- SPDC into election campaign in Chin
- Than Shwe urges USDA to forge ahead
- Singapore firm inks massive Myanmar
- Nobel Laureate Stiglitz to advise
junta on poverty
- Burma’s minorities must not be
- Junta under scrutiny for concrete
- Burma media faces junta squeeze
- Kowtowing holds up political progress
- Parliamentarians from South and South
East Asia extend solidarity with the struggle for democracy in Burma
- Junta continues war on monks
- Thai refugee camps face tough year
- Villagers flee to avoid forced labor
for border fence
- Myanmar cyclone survivors still need
- Burma watchers are right to be
cautious about signs of change
- Has India a policy on Myanmar?
- Exploitative abuse and villager
responses in Thaton District
- Junta’s priority is elections, not
- Wa Army stands defiant against junta
- Ethnic conflict in Burma demands
- Changing tack on Myanmar
- Selection time precedes election time
- Burma to commission ‘Ye’ hydro-power
project in December
- UN slams Burma over forced labor
- Junta crimes to be raised in The Hague
- Beware of the generals’ elections
SPDC into election campaign in
Khonumthung News: Mon 30 Nov 2009
Campaigning for the 2010 general elections in Burma seems to have begun
in earnest from the military junta’s side with the Deputy Minister of
Power and Electricity visiting Tidim town and Tawnzang town in Chin
state on November 13 to 15 on a campaign tour.
When the minister arrived he met departmental staff members,
representatives of the Union Solidarity Development Association,
Women’s Association and about 100 parents in a high school hall in
Tawnzang town. He addressed them regarding the election.
“He urged us to cast votes for the candidates of the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC) and beware of enemies of the state. The
elections will be held soon and we have to unite as a family,” said a
member of the USDA.
When Khonumthung News asked a person, who attended the meeting about
the polls, he said that the forthcoming general election cannot be free
and fair. “Even if we cast votes against the authorities it will
convert it to votes in its favour,” he added.
Similarly, the second commander of LIB 309 Myat Soe had campaigned in
Kalemyo and Tamu Township on November 7, where he met representatives
of the Union Solidarity Development Association, Women’s Association,
volunteer firemen and local parents.
Although the military junta has officially announced the elections for
2010, there is no declaration of codes and conducts of the election and
Than Shwe urges USDA to forge
ahead – Mungpi
Mizzima News: Mon 30 Nov 2009
New Delhi – Burma’s military junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe on
Friday patted on the back his puppet civilian organization – the Union
Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) – for a job well-done for
the past 16 years and urged it to carry on with gusto until the junta’s
Seven-Step Roadmap is wrapped up.
Than Shwe, in his speech on the last day of the USDA’s Annual General
Meeting, expressed his appreciation of the USDA, but urged it to
continue to safeguard non-disintegration of the Union,
non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of
sovereignty of the country, according to the state-own New Light of
Myanmar newspaper on Saturday.
Burma’s military rulers claim that they are the saviors of the Union,
where several groups are struggling to break away, and justify that
their rule for the past 20 years have ushered in stability and peace in
“Therefore, you are…. to safeguard non-disintegration of the Union,
non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of
sovereignty with true patriotic spirit,” Than Shwe, patron of the USDA
told the meeting, held in Naypyitaw.
He also urged the USDA to cooperate in the successful implementation of
the Seven-Step Roadmap, and to prevent any attempt to harm the
interests of the State and the people.
The junta chief, in his speech, re-affirmed that as part of the roadmap
to democracy, a general election will be held in 2010, where political
parties would be allowed to contest.
“Free and fair elections will be held in 2010 in keeping with the
publicly-approved constitution. Political parties, formed based on
their different beliefs, will get involved in political activities,”
Than Shwe said.
Critics have expressed scepticism about the junta’s statement of ‘Free
and Fair elections’, pointing out that the referendum held in May 2008
to approve the new constitution was rigged.
Opposition groups, including detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu
Kyi’s party – the National League for Democracy – have demanded a
revision of the 2008 constitution, which will be used as the base for
next year’s election.
While Burma watchers and analysts had earlier speculated that the USDA
might be transformed into a political party that will be backed by the
junta, a USDA official in Naypyitaw told Mizzima that so far there has
not been any ‘orders from above’ to transform the group into a
The USDA, which was formed by Than Shwe in 1993, has been widely known
for carrying out orders from the junta including those to crackdown on
protesters during the Buddhist monk-led protests in September 2007.
The junta claims that the USDA has a membership of over 20 million,
nearly half of Burma’s over 50 million population.
Singapore firm inks massive
Myanmar gas deal
Agence France Presse: Mon 30 Nov 2009
Singapore — A Singaporean marine engineering company has signed a
multimillion dollar contract with a Myanmar firm, and will lay gas
pipelines off the shores of the military-ruled nation next year.
Singapore-based firm Swiber Holdings will construct 150 kilometres of
gas pipelines after signing a 77 million US dollar contract with “a
Myanmar oil and gas company,” the company said in a statement Friday.
The statement did not give the name of the Myanmar company involved.
The project will start in the first quarter of 2010 and will last six
months, it added.
“We are honoured and excited to kick-start the offshore installation
job in Myanmar,” said Raymond Goh, group chief executive officer of
The agreement comes as foreign investment in military-ruled nation
soared more than fivefold to reach almost one billion dollars last
year, official statistics showed.
Total foreign investment in Myanmar increased from 172.72 million
dollars in the 2007-2008 fiscal year to 985 million dollars in
2008-2009, the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development
said earlier this year.
Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962, and sanctions by the
United States and Europe coupled with fiscal mismanagement during
decades of military rule have battered its economy.
Nobel Laureate Stiglitz to
advise junta on poverty – Marwaan Macan-Markar
Inter Press News Service: Mon 30 Nov 2009
Bangkok – The list of high-profile foreigners heading to Burma to
engage and advise the country’s military regime is about to get longer.
