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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 21/8/09

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Suu Kyi clarifies her sanctions policy 2.. Myanmar junta s media lauds US senator s visit 3.. SPDC prepares military training program for civilians 4..
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 21, 2009
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      1. Suu Kyi clarifies her sanctions policy
      2. Myanmar junta's media lauds US senator's visit
      3. SPDC prepares military training program for civilians
      4. Ethnic Kachins banned from having cultural symbols in their state in Burma
      5. Don't relax Burma sanctions
      6. Irrawaddy: The junta's new balancing act
      7. US Senator: Burma denies nuclear plans
      8. Burmese villagers 'forced to work on Total pipeline'
      9. Regime rides above sanctions
      10. Webb visit a success? - Debbie Stothard
      11. Bad deal on Burma
      12. 500 Shan houses burned in scorched earth campaign
      13. China tough with junta on Kokang
      14. After Suu Kyi verdict, should the West engage Myanmar?
      15. NLD protests court verdict on Aung San Suu Kyi
      16. Burma's blood money
      17. UN Security Council approves watered-down Myanmar statement
      18. Seven steps to freedom
      19. The Burmese road to ruin
      20. Burmese justice
      21. The Nation (Thailand): No surprise at Suu Kyi's latest punishment

      Suu Kyi clarifies her sanctions policy - Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Tue 18 Aug 2009

      Burma's detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi told US Senator Jim Webb on Saturday that "interaction" must first be established inside the country, according to her lawyer.

      The comment was made in response to Webb's assertion that, with regard to sanctions, Burma "needs interaction with the international community," the lawyer said.

      A pro-democracy activist holds a portrait of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest in New Delhi in August. (Photo: Reuters)

      "Daw Suu told me that when she met with Senator Webb on Saturday she reiterated the need for the Burmese regime to first interact 'inside the country.' She said only when that happens 'will Burma benefit from relations with the international community,'" said Nyan Win, Suu Kyi's lawyer, who met her for about one hour on Monday afternoon.

      Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Nyan Win said he asked Suu Kyi about the recent reports in several British newspapers that she had agreed to an overturn of the international tourism boycott on Burma. "She replied that she had not discussed the issue with anyone recently," Nyan Win said.

      According to the lawyer, who is also a spokesperson for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Suu Kyi's stance on sanctions has not changed since she issued a statement in 2007.

      "Suu Kyi said that as she was not the one who imposed sanctions against the Burmese regime, she is not in a position to lift those sanctions," he said.

      The NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate has in the past, however, offered an olive branch to the ruling generals. In November 2007, following the crackdown on monk-led demonstrations, she said, "In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the government in order to make this process of dialogue a success …"

      Suu Kyi said she explained to Webb that despite some early agreements with Maj-Gen Aung Kyi, the minister of relations, who was appointed by the government to liaise with her after the monk-led protests, nothing ultimately transpired from the meetings.

      Nyan Win said that one of topics raised during Suu Kyi's conversation with Webb was China's influence within the Burmese regime. The US senator apparently referred to Beijing's involvement in Burma as a "fearful influence."

      "However, Daw Suu told Webb that she rejects such terminology with regard to China, and she wants Burma to be on good terms with all its neighboring countries as well as the international community at large," Nyan Win said. "She said China is Burma's neighbor and wants to be a good friend of Burma. She said she did not see China as a fearful influence."

      Another issue raised by Webb on Saturday was about the participation of her party, the NLD, in the coming elections in 2010. She told Webb that she needed to discuss the matter with members of her party thoroughly, her lawyer said.

      Suu Kyi met with the Democratic senator in Rangoon on Saturday. On Monday, Webb told reporters at a press conference in Bangkok that Suu Kyi favors the removal of some of the international sanctions applied by the US and EU.

      "I don't want to misrepresent her views, but my clear impression is that she is not opposed to the lifting of some sanctions," Webb said.

      Webb is known for his strong criticism of the US administration's Burma sanctions, arguing that isolating Burma has strengthened China's grip, weakened US influence and done nothing to improve the junta's behavior.

      According to Nyan Win, Suu Kyi made no comment on whether she considered the US senator's trip to Burma to have been beneficial.


      Myanmar junta's media lauds US senator's visit
      Associated Press: Tue 18 Aug 2009

      Myanmar's government-controlled newspapers on Tuesday lauded the visit of U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, who secured the high-profile release of a jailed American, as "the first step" toward improving relations with Washington.

      The full-page commentary titled, "The first step of a long journey," was published in all three state-run newspapers that serve as mouthpieces for the junta. The tone was highly uncharacteristic for Myanmar media, which typically blast the U.S. as a "neocolonialist," a "loudmouthed bully," and the "superpower nation" that has imposed harsh economic and political sanctions against the country.

      The Virginia senator's three-day visit, which ended Sunday, and the junta's concessions have fueled questions over whether this could mark a turning point in relations between the two countries and lead to a softening of longtime sanctions.

      "The visit of Mr. Jim Webb is a success for both sides as well as the first step to promotion of the relations between the two countries," said the article published in the Myanma Ahlin and Kyemon newspapers and the English-language New Light of Myanmar.

      "It is indeed the first step toward marching to a 1,000-mile destination," said the commentary, which said the junta "enthusiastically cooperated with (Webb) because of its stance to deepen the bilateral relations and relieve the disagreements between the countries."

      Webb's visit included rare meetings with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe. It was the reclusive general's first meeting with a senior U.S. political figure.

      Webb also won the release of John Yettaw, who a week earlier was sentenced to seven years of hard labor for sneaking into Suu Kyi's home.

