this law, the detention order must be renewed every year and the law says it is renewable for a maximum of only five years.

      In Ms. Suu Kyi's case, that five-year period ended at the end of May, 2008.

      The UN group called for her immediate release.

      "I am under no illusion the junta will listen to the United Nations," says Jared Genser, her family's Washington lawyer. "There is no quick and easy answer to the problem of Burma, so we have to take it one step forward at a time."

      A breakthrough appears unlikely since Burma is undergoing yet another political crackdown before parliamentary elections scheduled for early next year.

      This month, five members of Ms. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) were arrested, joining about 2,100 political prisoners in Burma's jails. That is almost double the number of political prisoners held in the country at the same time last year.

      The Burmese junta has unveiled a "road-map to democracy," which calls for a national election next year to transfer power from uniformed officers to a civilian dictatorship.

      But the new constitution, approved by 94.5% of voters in an apparently rigged referendum last year, guarantees a quarter of all legislative seats to the armed forces and bars opposition leaders, such as Ms, Suu Kyi, from ever holding office.

      However, her continued imprisonment is proof of her political clout. Though silent and ailing, she remains dangerous as the only person who can unite a broad array of forces against the generals.

      ———

      TIMELINE OF DETENTION

      1988: Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of her life in Britain, returns to Burma as pro-democracy protests sweep country. Uprising crushed. 1989: Placed under house arrest.

      1990: As head of the opposition movement and NLD leader, wins national elections by a landslide. Generals nullify elections.

      1991: Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades"

      1995: Released and tens of thousands rally to her cause. 2000: Again placed under house arrest. Awarded U. S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, U. S.'s highest civilian honour.


      From 'people's army' to 'enemy of the people' - Tettoe Aung
      Mizzima News: Thu 26 Mar 2009

      As Hegel said, "The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history." One thing for sure, is that we Burmese have not learned from the proud history of our military. The founder of our military, Bogyoke Aung San, stated in unambiguous terms that the Burmese army (Tatmadaw) had not been founded for one man or one party, but rather for the whole country. He rejected the view of those military personnel who harbored the opinion that only they were capable of patriotism.

      Those that subscribed to the more narrow definition of patriotism branded people who dared to disagree with them as 'axe handles'. If someone was married to a non-Burmese or a foreigner, like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, he or she would be disowned.

      The military's view that they are the only ones capable of patriotism is made explicit every March 27th, when they celebrate the once-called 'Revolutionary Day' as their exclusive 'Armed Forces Day'. With the general public kept away from the ceremonies, it seems to have never occurred to them that there are others who are not soldiers who have suffered and made all kinds of sacrifices for their country.

      The irony is that the military, unlike celestial beings, are not born out of thin air. They are the offspring - sons and daughters - of the people whom they have chosen to turn against. Unlike the founding father, Bogyoke Aung San, the military under Ne Win and his successors, Saw Maung and now Than Shwe, has been indoctrinated to believe that they are above the people whom they are supposed to serve. For them, only the soldiers matter.

      As an article published in The Irrawaddy about the 'military mindset' noted, the underlining rationale in military training is to make a person immediately act or follow orders without thinking. There is no time for them to think whether their actions are right or wrong. Such a mentality was clearly on display in September 2007, as a young, Burmese soldier shot dead a Japanese cameraman at point blank range. And even if foot soldiers rise in rank to serve as officers or generals, still the lack of rational thought prevails.

      A study in 'Killology' by Colonel David Grossman shows that the training methods a military uses are brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning and role-modeling. He writes: "Brutalization and desensitizing is what happens at the boot camp. From the moment you step off the bus you are physically and verbally abused. Your head is shaved, you are herded together naked, and dressed alike, losing all vestiges of individuality. This brutalization is designed to break down your existing mores and norms and to accept a new set of values which embrace destruction, violence and death as a way of life. In the end you are desensitized to violence and accept it as a normal and essential survival skill in your brutal new world."

      When it comes to 'classical conditioning' Grossman says, "The Japanese were masters at using classical conditioning with their soldiers." Let us not forget the fact that the Burmese military was founded with the help of the Imperial Japanese military during the War. I recall how one of my relatives, trained to be an officer under the Japanese, himself became a Director of Training, incorporating similar methods of indoctrination to that of the Japanese. As for myself, I wasn't cut out for that and even my three month training at Phaung-gyi is something that I still feel disgusted about every time I recall the experience.