The latest due to join that flow is Nobel economics laureate Joseph
The former chief economist of the World Bank will fly into Burma, or
Myanmar as it is also known, on Dec. 14 for a mission aimed to examine
and improve the South-east Asian nation’s rural economy, says Noeleen
Heyzer, head of a United Nations regional body based in Bangkok.
“He will share his ideas on what kind of economic decision making is
critical for growth in the rural economy and poverty reduction,” adds
the executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia
and the Pacific (ESCAP). “He will be there for a couple of days.”
“We hope that this mission will be able to open up a new space in
economic decision-making and policy formulations,” Heyzer tells IPS.
“The focus is on how do we reach the poorest people in Myanmar.”
Stiglitz, who has engaged with poorer countries to offer development
models through the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, a think tank he
founded, will meet Burma’s Agriculture and Rural Development Minister
Maj Gen Htay Oo and National Development Minister Soe Tha during this
Both ministers are reportedly close to Burma’s strongman, Senior Gen
Than Shwe, who presides over a regime notorious for its oppression and
Stiglitz is due to deliver a lecture on ‘Economic Policies and Decision
Making for Poverty Reduction: Reaching the Bottom Half’ in the
afternoon of Dec. 15. The two ministers and Heyzer have also been
billed as speakers during this ‘development forum’ under the theme
‘Policies for Poverty Reduction— Effecting Change in Myanmar’s Rural
This forum, to be held in Naypidaw, the administrative capital, is one
of a series of talks Stigliz will be involved in. Others will include
an exchange of ideas with leading Burmese economists, U.N. experts, the
diplomatic community and speakers from the local and international
Field visits to Burma’s dry zone are also on the cards, confirms
Heyzer, who has been instrumental in the visit of the globally renowned
economist. “It should be for two or three days to bring him into
contact with the issues of the rural economy and the problems of
trading, the banking system and the commodity prices.”
ESCAP’s foray into Burma is part of a broader programme to reach out to
countries with “special needs” among its over 50 member states. The
foundation for this engagement with Burma’s rural economy was laid in
August when Heyzer visited the military-ruled country. The initial
talks she had at that time touched on issues like the need for farmers
to gain greater access to rural credit and concerns over the state
fixing of rice prices at rates that condemned farmers into permanent
Currently, some 7.8 million hectares are under paddy cultivation,
producing an estimated 30.5 million tonnes of rice during the 2008-2009
harvest period, states the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Such rice production has come at a heavy price for Burmese rice
farmers. Most of them, who are small farmers, have had difficulty
accessing rural credit, according to Sean Turnell, an Australian
academic who publishes the ‘Burma Economic Watch’, in an interview with
“The policies of the Burmese government have been anything but
helpful,” he says. “They have, in essence, stood by while Burma’s rural
credit scheme has collapsed.”
Burmese economists wonder how open the junta will be to Stiglitz’s
policy prescriptions given previous foreign attempts to suggest
improvements to the country’s beleaguered economy, which were initially
received with much fanfare but then ignored by the regime.
A Japanese initiative in 2002 is illustrative. Tokyo, with early
support from the regime, conducted a macro-economic and structural
reform study. Researchers reportedly had access to sensitive economic
data for this project.
But the implementation of the results, which the Japanese government
was willing to back, found little takers within the regime.
“This research that was conducted by top Japanese and Burmese economist
was rejected by the military government,” says a Burmese economist
based in northern Thailand, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This
was after the Japanese made every effort to offer a feasible programme
that the regime could undertake according to its comfort level.”
“Other efforts can face a similar fate,” he adds. “They will fall on
Such reluctance for change has been attributed to the new wealth the
regime has amassed since the discovery of huge offshore natural gas
fields in the 1990s. Gas exports to neighbouring Thailand has resulted
in Burma’s foreign exchange reserves reaching a record 3.6 billion U.S.
That figure is expected to increase with Chinese investments in a new
offshore natural gas project.
Yet 75 percent of the country’s estimated 57 million people who live in
rural areas and make up the largest slice of the country’s poor have
hardly benefited from such financial bounty. Malnutrition is rampant,
affecting over a third of the country’s children. It is ranked by the
U.N. as one of the hunger hotspots of the world.
The junta’s public spending offers some clues for this dire picture.
Nearly 40 percent of the gross domestic percent goes to support of its
over 400,000- strong army while only 0.3 percent is set aside for
health, placing it just above the lowest ranked Sierra Leone, at 191st,
on a World Health Organisation list.
Stiglitz’s solutions to help Burma’s rural poor will have to grapple
with other numbers, too. Inflation is at 30 percent and the annual
growth rate— estimated at four to five percent by independent
analysts—is far lower than the 10 percent rate that the regime claims
it to be.
Burma’s minorities must not be
overlooked – Richard Sollom
GlobalPost: Mon 30 Nov 2009
COX ‘S BAZAAR, Bangladesh and CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts – Twenty years
after the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, a repressive barricade
is being quietly raised in the jungles of Burma.
The Burmese military junta has begun erecting a concrete and
barbed-wire fence along its western border with Bangladesh, allegedly
to prevent smuggling, but more probably to prohibit the return from
Bangladesh of some 200,000 Rohingya migrants ” a persecuted Burmese
Muslim minority group who are now stateless.
Burmas new barrier symbolizes the past five decades of military rule
and isolation from the free world. It should also remind the West of
the brutal repression of ethnic minorities who abide mass atrocities
behind Burmas barricade.
As principal investigator for Physicians for Human Rights, I returned
last week from a three-week trip to Burma and its neighboring countries
” Bangladesh, India and Thailand ” where I met with Burmese civil
society and victims of human rights violations. Our investigation
revealed ongoing crimes against humanity in this country where murder,
forced displacement, slave labor, conscription of child soldiers,
torture and rape comprise the militarys arsenal of rights abuses
inflicted against ethnic minorities.
In Coxs Bazaar, Bangladesh, I interviewed a 72-year-old Buddhist monk
whom Burmese military imprisoned and tortured for the past two years
after he had led the peaceful demonstration that sparked the Saffron
Revolution ” the name of which stems from the monks colorful monastic
In Aizawl, India a group of Christian women who fled Chin State in
Burma this year reported to me unspeakable sexual violence they
suffered at the hands of the Tatmadaw, or Burmese military, during its
roundup of forced laborers.
