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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 29/5/09

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Burmese court rejects Suu Kyi witnesses 2.. Security didn t stop Yettaw visit 3.. Global economic crisis reaches Myanmar 4.. Chevron determined to retain
    Message 1 of 1 , May 29, 2009
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      1. Burmese court rejects Suu Kyi witnesses
      2. Security 'didn't stop' Yettaw visit
      3. Global economic crisis reaches Myanmar
      4. Chevron determined to retain investments in Burma
      5. Europe, ASEAN press Myanmar on Suu Kyi
      6. Q+A: Suu Kyi trial heads to inevitable verdict
      7. NLD issues list of demands to junta
      8. Burma's opposition grimly protests military government
      9. Jailing Suu Kyi again 'not good for region'
      10. End Burma's system of impunity
      11. China drawn into Myanmar's border strife
      12. Burmese people need outside help to achieve freedom
      13. Burma's last chance
      14. The Elders demand release of Aung San Suu Kyi on 27 May 2009
      15. Aung San Suu Kyi tells Burmese court she did not break terms of house arrest
      16. Myanmar ends Suu Kyi house arrest, keeps her detained
      17. Frequency of rape by Burmese army appalls researchers
      18. Security Council wants Myanmar's Suu Kyi released
      19. Villagers flee from DKBA troops out to recruit
      20. Burma 'necessitates' foreign intervention
      21. The Generals are Angry
      22. Thirty diplomats, ten reporters attend Suu Kyi Trial

      Burmese court rejects Suu Kyi witnesses - Tim Johnston
      Financial Times (UK): Thu 28 May 2009

      Lawyers for Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained Burmese opposition leader, expect to make their closing arguments in her trial on Monday, with the verdict to be announced shortly afterwards.

      On Thursday, Kyi Win, a jurist and member of Mrs Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy argued that the charges against her had been mistakenly applied. He was the only one of the four defence witnesses proposed by Mrs Suu Kyi's team that the court allowed to take the stand.

      Mrs Suu Kyi is charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American, John Yettaw, to stay the night without reporting him to the authorities. Mr Yettaw used a pair of home-made flippers to swim uninvited to her lakeside house earlier this month.

      Mrs Suu Kyi, 63, is fighting the charges, which carry a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.

      She told the court that she gave Mr Yettaw "temporary shelter" because he was exhausted and hungry after the swim and because she did not want to create trouble for him or for the security detail which is supposed to guard her house.

      Mr Yettaw, a 53-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War who lives in Falcon, Missouri, is also on trial for breaking immigration and national security laws. He seems to have had more confused motives for his quixotic mission.

      "He said the reason he came was in his vision he saw that Aung San Suu Kyi was assassinated by terrorists. Because of his vision, he came here to warn Aung San Suu Kyi and also the government," said Nyan Win, one of Mrs Suu Kyi's legal team.

      If he is convicted, Mr Yettaw could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.

      Mrs Suu Kyi's trial has been widely criticised: the United States called the proceedings "outrageous", Britain's Gordon Brown said he was "deeply troubled", and a long list of Nobel Laureates and human rights activists have gathered together to demand Mrs Suu Kyi's unconditional release.

      And countries which have traditionally been reluctant to be too critical of the Burmese government, many of them Asian neighbours, have joined in the criticism.

      The Association of South East Asian Nations, an influential regional grouping of which Burma is a member, has voiced rare concern, provoking a sharp reaction from the Burmese authorities.

      "It is not political, it is not a human rights issue. So we don't accept pressure and interference from abroad," Maung Mynt, Burma's deputy foreign minister told ministers gathered for an Asia-Europe Meeting in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Thursday.

      But most outside observers say that Mrs Suu Kyi's treatment only makes sense when seen through the lens of Burma's internal politics.

      Diplomats say that even China, Burma's biggest trading partner and most influential ally, is privately unhappy with the government's decision to put Mrs Suu Kyi on trial, although it is holding fast to its policy of non-intervention in public.

      Security 'didn't stop' Yettaw visit - Naw Say Phaw
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 28 May 2009

      Soldiers guarding Aung San Suu Kyi's house knew of John Yettaw entering the compound earlier this month and did little to prevent it, Yettaw told the courtroom yesterday.

      Burma's opposition leader is on trial for harbouring the US citizen who swam to her compound earlier this month where she is held under house arrest.

      Suu Kyi told the courtroom yesterday that the breach of security that allowed Yettaw into the house was the fault of authorities charged with guarding her compound, and not Suu Kyi.

      Yettaw yesterday added substance to this argument with claims that he had passed a number of soldiers en route to the compound.

      "He said, on his second visit, he was seen by about four to five soldiers on his way into her compound," said lawyer Nyan Win.

      "They were carrying guns with them but they didn't do anything to stop him from approaching the house, apart from throwing some stones at him."

      It was the second time Yettaw had visited Suu Kyi's house, the last occasion being in November 2008 when he also swam across Lake Inya.

      On both occasions he said he was "on a mission from God" to warn Suu Kyi and the Burmese government that a plot was being hatched by terrorists to assassinate Suu Kyi and pin the blame on the government.

      "He said he was only here to warn us, as God told him to and that he loves Burmese people and has respect to the Burmese Police who are very well disciplined.

      Global economic crisis reaches Myanmar
      Wall Street Journal: Thu 28 May 2009

      With one of the world's most insular economies and a financial system that's largely cut off from the outside world, Myanmar would seem to have relatively little to fear from the recent global economic crisis.

