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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 16/6/09

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Burmese junta cracks down on Suu Kyi s party 2.. Junta seeks regional support 3.. Junta bars monks from traveling abroad 4.. South Korea firms linked to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 16, 2009
      1. Burmese junta cracks down on Suu Kyi's party
      2. Junta seeks regional support
      3. Junta bars monks from traveling abroad
      4. South Korea firms 'linked to Myanmar gas abuse'
      5. Burma-Sri Lanka connection: Religion and terrorism
      6. China must get tough on Burma too
      7. UN should treat Burma as it has North Korea
      8. Aung San Suu Kyi trial delayed but there is no doubt about the outcome
      9. Kachin students spray paint demand for Suu Kyi's release
      10. Education in Burma requires 'urgent support'
      11. Singapore investors wait on Myanmar polls
      12. The neighborhood bully
      13. Impunity bars justice for Burmese ethnic groups
      14. Being a defense lawyer in Burma is a risky business
      15. Reasons why Thailand can't push Burma too far
      16. People made to construct road without wages by USDA
      17. Serious violations against children in Burma
      18. KIO accepts junta's idea of transformation of armed-wing
      19. KNU calls for tripartite talks
      20. Army seizes villager's rice paddy, demands money for pipeline security
      21. Burma's unraveling web of deceit
      22. Constitutional loophole leaves door open for forced labor

      Burmese junta cracks down on Suu Kyi's party - Yee May Aung
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 15 Jun 2009

      Three members of the National League for Democracy were arrested last week on unspecified charges while another elderly member had his property vandalised by men armed with slingshots.

      Members of the NLD, whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi is currently on trial for alleged breach of house arrest conditions, suffer frequent harassment and intimidation from Burmese authorities.

      The two cases, both of which occurred last Friday, coincided with a police raid on the house of Thi Han, an NLD youth member involved in a photo campaign to raise public awareness of the Suu Kyi trial.

      "Some government officials showed up, claiming they need to check for [unregistered] guests at his house on evening of June 12," said fellow NLD member Win Naing.

      "They said they had some information about his house and searched thoroughly before leaving without finding anything."

      Meanwhile, a teashop owned by the financial director of the NLD in Mandalay division was damaged when unknown men fired slingshot pellets.

      "They came in the deep of night on June 12…and broke some florescence light sticks in the teashop," said 60-year-old Ko Ko Gyi, who was also involved in the photo campaign.

      "We found out that the pellets they used were made hard by baking them in the fire - this shows that the attack was well-prepared."

      He added that he had filed a complaint with local authorities but would not be notifying police.

      "I'm not going to bother opening a case with the police as we all know who is backing the attackers," he said.

      Two prominent NLD members called to testify in Suu Kyi's defence were disqualified by the court last month for reasons unknown.

      According to the Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), around 450 NLD members are currently serving jail sentences in Burma.

      Reports emerged last week that five political prisoners, including an NLD member, were transferred to solitary confinement after prison authorities got wind that they were planning a protest against Suu Kyi's trial.

      Junta seeks regional support: Win Tin - Mungpi
      Mizzima News: Mon 15 Jun 2009

      Veteran journalist Win Tin said on Monday Burma's military rulers are going the whole hog to garner diplomatic support from regional countries in the face of growing international condemnation over the trial of Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Win Tin, who is also a central executive committee member of the Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy said, the visit of Sri Lankan President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa and Singapore's Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong are all part of the junta's effort to cosy up to regional countries.

      "Clearly, the junta is in a tight spot as the international community has reacted more sharply than it had anticipated. And since it might be difficult for the regime to try and influence the West, they at least want the support of regional countries," Win Tin added.

      On Sunday, the junta's mouthpiece newspaper reported the visit of Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa to Burma. Rajapaksa was received in Naypyitaw by the Burmese Army Chief Snr. Gen Than Shwe - a rare gesture by the junta supremo.

      Similarly, Singapore's former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on a four-day visit to Burma last week had meetings with Than Shwe and other junta brass.

      Win Tin said, such visits are indications that the junta is seeking support from regional countries. He said the junta had not anticipated that there would be such a loud outcry from the international community by putting on trial Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      "It [junta] seems to have miscalculated on the strong support for Aung San Suu Kyi by the international community," Win Tin said.

      The junta wants to gauge China's reaction over the mounting pressure and is likely to go ahead and sentence the Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate, if China gives the green signal, he said.

      According to Win Tin, the junta is determined to sentence Aung San Suu Kyi to a prison term and put her away before their proposed 2010 general elections. But it had not anticipated such an outburst from the international community.

      Sources said Thura Shwe Mann, the third leader in the Burmese military hierarchy, last week visited China without making any official announcement. On Monday, the Chinese News Agency Xinhua reported that Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, number two in the military hierarchy, is visiting China.

      Observers believe these visits are aimed at explaining and trying to convince China about the junta's stand regarding the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime's plans ahead.

      Win Tin said, "Whatever the circumstances, the junta is likely go ahead with its plan if China approves."

      Junta bars monks from traveling abroad - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Mon 15 Jun 2009

      Burma's Ministry of Religious Affairs is effectively prohibiting Buddhist monks from traveling abroad by refusing to issue letters of recommendation, according to senior monks in Rangoon. Without a letter of recommendation from the ministry a monk cannot apply for a visa to travel to a foreign country.

      A monk from a monastery near Rangoon's revered Shwedagon Pagoda said that Rangoon's religious department stopped issuing the letters last week.

