[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 23/7/09
Suu Kyi lawyers barred from visit
- Monks harassed by authorities
- Report on child soldier released
- Burma's nuclear nexus with Russia
- US House approves extension of ban on imports from Burma
- Clinton's Burma message
- Increase in school dropouts in border areas of Chin state
- Moscow stands by Myanmar nuclear cooperation deal
- Is Burma going nuclear?
- U.S. worried over Myanmar-N. Korea arms links
- Gandhi trust awards Aung San Suu Kyi peace prize
- Myanmar detains dozens of opposition members
- Junta transports armaments to Puta-O district
- An enduring byproduct of war
- EU to toughen Myanmar sanctions if Suu Kyi found guilty
- Landmine casualties in Burma double
- Will Shwe Mann become Mr President?
- Constitutional crisis over the border guard force
- Foreign investment grows in Myanmar
- India silent on Myanmar, eyes natural wealth
- Prisoner amnesties only offer false hope
- Junta is 'playing a game': PM in exile
- Beijing's Burma agenda
- China ranks as Myanmar's top investor in fiscal 2008-09
- Daewoo led consortium to invest US$ 3 billion in Burma
Suu Kyi lawyers barred from visit
Al Jazeera: Wed 22 Jul 2009
The lawyer for Myanmar's jailed pro-democracy leader says he and his team have been denied access to her, two days before her trial on charges of breaking the terms of her house arrest is due to resume.
Her legal team are expected to present closing arguments in the case on Friday, with a verdict expected shortly afterwards.
If convicted she faces up to five years in jail.
The trial, taking place behind closed doors in Yangon's Insein jail, centres on a visit to her home by an American man who swam secretly to her lakeside villa and stayed for two days.
On Wednesday her legal team had planned to finalise the draft of their 23-page closing argument, but authorities denied their request to visit her in a special guest house inside the jail.
"This shows that the judicial system in the country is very weak," "said Nyan Win, one of Aung San Suu Kyi's defence lawyers as well as spokesman for her party.
"We need to see our client to finalise the draft, and it was very bad that the right has been denied."
The trial has drawn condemnation from the international community and opposition supporters, who worry the ruling military has found an excuse to keep her detained through elections planned for next year.
Aung San Suu Kyi's legal team not contested the basic facts of the case, but they have said argued that the charges she faces are illegal because the military government charged her under a law that cites a constitution abolished two decades ago.
They have also asserted that the security guards who monitor her home and ensure that she remains inside her compound should also be held responsible for any intrusion on her property.
She is widely expected to be found guilty when the verdict is delivered, expected sometime next month.
Monks harassed by authorities - Naw Noreen
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 22 Jul 2009
Monks living in a Rangoon monastery were harassed by authorities last week after accepting food donations from opposition party members given to mark Martyrs' Day in Burma.
Around 20 officials from Thingangyun township authority in Rangoon arrived at the monastery in Laydauntkan ward where monks had received meals from National League for Democracy (NLD) members, a traditional way to celebrate Martyrs' Day each year on 19 June.
According to NLD member Naw Ohn Hla, the officials "said intimidating words" to the monks and told them to report future donations to township authorities.
"They issued warnings and interrogated them," she said. "They asked the monks how the offerings were made, how they were blessed with water, what kind of clothes were worn."
Authorities threatened to seal off the monastery as had been famously done to Maggin monastery during the September 2007 monk-led uprising.
Monastery abbot, U Kumara, reportedly replied that his monastery had no "complicated matters" like Maggin, but was told by authorities that he had been "tainted with a black spot".
Ohn Hla was among the 21 NLD members arrested and briefly detained whilst returning from Martyrs' Mausoleum on Sunday.
"They told us not to wear clothes with [the pictures of] General Aung San," she said. "When we headed towards the museum, they arrested us on the way."
A number of those detained were "beaten up severely" and thrown into a van, she said.
Report on child soldier released - Phanida
Mizzima News: Wed 22 Jul 2009
The unabated recruitment of child soldiers into the Burmese Army has been exposed in a report released by the Thai-Burmese border based 'Yoma 3' Burmese News Agency today.
The agency said, it took about one and-a-half years to compile the 72-page 'Child Soldiers: Burma's Sons of Sorrow', which was released on Wednesday at a press conference held along the Thai-Burmese border.
The report includes interviews with two child soldier deserters, a sergeant and four parents of child soldiers forcibly recruited by the army.
"The junta always claims to the international community and UN that it never recruits child soldiers into the army. They also always claim that organizations in exile are disseminating concocted stories to western countries. We wish to let people know clearly what the true facts are," Nyein Lu, editor of the Yoma 3 told Mizzima.
The report also presented news and photographs of the No. 1 Recruit Centre at Danyinkone Township in Rangoon Division, No. 2 in Mandalay, No. 3 in Yemethin and No. 9 Basic Military Training School in Zay Chaung village of Thaton Township in Mon state.
The group said, the survey and the facts and figures in the report were provided by activists inside Burma, military personnel in the Burma Army and former soldiers.
Yoma 3 news agency was founded in 1998 by pro-democracy and human rights activists, who fled to the border after the 1988 uprising. The report is Yoma 3's second report on child soldiers.
Despite persistent allegations made by the UN, ILO and Human Rights organizations on the use of child soldiers by the Burmese Army, the junta has always blatantly denied.
In the UN Secretary General's report released in December 2007, Ban Ki-moon says besides the Burmese Army, there are nine more ethnic armed forces, which also use child soldiers in their respective armed units.