      But as the country's military junta wraps up its trial of dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, conditions on the ground show a different reality. Key parts of the economy, including agriculture and tourism, are reeling, and business in the commercial center of Yangon is as depressed as it's been in years, residents and economists say. Credit has dried up, remittance income is falling, and thousands of migrant workers are returning from abroad at a time when jobs are unusually scarce.

      "People don't have money these days, and if they do have it, they don't spend it," says Kyi Kyi Win, a saleswoman at a clothing store filled with cheap shirts, pants and brand-name knockoffs a short drive from Ms. Suu Kyi's lakeside residence. Last year, she says, the shop was selling US$300 to US$400 in merchandise a day, but now it's selling less than US$100 a day.

      Myanmar's economic health is especially critical now, as discontent over the fate of Ms. Suu Kyi spreads. The 63-year-old Nobel laureate is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest, imposed by the government six years ago, by allowing an American well-wisher to visit her residence without state approval. Some residents hope the court decision - which is widely expected to find her guilty, potentially resulting in a prison sentence of up to five years - could ignite protests and destabilize a regime that has ruled the resource-rich nation since the 1960s.

      There's little indication of serious unrest now, with many residents afraid of a military crackdown if they express discontent. On Thursday, several hundred people gathered peacefully near the prison where Ms. Suu Kyi is on trial, while police vehicles continued to move throughout the city.

      But circumstances could change if the verdict against Ms. Suu Kyi is seen as particularly harsh. Ms. Suu Kyi is widely viewed as Myanmar's most legitimate leader after her political organization, the National League for Democracy, won Myanmar's last elections in 1990; the government ignored the results.

      Economic distress has played a key role in past unrest. The last major protests in September 2007, which were brutally crushed by the military, were ignited largely by a sharp rise in fuel costs. Similar unrest in 1988 came after years of disastrous socialist economic policies that left residents desperate for reform.

      Myanmar's economy has long suffered from high unemployment, minimal foreign investment and crumbling infrastructure. The local banking system collapsed in 2003, with 20 or more private banks closing shop after a run on deposits, and it has yet to fully recover. With few successful domestic industries, the country must rely heavily on sales of natural gas, timber and other commodities to the few countries that continue to do significant business with the regime, notably China, Thailand and India. U.S. and European sanctions have prevented all but a few Western companies from operating there.

      But commodity prices have collapsed over the past year, and with few links to external capital markets, Myanmar is unable to raise cash for new lending.

      Conditions in Yangon are especially difficult. Fewer than 300,000 of its six million residents have mobile phones, power blackouts are becoming more common and taxis are so old that the road is sometimes visible from holes in the floorboards. Abandoned colonial buildings rot in the monsoon weather, with vines growing out of broken red-brick windows.

      "Ask every shop, every entrepreneur, and they will tell you business is bad," says one local economist who used to teach at a Yangon university and now runs an economic journal. His publication is attracting only $200 to $300 in advertisements a week, he says, compared to $700 to $800 before the global economic meltdown.

      Myanmar doesn't provide timely economic information and rarely communicates with the foreign media. Official data indicates the economy grew 10% or more per year since 2000, but private analysts including the Asian Development Bank say such data is likely exaggerated, with actual growth probably less than half the government's estimates and headed even lower this year.

      The situation isn't all bad. Lower commodity prices have helped ease inflation, which hit 30% in recent years, and weaker demand for imported goods has improved the country's trade balance, boosting the local currency, the kyat. Some shops that cater to the small wealthy elite in Myanmar, such as computer dealers, report that business is holding up well.

      The government's finances are also in relatively good shape. With the help of natural gas revenues - including $2 billion in annual supplies to Thailand - the government has more than $3 billion in foreign exchange reserves, and it has significantly improved tax collection, the ADB says.

      But natural gas revenues have fallen by as much as 50% this year, says Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Macquarie University in Sydney. And the past year has been a disaster for agriculture, which accounts for roughly 45% of Myanmar's gross domestic product.

      Cyclone Nargis, which killed 135,000 people in May 2008, wiped out much of the equipment and livestock in Myanmar's vital southern rice bowl, and many indebted families have been unable to replace it. Prices for beans, the country's other key farm crop with sizable exports to India, fell dramatically earlier this year, and a lack of rural credit has left farmers unable to raise money for new plantings.

      Kyi Thein, a farmer north of Yangon, says he's thinking of selling off his last two acres of land if conditions don't improve soon. He sold his other four acres earlier after bad weather cut his yields and made farming unprofitable.

      Tourism is suffering, too. Until a few years ago, it was seen as a promising new source of income for Myanmar, employing 500,000 people or more. But arrivals have declined since 2006, according to local media reports and travel agencies, especially after the 2007 protests, Cyclone Nargis, and now the global economic crisis and Ms. Suu Kyi's trial, which has scared off travelers who fear political strife.

      "Everything is frozen" since the trial began, says Aung Min Thein, a driver who ferries tourists to Yangon's golden temples and monasteries. Zaw Gyi, who performs similar services in the ancient Myanmar city of Bagan, says he's now working just 10 days a month, compared with 25 days in earlier years.

      Another big problem is falling remittance income. As many as two million Myanmar citizens live overseas, economists say, sending back hundreds of millions of dollars each year that families use for food and other necessities.

      Mr. Turnell at Macquarie University says recent surveys have indicated a 30% drop in remittances from Thailand - a primary destination for Myanmar workers — since last year.

      In other cases, workers are coming home after striking out overseas. Kyaw Zaw, 29, says he recently spent two months in Singapore looking for a job, but with the economy there in free-fall, "there was nothing," he says.

      Now he's in Yangon trying to run his own business, which involves renting books to residents for about 20 cents a day. But it's hard to make a profit, he says, in part because there's no way to raise capital to buy new books and magazines.