      "There are currently several monks in Rangoon who are waiting for visas but who have been refused letters," he said, adding that young Burmese monks often travel abroad for Buddhist study, especially to India and Sri Lanka.

      Another source said that two Buddhist monks were recently barred from flying by authorities at Rangoon's Mingaladon International Airport because, although they had foreign visas, they did not have letters of recommendation from the government.

      A monk who asked to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the officials at the religious affairs department had denied his application for a letter, even though he was seeking to go abroad for health purposes.

      "The officials said the restrictions were orders passed down by a senior military general," the monk said.

      When The Irrawaddy asked an official from the Ministry of Religious Affairs about the matter, he refused to comment.

      The military government tightened restriction on Buddhist monks traveling within Burma during the monk-led uprising of August-September 2007.

      On September 27, 2007, the military government crackdown turned bloody and dozens of monks were forced to flee their monasteries to escape arrest. It is thought many fled the country at that time.

      According to official data, there are more than 400,000 monks in Burma, and its community, the Sangha, is considered one of the strongest and most revered institutions in the country.

      South Korea firms 'linked to Myanmar gas abuse'
      Agence France Presse: Mon 15 Jun 2009

      South Korea is failing to hold its corporations to account for abuses linked to natural gas development in military-ruled Myanmar, a report released by rights groups said.

      The report, by EarthRights International and the Shwe Gas Movement, documents "conflicts of interest" within the government in Seoul and says South Korea is not upholding international guidelines.

      The report urged the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which meets in Paris on Tuesday, to investigate a complaint on the issue that it said the South Korean government had dismissed.

      "The Korean government is failing to hold Korean corporations accountable for abuses connected to natural gas development in military ruled Burma," the groups said in a statement.

      The statement said that the gas project "has already been linked to forced relocations and other human rights violations. Local people who criticized the project faced arbitrary arrest and detention."

      Myanmar's ruling junta signed a deal in December with Daewoo, the Korean Gas Corporation and Indian companies to pipe gas to China from the Shwe gas project, which is developing a natural gas field in the country.

      Myanmar's huge gas reserves and other natural resources are a major target for neighbouring and Asian countries which eschew the sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western nations on the country formerly known as Burma.

      The two rights groups helped file a complaint in October to South Korea about alleged abuses linked to the project, saying that it violated OECD guidelines including by failing to respect international human rights law.

      But Seoul rejected the complaint, the report said, adding that the Korean ministry dealing with OECD complaints also has the job of promoting overseas energy development projects.

      The ministry also gave Daewoo a sizable loan to proceed with the Shwe project, while the South Korean government is also the largest stakeholder in Korean Gas Corporation, it added.

      "The Shwe project should stop until the people of… Burma can genuinely participate in development decisions and realise their human rights," said Wong Aung, co-ordinator of the Shwe Gas Movement.

      He said the Korean government had "conveniently dismissed" the complaint "and now the OECD must fill the gap".

      Myanmar's junta is currently under renewed pressure over its trial of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Burma-Sri Lanka connection: Religion and terrorism - Arkar Moe
      Irrawaddy: Mon 15 Jun 2009

      Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajapakse paid an official visit to Burma on Sunday to cement ties between the two countries.

      Burma was the first country to be visited by President Mahindra Rajapakse after his government defeated the Tamil Tigers guerrilla forces in May.

      Inside sources in Burma said that Burmese military leaders who recently launched a military offensive against Karen rebels in eastern Burma were impressed by Mahindra Rajapakse's military strategy used against the Tamil tigers.

      Deputy Minister for Defense Maj-Gen Aye Myint said at the 8th Shangri-La Dialogue Meeting in Singapore in May: "The world has recently witnessed the successful end of a long-standing insurgency in Sri Lanka. But, people have forgotten about insurgency in Myanmar [Burma]. Why? Because there is no more major fighting erupted in Myanmar in recent days. But it does not mean Myanmar has completely brought to an end of its internal insurgency. We have realized that hard power alone is not fully effective in winning the counter-insurgency campaigns. Therefore, we are painstakingly, patiently and time-consumingly [sic] solving the problems of insurgency."

      The Burmese regime donated US $50,000 to the Sri Lanka government to assist internally displaced persons in the Northern area of Sri Lanka.

      Snr-Gen Than Shwe warmly welcomed President Mahinda Rajapaksa and expressed appreciation for his visit to Burma as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in 2004 to participate at the World Buddhist Conference in Rangoon.

      The visit also commemorated the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations established between the two countries.

      The state-run newspapers in Burma stressed the Theravada Buddhism that the two countries share.

      But aside from religion, the two governments agreed to enhance their military cooperation.

      Minister of Foreign Affairs Rohitha Bogollagama who accompanied the president said that the decision of President Rajapaksa to choose Burma as the country for his first overseas tour after successfully defeating terrorism is of significant event for both nations.

      Minister Bogollagama noted that Snr-Gen Than Shwe had commended that the "bold steps" taken by the government to fight terrorists organizations. The regime in Burma often labels ethnic rebel groups in Burma as terrorists.

      According to the official government news portal of Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa also agreed to offer placements for two officials of the Burmese armed forces to be trained at the Kothalawala Defense Academy as a follow-up to a MoU signed on Intelligence Exchange Cooperation in 2007 to strengthen cooperation in combating terrorism and intelligence sharing.

      Dr Tint Swe, a self-appointed minister for information of the exiled Burmese government, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, told The Irrawaddy that the regime in Burma is deceitful to use the religion card in light of its brutal crackdown on monks in September 2007.