Following severe criticism, Burma's military rulers in February 2007 allowed the International Labour Organization (ILO) to open a liaison in Rangoon to accept complaints of child soldiers and to help in eliminating the use of children in the army.
According to complaints received by Mizzima, the junta often recruits children mainly between the age of 14-16 from poor family backgrounds in Rangoon, Irrawaddy and Magwe Divisions by using pressure tactics including summoning by quota from each village, intimidation and incentives by way of money.
In 2005, the Yoma 3, published its first child soldier report in collaboration with the Thailand-based 'Human Rights Education Institute of Burma' (HREIB).
The group said, they will also present the report to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, Asia Human Right Council and Human Right Watch.
Burma's nuclear nexus with Russia - Ko Wild
Mizzima News: Wed 22 Jul 2009
The Burmese military junta's overt nuclear ambitions are out in the open, in a leaked document from the junta's military establishment, which reveals that Burma's number two strongman second Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, during a visit to Russia in 2006, had sought assistance in constructing a 10 million megawatt nuclear reactor.The document, which is a top-secret memo, details the overseas travels of Maung Aye and Thura Shwe Mann, third in the military hierarchy.The leaked document, a copy of which is in Mizzima's possession, says Maung Aye during his trip to Russia sought assistance to build a nuclear reactor. He also sought military cooperation from the Russians.
At the invitation of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Maung Aye led a 60-member delegation on a five-day visit, April 2 to 6 2006, to Russia. He met the Russian Prime Minister as well as the Russian Army' Chief of Staff Yury Baluyevksy, and Chief of Staff of the Navy and Air Force.
Maung Aye received positive response from Russia during the meetings, regarding his "special request" for assistance in constructing a 10 million megawatt nuclear reactor and to allow Burmese students in Russia to learn nuclear technology and aeronautical engineering.
Besides, he also got a nod for increased purchase of Russian-made MIG 29 and MIG 27 jet fighters, providing technical assistance in producing Guided Missiles and for purchase of ships.
As Russia, a veto wielding country at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), has blocked attempts by western countries to pass a resolution on Burma over its appalling human rights conditions, the delegation promised that Burma will back Russia's effort to establish stronger ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The secret documents with Mizzima also reveal details of meetings between Russia's Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Army Lt-General Evnevich Valery G, who visited Burma in February 2008, with Maung Aye.
The meeting was also attended by General Thura Shwe Mann, the junta's secretary (1), Commander-in-Chief (Navy), Commander-in-Chief (Air), Military Affairs Security Chief, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Defence and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Kyaw Thu.
The Russian delegation led by Lt-General Evnevich Valery G, was accompanied by the Ambassador of the Russian Federation Dr Mikhail Mgeladze and Military Attache' Colonel Alexander V Svinitsovskiy.
The document also reveals that the Deputy Minister of the Defence Ministry Maj-Gen Aye Myint led delegation and the Russian delegates formed a group for "cooperation in military technology."
Similarly, documents with details of General Thura Shwe Mann led delegation's visit to North Korea, following a visit to China in November 2008 was also leaked.
According to the leaked document, a copy of which is in Mizzima's possession, North Korean and Burma agreed on military cooperation and military training. Besides, North Korea also agreed to build underground buildings including tunnels to hide warships and fighter planes.
Burma and North Korea severed diplomatic relationship in 1983, after North Korean agents attempted to assassinate the visiting South Korean President Chun Du-hwan. But both countries officially announced resumption of diplomatic relations in 2007.
Russia and Burma have maintained over 60 years of diplomatic relations.
US House approves extension of ban on imports from Burma - Dan Robinson
Voice of America: Wed 22 Jul 2009
The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a one year renewal of a ban on imports from Burma. Burma was also the topic of remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate where a Republican senator discussed remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about military cooperation between Burma and North Korea.
In extending the import ban, lawmakers cited oppression by the ruling military government, and what the U.S. and other countries have called a sham trial of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The import prohibition is contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act Congress approved in 2003 and also applies to direct or third country imports of jade and gemstones from Burma.
New York Democrat Joseph Crowley sponsored the measure renewing the ban, which was approved by voice vote. He referred to the Burmese military government's rejection of diplomatic efforts aimed at obtaining Aung San Suu Kyi's release.
"The junta has also rejected recent diplomatic outreach which would have been well-received in the global community," said Joseph Crowley. "Specifically the junta refused U.N. Secretary General Ban-ki-Moon's request to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the non-violent movement for democracy and human rights in Burma. Not only did the junta refuse Aung San Suu Kyi's release, they even refused Ban ki-Moon's request to meet with her. The Burmese regime must be stopped."
Texas Republican Kevin Brady said while the best hope for change in Burma remains multilateral action, the U.S. must maintain sanctions.
"I view import sanctions with great skepticism and always have," said Kevin Brady. "But these Burma sanctions are crafted to maximize their ability to effect change."
Burma was also a topic of discussion in the U.S. Senate where an amendment on North Korea was being considered as part of defense authorization legislation.
The amendment by Republican Sam Brownback proposed placing North Korea back on the official U.S. government list of nations designated as state sponsors of terrorism, and would have placed the Senate on record supporting "meaningful consequences" for hostile and provocative actions.
North Korea was removed from the list in the waning days of the Bush administration and the Obama administration has been considering whether to re-designate it.
To a list including North Korea's resumed nuclear activities, missile proliferation, and imprisonment of two American journalists, Brownback added Secretary Clinton's remarks in Bangkok, Thailand expressing concern about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma.