      Chevron determined to retain investments in Burma - Solomon
      Mizzima News: Thu 28 May 2009

      Chevron Corps has made it abundantly clear that it will not pull out of Burma but would retain its investments for compelling business reasons, and even if they do withdraw they will be replaced by other competitors.

      Chevron's stance was in response to a query by Mizzima regarding the company shareholder's proposal to disclose the criteria it uses to start and end investments in high-risk countries particularly Burma.

      The proposal by, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, an advocacy group for workers, to Chevron to disclose its criteria to decide on starting investments in a country, was supported by more than 25 per cent of the company's share holders on Wednesday.

      Teamsters (IBT) said the shareholders support indicates that there is growing concern among investors on Chevron's investments in Burma.

      In 2005 Chevron began investing in Burma after taking over the shares from another US Oil company UNOCAL, joining Total of France and PTTEP of Thailand in its investments on exploration of oil and natural gas.

      Human rights activists, however, have severely condemned Chevron and urged it to pull out of Burma saying its business involvement provides a financial lifeline to the Burmese military regime, which is well-known for its appalling human rights violations.

      "We are pleased that other Chevron shareholders recognize the enormous legal, financial, political and risks to reputation associated with operating in Burma and are demanding increased disclosure on how these decisions are made," Thomas Keegel, General Secretary-Treasurer of the Teamsters said in a statement released on Wednesday.

      But Gareth Johnstone, Chevron Corps' Media Advisor for Asia Pacific, told Mizzima in an email interview, "We do not disclose our investments on a country-by-country basis."

      He said, Chevron maintains health and social programmes that improve the quality of life of communities in Burma, where it operates.

      "The benefits of Yadana projects community engagement programmes along the pipeline have been confirmed by multiple third-party audits," Johnstone added.

      Chevron intends to be "a force for positive change" and brings international experience and a sound approach to corporate responsibility in working with communities, he said.

      "People living near the project are better off by virtue of Chevron and its partners being there," he said.

      Johnstone also said, even if Chevron pulls out of Burma "many competitors would take Chevron's place - potentially impacting the commitment and level of CE/CR activities along with programmes and opportunities for the people of Myanmar [Burma]."

      But Naing Htoo, a Burmese environmental activist, working with the Earth Rights International said, the Yadana project has brought in militarization along the pipeline and evidence speaks of severe human rights violations committed by the soldiers.

      He said, as the Burmese Army is responsible for protecting the pipeline, an increasing number of army battalions have been moved along the pipeline in Karen and Mon states of southern Burma.

      Rights abuses such as forced labour, land confiscation, forced relocation, rape, torture, and extra-judicial killings have increased in these states since 1992, he added.

      Though the Burmese regime earns over US$ 900 million from the Yadana project from 2007, the money fills the coffers of the military and is never spent on development or social welfare programmes.

      He said, while the benefits go to the military regime, the locals pay a heavy price for the pipeline and therefore urged the company to pull out of Burma.

      Editing by Mungpi

      Europe, ASEAN press Myanmar on Suu Kyi - Patrick Falby
      Agence France Presse: Thu 28 May 2009

      Asian and European foreign ministers urged Myanmar Thursday to free all political prisoners, as the country's ruling junta said the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi was neither a political nor a rights issue.

      Delegates in the Cambodian capital said the issue loomed over the agenda during two days of wide-ranging talks between ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU).

      "We are still deeply concerned about Mrs. Suu Kyi's detention," said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

      "She should be released immediately and the Burmese government must enter dialogue with all political parties," he added, using the military-ruled country's former name.

      The meetings concluded with a joint EU-ASEAN statement calling on Myanmar to grant early release to all political prisoners and lift restrictions on political parties.

      Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail on charges of breaching her house arrest after an eccentric American man swam to her lakeside house in Yangon.

      However Myanmar's deputy foreign minister Maung Myint told Asian and European ministers at the meeting in Phnom Penh that the charges against the pro-democracy icon were an "internal legal issue".

      "It is not political, it is not a human rights issue. So we don't accept pressure and interference from abroad," he told his counterparts.

      "I expect that the excellencies from abroad, especially the EU, can understand more about Myanmar," he said.

      The minister's remarks on live video appeared to have been accidentally broadcast to reporters at the press centre outside the closed-door meetings.

      Although the statement was the strongest yet from the Myanmar regime, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Myanmar had merely reiterated its "principle of non-interference" during meetings.

      "I think the minister of Myanmar did state what we know already," Kasit told reporters.

      Despite the controversy, the EU and European Commission used the meetings to sign an agreement to join a treaty of amity and cooperation with ASEAN.

      Kohout called Thursday "a very important meeting" in which the two blocs agreed to a "road map" towards cooperating on issues ranging from the global financial crisis, to human trafficking, to climate change.

      Myanmar has long bedevilled relations between the regions.

      ASEAN ministers in an informal meeting Wednesday also confronted Myanmar on its treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi.

      The group traditionally refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of its members, but issued a rare rebuke to Myanmar last week over the detention of the Nobel laureate.

      "The discussion in the room back there was that it (the issue of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners)… affects ASEAN's image and ASEAN's collective interests," ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan said late Wednesday.

      Myanmar's rights abuses, along with North Korea's recent nuclear test, dominated much of the agenda earlier this week during similar meetings between Asian and EU ministers in Vietnam.

      They issued a statement in Hanoi calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in Myanmar.

      Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention for 13 of the past 19 years since her National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in 1990 polls but was not allowed to take power.