      The Burmese military may have been founded out of necessity as an institution, but reason says that institutions, the military included, are created to provide service for humanity, not to advance the personal interests of those mandated to serve. In the same vein, Zhuge Liang wrote, "When offices are chosen for persons, there is disorder; when persons are chosen for offices, there is order."

      Yet, the Tatmadaw will continue to parade on March 27th of this year just as they always do, marching merely for themselves and not, as it should be, for the people.


      Thai Mediator Role: Foreign Minister needs in-depth study on Burma's ethnic conflict - Sai Wansai
      Asian Tribune: Thu 26 Mar 2009

      The core problem of the ethnic conflict in Burma is the successive military regimes, including the present State Peace and Development Council's (SPDC) insistence of its failed and inhumane policy of Burmanisation and political-power monopoly, at all cost.

      Burma is made up of, at least, eight major ethnic groups, including Burman - the lowland dwelling and most numerous among ethnic groups. The non-Burman ethnic groups are Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Karen, Mon, Arakan and Chin.

      Also there are numerous minorities within each state, which have, more or less, existed peacefully in general. By this, it is meant that there has been no "horizontal conflict" of going at each others throats or killings like in African continent. But it is a vertical one, where all non-Burman ethnic groups are being suppressed, occupied and colonised by the successive Burmese military regimes, in the name of "national unity".

      The heart of the problem, as stated from the outset, is the military regimes' implementation of ethnic and cultural genocide to obtain its Burmanisation scheme.

      As all know, the well documented ethnic cleansing, forced population transfer, recruiting child soldiers, extra-judicial killings, using rape as a weapon of war and numerous other human rights violations are being committed, on a daily bases, which are ongoing in non-Burman ethnic areas. This is how the SPDC have been implementing its Burmanisation policy, at the expense of the non-Burman ethnic groups.

      If this is not enough, the upcoming 2010 SPDC's approved nation-wide election is designed to continue its Burmanisation and political-power monopoly policies.

      First, the constitution is drawn by the SPDC, where 25% of the seats will go to the military without having to run for election. Second, its self-created USDA and other splinter parties will enter the election and will only allow some individual parties to contest for democratic window-dressing purpose. Finally, the outcome is predictable for it will be stage-managed from the beginning to the end.

      To sum up, if Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya really wants to help in reconciliation and democratisation process, it will do him well to look into the grievances of the non-Burman ethnic groups and the suppression of democratic rights all over Burma in general. There would be no way around, other than to create an atmosphere of a level playing-field for all to participate in a fair and open manner.

      In concrete terms, he would need to urge the military junta to amend its self-drawn constitution together with all ethnic and opposition groups, release all political prisoners, declare nation-wide cease-fire and last but not lest, to call for peace talks without precondition with all opposition and resistance armed groups. Only then, there will be a fighting chance of real reconciliation and democratisation process in this long, deeply divided society.

      Sai Wansai is the General Secretary of the exiled Shan Democratic Union


      SSA opposes junta's political process calling it undemocratic - Hseng Khio Fah
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Wed 25 Mar 2009

      The political wing of the Shan State Army (SSA) South, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), has said that the current junta-dictated political process is not a democratic one, according to its statement released today.

      It stops short of calling it "the 7 step roadmap," apparently not to offend Thailand, which has lent support to it.

      The statement deals with three topics: politics, drugs and the proposed peace talks.

      On the current political situation in Burma, the SSA has recommended a 4 point proposal:

      • Amnesty for all political dissidents and armed opposition
      • Amendment by all stakeholders of the junta-approved constitution
      • Ethnic participation in the Electoral Commission
      • For winning parties of the 1990 elections, like the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) to have a say in the upcoming elections. Their exclusion would only make the 2010 elections a meaningless exercise

      Concerning drugs, the resolution, it says, must come from a political settlement. "Shan State must be given the right to rule itself," citing the 1947 Panglong Agreement, which united Shan, Kachin and Chin with Burma. (Bangkok Post, 10 June 2001 issue, quoted the Thai Army as saying that the root of Thailand's drug problems could be traced to violations of the treaty by Burma's successive governments.)