"Here is today's Washington Post, this is even new information that I was finding shocking what is taking place, about North Korea building mysterious military ties with the military junta in Burma now taking place and the possibility of them giving military equipment and supplies, I suppose even nuclear arms and missile technology to the military government in Burma," said Sam Brownback.
In her remarks in Bangkok, Secretary Clinton said the U.S. takes seriously growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which she said would be destabilizing for the region and a direct threat to Burma's neighbors.
Senator John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Brownback's amendment would complicate and undermine delicate diplomatic efforts underway regarding North Korea, including steps to secure the release of American journalists Laura Ling, right, and Euna Lee.
Kerry said the success the U.S. and other nations had in turning around a North Korean ship suspected of carrying arms or other materials from North Korea to Burma demonstrates that such efforts can be effective.
"A North Korean ship suspected of carrying arms to Burma turned around, after it was denied bunkering services in Singapore," said John Kerry. "And the government of Burma itself warned that the ship would be inspected on arrival to insure that it complied with the U.N. arms embargo. So, that is real, that is happening."
News reports quoted U.S. officials traveling with Secretary Clinton as saying concerns about Burma and North Korea extend to possible nuclear cooperation, but said information about this is incomplete.
Burma is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires international inspections of any nuclear facilities. Burma signed an agreement with Russia in 2007 for construction of a nuclear research center and 10 megawatt light-water nuclear reactor, which experts said could not be used to develop nuclear weapons and would be subject to inspection.
The Obama administration has been conducting a review of U.S. policy toward Burma, but a final report was delayed, in part to await the outcome of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's trial on charges, widely condemned by the internationally community, of violating the terms of her detention.
Clinton's Burma message - Aung Zaw
Irrawaddy: Wed 22 Jul 2009
Hillary Clinton's message to Burma was loud and clear, but it is still unclear what direction exactly the US will take in trying to engage the troubled country.
Upon arriving in Bangkok, the latest troubles in Burma were waiting for the US secretary of state to comment on. However, Burma is no stranger to Clinton, since her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was the first world leader to impose economic sanctions on Burma in 1997. Today, Burma is still the region's recalcitrant, rogue regime, regularly putting its allies and partners in the hot seat of world opinion.
Clinton said that the US is deeply concerned by the reports of continuing human rights abuses in Burma, and particularly by actions that are attributed to the Burmese military concerning the rape and abuse of young women.
It was anticipated that the US would condemn Burma's poor human rights record, the ongoing Aung San Suu Kyi trial and the slow process of democratization. But the abuse of women's rights was a new message on Clinton's part.
Also, she highlighted the growing military ties between Burma and North Korea. Before her arrival, there were persistent reports of Burma's secret military mission to North Korea and Burma's keen interest in buying ballistic missiles.
"Now, we know that there are also growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which we take very seriously," Clinton said. "It would be destabilizing for the region. It would pose a direct threat to Burma's neighbors."
Her remarks won't go down well with Burma's main backers, China and Russia, who insist that Burma doesn't pose a direct threat to regional peace and security.
The leaked 37-page document with photographs of the regime's No 3 man, Gen Shwe Mann, who made a secret mission to Pyongyang in November via China, evidently show that the clandestine military ties between the two nations are well-advanced.
Informed sources confirmed that US and Japan intelligence agencies had been well-informed about Burma's secret mission to North Korea long before the story broke in the exiled media.
Last month, Japanese police arrested a North Korean and two Japanese nationals for allegedly trying to export a magnetic measuring device to Burma that could be used in missile development.
In any case, Clinton's clearly worded message will definitely set off alarm bells in Naypyidaw. It's also known that the paranoid generals have sought advice from North Korea to build tunnels and military facilities in case of a foreign invasion or proxy war. The military regime is actively seeking jet fighters, sophisticated air defense systems and anti-aircraft, in order to have top-line defensive and offensive military weapons. The leaked document led to the arrest of several Burmese civilians and military officials by the authorities.
US strong advocate for democracy
Since the current regime came into power in the bloody coup of 1988, the US has been a strong ally of Burma's democracy movement and political opposition groups.
Under President Barack Obama, US policy on Burma is undergoing a review. State Department officials said that the ongoing trial of Aung San Suu Kyi will affect the policy review. It is predicated that the new policy will be mixture of carrots and sticks. The US would like to exercise more diplomatic leverage to engage the hermit-like regime while maintaining targeted sanctions as sticks. The US is also interested in developing a more concentrated regional approach, involving the key countries in Southeast Asia.
Skeptics say that since the regime has little interest in engagement with the West, it will be difficult to depart from the previous policy adopted by the Bush administration.
Perhaps hopefully, it was once believed that the generals might want to seek a more normal relationship with the West, since Obama came into power. However, the ongoing bizarre trial of Suu Kyi and the North Korean military connection doesn't go down well with the US, the EU or most Asean countries.
That doesn't leave the US or other countries much room to try to normalize the relationship.
In the past, the absence of active US engagement in trying to solve the complicated problems of the region has paved the way for China's rise in influence. China is Burma's and North Korea's major ally.
Thus, aside from Burma, the good news is Clinton's broader message that the US is ready to resume an active leadership role, working in cooperation with Asian nations.
Clinton is already offering little carrots. Unlike former President Bush who called Burmese leaders tyrants, Clinton's message to the generals was mixed.
"Our position is that we are willing to have a more productive partnership with Burma if they take steps that are self-evident," she said.
