Re: [justpeaceinasia] [ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 13/5/09
- Dear Beng Seng
I would like to thank you that sharing the update information and it's useful to compare what happen in Karen state.
Best regards2009/5/13 CHAN Beng Seng <bengseng@...>
- Internet users face more restrictions
- Threatening Suu Kyi's health
- Ethnic groups in Myanmar hope for peace, but gird for fight
- Generals call the ceasefire groups' hands
- Burma gas sales surge but little cash leaks out
- Time for a fresh approach to Burma's military government
- NCGUB raises concerns over Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's detention
- Burma's prisons and labour camps: Silent killing fields
- Burmese to permit more internet cafés following ranking as worst internet rights abuser
- Opposition party in Burma is facing a dilemma about its future
- Systemic human rights violations along 180-mile gas pipeline in southern Burma
- Junta sets deadline for ceasefire groups to transform
- Farmers live under duress of Burmese Army
- In Burma, China's presence grows
- Experts challenge Than Shwe's rice production claims
- No room for wishful thinking in sanctions debate
- Burmese lawyers says junta should be taken to ICC
- Police ordered not to charge politicians in political cases
- Food crisis reported in two states
- Opposition balks at giving legitimacy to 2010 polls
- Burma tops list of worst places to be a blogger
Internet users face more restrictions - Arkar Moe
Irrawaddy: Tue 12 May 2009
Internet users in Burma are finding it more difficult to register new G-mail accounts while the military authorities have warned Internet café owners not to assist customers in opening email accounts, according to several Internet café owners and users in Rangoon.
"I had to contact my friends abroad and ask them to open a G-mail account for me as I couldn't do it over here," said a student at Dagon University.
She added that most Internet users have faced similar difficulties since March.
Yahoo and Hotmail are banned in the military-run country. G-mail can be accessed through proxy servers although it is also banned.
The Burmese military government is notorious for controlling the flow of information into and out of the country.
"Burma leads the dishonor roll," said the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a leading media watchdog, in its April report. CPJ named Burma as the worst violator of Internet freedom in the world.
Internet cafés which get caught helping customers open G-mail accounts by running bypass programs are to be closed down, said the owner of an Internet café in Mayangone Township in Rangoon.
"Our café only helps people we know when we are asked to open an email account," he said. "We don't help strangers because we will be in trouble if the authorities find out."
The military regime has blocked the well-known Google research engine and its Google mail service since June 2006.
The regime has been constructing a "silicon valley," called Yadanabon Cyber City, in Maymyo in Mandalay Division since June 2006. According to state-run newspapers, the facility is intended to serve as the sole nationwide Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Burma.
One computer technician said, "The Cyber City will likely be used to control Internet users and the flow of information.
"The government is losing its cyber battle because of Google high technology, but it has kept trying to block access to popular e-mail services, including G-mail," he said, adding that the government can't eradicate e-mail completely, but can slow it down and shut it down temporarily.
"It is believed that the junta is concentrating on Yadanabon Cyber City in preparation for controlling and monitoring the flow of information before the 2010 election," he added.
Burma currently has three ISPs: state-run Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), which operates Myanmar Info-tech; semi-government-owned Myanmar Teleport (formerly Bagan Net); and Hanthawaddy National Gateway.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy in September, a senior member of the Myanmar Computer Professionals Association said that Hanthawaddy National Gateway - Burma's newest ISP, which was launched in July 2008 - is expected to become the largest ISP in the country.
He said it receives technical assistance from Alcatel Shanghai Bell Company, which is represented in Burma by Tay Za, a wealthy tycoon and close associate of senior leaders of Burma's military junta.
Hanthawaddy National Gateway is to be linked to the Yadanabon teleport in Mandalay and will provide access to subscribers in every state and division except Rangoon Division. It is currently only available to military officials, he said.
Threatening Suu Kyi's health - Kyaw Zwa Moe
Irrawaddy: Tue 12 May 2009
Here's a relevant question that no one has raised yet: is the Burmese junta deliberately manipulating events in hope that Aung San Suu Kyi will die from natural causes, which - in this case - would not be natural at all?
That's not possible, you say? The ruling generals in Naypyidaw see the 63-year-old pro-democracy movement leader as an "enemy of the state." They believe she's the No 1 enemy, the leader of the "destructive elements" that threaten their rule and who have sabotaged "the peace and stability of the country."
So, is it out of the question that the generals would be happy if Suu Kyi died by natural causes or was physically impaired? They can't assassinate her because of the counterproductive reaction from the international community, even from such loyal allies as China and Russia. But they can ensure that her medical treatment is lacking or dispensed at a minimum level.
You can judge for yourself regarding the incidents that unfolded last week at her lakeside house at No 54 University Avenue. Actually, the house is not a real home for the Nobel peace laureate. For 13 years, it's been her prison.
Suu Kyi now has low blood pressure; she is dehydrated; she has difficulty eating. In short, she is ill again, but on Thursday her primary physician was barred from visiting her for a routine medical checkup and detained for questioning.
Another doctor treated her with an intravenous drip on Friday. Following her request and demands by the National League for Democracy (NLD), she was allowed to return on Saturday and Monday.
"We are worried about Daw Suu's health," said NLD spokesman Nyan Win last week.
"Authorities should allow free access of her doctor to give Daw Suu the required medical treatment."
