[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 1/12/09
- SPDC into election campaign in Chin State
- Than Shwe urges USDA to forge ahead
- Singapore firm inks massive Myanmar gas deal
- Nobel Laureate Stiglitz to advise junta on poverty
- Burma’s minorities must not be overlooked
- Junta under scrutiny for concrete pre-election signs
- Burma media faces junta squeeze
- Kowtowing holds up political progress in Burma
- 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 ahead
- Villagers flee to avoid forced labor for border fence
- Myanmar cyclone survivors still need shelter
- 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 easing sanctions
- Wa Army stands defiant against junta pressure
- Ethnic conflict in Burma demands ‘renewed focus’
- Changing tack on Myanmar
- Selection time precedes election time in Burma
- Burma to commission ‘Ye’ hydro-power project in December
- UN slams Burma over forced labor practices
- Junta crimes to be raised in The Hague
- Beware of the generals’ elections
SPDC into election campaign in Chin State
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 the date.
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 the country.
“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 political outfit.
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 Swiber Holdings.
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 Stiglitz.
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 visit.
Both ministers are reportedly close to Burma’s strongman, Senior Gen Than Shwe, who presides over a regime notorious for its oppression and secrecy.
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 Economy’.
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 non-governmental groups.
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 poverty.
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 IPS.
“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 deaf ears.”
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. dollars.
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 robes.
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, Burma.
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 four months.
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 called Myanmar.
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 junta mouthpiece.
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 to recognise.
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 military elite.
“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 democracy.
“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 press freedom.”
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 jail.
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 thecountry’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 pre-colonial roots.
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 anything Western.’’
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 royal antics.
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 Burma
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 Burma.
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 – Arkar Moe
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 monk.”
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 country.
A monk in Rangoon, Ashin Panyarsarmi, said, “Now the authorities are watching monks closely, and it’s very difficult to get visas and scholarships.”
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 monasteries.”
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 Thailand.
“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 neighbouring China.
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 anonymity.
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 of Burma.
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 they live.
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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