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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 1/5/09

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Fishery Department introduces media censorship 2.. Burma named worst online oppressor 3.. Solo demonstrator sentenced to one year 4.. Foreign investment in
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2009
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      1. Fishery Department introduces media censorship
      2. Burma named worst online oppressor
      3. Solo demonstrator sentenced to one year
      4. Foreign investment in Burma 'costly for companies'
      5. US to keep Myanmar sanctions in review
      6. Shwegondaing declaration
      7. Myanmar opposition to decide later about 2010 poll
      8. Kachin ceasefire group leaders to meet Burma's ruling junta
      9. EU still looking for dialogue with junta
      10. Burma's inhumanity toward its citizens
      11. Workers sacked after speaking to foreign media
      12. Burmese refugees 'treated like a commodity'
      13. Than Shwe's winning formula to hold the reins of power
      14. A good chance for Burma to respond
      15. Myanmar junta threatened by satellite TV
      16. Senior monk urges Mon political groups to join 2010 election
      17. 'No answers to junta until ours are answered'
      18. Thailand, Burma sign pact against human trafficking
      19. Min Ko Naing bestowed Gwangju Human Rights award
      20. Regime faces crushing defeat if election is free and fair

      Fishery Department introduces media censorship - Myo Thein
      Mizzima News: Thu 30 Apr 2009

      The 'Myanmar Fishery Federation' has imposed certain restrictions on the domestic media, on media coverage of fishery products and export figures issued by the government Fisheries Department, without getting prior approval from them.

      A weekly journal reported the actual export figures of fishery products in its news report, and claimed that it was far below the targeted figure for 2008-09 fiscal in comparison with the previous financial year, in terms of percentage. Following the publication of that news report, the Fisheries Department put forth such restrictions on the local media.

      The Myanmar Fishery Federation holds a Meeting for Development of Meat and Fishery every Tuesday, at its head office in West Gyogon, which is attended by responsible people from the Fishery Department, the concerned people from organizations under the Myanmar Fishery Federation, concerned people from the Livestock Federation and sometimes even the Minister of Livestock and Fishery attends these meetings.

      During these meetings, the local media are usually allowed to attend and report the news emanating from the meeting freely, but currently an officer of FIQC, a section of the Fishery Department has said that news regarding these meetings must get prior approval from their office. He also informed the local media that this restriction had already been communicated to the notorious Censor Board.

      Although the reason given for this restriction, was reportage of incorrect facts, the real reason was disclosure of the true facts of both export earnings and volumes far short of target, by a local weekly journal, a Rangoon-based journal editor said.

      "The reason is reporting of these facts before being sent to Naypyitaw. The Fishery Federation usually discloses weekly and monthly export figures. Though the media are allowed to report these figures, they are not allowed to report these figures in an overview report, such as export figures and target for the whole financial year. All reporters, who are familiar with this department and organization, know about it. In this case, the journalist, who wrote this news, was summoned to their office and a complaint was also lodged with the Censor Board," he told Mizzima.

      Sources from this Fishery Department said that the officials usually adjust the export volume and foreign exchange earning figures for each financial year, before reporting to their higher authorities.

      They do such adjustments to avoid criticism and blame, likely to be put on them by their higher authorities, the sources said.

      "The export target for this financial year is USD 850 million and the actual export is just 56% of this target. The Fishery Department wants the local media to report this news only from a positive viewpoint. Now it seems to be pointing out their negative aspect. It seems likely that we have to write news reports, without facts and figures from now on," a source said.

      The Fishery Sector stands fourth in export earnings in Burma and the export target for the 2008-09 financial year is USD 850 million. Even in the post-Nargis scenario, the fishery products export business was not affected much. However, the current global economic slowdown has hit this fishery sector hard, when it was just picking up.

      Therefore, the department revised its export target in early 2009, to a more realistic USD 500 million from the previous USD 850 million. But the actual export earnings reached only USD 483.082 million at the end of the last financial year, which ended in March 2009.

      Burma named worst online oppressor
      Irrawaddy: Thu 30 Apr 2009

      Burma is the worst violator of Internet freedom of speech rights in the world, says a leading media watchdog group.

      World Press Freedom Day this year is Monday, the day the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) officially names the world's worst Internet oppressor, which is recognized as an emerging threat to freedom of speech and the press worldwide.

      "Burma leads the dishonor roll," said the CPJ in its report. "Booming online cultures in many Asian and Middle East nations have led to aggressive government repression."

      With a military government that severely restricts Internet access and imprisons people for years for posting critical material on the Internet, Burma is the worst place in the world to be a blogger, the CPJ said in the report "10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger."