If you look at these and earlier incidents in light of basic humanity, law and human rights you can see a pattern of willful negligence by the regime. Of course, in Burma the local population is used to neglect.
The fact is that Suu Kyi has been detained illegally for 13 years, with no just cause and only the minimum of proper medical treatment, which could lead to an early death or a premature loss of physical strength.
This month is more critical than ever for the junta. Suu Kyi's lawyer, Kyi Win, said that according to the law, she should be released on May 27, the date marking six years since May 2003 when her NLD motorcade was attacked by a junta-backed mob in upper Burma and she was detained.
Suu Kyi's lawyer is right, but the generals redo their own rules and laws, using them like a rubber band - to stretch and shrink at will.
For example, Suu Kyi was detained for the first time in 1989 under 10 (b) of the State Provision Act, under which a person could be detained under house arrest for a maximum of three years under the existing law. But one year later, the government changed the law to a maximum of five years. Suu Kyi was detained at that time until 1995, a total of six years.
This is a critical moment for the generals, since they plan to hold a national election in 2010. If Suu Kyi is free, it greatly complicates the election. In 1990, the junta held an election while Suu Kyi was under house arrest, believing the state-backed National Unity Party, formed by former members of the dictator Ne Win's Burma Socialist Programme Party, could win the election. Instead, Suu Kyi's NLD party won by landslide.
If a healthy Suu Kyi is free prior to the 2010 election her most loyal supporters and the general public will return to the political activism of 1995 and 2002 when she was free.
In light of that, you should expect the generals to find a way not to release Suu Kyi, in spite of their own law.
So what now? Several options could play out during the course of the next year.
The junta's rubber-band law could find a way to keep her under house arrest. Or perhaps Suu Kyi does develop a serious illness, effectively limiting her leadership ability.
Or, if the regime does release her - somehow seeing a political gain in that act - it could always fabricate a new reason for her arrest, as it did in 2003.
Ethnic groups in Myanmar hope for peace, but gird for fight - Thomas Fuller
New York Times: Mon 11 May 2009
The Kachin tribesmen who inhabit the hills along Myanmar's border with China have a reputation as stealthy jungle warriors, famous for repelling Japanese attacks in the Second World War with booby traps and instilling terror by slicing off ears to tally their kills.
Now, as they have many times in their war-scarred history, the Kachin are hoping for peace but are prepared for battle with Myanmar's central government.
"Whether or not there will be war again, we have to be ready," Maj. Zauja Nhkri, the head of an officer's training school that is part of the Kachin Independence Army, which has around 4,000 men under arms.
"If our army is strong, we can maintain the peace."
As Myanmar's military government prepares to adopt a new and disputed Constitution next year, a fragile patchwork of cease-fire agreements between the central government and more than a dozen armed ethnic groups is fraying.
The new Constitution would nominally return the country to civilian rule after four and a half decades of military government and, in theory, could formally end the now dormant civil war that has plagued the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1948. But as a precondition for what they portray as a fresh start, Myanmar's ruling generals are ordering the Kachin and other groups to disarm and disband their substantial armies.
So far, the answer is no.
"There is no good road map for the future of Burma," said Gen. Gam Shawng Gunhtang, the chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army, which has fought the government on and off since its founding in 1961. Myanmar used to be known as Burma.
The ethnic groups control large pockets of territory in the northern and eastern borderland areas, and, if they disarm, they risk losing control over their lucrative trade in timber, jade, gems and, in some cases, heroin and methamphetamines. They are loath to give up their hard-won autonomy to the Myanmar military, which is dominated by the Burman ethnic group they have long resented.
"We ethnic peoples are trying to form a federal union," Gen. Gam Shawng Gunhtang said. "They don't want to hear about it."
The demands to disarm are "not acceptable," he said.
The volatile and remote northern reaches of Myanmar are rarely reported on in the Western news media because of the difficulty accessing the armed groups. The visit by this reporter to Laiza was the first by a foreign newspaper correspondent in several years.
By the tumultuous standards of Myanmar's six decades of independence, the country has been relatively peaceful over the past decade and a half, thanks to the cease-fire agreements.
Myanmar captured the world's attention when the government quashed the uprising of Buddhist monks in September 2007 and when it refused to allow some international assistance after a deadly cyclone last May.
But those events only served to underline the firm grip that the generals have over the low-lying parts of the country, where the majority Burman population is concentrated.
It is a very different picture in the upland regions, where the government's control has always been tenuous. A resumption of civil war in the north and east is by no means a foregone conclusion - the generals could back down from their demands to disarm, or the ethnic groups might relent and decide to fully adopt the new Constitution.
But if the conflicts re-ignite, which some analysts say is likely, it could resonate well beyond Myanmar's borders, resulting in outflows of refugees into neighboring countries like Thailand and China and a resurgence of the heroin business, which in the past has thrived under the cover of war.
"I think you will hear a lot of gunfire next year," said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a former soldier in the now defunct Burmese Communist Party who is in contact with leaders of the ethnic groups. "The Burmese government is unwilling to give autonomy."
The largest borderland groups, drawn from ethnic groups like the Wa, Shan and Kokang, are united in their bitterness over their historical domination by the Burman.