      Webb told reporters in Bangkok on Monday that it was time for "a new approach" to dealing with the junta, since sanctions have failed to win the release of Suu Kyi or move the junta closer to democratic reforms. His comments echo similar remarks made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

      During his meeting with Suu Kyi, he got the "clear impression from her that she is not opposed to lifting some sanctions," Webb said Monday.

      Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. Relations with Washington have been strained since the junta crushed pro-democracy protests in 1988. The military government called elections in 1990 but refused but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's party won overwhelmingly.


      SPDC prepares military training program for civilians
      Khonumthung News: Tue 18 Aug 2009

      The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) authorities have been preparing a military training programme for civilians of Matupi Township, in Chin State, western Burma.

      According to a report, nine villages near the Lensin-based military camp, Matupi Township, were supposed to undergo military training from August 7, by the order of Mr. Zaw Myint Oo, Second Chief Tactical General of Chin State, northwestern Burma. The list of participants has been prepared.

      Military personnel under the Matupi-based IB 304 camp have taken photographs and bio-data of 70 people from the nine villages for the training, which means each village, has at least eight participants, who will undergo the training.

      Although it is uncertain when the training will actually begin, the army personnel have prepared everything in order to start when the time comes.

      "The authorities have ordered each village to send at least eight trainees and they have to get ready before the training starts. So the military personnel have collected all data relating to the participants," a local from Lensin village said.

      The nine villages in the area of the Lensin-based military camp are Valangpi, Kala, Valangte, Thibuai, Lesin, Wankai, San ta, Lalui and Tadom.


      Ethnic Kachins banned from having cultural symbols in their state in Burma
      Kachin News Group: Tue 18 Aug 2009

      In a fresh repressive measure the Burmese military junta has banned Kachins, an ethnic nationality, from constructing its cultural symbols - the "Manau Pole and Manau House" in their State, said Kachin cultural leaders.

      In Bhamo, the second largest city in Kachin State, the ban comes in the way of construction of the cultural Manau Pole and House on the 13-acre wide Bhamo (also called Manmaw in Kachin) Kachin Literature and Culture compound (BKLC) in Aung Ta village in Two Miles. It was bought from the Bhamo Zonal Kachin Baptist Church in 1996, BKLC committee members said.

      Maj-Gen Soe Win, commander of Northern Regional Command (Ma Pa Kha) and the junta's most powerful man in Kachin State thrice rejected the official request for permission to construct the Manau Pole and House this year by the BKLC committee, a committee member told KNG today.

      Last July, some committee members met commander Maj-Gen Soe Win in the Kachin State's capital Myitkyina in its latest effort. However the commander rejected their request saying "Looking at genuine peace in Kachin State, the construction of Bhamo Kachin Manau Pole and House was banned," said committee members.

      Earlier, the military authorities of Kachin State had twice rejected BKLC's letters to the junta's Bhamo District Administrative Office, called Bhamo District Peace and Development Council (or Kha-Ya-Ka) on March 31 and Kachin State Administrative Office, called Kachin State Peace and Development Council (or Pa-Ya-Ka) on May 19, according to the BKLC committee.

      Committee members said, both rejection letters came up with the same reasons  - - first, the Kachins already have the cultural venue with Manau Pole and House in Myitkyina indicating "Kachin Traditional Manau Park" in Shatapru quarter in the town, which was constructed in early 2002. Secondly, there are different ethnic nationalities in Bhamo and constructing Kachin traditional symbols may harm unity among them because the Kachin Manau Pole and House represent ethnic Kachins, alone.

      BKLC committee members disagreed with Commander Soe Win's rejection notes. They believe that the construction of the Kachin cultural Manau Pole and House will not harm the ethnic unity in Bhamo and Kachins have to build their cultural symbols in every Kachin village, said committee members and Kachin cultural leaders.

      On June 22, five BKLC committee members of a total of 40 members were made to forcibly sign in the Bhamo District Administrative Office (Kha-Ya-Ka) to abandon construction of Kachin cultural buildings by the Kha-Ya-Ka chairman Col. Khin Maung Myint, said committee members.

      According to Article 22 and 27 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to show, develop and protect their culture and literature.

      There are Kachins (also spelled Jinghpaw in Kachin language or Jingpho-su in China and Singpho in India) in three of Burma's neighboring countries like China, India and Thailand and they are authorized to build their cultural symbols - Manau Pole and House.


      Don't relax Burma sanctions
      Boston Globe (US): Tue 18 Aug 2009

      SENATOR JIM WEBB of Virginia was acting as an advocate for a more accommodating US policy toward Burma's despotic junta during his weekend visit to that country. But the folly of his project became obvious when the regime's numero uno, General Than Shwe, rewarded Webb with the release of an American who received a seven-year sentence for swimming to the house where Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has long been held under house arrest - but not the freedom of that brave and dignified woman.

      Webb has argued that sanctions have failed to alter the generals' behavior. But there was a telling irony to his audience with Than Shwe and his rare, 40-minute meeting with Suu Kyi. The junta's decision to grant Webb these two interviews was plainly in response to worldwide denunciations of the 18-month sentence of renewed house arrest imposed on Suu Kyi - but also to expanded European Union sanctions on the junta and US financial sanctions that President Obama signed into law at the end of last month.

      The narco-trafficking generals are guilty of using rape as a weapon of war, forced labor on a massive scale, and the razing of thousands of ethnic minority villages. They want to keep Suu Kyi incarcerated until they conduct rigged elections next year under a constitution that will preserve military rule under a veneer of civilian participation.

      The time to end sanctions is after Suu Kyi and her 2,100 fellow political prisoners are freed, and the junta enters a genuine political dialogue with ethnic minorities and Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, winners of Burma's last free election in 1990.