      Q+A: Suu Kyi trial heads to inevitable verdict - Darren Schuettler
      Reuters: Thu 28 May 2009

      The world is again raising the volume over military-ruled Myanmar and its latest crackdown on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Here are questions and answers about the Nobel laureate's trial, which entered its ninth day on Thursday:


      Suu Kyi is accused of breaking the terms of her house arrest by allowing an uninvited American intruder to stay for two days after he swam across a small lake to her home on May 4.

      She is charged under Section 22 of the Law Safeguarding the State from the Dangers of Subversive Elements.

      It says "any person against whom action is taken, who opposes, resists, or disobeys any order passed under this Law shall be liable to imprisonment for a period of three years to five years, or a fine of up to 5,000 kyats, or both."

      Suu Kyi's lawyers say Section 22 is no longer valid because it is based on a 1974 constitution abolished years ago.

      Her two housemates, Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, are charged under the same law, and Section 109 of the Penal Code for abetting, or helping others commit a crime.

      John Yettaw, the American who swam to her home, faces three charges. He is accused of violating Section 22, the Immigration Act, and a municipal law that bans swimming in Inya Lake.


      The regime says the closed prison trial is going "according to the law" and is not "political." But Myanmar's justice system has a history of stretching laws to suit the generals after nearly a half century of army rule.

      In Suu Kyi's case, the judges agreed to hear only one defense witness, but heard 14 from the prosecution. Before the trial began, the license of a prominent lawyer on her defense team was revoked. Her lawyers say access to their client is restricted.

      Critics say the "spurious" charges are aimed at jailing Suu Kyi before the junta's promised election next year. Her party won an election in 1990 only to be denied power by the military.

      Many other opponents have been locked up ahead of 2010.

      Her lawyers are hopeful for an acquittal, but the court is widely expected to deliver a guilty verdict.


      The Nobel laureate and daughter of independence hero Aung San is Myanmar's most charismatic political figure, despite spending more than 13 of the past 19 years in detention.

      The generals have not forgotten that during those brief periods when she was free, Suu Kyi resumed her pro-democracy campaigning, drawing huge crowds on tours outside Yangon.

      "They clearly decided some time ago that it was not possible to do business with her," Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador to neighboring Thailand, wrote recently.

      Junta leader Than Shwe's personal dislike for Suu Kyi is said to be so intense he once walked out of a meeting with a foreign ambassador simply because the envoy uttered her name.


      Suu Kyi's supporters gather daily outside the police-ringed Insein prison, but there have been no major protests.

      People remember when serious demonstrations happened before, such as the bloody crackdown on monk-led pro-democracy marches in 2007 in which at least 31 people were killed. There was no unrest last year when the paranoid regime initially resisted badly-needed foreign aid for the cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta.

      "People will be angry at the verdict, but they won't go into the streets," said an exiled Burmese analyst.

      However, "if something happened to her during this process, or in Insein prison, then I think all bets are off," said Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Australia's Macquarie University.


      Not much. Despite daily denunciations, renewed sanctions and threats of more punitive measures, the generals are unmoved.

      The trial has reignited a debate over sanctions, with calls for better coordinated and targeted "smart" measures against the junta brass and their cronies.

      Opponents of sanctions argue they are largely symbolic, sometimes hit the wrong targets, and ineffective without buy-in from regional heavyweights China and India.

      Activists say the West should push Beijing to exert its influence on Myanmar, which gets Chinese military hardware and loans in exchange for energy concessions to Chinese firms.

      Others say China will never get tough with its "client state" and a new approach is needed. But there's no agreement on how.


      Myanmar's partners in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have tried to coax reforms from the generals for the past decade and failed. Repeated calls for Suu Kyi's release are ignored, as are efforts to "engage" the junta.

      ASEAN admits the trial has hurt its image, and fears its stubborn member will damage their relations with the West, but the group is far from expelling the generals as some wish.

      However, the trial is a major test of the new ASEAN Charter and its commitment to rule of law, human rights and freedoms.

      Analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak said it would be a "travesty" if the group failed to take "concrete punitive steps to redress the junta's blatant violation of the ASEAN Charter's provisions."

      (Editing by Alex Richardson)

      NLD issues list of demands to junta - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Wed 27 May 2009

      Burma's opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), marked the 19th anniversary of its election victory by issuing a statement to the Burmese military government with a list of political demands.

      Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, party spokesperson Ohn Kyaing confirmed that the NLD had demanded that the junta:

      • unconditionally releases all political prisoners, including NLD party leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo;
      • sets proper conditions for political dialogue;
      • allow the reopening of NLD offices across the country;
      • allows free election campaigning;
      • accepts the registration of political parties (including ethnic parties) that were banned after they won seats in the 1990 election.

      The National League of Democracy headquarters in Rangoon. (Photo: AP)

      The NLD pointed out in the statement that the Burmese military regime had broken the 1990 election law that required that parliament would be formed of parliamentarians elected in the 1990 national election.

      The party further contended that the military government had previously accepted that the national convention would be made up of elected members of parliament (MPs). However, in the 1993 national convention, only 107 members out of 702 representatives at the convention were MPs - just 15.2 percent of the Burmese people's representatives. The others were hand-picked by the junta.

      The five-page statement also claimed that when the military junta reconvened the national convention in 2004, only 13 elected MPs out of 1,086 representatives were invited - a mere one percent of democratically elected representatives.

      The NLD, led by detained leader Suu Kyi, won the 1990 national election with a landslide 82 percent of votes, but were never allowed to take office.