      The CPJ said that bloggers and online journalists were the single largest professional group unjustly imprisoned in 2008, overtaking print and broadcast journalists for the first time.

      China and Vietnam, where burgeoning blogging cultures have encountered extensive monitoring and restrictions, are among Asia's worst blogging nations, said the report.

      Relying on a mix of detentions, regulations and intimidation, authorities in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Egypt have emerged as the leading online oppressors in the Middle East and North Africa.

      Cuba and Turkmenistan, nations where Internet access is heavily restricted, round out the dishonor roll on the CPJ list.

      Along with censorship and restrictions on print and broadcast media, Burma has applied extensive restrictions on blogging and other Internet activity, the CPJ said.

      According to the Internet research group OpenNet Initiative, private Internet penetration in Burma is only about 1 percent and most citizens access the Internet in cybercafés where military authorities heavily regulate activities.

      The government, which shut down the Internet altogether during a popular uprising led by Buddhist monks in 2007, has the capability to monitor e-mail and other communication methods and to block users from viewing Web sites of political opposition groups.

      At least two Burmese bloggers are now serving long prison sentences.

      Blogger Maung Thura, popularly known as Zarganar, is serving a 35-year prison term for disseminating video footage after Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

      Nay Phone Latt, 28, is serving eight years and six months in Hpa-an Prison in Karen State for infringement of several acts governing computer use.

      Solo demonstrator sentenced to one year - Aye Nai
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 29 Apr 2009

      A tutor who was arrested in March for staging a solo demonstration calling for the release of political prisoners has been sentenced to a year in prison.

      Aung Pe was arrested on National Armed Forces day (also known as Resistance Day) on 27 March this year after protesting near the opposition party National League for Democracy's office in Twante township, Rangoon.

      "He was given a year's imprisonment by judge Win Ko for violations against his movement restriction order," said a colleague.

      "The place where he did the protest is still in the range of his movement limits and he clearly didn't violate the restriction order."

      As well as calling for the release of political prisoners, Aung Pe demanded the right to reopen NLD branches across the country.

      His restriction order was implemented following his arrest on Burmese independence day on 4 January for staging a similar solo protest.

      According to NLD spokesperson Nyan Win, he had tied his hands together and saluted the Independence monument.

      Foreign investment in Burma 'costly for companies' - Rosalie Smith
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 29 Apr 2009

      Foreign investments in Burma's oil and gas sector pose a risk to companies and lead directly to human rights abuses against civilians, including rape and torture, says a human rights watchdog.

      Speaking at a conference in Jakarta, Inodnesia, attended by leading figures from the region's oil industry, EarthRights International said that foreign businesses partnering with Burmese companies carried significant risks.

      "Due to the reputation and material risks posed by doing business in Burma's extractive sectors, it may actually cost a company more to go into Burma than to stay away from it," said Matthew Smith, Project Coordinator at ERI's Burma Project.

      Furthermore, incidences such as French oil company Total's investment in the Yadana pipeline in the 1990's implicates them in severe human rights abuses.

      "Documented abuses connected to the Yadana project include land confiscation, forced labour, rape, torture, and killings," say ERI.

      Yesterday the EU announced it would be renewing its package of sanctions against the ruling State Peace and Development Council.

      The EU sanctions package does not however include a ban on European companies investing in Burma vast oil and natural gas reserves.

      A number of domestic and international human rights groups have called for a complete stop to foreign business investments in Burma.

      Stephen Frost, director of Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia, suggested however that targeted investments in Burma should be considered in light of the failure of sanctions.

      "For every Western firm pressured to divest, or forced not to invest in the first place, there are numerous others in Asia that are under no such pressure," he said.

      "Talking of lifting sanctions is tantamount to support for the generals in some circles, but it's not as if European Union companies don't invest in places with bad human rights records."

      Dr Khin Mg Kyi, a Singapore-based Burmese economist, argued that banning foreign investment from certain countries and not others leads to monopolization.

      "We are committed to a superpower like China; it's a very powerful country," he said.

      "We are giving them all our resources. Why should we let China monopolize us?"

      US to keep Myanmar sanctions in review: official - Shaun Tandon
      Agence France Presse: Wed 29 Apr 2009

      The United States plans to keep sanctions in place on Myanmar even as it charts a new course with the military regime, a senior White House official said in a letter seen on Tuesday.

      US President Barack Obama's administration has launched a review of policy on Myanmar, also known as Burma, and has pledged to coordinate more closely with Asian nations.

      But a senior official reassured that sanctions would stay in place, in a reply to congressman who supports strong pressure on the junta to free democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

      "The sanctions that the United States and other countries maintain against the regime are an important part of our efforts to support change in Burma," Richard Verma, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the State Department, told Representative Peter King in the letter seen by AFP.