      Ashin Issariya, a leader of the All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA) in exile, said: "Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and exercised Theravada principles. The government (in Sri Lanka) allowed Burmese monks to demonstrate in the country in 2007 (to protest against brutal crackdown in Burma). But they did not condemn the Burmese military junta."

      Minister Bogollagama said that Burma and Sri Lanka maintained a close and cordial relationship as both nations are influenced by Theravada Buddhism.

      "Both countries are linked through political, religious and cultural heritages that have an extended history of over 20 centuries," he said.

      Minister Bogollagama said that President Rajapaksa expressed a willingness to offer scholarships to Buddhist monks from Burma to pursue higher studies in Sri Lankan Universities.

      But to political analysts in Burma, see the visit by the Sri Lanka president as not about religion, but rather that the generals are increasingly finding it difficult to contain insurgent groups in the country's northern frontier and are willing to learn some fresh lesson from President Mahindra Rajapakse on how to defeat the enemy.

      China must get tough on Burma too - Yeni
      Irrawaddy: Mon 15 Jun 2009

      The Burmese junta's No 2, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, recently began an official six-day visit to China. This comes as international and regional pressure mounts on Burma to reconsider its ongoing trial against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      It also comes just after several ethnic ceasefire groups based near the Chinese border reportedly rejected a regime proposal to be reassigned as border guards.

      For Maung Aye, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Burmese defense services and commander-in-chief of the Burmese army, this is his third visit to China in six years. The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, noted that Maung Aye's meeting with Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping is one of an "exchange of visits."

      Whenever it is facing a crisis, the Burmese junta likes schedule one of these official visits to approach its big brother for advice.

      The Burmese army is in turmoil-despite last year entrenching itself in Burmese politics after pushing through a constitution that gives it a guaranteed 25 percent of seats in parliament.

      Suddenly, the Burmese army's authority is being challenged by the ethnic ceasefire groups it has long taken pains to subdue, especially the powerful United Wa State Army, the Kokang group known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Kachin Independence Organization, all of which have reportedly rejected the junta's bid to transform them into border guard forces under Burmese army command.

      Behind the pleasantries of his meeting in China, what Maung Aye will be trying to weed out is whether China will take a back seat if the junta launches a military operation against the ceasefire groups.

      There is no doubt that China would like to see the Burmese regime and the ceasefire groups negotiate the sensitive issue peacefully and maintain regional "stability," so that China can continue to capitalize on Burma's natural resources and a border trade which reached US $2.6 billion in 2008.

      Apart from the pressing border issue, knowing that Naypyidaw is losing its diplomatic joust with the international community over Suu Kyi's ridiculous conviction, the Burmese generals are anxious that their traditional ally stands by their side.

      Maung Aye is expected to plead for the continued use of the Chinese veto to block any future resolution unfavorable to the Naypyidaw regime.

      Concerning the issue of Suu Kyi, China has so far only said that the trial is an internal affair.

      At the European Union and China summit in Prague in May, China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao initially asked the EU to "ensure that our bilateral relationship will not be adversely affected by individual incidents."

      However, soon after, Chinese foreign ministry officials voiced rare criticism of the Burmese junta's treatment of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate at an Asia-Europe Meeting in Hanoi with Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win.

      There is no doubt the Chinese government has been quietly expanding its international influence in the 21st century. It already commands a superpower's status throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America in the energy and extractive industries.

      China has added to its leadership role in the region by initiating a $10 billion investment cooperation fund and an offer of $15 billion in credit to its Southeast Asian neighbors.

      China knows that in the political world, international recognition comes at a price. It must exercise its power carefully and, in countries such as North Korea and Burma where Western countries have little leverage, it must show responsibility.

      Of course, Burma is China's closest ally in Southeast Asia and has been a major recipient of Chinese military hardware and a potential springboard for projecting Chinese military power in the region since 1988.

      Like the recent public pressure on North Korea for its foolhardy demonstration of nuclear missiles, China must also show a firm hand when dealing with the Burmese regime.

      China must send a strong message to Naypyidaw to release political prisoners immediately, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and to start a meaningful dialogue with the opposition, including ethnic groups.

      Above all, the junta must be told that the time has come for it to allow its people an opportunity to participate in the development of genuine "national reconciliation."

      To this end, China holds the key.

      UN should treat Burma as it has North Korea - Editorial
      Nation (Thailand): Mon 15 Jun 2009

      After long and excruciating negotiations over the new sanctions by the United Nations Security Council to punish North Korea for its nuclear-weapons test, once again the council has shown its ability to act in response to a crisis that genuinely threatens global peace and stability. What Pyongyang has done has so rubbed the raw nerves of key players that they are acting with common positions and standards. It is rare indeed for them to agree on common retaliation against North Korea's stubbornness.

      This time the harsher sanctions are more targeted, including weapons exports and financial transactions. Furthermore, the resolution allows inspections in port and on the high seas of ships suspected of carrying nuclear technology. It urges North Korea to return to the six-party talks immediately without conditions and abandon its nuclear ambitions. This shows the determination of the 15-member council to adhere to its international obligations.

      Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said of the council's attitude towards Burma and its continued oppression of its citizens. Although the council adopted a non-binding resolution last month in response to the continued detention and farcical trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, it still lacks the teeth to punish one of the world's worst regimes. Like North Korea, Burma's military leaders know how to test the water and push the envelope. They have succeeded before, knowing full well that the council, with its different players and national interests, will never agree on a common plan of action. Worse, the council's attention span is usually brief given the myriad global issues confronting it.