During the Cold War, China, Thailand and the United States supplied arms and other assistance to some borderland groups. Now commercial interests, including many shady businesses, have replaced ideological ones.
The Kachin hills are home to the world's most lucrative jade mines. The area inhabited by the Shan has the largest and best-quality rubies found anywhere. All the territory controlled by the ethnic groups has prized varieties of tropical hardwood.
And drug syndicates, many of them with ties to the ethnic groups, profit handsomely from the trafficking of both illegal and counterfeit drugs.
Adding to the complexity of the situation, Myanmar, by the nature of its location between India and China, is now the focus of a geopolitical contest for influence by the region's big powers increasingly hungry for natural resources.
Chinese companies are building a series of hydroelectric dams on northern tributaries of the Irrawaddy River (despite Kachin objections) and have helped finance and build roads inside Myanmar, facilitating both the sale of Chinese electronics and clothing in Myanmar and the export of timber and other commodities into China.
China recently beat India in securing a 30-year concession on natural gas from Myanmar, and construction will reportedly start soon on twin pipelines crossing Myanmar from the Bay of Bengal and connecting to the southern Chinese city of Kunming.
In March, China and Myanmar signed a "cooperation agreement" on the oil and gas pipelines, but key details are vague.
The strategic objective for China is access to the Bay of Bengal, thus avoiding having to ship oil through the Strait of Malacca, a costly detour and a security threat if that choke point is ever blocked. But the project is seen by many as a risky venture.
"Burma is not a stable place when you get out into these remote areas that the pipeline is going to have to traverse," said Priscilla A. Clapp, a former American diplomat who spent three years as the chief of the U.S. mission in Myanmar. "It's going to have to go over mountains and through remote areas of the country that are barely controlled by the military. It could very easily be blown up, and then you're out of luck."
Gam Shawng Gunhtang, the Kachin general, is worried that the pipeline will marginalize the borderland ethnic groups and give the upper hand to Myanmar's junta, also known as the State Peace and Development Council, or S.P.D.C.
"The S.P.D.C. is trying to convince the Chinese government that the borderland armed groups are not political groups - just insurgents or terrorists," the general said. "The pipeline will be a tool and an opportunity for the S.P.D.C. to eliminate the armed groups."
The Constitution, which Myanmar's generals say was adopted by more than 90 percent of voters in a referendum last year and will take effect after elections next year, prescribes "genuine multi-party democracy" and recognizes what it calls "self-administered" areas. But ethnic leaders say this falls short of the autonomy they want.
They also point out that the document preserves a dominant role for the military, including the right of the commander in chief of the armed forces to appoint a quarter of the Parliament and to remove the president.
And because the Constitution mandates that only the national armed forces provide defense and security, the junta is demanding that all other groups disarm.
The most heavily armed group along the Chinese border is the United Wa State Army, which has about 20,000 soldiers and new armaments including field artillery and anti-tank missiles, according to Bertil Lintner, an expert on Myanmar's ethnic groups and co-author of the book "Merchants of Madness," which deals with the drug trade among ethnic groups.
Very few of the armed groups will accede to the government's demands to disarm, Mr. Lintner believes.
"Some of the smaller groups might hand in their weapons, but they don't matter anyway," he said.
In Laiza, it is easy to see why the Kachin want to maintain their autonomy.
Residents escape many of the deprivations so common in other parts of Myanmar, one of the world's poorest countries: Electricity from a nearby hydroelectric dam is reliable, cellphone service provided by Chinese communications towers across the border is cheap (obtaining a cellphone number inside Myanmar typically costs $2,000), and the local administration even stamps out its own vehicle license plates, skirting Myanmar's highly restrictive car ownership policies.
In addition to its own army, the Kachin have a police force, schools, a teacher's training college and their own customs agents, who monitor the border crossing with China.
Laiza is no Shangri-La - the town struggles with drug addiction and other social ills common to many border areas - but it feels more free than the military-controlled areas in Myanmar, where dissidents are repeatedly rounded up and sentenced to long jail terms.
"The S.P.D.C. has one last chance to win the hearts of the people," said Thar Kyaw, a jade dealer now based in the southern Chinese city of Ruili. "But we are not very hopeful."
Generals call the ceasefire groups' hands
Irrawaddy: Mon 11 May 2009
If the ethnic ceasefire groups agree to follow proposals by Burma's military junta to transform their battalions into border guard forces, they will be left with no room to manoeuvre politically. Either way, stability across the country is under threat.
The dilemma facing several of Burma's ethic armies comes after high-ranking officers from Naypyidaw made several visits to the ethnic groups' bases last week to outline blueprints for the post-election period that would entail the former insurgents submitting to the command of the Burmese army, also known as the Tatmadaw.
Among the groups that sat with the junta officials last week is the largest armed ethnic group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a 20,000-strong army based in Shan State which is closely associated with the drugs trade.
Other groups include the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a Kokang group called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and the National Democratic Alliance Army, which is based in Shan State.
According to a copy of the blueprint obtained by The Irrawaddy, none of the ethnic ceasefire groups would retain the right to manage day-to-day affairs independently and its command structure would have to share - and, in certain positions, be submissive to - the Tatmadaw's regional commanders.
Under the plan outlined in the leaked blueprint, one Burmese officer would share command of each ethnic ceasefire group battalion alongside two ethnic commanders. Burmese military personnel would also assume several other significant posts in each battalion.