      State Department official Stephen Blake last month paid the first visit by a senior US envoy to Myanmar in more than seven years, quietly holding talks both with the junta and the opposition.

      Verma, who handles relations between the State Department and Congress, said reports that Blake floated the possibility of lifting sanctions on Myanmar were "incorrect."

      Obama has reached out to US adversaries such as Iran and Cuba, although he has insisted he will not lift sanctions if the nations do not take action on human rights and other concerns.

      Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that she wants to find a "better way" to sway Myanmar's military leaders.

      King and 16 other members of Congress wrote a letter to Clinton in early April to voice concern about any lifting of sanctions.

      "While we are currently reviewing our Burma policy, we can assure you that we remain committed to delivering a firm message on the need for real reform, including the initiation of a credible and inclusive dialogue with the democratic opposition and the release of political prisoners," Verma said in the reply.

      The junta has kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for nearly 20 years. The Nobel laureate led her party to victory in 1990 but the junta never allowed the election to stand.

      European Union foreign ministers on Monday extended the bloc's own sanctions against Myanmar for another year, calling for the release of all political prisoners and a peaceful transition to civilian rule.

      But the EU foreign ministers also said they were ready to ease sanctions and hold talks if there was democratic progress.

      Unlike the United States and European Union, nearly all Asian nations maintain full relations and trade with Myanmar.

      China is the key commercial and military partner of the junta, which crushed 2007 protests led by Buddhist monks.

      Jim Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Asia, recently called for the United States to provide incentives to Myanmar to pave the way for an eventual lifting of sanctions.

      Shwegondaing declaration
      National League for Democracy: Wed 29 Apr 2009

      We, the members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) including the Central Executive Committee, representatives of State and Division organizational committees, the Members of Parliament-elect still standing with the NLD, Representatives of the Central Women's Affairs Committee, representatives of the Youth Affaires Implementation Committee gathered on the 28th and 29th of April 2009 in the meeting hall of the Head Quarter of the NLD on West Shwegondaing Street and held discussions on the political and organizational situations and the analytical report regarding the Constitution with the aim to resolve all the political impasse in striving to build up the Union of Burma as the democratic state in accordance with the inspiration of all the people.

      This Shwegondaing Declaration is issued to inform the people as the agreement of the majority was obtained through these discussions for the plan to create a fair climate for the evolvement of a dialogue which is the best means for resolving the above impasse.

      The NLD believes that the current political problems facing the country such as the immediate and unconditional release of all the political prisoners including U Tin Oo, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; review of the Constitution; establishment of a genuine Union based on the principle of equality for all the ethnic nationalities; recognition in some ways of the result of the 1990 general election; are the main issues to be resolved immediately for the benefit of the country and the people.

      The stands of the League are:-

      (a) Unconditional Release of All the Political Prisoners including U Tin Oo and Daw Aung San Su Kyi

      (b) Review of the Draft Constitution (2008)

      A State Constitution based on the democratic principles is required to establish a democratic state. The not yet in force Constitution (2008) of the State Peace and Development Council contains provisions which are not accord with democratic principles. Therefore the emergence of the Constitution which is acceptable to all the people including the ethnic nationalities is urgently required.

      (c) Organization

      In this Union of Burma where all the ethnic nationalities live together, a unity based on the principles of equal opportunity and mutual good will must be established. Genuine democracy can flourish only on such a fertile ground. Furthermore, all the political parties must have the freedom to organize. Therefore, the offices of the State/ Divisional and Township Organization Committees which were closed and sealed since May 31, 2003, said to be a temporary measure, should be reopened immediately together with those of the parties of ethnic nationalities.

      (c) Recognition of the result of the Multi Party Democracy General Election (1990)

      At the present, recognition in some way of the People's Parliament, which is the outcome of the 1990 election, is urgently needed in accordance with the Section 3 of the People's Parliament Election law. Only then the democratic traditions can be maintained. Otherwise the State Peace and Development would seem to be breaching their own laws and regulations enacted by themselves.

      (d) Political Dialogue

      The NLD has been constantly striving for finding solution through political dialogue since 1988. Daw Aung San Su Kyi, the General Secretary of the NLD has candidly stated the fact that she can work with flexible approach according to the political necessity as follows:-

      "We have repeatedly stated that the NLD would negotiate flexibly to get beneficial outcomes for the people of Burma. Nevertheless such dialogues should not aim for the good of the NLD nor should they aim for the benefit of the authorities. Only the interest of the people of Burma should be targeted."