      For the time being, the Burmese junta is obviously correct in its assessment. Despite some bridging of the gap between members preferring tougher sanctions and those advocating a softer approach, the council does not see eye to eye on reprimanding Burma. Of course, the five permanent members have something to do with this. Previously, both China and Russia opposed any attempt by the council to punish Burma for nearly two decades of continued intransigence. They have since ameliorated their positions but are no nearer uniting with the other members to deliver a stronger message.

      Obviously the junta leaders are now playing hide and seek, testing the international community's determination and the sustainability of Asean positions against them, as witness their attempt to create havoc along the Thai border following Thailand's growing assertiveness by attacking minority groups so as to scarce the Thai security forces. This pattern of diplomatic brinksmanship has worked for the junta all along. If the international community, particularly the council, remains divided, pariah states can continue to exploit it. The new sanctions against North Korea are a case in point.

      Burma has delayed the trial of Suu Kyi for an additional two weeks. Of course, the junta is watching closely how the international community reacts to the ongoing court case and to her plight. International pressure has increased by the day. Major world leaders have spoken in support of her and called for her release. Asean has been firm. Burma's continued attack on Thailand as the Asean chair is aimed at undermining its position as such. It is to be hoped that Asean positions will be bolstered by increasing support from the international community.

      The North Koreans and the Burmese have suffered tremendously because of their leaders. Both countries have spent heavily on arms and left their citizens starving in the expectation of foreign assistance. The Burmese have risen several times since 1988 demanding democratic change and been violently put down. This could happen again due to economic hardship and rising fuel prices. The North Koreans have yet to do this.

      It is pivotal that when the council puts its mind to fighting pariah states such as North Korea and Burma it is intelligent and united, otherwise it will be manipulated and exploited, especially when there are cracks in its ranks. It backed Friday's tough sanctions against North Korea; it is to be hoped that in the near future it will do the same in the case of Burma.

      Aung San Suu Kyi trial delayed but there is no doubt about the outcome - Mark Canning
      Guardian (UK): Mon 15 Jun 2009

      Latest post in a series by the British ambassador in Burma, Mark Canning, one of the few outsiders who has been allowed into the courtroom during the trial of the opposition leader.

      The resumption of Aung San Suu Kyi's trial has been postponed until 26 June. Her defence team continues its effort to admit witnesses who were earlier excluded. Her lawyers scored a minor success last week when a higher court allowed one to testify, but are now taking the issue to the supreme court.

      This delay suits the government fine. It conveys an impression that the wheels of justice are turning and that there is some doubt about the final outcome. Of course there isn't. Daw Suu* will be found guilty - the only question is the length of the sentence and where she will serve it.

      The number of political prisoners has increased by more than 1,000 over the past 16 months. There is no precedent for the acquittal of those accused of serious "political crimes" and certainly not someone of her stature. Comedians, doctors, bloggers, journalists, housewives and aid workers have been packed off to Burma's jails and work camps. They are generally sentenced at short, closed hearings. The unusual thing about this trial is that the status of the defendant obliges a spurious impression of openness.

      Daw Suu told her lawyers this week that she wouldn't have gone into politics in the first place if she was afraid of the consequences. And consequences there have been - just a few fleeting moments of freedom in the more than 19 years she has fought for a better future for this sad country. Her 64th birthday on Friday marks another sad milestone.

      The military government has found time to launch another military offensive in eastern Karen state, which is forcing thousands of civilians to flee across the border to Thailand. This is an effort to finish off the Karen fighters, who for 60 years have struggled to gain a measure of independence for their people. But there are suspicions that Burma's unhappiness at Thai criticism of the trial might also have played a role in the timing. The government berated Thailand last week for its "unneighbourly" behaviour and contrasted their attitude with that of China, which had never sought to involve itself in Burma's affairs.

      Daw Suu is a short form used in Burma for Aung San Suu Kyi

      Kachin students spray paint demand for Suu Kyi's release
      Kachin News Group: Fri 12 Jun 2009

      Kachin university students have reiterated their demand that the Burmese junta frees democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi unconditionally. In another daring move they spray-painted their demand in Kachin State's capital Myitkyina, said student leaders.

      The sprayed message in red and in big letters were painted in two places- on the brick-walls in front of Myitkyina University and on the State High School in Manhkring quarter, said a student leader Francis who organized the movement.

      The students sprayed their demand on the walls in Burmese. It read "Free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi immediately!" The letters were sprayed in red paint so that it could be seen easily by people and would be hard to erase, Francis told KNG this afternoon over telephone.

      The movement is for the release of Mrs. Suu Kyi and it is being organized by the All Kachin Students' Union (AKSU), an underground student organization based in Kachin State, said Francis.

      The AKSU held a special Christian traditional prayer service with 25 participants including students, pastors and local people in a room in Myitkyina on Wednesday (June 10) between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Burma Standard Time, said Ms. Seng Mai, a student organizer.

      The prayer service took an hour. They prayed for the release of Mrs. Suu Kyi from illegal detention, receiving a fair decision on her trial as well as freedom and peace on her 64th birthday on June 19, she added.

      From Wednesday, special prayer services for the release of Ms. Suu Kyi were also held in other major towns in Kachin State- Sumprabum, Waingmaw, Masi (Manje in Kachin) and Bhamo (Manmaw in Kachin), said Ms. Seng Mai.

      She told KNG, more prayer services will be organized in different towns in Kachin Sate for the release of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Ms. Seng Mai urged the junta to release Mrs. Suu Kyi because her detention is illegal and an injustice. She also urged all Kachin people to pray for the release of Mrs. Suu Kyi.