      Regarding the Thai-facilitated peace talks with Burma's military rulers, the RCSS says, "Our doors are always open for talks with the Burmese military. However, for talks to succeed, both sides must make concessions, not just the RCSS yielding to all the conditions set by the Burmese military."

      The Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) also welcomes Thailand's offer to facilitate talks, according to Khu Oo Reh, Deputy Secretary General.

      "We are always ready to hold talks with the junta if there is a safe venue for both sides," he said.

      With Thailand as a facilitator, chances for peace are greater, according to him. "It would have more chance to succeed than if we did it by ourselves," he added.

      KNPP has held several peace talks with the junta both officially and unofficially. The latest was in 2007 in Tachilek, eastern Shan State, opposite Thailand's Maesai, he said.


      Thailand offers to mediate Burmese talks - Ron Corben
      Voice of America: Wed 25 Mar 2009

      An offer by Thailand to act as an intermediary between Burma's military government and the ethnic-Karen armed group the Karen National Union is being cautiously welcomed by the rebels and rights activists. Analysts have raised doubts of a complete cease-fire unless Burma's military government modifies the constitution before 2010 national elections.

      Thailand's offer to mediate talks between Burma's military and the Karen National Union was made by Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, during an official visit to Burma.

      A spokesperson for the Forum for a Democratic Burma, Soe Aung, says Thailand needs to look at questions linked to the constitution and human rights in Burma.

      "If the Thai Foreign Minister is really willing to help, they have look at the root cause of the problem which is the ongoing human rights violations of the military regime and ignoring the people's call for democracy and freedom," he said.

      The Karen National Union has been fighting for autonomy for five decades. A short ceasefire was reached between Burma's military and the rebels following talks in 2004, but fighting has resumed.

      More than 100,000 Burmese refugees, including Karen, are living in camps in Thailand.

      Spokesperson Debbie Stothardt of the rights group the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, says Thailand should not use a peace agreement as a pretext to force refugees back to Burma.

      "It is in Thailand's interests to try and be a go-between and negotiate something but we also would like the Thai authorities to do it in a very fair and principled manner, and not use this as an excuse to indiscriminately push back people who have been trying to flee the military oppression in Burma," she said.

      The Karen National Union and political and rights activists also want the military to revise the constitution that was adopted last year. They say the constitution entrenches the military in power and excludes participation by ethnic and pro-democracy groups such as the National League for Democracy.

      The constitution is part of the military government's so-called "road map to democracy" that includes general elections in 2010.

      Soe Aung says the main issue remains the military government's support for democracy.

      "If there is no constitution that guarantees the rights of the people, this constitution is not going anywhere because it lacks the people's participation, the people's representatives, like the NLD and the ethnic groups," he said.

      Since 1998 the Karen National Union is reported to have held talks with the military government on four occasions, the last in 2006.


      Burma key to war on drugs - Editorial
      Bangkok Post: Wed 25 Mar 2009

      Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is to kick off a new campaign against illegal drugs next week. And there is good reason for the new impetus on the "war on drugs".

      In announcing the new campaign, Mr Abhisit cited frightening new evidence that the rate of addiction is rising once again. His figures appear to confirm the general feeling throughout the country that neither drug suppression nor treatment have been adequate. The government must lead the fresh campaign against illicit drugs while keeping in mind that the public will not accept either legal abuses or official violence of the past.

      The serious drug problem in today's world has several faces. One of the most important is that the drugs which debase and imperil the country come almost exclusively from outside. Thailand of the past was a drug producer, home to traffickers selling out their country and exporting their illegal products. Today, the country imports virtually all illegal drugs. Chiefly, they come from Burma, where the government appears to do little against one of the world's richest and most prolific trafficking rings. So-called recreational drugs also come from South America and Europe, frequently carried through neighbouring countries along the way.

      Mr Abhisit has promised to increase border security as part of the six-month anti-drug programme he will kick off on April 1. Of all the ways to fight drug trafficking, this may be the most difficult and prone to failure. The long and difficult Burmese and Lao borders in particular are virtually impossible to seal. Smugglers detect an effort to guard one portion of border and move to another.