      Therefore, the NLD request again with pure intention that the dialogues that can resolve all the problems be carried out without fail. The agenda of the dialogue envisaged by the League is as follows:-

      1. Unconditional dialogue participated by the decision markers should be commenced immediately based on the principles of mutual respects and national reconciliation.
      2. During the dialogues the issues of provision of equal opportunities for the ethnic nationalities; the unconditional release of all political prisoners including U Tin Oo and Daw Aung San Su Kyi; review of the Constitution (2008); recognition in some way of the People's Parliament with is the result of 1990 election; issues of the elections of the future; development of the living condition of the people etc shall be considered.
      3. To arrange to recognize the result of the 1990 elections by approving the result of the dialogues at the People's Parliament which is to be formed according to the People's Parliament Election Law.
      4. All the stake holders to follow unitedly the political course for the future delineated by the agreements of the dialogue as adopted by the People's Parliament.

      (e) Attitude towards the Possible Future Elections

      The NLD firmly believes that enduring political stability and the development of the country could be achieved only by resolving the fundamental problems mentioned above.

      The people shall be informed what will be its stand if the State Peace and Development Council unilaterally hold upcoming election at their own arrangement, without considering to resolve through dialogue.

      The League accepts that elections are the landmarks to be passed in the journey to democracy. The NLD will not abandon the struggle for democracy. The League will stand by the people in all circumstances.

      Therefore if the State Peace and Development Council unilaterally hold possible upcoming election with their own plan and if:-

      1. All the political prisoners including the leaders of the NLD were unconditionally released,
      2. The provisions of the (2008) Constitution which are not in accord with the democratic principles were amended,
      3. All inclusive free and fair general election were held under international supervision,

      The National League for Democracy, through this Shwegondaing Declaration, states that, anticipating for the realization of the benefit of the whole people, it intends to participate in the elections only after gravely considering as a special case and after studying the coming Party Registration Act and the Laws relating to the Elections.

      As per the resolution made at the meeting of the Central Executive Committee

      Held on 29-4-09

      Myanmar opposition to decide later about 2010 poll
      Associated Press: Tue 28 Apr 2009

      Members of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party said Tuesday they will wait to see whether laws governing next year's elections conform with democratic standards before deciding if they will contest the polls.

      Aung Shwe, chairman of the National League for Democracy, said the party has already called for Myanmar's restrictive constitution to be reviewed. He said it has many flaws and its main objective is perpetuating military rule.

      The party believes the referendum that approved the constitution had serious shortcomings, he said.

      Aung Shwe said the party will wait until the election and party registration laws come out before it decides whether to participate in the 2010 election.

      "We have to wait and see whether they will be based on democratic principles," Aung Shwe said at the opening of the party meeting attended by reporters, politicians, diplomats and more than 150 party members from around the country.

      Delegates at the National League for Democracy meeting - to discuss prevailing political conditions, party organizational affairs, the constitution and the election - included 93 elected candidates in the last general election in 1990, whose results were annulled by the ruling military.

      Another senior party member, prominent journalist Win Tin, said it was not clear what restrictions the party might be operating under until the party registration law is issued. He urged all members to stand united, be fearless and determined, and uphold the party's principles.

      Scores of plainclothes police monitored the meeting from across the street.

      Myanmar's military, which has held power since 1962, tolerates little dissent. The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a nationwide pro-democracy uprising and has stepped up its campaign against opposition politicians and activists ahead of next year's polls.

      Kachin ceasefire group leaders to meet Burma's ruling junta
      Kachin News Group: Tue 28 Apr 2009

      Leaders of the two ethnic Kachin ceasefire groups' in Burma's northern Kachin State arrived in the state's capital Myitkyina two days ago to meet the junta's Northern Command commander Brig-Gen Soe Win, said local sources. On the meeting's agenda is the role the groups will play in next year's general election.

      The meeting will be between the Northern Command commander Brig-Gen Soe Win and leaders and brigade commanders of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), its armed-wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K). They have been specially invited to join the meeting, said KIO/A and NDA-K sources.

      The official meeting will begin tomorrow but KIO/A leaders and Burmese military officials of the Northern Command headquarters based in Myitkyina began preliminary interaction last night, KIO sources said.

      The discussions at the meeting will revolve around the roles of Kachin ceasefire groups during the country-wide elections next year. It will also feature discussions on forming political parties in the country, which will be authorized very soon by the junta, said KIO and NDA-K sources.

      Early this month before the Buddhist Water Festival in the country, Maj-Gen Thar Aye, a new commander of No. 1 Bureau of Special Operation based in Mandalay met senior leaders of the KIO/A, NDA-K and Kachin Defense Army (KDA) based in Northeast Shan State, said sources among Kachin ceasefire groups.