      Webb may mean well, but he risks playing the dupe to a vicious dictatorship.


      Irrawaddy: The junta's new balancing act - Htet Aung
      Tue 18 Aug 2009

      Filed under: News, Opinion, Other

      John William Yettaw has been released from Burma's notorious Insein Prison, where hundreds of the country's political prisoners are currently detained while dozens sacrificed their lives in the past two decades.

      The Aung San Suu Kyi intruder is now able to return home, crossing thousands of miles of ocean, not by swimming, but in the comfort of a jet, leaving the innocent victim, Suu Kyi, to serve out her fourth house arrest for another18 months.

      The dismal end to the drama couldn't be more frustrating to the Burmese people who desperately want to see their beloved democracy leader free. She is their hope for freedom under the ruthless military dictatorship.

      US Sen Jim Webb may be satisfied with his mission: he accomplished two of his three requests: the release of Yettaw and a meeting with Suu Kyi.

      But Sen-Gen Than Shwe is smiling too, because he can now safely carry out the 2010 elections with Suu Kyi safely locked away under house arrest.

      Now the junta chief can fully concentrate on a major issue that has the potential to unravel the smooth path to national elections - the unruly ethnic armed ceasefire groups.

      Than Shwe has two goals: to transform the ethnic ceasefire groups into a Border Guard Force and to persuade the groups to form political parties in their respective areas and to field candidates in the upcoming election.

      So far, Than Shwe has convinced only one group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, to transform into a Border Guard Force, under the command of government officers.

      The task must be done in line with the new constitution and its Section 338, which states: "All the armed forces in the Union shall be under the command of the Defense Services."

      However, the most powerful ethnic ceasefire groups have not signed on to the plan, especially the largest groups along Burma's frontier bordering with China. The United Wa State Army and the Kachin Independence Army, the strongest of the armed ethnic groups, have rejected the government's order.

      They don't trust the junta. Their common position is they want to deal with this issue after a parliamentary government is formed following the 2010 election.

      Although the junta enjoys China's political support in keeping international pressure at bay, it hasn't received its neighbor's support on the border guard issue. Instead, China has pressured the junta to tackle the issue carefully and not to destabilize the border area.

      Having successfully drawn India, at one time a strong supporter of Burma's democracy movement, into its camp by playing a balancing act with China, the junta can now play the same diplomatic game between China and the United States.

      If the US decides to practice a more flexible engagement policy, the threat of UN Security Council might be reduced, meaning that it may not need to rely so much on China's veto in opposing anti-Burmese junta resolutions. That could give the junta more bargaining power in tackling the issue of the armed ethnic groups along the border with China.

      If the Obama administration sees Webb's achievement as a positive step and an opportunity for engagement with the junta, it means the junta has more leverage in playing the two superpowers off one another.

      Furthermore, it means a significant diplomatic triumph for the junta to win the official recognition of the US, the generals' major foe that is often accused of neo-colonialist meddling in the country's internal affairs.

      If not, the junta has nothing to lose. The more it delays the release of Suu Kyi, the more the US might feel responsible for Suu Kyi's fourth detention, which was triggered by the actions of an American.

      But for the time being, the Democratic senator can bask in his accomplishment of snatching Yettaw from the hands of a ruthless junta.

      The author is an independent researcher and a graduate in International Development Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

      Irrawaddy: Tue 18 Aug 2009

      John William Yettaw has been released from Burma's notorious Insein Prison, where hundreds of the country's political prisoners are currently detained while dozens sacrificed their lives in the past two decades.

      The Aung San Suu Kyi intruder is now able to return home, crossing thousands of miles of ocean, not by swimming, but in the comfort of a jet, leaving the innocent victim, Suu Kyi, to serve out her fourth house arrest for another18 months.

      The dismal end to the drama couldn't be more frustrating to the Burmese people who desperately want to see their beloved democracy leader free. She is their hope for freedom under the ruthless military dictatorship.

      US Sen Jim Webb may be satisfied with his mission: he accomplished two of his three requests: the release of Yettaw and a meeting with Suu Kyi.

      But Sen-Gen Than Shwe is smiling too, because he can now safely carry out the 2010 elections with Suu Kyi safely locked away under house arrest.

      Now the junta chief can fully concentrate on a major issue that has the potential to unravel the smooth path to national elections - the unruly ethnic armed ceasefire groups.

      Than Shwe has two goals: to transform the ethnic ceasefire groups into a Border Guard Force and to persuade the groups to form political parties in their respective areas and to field candidates in the upcoming election.

      So far, Than Shwe has convinced only one group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, to transform into a Border Guard Force, under the command of government officers.

      The task must be done in line with the new constitution and its Section 338, which states: "All the armed forces in the Union shall be under the command of the Defense Services."

      However, the most powerful ethnic ceasefire groups have not signed on to the plan, especially the largest groups along Burma's frontier bordering with China. The United Wa State Army and the Kachin Independence Army, the strongest of the armed ethnic groups, have rejected the government's order.

      They don't trust the junta. Their common position is they want to deal with this issue after a parliamentary government is formed following the 2010 election.

      Although the junta enjoys China's political support in keeping international pressure at bay, it hasn't received its neighbor's support on the border guard issue. Instead, China has pressured the junta to tackle the issue carefully and not to destabilize the border area.

      Having successfully drawn India, at one time a strong supporter of Burma's democracy movement, into its camp by playing a balancing act with China, the junta can now play the same diplomatic game between China and the United States.