It's unlikely the generals will follow-up on Clinton's offer, even though they are listening carefully.
Clinton's concern about the growing military ties between Burma and North Korea is well noted.
Dealing with the generals is like dealing with an infectious disease that could spread quickly - often it is hard to prescribe the right treatment - and nobody can predict the outcome.
The international community must work together to find the right prescription that will cure Burma's ills. The danger is that its problems not only affect it, but they could spill over and infect the entire region.
Increase in school dropouts in border areas of Chin state
Khonumthung News: Tue 21 Jul 2009
The effects of famine in Chin state has led to an increase in the number of school drop outs, especially, near the Indo-Myanmar border villages.
"Since, early 2007, because of the effects of famine in Chin state, Chin people have been struggling for their livelihood. So they have been unable to send their children to school. The number of children not receiving education is going up," said the principal of Tawnglalungchau village, Matupi town, southern Chin state.
"Desperate to eke out a living everyday the families are unable to afford sending children to school," said the principle.
"Our village school has tilled standard seven. We had more than 40 students last year. This year we have about 20 students. Many have not paid admission fees till now," said the principal to Khonunthung News.
"In village government schools, the number of students has come down. Most of students are working as farmers. They have also gone to Mizoram to work for a living," he added.
A few people remain in this village such as children, and elderly men and women. Most of the young people have left school to find work. Most were in 9th or 10th standards," the principal added.
Most Chin people are farmers. They used to stock food for two or three years and could send the children to school by selling vegetables before they were hit by the famine.
The famine comes in a 50-year cycle when bamboo flowers. Rats eat the flowers and multiply rapidly and then destroy crops, food grains stored in go downs and vegetables in Chin state.
Some NGOs are helping out with rice. However, there is no sponsorship for children's education.
Moscow stands by Myanmar nuclear cooperation deal
Russian Information Agency Novosti: Tue 21 Jul 2009
Nuclear cooperation between Russia and Myanmar is not in conflict with the Nonproliferation Treaty or IAEA requirements, and will move ahead, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.
Andrei Nesterenko's comment came in response to U.S. concerns over the cooperation.
However, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier on Tuesday that Washington was taking concerns about military cooperation between nuclear-armed North Korea and Myanmar "very seriously," but made no mention of Russia.
"Our cooperation with Myanmar is absolutely legitimate and in full compliance with our obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty and IAEA requirements," Nesterenko said.
He added that the IAEA had no problem with Myanmar over its nonproliferation commitments.
Russia signed an agreement in 2007 on the construction of a nuclear research center in Myanmar, and it will stand by this agreement, Nesterenko said.
The center will include a 10 MW light-water research reactor.
Is Burma going nuclear? - Denis D. Gray
Associated Press: Tue 21 Jul 2009
The recent aborted voyage of a North Korean ship, photographs of massive tunnels and a top secret meeting have raised alarm bells that one of the world's poorest nations may be aspiring to join the nuclear club - with help from its friends in Pyongyang. No one expects military-run Burma, also known as Myanmar, to obtain an atomic bomb anytime soon, but experts have the Southeast Asian nation on their radar screen."There's suspicion that something is going on, and increasingly that cooperation with North Korea may have a nuclear undercurrent. We are very much looking into it," says David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington DC think tank.
The issue is expected to be discussed, at least on the sidelines, at this week's Asean Regional Forum, a major security conference hosted by Thailand. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with representatives from North Korea and Burma, will attend.
Alert signals sounded recently when a North Korean freighter, the Kang Nam I, headed toward Burma with undisclosed cargo. Shadowed by the US Navy, it reversed course and returned home earlier this month.
It is still not clear what was aboard. US and South Korean officials suspected artillery and other non-nuclear arms, but one South Korean intelligence expert, citing satellite imagery, says the ship's mission appeared to be related to a Burma nuclear program and also carried Scud-type missiles.
The expert, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said North Korea is helping Burma set up uranium- and nuclear-related facilities, echoing similar reports that have long circulated in Burma's exile community and media.
Meanwhile, Japanese police arrested a North Korean and two Japanese nationals last month for allegedly trying to export a magnetic measuring device to Burma that could be used to develop missiles.
And a recent report from Burmese exile media said senior Burmese military officers made a top secret visit late last year to North Korea, where an agreement was concluded for greatly expanding cooperation to modernize Burma's military muscle, including the construction of underground installations. The military pact report has yet to be confirmed.
In June, photographs, video and reports showed as many as 800 tunnels, some of them vast, dug in Burma with North Korean assistance under an operation code-named "Tortoise Shells." The photos were reportedly taken between 2003 and 2006.
Thailand-based author Bertil Lintner is convinced of the authenticity of the photos, which he was the first to obtain. However, the purpose of the tunnel networks, many near the remote capital of Naypyidaw, remains a question mark.
"There is no doubt that the Burmese generals would like to have a bomb so that they could challenge the Americans and the rest of the world," says Lintner, who has written books on both Burma and North Korea. "But they must be decades away from acquiring anything that would even remotely resemble an atomic bomb."
David Mathieson of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, who monitors developments in Burma, says that while there's no firm evidence the generals are pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, "a swirl of circumstantial trends indicates something in the nuclear field is going on that definitely warrants closer scrutiny by the international community."
Albright says some of the suspicion stems from North Korea's nuclear cooperation with Syria, which now possesses a reactor. Syria had first approached the Russians, just as Burma did earlier, but both countries were rejected, so the Syrians turned to Pyongyang - a step Burma may also be taking.