According to the junta's guidelines, the ceasefire groups have to respond to the proposal in the coming months. Military training for the ceasefire groups has been penciled in for October.
"The ceasefire groups should think carefully about their future," said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border. "This is a crucial time for them.
"If the junta's plan comes to fruition, there will be no more UWSA or KIA - only political wings, such as the UWSP (United Wa State Party) and the KIO (Kachin Independence Organization)."
Observers say that if the ceasefire groups do not accept the Tatmadaw's border guard force proposal, the fragile ceasefire agreements between many of the ethnic groups and the junta could be broken; and the border trade zone along Burma's eastern border could suddenly become a battleground again.
Aside from the UWSA, the other ethnic ceasefire groups are not as strong nowadays as they were before they entered into ceasefire agreements. The Tatmadaw now has several outposts positioned in the ethnic group-controlled areas.
However, according to Khuensai Jaiyen, the editor-in-chief of the Shan Herald Agency for News, ceasefire groups such as the Shan State Army (North) would still be a force to be reckoned with if they were called into action, even though they have a much smaller army than the UWSA.
According to intelligence sources, junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe has indicated to his officers that handling the ethnic ceasefire groups would be one of their biggest challenges in the coming years.
"Apart from non-violent dissidents such as Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD (National League for Democracy), the generals in Naypyidaw see this as another threat to their administration since there are no concrete political solutions to ceasefire agreements," said a political observer in Rangoon who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said that facing down the ceasefire groups would be different from Suu Kyi and other dissidents. "If the junta wants to crack down on the non-violent opposition, they can simply open more prison doors. But the ceasefire groups - like the junta - also know how to use firepower to get their way," he said.
The issue also encompasses geopolitical concerns for the regime. China, being Burma's northern neighbour and one of its biggest trade and military partners, enjoys a strong influence on all the ceasefire groups based near the Sino-Burmese border, especially the UWSA and the KIA.
China is scheduled to build a strategic oil and gas pipeline stretching from western Burma to Yunnan Province, passing through much ethnic territory.
China, as former comrades-in-arms, would not ignore the UWSA and the Kokang if they were in crisis, said Aung Kyaw Zaw.
In recent years, the question of Burma's stability, development and national reconciliation has become a main concern for Beijing.
In April, Chen Bingde, the Chief-of-Staff of the People's Liberation Army, told the visiting Burmese general Tin Aye that Beijing hoped Burma could achieve social stability, economic development and national reconciliation.
However, at last week's meeting between junta officers and the UWSA, one of the Wa leaders reportedly rebuked the Burmese regime's offer angrily, calling it a recipe for disunity.
Other ethnic leaders are going to have to make big decisions in the near future - decisions that could tread dangerously close to plunging the region into instability and bloodshed.
Burma gas sales surge but little cash leaks out - Amy Kazmin
Financial Times (UK): Mon 11 May 2009
Strong exports of natural gas have swollen Burma's foreign exchange reserves to a record high but have not been used by the military regime to boost health or education spending for the impoverished population, the International Monetary Fund says in a report.
In its annual evaluation of Burma's economy, the IMF says the global economic slowdown and the devastating May 2008 cyclone, which killed 140,000 people, have taken their toll. Gross domestic product growth slowed to about 4.5 per cent last year, from 5.5 per cent a year earlier.
Spending on extravagant showcase projects - such as the new political capital, Naypitaw - is being financed by printing money, fuelling inflation of about 30 per cent. Social spending, meanwhile, remains the lowest in Asia, according to the IMF.
The report, which has not been publicly released but was obtained by the Financial Times, says Burma's prospects "look bleak" if it fails to sweep away socialist legacies - including the multiple exchange rate system and stifling economic controls - or improve the deteriorating business climate.
How Burma's rulers use the revenue from natural gas exports to Thailand, through pipelines operated by Total and Petronas, is also under scrutiny. Gas revenues are added to the budget at the 30-year-old official exchange rate of Kt6 to the dollar. The black market rate is about Kt1,000.
As a result the gas money has had "a small fiscal impact", accounting for less than 1 per cent of budget revenue in 2007-08, instead of 57 per cent if valued at market rates. The IMF has urged the regime to report gas sector revenues at the market exchange rate to stabilise state finances.
The downbeat assessment comes as independent agricultural experts warn of rising distress among Burmese farmers after a steep fall in prices at harvest.
Analysts fear there will be a significant drop in rice planting in the monsoon season, which begins soon, as heavily indebted farmers try to reduce costs.
"The rural economy here is on the verge of some type of collapse," said one Rangoon-based expert. "Rice farming is not profitable."
Analysing Burma's economic performance is challenging because of the paucity of accurate and timely data. Many western policymakers still see Burma as largely cut off from the global economy, especially after the US and EU tightened sanctions following a harsh military crackdown on mass protests in September 2007.
The IMF says the impact of western sanctions has been "moderated by strong regional trade links", although the region's woes are hitting Burma's natural gas, other commodity exports and remittance flows from millions of Burmese working abroad.
"A lot of people thought that, since they have no banking system, they would escape the impact of the crisis," said one diplomat. "But it's such a simple economy, so dependent on commodity prices."