      If the US decides to practice a more flexible engagement policy, the threat of UN Security Council might be reduced, meaning that it may not need to rely so much on China's veto in opposing anti-Burmese junta resolutions. That could give the junta more bargaining power in tackling the issue of the armed ethnic groups along the border with China.

      If the Obama administration sees Webb's achievement as a positive step and an opportunity for engagement with the junta, it means the junta has more leverage in playing the two superpowers off one another.

      Furthermore, it means a significant diplomatic triumph for the junta to win the official recognition of the US, the generals' major foe that is often accused of neo-colonialist meddling in the country's internal affairs.

      If not, the junta has nothing to lose. The more it delays the release of Suu Kyi, the more the US might feel responsible for Suu Kyi's fourth detention, which was triggered by the actions of an American.

      But for the time being, the Democratic senator can bask in his accomplishment of snatching Yettaw from the hands of a ruthless junta.

      The author is an independent researcher and a graduate in International Development Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.


      US Senator: Burma denies nuclear plans - Heda Bayron
      VOA News: Mon 17 Aug 2009

      U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who recently held talks with Burma's military leaders, says the government denies reports that it is trying to acquire nuclear technology. The senator also says Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has indicated a willingness to see some sanctions on Burma lifted.

      Senator Jim Webb says he did not directly raise the issue of whether Burma has a covert nuclear program during talks with the country's leader, General Than Shwe. Webb met with the reclusive leader on Saturday, the first high-ranking U.S. official to do so.

      However, he said Monday that the Burmese government denied having a nuclear program.

      "But it was communicated to me earlier on that there was no truth to that, from a very high level in their government," Webb said.

      Earlier this month, Australian researchers said interviews with defectors from Burma revealed that the government has a secret nuclear program, allegedly aided by North Korea. In June, a North Korean ship believed to be headed to Burma with a suspicious cargo turned back under international pressure. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that any military ties between Burma and North Korea pose a security threat to the region.

      In an unprecedented gesture toward the United States, Webb was allowed to meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon Saturday. He also was able to win the release of a U.S. citizen, John Yettaw, jailed for illegally visiting Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in May. That visit led to the government extending her house arrest by 18 months.

      Webb says it appears Aung San Suu Kyi might not oppose easing sanctions on Burma. The U.S, the European Union and other Western governments have imposed economic sanctions over the years to punish the repressive military government. Webb favors the eventual lifting of sanctions on Burma, which he and others argue only increased the isolation of its people.

      "I don't want to take the risk of misrepresenting her views," Webb said. "But I would say to you that it was my clear impression from her that she is not opposed to lifting some sanctions."

      In the late 1990s, Aung San Suu Kyi expressed some support for economic sanctions as a way to pressure the government to recognize her party's election victory in 1990 and allow it to form a government. But in recent years, she has not publicly commented on sanctions. She has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest.

      On Sunday, Webb said Washington needs to develop new ways to end Burma's isolation and bring about political and economic change. Webb, a Democrat, spoke with Secretary Clinton Sunday and will brief her again upon his return to Washington.

      The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs is on a five-nation tour of Southeast Asia. From Bangkok, he will fly to Cambodia Tuesday and from there, to Vietnam.


      Burmese villagers 'forced to work on Total pipeline' - Rajeshree Sisodia and Andrew Buncombe
      The Independent (UK): Mon 17 Aug 2009

      French energy giant accused of profiting as new testimony gives shocking insight into junta's labour regime

      The French energy giant Total is at the centre of allegations that Burmese villagers are being used as forced labour to help support a huge gas pipeline that is earning the country's military regime hundreds of millions of dollars.

      Testimony from villagers and former soldiers gathered by human rights workers suggests that Burmese soldiers, who provide security for the Yadana pipeline on behalf of Total, are forcing thousands of people to work portering, carrying wood and repairing roads in the pipeline area. They have also been forced to build police stations and barracks.

      One villager, identified pseudonymously as Htay Win Oo, told researchers from the Thailand-based human rights group EarthRights International (ERI): "Since early 2009 I've [witnessed] Burmese soldiers … that are stationed near our village ask our village to build a new police camp. The soldiers ordered villagers to build a new camp in late March. The land where they set up the new camp belongs to local villagers … the soldiers ordered villagers to help build it. Villagers had to cut bamboo, wood, and leaves for the building and at the same time they had to build it."

      Burma's junta, the State Peace and Development Council, officially outlawed the use of forced labour in 1999. However, campaigners say troops routinely force civilians to work for them and those who refuse are often beaten, tortured or sometimes killed.

      Total insists that forced labour is not used around the pipeline. On its website, the company states: "The local inhabitants around the Yadana pipeline say that they are happy to have us there. They are, above all, grateful that there is no forced labour in the area around our pipeline."

      Yet such claims are not supported by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN agency that works in Burma to try and stop forced labour.

      Steve Marshall, an ILO spokesman, said: "It would be unfair and inaccurate to say that the pipeline area is forced-labour free. Total does not control the area, it operates it. In terms of the pipeline area, there are big areas that are outside its control. As we understand it, forced labour is still being used there by other entities, though to a much lesser extent [than in some areas]."

      The evidence collected by ERI and due to be published next month suggests that villagers are routinely forced to work in various guises. One former soldier from the 273 battalion said: "We were told it was a 30-year project and the country got half and the foreigners got half of the benefit … We ask [the villagers] to carry shell ammunition, food and supplies.

      "During the portering the soldiers treat porters not so good. I do not want to mention about these bad things so much since I myself I have done it to these people as well at that time." Matthew Smith, of the ERI, said that Total was misleading the public, shareholders and investors about its impact in Burma and said the company was responsible for the abuses committed by troops guarding its project. "The evidence is unassailable that the Yadana project ushered in the Burmese army and that the Burmese army continues to provide security for the companies and the project," he said. "The company has been complicit in abuses."