In the Thai border town of Mae Sot, I met a 14-year-old landmine
survivor whose left leg was blown off just days earlier while tending
his familys four water buffalo just across the border in Karen State,
Such egregious breaches of human dignity are not isolated incidents.
They highlight the militarys widespread and systematic campaign to
crush dissent by imprisonment, torture, enslavement and the silencing
of ethnic minorities such as the Chin, Karen, Kokang, Rakhine, Rohingya
and Shan. No group is spared.
Burmas de facto president, the reclusive Senior General Than Shwe,
seized power 20 years ago while promising free and fair elections in
1990. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) trounced the
military-backed State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)
garnering 59 percent of the vote and 80 percent of the seats in the
Peoples Assembly. SLORC dismissed the results, and subsequently
detained NLDs Prime Minister-elect Aung San Suu Kyi.
The merciless head of Burmas military junta will not brook a second
defeat at the polls next year. He has hence stepped-up militarization
this past year resulting in forced relocation and attendant rights
abuses. Than Shwes Tatmadaw has locked up 2,200 political prisoners,
destroyed more than 3,200 villages and forced up to 3 million civilians
to flee ” all of which make it nearly impossible for the NLD and other
political parties to organize prior to upcoming elections.
President Obama has recently embarked on a new policy of engagement
with the Burmese military claiming targeted sanctions have failed to
reform the repressive regime. Assistant Secretary of State for East
Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell met this month in the capital
city Naypyidaw with his Burmese counterpart in a second round of
dialogue, which began this September in New York. And Obama himself met
recently with ASEAN leaders, including Burmas Prime Minister Thein
Sein, in Singapore.
For such diplomatic initiatives to succeed, the Obama administration
must establish benchmarks and present credible consequences should its
new strategy of engagement fail to produce movement toward real
political change within Burma. The minimum price for continued dialogue
should be the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the
immediate cessation of rights abuses against ethnic minorities ”
without which there can be neither free nor fair elections in 2010.
By meeting with the Americans, Than Shwe has already procured what he
craves most ” international legitimacy ” and revoking it is perhaps the
best hope for a shift in Burma. If these series of high-level
diplomatic talks do not result in any significant positive change by
the military junta, the United States should fully implement tougher
sanctions already allowed by the 2008 Burmese JADE Act and press the
U.N. Security Council to launch a commission of inquiry into crimes
against humanity in Burma.
Burmas military regime has maintained its intransigence for decades in
the face of outside demands for change. As the United States tries to
alter that posture, it must not forsake justice and accountability for
toothless diplomatic engagement.
* Richard Sollom is Director of Research and Investigations at
Physicians for Human Rights in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he
directs public health research and human rights investigations in areas
of armed conflict.
Junta under scrutiny for
concrete pre-election signs – Marwaan Macan-Markar
Inter Press News Service: Mon 30 Nov 2009
BANGKOK, Nov 29 (IPS) – In the wake of a meeting attended by the
all-powerful military elite, Burma’s military regime is due to come
under close scrutiny for concrete signs of change leading up to a
promised general elections in 2010.
The weeklong gathering in Naypidaw, the administrative capital, is
where the country’s strongman, Senior General Than Shwe, receives
reports from senior officers in the military machine that dominates the
South-east Asian country and then determines policies for the following
There were close to 200 officers who attended this high-powered
meeting, from Nov. 23 to 27, according to Win Min, a Burmese national
security expert at Payap University in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.
“Than Shwe has been normally holding these meetings once in four
months. It draws in ministers of the military government, regional
commanders, heads of the light infantry divisions and officers of
brigadier general rank,” Win Min told IPS.
“Highest policy decisions are made here. Military reshuffles normally
occur, but Than Shwe will keep people guessing till the very last
minute about concrete moves. He prefers to take people by surprise. It
is his military thinking.”
Among the announcements that diplomats following Burmese affairs are
waiting to hear is Than Shwe’s order to military officers to enter the
political field for the 2010 elections. “The order for senior military
officers to change uniforms will be significant,” one Asian diplomat,
who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “Who among them ordered
to do so will also be revealing.”
Other more certain signs that the regime will go ahead with the
election is the announcement of two election laws, the diplomat added.
They are the law for the registration of political parties and the law
governing the election process.
Until now, the junta’s commitment towards the poll to create a
“discipline- flourishing democracy” has only been verbal assurances as
part of its “roadmap” towards political reform in Burma, officially
On Friday Than Shwe repeated this promise at a meeting of the Union of
Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) held in Naypidaw to
coincide with the meeting of the country’s military elite.
A free and fair election will be held in 2010 in keeping with the
country’s new 2008 constitution, Than Shwe had told members of the
USDA, according to Saturday’s edition of ‘The New Light of Myanmar,’ a
Yet the strongman sounded a note of warning to the political parties
that may vie in this long-awaited poll. They should not undermine the
disintegration of the country and affect national solidarity, Than Shwe
was reported as saying.
Than Shwe is the head of USDA, a civilian arm of the junta that is
expected to play a pivotal role in the polls to avoid a repeat of the
1990 elections. At that poll, the last held in Burma, the National
League for Democracy (NLD), the party of the detained opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi, won with a massive mandate, which the junta refused
The new constitution, which was approved in a deeply flawed referendum
in May 2008, has other features to ensure that the military’s grip on
power will remain even after the poll. The powerful army, with its
nearly 450,000- strong troops, has been guaranteed 25 percent of all
seats in the legislative bodies from the national to the village levels.
Although Western governments are aware of these anti-democratic
features, they are increasingly open to engagement with the regime.
Still unchanged, however, are the punitive economic sanctions that
marked the hostile policy the United States and the European Union (EU)
have towards Burma.
There are new opportunities for a breakthrough in the political
deadlock in Burma, Piero Fassino, the EU special envoy to Burma, said
in a statement Friday following mission through South-east Asia. The
Italian politician was encouraged by the prospect of a dialogue
involving the junta.