      Also on Wednesday, the NLD released another statement on behalf of Suu Kyi. Link to that story: http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=15746

      The NLD marked the 19th anniversary of its election victory at its party headquarters in Rangoon at 12 o'clock noon on Wednesday. The event was attended by party members, MPs, representatives from allied ethnic parties, veteran politicians and Rangoon-based diplomats.

      Several dozen members of the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and Swan Arr Shin were stationed around the NLD headquarters in Bahan Township, but no trouble was reported.

      "They [USDA and Swan-Arh-Shin] are waiting in three trucks on the street," said a local resident in Bahan Township, "while plain-clothes policemen are coming and going around the NLD headquarters."

      Meanwhile, Asian and European Union foreign ministers made a joint-statement during a two-day meeting in Hanoi on Tuesday, calling on the Burmese junta to release detained political prisoners, as international pressure mounts on the regime over its trial and detention of Suu Kyi.

      In their statement, the foreign ministers called on Burma to prepare for and conduct elections scheduled for next year in a free and fair manner and encouraged the military government to engage all stakeholders in an inclusive process in order to achieve national reconciliation, and economic and social development.

      Burma's opposition grimly protests military government - Tom Johnston
      Washington Post: Wed 27 May 2009

      For Burma's beleaguered opposition, Wednesday marked a series of grim anniversaries: 19 years since the vote in which democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi led her party to a victory the military refused to recognize, and six years since she was last free.

      Suu Kyi is on trial in Rangoon's Insein prison on charges that she breached the terms of her house arrest after a U.S. citizen swam to her lakeside home and stayed overnight there.

      About 250 supporters of her National League for Democracy gathered outside the party's dilapidated headquarters in Rangoon on Wednesday, despite a significantly heavier-than-usual police presence on the streets. The group released birds and prayed for Suu Kyi and other jailed opposition figures.

      "We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners," Ohn Kyaing, an opposition member, told the crowd.

      The gathering was a stark contrast to May 27, 1990, when jubilant crowds believed the opposition had unseated the military government. But it soon became clear that the army was not willing to hand over the reins of power.

      Suu Kyi's challenge to the army provoked a crackdown that resulted in her spending almost 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest. Her party has been reduced to a shell by arrests and intimidation as the military consolidated power.

      Suu Kyi and two housekeepers charged with her could face up to five years in prison if they are found guilty. Her uninvited visitor, John Yettaw, who says he wanted to warn her that he had had a vision and believed her life was in danger, could face seven years in prison if he is convicted of immigration offenses and entering a restricted zone.

      Supporters of Suu Kyi, 63, say that if she is forced to spend five years in the notoriously unsanitary conditions of Insein prison, her life could indeed be in danger. They say Burmese authorities are using Yettaw's visit as an excuse to keep her locked up until after elections they have scheduled for next year.

      In a statement to the court Tuesday, Suu Kyi said the incident "occurred because of a security breach" by authorities.

      "However, until now no action has been taken on security," she said, apparently referring to the security officers the government has stationed at her home.

      She has denied knowing in advance about Yettaw's plans but said she did not notify the authorities because she was trying to protect him.

      "My political colleagues are serving long prison terms without any consideration or protection from the law," she said in the statement. "I allowed him to take temporary refuge in my political belief that I will not push anyone into custody."

      "It does not matter who are the intruders or whatever their motive, I just did it out of my political belief."

      On Wednesday, the court rejected three of four witnesses her defense team wanted to testify, calling their testimony an attempt at "vexation or delay or for defeating the ends of justice," the Associated Press reported.

      Jailing Suu Kyi again 'not good for region': Thai FM - Supalak Ganjanakhundee
      The Nation (Thailand): Wed 27 May 2009

      Jailing Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi again could risk regional security, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said yesterday in defending Thailand's decision to issue an Asean chairman's statement on the issue as made with the "best of intentions".

      "It is worrisome that the trial to extend her detention would not be a good thing for the region," Kasit told reporters on the sidelines of the Asia Europe Meeting in Hanoi.

      Burma could not protest that Suu Kyi's case would not affect regional security. As long as there was instability there, it could affect the whole region, he said.

      Thailand as the current chair of Asean would continue to dialogue with Burma although the junta regarded the move as intervention in the country's internal affairs, he said.

      Many countries welcomed and praised Thailand's brave decision to respond to the situation, he said.

      "What we said (in the chairman's statement) is not different from what the Asean leaders had voiced in concern during the summit in Thailand," he said.

      The foreign ministers of Asean would discuss the situation in Burma and Suu Kyi's trial again when they meet in Phnom Penh from May 27-28, he said.

      Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as the chair of Asean issued a statement on May 18 expressing "grave concern" over Suu Kyi's situation as she faced a trial in connection with American John Yettaw, who swam across the Inya Lake to her residence where she has been under custody since May 2003.

      Suu Kyi testified at a court in Rangoon yesterday that she did not violate the terms of her house arrest when she temporarily sheltered the American man.

      The Burmese junta has lashed out the Asean chairman's statement, saying it was not in conformity with Asean practice, incorrect in facts and interference in Burma's internal affairs.

      The junta has "sadly noted" that Thailand had "failed to preserve the dignity of Asean, the dignity of Burma and the dignity of Thailand".

      The Foreign Ministry yesterday issued a clarification, saying the issuance of the Asean chairman statement was a "similar action [that] had been taken before".

      Asean senior officials had discussed and expressed their views on May 18 when they met in Phuket and agreed that Thailand should issue a statement about recent developments concerning Suu Kyi and to inform Asean foreign ministers accordingly, said the Foreign Ministry's press statement.

      In practice, a joint Asean statement is a negotiated text that must be prepared by officials and approved by foreign ministers or leaders.