      The KIO/A sources added, the KIO/A's delegation will be led by Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng, Vice-president No. I.

      All Kachin ceasefire groups support the junta's seven-step roadmap to so-called disciplined democracy in the country. They have also approved the referendum on the junta-centered new constitution of the country in May last year against the wishes of the Kachin people.

      Under the leadership and support of the Kachin Nationals' Consultative Assembly (KNCA) and the two main Kachin ceasefire groups- KIO/A and NDA-K, the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP) was formed to contest the 2010 elections by the Kachin State Interim Committee early this year.

      The party is now biding its time to register as an official political party when the junta authorizes formation of political parties to contest the ensuing 2010 general elections, said Dr. Manam Tu Ja, the chairman of Kachin State Interim Committee.

      However, the NDA-K and KIO/A will not surrender their weapons until the completion of the seven-step roadmap next year because their demand in the last Nyaung Napyin National Convention for autonomy of Kachin State was completely ignored by the junta, said KIO/A and NDA-K leaders.

      EU still looking for dialogue with junta - Francis Wade
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 28 Apr 2009

      The European Union has said that sanctions against the Burmese regime have had an impact but can only continue to work if accompanied by dialogue.

      Yesterday the EU announced it had extended its package of sanctions on Burma in light of the ruling junta's failure to change track on its human rights record.

      Christiane Hohmann, spokesperson for the European Commission for External Relations, said however that they are unlikely to work alone.

      "It's something that can only go hand in hand with trying to convince them through the UN process or the indirect talks we have with them in the margins, for instance in the UN General Assembly, or ASEAN meetings, to really go for a political process," she said.

      The sanctions include the continuation of an arms embargo, travel bans for senior officials and the freezing of Burmese assets in Europe.

      "We think we need this pressure beyond just political dialogue to make sure that we see things moving in the right direction in a sufficient manner," she said, adding that the economic blockade and prevention of travel by senior officials to the EU was having a direct impact.

      "It's difficult to see the results because they [Burmese government] haven't had access to the European market for quite a while but this is the biggest single market so all the potential they would have had to export to the European market is banned," she said.

      Burma's inhumanity toward its citizens - Zin Linn
      United Press International: Tue 28 Apr 2009

      Burma's military rulers have repeatedly described U.S. and EU sanctions as an "unjust and inhumane act'' that will cause chaos and anarchy in the country. The junta has also said that economic sanctions are unilateral actions taken by big powerful countries against developing countries, ignoring the equality among nations, which the international community accepts.

      According to their logic, sanctions imposed by a big country on a developing country, with the ill intention of hindering the economic, trade and manufacturing sectors of that country, are inhumane acts intended to incite unrest and cause the nation to fall into anarchy.

      However, Burma's rogue military regime does not practice self-criticism with regard to sanctions it imposes on its own population.

      For instance, one member of Parliament from the National League for Democracy, a physician by profession, was informed by state authorities that he would have to choose between his profession and politics. If he wanted to remain a physician he must resign his political position and party. His family situation compelled him to choose his medical profession.

      Numerous NLD members have faced similar threats and intimidation, being forced to choose between their professions and politics. This is one method the regime uses to sanction its own citizens.

      The junta also commits atrocious acts against its citizens. One example is the experience of Htay Htay, an executive member of the Ma-gwe Division of the NLD. She was hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy; right after the operation a secret police officer appeared at the hospital and told the chief surgeon to discharge the patient immediately. When the doctor asked how he could interfere with a physician's care of his patient, the policeman showed his identity card and said the patient did not deserve hospitalization because she was a member of the NLD. The policeman also threatened the doctor; eventually Htay Htay was discharged.

      A different type of sanction practiced by the junta is in clear violation of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An example is the case of a female student who wishes to remain anonymous. Although she passed the test to qualify for further studies in a foreign country, the authorities refused to issue her a passport because her father supports the NLD.

      There are numerous such cases with regard to education. Burma is trampled under the jackboots of the army generals who refuse to allow equal opportunity in higher education.

      Even the basic right of identity as a citizen is sanctioned by the military intelligence bureau. When a citizen comes of age, he has to submit an application for a National Registration Card. First he must obtain a recommendation from the head of the local ward of the junta's Peace and Development Council. Then he has to seek a second recommendation from the local police station. The application for an identity card must be filed with these two recommendation letters.

      The important point is that in order to get the recommendations the youth must be a member of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, an organization similar to Adolf Hitler's brown-shirted Nazi storm troopers. Without USDA membership, a high bribe is required to obtain the NRC. A member of the National League for Democracy must either resign from the party or pay a six-digit bribe to authorities. Without the NRC one cannot work or travel.