Fassino’s views add to the softer line taken by the administration of
U.S. President Barak Obama on Burma. The latter’s policy shift to
engage with Burma has seen an encounter between the U.S. leader and
Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein at a regional summit in Singapore
in mid- November.
That landmark meeting—the first by a U.S. president in over 40 years—
followed a visit to Burma in October by Kurt Campbell, the U.S.
assistant secretary of state, who became the highest-ranking official
from Washington to visit Burma in 14 years.
Campbell’s visit included a nearly two-hour meeting with Suu Kyi, who
has spent over 14 of her last 20 years under detention.
For her part, Suu Kyi has used the momentum towards engagement to write
to Than Shwe, seeking a meeting between the two. The Nobel Peace
laureate’s letter reportedly expressed a willingness to “cooperate” to
end the stalemate between the junta and the NLD leader.
The last time the two met was in 2002 in Rangoon, the former Burmese
capital. But Suu Kyi has met with a government minister appointed as
the junta’s liaison officer seven times in the past two years, the most
recent in October.
The changes in the international community’s thinking towards Burma
served as a backdrop for the just concluded meeting of the country’s
“The military government could not ignore this during this week’s
meeting,” said Zin Linn, information director for the National
Coalition Government for the Union of Burma, the government elected in
1990 currently in exile.
“There is some pressure and expectations of change from the
international community,” he told IPS. “The military government has to
decide how they will deal with Aung San Suu Kyi and how they will
manage (the country’s) political affairs during the election year.”
Burma media faces junta squeeze
– Zin Linn
Asian Tribune: Mon 30 Nov 2009
Presently, Burma is at an intersection of political makeover. The
military regime wants to maintain the status quo while the people
desire to open a new chapter of change. People are demanding freedoms
of expression and association while the junta is in no mood to allow
basic civic rights.
So much so, most people are rallying in support of NLD the proposals.
In its ‘Shwe-gon-dine declaration’ dated 29th April 2009, the National
League for Democracy (NLD) has set two conditions for its participation
in the 2010 election. One amend provisions in the 2008 constitution
which are not in harmony with democratic principles. Two hold an
all-inclusive free and fair poll under international supervision.
The International Community has been urging the junta to release all
political prisoners prior to the 2010 election in order to gain
international support. “Burma must release Aung San Suu Kyi from house
arrest and let her to take part in a nationwide election, otherwise the
vote will not be honourable and U.S. economic sanctions will not be
lifted”, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Scot Marciel, warned
after meeting her in Rangoon.
No diplomatic breakthrough was achieved during the visit to Burma by
Mr. Marciel and the Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell on
November 3 and 4. In addition to Suu Kyi, the two American diplomats
met Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein, opposition politicians, ethnic
leaders, and others. But they could not meet the Big Man, Senior Gen
Than Shwe himself. Why a meeting with him could not be arranged remains
unclear. After all it is Gen Than who calls the shots in Burma and a
meeting with him could have been beneficial to both sides.
According to some analysts, there is no progress at all since the US
Special Mission’s visit to Burma. There is more belligerence, more
restrictions on media and civil society, more control on Internet
users, more arrests, more political prisoners, and more military
attacks in the ethnic minority areas. So, dissident politicians warned
each other to be very wary and have asked the international community
to put pressure on the regime until the said benchmarks are achieved.
If the junta has a sincere mindset to start democratic reform, the
media must be free at the outset. Access to information is crucial to
establish a healthy democracy. Moreover, media is the backbone of a
democracy system. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and
expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without
interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
through any media and regardless frontiers”.
But, in Burma, not only the political oppositions but also the
journalists and the media personnel are under the strictest rules of
the stratocracy. In most countries, journalists or media workers can do
their jobs without fear or favour and survive. But in military ruled
Burma, journalism is a hazardous work. Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai
was killed in the 2007 Saffron Revolution. Several citizen journalists
are still in prisons.
According to the Burma Media Association and Reporters Sans Frontieres,
at least 12 journalists and dozens of media workers including poets and
writers are held behind bars since the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and
the May 2008 constitutional referendum. Some like film director, writer
and comic Zarganar and blogger Nay Phone Latt received long-term
sentences while sentences for print journalists ranged from two to
seven years. Saw Wai, a poet, was arrested in January 2008 for
inserting a concealed message – power crazy Than Shwe – in a Valentines
Day poem. He has been awarded a two- year jail term..
The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ)
“strongly condemned” the arrest on 28 October 2009 of freelance
journalist and blogger Pai Soe Oo (alias) Jay Paing, reportedly a
member of Cyclone Nargis disaster relief volunteer group named “Lin Let
Kye” (”Shining Star”). CPJ called for his immediate release, saying his
arrest undermined the Burmese junta’s assertion of moving toward
“Burma’s military regime claims to be moving toward democracy, yet it
continues to routinely arrest and detain journalists,” said Shawn W.
Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Reducing
international pressure should require demonstrable improvements in
A freelance journalist, speaking under condition of anonymity, said
that around 20 people, including entertainers, writers and press
workers, have been arrested since third week of October. There were
several arrests without warrant between 21 and 28 October. Staff
members of the Voice, the Foreign News, the Favourite, the Pyi Myanmar
and the Kandarawaddy journals are reportedly picked up for a life in
He could confirm at least eight people including 4 journalists arrested
by police and military intelligence officials at their homes. They
included Khant Min Htet, a poet and the layout designer for the
‘Ahlinkar Wutyi Journal’,Thant Zin Soe, an editor of the Foreign Affair
News weekly journal, freelancer Nyi Nyi Tun (alias) Mee Doke and Paing
Soe Oo (alias) Jay Paing, a freelance reporter and blogger. The other
four, Aung Myat Kyaw Thu, Thet Ko, Myint Thein and Min Min are students
of Dagon University.