      "An Asean chairman's statement, however, is issued by the government which is the current chair of Asean, without the need for joint drafting by Asean officials," it said.

      End Burma's system of impunity - Paulo Sergio Pinheiro
      New York Times: Wed 27 May 2009

      The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has spent 13 years under house arrest in Myanmar. This week, the Burmese junta is likely to extend her detention for up to five years under the trumped-up charge of allowing a visitor into her compound.

      During eight years as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, I repeatedly called on the Burmese junta to release Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's 2,100 other political prisoners, to no avail. It is imperative that she be released immediately for the country's process of reconciliation to move forward.

      But while Suu Kyi has deservedly received a great deal of international attention over the past two decades, Myanmar's ethnic minorities — more than one-third of the population  -  have suffered without international outcry. For Myanmar's process of national reconciliation to be successful, the plight of the minorities must also be addressed.

      Over the past 15 years, the Burmese Army has destroyed over 3,300 villages in a systematic and widespread campaign to subjugate ethnic groups. U.N. reports indicate that Burmese soldiers have frequently recruited child soldiers, used civilians as minesweepers and forced thousands of villagers into slave labor.

      An official policy of impunity has empowered soldiers to rape and pillage. According to one account, in December 2008 a Burmese soldier marched into an ethnic Karen village in eastern Myanmar and abducted, raped and killed a 7-year old girl. Authorities refused to arrest the soldier; instead, officers threatened the parents with punishment if they did not accept a cash bribe to keep quiet.

      In 2002, I received a report about 625 women who were systematically raped in Myanmar 's Shan State over a five-year period. There was not a single account of successful prosecution.

      I repeatedly documented the military's many abuses in reports to the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. My work is only one example of U.N. efforts in Myanmar  -  since 1990, U.N. representatives have visited the country 37 times in an attempt to facilitate dialogue and promote human rights.

      They have exhausted all domestic and diplomatic remedies without achieving human rights protection and national reconciliation in Myanmar. And while the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Council have passed over 35 resolutions regarding Myanmar, the U.N. Security Council has yet to pass a single one. The United Nations will not be successful until the Security Council acts to directly address our stagnant efforts.

      It is clear that the attacks in Myanmar will continue. It is equally evident that the country's domestic legal system will not punish those perpetrating crimes against ethnic minorities.

      It is time for the United Nations to take the next logical step: The Security Council must establish a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity and impunity in Myanmar. The Security Council took similar steps with regard to Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The situation in Myanmar is equally as critical.

      Creating a commission of inquiry will accomplish three important goals:

      First, it will make the junta accountable for its crimes with a potential indictment by the International Criminal Court. Second, it will address the widespread culture of impunity in Burma. Third, it has the potential to deter future crimes against humanity in Myanmar.

      For two decades, ethnic minorities in Myanmar have suffered while our diplomatic efforts failed to bear fruit. The time has come for the Security Council to act.

      Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar from 2000 to 2008.

      China drawn into Myanmar's border strife - Brian McCartan
      Asia Times: Wed 27 May 2009

      While the world concentrates on the trial of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for violating the terms of her house arrest, another drama is playing out on Myanmar's northern border with China. Here the junta is bullying ethnic ceasefire groups into transforming their armies into border guard militias in a move that threatens to plunge the north back into civil war. Beijing is avoiding involvement in the Suu Kyi drama, but in northern Myanmar, it has no choice.

      On April 28, simultaneous meetings were held between Myanmar military commanders and representatives of every major ethnic ceasefire army in the north and northeast of the country.

      In Myitkyina, Brigadier General Soe Win, the Northern Command commander met with leaders of the Kachin Independence

      Organization/Army (KIO/A), and the National Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K). The Shan State Army (North) (SSA-N) met with Major General Aung Than Htut, Northeastern Command commander, in Lashio, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) met with Brigadier General Win Maung and meetings were held with the National Democratic Alliance Army (Eastern Shan State) (NDAA-ESS). Most importantly, Lieutenant-General Ye Myint met with the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Tangyan, eastern Shan State.

      The ethnic insurgents were all given the same three options: surrender, become a border guard force under the Myanmar army, or elderly leaders must retire and establish a political party to contest the 2010 elections.

      Under the military regime's plan as outlined to the groups on April 28, the ethnic armies would be incorporated into the Myanmar army as a border guard force in their respective areas. Each group must submit a full inventory of manpower, weapons and units and a list of members who would be retired.

      Battalions would be set at 326 men and officers with at least 30 coming from the Myanmar army. Command of each battalion would be split between two ethnic officers and one army officer. The military says it will assume responsibility for salaries and benefits on the same level as regular soldiers. A six-month time frame was given for the transformation. Three levels of committees which would oversee the process are dominated by senior Myanmar army officers with almost no participation by ethnic insurgent officers.

      Ethnic representatives said they would have to consult their respective leaderships to which the Myanmar officers gave an end of June deadline for a reply.

      On May 20, the UWSA rejected Ye Myint's proposal, saying they would prefer to maintain their current ceasefire status, although they would consider the idea in the future. Myanmar-watchers believe that the other groups will follow the UWSA's lead and the MNDAA, NDAA and SSA-N have reportedly rejected the proposal.

      The ceasefire groups say that although this is a change from the previous demands for "exchanging arms for peace", it is still not enough.

      At issue for the ethnic groups is the lack of guarantees for autonomy in their areas under Myanmar's new constitution approved in a controversial May 2008 referendum. Although the constitution allots six townships to be designated as Wa Self-Administered Divisions, Bao Youxiang, chairman of the UWSA, said in a speech on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the founding of his organization on April 17, "The government of Myanmar has finally enfranchised the Wa ethnic region with the status of an autonomous prefecture, which doesn't fully satisfy our request."

