[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 22/6/09
- U.N.'s Ban invited to visit Myanmar in July: diplomats
- Myanmar troops threaten Karen rebel bases
- DKBA: Burma's second largest non-state armed group?
- Chinese firms to have stakes in two mega dams
- Burma's generals must free Aung San Suu Kyi and embrace democracy
- Myanmar court allows Suu Kyi final witness appeal
- Over 700,000 stateless persons in Burma
- Junta to resettle 200,000 Burmans in Hukawng Valley
- Myanmar said to overrun 3 Karen rebel positions
- Junta out of step with Asean economic ambition
- China adds 'democracy,' 'economic growth' to Burma policy
- 150,000 Myanmar working in Malaysia
- U.N.'s Ban urged to help free Myanmar prisoners
- It's not too late to rescue Burma from further tragedy
- India's stance on Burma long overdue for change
- KIA troops take to forests for possible war with Burmese Army
- Junta-backed militia will 'make Karen state peaceful'
- Burma-China pipeline work to start in September
- Suu Kyi trial flouts justice, UN investigators say
- Thai PM Abhisit on Burma and Asean
U.N.'s Ban invited to visit Myanmar in July: diplomats - Louis Charbonneau
Reuters: Thu 18 Jun 2009
Myanmar's ruling military junta has invited U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit the country in early July, though it was not clear whether he would accept, Western diplomats said on Wednesday.
The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ban was concerned the government of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, could use such a visit for propaganda purposes.
"He doesn't want his trip to be seen as giving any kind of legitimacy to the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi," one of the diplomats told Reuters, referring to the imprisoned leader of Myanmar's democratic opposition.
Suu Kyi is currently on trial for allegedly violating the terms of her imprisonment. She has been detained for more than 13 of the last 19 years.
Ban has not made a final decision on whether to visit Myanmar, said Michele Montas, his spokeswoman.
The U.N. chief had said that he was considering a trip to Myanmar soon to press the junta to release Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners in the country and to keep its promises to democratize.
But it was not clear until now whether the generals would be willing to receive him.
The diplomats said they suspected Myanmar's ruling generals want to ensure that Suu Kyi is in detention when next year's multi-party elections take place.
"Ban can put pressure on them to let her go," one of the diplomats said. "We don't have many options apart from the secretary-general."
The trial of Suu Kyi and of American John Yettaw, whose uninvited visit to her home last month was deemed a breach of her house arrest, is set to resume on June 26. Suu Kyi faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.
Ban and his special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, received a petition on Tuesday signed by more than 670,000 people worldwide. It urged Ban to make the release of Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 political prisoners his personal priority.
Czech President Vaclav Havel, who spent many years in prison due to his activities as an anti-communist dissident, was among the world figures who signed the petition.
Myanmar troops threaten Karen rebel bases
Reuters: Thu 18 Jun 2009
Myanmar government forces captured three Karen rebel positions on Thursday in the latest fighting that has forced thousands of refugees to flee into neighbouring Thailand, commanders said.
The army and their Karen allies were also threatening two bases of the Karen National Union (KNU), the largest rebel group in the eastern former Burma.
"We captured 3 small KNU positions and are closing in on two main bases," said Captain Kha Koe of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which joined government troops in an offensive against the KNU on June 3.
There were no confirmed reports of casualties.
Earlier on Thursday, KNU Commander Kyaw Ny said his fighters were preparing to abandon their 7th brigade base to avoid unnecessary loss of life.
"It is a tactical redeployment. We also do not want to kill our fellow Karens in this battle," he told reporters by telephone.
Thai army officials say some 3,000 Karen refugees have fled across the border into Thailand since the fighting began. The U.N. refugee agency has said it is working with the Thai government to assist the refugees.
Myanmar's state-controlled media said on Thursday those who fled to Thailand were "insurgents" from several KNU units.
The KNU has been fighting for autonomy in the hills of eastern Myanmar for the last 60 years, one of the world's oldest insurgencies.
Rebel leaders say the latest offensive is part of the military regime's campaign to eliminate all opposition ahead of promised multi-party elections in 2010.
The trial of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces up to five years in jail if convicted of violating her house arrest, resumes next week.
Critics say the trial is aimed at keeping the Nobel laureate and National League for Democracy (NLD) leader in detention ahead of next year's polls.
The KNU are one of a handful of rebel militias not to have signed a ceasefire with the military junta.
In February last year, KNU leader Mahn Sha Lar Phan was shot dead at his home in a Thai border town in an assassination blamed on the regime and its Karen allies.
Myanmar has been under military rule of one form or another since 1962, during which time it has been riven by dozens of ethnic guerrilla wars, funded in part by revenues from opium sales from the notorious "Golden Triangle".
(Reporting by Somjit Rungjumratrussamee; Writing by Kittipong Soonprasert; Editing by Darren Schuettler)
DKBA: Burma's second largest non-state armed group? - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Thu 18 Jun 2009
Ethnic ceasefire groups were upset this year when the Burmese junta announced plans to transform them into a Border Guard Force (BGF). However, one Karen rebel splinter group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), quickly joined, seeing it as an opportunity to expand its troops and as a road to riches. According to a DKBA report on a meeting in May on the transformation of the Border Guard Force that was obtained by The Irrawaddy, the DKBA plans to expand its troops from 6,000 to 9,000.
DKBA troops march in a parade. (Photo: Shah Paung/ The Irrawaddy)
At the meeting, Tun Hlaing, the DKBA commander, said that the armed group would recruit or conscript 3,000 more soldiers.