The detained youths are members of “Linlet Kyei,” or “Shining Star” a
group which helps survivors of last year’s Cyclone Nargis, which killed
over 140,000 people. The Linlet Kye volunteer group was formed in early
May 2008 and has over 40 members. Most of them are Rangoon-based
reporters and young social activists. They help orphaned schoolchildren
by providing them with textbooks and paying for their school expenses.
Burmese media is often targeted during periodical crackdown on
dissents. Some more arrests of journalists cannot be ruled out since
the regime has turned a virtual deaf ear to the appeals from the
international community to release political prisoners prior to
elections next year..
Burma was at the forefront of press freedom in Southeast Asia before
the 1962 military coup. The country then enjoyed a free press;
censorship was something unheard then. As many as three dozen
newspapers, including English, Chinese and Hindi dailies, existed
between 1948 and 1962. Journalists had free access even to the prime
minister’s office in those days. They were free to tie –up with
international press agencies.
The situation changed in 1962, when the military seized power. All
newspapers were nationalized. Press Scrutiny Board (PSB) came up to
enforce strict censorship on all forms of printed matter including
advertisements and even obituaries. Since then, censorship and
self-censorship have become commonplace in Burma undermining political
rights and civil liberties.
Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) is a major oppressive
tool of Than Shwe military regime. Not surprisingly, Burma stands
downgraded from a free state to a prison state. All news media in Burma
is strictly censored and tightly controlled by the military — all daily
newspapers, radio and television stations are under supervision of the
junta. Whatever privately-owned journals and magazines are there, these
are few and work strictly under the PSRD scanner. No printed matter can
bring out without PSRD permission.
The radio, television and other media outlets are monopolized for
propaganda warfare by the regime and opposition views are never
allowed. Recently some FM Radio stations have come up but people view
them as a part of the military campaign to secure voters’ support for
the ‘official nominees’ in the 2010 elections.
The regime knows well how to take advantage of the popularity of FM
radio. They are now using the new stations to magnetize people away
from the exiled media. The media is a special tool for the military
regime and no space is given for the opposition.
Unless the junta guaranteed the essential value of human rights – such
as, freedom of expression and freedom of association – its ongoing
polling process will be meaningless.
Press is the fourth pillar of a State. It is accepted around the globe.
Not in Burma. The lifeblood of democracy is free flow of information.
Burma needs regional cooperation for Press Freedom. While Burma is at
an intersection of political makeover, the media workers in Burma are
looking forward to have more assistance, understanding and pragmatic
help from the international media groups.
Without press freedom a nation cannot have social equality or democracy.
Kowtowing holds up political
progress in Burma – Ko Ko Thett
Irrawaddy: Mon 30 Nov 2009
Megalomania on the part of the authorities and obsequiousness on the
part of the people who serve them are salient features of any
authoritarian system, where signs of complete submission and personal
loyalty can induce rewards.
In an authoritarian setting, acting “normal” as self-respecting
citizens or professionals can land people on the book of enemies. In
Burma, the ruling generals have gone grotesquely backward in time with
their penchant for expressions of servility by their underlings.
In Burmese Buddhist culture, the act of kowtowing is a sign of garawa,
obeisance and humility, to the Buddha and the Sangha (the Order) as
well as to teachers and elders. It should be noted that in a sutta,
Buddha elucidates that it is not the age but the degree of morality,
mindfulness and wisdom that qualifies one as an “elder.” The
misunderstanding and malpractice of gawara, rampant in the Burmese
society in general and the Burmese military institution in particular,
often give way to illusory righteousness and blind obedience.
In parts of pre-colonial Asia, ruled by absolute monarchs or feudal
lords, kowtowing was commonplace at all levels of social and political
hierarchy. In fact, the protocol of having to kowtow sacrosanct Burmese
kings, who aspired to be future Buddhas, or Chinese emperors irked the
Western diplomats, soldiers, Christian missionaries and adventurers who
had journeyed to the seat of the “oriental” kingdoms.
Historically, the Burmese elite’s outward display of servility in a
highly personalized hierarchical system must have infected all other
social relations. Eminent Burma scholars, from Dr Maung Maung Gyi to Dr
Than Tun, abhorred the fact that the Burmese first person singular is
kyundaw or kyunma, meaning “your royal slave!”
>From the time of the British conquest of lower Burma in 1824 until the
country’s independence in 1948, the local minions who chose to serve
the British retained the old habit of kissing up. They addressed the
British as thakingyi, or great masters, while continuing to kowtow
them. The Japanese who occupied and ruled Burma through a proxy
nationalist government during the Second World War demanded “long and
deep” formal bows from the locals. Most of the Burmese obliged, calling
the new masters simply “masters.”
It is one thing to kowtow Buddha but quite another to have to treat
one’s boss as if he were a Buddha. Treating one’s superior like a
Buddha, however, may be exactly what is expected of the Burmese public
servants and military personnel by their bosses, the generals who
misrule Burma today.
For instance, the most striking image among the photos of General Shwe
Mann’s tour of North Korea and China in November 2008, is that of the
Burmese embassy staff and their family members on all fours in front of
the general in a Beijing hotel room. Shwe Mann, a protégé of junta
chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe, is considered the third most powerful man in
Burma and an heir apparent.
Colonization of Burma thoroughly humiliated the majority Burman (Bama)
population as they were forcibly separated from their past. As such,
Bama politicians or soldiers are wont to hark back to their
On gaining independence in 1948, the Bama leaders resumed building
their unitary state on Bama nationalism. As ethnic and communist
insurgencies broke out and civil war ensued within months of
independence, it was too late for them to undo feudal cultural traits,
develop mutually beneficial ties with ethnic peoples or heal their
collective inferiority complex.
Invasions from neighboring China in the 1940s and 1950s added more fuel
to Bama jingoism as the country withdrew further away from the
international community during the Cold War.
The perceived glory of the past, which is disgraceful to the ethnic
groups who suffered at the hands of Bama kings, has been rehabilitated
through official and unofficial versions of nationalist historiography.
In fact, it has become a staple in the nationalist propaganda.