      The Wa have been using the term "Wa government" in their official documents since late 2008, but the junta has yet to respond to a Wa request to review the constitution and identify the area as the Wa State government special region.

      The Kachin groups have claimed in the past that they will not give up their arms since their demands for autonomy for Kachin State were ignored during the national convention which drafted the new constitution. A Kachin State Progressive Party was formed earlier this year separate from the KIO/A and NDA-K to contest the 2010 elections.

      Handing over control of their armed wings to the Myanmar army would separate them from the political leadership - a move that finds little support in an area where power often comes from the barrel of a gun. After over 40 years of armed struggle, none of the groups is keen to relinquish the armed forces which they see as protecting the areas for which that they have fought so hard. It could also mean losing control over the lucrative trade in timber, jade, gems, drugs and arms.

      Reports from Shan State and Kachin State reported by the exile Shan Herald Agency for News and the Kachin News Group indicate that there is little support for the junta's proposal. For many it is seen as a total disregard for the ethnic groups' calls for greater autonomy and democracy - the two issues that sparked the insurgency in northern Myanmar in the first place.

      The threat of a resumption of hostilities in northern and northeastern Myanmar is no small affair and many of the groups have been preparing for that eventuality. The KIO/A claims to have 20,000 soldiers as well as a militia and sources close to the Kachin say there has been increased recruitment and training in recent years. The NDAA, MNDAA and SSA-N each have several thousand men under arms.

      The UWSA is by far the largest ethnic army in Myanmar with some 25,000 men. It has acquired more sophisticated weapons - much of it from China - including, according to a March 2008 Jane's Intelligence Review report, anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles such as the Chinese HN-5N. Sources close to the Wa say that they have also acquired 120mm howitzers and 130mm field artillery and training from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) in how to use them.

      In a move for self-sufficiency, the Wa have even established an arms and ammunition manufacturing plant in their territory. Weapons have become so plentiful they the group has apparently been acting as brokers or selling directly to other insurgent groups in Myanmar and in northeastern India.

      Tensions have already been growing between the government and the ceasefire groups. Relations between the two suffered a heavy blow when Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, the former spy chief and architect of the ceasefires, was arrested in 2004 and his military intelligence apparatus largely dismantled. In December 2008, Major General Kyaw Phyoe, the Golden Triangle commander in Myanmar's northeast, ordered the UWSA to disarm. The Wa ignored the order and in January forced Ye Myint and his delegation to disarm before entering Wa territory to hold discussions with the UWSA.

      China is Myanmar's biggest supporter, but it is also highly influential with the ceasefire groups in northern and northeastern Myanmar. None of the groups would survive long without China's patronage. China's relations with many of the groups go back to its support of the Burmese Communist Party (BCP) in the 1970s. Beijing later cut off its support for the BCP in the 1980s, a situation that contributed to the 1989 mutiny that saw the dissolution of the BCP and the formation of many of the present ethnic armies including the UWSA, MNDAA and NDAA.

      Concern over the stability of Myanmar and its military regime as well as the reality that the successor groups to the BCP as well as the KIA control most of the Myanmar-China border led Beijing to maintain ties with the groups. For the ethnic organizations, this has meant access to Chinese weaponry as well as Chinese development aid and investment in roads, hydropower projects, agricultural projects and cross-border trade.

      What the groups provide in exchange is a buffer zone from possible instability as a result of the policies of Myanmar's erratic rulers. In addition, the UWSA and other groups which have become notorious for narcotics production and trafficking, have agreed to ban opium cultivation in their territories and curb the heroin trade to China. Instead, much of the heroin and methamphetamines they produce is transported to Thailand and increasingly to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

      Beijing, however, has also moved closer to Myanmar's military rulers once it became clear in the early 1980s that a communist takeover was not likely. China has become Myanmar's greatest arms supplier and has blocked attempts by Western countries to bring the Myanmar issue before the United Nations Security Council. Despite growing international furor over the arrest and continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, Beijing has made it clear it does not want to get involved.

      Yet, this support is not absolute. Following the crackdown on demonstrators in 2007, China encouraged Myanmar's generals to move toward national reconciliation. In December 2008, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi urged Myanmar's ruler, Senior General Than Shwe, to honor the UN's request for an inclusive political process. Most recently, during a visit by Myanmar General Tin Aye to China in April, PLA chief of staff Chen Bingde told him China hoped its southern neighbor could attain stability, economic development and national reconciliation.

      In addition, say some analysts of the China-Myanmar border, Beijing is waiting to see which way US policy will go on Myanmar. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in February that there would be a review of US policy on Myanmar.

      Under the George W Bush administration, there was increased interest in the plight of Myanmar's ethnic groups. Several members of the US Congress protested at the gross human-rights abuses committed by the Myanmar army in the border areas against ethnic civilians, especially after a report by the Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN) detailing the systematic use of rape in Shan State by the Myanmar army was released in 2001.

      American aid to refugee camps and programs along the Thai-Myanmar border was increased. Ethnic representatives were brought to the US to brief members of congress and Charm Tong, chairwoman of SWAN, met with Bush in 2005. Should the US decide to provide more support to the ethnic groups, China may want to continue or even increase its support as a counterbalance.