If the DKBA reaches an armed force of 9,000 troops, it would be the second largest non-state-armed group in Burma, after the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The UWSA has an estimated 25,000 troops based in northern and southern Shan State.
In 1995, Buddhist Karen rebels separated from the mainly Christian-dominated Karen National Union (KNU) that has sought Karen autonomy for more than six decades. Later, they formed the DKBA.
In 1995, the DKBA allied with the Burmese army, which eventually led to the fall of the then KNU headquarters at Manerplaw.
"The [Burmese] government has had some success using religion to split the insurgent factions," Larry J Remon, a security analyst wrote in a bulletin of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, while noting that the success has been coupled with lucrative rewards for corrupt leaders.
Maj-Gen Thet Naing Win, the commander of the Burmese army's Southeast Regional Command, met with leaders of the DKBA at the headquarter of the 22nd Light Infantry Division in Hpa-an in Karen State on April 18.
At the meeting, the DKBA commander, Thar Htoo Kyaw, said that the DKBA will transform into a Border Guard Force in order to survive.
According to Thar Htoo Kyaw, the Burmese commander told them that the DKBA headquarter will become a Border Guard Commanding Headquarter under the transformation plan.
After transformation, the border guard forces of the DKBA will still be under the DKBA flag.
Under a draft plan on troop transformation, DKBA commanders would be allowed to have 22 battalions under five brigades and one central headquarters.
Thar Htoo Kyaw said at the meeting that the DKBA will recruit between ages 18 and 50. In early fall, the DKBA will report on its armed structure to Burmese commanders.
Since May, along with DKBA troops, Burmese forces have conducted a military offensive against the Karen National Liberated Army, the military wing of the KNU.
Thousands of Karen have escaped the offensive to neighboring Thailand and an unknown number of villagers are now internally displaced persons living in the jungle.
In the past 14 years, the DKBA, allied with the junta, several times crossed into Thailand and burned Karen refugee camps.
Security analysts describe the DKBA as an armed group that brings in income from drug trafficking and car smuggling activities, which are tacitly condoned by the military junta.
Which ever side wins in the current offensive, the territory under its control will provide lucrative income from timber, commercial trading and taxes.
Chinese firms to have stakes in two mega dams - Moe Thu
Mizzima News: Thu 18 Jun 2009
Business stakeholders from Burma, China and Thailand are into discussions for Chinese investors to involve themselves in two huge hydro power dams in Burma, said a Rangoon-based energy expert.
The two multi-billion-dollar projects on the Salween River are being developed by Thailand's MDX Group and Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, both of which have joint ventures with Burma's Ministry of Electric Power (1).
"A few Chinese firms are holding discussions with officials concerned to participate in the two projects - Tasang and Hatgyi," said the expert.
The Tasang hydropower project, worth US$ 7 billion, is the largest Thai investment in Burma. It will generate an estimated 7,100 megawatts (MW) and is being operated by Thailand's MDX Group, while the US$1 billion Hatgyi project is being developed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT).
However, the expert, who wished not to be named for fear of reprisal, refused to comment on how many shares the Chinese side will take.
The Tasang project, located about 75 kilometres from the Thai border, will be 868 metres long and 227 metres high and will be the biggest dam ever and is scheduled to become functional in 2022.
A joint venture agreement to build the dam was signed in Rangoon in April 2006 between Burma and MDX Group. The pre-feasibility study started in 1997.
The expert said the Burmese side was delaying building the Tasang project and that the actual construction only started in early 2007 but was suspended shortly thereafter.
The Tasang project, one of the five mega hydropower projects on the Salween River, is being jointly developed by Burma and Thailand.
Meanwhile, the expert said China is negotiating to participate in the $1 billion Hatgyi project on Salween River in Karen State. China's Sinohydro Corp will be the investor in the Hatgyi project that is located in the conflict zone between the Karen rebels and the Burmese Army.
Two EGAT technicians were killed while on a survey at the dam site in 2007, forcing the EGAT to halt the survey work.
Burma's generals must free Aung San Suu Kyi and embrace democracy - Gordon Brown
Sydney Morning Herald: Thu 18 Jun 2009
Today is the 64th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi. The fact that she remains under arrest is tragic for Burma and for all those who believe in democracy. The trial of Ms Suu Kyi is an absurd mockery of justice. The real injustice was not that someone broke into her compound, but that she was imprisoned in the first place.
Ms Suu Kyi has now been imprisoned for 13 of the past 19 years, since the party she led won the last elections in her country.
More than 2000 others are imprisoned across Burma for sharing her commitment to a better future for the long-suffering population.
Even in the face of such injustice, Ms Suu Kyi has always supported the path of peace and reconciliation. But the regime has consistently spurned her offer of dialogue and reconciliation. It wants to isolate her from the people of Burma, for whom she has long been a symbol of hope and defiance.
Her refusal to buckle in the face of tyranny is an inspiration. But words of support are not enough. The region, the European Union and the United Nations are all urging the junta to release Ms Suu Kyi. So far all requests for moderation have been spurned. In the face of such obstinacy, the world must now act. I believe there are three things we must do.
First, we need to support the countries of the region as they step up efforts to secure democracy and reconciliation. I have been struck by how Burma's neighbours have led the world in calling for Ms Suu Kyi's release. We need to translate this outrage into political pressure for change.
Second, we need the UN Security Council to reinforce its calls for Ms Suu Kyi's release and to support the Secretary-General's efforts to bring about political progress through an early visit to Burma.
Third, we should impose a new set of tough sanctions that target the regime's economic interests. We will be pushing for stronger EU action in this regard. Such a step would hit the business interests of the generals and their cronies.