      The premier and his anti-drug security forces of the military and police should put more emphasis on gaining information about the drug gangs. Last week, a joint US-Thai operation dealt a significant blow to the narcotics trade when agents arrested some top traffickers and hit them where it really hurts - in their pocketbooks.

      Authorities seized more than 117 million baht in cash and goods. The three arrested men, former associates of the late heroin warlord Khun Sa, admitted to having sold 750kg of heroin and methamphetamines in the past year.

      The arrested men pinpointed a large drugs laboratory. Close to the Thai border of Tak province, it is reportedly owned by the United Wa State Army, Southeast Asia's biggest and most influential drug cartel. The UWSA thrives in what seems to be the absence of any action against the group by the generals in Burma.

      The public backs increased government action against drugs. Weekly surveys by Abac Poll show that drugs have been the top overall concern of viewers of the premier's weekly talk on TV. Mr Abhisit was correct to equate drugs with terrorism and international crime as the chief threats to the country. The prime minister correctly ordered that the war on drugs must adhere to civil and human rights.

      Two additional steps are vital to defeat the drug traffickers. The first is to make good on Mr Abhisit's pledge to redirect some anti-drug resources to help addicts and victims. It is as necessary to reduce the demand for drugs as the supply. But the key to reducing supply rests with the military dictators of Burma. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was in Burma and agreed to talk about the Burmese concern over the Karen resistance, but without gaining any concessions from the junta on the UWSA. So long as Burma allows drug trafficking to flourish, Thailand and other neighbours will remain at a disadvantage.


      Bound by Burma - Ramadan Alig
      Islamic Horizons (US): Wed 25 Mar 2009

      Earlier this year, a brief news item mentioned that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was concerned about the fate of 126 Burmese refugees being held at an undisclosed Thai location. The boat people are members of Burma's (renamed "Myanmar," another traditional name for the country, by the ruling military junta in 1989) Rohingya, a mainly Muslim minority.

      In Jan. 2009, the Thai navy towed boats filled with about 1,000 Rohingya refugees into international waters and set them adrift with only paddles; nearly 650 were rescued off the Thai and Indonesian coasts. The Thai navy denies persistent reports that the boats' engines had been sabotaged and that the refugees had been given inadequate food and water supplies. Various international media reports dismiss Thai claims and hold the navy and the army's dreaded Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) responsible for these violations. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand label these refugees "economic migrants," which creates excuses for such human rights violations. Independent investigators reject this label.

      As neither Thailand nor Indonesia have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, which defines who is a refugee, their rights, and states' legal obligation, or its 1967 Protocol, they give little legal protection to the Rohingya. According to official figures, 1,225 Rohingya arrived in Thailand in 2005-06, 2,763 more in 2006-07, and another 4,886 in 2007-08.

      The root causes of this ongoing problem lie with the junta, which does not recognize the Rohingya as one of Burma's estimated 130 ethnic minorities. Its 1982 amendment to the country's citizenship law rendered the Rohingya Muslims "stateless" and thus vulnerable to severe restrictions of movement, which affect their ability to trade, seek employment, healthcare, and education. Even visiting a neighboring village requires a travel permit. After the Feb. 2001 riots, travel authorizations became more restrictive. Arbitrary land confiscation (without compensation) occur to provide land for Buddhist settlers or to build and enlarge military camps and plantations for growing crops for the military and for commercial purposes. In 2002, at least two new "model villages" were established in Maungdaw township. The junta used the 9/1 1 "war on terror" as a pretext to grab more Rohingya land to build military camps on its border with Bangladesh.

      A 2003 International Labor Organization (ILO) report revealed that forced labor is widespread in Northern Arakan state - the poor cannot afford the bribes demanded - even though the practice declined significantly during the last decade after the UNHCR and the WFP (World Food Program) assumed responsibility for building local roads. Despite the presence of UNHCR and international agencies, however, conditions have hardly improved.