      Shan State, however, remains problematic for the US due to the drug trade. In 2005, the US Justice Department indicted several leaders of the UWSA, including offering a US$2 million reward for Wei Hsueh-Kang, perhaps Myanmar's most notorious drug trafficker. The State Department's annual report on narcotics trafficking in 2008 said the UWSA remained the dominant heroin trafficking group in the region and the Treasury Department in November called the UWSA the most powerful drug trafficking organization in Southeast Asia. The US has rejected several previous proposals from groups in Shan State, including the UWSA, going back to 1973 to exchange an end to the drug trade for assistance against the government and development aid.

      Beijing's influence over the ceasefire groups means, should it decide it is in its best interests, it could force them to acquiesce to the junta's demands, transform their armies into border militias and join the electoral process. This, however, is not likely to happen as China's interests for the moment are better served by keeping the status quo.

      China's main interest is stability in Myanmar that allows its strategic and economic interests to remain unthreatened. In addition to its economic activities in the ethnic ceasefire areas, China has become intensely involved in mining and last year beat out India for the 30-year rights to an oil and gas concession off Myanmar's southwestern coast.

      Of perhaps more importance is Myanmar's strategic position as a gateway for trade from China's remote Yunnan province and as a transit point for oil and gas through a recently agreed pipeline project that will allow China to receive oil and gas without having to send its tankers through the easily blocked Malacca Straits.

      The greatest threat to those interests would be the resumption of civil war in northern Myanmar, which would result in the destruction of border trade zones, the creation of a huge refugee population and the blockage of important routes for trade, natural resources and the new oil and gas pipeline. Most Myanmar analysts believe that any attempt by the government to force the ceasefire groups to surrender or put their military wings under the control of the Myanmar army would be met with force.

      The May 20 decision of the UWSA to reject the proposal would not likely have been made without consultation with the Chinese and this creates a dilemma for Myanmar's generals. Should they force the ceasefire groups to obey and risk renewed fighting and angering China, or back off on one of the key steps on the roadmap to democracy?

      Ye Myint has offered to return to UWSA headquarters at Panghsang on the Chinese border to discuss the matter further. The Wa have apparently accepted the offer, but a date has yet to be set.

      Burmese people need outside help to achieve freedom - Dr. Thaung Htun
      The Nation (Thailand): Wed 27 May 2009

      CASE 47/2009 sounds mundane enough. But, as this case unfolds, the future of a nation is in the balance. The number is the file reference of Aung San Suu Kyi's trial in Insein Prison in Rangoon, which started on May 18. The entire world knows the charges are trumped up and that the military regime is simply seeking to find a neat means of locking up the democracy leader again. Yet, inexplicably, we watch as the trial goes on. Here is a moment when the international community must pause and consider the history that is unfurling around it. Now is the time for world governments and organizations to act and to end the 47-year-long military dictatorship in Burma.

      The facts are that Aung San Suu Kyi's period of house detention was due to come to an end on May 27. This period of incarceration should be deemed illegal not only in relation to international law, but in contravention of Burma's own legal statutes and by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. So, finding a "legal" means of locking up Aung San Suu Kyi again, and to deny her any connection with elections planned in 2010, became an imperative for the junta.

      It is also a sign that the Burmese military is panicking as international pressure mounts for Aung San Suu Kyi's release. This trial is a rash and hurried lurch by a jittery regime to temper the waves of outcry over its hardline approach.

      International inaction might be understandable, but not perhaps justified, if we were talking about a tiny nation on the margins of regional and global relations. Burma is none of these things. With a population of some 50 million, it is potentially one of Asia's richest and most go-ahead countries. Traditionally high literacy rates and high rates of English-language competency add to its potential. Burma is also positioned in a strategically vital area, nestled between India and China.

      Quite apart from the moral imperative, there is a significant strategic motivation to secure democracy in Burma. The possibility of "failed state" status - a categorization that may already apply - for such a strategically and economically important nation should focus even the mind of the most Realpolitik-enamored policy wonk. The regional implications alone are significant.

      The international community must approach this current crisis with both short-term and longer-term agendas in mind.

      First, and most pressingly, the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi, along with the remaining 2,000-plus political prisoners in Burma, must be secured.

      The best means of doing this will likely be through an immediate visit to Burma by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and action to which he has already committed. Intervening in this way would be a powerful symbol, and few share his ability to directly defuse the current tensions and to facilitate a multi-party dialogue to lead towards a process of national reconciliation of all relevant parties.

      This action would be best empowered through an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council. Here, a presidential statement can mobilize the Secretary-General's Office and can also discuss initiatives for a medium-term international response to the current situation and beyond.

      Once the immediate crisis has been resolved, the international community will then have to consider the future of Burma.

      The National League for Democracy, the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has been clear that it aims for reconciliation not retribution. Recently, the NLD produced the Shwegondaing Declaration, which confirmed the party's belief in ensuring that the military is part of the process of national rebuilding.

      No democracy can take root amid the turmoil of revenge and power grabs. A long-term solution requires a mature view and, driven by the non-violent and conciliatory approach of Aung San Suu Kyi herself, Burma's democracy movement is keenly aware of its responsibilities.

      A viable plan of action has already been devised by the NLD, the wider democracy movement, ethnic parties and the government in exile.

      The US has recently extended targeted sanctions on Burma, yet has also raised the possibility of a softly-softly approach. How this might be played out remains the purview of Washington, but we would stress that the time is now and that our plan offers a sustainable means of bringing a lasting democracy to Burma.

      Burma 's critical moment appears to have arrived and it needs the ability to act and to move quickly, as well as a cool hand amid the chaos to guide the process to a longer-term conclusion. We beseech the international community to seize this moment, to help our country recover and to ensure Aung San Suu Kyi one day is allowed to be free among the people for whom she has sacrificed so much.

      Dr Thaung Htun is the UN repr

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