I also believe we should identify and target those judges complicit in the recent political show trials.
The growing sense of outrage and the unity of the international community behind this message should mark a turning point. The regime is at a crossroads. Long-promised elections in 2010 will remain a charade while political prisoners are being tortured, ethnic minorities are persecuted, the media muzzled, freedom of speech and assembly are non-existent and Ms Suu Kyi is silenced. The regime can choose to ignore the clamour for change. But this will only condemn the country to deeper isolation, poverty, conflict and despair.
Or it can choose the path of reform, as the region has urged. Burma is rich in natural and human resources, at the heart of a dynamic continent. Democratic reform would unleash the country's enormous potential. Britain and the international community would be ready to extend the hand of friendship. If the Burmese generals rethink their ways, we will be ready to recognise and embrace any genuine reforms they make.
Some may question why Burma warrants so much attention. There are other countries where human rights are ignored or people live in poverty. But the Burmese junta stands virtually alone in the scale of its misrule and the sheer indifference to the suffering of its 50 million people. How we respond to this injustice will send a message about our resolution to tackle similar injustices across the globe.
To those that stand for human rights, freedom and democracy, our message remains clear - you are not alone.
* Gordon Brown is the British Prime Minister.
Myanmar court allows Suu Kyi final witness appeal
Associated Press: Wed 17 Jun 2009
Myanmar's highest court said Wednesday it will allow a final appeal by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's defense lawyers for the reinstatement of two key witnesses at her trial, her lawyer said.
Defense lawyer Nyan Win called the ruling ''good news'' and said the High Court was expected to set a date for the appeal on Friday.
Four truckloads of armed riot police circled the court, and two trucks mounted with machine guns and filled with riot police were parked outside. Tight security is standard during hearings in the trial.
Suu Kyi is charged with having violated 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 trial has drawn outrage from the international community and from Suu Kyi's local supporters, who say the military government is using the bizarre incident as an excuse to keep the Nobel Peace Prize laureate detained through next year's elections.
Suu Kyi's trial, which started May 18, has been delayed to allow appeals for more defense witnesses. Nyan Win said the High Court appeal would cause further delays to the trial, which was scheduled to resume June 26.
The District Court trying Suu Kyi initially allowed only one of four defense witnesses to take the stand. On appeal, the Yangon Divisional Court ruled last week that a second witness could be heard. Two senior members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party - Tin Oo and Win Tin - remain barred from giving testimony.
It is widely expected that Suu Kyi will be found guilty. Courts in Myanmar are known for handing out harsh sentences to political dissidents.
If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.
Suu Kyi, who has been detained for more than 13 of the last 19 years, will spend her 64th birthday Friday in Yangon's Insein prison, where was transferred from house arrest on May 14.
Over 700,000 stateless persons in Burma - Francis Wade
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 17 Jun 2009
Burma has the world's third largest population of stateless persons according to the UN refugee agency, while at the same time Burmese refugees were last year the main beneficiaries of UN resettlement programmes.
The issue of stateless persons in Burma was thrown into the spotlight earlier this year when around 1000 ethnic Muslim Rohingya refugees from western Burma washed up on Thailand's shores, only to be towed back out to sea and set adrift by Thai authorities.
The incident shed light of the plight of the Rohingya, who are not recognized by the Burmese government and suffer frequent discrimination due to their lack of legal status.
In total, around 723,571 people are considered to be stateless in Burma, according to an annual Global Trends report released yesterday by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The report warned however that figures do not "capture the full magnitude of the phenomenon of statelessness - a significant number of stateless people have not been identified and statistical data on statelessness is not yet available in many cases".
Alongside the Rohingya, other ethnic groups such as Burmese Chinese, Burmese Indian and Panthay are not recognized by the government.
Burma is also home to over 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), the majority of which are in eastern Karen state, who have been forced out of their homes largely by fighting between the Burmese army and the Karen National Union.
No data was available for the total number of Burmese refugees living abroad, although Burma is thought to contribute the majority of the total 3.5 million stateless persons living in neighbouring Thailand.
That situation has been compounded by the exodus of around 4000 civilians from eastern Karen state in recent weeks who are fleeing a government offensive against the Karen National Union.
Furthermore, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) on Monday warned that even children with migrant status in Thailand were struggling to access education.
However around 23,200 Burmese benefited from UNHCR-facilitated resettlement programmes last year, the majority of these departing from Thailand. This, according to the report, was the world's highest proportion.
Globally, however, the situation last year for refugees was bleak, with a total of 42 million people had been uprooted by conflict.
The UNHCR found that numbers of IDPs in the world was at an historical high of more than 28 million, catalysed latterly by the intensification in recent months of conflict in Pakistan's Swat valley, which had forced some 2 million to leave their homes, and in Sri Lanka where 300,000 were held in intenrment camps following government offensives against the Tamil Tigers.
Junta to resettle 200,000 Burmans in Hukawng Valley
Kachin News Group: Wed 17 Jun 2009
The Burmese military junta plans to resettle 200,000 Burman people in ethnic Kachin's Hukawng Valley (also called Hugawng in Kachin) in the country's northern Kachin State before 2010, said regime insiders.
The new Burman settlers, who make up the majority of the country's population, will be mainly settled in areas close to three Kachin villages known as Nawng Mi, Sahtu Zup and Wara Zup on the Ledo or Stilwell Road also called Burma Road during WW II, added insiders.
In the guise of Rangoon-based Yuzana Company's crop plantation in the Valley, only Burman people from different areas of lower Burma have been resettled in the Valley since late 2006, said native Kachins from the Valley.