Burmese authorities have acknowledged the slowdown, though they still see growth as a robust 10 per cent. Exchange reserves stand at $3.6bn (€2.7bn, £2.4bn).
The IMF says growth will be about 4 per cent - "insufficient to reduce poverty" without major reforms.
Time for a fresh approach to Burma's military government - Jonathan Manthorpe
Vancouver Sun (Canada): Mon 11 May 2009
It was immediately noticeable in the stories from the official Burmese media last week that the American who swam to the lakeside villa of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San Suu Kyi spent "three nights" in the compound before attempting to swim back to his hotel.
If the story's true, the man named as John William Yeattaw also spent three days with Suu Kyi, but - nudge, nudge, wink, wink - that doesn't have the same implication.
And it is because of those implications from the military regime's mouthpieces - that this was an amorous assignation rather than a political event or even a weird piece of American eccentricity - that people in Rangoon and elsewhere in Burma have grave doubts about its truth.
There is a widespread belief in Rangoon that this story was manufactured to sully Suu Kyi's reputation and thus blunt criticism of the military regime, which has already announced it plans to renew her detention when the current six-year term ends later this month.
But Suu Kyi's popularity among Burmese people remains undimmed, though she has been detained in her crumbling and mould-stained house on University Avenue in Rangoon for most of the last 19 years.
The junta has been unstinting in its efforts over the years to manufacture or twist events to undermine the domestic support that saw her National League for Democracy (NLD) win 85 per cent of the parliamentary seats in 1990 elections.
The junta, now led by General Than Shwe, has always refused to acknowledge those results. It spent the last 12 years concocting a fraudulent "civilian" constitution adopted in a sham referendum last year. This envisages multi-party elections next year, but also ensures the military continues to control the presidency and all the important ministries, and retains the authority to dismiss the parliament at will.
So it is hardly surprising that most of the western world, and especially the United States and the European Union, continue to apply rigorous economic sanctions and other embargoes on contacts with the Burmese regime. Indeed, only 10 days ago the EU reaffirmed those sanctions.
But there is a growing acceptance that the moral high ground held by the West on the Burma issue is a road to nowhere. The generals have not budged one inch over the years in the face of sanctions that have kept most of Burma's 80 million people in abject poverty.
The generals themselves are largely untroubled by the constraints of sanctions. They have merely grown grossly rich on natural resources deals with China, which doesn't give a fig about other regimes' repression of their people any more than it does about its own.
And Than Shwe and his boys have been just as disdainful of the blandishments of the "constructive engagement" policies of Burma's neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. With neither stick nor carrot moving the junta, it is clearly time for a new approach.
Last October the International Crisis Group led by former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans criticized the West for tying aid to political reform in Burma after hurricane Nargis struck last year. The group followed that up with a report last month called "Missing the Boat on Myanmar" - Myanmar is the name the junta uses for Burma.
In this report the group said "The EU should abandon a policy maintained by those with an eye on noble points rather than on new opportunities to promote change."
Even Suu Kyi, who used to be adamant that economic sanctions were essential is now much less dogmatic on the question.
The EU may not have got the message that sanctions are counter-productive, but the new administration in Washington has. In February, while on a visit to Indonesia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "Clearly, the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn't influenced the Burmese junta."
It seems she has ordered a review and refashioning of American policy towards Burma. Clinton's main policy adviser on mainland Southeast Asia, Stephen Blake, has even visited the generals' new capital at Naypidaw, where he met foreign minister U Nyan Win.
The review may well conclude that, rather than sanctions, it may be wiser to smother the malevolent economic influence of China with trade and investment in Burma.
It may also decide that next year's elections, flawed as they are, are better than none, especially as the junta has said clearly it will allow United Nations monitors.
It may thus make sense to urge Suu Kyi and the NLD to drop their current boycott and instead show some faith in the popular support that won them the 1990 elections.
And it's worth remembering that the Burmese junta has modelled the new constitution on the old military-dominated system in Indonesia. But in 1998 Indonesia's military dictatorship collapsed under its own weight and evolved with surprisingly little violence into a proper democracy.
NCGUB raises concerns over Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's detention
National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma: Mon 11 May 2009
The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma is deeply concerned by developments taking shape in Burma.
The democracy leader is reported to have dangerously low blood pressure and to be suffering severe dehydration, requiring her to be on an intravenous drip.
Reports of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's desperately ailing health and of the subsequent arrest of her physician indicate the regime is preparing to face the wave of outcry over her incarceration as calls for her unconditional release build.
Last year at the end of May, the Burmese generals extended the house arrest of Burma's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi by one more year, which was declared by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions as unlawful because it "not only violates international law but also national domestic laws". Burma's 1975 State Protection Law only allows renewable arrest orders for a maximum of five years.
The time for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's long-overdue release - she has already spent 13 of 19 years under detention - is up once again at the end of May. Pressure is increasing on the Burmese regime to release the democracy leader, along with thousands of other political prisoners, as a means of giving some democratic credibility to national elections scheduled for 2010.
As this situation unfolds, sketchy reports of a breach of security by an American citizen named John Yeattaw at the heavily-guarded residence of the Nobel Peace Laureate have emerged. He is said to have stayed at the democracy leader's house for 2 days after swimming across Inya Lake near her home, before attempting to escape across the lake again, where he was apparently arrested.
