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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 15/12/09

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Activists say Than Shwes future still uncertain Burmese media lead with Than Shwes favorites Myanmar gears up for an election junta-style Exiled media brace
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 15, 2009
      1. Activists say Than Shwe’s future still uncertain
      2. Burmese media lead with Than Shwe’s favorites
      3. Myanmar gears up for an election junta-style
      4. Exiled media brace for 2010 election challenge
      5. Burma: to go or not to go?
      6. Freelance journalists under fire in Burma
      7. Kachin party opens 10 branches for 2010 polls
      8. Burmese women to block 2010 elections
      9. UNSC urged to investigate junta’s ‘Crime against Humanity’
      10. Some optimism after third dialogue?
      11. Doing business with Burma violates human rights
      12. ABMA+88+ABFSU Statement No. 8/2009
      13. UN committed to Burma’s development projects
      14. Arakanese abducted for border fence work
      15. Mekong media should ask tougher questions
      16. No progress despite engagement with Myanmar
      17. Burmese military junta thrives on cycle of corruption
      18. Eastern Burma: the Darfur of SE Asia
      19. BH Global Marine forms joint venture with two Myanmar businessmen
      20. India, China embolden Burma junta
      21. Junta needs to do more on child soldiers
      22. Burma: an election foretold
      23. Interview on Kokang
      24. Young voters hold mixed views of next year’s election

      Activists say Than Shwe’s future still uncertain
      Agence France Presse: Mon 14 Dec 2009

      As Burma gears up for rare elections due next year, eyes are turning to the fate of the country’s ageing military strongman, Than Shwe, and a possible succession, exiled activists say.

      Described by critics as reclusive, paranoid and deeply in thrall to astrology, the 76-year-old “Senior General” has ruled the country with an iron grip since 1992, but is now in the twilight of his career.

      A new constitution approved in a widely criticized 2008 referendum says that the State Peace and Development Council – the junta that Than Shwe heads – must hand over power to a new national assembly after the elections.

      Than Shwe may take over the new presidential position provided for by the constitution to maintain his hold on power, according to opposition activists living in exile in Thailand.

      But after constantly striving to increase his power, he now faces underlying resentment from within the regime, the activists say.

      When he eventually quits, “Than Shwe will make sure his future is safe,” said Naing Aung, secretary general of the Forum for Democracy in Burma.

      He added, however: “Than Shwe has only close circles with him. He is an isolated man.”

      Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, predicted it would be “interesting to see how he leaves politics because he cannot leave right away”.

      “If he retains a formal position, it means he is not leaving. If he doesn’t, then he will be protected for quite some time” by keeping his aides close to him, he said.

      Than Shwe will be well aware of the fate of several previous leaders since the military took control of Burma in 1962.

      Ex-dictator Ne Win, who ruled the country between 1962 and 1988, died under house arrest in 2002 and was not granted a state funeral, while several members of his family were sent to jail. The official press hardly mentioned his death.

      Than Shwe himself presided over a purge of the military intelligence service that ended with the sentencing of ex-prime minister Khin Nyunt to 44 years’ house arrest in 1994.

      “He may not want to retire, but under the constitution he may have to. He will put someone he really trusts like his son,” said Win Min, an academic at Chiang Mai university and pro-democracy activist.

      Win Min said that until Than Shwe played his hand, it would be impossible to predict successors in the largely opaque Burma military hierarchy.

      “Unpredictability is his strategy. You don’t know what he is going to do. He is a control freak,” he said.

      In 2005 Than Shwe moved the capital almost overnight from Rangoon to the purpose-built city of Naypyidaw to satisfy his dreams of grandeur – and also to protect himself against supposed threats to his rule.

      The elections, meanwhile, have been tailored to favor the junta.

      The constitution reserves a quarter of all seats for the military, while opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained for most of the past two decades since her National League for Democracy won the last polls in 1990.

      Yet critics say that Than Shwe will still have to deal with some new faces, even if they are just in the military.

      “With a new constitution, whether you like it or not, you’ll have new leadership,” Aung Naing Oo said. “I don’t think anyone can be as bad, as manipulative as Than Shwe. The new system will open up a little bit.”

      A complex power struggle is likely between Than Shwe’s circle and the new military officials who will be keen to use their electoral legitimacy, analysts said.

      But Than Shwe’s fate will for the most part remain in his own hands.