Since the early 2000s, dissidents and defectors from Burma have talked of a "nuclear battalion," an atomic "Ayelar Project" working out of a disguised flour mill and two Pakistani scientists who fled to Burma following the September 11 World Trade Center attack providing assistance. They gave no detailed evidence.
Now a spokesman for the self-styled Burmese government-in-exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, says that according to sources working with the dissident movement inside the Burma army, there are two heavily guarded buildings under construction "to hold nuclear reactors" in central Burma.
Villagers in the area have been displaced, said spokesman Zinn Lin.
Andrew Selth of Australia's Griffith University, who has monitored Burma's possible nuclear moves for a decade, says none of these reports has been substantiated and calls the issue an "information black hole."
He also says Western governments are cautious in their assessments, remembering the intelligence blunders regarding suspected weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
A US State Department official, speaking on customary rules of anonymity, said he would not comment on intelligence-related matters such as nuclear proliferation.
"I don't want that to be seen as confirmation one way or the other. Obviously, any time that a country does business with North Korea we're going to watch to see what that is," the official said.
Alarm bells about Burma's aspirations have rung before. In 2007, Russia signed an agreement to establish a nuclear studies center in Burma, build a 10-megawatt nuclear research reactor for peaceful purposes and train several hundred technicians in its operation.
However, Russia's atomic agency Rosatom told The Associated Press recently that "there has been no movement whatsoever on this agreement with Burma ever since."
Even earlier, before the military seized power, Burma sought to develop nuclear energy, sending physicists to the United States and Britain for studies in the 1950s. The military government established a Department of Atomic Energy in 2001 under U Thaung, a known proponent of nuclear technology who currently heads the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Burma is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and under a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, it is obligated to let the UN watchdog know at least six months in advance of operating a nuclear facility, agency spokesman Ayhan Evrensel said.
Evrensel said the Vienna-based IAEA has asked Burma to sign a so-called "additional protocol" that would allow agency experts to carry out unannounced inspections and lead to a broader flow of information about Burma's nuclear activities.
The regime has remained silent on whatever its plans may be. A Burmese regime spokesman did not respond to an e-mail asking about Russian and North Korean involvement in nuclear development.
In a rare comment from inside Burma, Chan Tun, former ambassador to North Korea turned democracy activist, told the Thailand-based The Irrawaddy magazine, "To put it plainly: Burma wants to get the technology to develop a nuclear bomb.
"However, I have to say that it is childish of the Burmese generals to dream about acquiring nuclear technology since they can't even provide regular electricity in Burma," the Burmese exile publication quoted him last month as saying.
Some experts think the generals may be bluffing.
"I would think that it's quite possible Yangon [Rangoon] would like to scare other countries or may feel that talking about developing nuclear technologies will give them more bargaining clout," said Cristina-Astrid Hansell at the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. "This is not unreasonable, given the payoffs North Korea has gotten for its nuclear program."
* Associated Press writers Kwang-tae Kim in Seoul, Pauline Jellinek and Matt Lee in Washington, Caroline Stauffer in Bangkok, George Jahn and William Kole in Vienna and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.
U.S. worried over Myanmar-N. Korea arms links - Mark Landler
New York Times: Tue 21 Jul 2009
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, arriving here for a meeting of Southeast Asian nations, expressed concern on Tuesday about what she called growing evidence of military cooperation between North Korea and Myanmar, which she said could destabilize the region.
Declaring that she takes the reports such cooperation "very seriously," Mrs. Clinton said that expanded military ties between the countries would "pose a direct threat" to Myanmar's neighbors. She singled out Thailand, an ally of the United States and the host of the regional meeting, as being vulnerable to a heavily armed Myanmar, a reclusive dictatorship also known as Burma.
Suspicions about North Korea's relationship with Myanmar deepened recently when a North Korea freighter appeared to be steaming toward Myanmar. American officials, believing the ship might be carrying weapons or other illicit cargo, tracked it until it reversed course.
North Korea is already suspected of supplying Myanmar with small arms and ammunition, but some intelligence analysts contend that North Korea is also helping Myanmar pursue a nuclear weapons program. They cite as possible evidence newly published photos circulated by Burmese dissident groups of what some analysts assert are a network of giant tunnels outside Myanmar's jungle capital, Naypyidaw, built with help from North Korean engineers.
Mrs. Clinton did not say whether the Obama administration shares suspicions about any nuclear cooperation. But another senior administration official said the United States had not discounted the possibility. "North Korea has a history of proliferating," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because only Mrs. Clinton was authorized to speak publicly in advance of the conference.
Even without these links, Myanmar and North Korea are likely to dominate the meeting of the Association of Southeast Nations, or ASEAN, which begins Wednesday on the resort island of Phuket.
Mrs. Clinton plans to meet with the foreign ministers of several countries to firm up support for the latest United Nations resolution against North Korea, adopted after Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests.
Although the United States is putting most of its emphasis on enforcing the sanctions in that resolution, it has begun discussing possible incentives that the countries could offer North Korea, if its regime agreed to abandon its nuclear ambitions and return to the bargaining table.
Officials declined to say what might be on the table, though they said it would be a mix of familiar and new elements. In the past, the United States and other counties have offered Pyongyang shipments of fuel.
"There are obviously a list of incentives, offers that could be made if the North Koreans evidence any willingness to take a different path," Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference here, after arriving from New Delhi. "As of this moment in time, we haven't seen that evidence."