      People from all walks of life in Burma are suffering under various sanctions set up by the military regime that has ruled the country since 1962. The consequences of this reign of violence produce spillover effects in neighboring countries as well. Thailand is the nation most afflicted by Burma's socioeconomic troubles, which include political unrest, refugees, migrant workers, trafficking in women and children, disease, drugs, prostitution and terrorism.

      In the past two decades, it is estimated that more than 1 million illegal workers have fled from Burma to Thailand due to the economic failures of the military-ruled country. This has caused successive Thai governments to face numerous socioeconomic problems.

      There has been a massive influx of narcotic drugs, including heroin and methamphetamines, and the trafficking of women and children occurs on a regular basis. These are serious transnational crimes taking place along the 2,400-kilometer Thailand-Burma border. The junta's negligence of healthcare problems has also produced a new HIV/AIDS flow into neighboring countries.

      Another problem that has drawn international criticism is the situation of over 2,100 political prisoners detained in the junta's prisons, many sentenced to unbelievably long terms of imprisonment. Most of them were intentionally transferred to remote prisons with very poor healthcare.

      Most prisoners of conscience have to face terrible torture as well as a lack of nutritious food and little or no medicine. The outcome is that over 100 political prisoners - including members of Parliament, writers and journalists - have already passed away in the regime's jails. People are therefore deeply concerned about the safety of the 2,100 prisoners of conscience.

      All political prisoners were arrested and sentenced due to their political activities involving democracy and human rights. If the generals honestly want to restore democracy and human rights in Burma, releasing these prisoners of conscience would be a sign of their sincerity. If they wait too long without releasing these prisoners, it indicates the generals have no intention of allowing democracy or promoting national reconciliation in Burma.

      The military regime speaks loudly about national reconciliation. It sometimes releases a limited number of prisoners in hopes of reducing international pressure, especially sanctions.

      The regime should understand that building an appropriate political atmosphere is a basic step toward national reconciliation. This would require the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, that have been detained arbitrarily and inhumanely.

      The release of all political prisoners could cause international sanctions to be lifted and allow the revival of the nation's economy, which is currently in a state of collapse.

      –(Zin Linn is a freelance Burmese journalist living in exile in Thailand. he is working at the NCGUB East Office as an information director and is vice-president of Burma Media Association, which is affiliated with the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers. He can be contacted at uzinlinn@....)

      Workers sacked after speaking to foreign media - Aye Nai
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 27 Apr 2009

      Ten garment factory workers in Bago division were sacked last week without reason after speaking to foreign media about mistreatment in the workplace.

      The workers at Pho Shwe La garment factory in Bago's Maha Myaing ward said they were informed by the factory's manager last Friday that they had been made redundant.

      No reason was given, but they claim the factory's manager, Nweni Oak, was reacting to an interview with the BBC's Burmese service the previous week about salary cuts of 20 per cent.

      "On Friday, they paid us our month's salary and told us we were being made redundant," said one of the factory workers.

      "They said they will pay us our compensation on 5 May."

      She said she would be satisfied if the compensation is paid, although another worker said that compensation would not suffice given her commitment to the work.

      "I did my best at work without complaining about extra tasks they asked me to do and now they are sacking me for getting involved in the news," she said.

      "I think this is too personal."

      The group had asked for assistance from Bago-based Guiding Star legal advocacy group which is well known for providing help for farmers and workers regarding rights abuses.

      Aye Myint, head of Guiding Star, said this was another incident that highlighted the lack of rights for manual workers in Burma.

      "There are not many groups to help them when they are mistreated and abused by their managers," he said.

      "The government's labour office is only a dummy to pretend that they are actually doing something to help.

      "The lives of farmers and worker in Burma are going downhill," he added.

      Burmese refugees 'treated like a commodity' - Marina Litvinsky
      Inter-Press Service: Mon 27 Apr 2009

      The mistreatment of Burmese migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia is the focus of a report released Thursday by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

      After receiving disturbing reports of trafficking in 2007, committee staff conducted a year-long review of the allegations. The report, "Trafficking and Extortion of Burmese Migrants in Malaysia and Southern Thailand," is based on first person accounts of extortion and trafficking in Malaysia and along the Malaysia-Thailand border. Committee information comes from experiences of Burmese refugees resettled in the United States and other countries.

      Many Burmese migrants, escaping extensive human rights abuses perpetrated by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and the Burmese military junta, travel to Malaysia to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), for resettlement to a third country, according to the report.

      Once in Malaysia, Burmese migrants are often arrested by Malaysian authorities, whether or not they have registered with the UNHCR and have identification papers. Burmese migrants are reportedly taken by Malaysian government personnel from detention facilities to the Malaysia-Thailand border for deportation.