      In 1978, more than 200,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape the "Nagamin" (Dragon King) military operation. Officially aimed at "scrutinizing each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally," it resulted in widespread killing, rape, destruction of mosques, and more religious persecution. During 1991-92, some 250,000 people from Burma's Northern Rakhine state fled to Bangladesh, claiming widespread forced labor, summary executions, torture, and rape. They were sheltered in twenty camps in the Cox's Bazar district. While most eventually went back, some 20,500 people- mostly Rohingya- remain in two of the original camps. Even though they live under excruciating conditions, most of them do not want to return home in the absence of peace and democracy. Amnesty International and similar groups have reported on these events.

      Besides Bangladesh, large numbers of Rohingya live in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. Every year, thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis get on rickety boats in hopes of finding work elsewhere. Many travel to Thailand by sea and then overland to Malaysia. Thailand recently offered to host a regional conference on how to deal with these "illegal immigrants."

      The military, which has ruled since 1992 under the garb of the "State Peace and Development Council" (the former "State Law and Order Restoration Council"), considers Arakan's Muslims to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Unfortunately, Burmese civil society and political opposition often share this perception. Such conditions can hardly be considered "conducive for a return in safety and with dignity" of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. This explains why the majority of them do not agree to repatriate voluntarily. As of 2005, the UNHCR has helped repatriate some of them, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps have threatened this effort. Despite earlier UN efforts, the vast majority of them cannot go home because of the junta's policies.

      Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner who has spent much of the last two decades under house arrest, is often covered in the international news; however, the plight of the Rohingyas and similar items is only reported when an "incident" occurs. Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San (the father of modern-day Burma), heads the National League, which won the 1990 general elections. The junta, however, did not allow her to become prime minister.

      The Rohingya, a mainly Muslim ethnic group, is concentrated in two northern townships of Rakhine state (formerly known as Arakan) in western Burma. Their history in the state dates back to the early seventh century, when Arab Muslim traders settled down and married local women. There is little historical evidence, however, about this period. The Rohingya are physically, linguistically, and culturally similar to South Asians, especially Bengalis. In addition, some of Arakan's Rohingya are descendants of those Arabs, Persians, and Pathans who migrated there during the Mughal Empire. Several Rohingya held cabinet and parliamentary posts under U Nu (1907-95; prime minister 194856, 1957-58, and 1960-62).

      Sean Garcia and Camilla Olson, who assessed the Rohingya's situation in Bangladesh and Malaysia in Nov. 2008 for the Washington-based Refugees International (www.refugeesinternational.org), observed that repressive government policies in Bangladesh and Malaysia, as well as the lack of adequate international support, force the Rohingya to struggle for survival in both countries. Garcia and Olson, who also fault the UN and donor countries for helping to separate the Rohingya from other Burmese refugees, recommend that they be integrated into the regional responses for Burmese refugees. Host countries should allow the UNHCR and implementing partners to provide basic services to the Rohingya and officially recognize them as a refugee population.


      Coalition group will not contest 2010 election - Nay Htoo
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 24 Mar 2009

      Burmese political coalition group the Forum for Democracy in Burma has stated that it opposes the planned 2010 elections and will educate Burmese people about the problems with the election.

      The statement was made at the end of a five-day seminar, which took place from 18 to 22 March, held at an unspecified place along the Thai-Burma border.

      The FDB is a coalition of exiled organisations and activists. The seminar was attended by 32 coalition group members and five observers.

      Dr Naing Aung, leader of the FDB, said the coalition had chosen to stand strong against the ruling State Peace and Development Council's plan to hold elections in 2010, and vowed that the group would cooperate with the public for their campaign.

      "We will be educating our people more about the election," he said.

      "The aim of the election is to bring the 2008 constitution to life which would lead us to remain as slaves of the military the same as 20 years ago," said Naing Aung.

      The 1990 elections were won by the opposition National League for Democracy in a landslide victory but the military government ignored the results and has continued to rule.

      "We will be looking for various methods to fight for our rights," he added.

      "It is unlikely that we would be on safe ground when calling for our rights since Burma is ruled by an oppressive government."


      Gem sales earn Myanmar $191 million
      Associated Press: Tue 24 Mar 2009

      Myanmar has earned more than 140 million euros, or $191 million, from sales of jade at its latest government-sponsored gem auction, despite a U.S. ban on their import, a merchant said.

      More than 3,500 lots of jade were sold at the Jade, Gems and Pearl Emporium, said the merchant who participated in the auction but spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal. Revenue figures for gemstones and pearls were not available.