      The AKSU had earlier demanded her immediate release by pasting 50 posters on A-4 size papers in the major quarters in Myitkyina on May 20.

      Meanwhile, the Burmese junta is pressurizing the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the rest of the ethnic ceasefire groups in the country to transform their armed-wing to "Border Guard Forces".

      Education in Burma requires 'urgent support' - Ahunt Phone Myat
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 12 Jun 2009

      United Nations' calls for urgent support for education in Burma have been reinforced by reports that schools in Rangoon are now reliant on donations from parents due to lack of government funding for education.

      At a donor meeting in Rangoon on Wednesday the UN encouraged the international community to increase its efforts to promote education in Burma, with particular focus on the Irrawaddy delta region where around 4000 schools were destroyed last year by cyclone Nargis.

      A statement released by the UN stressed that there was a shortage of learning materials and qualified teachers.

      Government spending on education in Burma is around 1.2 per cent of the annual budget, while nearly 40 per cent goes to the military.

      A parent in Rangoon said yesterday that small, ward-level schools are reliant on donations from pupils' families to cover expenses for school maintenance and to buy equipment such as chairs and desks.

      "They have to ask for donation money from parents to buy things such as power generators, as government electricity is not available most of the time," she said.

      "Also they needed money to renovate school buildings and to build new ones."

      Similarly, teachers are reportedly having to use their own money to keep their schools running.

      "The government never provide statistics on how much budget they use for the education because they don't want people to know how little they are spending on it," a teacher said under condition of anonymity.

      Due to the meagre 30,000 kyat (US$30) monthly salary given to teachers, many are looking elsewhere for careers.

      "Now only people who are really committed and passionate to teaching children choose to become school teachers," he said.

      "It very hard for them as the salary they are getting is nowhere near enough to survive with the commodity prices these days."

      State-run media in Burma often publishes reports about government openings of new schools, although the teacher said that these schools need a lot of financial assistance to become fully functional.

      The UN has said that about US$160 million is needed to provide assistance to Burma's education sector over the next three years.

      Report: Singapore investors wait on Myanmar polls
      Associated Press: Fri 12 Jun 2009

      Singapore investors will likely wait until after Myanmar's elections next year before pouring any more money into the country, former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said Friday, according to television station Channel News Asia.

      Goh made the comments at the end of a four-day trip to meet with Myanmar's military leaders, the television station said on its Web site.

      The military has run the country since 1962, and the current ruling junta has scheduled elections for next year.

      "I don't believe any Singapore investors would come in a big way before the picture is clear, before this move to democracy is seen to produce results," said Goh, who is a senior adviser to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, according to the station.

      Singapore is one of the biggest foreign investors in Myanmar, with annual bilateral trade of more than $1 billion.

      Goh, who met with top Myanmar leaders including Senior General Than Shwe, urged the government to hold fair and transparent elections and allow all political parties to participate, the station said.

      The trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was adjourned Friday for two weeks. Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest when an uninvited American man swam secretly to her closely guarded lakeside home last month and stayed two days.

      The hearing has drawn outrage from the international community and Suu Kyi's local supporters, who say the military government is using the bizarre incident as an excuse to keep the pro-democracy leader detained through the elections.

      Goh told Myanmar's leadership that Singapore was "dismayed by the arrest," the station said.

      The neighborhood bully - Kyaw Zwa Moe
      Irrawaddy: Fri 12 Jun 2009

      One of the favorite tactics of the Burmese junta is its "bully" policy. The latest attacks against the army of the Karen National Union (KNU) on the Thailand-Burma border are proof.

      The troops of the military regime and its ceasefire group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, have launched sustained clashes since early June. In two weeks, the conflict has forced at least 4,000 Karen refugees to flee their villages and many are arriving in refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border.

      The current rainy season is an unusual time for the regime to launch its military campaign, with about 9,000 soldiers in the area.

      This military campaign is linked by three factors: Aung San Suu Kyi, Thailand and the KNU rebels.

      A few days after Suu Kyi was charged with breaching the terms of her house arrest, Thailand, as the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), took an unusual step by denouncing the junta's trial of Suu Kyi and calling for her immediate release.

      The generals were furious and responded by attacking the Thai government in state-run newspapers, which said the announcement by Thailand interfered in the internal affairs of an Asean member country and disregarded the principle of non-interference in the Asean charter.

      Since then, the two governments have exchanged verbal volleys, and the junta continues to publish critical articles on Thailand's stance.

      One of the consequences of Burma's offensive against the KNU is that many Karen villagers strike out for one of the Karen refugee camps on the border, where hundreds of thousand of Karen refugees now live in nine camps.

      Thailand now faces a fresh flow of Karen refugees. On Monday, the Thai army commander, Lt-Gen Thanongsak Aphirakyothin, whose unit operates along Thailand's western border, said that a total of 1,741 Karen have entered Thailand from eastern Burma since the fighting started. Many are believed still to be in hiding in the jungle in Burma.

      "They fled because of the danger and fear of capture and forced labor by the Myanmar [Burma] army, the commander told reporters in Mae Sot. "Most of the refugees are women and children."

      David Takarpaw, vice chairman of the KNU, said on Friday, "The attack is continuous," meaning Thailand can expect more refugees in the coming months.

      Thailand, which has caused political problems for the regime, now has a problem of its own caused by Burma.

      Isn't it an act of bullying?

      However, an article published on Thursday in the junta's newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, sees it differently.