      Upon arrival at the Malaysia-Thailand border, human traffickers reportedly take possession of the migrants and issue ransom demands on an individual basis. Migrants state that freedom is possible only once money demands are met. Specific payment procedures are outlined, which reportedly include bank accounts in Kuala Lumpur to which money should be transferred.

      It has become commonplace for the authorities to use the vigilante RELA force to periodically arrest and "deport" Rohingyas, a Muslim minority, but since Burma does not recognize them as citizens, the practice is to take them to the Bukit Kayu Hitam area on the Thai-Malaysia border and force them to cross over into Thailand.

      Migrants state that those unable to pay are turned over to human peddlers in Thailand, representing a variety of business interests from fishing boats to brothels.

      Human rights activists have long charged that immigration, police and other enforcement officials, have been "trading" Rohingyas to human traffickers in Thailand who then pass them on to deep sea fishing trawler operators in the South China Sea.

      "People seeking refuge from oppression in Burma are being abused by Malaysian government officials and human traffickers," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

      The committee has received numerous reports of sexual assaults against Burmese women by human traffickers along the border. One non-profit organization official states that "Most young women deported to the Thai border are sexually abused, even in front of their husbands, by the syndicates, since no one dares to intervene as they would be shot or stabbed to death in the jungle." Women are generally sold into the sex industry.

      "(The Burmese refugees) are treated as a commodity and frequently bought and sold and we have been condemning this practice for a long time," Irene Fernandez, executive director of Tenaganita, a non-profit group that protects migrant workers, told IPS in January. "Our demands have always fallen on deaf ears despite the accumulating evidence of the involvement of uniformed officials in the trade."

      The report, the first of three, states that Malaysia does not officially recognize refugees, due in part to concern by the government that official recognition of refugees would encourage more people to enter Malaysia, primarily for economic reasons. Also, Malaysian officials view migrants as a threat to Malaysia's national security.

      "Malaysia does not recognize key international agreements on the protection of refugees and foreign nationals. Nor does it apply to foreign migrants the same rights and legal protections given to Malaysian citizens," Fernandez said.

      Foreign labor is an integral building block of Malaysia's upward economic mobility. While Malaysia's total workforce is 11.3 million, there are approximately 2.1 million legal foreign workers and an additional one million illegal workers, though no accurate information is available.

      While Malaysia accepts the presence of Burmese and others from outside of the country for the purpose of contributing to the work force, persons identified as refugees and asylum seekers on their way to a third country are viewed as threats to national security.

      In an interview with The New York Times, RELA's director-general, Zaidon Asmuni, said, "We have no more Communists at the moment, but we are now facing illegal immigrants. As you know, in Malaysia, illegal immigrants are enemy No. 2."

      Many of the approximately 40,000 Burmese refugees who have resettled in the United States since 1995 have come via Malaysia.

      In August 2008, committee staff met separately with officials in Malaysia's immigration department and the prime minister's office, to convey the committee's concern regarding the extortion and trafficking allegations. Immigration Director-General Datuk Mahmood Bin Adam and long-time immigration enforcement official Datuk Ishak Haji Mohammed denied the allegations of mistreatment against Burmese migrants at the hands of immigration and other Malaysian officials.

      As reported recently in the Malaysia Star, "Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar also denied claims that thousands of illegal foreigners held at detention centres were 'being sold off' to human trafficking syndicates. 'I take offence with the allegation because neither the Malaysian Government nor its officials make money by selling people.'"

      However, according to the report, on April 1, 2009, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan stated that an investigation has been launched.

      The flow of refugees from Burma to Thailand, Malaysia and other countries has cost Burma's neighbors millions of dollars in food and humanitarian assistance. The committee calls on officials of impacted Asean countries to measure the financial cost of hosting refugees displaced from Burma, and to request financial compensation from Burma's military junta for costs incurred in caring for the refugees.

      It asks the government of Malaysia to address the trafficking, selling and slavery of Burmese and other migrants within Malaysia and across its border with Thailand. As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Malaysia is urged to consider alternatives to detention for refugees and asylum seekers, especially for women and children.

      "Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak should act on this US Senate report to protect the rights of refugees and victims of human trafficking," said HRW's Pearson.

      The report advises the US, in coordination with other donor countries, to continue providing funds to facilitate sharing of information on human trafficking among authorities of Thailand and Malaysia; and to provide technical and other assistance to the governments of Malaysia and Thailand so that the trafficking of Burmese and other migrants may be more actively pursued and prosecuted.