Present-day Bama military officers have been doused in
ultra-nationalist doctrine pretty much the same way that all Bama
nationalist leaders of various political hues, be they leftist,
rightist or totalitarian, fed on the anti-colonial historical
narrative. As a result, in the words of Professor Maung Maung Gyi,
‘‘nationalism chained them to the petty world of native culture. Their
attitude was that almost everything Burmese was positively superior to
U Nu, the prime minister of newly independent Burma, behaved like a
benevolent Burmese king, a bodhisattva, while presiding over a
parliamentary democracy system that eventually went out of his control.
Ne Win, who took over power from Nu and set out to ruin the country
under a pseudo-socialist regime from 1962 to 1988, was known for his
Nonetheless only under the present military regime, which named its new
capital Naypyidaw, meaning the royal city or abode of kings, “min
complex,” or royal-mania, has grown out of all proportion.
Burma scholars often speak of the “colonization from within” in the
state of Burma. This view is completely justifiable in light of
dominant-subordinate colonial relations that can be observed in the
Burmese political culture.
Given the royal mania of the Burmese military regime, optimists see the
current constitution as Burma’s Magna Carta. In this view, the fact
that the constitution was unilaterally drawn up and forcibly approved
in a sham referendum in May 2008 is less relevant than its emergence as
a document that defines the boundaries of state and local powers.
Even if this “regime accommodationist view” reflects some elements of
reality and relevancy, democracy in Burma will remain a very long-term
guided process that will take decades, if not centuries, of evolution
of democratic institutions.
One thing is for sure—democracy has to wait until the day when the
people of Burma no longer take their bosses for Buddha.
* Ko Ko Thett is an independent Burma scholar and a student of
politics at the University of Helsinki.
Parliamentarians from South and
South East Asia extend solidarity with the struggle for democracy in
Indian Parliamentarian’s Forum for Democracy in Burma: Mon 30 Nov 2009
New Delhi, India – Parliamentarians from South and South East Asian
countries such as; India, Nepal, and Singapore gathered today in New
Delhi, capital of India to extend their solidarity with Burmese
people’s struggle for the restoration of democracy in Burma. Indian
Parliamentarians across party lines along with their counterparts from
ASEAN countries discussed the current political and human rights
situations in Burma and the role of ASEAN and India on the
democratization in Burma. They also discussed how Parliamentarians in
the region can be of more help in advocating support for the initiation
of genuine political dialogue involving all stake holders in the
country and national reconciliation in Burma.
Mr. Charles Chong, Singaporean Parliamentarian and Vice Chair of ASEAN
Inter Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) said in his speech that
“ASEAN was of the view that the more ASEAN got involved in Burma, the
more it might be able to influence (Burmese generals) but 10 years had
passed with no results. Things are getting worse in Burma instead.
There are more refugees fleeing Burma”.
“ASEAN cannot do it on its own because the military generals have made
it clear that the western sanctions will not have any impact so long as
the two largest neighbours India and China continue to do big business
with Burma” said Mr. Chong.
Parliamentarians at the meeting called on the Indian government to join
and actively engage with ASEAN and United Nations in finding ways to
urge Burmese State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) leaders to pave
the way for genuine democracy in Burma.
Mr. Sharad Joshi, MP and Convener of the Indian Parliamentarians’ Forum
for Democracy in Burma (IPFDB) said “ASEAN and SAARC countries should
come together in working for the immediate release of all political
prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi and for the restoration of
democracy in Burma”. “Restoration of democracy in Burma is in our
(India) interest,” he added.
Indian Parliamentarians came together across party lines and demanded
that the Burmese government release all political prisoners in Burma
including Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
“The issue of democracy in Burma and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi
should find some priority in the agenda of Indian political parties,”
said D Raja, Raja Sabha MP and National Secretary of the Communist
Party of India (CPI).
While expressing her party’s strong support for the Burmese democracy
movement and pointing out the existence of thousands of Burmese
refugees living in India, Brinda Karat, MP and Politbureau member of
Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that “our party will do
whatever it can to help the Burmese refugees and their lives in India”.
She also expressed her disappointment in the fact that there was lack
of discussion on Burma issues in the parliamentary foreign policy
debates. “We had debates on India’s foreign policy related to Nepal,
Pakistan, Bangladesh, but no debates on Burma”. “The issue of India’s
policy and stand on Burma must be discussed when we discuss foreign
policy,” Brinda Karat added.
Criticizing the Indian media for lack of coverage on Burma issues, the
participants at the consultation meeting acknowledged that there is a
need to mobilize and sensitize the media in India to write and inform
the Indian public about Burma’s situation. “When we had demonstrations
organized (for Burma) in front of the Burmese embassy (in New Delhi)
there was no news (in the media) but when we had protests outside the
Pakistan and Chinese embassy, it made news headlines,” said Vijay Jolly
of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Parliamentarians in the region also agreed to put greater pressure
to make Burma’s 2010 elections free, fair, inclusive and transparent by
demanding the junta release all political prisoners including Aung San
Suu Kyi, cease attacks against ethnic groups, and review the
constitution of 2008 through inclusive dialogue before the elections.
The meeting also resolved to expand cooperation and network between
IPFDB and Parliamentarians in other countries in the region to help
Burmese people in their struggle for the restoration of democracy in
The consultation meeting was participated among others by Mr. Charles
Chong, a Parliamentarian from Singapore and Vice President of ASEAN
Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus which is a group of Parliamentarians
from ASEAN countries working for the restoration of democracy and
freedom for Burma, Mr Chandrika Yadav, a Parliamentarian from Nepal who
is also Chief Whip of MPRF party in the Nepal Parliament, Sharad Joshi
MP Rajya Sabha, Swatantra Bharat Paksha, India; Baroness Caroline Cox,
MP, British Parliament, Dr Tint Swe, MP-elect of NLD, Burma and
Information Minister, National Coalition Government of the Union of
Burma; Rev. Achariya, M.P. of Tibetan Parliament in Exile; Thomas
Sangma, MP, Nationalist Congress Party, India; Chandan Mitra, and Vijay
Jolly, former MP and MLA of the BJP, India; Brinda Karat, MP, Communist
Party of India (Marxist), D. Raja, MP of Communist Party of India,
Brijbhushan Tiwari, MP of Samajwadi Party, India; KC Tyagi, Former MP
and General Secretary of the Janata Dal United, India.