U Htay Myint a Chinese-Burman from Kutkai town in northeast Shan State chairs the company, which bought over 200,000 acres of land in Hukawng Valley from the junta. The purchase was politically motivated, said company sources.
The company is now continuously transporting Burman workers into its crop plantation area in the Valley. However, many workers are leaving the job and fleeing because of very low salaries, said sources among workers.
All runaway workers not only do not return homes from the Valley but the company also does not have a programme of bringing them back, added company sources.
The company has already constructed over 1500 houses for the workers in identical styles in two separate places. Two Thai-styled big factories are also being constructed in two different places near the labour quarters, said eyewitnesses.
The company is now mainly growing Cassava Plants and Sugar Cane in the newly ploughed fields, said eyewitnesses. The glue and curry-sweet powder are being produced for export from next year, according to company sources.
Till now, the junta has already resettled over 40,000 Burman people from lower Burma in the Valley. They were systematically transported by both Yuzana Company and local Burmese Army battalions, said native Kachin community leaders.
There are an estimated 20,000 native Kachin in villages in the Hukawng Valley along the Ledo Road starting from Namti to Shingbwi Yang. The entire Valley has been separately ruled by 12 Kachin Duwas (rulers) in Kachin history until the Britishers gave Burma Independence on January 4, 1948.
At the same time, Htoo Company owned by the Burman tycoon U Te Za (also spelled Tay Za), son-in-law of the junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe is taking out at least 50 trucks of hardwood per day from the Valley to Mogaung train station for export under the banner of Yuzana Company, said company sources.
Besides, U Te Za's Htoo Company is also practically supporting the Yuzana Company with essential finance and construction machinery, according to company insiders.
Recently, the junta's Northern Command (Ma Pa Kha) commander Brig-Gen Soe Win landed in a helicopter at the helipad in No. 1 Yuzana Village of Yuzana Company in the Valley. He proudly spoke to the local people that the crop plantation can be done by every one because peace has been restored in the Valley, said local people.
The Hukawng Valley was named as the world largest Tiger Reserve by the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in 2004. However, the Yunaza Company is destroying the reserve by heavy logging and converting forests into crop fields, said locals.
Locals and eyewitnesses told KNG, the Yuzana Company has already occupied and destroyed the No. 1 Tiger Conservation Camp near Nawng Mi village for crop plantation.
The Burman-dominated junta's response to people or organizations who oppose the crop plantation of Yuzana Company by saying, "Man is more important than the Tiger", said company sources.
Kachin people in Burma feels that the junta is deeply is into ethnic cleansing and huge land confiscation in Hukawng Valley by using the Yuzana Company and local Burmese Army bases.
Myanmar said to overrun 3 Karen rebel positions - Caroline Stauffer
Associated Press: Wed 17 Jun 2009
Myanmar government forces have overrun three Karen rebel positions in an offensive that has forced thousands of refugees across the Thai border, an aid group said Wednesday, even as the rebels claimed to have killed or wounded scores of government soldiers.
Myanmar troops and their allies in the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, a local militia, launched an offensive against Karen National Union strongholds in early June, shelling their camps and sending more than 4,000 civilians fleeing into Thailand.
The KNU says Ler Per Her camp in Myanmar, which sheltered internal refugees, was abandoned last week - prompting one of the largest refugee movements into Thailand in recent years - and that government forces were trying to overrun five Karen positions in the area of the camp.
The Free Burma Rangers, which helps displaced people in eastern Myanmar, said Wednesday that government troops had overrun three of those positions.
KNU spokesman David Thaw maintained that the guerrillas have largely repelled the offensive and "killed or wounded 148 soldiers" in recent weeks. Only five Karen have been killed in the fighting, he said.
A spokesman for Myanmar's military government did not respond to a request for comment, and it was impossible to independently verify the claims because reporters cannot access the area.
The KNU has been fighting for more than 60 years for greater autonomy from Myanmar's central government, but its strength has dwindled over the past decade due to army offensives and divisions within its ranks.
Some 100,000 mostly Karen refugees already shelter in camps in Thailand after fleeing counterinsurgency operations in the past two decades, while aid agencies say nearly half a million others are internally displaced inside eastern Myanmar.
The latest refugees were taking shelter about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Mae Sot, a border town that is 240 miles (380 kilometers) northwest of the Thai capital, Bangkok.
Human rights groups as well as the United Nations have long accused the Myanmar government of torture, killings and rape of Karen civilians in their attempts to stamp out the insurgency. The military regime denies such allegations.
Junta out of step with Asean economic ambition - William Boot
Irrawaddy: Wed 17 Jun 2009
Singapore's "no new investment without reform" message to the Burmese generals is more than just a tough response to the widely condemned trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, say regional analysts.
It signals an end to the old indulgence of the junta for commercial reasons, and the beginning of a new collective more responsible attitude in with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Singapore has been one of Burma's biggest investors over the last 15 years and has been a de facto banking house for the regime. But the global financial crisis has changed that, possibly forever.
"The current financial crisis, and Singapore's grave exposure to it, makes [Singapore Senior Minister] Goh Chok Tong's gesture more meaningful than it would be in more tranquil and prosperous times," said Burma economy expert Prof Sean Turnell.
The cost of associating with the Burmese junta are "rather more than Singapore seems willing to pay" in its worst financial crisis in more than 40 years, said Turnell, who produces the Burma Economic Watch for Macquarie University in Australia.
For a long time, Singapore was Burma's second-largest investor, spending heavily in tourism developments such as hotels and other areas.