This bizarre incident looks to be a characteristically surreal set-up.
Even though the intruder's antics may not amount to much - and were obviously undertaken without Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's knowledge - they provide an opportunity for the Burmese generals to use it as an excuse to continue detaining her.
The NCGUB is constituted by representatives elected in the 1990 elections in Burma
For further information: Contact: Tel: (301) 424-4810 Fax (301) 424-4812: Email: ncgub@...
Prime Minister, Dr. Sein Win, who is also Aung San Suu Kyi's cousin, expressed grave fears for the democracy leader; "Her personal physician is not allowed to meet her and is now being detained at an undisclosed location. His assistant who checked Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was prevented from treating her last weekend. She must be given medical care immediately."
"The situation is very troubling."
"Under no circumstances must the international community tolerate the generals continuing the detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It must act together and prevent injustices from continuing in our country," said Dr Sein Win.
Burma's prisons and labour camps: Silent killing fields
Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political: Mon 11 May 2009
Prisoners (Burma) today released a report, highlighting the growing health crisis for political prisoners in Burma. The report - entitled "Burma's prisons and labour camps: Silent killing fields" - outlines the health impact of systematic torture, long-term imprisonment, transfers to remote prisons, and denial of healthcare on the country's pro-democracy activists.
AAPP Joint-Secretary Bo Kyi said, "The situation for Burma's political prisoners is dire. Not only are there more political prisoners than ever before, they are facing harsher sentences. Leading activists have been transferred to the most remote prisons, where there are no prison doctors, and they are more likely to contract diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. This is a new cruel and inhumane strategy by the regime."
According to the report, over 350 activists have been sentenced since October last year, and the majority of them have been transferred to remote jails away from their families. Due to the lack of proper healthcare in Burma's jails, political prisoners rely on their families for medicine and food. However, the prison transfers make it difficult for family members to visit, and provide essential medicine.
At least 127 political prisoners are in poor health, according to the report, 19 of them require urgent medical treatment. These include; Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, comedian Zarganar, labour activist Su Su Nway and 88 Generation Students leader Min Ko Naing.
"Many political prisoners have already died in prison. This has to stop. The regime must end its cruel and inhumane practices, and release all political prisoners," added Bo Kyi.
AAPP is currently co-ordinating a global campaign for Burma's political prisoners, which aims to collect 888,888 petition signatures before 24 May.
This is the date that the military junta claims that Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be released from house arrest, despite the fact that the United Nations has recently said her six years under house arrest contravenes the military regime's own laws.
The petition can be signed at www.fbppn.net
Burmese to permit more internet cafés following ranking as worst internet rights abuser - Mon Son
Independent Mon News Agency: Thu 7 May 2009
The Burmese government announced that it will be granting permission to open internet cafés country wide only 4 days after country is condemned as the having the worst abuses in internet rights. It remains to be seen weather an increase in internet cafes will increase internet freedom.
On Monday, May 4th, According to People Media Voice, an exile Burmese media group, the Burmese government will allow for shops to be opened not just in Yangoon, where the majority of country's internet café currently exist, but throughout the country including rural regions. This also includes plans to extend the internet network throughout the country. However no specific number has been announced as to how many can open, nor have any opened since the announcement. The announcement came from the Myanmar Tele Post which operates under the Ministry of telecommunications, post and telegraphs.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report highlighted a number of countries through out the Middle East and Asia where people are targeted by a variety of means of control by the government, from censorship, restricted internet access, to outright imprisonment and threats to restrict the freedom of speech and press.
The reports also described Burma as the worst country for freedom of expression. According to CPJ report "Burma leads the dishonor roll." Shawn Crispin, the South East Asia Representative of the CPJ said in response to the Burmese government's announcement, "any official commitment to allowing a greater number of Internet cafes must be taken with a huge grain of salt."
By making its announcement on Monday, World Press Freedom Day, and CPJ drew a clear line stating the significance of online media repression as a major emerging threat to press freedom worldwide. Crispin explained "By putting Burma atop our list of 10 worst places in the world to be a blogger, we hope exposure of its censorship and repression will ultimately affect change and greater freedom of expression."
In Burma Internet use has been on the rise, but the number of internet cafés is still incredibly small. In 2003 there were about 20 Internet cafés throughout the country. Now there are 464 Internet cafes country wide, 355 of which are located in the country's capitol of Yangoon. However this leaves only 109 facilities spread throughout the rest of the country.
According to the Internet research group OpenNet Initiative, a private Internet watchdog group, only about 1 percent of the population in Burma has access to internet cafés which are already heavily censored and regulated by military authorities. However Myanmar Information Technology statistics show only about 300,000 people have access to the internet in the whole country.
Opposition party in Burma is facing a dilemma about its future - Marwaan Macan-Markar
Inter Press Service: Thu 7 May 2009
The uncertainty that grips the National League for Democracy (NLD) was evident in the statements that flowed from a rare meeting of its leadership during the last week of April. The NLD has opted for a wait-and-see approach about fielding candidates for next year's poll.
Notable, is the party's tactful use of this pre-election summit at its headquarters to test the political waters - now that the junta has made a commitment towards parliamentary elections after 19 years as part of its 'roadmap to democracy.'