The administration's decision to broach the possibility of incentives, officials said, will make it easier to persuade countries like China, which have previously resisted sanctions against North Korea, from agreeing to implement the tougher measures in the United Nations resolution.
North Korea is expected to send a delegate to the ASEAN conference, but Mrs. Clinton did not plan to meet that person. American officials said there was always the possibility of a chance encounter of a North Korean diplomat and one of Mrs. Clinton's lieutenants on the sidelines.
Mrs. Clinton also has no plans to meet with a representative of Myanmar. On Tuesday, she used unusually tough language in discussing the country's human rights record and its treatment of Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader on trial for violating her house arrest by sheltering an American man who swam across a lake to her bungalow last May.
"We are deeply concerned by the reports of continuing human rights abuses within Burma," she said, "and particularly by actions that are attributed to the Burmese military, concerning the mistreatment and abuse of young girls."
The Obama administration has been reviewing American policy toward Myanmar since February, when Mrs. Clinton declared that the existing sanctions against its military regime had been ineffective.
But the United States will not announce a new policy at this meeting, largely because repeated delays in the trial of Mrs. Aung Sang Suu Kyi have made it difficult for the administration to develop a response. Mrs. Clinton repeated her demand that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi be treated fairly, and dismissed the charges against her as "baseless and totally unacceptable."
"Our position is that we are willing to have a more productive partnership with Burma if they take steps that are self-evident," she said.
She called on the regime to release political prisoners and to "end the violence" against its own people, including ethnic minorities. In recent months, the military has launched a fierce offensive against the Karen minority, driving refugees across the border into Thailand.
Both Chinese and American officials have pressed Myanmar to adhere to the anti-proliferation measures in the sanctions against North Korea, which it has pledged to do. Analysts say there is evidence, in the aborted voyage of the North Korean freighter, that the regime got the message.
Without a new American policy to announce, however, the United States and Asian nations are unlikely to break much ground in trying to bring the generals who run Myanmar back into the fold.
Appearing with Mrs. Clinton, one of Thailand's deputy prime ministers, Korbsak Sabhavasu, said, "I think we basically almost just about share the same thoughts and ideas on how to solve this problem."
Gandhi trust awards Aung San Suu Kyi peace prize
Agence France Presse: Tue 21 Jul 2009
The Mahatma Gandhi prize was on Monday handed over to a representative of Myanmar's imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi, an AFP correspondent said.
The Durban-based committee behind the International Award for Peace and Reconciliation handed over the prize to Aung San Suu Kyi's cousin, the head of Myanmar's self-proclaimed government-in-exile, Sein Win, as the country's rights icon awaits trial on charges of violating her house arrest.
"Everybody would have wanted to see her collect this prize in person," her representative said. "Obviously that would have been better (but) she has to attend to her trial in Burma at the moment. I'm worried they will find her guilty."
The prize is awarded by the Gandhi Development Trust in honour of the pre-eminent political and spiritual leader of India during that country's movement for independence from the British empire.
Gandhi's early years as a lawyer were spent in South Africa, where the recipient of last year's prize, anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, fought an even longer struggle for freedom.
Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been deprived of her liberty for more than 13 of the last 19 years, and has been kept in jail since May after an American man swam uninvited to her home.
Myanmar detains dozens of opposition members
Associated Press: Mon 20 Jul 2009
Authorities in military-run Myanmar detained dozens of opposition party members today as they returned from ceremonies marking the death of the father of jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, witnesses said.
The arrests came after riot police set up barricades around the Martyr's Mausoleum where the official ceremony took place to commemorate the death of Gen. Aung San, the country's independence hero.
At least 50 members of the opposition National League for Democracy party were walking in small groups when they were arrested, witnesses said on condition of anonymity for fear of official reprisal.
It was not immediately clear why police detained them.
Some of the NLD members had been attending a ceremony at party headquarters to mark Gen. Aung San's death 62 years ago, while others had been at the official commemoration.
"Some members were roughly taken into trucks, and those who ran away were chased," a witness said. Some who ran onto public buses were dragged out and taken away.
Gen. Aung San and other government leaders were assassinated by gunmen during a Cabinet meeting on July 19, 1947, shortly after Britain granted independence to the Southeast Asian colony.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi marked the anniversary of her father's death inside Yangon's Insein prison. She is on trial on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest by giving shelter to an uninvited American man who swam to her lakeside home in May.
If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison. Her trial is to resume Friday.
Earlier today, hundreds of riot police erected barricades secured with barbed wire and blocked streets leading to the Martyr's Mausoleum. More than two dozen trucks carrying riot police and four prison vans were parked near the monument, located near the famed Shwedagon pagoda.
Flags were flown at half-staff at the mausoleum as officials placed flowers at the tomb, and families of the slain leaders joined the tightly guarded wreath-laying ceremony.
Suu Kyi, 64, who used to attend the official ceremony, was absent for a sixth consecutive year and instead marked the day by donating food to patients at the hospital inside the prison, said Nyan Win, a spokesman for her party.
Martyr's Day was an important event on Myanmar's calendar for years, but has been gradually downgraded as Suu Kyi has become more popular, particularly since a 1988 pro-democracy uprising that was crushed by the junta.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.
Suu Kyi has been under detention for 14 of the past 20 years. Her opposition party won national elections in 1990, but Myanmar's generals refused to relinquish power.
Her trial has drawn condemnation from the international community and her supporters within Myanmar, who worry that the ruling junta has found an excuse to keep her detained through elections planned for next year.