China's increasing importance to the junta had already pushed Singapore into investment third place.
Singapore banks have traditionally been a haven for money from both the junta chiefs and the leading Burmese companies that do business with them.
Singapore's state-controlled Channel News Asia reported that Goh advised junta leader Than Shwe during a visit to Naypyidaw earlier this month that Singapore investors would likely stay away until "the picture is clear, before this move to democracy is seen to produce results."
He was referring to the trial of Suu Kyi and the junta's promised national elections in 2010.
Significantly, Goh is also chairman of the city state's central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Turnell said that while Singapore's economy was booming it was easy for the city state to indulge Burma's excesses and ignore international opinion and Western-led sanctions.
"In straightened times the tolerance to one's indigent and grasping relatives in the Asean family might just stretch affections," he told The Irrawaddy.
In prosperous times, the economic "cushion" allows countries such as Singapore to "ignore the reputational damage of indulging Burma's military leaders."
"Now such a cushion is threadbare indeed, and the costs of associating with Burma's dysfunctional state apparatus are rather more than Singapore seems willing to pay."
Singapore's blunt economic message to Than Shwe and his cohorts comes as more member countries of Asean begin to openly criticize the junta and especially its trumped up trial of Suu Kyi on spurious allegations widely perceived as being intended to stop her participation in next year's promised elections.
"Aung San Suu Kyi may be behind bars, but the junta is in the hot seat," said the chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Simon Tay.
"In the present circumstances, it is not only Western democracies and activists who protest what is being done. The telling evidence of the weight of opinion comes from looking across members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations."
And the reason, again, is economic.
Asean finally seems to have lost patience with its former tolerance and indulgence of the Burmese junta's excesses, said the analysts.
"As Asean moves more determinedly toward a European Union style of economic community, with free trade, free movement of people and respect for human rights which lie at the core of the EU's purpose, it can no longer continue to ignore a festering sore," said the economic attaché of a European embassy in Bangkok, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the still sensitive nature of the issue.
"The political and economic landscape of this region is changing forever and the Burmese generals have yet to realize they are not only out of step but out of time," he said.
China adds 'democracy,' 'economic growth' to Burma policy - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Wed 17 Jun 2009
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has told the Burma's No 2 leader, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, on Tuesday in Beijing that China hopes the military junta will promote democracy in Burma.
According to a Chinese language news website, www.news.qq.com, Wen said in order to achieve Burma's national reconciliation, safeguard national stability and economic development, Beijing hoped the military government would promote democracy.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Burma's No 2 leader, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, greet each other in Beijing on Tuesday.
Apart from the political situation in Burma, Wen also spoke of the nearly six decade long diplomatic ties between the neighboring countries as well as sustained bilateral relations.
The Chinese media reported that Maung Aye said during his meeting with Wen on Tuesday that "Paukphaw," or deep friendship relation between Burma and China, have been deepen even more. He thanked the Chinese government for its aid for economic and social development in Burma.
Maung Aye also said Burma supported the one-China policy when he met with Premier Wen, the Chinese media reported.
Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border, said it was a positive step for Bejing to add democracy, national reconciliation and economic development to its old policy of "stability" in Burma.
"Wen Jiabao's words of national reconciliation, stability and economic development to Gen Maung Aye reflected China's current Burma policy," he said.
However, other Burma observers are still skeptical about China's policy on Burma, saying Beijing only focuses on its own economic and military interests in regard to Burma.
"I do not expect much out of this visit and certainly not Chinese pressure on Naypyidaw to adopt reforms," Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian Studies at Temple University's Japan campus, told The Irrawaddy.
"China wants stability on its border and even if it has some reservations about the SPDC's methods and capabilities, it shows no inclination to gamble on democracy or condemn human rights abuses."
He noted that Burma's powerful neighbors, China and India, are its largest trading partners and their dependence on natural resources and desire for a stable Burma trump their interests in a free and democratic Burma.
"The development of Burma is for their own interests," he said.
During his China visit, Muang Aye was accompanied by ministers and seniors officials of Burma's Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Energy as well as representatives from Burmese businesses.
According to Aung Kyaw Zaw, www.news.qq.com also recently republished an article by Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner on North Korea's involvement in tunnel and underground facility construction in Burma.
Observers say Beijing is observing the relationship between Burma and North Korea, and does not want North Korea to help the Burmese generals achieve nuclear or missile capabilities, such as in Iran and Syria.
"Definitely, China will not want two more nuclear power countries on its northeast and southwest border," Aung Kyaw Zaw said.
In last year, officials of Burma and North Korea exchanged a number of visits. Burmese foreign minister Nyan Win visited North Korea in October 2008. In November 2008, North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Young Il stopped in Burma before he flew to Iran. The junta's No 3 leader, General Shwe Mann, reportedly visited Pyongyang in April 2008.
During Maung Aye visit to China, Kim Jong Un, 26, the favored youngest son of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il, also made a secret trip from Pyongyang to Beijing last week.
"It is interesting that Maung Aye's visit follows that by a delegation from North Korea, two pariah regimes that owe much to Beijing's support - economic, diplomatic and military," said Kingston.
150,000 Myanmar working in Malaysia
Asia Pulse: Wed 17 Jun 2009
About 3.5 million Myanmars have fled the country and are now living in refugee camps or have sought employment abroad, including an estimated 150,000 in Malaysia, the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) said Tuesday.
Its researcher, Stephen Hull, said that among the three milion people who were now in Thailand, about 135,000 were cramped in 10 refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, with the Karen ethnic group being the single largest group.