      "Thailand is self-conscious about the issues on internally displaced persons (IDP) and refugees which have rooted [sic] in the Thai-Myanmar border for ages," the newspaper said. "The root cause of issues on IDP and refugees in the Thai-Myanmar border is that they (Thailand) accept and let the problems keep on taking place."

      The article continued: "The remnant KNU troops have showed no sign of making peace with the government. Apparently, that is due to the fact that the remnant KNU members are aided and abetted, and KNU stations under the name of refugee camps are accepted."

      The article accused Thailand of offering its soil to insurgent groups and anti-government political groups.

      The generals in Naypyidaw have faced mounting international, regional and internal problems since they took power in 1988. But after Suu Kyi's trial last month, the problems intensified even more.

      Whenever the generals face problems, they use their 'bully' policy, among others. They are now bullying Suu Kyi, Thailand and the KNU.

      The more pressure the generals face in the future, the more you'll see their bully policy at work.

      Impunity bars justice for Burmese ethnic groups - Aung Htoo
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 11 Jun 2009

      While the world has remained rapt by the trial of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, the ongoing crisis over rights for ethnic minorities in the country has received little international attention.

      Burma's ethnic minority groups constitute one-third of the population. This population has borne the brunt of the government's well-documented and widely condemned human rights violations. Ethnic children have been forcibly recruited into the army, some to act as minesweepers for troop patrols, while rape of ethnic women has been labelled by human rights groups an attempt to dilute the ethnic diversity of Burma. Their situation is being compounded by a culture of impunity in Burma It is only when greater international attention is focused on government impunity and on rights for ethnic minorities that Burma will be able to achieve peace.

      This was an argument put forward by Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, former UN special rapporteur to Burma from 2000 to 2008, in an article published last month in the New York Times. The article highlighted the grievances and loss of rights of the ethnic minority in the country, with whom he worked with for eight years.

      While the plight of Burma's ethnic groups has been sidelined by the Suu Kyi trial, the Burmese government has focused greater attention, albeit highly cynical, on transforming armed ethnic groups into political tools for the convenience of next year's elections. One key issue that many observers have ignored is that if they accept such government proposals, they will effectively be complicit in supporting government impunity for crimes committed by the state army against their own people.

      According to agency reports, a delegation of government officials lead by the junta's chief of military affairs security, Lieutenant-General Ye Myint, has met with the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) ceasefire group as part of a series of discussions with ceasefire groups across the country. It is understood that the government tried to persuade the Shan group to form a political wing to contest the upcoming elections, in return offering them an opportunity to retain their armed status by transforming into a government militia.

      Rather than committing themselves to military rule, ethnic ceasefire groups should take this opportunity make demands about their status in the country and to speak out about their loss of rights.

      'License to Rape', a 2002 report by the Shan Women's Action Network that gained attention from the international community, highlighted details of rape cases against Shan women by the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) army. But the SSA-N never made significant calls for international action against the SPDC's crimes either against Shan people or other ethnic minorities. Similarly, the SSA-N stayed silent about the government's manipulation of Burmese law under which their leader, Colonel Hso Ten, was in 2005 imprisoned for 106 years.

      If the SSA-N bows to government persuasion and forms a political party to enter the elections, they would automatically be placed in a position where they accept the 2008 constitution. Buried within the constitution is section 445 of the penal code, which grants the government an amnesty for crimes committed by the army during the State Law and Order Restoration Council era from 1988 to 1997. This would effectively mean the group supports an ongoing culture of impunity in Burma. Pinheiro documented a case where a Burmese soldier last December abducted, raped and killed a 7-year-old Karen 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.

      This culture of impunity is becoming a huge problem for Burma, and is compounded by the country's failing legal system. But pure political thinking which aims to bring a solution merely to arguments about the constitution or the election will not solve the current situation. We need to build a new approach by restoring law and order under a framework in which whoever commits a crime can be punished.

      If Burma continues with the current 2008 constitution, people whose basic human rights were violated by the government will be denied their right to seek justice under legal terms of the abuses suffered. Furthermore, it would encourage such abuses to continue free of punishment. Since 1990, the United Nations' special rapporteur has made 37 visits to Burma while the international body's General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have passed over 35 resolutions regarding Burma. The UN Security Council, however, is yet to pass a single resolution.

      Pinheiro points out the international community's "diplomatic efforts [have] failed to bear fruit" and "the country's domestic legal system will not punish those perpetrating crimes against ethnic minorities". In this context, he says, "it is time for the United Nations to take the next logical step".

      Were this to happen, a possible indictment by the International Criminal Court could be on the horizon. This, Pinheiro argues, would have the dual effect of bringing greater attention to impunity in Burma, and deterring future crimes against humanity. If the ceasefire groups do not consider these facts and instead join hands with the government, whilst ignoring crimes being committed by them, they will, as the Burmese saying goes, be hiding from a lightning strike under a palm tree.

      * Aung Htoo is general secretary of the Burma Lawyers' Council

      Being a defense lawyer in Burma is a risky business - Min Lwin
      Irrawaddy: Thu 11 Jun 2009

      As the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi unfolds, many people are asking: How difficult is it to be a defense lawyer who represents political activists in Burma?

      Defense lawyers who represent political dissidents routinely face government intimidation, in some cases leading to prison terms and the suspension or cancellation of their license to practice by the Burmese Bar Council.

      Eleven lawyers who defended pro-democracy activists are currently serving prison terms across the country.