Junta continues war on monks –
Irrawaddy: Wed 25 Nov 2009
A war on monks is still underway in Burma, revenge for the monk-led
peaceful mass demonstrations in 2007. The military junta continues to
put pressure on monks and their family members, place bans on preaching
the Dhamma and impose travel restrictions.
Ashin Thavara, the secretary of the India-based All Burma Monks’
Representative Committee (ABMRC), told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: “My
parents go to sign up at the township authority every month, and the
authorities order my family to inform them whenever I contact them.
They also pressured my parents’ employer to fire them from their job.”
Ashin Thavara, 26, played a leading role in in the demonstrations and
is a founding member of the ABMRC, which launched the demonstrations
together with other monk organizations.
“The Burmese authorities confiscated all of my belongings in February
2008, they have pressured monks leave my monastery, Zeya Theikdi
Monastery in Rangoon’s Thingankyun Township. It now has only one old
On Sept. 27, 2007, the military government cracked down on the
demonstrators and scores of monks were forced to flee their monasteries
to escape arrest. Dozens of monks fled the country .
According to official data, there are now more than 400,000 monks in
Burma, and its community, the Sangha, is considered one of the
strongest and most revered institutions in the country.
Ashin Issariya, one of the founders of All Burma Monks’ Alliance
(ABMA), said: “The military junta still oppresses and insults monks and
the Buddhist religion. There are currently more than 250 monks and more
than 20 nuns in prison in Burma for their political activities.”
The regime’s Ministry of Religious Affairs seeks to control monks
through the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (a state-sponsored Buddhist
monks’ organization), which has issued orders restricting monks’ travel
and ability to offer dhamma teachings.
Authorities have also banned individual monks, such as Shwe Nya War
Sayardaw, the dean of Shwe Nya War Buddhist University in Rangoon, from
delivering dhamma talks.
A monk who studied at the Buddhist University told The Irrawaddy on
Thursday: “ Shwe Nya War Sayardawgyi has been banned from Dhamma talks
in Rangoon since last year, because of his two Dhamma CDs, “True
Independence” and “Don’t be Unfair.” Recently, he was also banned from
presenting talks on full moon day in Hledan Township and Kyee Myin
Daing Township on Nov. 19.”
The Ministry of Religious Affairs has also stopped issuing letters of
recommendation, which are required, for a monk to travel to a foreign
A monk in Rangoon, Ashin Panyarsarmi, said, “Now the authorities are
watching monks closely, and it’s very difficult to get visas and
Ashin Nayminda, who played a leading role in the 2007 demonstrations,
said the authorities told his friends that if they contacted him, they
could be arrested.
“Some of my friends who took part in the demonstrations have stayed
away from me and returned to lay life,” he said. “All of my property in
my monastery in Dawbon Township in Rangoon was confiscated.”
An abbot in Mandalay Division told The Irrawaddy on Thursday: “Plain
clothes security officers are closely watching certain monks and
He said four youths who were in contact with monks in Mandalay were
detained in September. “Their family and relatives do not know where
they are now,” he said.
State authorities closed Maggin Monastery in Rangoon’s Thingankyun
Township in November 2007 after its abbot, Sayadaw U Indaka, was
arrested for his involvement in the demonstrations. Monks and novices
were evicted along with several HIV/ AIDS patients who were receiving
treatment in the monastery at the time.
In October 2009, the All Burma Monks’ Alliance expelled Sen-Gen Than
Shwe from the Buddhist faith because he had failed to issue an apology
for his abuse of monks and the religion of Buddhism.
Thai refugee camps face tough
year ahead – Francis Wade
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 25 Nov 2009
Rising rice prices and the threat of an influx of Burmese refugees into
Thailand over the coming year could place a heavy strain on refugee
camps along the border, the head of a refugee aid group warned.
The comments came in the wake of a visit by European Union officials to
the Mae La camp in Thailand’s western Tak province, which is home to
some 40,000 Burmese refugees.
EU funding accounts for around 65 percent of the total $US60 million in
international aid that goes to the camps each year.
Jack Dunford, head of the Bangkok-based Thailand Burma Border
Consortium (TBBC), which provides food, shelter and amenities to the
camps, said that enough funding had been secured for this year, but
warned of an uncertain 12 months ahead.
“There are three variables that we have no control over: exchange
rates, the price of rice and the number of refugees, so when we look at
annual funding we always have to do some guess work,” he said.
“All three tend to be going against us, and with the global funding
squeeze, we are expecting that next year is going to be difficult.”
While the price of rice has dropped since the peak of the global food
crisis last year, he warned that widespread flooding and storms in
India and the Philippines, two of the region’s main rice producers, may
push prices back up.
He also warned of a possible exodus of Burmese fleeing fighting in the
run-up to elections in Burma next year, many of whom would cross into
“Over the next 12 months we’re facing very uncertain times in Burma, in
particular huge uncertainties about what’s going to happen in the
border areas,” Dunford said. “We’ll obviously see how it plays out, but
we could have a major emergency.”
The Burmese government has been aggressively attempting to transform
the country’s 18 ceasefire groups into border guard forces prior to
polling; a move that it believes would significantly strengthen its
dominance in the volatile border regions.
Fighting between Burmese troops, supported by the Democratic Karen
Buddhist Army (DKBA), and the opposition Karen National Union (KNU) in
June, forced around 5000 Karen civilians into Thailand, many of whom
ended up in makeshift camps.
Another outbreak of fighting in Burma’s northeastern Shan state in
August and September caused some 37,000 refugees to cross into
Some of the camps along the Thai-Burma border have been in place for 25
years, and the EU has sent a senior-level delegation each year to
assess conditions inside the camps. In total, around 130,000 Burmese
refugees live in the nine camps, the majority from Karen state.