      The question of whether foreign companies, with an eye on Burma's riches of oil and gas, should invest in one of the world's most repressive regimes, has come into sharper focus following this week's decision by the regime to detain opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for a further 18 months under house arrest and the subsequent demand for tougher sanctions from campaigners.

      Yet projects such as the Yadana pipeline, which transports gas from fields in the Andaman Sea through south-east Burma into Thailand, are hugely attractive to both the investors and the junta. Research suggests the regime earned $969m (£585m) from the Yadana project in 2007. Total has declined to say how much it earns.

      It is not the first time Total has been at the centre of forced labour allegations in Burma. In 2005 it paid $6.12m in an out-of-court settlement after a group of villagers living near the Yadana pipeline alleged the company was involved in human rights abuses.

      Last night a spokeswoman for Total said: "We are reviewing [ERI's allegations] and intend to adjust our website in the coming weeks so that it can publicly address the issues, whenever possible. It should also be noted that people in the villages around the pipeline are grateful for the fact that systematic recourse to forced labour in the area where Total operates has stopped. Such acknowledgements have been consistently repeated in front of independent experts commissioned to periodically evaluate the impact of our activities."

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/burmese-villagers-forced-to-work-on-total-pipeline-1771876.html


      Regime rides above sanctions - Simon Roughneen
      Asia Times: Mon 17 Aug 2009

      Bangkok - Despite some buffeting by the global economic downturn, revenues from gas, oil, hardwood and gemstones continue to flow into Myanmar's coffers, helping junta leader Senior General Than Shwe to maintain Southeast Asia's largest standing army. An estimated 50% of the state's revenues go towards maintaining the country's 400,000-strong military.

      While Western countries impose economic sanctions against the junta, including new measures imposed last week by the European Union against members of Myanmar's judiciary and 58 other enterprises, Asian states are fiercely competing for oil and gas concessions. That promises even greater wealth for the ruling military junta, even as its international reputation plummets in the wake of last week's sentencing of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to three years in jail, later reduced to 18 months of house arrest.

      Thailand and China were estimated to have provided US$850 million of the $980 million total that was invested in the country last year, in everything from oil and gas, to roads, along with gems and timber extraction. As of 2007, both countries accounted for over half of Myanmar's exports and imports. Those figures should rise as new hydroelectric projects and a port-pipeline facility linking the Myanmar coast to western China get underway later this year.

      When Myanmar has faced intense international criticism, including in reaction to its slow response last year to the Cyclone Nargis disaster, China, its main ally, has provided the regime with political cover through its seat on the United Nations Security Council. This was replicated in China's public response to the Suu Kyi verdict, saying that the international community should respect Myanmar's "judicial sovereignty" and that it would not support any United Nations-sponsored sanctions linked to the verdict.

      With China, India , South Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) averse to any form of sanctions on the junta, there is a case to be made that Western restrictions merely drive business elsewhere.

      "Chinese investment is imperative for [Myanmar] amid the US and European Union sanctions," said Arpitha Bykere, Asia Analyst at the Roubini Global Economy (RGE) Monitor, a US-based research center. "Economic ties with Asia help [Myanmar] show to the world that despite sanctions, it can attract trade and investment from several countries. This boosts [Myanmar's] political leverage to resist global calls for political reform."

      Little of the largesse from recent foreign investments has gone towards much-needed health, education, and agriculture sector spending. A 2006 estimate of the child mortality rate in eastern Myanmar was 221 per 1,000, higher than the 205 recorded in the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks the nation's health system as the second worst on the planet, while according to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fun, more than 25% of the population lacks access to potable water.

      These abysmal statistics figure largely in the debate over whether Western countries should maintain their sanctions or move towards more engagement with Myanmar's rights abusing regime. Engagement advocates note that Myanmar received 20 times less per-capita from donor countries than other countries with similar poverty levels. According to the US Central Intelligence Agency yearbook, 32.7% of Myanmar's people lived under the poverty line in 2007 while the population endured inflation of 27.3% in 2008.

      The junta's foreign minister, Nyan Win, described economic sanctions as "immoral" in a September 2008 address to the UN General Assembly, adding that they "are counter-productive and deprive countries of their right to development". Prime Minister Thein Sein made much the same argument in presentations in February to UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

      There were earlier indications of a possible policy rethink in Washington. In the run-up to the Suu Kyi verdict, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered to consider renewed US investment in exchange for the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party being allowed to participate in elections scheduled for next year.

      The State Department had earlier said it would consider a review of US policy towards Myanmar, an acknowledgement that past policies and sanctions had failed to influence the junta. That debate was expected to stall after the junta spurned US and UN calls against extending Suu Kyi's detention. However, Than Shwe's meeting over the weekend with US Democratic senator Jim Webb, which also allowed the Amercian an hour-long meeting with Suu Kyi, has raised new questions about diplomatic next steps.

      The EU's tightened sanctions added members of Myanmar's judiciary responsible for the Suu Kyi verdict to a list of some 500 Myanmar government officials whose assets in the EU are frozen and who are banned from travel to the EU's 27-member bloc. In contrast, China, Russia, Vietnam and Libya watered-down a US-drafted UN Security Council statement on the Suu Kyi verdict to express "concern" rather than outright condemnation.

      The counter-sanctions argument promoted by many Asian nations suggests that restrictions fail to influence the junta and only keep the nation's poor downtrodden. Given that the majority of Myanmar's population - 70% of the people - are employed in the agriculture sector and benefit neither from the regime's resource extraction activities nor its trade and investment links with neighboring countries, the sanctions debate is something of a red herring.