      Organized by the Mines Ministry, gem auctions are a major revenue earner for Myanmar's ruling junta, which faces economic and political sanctions from the West because of its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

      The government, which takes a 10 percent tax from the sales, does not release official sales figures from the auction.

      The sale ran from March 8-20 in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, and drew more than 3,000 gem merchants, mostly from China and Hong Kong. Attendance and revenue was roughly the same as at previous auctions, despite the sanctions and the global financial crisis.

      Last year, the United States banned the import of gems from Myanmar, which already was the voluntary policy of retailers such as Tiffany's and Bulgari. U.S. officials said at that time that Myanmar has been evading earlier gem-targeting sanctions by laundering stones in other countries before they are shipped to the United States.

      Because of U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar in July 2003, which froze all U.S. dollar remittances to the country, international business transactions including the gem sales are done in euros. Myanmar gem sellers say the sanctions have little impact on their business because their major buyers are gem merchants from Asia.


      Army capitalists: the junta's wealth
      Irrawaddy: Tue 24 Mar 2009

      The Burmese military has monopolized the country's economy, especially heavy industries, mining and the import-export sector, since the military seized state power in September, 1988.

      According to Burmese defense scholar Maung Aung Myoe, the collapse of the socialist regime in 1988 opened the way for the Tatmadaw [armed forces] to resume its socio-economic role, independent of the country and its private, commercial interests, as it decided to play the leading role in national politics. The scholar notes in his book, "Building the Tatmadaw," that there were two reasons to establish commercial enterprises: to be self-reliant and to finance defense modernization as an off-budget measure.

      The Burmese military founded two military-managed economic organizations, the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (UMEHL), in 1989 and 1990 respectively.

      Interestingly, UMEHL, also known as U Pai, funding is based on contributions from military personnel, military units, retired military personnel, army veteran organizations and the ministry of defense to support in-service and retired military personnel. UMEHL was previously led by Lt-Gen Myo Nyunt, a former Rangoon regional commander. It is currently led by Lt-Gen Tin Aye of the Office of Defense Industries.

      UMEHL was the first business venture established by the Burmese military for small and medium-sized commercial enterprises and industries. Its subsidiary and affiliated firms engage in macroeconomic trading with Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, China, South Korea, and India. Edible oil, fuel oil and automobiles from these countries are imported to Burma and exports include cigarettes, beans and pulses, gems and garment products.

      Maung Aung Myoe's book, published by Institute of Southeast Asia Studies in Singapore, said that between 1990 and early 2007, UMEHL formed 77 fully owned firms.

      UMEHL's commercial interests include gem production and marketing, garment factories, wood and wood-based industries, food and beverage, supermarkets, banking, hotels and tourism, transportation, telecommunications and electronic equipment, computer, construction and real estate, the steel industry, cement production, automobiles, cosmetics and stationery.

      In the 2006-2007 fiscal year, UMEHL started 35 firms; it has liquidated six firms since 1999.

      One of the liquidated firms, the Myanmar Ruby Enterprise, operated Mogoke mine, Mongshu mine, Nanyar mine, Mawchi mine and a gold mine in the Tahbeikkyin area.

      Maung Aung Myoe noted that one of the main reasons for firms being liquidated was the investment sanctions imposed by Western governments. Another possible reason could be structural problems relating to poor macroeconomic policies and business environment in Burma.

      Among the corporations heavily involved with UMEHL are Segye Corporation of Korea, Daewoo Corporation of Korea, Korea-based Pohon Iron and Steel Co. Ltd, Rothmans Myanmar Holding Pte Ltd. Of Singapore, Fraser & Neave of Singapore, Mitsugi Corporation of Japan and Nikko Shoji Co. Ltd of Japan.

      The MEC is by nature secretive. It is under the ministry of defense and is designed to help the Tatmadaw to build its own industrial and technological base. MEC operates at least 21 heavy factories across the country, according to Maung Aung Myoe. Among them, MEC operates with Thai companies on the construction of Tarsan Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Salween River.

      Since 1989 when Burma introduced an open-market economy, the country has remained poor, but the generals who monopolize the natural resources and the economy have increased their personal fortunes while maintaining their military machine.