He said between 50,000 and 60,000 were in Singapore, up to 100,000 ethnic Chin from western Myanmar lived in the north-eastern Indian state of Mizoram while about 200,000 Rohingya, also from the western side, had settled in eastern Bangladesh.
"Most of the people fled the country because of poverty or torture and forced labour carried out by Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)," he said at the launch of the KHRG's report on "Abuse, Poverty and Migration: Investigating migrants' motivations to leave home in Burma." here Tuesday.
He said the number of Karens fleeing the country was expected to rise, citing the 3,000 villagers who crossed into Thailand early this month from Dta Greh Township, following the joint SPDC and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army forces attack on a Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) camp, as well as those fleeing forced recruitment as porters to carry supplies for the troops.
The KHRG said this was the largest refugee exodus from Karen state on a single occasion since 1997.
The report said many of the Myanmars were seen as economic migrants, approximately 135,000 individuals in refugee camps in Thailand, about 1,500 UNHCR-recognised refugees in India and 26,000 Rohingya residing within two officially recognised refugee camps in Bangladesh are acknowledged as forced migrants entitled to host-government or UN assistance.
Jackie Pollock from the MAP Foundation (Thailand) said that despite the Karen people fleeing the country to escape the attack and torture, many receiving countries, including Thailand, regarded them as a threat to the national security.
She said statistics compiled by several international agencies showed that there were 200,000 migrant children in Thailand while more than 200,000 aged between 15 to 18 years had registered to work in the kingdom.
Asked how the workers send back money to support their families, she said many of them used brokers who charged small amounts of commission or through friends returning home.
Pollock said that while many of the Asean countries continued to address the migrant issues, the regional grouping had set up a committee to implement a non-binding declaration on the migrant workers.
On claims that many of the Myanmars were going to refugee camps to get resettled in a third country, she said about 30,000 had been resettled in other countries and added that Thailand's new law allowed children of stateless people to be given citizenship.
U.N.'s Ban urged to help free Myanmar prisoners - Louis Charbonneau
Reuters: Wed 17 Jun 2009
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his envoy to Myanmar have received a petition from over 670,000 people worldwide urging them to press Myanmar's military junta to release all political prisoners.
The petition calls on Ban and his special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democratic opposition in the country formerly known as Burma, and other political prisoners.
Suu Kyi is currently on trial for allegedly violating the terms of her imprisonment.
U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas confirmed on Tuesday that Gambari had received the petition.
"The release of all political prisoners is the first and most important step toward freedom and democracy in Burma," the petition says. "We, the undersigned, call upon U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to make it his personal priority to secure the release of all of Burma's political prisoners."
More than 670,000 signatures were collected in some 220 countries and territories, said the petition organizers, who include former political prisoners and human rights activists.
Among the Burmese activists behind the petition are Khin Ohmar, vice chairwoman of the Burmese Women's Union, and former political prisoners Tate Naing and Aung Din.
Myanmar is holding 2,100 political prisoners and since October more than 350 prisoners have been given jail sentences of up to 104 years, according to a statement issued by the Czech Republic, which has helped publicize the petition.
Among the world figures who signed the petition is former Czech President Vaclav Havel, who spent many years in prison due to his activities as an anti-communist dissident.
The trial of Suu Kyi and of American John Yettaw, whose uninvited visit to her home last month was deemed a breach of her house arrest, is set to resume on June 26. Suu Kyi faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.
Ban is considering a visit to Myanmar next month to personally urge the junta generals to keep their promises to democratize.
(Editing by Eric Beech)
It's not too late to rescue Burma from further tragedy - Benedict Rogers
Telegraph (UK): Wed 17 Jun 2009
It is time to treat Than Shwe as the war criminal that he is, and hold a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity, writes Benedict Rogers.
Within the past month, two new shocking chapters of misery have opened up in Burma's decades-long tragedy.
The first is the trial, on ludicrously fabricated charges, of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who marks her 64th birthday this coming Friday. Now in the notorious Insein Prison, after over 13 years of house arrest, her trial is a blatant attempt by the regime to keep her locked up. Her continued detention is illegal under both international and Burmese law, according to the UN - which is why the regime has gone to such absurd lengths to find fresh charges.
The second is the attacks within the past week on Ler Per Hur , a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Karen State, Burma. Situated on the banks of the Moie river, opposite Thailand, Ler Per Hur has been home to more than 1,200 Karen IDPs who had fled the Burma Army's attacks on their villages deeper inside Burma. Although it has twice been attacked before, it has for the past seven years provided a place of sanctuary and relative peace for those escaping the junta's policies of forced labour, rape, torture, destruction of villages, crops and livestock, extrajudicial killings and conscription of villagers as human minesweepers.
I know Ler Per Hur well. I have visited many times. The people there are my friends. I have ridden in their boats, walked through their vegetable patches, played with their children and talked with new arrivals. I have brought British and Irish politicians, including John Bercow , perhaps the next Speaker of the House of Commons, there. My mother has visited, and my sister , a professional musician, has played her violin there. Now, the inhabitants of Ler Per Hur and the surrounding area have had to flee for their lives.
Over 5,000 Karen civilians are now encamped on the Thai side of the river, in urgent need of food, medicine and shelter, surrounded by the sound of mortars and RPGs. As Rainbow, a school teacher and a friend of mine, told the BBC : "Last week government troops attacked our camp. They were shelling every day … We can't go back because the military has taken over our camp. But we can't stay here for long either. We are illegal here … We can only hope that we'll be able to go home soon."