      Myanmar economy expert and Macquarie University economist Sean Turnell told Asia Times Online that the majority of Myanmar's people "might never have seen a bank, much less have anything to do with the type of institutions and links targeted by sanctions". Moreover, upgrading the amount of donor aid sent to Myanmar would amount to a free pass for the junta on development-related spending it should be undertaking itself.

      The junta's concern about the impact of sanctions suggests either one of two things: Myanmar's military rulers have turned a new leaf and want to help their people, or they do in fact feel the pinch of sanctions and are worried that if replicated closer to home, the impact on the elites would be devastating. If the former is indeed true, it is not reflected in junta policy.

      On May 11, the Financial Times quoted an unreleased annual International Monetary Fund report that said Myanmar's foreign exchange reserves are at a record $3.6 billion, but that the ruling junta has not used them to help the impoverished population and that the country's economic prospects remain "bleak". Vigorous rolling of the monetary presses has contributed to an inflation rate of around 30%, the report said.

      The junta has boasted that its international isolation would help it weather the global economic downturn, at least compared with its more export-oriented counterparts in ASEAN, such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Other members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar. This hasn't been the case, however. RGE Monitor's Bykere said that "Myanmar has taken a hit due to a global commodity [price] correction. Production and export of natural gas, mining products, food products and several other commodities have been severely affected."

      Although the junta's official statistics claim that the economy is growing at around 10% annually, Turnell said that various indicators, including weak domestic energy consumption, suggest that the economy is actually contracting. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit's latest report on Myanmar, the country's real gross domestic product (GDP) growth for 2009 is projected to be only 1%.

      According to Turnell, Burma's problems can be traced to the state's commanding control of the economy, which squeezes the life out of private-sector activities. Disproportionate budgetary allocations to the military means that no rural credit is available, even though 70% of the national workforce are subsistence farmers. Meanwhile, foreign revenues are understated on the national accounts because of exchange rate manipulations. For instance, revenue from gas exports is added to the budget at the fixed official exchange of six kyat to the dollar rather than the 1,000-kyat to the greenback floating black market rate.

      Recorded at the official rate, Myanmar's gas earnings represent less than 1% of overall budget receipts; if the same gas earnings were recorded at the market exchange rate, their contribution would be more than double total official state receipts.

      Turnell says the rationale behind the dual exchange rates "is probably to 'quarantine' [Myanmar's] foreign exchange from the country's public accounts, thereby making them available to the regime and its cronies. This accounting is facilitated by [Myanmar's] state-owned Foreign Trade Bank and some willing offshore banks."

      These complicit offshore banks are known to be in neighboring states, implying that a broader Western sanctions regime that hit certain Asian banks might have a greater impact on the junta's finances. The Asian states most critical of the ineffectiveness of Western sanctions are often the same ones that undermine them by offering Myanmar's junta alternative financial, trade and investment options.

      If Myanmar were a democratic state, the Myanmar people would be the rightful sovereign owners of the country's resources and revenues and would have some say in how they were spent. But as the country gears up for democratic elections next year, all indications - including Suu Kyi's continued detention - are that the military intends to extend its political and economic dominance via a civilian veneer.

      Simon Roughneen is a roving freelance journalist. He has reported from over 20 countries and is currently based in Southeast Asia.


      Webb visit a success? - Debbie Stothard
      Irrawaddy: Mon 17 Aug 2009

      Senator Webb's visit to Burma has been considered "successful" because he was able to tick three items off his checklist: "rescuing" John Yettaw from seven years in jail with hard labor; meeting Snr-Gen Than Shwe; and meeting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

      In the eyes of international stakeholders who have gotten accustomed to the Burmese junta's intransigence, the visit was a coup. This has been the biggest stride forward since former UN Special Envoy Razali Ismail secured Suu Kyi's release in 2002 and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was able to persuade the generals to accept lucrative aid in 2008.

      How ironic. Sen Webb's "success" stems from the leverage enjoyed by the US's significant (and effective) sanctions - a ban on imports from Burma and a ban on financial services - that were imposed in 2003 on top of the 1997 ban on new investment.

      The US's previous willingness to "put their money where their mouth is" has gained the respect of the Burmese regime. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has invested millions of dollars over the past decade to woo the US into greater engagement, compared to its cavalier treatment of Asean.

      Than Shwe respects power by the extent to which is exercised. He recognizes that the US has traditionally backed its statements with action. Remember Asean's great achievement of persuading the SPDC to open up to Cyclone Nargis aid? Well, it wouldn't have been possible without the USS Essex-led carrier group and other foreign navies on standby off the Burmese coast. Than Shwe was given the impression he had to make the choice of cooperating with Asean or deal with the US navy.

      The junta has generally responded to the relatively hollow diplomatic overtures made by the UN, EU and Asean with empty promises and bizarre statements, comfortable in the knowledge that these stakeholders are unlikely to hit them where it hurts.

      A global arms embargo and a UN Security Council Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity in Burma will make this junta sit up and pay attention. It will be the catalyst for a type of engagement that is based on dialogue and negotiation.

      While Sen Webb basks in the glory - and I don't grudge him that - let's not forget that the essential problems in Burma have not dissipated in any way. Over 2,000 political prisoners, Suu Kyi included, remain imprisoned. The military has stepped up its brutal atrocities in Eastern Burma, terrorizing hundreds of villages with rape, torture, forced labor and death.