      Than Shwe's winning formula to hold the reins of power - Kavi Chongkittavorn
      The Nation (Thailand): Mon 27 Apr 2009

      ONE DOES NOT have to be Nostradamus to predict that by next year the current Burmese junta leaders would be stronger and have a tighter grip over the country and its people, thanks to various efforts to break the current Burmese impasse. They all mean well, to rescue the Burmese people from the brutal and heartless regime, and in the past one year from the disastrous consequences brought by Cyclone Nargis. Somehow, their efforts have not produced the outcome they have in mind.

      After the planned election next year, the perception of Burma and its regime will certainly shift even though it may not be transparent, free and fair and a genuine expression of the people's will. We have heard repeatedly the appeal of the United Nations and other organisations for inclusive and credible polls, but the junta has not yet responded. If history is any indicator, the answer in months to come is clear: Rangoon will remain mute. During the referendum on the constitution last May, despite all the criticism and global calls for transparency and accountability, the Burmese junta did nothing, not even the possible changes to the polling date following the cyclone. Now, this constitution serves as the framework for the junta's exit strategy.

      The world as it is today, with a full-blown economic crisis, will not pay much attention to the quality of the democracy or the form of governance inside Burma, especially when recovery efforts continue in the Irrawaddy Delta. Under these circumstances, policies and measures adopted by the US, European Community, Asean and other major countries will inevitably benefit the junta since these players do not have unified positions and coordinated approaches. Each thinks its policy is better and result-oriented than others. Sad but true, that policy-makers on Burma have spent more time discussing their differences than trying to bridge perception gaps or consolidating tangible engagements that could immediately impact on the Burmese junta and changes on the ground.

      Indeed, the situation today is very ideal to further augment the power of General Than Shwe and Tatmadaw. They just have to stay put, totally immune to international outcry, and never show signs of weakness. Than Shwe has demonstrated political prowess, knowing the so-called international community will succumb to his wishes and plans provided he is not the first one to crack. The generals in Naypyidaw have also provided policy-makers on Burma and donors in state or non-state organisations abroad with nuances on their political future and prospects, which raise hopes of betterment the next day. Altogether it has been over two decades of such expectations.

      Still, they have never failed to push forward their views that the Burmese people need help in a big way, especially in healthcare and education. Outside help is also much needed. Of course, the junta does welcome foreign humanitarian assistance especially from those ready to accept its terms and conditions. One year after Nargis, the voices calling for more assistance are louder. Dominant international humanitarian organisations, including UN agencies and other nongovernmental organisations - both that were there before or after the cyclone - have already urged more assistance to help the Burmese people to rebuild their lives. They still need US$691 million (Bt24.5 billion) for the next three years.

      Since May 19 last year, the presence of Asean and UN relief agencies on the ground have coordinated with the junta in distributing aid and helping the Burmese cyclone victims. The tripartite cooperation has repeatedly received the thumbs up. They reiterated the Burmese rural community leaders are now having unprecedented opportunities to learn and work together with foreign relief officials. Currently they have developed the capacity to organise themselves into informal civic groups to help their own people affected by the cyclone and rebuild their community. This progress could lay the foundation for increasing civic participation and the democratisation process in Burma.

      The argument that helping Burma and saving lives is urgent and should not be politicised have been used by all parties concerned both inside and outside Burma. Everybody knows, despite such a mantra, everything in Burma has been politicised, more than people would like to admit. In the post-Nargis recovery process, the calls for additional assistance will be more pronounced. Foreign relief organisations, which have made it inside Burma, have been quite satisfied with the current state of affairs. They want to stay there beyond the one-year time-frame. When doubts were expressed about the possible abuse of distribution of aid, they labelled them as bias.

      Now it has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Some quarters in the international community have come round to accept that the Burmese generals are a bunch of tough guys and will not change any time soon. It is better for them to show flexibility and understanding of the Burmese quagmire and help the Burmese people even though the regime will benefit from such generosity. In such a backdrop, General Than Shwe just has to stick to his position for another 12 months or so. Then, he can tell the world proudly: I told you so.

      During her Asian trip in February, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton threw a wrench in the works by saying the US was reviewing its Burmese policy as neither engagement nor sanction was working. Immediately, it caused ripples in the debate on Burmese policies. The EU has made it clear that it would continue with the sanctions unless there is genuine progress inside Burma. In the US, lawmakers and lobbyists have already called for an end to the long-list of US economic sanctions. Under the new US leadership, Washington would like to work closely with Asean to find a lasting solution to the Burmese political crisis. Nobody knows what would be the revised US policy on Burma. Asean does not support sanctions against Burma. Some Asean members such as Thailand and Singapore have suffered from the Tom Lantos-Jade Act. Thai gem traders and jewellers have complained to the Thai government of the damages caused to their billion-dollar business.

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