That hope, that they and the several million other Burmese refugees around the world will be able to go home soon, requires the international community to wake up. In recent years, abundant evidence has been provided of the extraordinary inhumanity of Burma's ruling military dictator, Senior General Than Shwe. In 2007, his military beat, arrested, imprisoned and killed Buddhist monks and civilians participating in peaceful protests. Last year, he rammed through a rigged referendum on a new constitution, while denying humanitarian aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis.
Yet rather than jolting the international community into serious action, these events appear to have increased muddled thinking among some. There are those in academia, diplomacy and major aid agencies who, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, argue that the regime shows signs of reasonableness and that all we need to do is lift sanctions and engage unconditionally. Perhaps, in some of their minds, a round of golf with the Generals would do the trick. It is as if the wind and rain of Cyclone Nargis swept through their brains - not removing the cobwebs that previously existed, but instead leaving a soggy mess behind. It gives a whole new meaning to the concept of 'water on the brain'.
The farcical trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, combined with the intensification of the offensive against Karen civilians, must surely be a wake-up call for those who have not previously heard the sirens ring. Than Shwe is not a man with whom we can simply have a nice chat. Significant pressure, far from being a cause of his intransigence, is the only language he understands. Sanctions, rather than being lifted, need to be tightened and more carefully targeted, to hit Than Shwe and his cronies. The United Nations Security Council must impose a universal arms embargo, and the European Union - which has at last issued a statement condemning the offensives in eastern Burma - should lead the charge. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should make the release of political prisoners in Burma his personal priority, as called for in a petition signed by almost 700,000 people . And it is time to treat Than Shwe as the war criminal that he is, and hold a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity , as called for by two previous UN special rapporteurs. Such steps should be given the sense of urgency the situation deserves, by invoking the UN's 'Responsibility to Protect' mechanism. That would be the most appropriate way of marking Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday.
Moreover, humanitarian aid - both within the country and especially to the IDPs on the run in the border areas - must be increased. Those who criticize pressure accuse campaigners of opposing aid. It is time to nail that lie once and for all. I know of no Burma activist who has opposed humanitarian aid, provided it is properly channeled and reaches those who need it most, without benefiting the regime. Indeed, the Burma Campaign UK and Christian Solidarity Worldwide fought hard to get the British government to increase aid to Burma in 2007, a battle we won in the face of stiff opposition from some civil servants. So while we can debate the merits of other policies, I urge those who perpetuate the lie about aid to put away their childish games and accept that on the humanitarian issue, at least, there is significant common ground. Furthermore, if they really do care about the humanitarian crisis in Burma, I hope they will join me in calling for significant emergency aid to the IDPs and refugees newly displaced as a result of the current eastern Burma crisis.
It is of course clear that Burma's regional neighbours, notably China, India, Japan and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), have a crucial role to play. Thailand in particular must see the offensives on its border, which may amount to attempted genocide, as the last straw. China should recognize that its reputation is seriously at risk if it continues to provide economic and diplomatic support for Than Shwe's barbaric regime. They must join the US and the EU in urging UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to increase his efforts to bring change to Burma, and supporting initiatives at the Security Council. Burma's political and humanitarian crisis surely ranks in the same category as North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe, and as such it must receive the attention it deserves and has for so long been denied. It is not too late to rescue Burma from further tragedy, nor is the international community's already much-tarnished moral record irredeemable - but both hang in the balance.
Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist working for Christian Solidarity Worldwide , which recently launched the Change for Burma! campaign. He is the author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen people (Monarch Books, 2004). He has travelled almost 30 times to Burma and its borderlands, and is currently writing a biography of Senior General Than Shwe.
India's stance on Burma long overdue for change - Editorial
Nation (Thailand): Wed 17 Jun 2009
New Delhi's shocking silence on developments in its neighbour, particularly the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, could come back to haunt it.
It is amazing how India can be so blind towards developments in its western neighbour, Burma, and the ongoing political oppression there. The world's largest democracy is doing a big disservice with its silence. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a man of virtue when it comes to Burma. He sounds like an accomplice with the Burmese military junta. It is beyond the regional and international community's understanding why India keeps defending Burma - even though the junta leaders are thugs.
The conventional wisdom is that New Delhi is protecting its turf inside Burma, which has been won through drastic changes of its position 15 years ago. Lest we |forget, India used to be one of the biggest supporters of Burmese pro-democratic movements and students in exile. Then, the Indian leaders saw China's southward influence kept expanding and spreading. Instead of helping to accelerate positive changes inside Burma, they decided to play the trade-off game plan devised by Burma.
Today, India believes that it has struck a deal with Burma along with an energy plan and the use of sea ports inside Burma. It is an open secret that India wants to counter China's growing economic clout in the Bay of Bengal. But it will be a wasteful exercise. Just look at how wrong Asean was when Burma was admitted into the group as a way to balance the Chinese influence. Look at what has transpired in the past decade. China's presence inside Burma, not to mention the rest of Southeast Asia, has increased rapidly and permeated the social fabric there. The best way is to manage the relations with China and play on Beijing's growing international responsibility. Joint statements from the UN Security Council and the ministerial conference of Asia-Europe Meeting in Hanoi last month on Burma and the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi showed the adroitness of Beijing's diplomacy and the international sentiment.
It is sad that India remains the only country - among those who matter on Burma - which still keeps quiet. More than a 100 Indian politicians have called on their government to intervene and help to free the opposition party leader and bring democracy there. Indeed, their demands were a bit too far-fetched. What India can do best is to behave like China - respond to the outcries and international sentiment. Certainly, India behaves uniquely in global affairs. But on this particular issue, the newly established government must take heed of what is going on with the farcical trial and the plight of other political prisoners. Furthermore, international solidarity is needed if there are going to be changes in Burma.