      Since July 27, over 10,000 civilians have been forcibly displaced from 500 villages in central Shan State. Attacks in Karen State forced over 6,000 civilians to seek refuge in Thailand. Refugees continue to flee their homes every day. This prolongation of one of the world's longest-running wars is likely to get worse as the regime tightens the screws on ethnic ceasefire and non-ceasefire groups in an effort to completely control the 2010 elections.

      Oh, and let's not forget the chilling evidence of this regime's chummy cooperation with North Korea: tunnels, long-range ballistic missile technology and a nuclear program.

      Sen Webb must seriously consider: if this is the damage the regime can do without access to US resources, what would be possible if sanctions are dismantled willy-nilly?

      It's time to refocus our energies on the original checklist for Burma: the unconditional release of all political prisoners; the cessation of military hostilities in ethnic areas; and a tripartite review of the 2008 constitution.

      * Debbie Stothard is coordinator of Alternative Asean Network on Burma (Altsean).


      Bad deal on Burma
      Heritage: Mon 17 Aug 2009

      In exchange for the release of John Yettaw, the American who provided Burma's ruling junta an excuse to extend the house arrest of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, Senator Jim Webb provided the junta an opportunity for saturation media coverage of what will pass there as US endorsement of its rule.

      This was a simple transaction. Junta chief Than Shwe got what he wanted, and he gave up something (someone) that had already served the regime's purpose. It will not lead to a new opening in US-Burma relations - unless of course, the US is prepared to pare its objectives in a way that ensures the regime meets them. As Senator Webb has indicated before, this would entail accepting elections next year under a sham constitution. And, as things now stand, a lowered standard would also have to allow for the continued detention of Suu Kyi, detention of more than 2000 other political prisoners, and Suu Kyi's prohibition from competing in the elections. That is not a road map. It is capitulation.

      The Obama Administration claims it simply gave Senator Webb the customary support the State Department gives to any traveling Senator. Maybe so. But it may also be a no-lose effort to facilitate a change in policy without really taking a stand in favor of it. "Engagement" and meetings with dictators do not constitute policy unto themselves; they are diplomatic tools. In the most recent expression of policy, the House, Senate, and White House just weeks ago renewed sweeping sanctions against Burma. Until the Administration takes a clear stand on a new policy, Burma, the world, and concerned Americans can only assume that the policy of bringing maximum pressure to bear on Burma's ruling generals stands.

      The Administration has amply demonstrated that it can secure the release of Americans in difficult circumstances abroad. The verdict is still out on whether it can secure American national interests in the process. Deals like this are a bad sign. Either it is allowing others to drive US policy or it is confusing what is essentially consular work with foreign policy. It is time for the Administration to lay its cards on the table, complete its review of America's Burma policy and let Washington fight it out.

      http://blog.heritage.org/2009/08/17/bad-deal-on-burma/


      500 Shan houses burned in scorched earth campaign
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 14 Aug 2009

      The Burmese junta's latest scorched earth campaign in Shan state has in the last three weeks destroyed 500 homes and uprooted around 10,000 civilians, according to a data released today.

      Burma's eastern Shan state has long been a site of conflict between the Burmese army and armed opposition groups, driven in part by its abundance of opium poppy plantations.

      Data compiled by Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF), the Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN) and other Shan community-based organizations show that since 27 July, around 40 villages have been relocated by the army.

      According to the groups, it is the single largest forced relocation in Shan state since a campaign from 1996 to 1998 saw the uprooting of 300,000 villagers, many of whom fled to Thailand.

      Much of the campaign has focused on Laikha township, where over 100 villagers, including women, have been arrested and tortured, and three have died. Many of these were displaced by the previous campaign.

      "One young woman was shot while trying to retrieve her possessions from her burning house, and her body thrown into a pit latrine," said a joint press release.

      "Another woman was gang-raped in front of her husband by an officer and three of his troops."

      The groups have called on the UN Security Council to set up a Commission of Enquiry to investigate what they believe to be crimes against humanity.

      They have also demanded that members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) "seriously review their engagement with this pariah nation".

      "The regime brazenly committed these crimes even as the whole world was watching them during the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," said Charm Tong of SWAN. "They are thumbing their noses at the international community."


      China tough with junta on Kokang
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Fri 14 Aug 2009

      China may well be backing Naypyitaw, when it comes to democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and the over 2,000 political prisoners in Burma, but it has adopted a tough stance, twice in a week, when the Burmese Army tried to impose itself on one of the former communist armies, according to sources on the Sino-Burma border.

      On August 8, it had successfully convinced the Burmese Army, which had entered the Kokang territory "without our permission" to carry out an inspection on a location suspected to have an arms factory. "Due to China's intervention, the Burmese Army pulled out," said a local source.

      Three days later on August 11, Maj-Gen Aung Than Tut, Commander of the Lashio-based Northeastern Region Command, summoned five officers of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), as the Kokang ceasefire group prefers to call itself, to his headquarters. Two were later dispatched to Laogai, the Kokang capital, to persuade its top leader Peng Jiasheng to have an audience with him.

      Peng, who had already refused to meet Aung Than Tut on August 8, did not show up. As a result, the situation that had almost returned to normal on August 9 became tense again, forcing people to flee across the border yet again.

      They were however stopped by the Chinese. "We are doing what we can to ease the situation," a border official was quoted as saying. "Of course, we will not refuse admission if bullets start flying. But in the meanwhile, you should trust us and go back."

      Only Chinese citizens were allowed to cross the border, said a border source.

      The remaining three were allowed to return the next day, thus somewhat cooling things. "There isn't any doubt why the junta backed down," said a knowledgeable source. "There could even have been a trade-off between Naypyitaw and China: Ditching Suu Kyi in exchange for peace along the border."