      The Thailand-based human rights group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), said at least 207 Burmese lawyers, including central high court lawyers, have faced suspension, warnings, temporary suspension or dismissal of their license without a proper hearing process.

      "If you want to be a defense lawyer for political activists, you can have your lawyer license cancelled at any time," said Nyi Nyi Hlaing, who has represented political activists.

      "Sometimes judges intimidate us by saying if we upset the judicial process, we can be punished," he said.

      Prominent defense lawyer Aung Thein, who recently served a four months prison sentence for contempt of court and had his license cancelled, told The Irrawaddy: "There are two kinds of lawyers who have had their license dismissed. Political activist lawyers who are dismissed for their political activities and lawyers dismissed in the process of defending their activist clients.

      Aung Thein's colleague, Khin Maung Shein, who has represented political activists including Aung San Suu Kyi, was also dismissed from practicing law and sentenced to four months in prison.

      "The fact that the Burmese Bar Council cancelled our licenses is not fair, because we served four months detention in payment for what they called contempt of court," said Aung Thein.

      Late last year, attorney Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min was convicted of contempt of court after complaining of unfair treatment by a Rangoon court in a case involving political dissidents.

      "I was intimidated by the judge from Kyimyindine Township court when I asked to call a government witness to the court to testify," said Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, 29. "She told me you don't have a right to call the government witness. If you do that, your lawyer license will be cancelled."

      In addition, attorneys Nyi Nyi Htway and Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min were both sentenced to six months imprisonment for contempt of court while representing activists. Saw Kyaw Kyaw fled to Thailand rather than serve time in prison.

      The convictions were politically motivated to intimidate other lawyers from defending political dissidents, said observers of the legal system.

      Like activist lawyers, average citizens who are caught up in politically sensitive issues are frequently intimidated or charged with criminal acts by the military government. Various professions, including comedians, doctors, private teachers, singers, writers, journalists and their family members, have been charged and imprisoned because of their political involvement.

      On June 9, Khin Khin Aye, a senior manger in the Central Cooperative Society under the Ministry of Cooperative, was dismissed from her job without warning because her husband, attorney Hla Myo Myint, had represented Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Reasons why Thailand can't push Burma too far - Supalak Ganjanakhundee
      Nation (Thailand): Thu 11 Jun 2009

      There are at least four reasons why Thailand is not able to push Burma's political development toward democracy and national reconciliation, as well as to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      First, the current government led by the Democrat Party has no record of civilian supremacy, not to mention democracy and reconciliation. The Thai government is not comfortable commenting on any military run government since it obtained help from military top brass to form its own coalition. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva knows very well how much he owes the commanders.

      People in this country love to call on the military to intervene whenever they have problems with civilian government. The latest military coup d'etat happened only three years ago.

      The Thai military junta dissolved at the end of 2007. Nobody in this country could say the military has no influence in politics, notably over this current government.

      So-called national reconciliation is a political term this government might not be able to spell out. As long as it cannot reconcile the red- and yellow-shirted movements, it's better to have no comment about the even worse national division in Burma.

      Disunity in that country is deeper than in Thailand, absolutely. It is not just a matter of political difference, but also a problem of race.

      Second, Thai elites - notably those in power - have no clear vision about future opposition and dissident groups. They have no more faith in the opposition's fighting against the Burmese junta.

      It seems the Thai elite jump to the conclusion the opposition, and even the rebellious ethnic minorities Thailand uses as a buffer, have a very slim chance of defeating the Tatmadaw [Burmese military].

      Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has talked to ethnic minorities along the Thai border several times over past months since he took the position, to convince them to turn themselves into the junta's fold.

      The move is most helpful for the junta but weakens the dissidents.

      Very few Thais connect strongly with Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy. Some female members of the ruling Democrat Party and SEA Write-award winning author Jiranan Pitpreecha met Suu Kyi more than a decade ago.

      Thammasat University conferred an honorary doctorate degree on her when she turned 60, but such a link is very slim. No strong pressure group could force the Thai government to help her.

      Third, the Thai economy relies too much on resources from Burma. The government, every government, would never dare challenge the junta. Making Burma angry might cause trouble in business.

      Thailand could not join any economic sanctions to pressure the junta since they would pose a direct challenge to its own economy. The jewellery industry, for example, suffered from the US's Tom Lantos Block Burmese Jade Act of 2008, since it stifled imports from any country of gems and jewellery containing Burmese raw material.

      Rubies and other Burmese gemstones account for about 20 per cent of raw materials for the Thai jewellery industry.

      Exports of gems and jewellery to the US dropped sharply in the last quarter of 2008 when the Act was enforced in October. Exports to the US contracted 35.19 per cent between October and December last year, according to Ministry of Commerce data.

      Besides gemstones, Thailand is buying via pipeline more than a billion cubic feet of gas a day from Burma's Yadana and Yedagun gas fields, accounting for some 20 per cent of total consumption in this country.

      Fourth, Thailand has the burden of proximity as it shares more than 2,200 kilometres of border with Burma.

      The borders shelter problems ranging from smuggling and trafficking to political conflict. The junta knows how to use border issues to mount pressure on Bangkok.

      Burma's military offensive against the Karen National Union over past weeks caused at least 3,000 people to flee to Thailand, home already to 111,000 displaced persons from Burma.

      The operation coincided with the Thai Asean Chairman's statement on Aung San Suu Kyi.

      As long as this country fails to overcome these obstacles, it will find it very difficult in lending a hand to save Aung San Suu Kyi.

      People made to construct road without wages by USDA
      Khonumthung News: Wed 10 Jun 2009

      Chin people are being forced to construct a road in Kanpelet Township by the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) in Kanpelet Town, Southern Chin State, in western Burma.