Burma has been able to get away scot-free playing one power against the other, using its rich energy and natural resources as baits. India, China as well as other countries are subjected to manipulation by Burma's energy diplomacy. Somehow all of them, except India, do come out and express their outrage over the latest developments. But it is a shame that India continues its silence.
The time has come for India to change its soft approach to Burma. Indeed, several countries are reviewing their foreign policy towards Burma in view of the current situation. India will be a loser in the future if it continues to entertain the idea that silence is golden at this junction. New Delhi is wrong to think that it will be rewarded for its continued inaction. Like it or not, India's international image and reputation has been tarnished greatly.
Apparently, India has not learned from its bitter history with Southeast Asia. Back in 1979, India was the only Asian odd ball that recognised the Vietnam-backed Heng-Samrin regime in Phnom Penh, much to the chagrin of Asean. Bilateral ties with the region were downgraded and took over a decade for India to catch up with Asean. When India became flexible and pragmatic, it produced great results. Look at Asean-India relations now, they have progressed tremendously.
At the moment, the very least India can do is to break its silence and support Asean's position and the chair's statement on Suu Kyi and call for inclusive election next year that is free and fair. Failure to do so would be a huge sham.
KIA troops take to forests for possible war with Burmese Army
Kachin News Group: Tue 16 Jun 2009
Troops of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are going into the forests from their army battalions in Burma's northern Kachin State for a possible war with the Burmese Army. This, despite having accepted the junta's strategy of transforming the armed-wing in principle, said local sources.
Columns of KIA soldiers are heading for the frontline. The KIA's activity is mainly concentrated in the areas around Laiza, the headquarters and the border trade centre of KIA and its political wing the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), said sources close to KIA soldiers.
A KIO serviceman of the KIA 3rd Brigade in Bhamo district told KNG, "Now, all KIA soldiers are entering the bushes. Many KIA soldiers have fanned out around the KIO/A headquarters in Laiza on the Sino-Burma border."
An eyewitness told KNG today, she surprisingly saw several columns of Burmese Army soldiers on the road between Bhamo and Kai Htik, the border trade route between China and Burma in Bhamo district.
All KIA soldiers are equipped with sophisticated guns and ammunition. They have been ordered to standby 24 hours in their army bases, KIA sources said.
The KIA's preparation is to defend itself from the Burmese troops. It is not offensive in nature, according to KIA officials.
Maj-Gen Gunhtang Gam Shawng, Chief of Staff of KIA reiterated that the junta's proposal of transforming KIA into a battalion of border guard force before the end of this year is a load of nonsense. The KIA's transformation will be considered after all political problems between the KIO and the junta are resolved.
On the other hand, political leaders of the KIO met the junta's army officials at least twice on transforming the KIA in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in the last two weeks, said KIO/A's headquarter sources.
As of now, Kachin political leaders are against the junta's proposal of transforming KIA to a battalion of a border guard force. All Kachin political organizations, Kachin university students in the entire country and Kachin people both inside Burma and abroad are against this move.
The KIA is one of strongest ethnic armed groups in the country because it connects with all Kachin people and is supported by all Kachins in Burma and abroad.
Unless the political problems are resolved first, the transformation of KIA is unacceptable for both KIA and the Kachin people.
Junta-backed militia will 'make Karen state peaceful' - Naw Noreen
Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 16 Jun 2009
A pro-junta militia in Burma believed to be responsible for the burning of Karen villages and forced recruitment of civilians as troops has said it intends to make Karen state "peaceful".
The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), who broke from the opposition Karen National Union (KNU) in 1994 and allied itself with the Burmese government, is involved in the current offensive against the KNU that has forced around 4000 civilians to flee to Thailand.
The clash began on 2 June. Yesterday two KNU battalion outposts were captured by the Burmese army, adding to the one captured on Sunday.
The KNU have said that the offensive is motivated by the looming 2010 elections, with the Burmese army keen to save face amidst mounting international criticism by proving it can effectively carry out difficult wet-season offensives.
"Our view is, they are carrying out offensives against the KNU for the 2010 election and trying to make the whole area the DKBA's border," said KNU secretary-general Naw Zipora Sein.
But a commander from the DKBA's Battalion 999, Colonel San Pyone, said the offensive is an effort to pressure the KNU to hold peace talks again.
"It is not for the gain or loss. It is just a kind of pressure [to make the KNU] reinitiate peace [talks]…and an effort to create a situation so as we can live together again," he said.
"And this kind of army [KNU] should not exist, I think. They will not exist in the future -we will try to make sure that they will not exist.
"We will make Karen state really peaceful."
In February the DKBA Battalion 999 reportedly raided and burned down a Karen village near the Burma-Thai border. Villagers said they were forced to flee into the jungle to escape the attack.
Some of the 4000 or so Karen who have arrived in Thailand in recent weeks have said they fled to escape forced recruitment by the DKBA into the Burmese army.
A spokesperson from the Karen Human Rights Group said that villagers near to the fighting were being forced to porter military supplies to the frontline, as well as acting as minesweepers.
"They have to go in front of the soldiers because for the attack, if you go in front of the soldiers then probably there are landmines and they will step on the landmines first," said September Paw.
Burma-China pipeline work to start in September - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Tue 16 Jun 2009
Work on the delayed Sino-Burmese oil and gas pipelines will begin in September and the project will be completed in 2012, one year ahead of schedule, according to The China Security Journal.
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