Villagers flee to avoid forced
labor for border fence
Kaladan Press: Wed 25 Nov 2009
Maungdaw, Arakan State: Villagers in Maungdaw Township are fleeing from
homes to avoid being rounded up by Nasaka for forced labor in fence
erection on the Burma–Bangladesh border, said a village elder on
condition of anonymity.
A Burmese Army Sergeant U Sein who came to Maungdaw Township earlier
and camped in Nagakura village for security and supervising the fence
construction went to Wabeg village of Maungdaw Township on November 15
and mobilized 10 villagers to work in the fence construction by
promising that they would be paid Kyat 3,000 a day each.
The villagers, believing the false promise went to the work site of
Ngakura village tract with him. But, after four days, when the
villagers demanded their wages they were not paid. The authorities were
quoted as saying “We came here to suck Rohingyas’ blood.”
Hearing this, the villagers on November 19 evening fled from the wok
site without getting money for their work, said another villager.
The following day, the Sergeant went to the Nasaka camp of Wabeg
village and filed a case against the villagers, who fled the work site.
The Sergeant filed a case saying the villagers fled from the work site
after taking Kyat 100,000 each, said a Nasaka aide on condition of
As a result, Nasaka personnel frequently go to their homes to arrest
them, so the villagers have to keep fleeing from their homes to avoid
arrest. They have been passing their nights without sleep. They are
also unable to work to support their families. The family members are
facing acute food crisis.
“How can the Rohingy people pass days and nights with such harassment
towards the community?” a local trader asked.
The ran away villagers are identified as Mohamed Khasim, Jalal Ahmed,
Aman Ullah, Kori Mullah, Md Rofigue, Abul Shama, Md. Jubair, Jaffar
Alam, Md. Eliyas and Md. Ismail.
Myanmar cyclone survivors still
need shelter – U.N.
Reuters: Wed 25 Nov 2009
Bangkok – Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in makeshift
homes 18 months after Cyclone Nargis tore into Myanmar’s Irrawaddy
delta, killing at least 140,000, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
International donors pledged a fresh $88 million for 17,800 new houses,
40 new schools and livelihood programmes for 1 million people, but that
won’t be enough, the United Nations and the 10-member Association of
Southeast Asian Nations said.
The money only covers 14 percent of the most vulnerable families,
leaving about 100,000 without a proper home. The United Nations says
178,000 families in the former Burma need help with shelter.
Most of those families are living in makeshift homes covered with
threadbare tarpaulins distributed in the early phase of the relief
effort, according to aid workers.
“The materials have gone through two monsoons and they won’t last
another season,” Srinivasa Popuri, leader of a shelter aid group in
Myanmar, told Reuters.
In May last year, Cyclone Nargis swept through Myanmar’s Irrawaddy
delta, flattening villages, destroying 450,000 houses, killing 140,000
and leaving 2.4 million destitute.
“What is reflected here (with 17,800 new houses) is not what is needed.
It is a much-reduced version of what may be possible to do between now
and July,” said Bishow Parajuli, U.N. resident and humanitarian
coordinator in Myanmar.
The latest pledge falls short of $103 million sought by the United
Nations, ASEAN and the Myanmar government for the period ending next
July. In February, that group estimated the cost of recovery from
Cyclone Nargis at $690 million.
(Editing by Jason Szep and Paul Tait)
Burma watchers are right to be
cautious about signs of change – Andrew Heyn
Guardian (UK): Wed 25 Nov 2009
Flurry of activity could prove, as so often before, to be just window
dressing, writes British ambassador Andrew Heyn.
This is a particularly interesting time for Burma watchers. A flurry of
activity, both domestically and internationally, has aroused hopes that
things might be starting to move in a positive direction. But the
optimism is offset by fears that this might be a repeat of the window
dressing, so often seen before, that is designed to obscure the reality
of a regime conducting business as usual.
The optimists point to recent engagement by the US, and nascent
dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese regime. Aung San Suu
Kyi has recently written to Senior General Than Shwe offering to meet
him to discuss how they can work together for the benefit of the people
Were it not for bitter experience, people might be getting ready to
celebrate and preparing for a new, properly inclusive form of politics.
But Burma has seen many false dawns and no one is getting too excited.
In terms of hard facts there is not much to get excited about. A few
months ago I sat in the Rangoon court that, after a show trial,
sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to a further period of house arrest. More
than 2,100 political prisoners remain in jail. Elections next year look
like going ahead on the basis of a constitution that delivers 25% of
the seats in the new national assembly to the military before a single
vote has been cast. Burma’s record on human rights and wider political
freedoms remains dreadful, as last week’s EU-tabled resolution in the
UN’s human rights committee made depressingly clear. The economy
continues to stagnate.
The most widespread reaction in Burma to these recent developments is
to wait and see. People recognise that it is far too early to assess
how successful renewed international efforts by the US and EU (along
with the UN and Asean) will be. Neither do we know whether Senior
General Than Shwe will respond positively to Aung San Suu Kyi’s
conciliatory and constructive offer to work together for the benefit of
all the Burmese people.
In the meantime the EU remains clear that, in the absence of concrete
progress on the ground, sanctions that are carefully targeted at the
economic interests of the regime and its associates will stay in place.
The US approach is the same. We are clear that if there is genuine
irreversible progress, we will respond positively and make
proportionate adjustments to our restrictive measures. In the meantime
we are increasing our commitment to ordinary people through our
programme of humanitarian aid, which is delivering crucial support,
including for basic healthcare and for poor families in rural areas.
Everyone hopes that the optimists are right. Real change here would
transform the lives of the Burmese people – not only by helping them
escape the poverty trap in which so many of them find themselves mired,
but also by alleviating the atmosphere of fear and suspicion in which
Diplomats are spared the worst of the overt intrusions and scrutiny
which are a daily reality for many people, especially those who work
for political change. A small reminder of the ubiquitous nature of the
security presence occurred last weekend. A visit to a pagoda, about 20
miles south of Rangoon, concluded with the close questioning of our
local driver by a special branch officer who seemed to appear from
nowhere after we parke
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