      "We have started work from April. A link road between Hmuchinding and Cin dwe villages, a stretch of 30 miles, will allow motor cars to travel on the road. The construction work is being led by USDA with 20 neighboring villages. We have been divided into five groups and told to construct a specific number of meters of the road. We have almost finished 16 miles," a local said.

      The construction of the link road between Hmuchinding and Cindwe village has been sponsored by "I Love Myanmar" which is a non government organization (NGO). However, the USDA does not pay daily wages to the villagers who are involved in the project.

      Although the USDA has spent all the sponsored funds for buying digging equipment, people's labour is more useful for the work. "Especially they're using people's energy. The machines can't handle crushing of big stones," he added.

      On the other hand, one of the USDA leaders told workers "The construction of the road is none of our business but we are only doing it to help transportation between the two villages. It will be beneficial for students who go to school in Hmuchinding village."

      There are about 70 houses with approximately 500 people in Hmuchinding village. The village has a Middle School where most students from neighbouring villages attend. "I Love Myanmar" will sponsor a new High School building next year.

      Similarly, people are being forced to build a road between Mukwe Inu village and Mindat town by the USDA.

      Meanwhile, the workers are anxious about their livelihood as they are being forced into road construction by the USDA without getting paid. They are worried about their family. Yet, they want to complete the project as it would mean better transportation between the two villages and will help their children's education.

      Serious violations against children in Burma: Ban - Lalit K Jha
      Irrawaddy: Wed 10 Jun 2009

      UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday reported grave violations against children in Burma including credible reports of recruitment and use of children by some government military units and several ethnic armed groups.

      Expressing serious concern over the plight of Burmese children, the secretary-general in a report to the UN Security Council urged the Burmese military government to put into place a tighter mechanism to prevent the military recruitment of children.

      Ban also urged the junta to demobilize unconditionally all children who participated in any capacity in its armed forces, in coordination with the UN country task force on monitoring and reporting.

      "The secretary-general stresses the need for the governments concerned to facilitate dialogue between the United Nations and the Karen National Union and Karenni National Progressive Party for the purposes of signing an action plan in accordance with [relevant] Security Council resolutions," Marie Okabe, deputy spokesperson for the secretary–general, told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.

      In the report, Ban urged Burmese authorities "as a matter of priority" to "redress the prevailing culture of impunity, to launch investigations into all incidents of recruitment and use of children, and to prosecute people responsible for such acts under the Penal Code."

      "Building on the limited progress thus far, the government should, with immediate effect, cease the arrest, harassment and imprisonment of children under the age of 18 for desertion and/or attempting to leave the army and continue to work with the country task force to monitor such cases and to ensure the swift and unconditional surrender of children," Ban said.

      Besides government military units, the secretary-general identified several ethnic armed groups involved in recruitment of children: the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, Kachin Independence Army, Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council, Karen National Liberation Army, Karenni Army, Karenni National People's Liberation Front, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Shan State Army-South and Shan National Population Liberation Organization and United Wa State Army.

      Ban noted in the report that there was a continued lack of humanitarian access to Burma, particularly in conflict zones and ceasefire areas, was an impediment to providing much needed humanitarian assistance. He urged the junta to ensure full, unhindered and safe access for children and to allow free passage for the delivery of UN humanitarian assistance in all parts of the country.

      KIO accepts junta's idea of transformation of armed-wing
      Kachin News Group: Tue 9 Jun 2009

      The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the largest ethnic Kachin ceasefire group in Burma has accepted the idea of transformation of its armed-wing proposed by the Burma's ruling junta, said KIO leaders.

      The agreement, however, does not automatically mean that the KIO has agreed to transform its armed-wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) into a battalion of the "Border Security Force" proposed by the regime, according to KIO officials in its Laiza headquarters on the Sino-Burma border in Kachin State.

      KIO/A's Vice-president No. 1, Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng who leads the 7-member committee of KIO to talk with Burmese regime on transforming KIA.

      On the other hand, the KIO would like to maintain the ceasefire agreement with the regime in the meantime because the ceasefire agreement will automatically end and war will result between them if it rejects the regime's idea of transformation of the armed-wing, said Dr. Manam Tu Ja, KIO's Vice-president No.2, who lives in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State.

      Recently during two meetings between the KIO leaders and junta officials at the regime's Northern Command headquarters in Myitkyina on April 28 and May 21, the KIO was offered two political options by the junta, said Dr. Manam Tu Ja.

      The first option is that if the KIO accepts what the regime calls the "Overall strategy of armed-wing transition," dialogues will follow between them in what the regime calls the "Plan of Tactics". Otherwise there will be no dialogue between them and the ceasefire agreement will automatically expire, which is the second option.

      The junta is yet to explain clearly to the KIO on the follow-up dialogues but it seems to be more focused on transition of KIA other ethnic armed-wings in the country into border security forces, not politics, according to KIO leaders.

      KIO repeatedly has claimed that the KIA may transform to a "Defence Force of Kachin Sate" not a "border guard force" someday in the future when it gains autonomy for Kachin State in the Union of Burma.

      At the same time, the KIO has just formed a special committee with seven members led by the KIO's Vice-president No.1 Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng and the committee will accept all suggestions from the Kachin public and its own organizations. The results will be discussed with the regime, said the KIO.

      On the other hand, the KIO has again requested Rev. Dr. Lahtaw Saboi Jum, former civilian peace mediator and General Secretary

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