Junta transports armaments to Puta-O district
Kachin News Group: Mon 20 Jul 2009
Military hardware, including weapons and ammunition is being transported to Puta-O (also called Putau in Kachin) district, Kachin State, in the northernmost region of Burma since last year by the military junta, said local sources.
Kachins in Puta-O said, local Burmese Army soldiers are transporting weapons and ammunition to the two remote towns - Nong Mong and Khaunglanghpu, east of Mali Hka river by horses and in vehicles.
Both small and big weapons are being transported to the two small towns from the Burmese Army's Infantry Battalion No. 137 based in Machyangbaw (also pronounced Machan Baw in Burmese), 14 miles southeast of Puta-O town, said residents of Machyangbaw.
At the same time, the junta is increasingly providing more weapons to a local Rawang militia group called "Rebellion Resistance Force, RRF" led by businessman Tanggu Dang, the owner of Mali Hka Recording in Kachin State's capital Myitkyina, based in Shing Hkong in Khaunglanghpu, said sources close to the RRF.
Rawang is one of six major tribes in Kachin nationals, and are mainly settled in Puta-O district in Kachin State, Northern Burma.
The RRF leader Tanggu Dang, also called Ahdang, has been severely condemned by his Rawang tribe in Puta-O for "selling Rawang tribe" because he recruited hundreds of local Rawang young people for the Burmese Army on the pretext of recruiting for the RRF during the last two years, say native Rawang people in Puta-O.
According to the war history of Puta-O after Burma's Independence in 1948, many Rawang people served in the Burmese Army and militias in Puta-O. They fought against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the district.
The response of local people to weapons being delivered to Puta-O district is that the junta is planning a 'war between the Kachins'. The conflict between KIA and RRF may restart after next year's elections because of the machinations of the junta, said local sources.
The junta is also secretly deploying more troops and transporting weapons to the rest of Kachin State like Myitkyina district, Bhamo district, Waingmaw Township and Hukawng Valley, said local sources close to the Burmese Army.
The ruling junta's actions indicate they are gearing up for an inevitable war with the KIA, post elections, said local sources.
Meanwhile, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of KIA is demanding self-determination of Kachin State from the ruling junta in place of changing KIA to a battalion of the Border Guard Force (BGF) proposed by the junta, said KIO officials.
An enduring byproduct of war - Daniela Nayu
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 20 Jul 2009
For half a century, Burma's jungles and mountains have hosted a conflict where conventional weaponry has been traded for tactics designed to forever scar the ethnic population of the country.
The byproducts of the world's longest running internal conflict, grossly underreported, have been so severe that international lawyers and rights groups believe that the ruling junta in Burma could warrant investigation for war crimes. Perhaps most chillingly, young girls have been subject to appalling sexual violence at the hands of a military bent on creating a means of intimidation that will far outlast the brandishing of a gun.
System of Impunity, a 2004 report by the Women's League of Burma (WLB), describes the case of a 13-year-old Shan girl, Nang Ung, who was detained by Burmese troops on false charges of being a rebel. "She was tied up in a tent and raped every day for 10 days [by five to six troops each day]. The injuries she sustained from the repeated rapes were so severe that she never recovered. She died a few weeks after her release."
Naang Ung's story has been echoed in every ethnic region of Burma for generations. Burmese rights organisations suggest that military rape of ethnic women has been rife in the country for the last five decades since the consolidation of military rule, and shows no signs of abating.
"It can happen in homes, in the villages, in the forests, in the paddy fields, whether the woman is working alone or whether they are going to their villages," said Cheery Zahau, an activist from the India-based Women's League of Chinland (WLC). "In some circumstances they just rape the women in front of the men."
Sexual torture and violence often accompanies such acts. Testimonies from victims show cases of both old women and young girls being gang-raped by up to 20 men, while others report that women who have endured days of rape are then shot in the vagina or have their breasts cut off. Crimes in Burma, a report released in May by the Harvard Law School, said that on many occasions there had been "no attempt to conceal the bodies of dead women who were raped and subjected to other acts of violence."
Such descriptions are perhaps indicative of a military which has been partially brutalized by debasement, poverty and high levels of institutionalized corruption. Yet this cannot account for all cases. During an interview, Cheery relayed an account of a woman from Chin state whose son had just been killed by the military. After she was gang-raped, the mother was strung up on a wooden cross: "She was hanging outside of the camp the whole night in the freezing winter weather," said Cheery. "Why would they make the cross to hang the women? The cross is the symbol of Christianity in Chin state; it's one of the mockeries against their beliefs."
Religious persecution adds weight to a belief common among ethnic groups that the generals are attempting an ethnic cleansing campaign to strip non-Burmans of their identity. The regime's suspected policy of 'Burmanisation', as referred to in a number of official reports including one by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), could also help to explain such widespread attempts to impregnate non-Burmese women. While some are convinced on 'Burmanisation', the UN's torture rapporteur for Burma in 2006 reported that state-sanctioned violence against women was used as a control mechanism, and as "punishment" for allegedly supporting ethnic armed groups and "a means of terrorizing and subjugating the population".
According to Ben Rogers, the Southeast Asia advocacy officer for CSW, it is important to note that "these incidents documented are not simply isolated acts by individual, badly behaved frontline soldiers". Reports have shown that a high percentage of rapes committed by the Burmese military have been orchestrated by officers. Furthermore, an alarming number have been gang rapes. Moan Kaein, from the Thailand-based Shan Women's Associated Network (SWAN), stated that 83 percent of the rapes SWAN had documented in Shan state were committed by officers, while 61 percent of all military rapes were gang rapes. Furthermore, there have been reports of officers ordering their men to rape ethnic women on threat of death. "Those who refuse to rape will be shot and killed," Captain Ye Htut from Pah Klaw Hta army camp was quoted as telling his men in the Karen Women's Organisation (KWO) report, Shattering Silences.