      China was the only country which supported Naypyitaw's decision to continue Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest on August 11.

      The situation nevertheless is still worrisome, according to a Thai-Burma watcher. "The release of the Kokang officials did not resolve the issues between the two sides," he said. "Naypyitaw still wants Kokang and their allies to become border security battalions under the control of the Burmese Army and they keep saying no to it."

      In addition, according to several sources, any conflict with Kokang will certainly lead to a full-scale war with its allies, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), United Wa State Army (UWSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA) and the Shan State Army (SSA) "North", which accounts for a grand total of 45,000 to 50,000 strong well armed opposition.

      Naypyitaw has fixed October as the deadline for the ceasefire groups to transform into what it terms as the Border Guard Forces (BGFs).


      After Suu Kyi verdict, should the West engage Myanmar? - Nopporn Wong-Anan - Analysis
      Reuters: Fri 14 Aug 2009

      Singapore - Myanmar's reduced sentence for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi may be an indication the junta is becoming more sensitive to international pressure as it prepares a transition to civilian rule next year, analysts say.

      A Myanmar court on Tuesday sentenced Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the past 20 years in detention, to three years in jail  -  which the junta then immediately reduced to 18 months of house arrest at her lakeside home in Yangon.

      The West reacted in outrage, with the European Union preparing a fresh round of sanctions, while China and Myanmar's other neighbors took a more measured response.

      The trial came at a time when Western capitals were questioning their strategy toward the generals, given their ineffectiveness in trying to ostracize them or Asia's attempts at engagement.

      U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a visit to Jakarta in February, expressed frustration at the failure of both approaches. "Imposing sanctions has not influenced the junta… Reaching out and trying to engage has not influenced them either."

      Myanmar is a resource-rich country that lies strategically between China and India. The 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, worries that isolating Myanmar will merely shove it into China's orbit.

      "Such sanctions don't seem to have much effect on Myanmar because it is a resource-rich country" where Asian neighbors compete for everything from timber to oil and gas, said Antonio Rappa, political analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

      Singapore is among the top three biggest trading partners and investors in Myanmar, whose ruling generals are believed to park their money and send their children to study in the island-state.

      Analysts saw other signs of the junta beginning to become more engaged with the world, such as its acceptance of international aid  -  and foreign aid workers  -  to help rebuild after a cyclone hit the Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008, killing 140,000 people.

      "What Myanmar needs is more international contact rather than less," said former ASEAN Secretary General Rodolfo Severino, adding the junta had shown a "degree of openness" to the international community in the wake of the cyclone that made 2.4 million people destitute.

      KANGAROO TRIAL

      Debbie Stothard of the anti-junta Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma said the repeated delays in handing down the Suu Kyi verdict, and then the commuted sentence, showed the regime could be swayed by international pressure.

      "I think what's interesting is we could see that from a fast kangaroo trial, the regime had to delay the trial and impose a lighter sentence because of international pressure," Stothard told Reuters Television.

      That would appear to argue for brandishing a stick at the regime, and analysts said it was unlikely the Obama administration would soften its stance following the verdict.

      "If anything, the result will be to solidify the American policy toward Burma," said Walter Lohman of the Washington-based think-tank, the Heritage Foundation.

      The U.S. Campaign for Burma, which has called for a full U.N. arms embargo on the country as a way to press China to stop its support for the junta, and isolate the regime to get it to talk to the opposition, said it wanted both sanctions and engagement.

      "ASEAN has been reaching out to the regime now for 10 years, the U.N. has sent envoys on some 40 trips  -  but clearly engagement without sticks is not working," Campaign's Jeremy Woodrum said.

      The junta's move to extend Suu Kyi's house arrest was clearly aimed at keeping her sidelined until the end of next year's planned election. Her ability to mobilize thousands of people for rallies helped her party win 392 of the 485 seats in the 1990 election that was annulled by the military.

      The junta is on the final stage of its road map to democracy, culminating in next year's vote, and with a constitution that enshrines a powerful role for the military.

      The junta might have become more responsive to international pressure because it may want its new cabinet  -  an ostensibly elected civilian one but likely filled with retired generals  -  to be acceptable to the outside world, analysts said.

      Instead of calling for an election with Suu Kyi's participation, the international community should shift its focus to deal with a post-election Myanmar, they said.

      "From now until the elections, Aung San Suu Kyi won't be in the picture," said Pavin Chatchavalpongpun of the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore. "Why don't we sit down and try to think of policies of the next government?

      "Than Shwe may be thinking about leaving his legacy behind," Pavin said referring to the junta supremo. "Whether he already has a political successor in his mind, we don't know. But I am sure he has been thinking about that."

      (Additional reporting by Prapan Chankaew in Bangkok and Paul Eckert in Washington; Editing by Bill Tarrant)


      NLD protests court verdict on Aung San Suu Kyi - Myint Maung
      Mizzima News: Thu 13 Aug 2009

      The National League for Democracy (NLD) reacted sharply in a statement on Wednesday to the court's sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi to three years in prison with hard labour saying it is a violation of human rights and not in consonance with the provisions of the law.

      The charge of violating the terms of her house arrest was made on the basis of fundamental rights provisions in the 1974 Constitution, which was suspended and is not in force any longer, making it null and void, the statement said.

      "The statement said the court's verdict is not in accordance with the provisions of the law and the NLD strongly protests against the human rights violation. Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyers will take the next step after meeting her," NLD spokesman Dr. Win Naing told Mizzima.

      In another statement issued by the NLD on the same day, the party urged the military junta to grant amnesty to all political prisoners and release them unconditionally at the earliest.

      In the second statement the NLD said Aung San S

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