      Number of Internet cafes jumps in Myanmar
      Kyodo News (Japan): Tue 24 Mar 2009

      Number of Internet cafes in Myanmar has jumped 11 percent in less than three months, a local weekly paper reported in its latest issue.

      The number of cybercafes increased from 409 in January to 455 in mid-March, the Weekly Eleven newspaper reported, quoting figures from state-run Myanmar Infotech, the only provider authorized to issue Internet cafe licenses in Myanmar. Of the total, 353 are located in the country's largest city Yangon and in nearby areas, while 13 are in the country's second largest city Mandalay, the report said.

      Myanmar started allowing Internet cafes, which are officially called Public Access Centers, in 2004. The number of such centers stood at only around 20 in Yangon in 2006 but has grown significantly as Myanmar Infotech began more generously issuing licenses to promote education.

      Myanmar is one of the 12 countries listed as ''Internet Enemies'' by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders in its latest annual report on Internet freedom, issued March 12. The country not only has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world but its users are among the most threatened, the press freedom organization said. ''Going on line is itself seen as a dissident act,'' it says, adding that laws relating to electronic communications and the dissemination of news online ''are among the most dissuasive in the world, exposing Internet-users to very harsh prison sentences.''

      The other countries on the list are Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.


      World's longest war nears its end
      Times of London: Tue 24 Mar 2009

      It began with British betrayal after the Second World War and has stubbornly outlived every other conflict. But now, as it marks it diamond jubilee, the world's longest-running war is nearing its endgame. The guerrilla army of the Karen ethnic group, which has been fighting since 1949 for independence from Burma, is facing the greatest crisis in its history. If Karen resistance collapses, as some believe is likely, it will be a triumph for the Burmese junta as it consolidates its hold on power.

      After a three-year offensive by the junta, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) has been forced into increasingly small pockets of resistance, according to Burma experts.

      Deprived of funds and equipment, it is able to do little more than slow the advance of the Burmese Army as it lays waste to hundreds of villages, driving thousands of terrified civilians before it.

      Most serious of all, the Karen leadership is losing the support of neighbouring Thailand, where it was formerly able to organise, arm and - when necessary - retreat. Trapped between the Burmese Army to the west and an increasingly unfriendly Thailand to the east, with hundreds of thousands of their people in wretched refugee camps, the Karen are experiencing a humanitarian and military catastrophe.

      "The military situation is as bad as it's been at any time in the past 60 years," said David Mathieson, a Burma researcher with Human Rights Watch. "The Karen have less territory, fewer soldiers and fewer resources to sustain resistance. The Burmese have them more and more surrounded, and their backs are up against the wall."

      A Karen leader on the Thai border said that the KNLA and Burmese Army were fighting near the town of Kawkareik, close to the Thai border. All year there have been reports of Karen villagers being driven into the jungle by marauding soldiers. "It's a cat-and-mouse kind of struggle," David Tharckabaw, vice-president of the political organisation the Karen National Union (KNU), told The Times by phone from the Thai border town of Mae Sot. "The Burmese burn down villages and relocate the people close to their own camps."

      The Karen conflict has its origins in the Second World War, when many Karen fought alongside the British Army against the invading Japanese. The seven million Karen were promised their own state by the British but when independence came in 1948 the promise was forgotten. A year later, in January 1949, the Karen began the armed struggle that has continued ever since.

      In the early decades of the war, the KNU dominated the Irrawaddy Delta, close to the former Burmese capital Rangoon, as well as areas north of the city and all of Kayin State. But in the 1990s an increasingly well-armed Burmese Army made steady gains and in 1995 the KNU was driven out of its capital, Manerplaw.

      At this time, Buddhists in the Christian-dominated KNU broke away to form the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which now fights alongside the Burmese Army. Formerly, the KNU had operated as a quasi-government, providing schools and clinics and receiving income from tax, as well as from a profitable trade through Thailand in timber, gold, zinc and antimony.

      The loss of territory brought a loss of funds, which made it harder to arm and equip itself. The KNU claims to have 10,000 soldiers, including village militia men, but according to Mr Mathieson the number of active fighters is probably between 3,000 and 5,000.