"When we document all these cases, none of the perpetrators are punished," says Cheery, referring to WLC's 2007 Unsafe State report. Despite international publications of reports that specifically name high-ranking officials and officers involved, no actions have been taken by the Burmese government to punish perpetrators even though such crimes are illegal under Burmese law. "This impunity suggests it is a deliberate policy, and is condoned by the regime," says Rogers.
While the consequences of rape can be horrific - they include unwanted pregnancy, contraction of HIV, and psychological damage for both victim and family - support for victims is virtually non-existent. Even women who manage to flee to the borders have no real hope of any professional psychological assistance, given that they are often not officially recognised by their country of arrival. While some women have been pushed to suicide, others are forced to keep their rape a secret in order to avoid social stigmas.
"The only solution for them is silence, and often they get rejected by their communities," says Cheery, while Moan Kaein claims that "some husbands will not accept their wives after they have been raped". Some women also get accused of "sleeping with" Burmese troops and are told to leave their villages.
There is also the real chance of retaliation from troops and government officials. Rape victims and their families have been the most severely punished when such sexual crimes have been reported. According to press releases from the Women's League of Burma (WLB), four girls aged 14 to16 from a village in northern Kachin state were arrested and jailed after they relayed to independent Burmese media about having been gang-raped by three army officers and four soldiers from a local military base.
Reports of state-sanctioned rape have been consistently met with a tide of public smears within Burma, as well as mass intimidation and deliberate distraction by the military. The problem has been further aggravated by callous retorts from the Burmese government, including the release of a report, License to Lie, attacking authors of License to Rape.
Perhaps more worrying are threats of violence and even death against those who report such cases. System of Impunity describes how the local military officers threatened to "cut out the tongues and slit the throats" of villagers who had dared speak out to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during their visit to Shan State in January 2003. On 1 June this year, Kachin News Group reported that Kachin youths had been "brutally assaulted" for having prevented the gang-rape of a Kachin girl by four soldiers.
Inaction following international condemnation has also served to dampen hope that ethnic women and campaigners will see change in their lifetimes. On the 24 June, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that "If we ignore sexual crimes, we trample on the principles of accountability, reconciliation and peace. We fail not just women but all people." The statement coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Security Council's adoption of resolution 1820 (2008), which notes that "rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict zones can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide".
The irony of Ban's proclamation is that sexual crimes in Burma were ignored on his recent visit to Burma earlier this month, just as they are ignored by countries like China and Russia who supply weapons to the junta and by neighboring countries which provide no support for the raped women pouring over the borders. "We call and call," says Blooming Night, joint secretary of Karen Women's Organisation, "but nothing happens".
Increased militarization in many ethnic regions in lieu of the 2010 elections has led to increasing concern for the safety of women living there. "When we documented Unsafe State [in 2007], there were about 33 army camps. Now there are 55 camps, so they're spreading" says Cheery, adding that "as long as [Burmese] troops are there, there will be sexual violence". Burma shows no sign of abating its aggressive expansion of the military. If, as it would seem, rape of ethnic women is a byproduct of this, perhaps we should expect the stories of Naang Ung and the thousands of other women and children to continue echoing throughout Burma.
EU to toughen Myanmar sanctions if Suu Kyi found guilty: diplomat
Agence France Presse: Fri 17 Jul 2009
A British diplomat Friday said the European Union would likely toughen sanctions on Myanmar's military regime if pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was found guilty at her ongoing trial.
The Nobel peace laureate is being held at a guesthouse on the grounds of Yangon's notorious Insein prison as her trial on charges of violating her house arrest nears its end after a final witness was heard last week.
Asif Ahmad, Southeast Asia head for the British foreign office, told AFP that diplomats expected Aung San Suu Kyi to be found guilty over the incident in May when an American man swam to her lakeside house uninvited.
He said if that was the case, once any appeal had been exhausted, the EU would slap further measures on the junta to signal its disapproval.
"Financial sanctions have been certainly at the forefront of what we would be doing," Ahmad said.
"If the final sentence is anything other than her being free… Looser chains are not acceptable, she has to be free," he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention since the junta refused to recognise her National League for Democracy's (NLD) landslide victory in elections in 1990.
The EU's current sanctions - in place since 1996 - include a travel ban and the freezing of assets of Myanmar's leaders and their relatives, as well as a ban on arms exports to the country.
The sanctions also limit diplomatic relations between the Southeast Asian nation and the European bloc.
Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi met her lawyers for two hours Friday to discuss final arguments in the court case, and protested at the treatment she said she was receiving at the hands of authorities.
"She said that, as trespassing is entering by breaking through security and… no action has been taken so far against any security officials, it was one-sided," her lawyer Nyan Win told AFP, adding however that she did not want any security guards to be targeted.
Landmine casualties in Burma double - Francis Wade
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 16 Jul 2009
The number of people killed by landmines in Burma has increased in the last year while survivors face difficulties receiving adequate healthcare, said an anti-landmine campaign group yesterday.
According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the number of victims with no access to healthcare is "substantial".
Burma is one of only 17 countries that abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution in 2005 to ban the use of landmine. Similarly, the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has not acceded to the Mi
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