It was a gamble with high risks, even possible jail terms for the 150 delegates from across the country who attended. After all, the junta's oppressive sweep has forced the party to close down all its offices across the country bar one, and denied the party the right to meet as a collective for over a decade.
The regime in Burma, or Myanmar, as the military rulers have renamed the country, has also arrested and imprisoned scores of NLD members, including those elected to parliament during the 1990 poll. No one symbolises this more than Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who heads the NLD. The pro-democracy leader continues to remain under house arrest, now in its thirteenth year.
In a direct challenge to the junta's push towards the polls, the NLD's chairman, Aung Shwe, called for the 'unconditional release' of all political prisoners - now over 2,100 - and freedom for Suu Kyi to pave the way for an inclusive political environment ahead of next year's country-wide elections.
The party's two-day gathering in Rangoon, the former capital, also called for a 'review of the 2008 constitution' and 'politically substantive initial dialogue' between Suu Kyi and Burma's head of state, Senior General Than Shwe, according to an NLD document seen by IPS.
Regarding the 2010 poll, the NLD held back from giving it any legitimacy by stating, 'We need to wait and see the political party registration law and electoral law to decide whether we could participate in the election under this constitution.'
'The NLD is not going to give in to the junta very easily. The party wants to hear the views of all leaders and to be able to speak in one voice when the decision is made about the 2010 elections,' says Zinn Lin, an NLD member currently living in exile in Thailand. 'The last time the party tried to meet was in 1998, but the authorities didn't permit that gathering. And they have been denied this right till now.'
'It is uncertain what will happen to the delegates who came for the meeting, because the party's headquarters was watched by hundreds of intelligence officers and people from the special branch, taking pictures and filming it on video,' Zinn Lin told IPS. 'Such intimidation is proof that NLD members are not free to operate ahead of the election that the military regime wants to have next year.'
The current climate of intimidation NLD members face is a far cry from what it was during the months leading up to the 1990 general elections. 'The 1990 elections were conducted under a free and fair situation. Political parties openly campaigned,' says Win Hlaing, minister in the prime minister's office of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the democratically elected government in exile.
'There has been no positive change since then, after Gen. Than Shwe's era began,' he told IPS. 'There is so much hardship and intimidation. The NLD and all opposition voices are targets.'
Mark Canning, the British ambassador in Burma, echoes such sentiments. 'It remains the case that the situation in Burma is characterised by the denial of freedom. It is a very very repressive place,' he said in Bangkok last week.
The junta's oppression, in fact, is rooted in the outcome of the 1990 poll that shocked the military regime of the day, which had been in power since a 1962 coup. The NLD, which had been formed ahead of that poll, won a convincing 82 percents of the seats in 485-seat legislature.
It was a victory fuelled by local anger following 28 years of military oppression and a brutal crackdown of a pro-democracy uprising in August 1988, which saw over 3,000 unarmed protesters gunned down by troops on the streets of Rangoon.
The military regime refused to recognise the results of the 1990 election, denying the NCGUB the opportunity to replace the powerful military government.
To avoid a repeat of such an election debacle in 2010, the junta has pushed through a new constitution with conditions that favour undiluted power of the military, including a required 25 percent of the seats in the upper and lower houses of the new legislature reserved for army officers.
The May 2008 referendum to approve the new constitution was mired in charges of voter rigging and other election malpractice. The junta, however, praised the outcome, which it claimed had been endorsed by 94.4 percent of the voters and had a 98.1 percent voter turnout.
'The 2008 constitution makes it impossible for political parties to contest in 2010 based on their own vision,' says Aung Htoo, general secretary of the Burma Lawyers' Council, based in Mae Sot, on the Thai-Burma border. 'Chapter 10 denies parties like the NLD to set their own objectives. Under this constitution, you cannot even form a Green Party to campaign for the environment.'
I don't think that the party registration law and the electoral law that the NLD is waiting to see will improve anything,' he told IPS. 'The constitution's restrictions are what matters.'
Systemic human rights violations along 180-mile gas pipeline in southern Burma, says new report
Human Rights Foundation of Monland: Thu 7 May 2009
A 180-mile gas pipeline in southern Burma is responsible for human rights violations that are "systemic, shocking and ongoing," says the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) in a report released this evening. The 100-page report, titled Laid Waste: Human Rights Along the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline, details abuses along the entire length of an overland pipeline that traverses nearly half the length of Burma's southern peninsula.
Laid Waste details abuses committed by Burma's military government as it has sought to construct, maintain and protect the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline. The report includes details on the confiscation of more than 15,000 acres of land to make room for the pipeline - and support 30 army battalions tasked with protecting it. The intense militarization of the area, which HURFOM describes as "fundamentally due" to the pipeline, is responsible for abuses that range from rape and summary execution to the daily commandeering of motorcycles and chickens. Security efforts for the pipeline, meanwhile, entail conscription of villagers - some as young as 12 - who must work as unpaid forced laborers, maintaining the pipeline, guarding and carrying equipment for soldiers - at all times under threat of violent retribution for accidents or insurgent attacks.
"The abuses described above are the predictable result of deploying large numbers of soldiers and encouraging them to extract what they can from the countryside, without oversight," says HURFOM. "But abuses along the pipeline are also a deliberate, calculated part of the pipeline security effort." Highlighting the ongoing nature of these abuses, in the 5 days that have passed since printing the report, HURFOM has documented the execution of one villager and the burning of 36 homes. In both cases, the army committed the abuses less than a mile from the pipeline.