      Last year the KNU suffered another blow when its respected and charismatic leader, Pado Mahn Shar, was assassinated at his home in Thailand by unidentified gunmen. Among many Karen there was a suspicion that the ease with which the killers escaped, and the failure to apprehend them, reflected a cooling of the welcome afforded by Thailand. Last month Karen military commanders were ordered out of Thailand and back across the border.

      This probably reflects the Thai Government's increasing dependence on Burma for raw materials and energy - the two governments are jointly planning ambitious hydroelectric dams along the Salween River which forms part of their border. The border is a valuable conduit not only for the Karen but for Burmese struggling to overthrow the military dictatorship. After the junta cracked down on large pro-democracy demonstrations of monks and activists in 2007, many of them escaped into Thailand.

      "It's a crucial route for information," said Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK. "If that's closed down the whole country will become much more isolated." - The United Nations has ruled that the continued detention by Burma of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi violates domestic and international laws. The latest one-year detention period of Ms Suu Kyi, who has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest, expires in May.


      Burma's generals are afraid of telephones and the internet
      The Nation (Thailand): Tue 24 Mar 2009

      LAST WEEKEND, the Paris-based media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published a report entitled "Enemies of the Internet", which named Burma as one of 12 countries that actively practices censorship and restricts freedom of speech on the Internet. "The 12 enemies of the Internet … have all transformed their internet into an intranet in order to prevent their populations from accessing 'undesirable' online information," the RSF report said.

      As I work for a daily news service, this report is nothing surprising for me. But I was surprised when I learned that a group of hackers from the jungle capital of the low-speed intranet country attacked high-speed websites in the world's richest country. "Yes, this cyber attack was made by Russian technicians. However, they are not in Moscow but in Burma's West Point cyber city", claimed Aung Lin Htut, the former deputy ambassador to Washington and a former spy for ousted Burmese prime minister Gen Khin Nyunt. (Many Burmese observers compare the country's Maymyo Academy of Defence Services to the US Army's West Pont academy).

      Last September, which was the anniversary of the "saffron revolution" led by Buddhist monks, the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) website and two others leading websites (of the Chiang Mai-based Irrawaddy magazine and Delhi-based Mizzima) were attacked by unknown hackers. "We can easily say that the Burmese government is behind this attack," said a DVB statement. They used DdoS, or distributed denial-of-service, which overloads websites with an unmanageable amount of traffic."

      But the DVB technicians doubt that the attackers are government-backed hackers who are based in Russia. "Technically, it is of course difficult to say who is behind the attack," the statement said.

      According to Aung Lin Htut, thousands of Burmese army officers are studying Defence Electronic Technology at the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI), and hundreds of them return to Burma each year to work in Maymyo after they receive the four-year Masters Degrees. The subjects for Burmese officers studying there are computer software programs, nuclear technology, short range and long range missiles, and aeronautics and engineering.

      "There is full-scale electricity supply and hi-speed Internet connections at Napyidaw (the country's official capital city) and the West Point cyber city. The cyber attack is just the beginning of their plan to attack the democracy movement," the former spy told this correspondent in an electronic conversation from Washington. I asked how these officers would be able to apply their knowledge in Burma, where the electricity supply is intermittent.

      Although the two VIP locations are very advanced in IT, the rest of the country is still in the dark. There is not enough electricity, telephone lines, or hi-speed Internet connections for the general population. "Our office telephone line has been cut for over two years. There is no response from the authority whenever we ask the reason," said Nyan Win, a spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy. "To open an e-mail address for the NLD may lead me to Insein (prison)" he added.

      The junta recently arrested dozens of students and activists, including Min Ko Naing's 88 Generation students' group, which took part in the September 2007 uprising and who were involved in distributing relief after Cyclone Nargis ripped through the country last year. A number of the students and activists were sentenced to 65 years in prison for violations of the electronic law, meaning that they had used cellphones, cameras, e-mail and the internet without permission from the authorities.

      "I'm very interested in IT and so I learned something about it on the Internet. This is only my guilt that will send me to Insein," said one activist named Zagana as a judge sentenced him to jail.

      A recent UN report says that 6 out of every 10 people in the world use a mobile phone. "But I think the NLD is the only political party in the world that has no t

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