This report is released at a critical juncture. Intense competition for access to Burma's abundant natural resources continues, with China recently agreeing to purchase gas that will be transported 1,200 miles across Burma. Debate on appropriate response to Burma is renewing, as the international community questions the wisdom of strict sanctions and considers potential for increased humanitarian support. In the foreword to Laid Waste, HURFOM's director Nai Kasauh Mon welcomes the renewed discussion. But he urges caution and calls on the international community not to lose sight of experiences like those documented in Laid Waste. "Discussion is healthy and appreciated," says Nai Kasauh Mon. "But there should be no question: projects like the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline do not benefit the people of our country."
Full PDF copies of Laid Waste can be downloaded at: http://rehmonnya.org/archives/752. Information on the 36 burned homes and summary execution mentioned in paragraph 3 can also be found on www.rehmonnya.org.
Hard copies of Laid Waste, as well as print-quality photos for news publication can be obtained by emailing monhumanrights@....
Questions or requests for interviews in English, Mon and Burmese should be made by emailing hurfomcontact@... or calling +66 (0)81 365 9140.
The Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) is a Thailand-based non-governmental human rights organization founded in 1995 by a group of Mon youth, students and community leaders. HURFOM works to monitor the human rights situation in southern Burma, and publishes print and online news, lengthy reports and analysis of ongoing human rights violations. More information can be found at www.rehmonnya.org
Junta sets deadline for ceasefire groups to transform - Solomon
Mizzima News: Wed 6 May 2009
The Burmese military junta has told ethnic ceasefire groups they have till September this year to transform their groups, an ethnic Wa rebel group told Mizzima.
A top official of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), one of the largest rebel groups in Burma which has a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta, said the regime wants them to transform or at least reduce the number of armed men.
"They [junta] set September as the deadline for reforming our army," the UWSA official, who wished not to be named, said.
The message was conveyed to the group, during a meeting with the junta's Chief Military Affairs Security (MAS), Maj-Gen Ye Myint on April 28, in Tang Yang town in North eastern Shan state.
The official said the junta wants a reduction in the size of the rebel's army and to include Burmese soldiers in the group. The regime will also have controlling command of the rebel's army, the official said.
For a battalion, the junta wants the size reduced to 326 soldiers and to include about 30 soldiers from the Burmese Army.
The junta's demand is the latest in a series of efforts that it has been making to control the armed rebel groups. In late April, the junta met several ceasefire groups including the UWSA, Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).
The official said, the junta wants to have control over the rebel group's army and manage them and is willing to take responsibility even by way of payment of salaries for the troops.
The demands were made during a meeting between the Burmese delegates led by Maj-Gen Ye Myint and Wa leaders led by vice Chairman Xiao Minliang at Tang Yang, the official said.
"Maj-Gen Ye Myint told us that we should set age limits for our new recruits at between 18 to 50. Everybody who is over the age of 50 should be retired," he added.
The UWSA, a group that broke off from the former Communist Party of Burma (CPB), said they have not decided on the junta's proposals but will soon come up with a decision after consulting and having meetings.
"We have not decided anything yet. Now we are planning to have discussions with all of our soldiers and our people. We need to take their opinion and note their desires," the official said.
Like the UWSA, the Kachin Independent Organization/Army (KIO/A), said they are also preparing for a public meeting to garner opinion on the junta's proposals put forward by the Northern Command Commander Maj. Gen. Soe Win, who met the KIO leaders at Myitkyina, Capital of Kachin State, on April 28.
A Major from the KIO, who wished not to be named, told Mizzima, "We will be holding public meetings with our people after May 10."
The Major said he believes that the people and the KIO members are likely to disagree with the junta's proposals, when they have the meeting in KIO controlled area of Laiza on the Sino-Burma border.
"If we give into whatever the junta demands, what is the point of being into an armed struggle? It would also make no sense of our over 40 years of resistance," the Major said.
However, he declined to mention what the KIO as a group might decide.
Similarly, the junta held separate meeting with leaders of the Shan State Army -North (SSA-N), Myanmar National Democratic Allied Army (MNDAA), New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) and National Democratic Allied Army (NDAA).
The junta's demand that the ceasefire armed groups transform their armies and hand over the management to the junta, is a step below its original plan of disarming the ceasefire armed groups before the planned general election in 2010.
A Sino-Burma border based analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw said, ceasefire groups will now have meetings among themselves, and it is very much unlikely for the majority of them to comply with the junta's demand.
But those groups that are weaker militarily might as well consider the junta's demand as it could be viewed as a way out for them.
"I don't think it will be possible for stronger groups to comply with the demand but some like the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army [DKBA] are likely to comply as they are already been on the side of the junta," said Aung Kyaw Zaw.
"It is impossible for the ceasefire groups to comply with the junta's demand. Now all the groups are planning to stand as one and raise just one voice," he added.
Farmers live under duress of Burmese Army
Kachin News Group: Wed 6 May 2009
Farmers in Burma's northern Kachin State are being meted out ill treatment in the name of growing summer paddy by local Burmese Army battalions, said local farmers.
Farmers, who are mainly into cultivation of monsoon paddy in Kachin State, are being forced to g
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