      “Than Shwe will be directing things from behind the curtain,” said Khuensai Jaigen, exiled leader of the Shan Herald Agency for News, a news service for the Shan ethnic minority.

      Changes “will not come right away. People will not be in a hurry to change things like Obama after Bush,” he said ironically.

      “At first, the successor will be careful. He’ll try to change things a bit until he’s sure he can be confident. Then there might be drastic changes.”

      Burmese media lead with Than Shwe’s favorites – Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Mon 14 Dec 2009

      Burmese military strongman Snr-Gen Than Shwe traveled to Pyin Oo Lwin on Friday to attend the graduation of the 52nd Intake of the Defense Services Academy (DSA). As with previous graduations, he took along an entourage of family members, including his favorite grandson, Nay Shwe Thway Aung.

      The following day, a photograph of Than Shwe’s extended family appeared in The New Light of Myanmar, the country’s only state-run newspaper in English. In the photo, Nay Shwe Thway Aung sits on a sofa alongside Than Shwe’s wife wearing sunglasses and a white Western suit.

      Nay Shwe Thway Aung (white suit and sunglasses) sits alongside Than Shwe’s wife Kyaing Kyaing at the DSA graduation on Dec. 11, 2009.

      Described quietly by ordinary people as “The Royal Family,” Than Shwe and his kin regularly dominate the pictorial sections of state-run newspapers with the following pages covering senior ranking generals in order of favor or importance.

      The New Light of Myanmar featured separate photos of Shwe Mann and Tin Aung Myint Oo––who reportedly dislike each other––at the event. Whether intentionally or not, Tin Aung Myint Oo, the No 4 general in the military hierarchy and quartermaster-general of the armed forces, appeared ahead of Shwe Mann’s photo in the newspaper. Such details are frequently said to portray underlying messages, observers say.

      The day before the military academy event, Than Shwe visited Yadanabon Cyber City, the country’s largest IT center, which is also in Pyin Oo Lwin. Again, he was accompanied by his grandson who has developed a reputation for gangster activities in recent years.

      Pictures of Nay Shwe Thway Aung appeared again in the state-run mouthpieces along with Than Shwe and other top generals. One photo showed Than Shwe’s grandson apparently telling a joke to military representatives while touring the IT center.

      The media reported that Than Shwe was met at Yadanabon Cyber City by Ne Aung, a son of Industry-1 Minister ex- Lt Col Aung Thaung. One of the richest businessmen in Burma and a close crony of the military elite, Ne Aung is managing director of IGE Co Ltd, which has an outlet at the IT center.

      Ne Aung’s brother, Pyi Aung, is the son-in-law of junta No 2 Deputy Snr-Gen Maung Aye, and is also an executive of the IGE company, which is registered in Singapore.
      Snr-Gen Than Shwe (center) tours Yadanabon Cyber City on Dec. 10 with his grandson, Nay Shwe Thway Aung (left), and Gen Shwe Mann (right) just behind him.

      One of Burma’s most successful new companies, IGE was permitted by government authorities to expand into agriculture, steel, chemicals, electronics, and the oil and gas industries, including a stake in the offshore natural gas project in Arakan State.

      Another well-known business crony who met up with Than Shwe on his visit to Yadanabon Cyber City was family friend Tay Za, whose vast range of business interests include an airline, Air Bagan, logging, jade mining, import/ export, and a retail outlet in the IT sector. Burma watchers have speculated that Than Shwe’s family has shares in many of Tay Za’s companies.

      Both Tay Za and Ne Aung are on the blacklist of sanctioned Burmese business cronies issued by the US, the EU and Australia.

      “Burma is a patronized system,” said Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst based in Thailand. “Therefore the way Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan directs the setting of photographs within the state media reflects the ranking of officials from Than Shwe down.”

      Apart from the political manipulations, he said, “as Burma is a military dictatorship, family members of the ruling generals and their cronies get business licenses before anyone else.”

      Myanmar gears up for an election junta-style
      Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Mon 14 Dec 2009

      Yangon – Myanmar’s junta this year paved the way for their unique vision of “discipline-flourishing democracy” by making sure that the country’s chief opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was safely under detention, if not silenced.In one of the most shameful of sham trials, Suu Kyi was found guilty on August 11 of breaking the terms of her previous six years of house detention by allowing a mentally unstable US Mormon to swim into her compound-cum-prison by Yangon’s Inya Lake.

      The commuted sentence was another 18 months of house arrest, just enough to guarantee the Nobel peace laureate was under the junta’s thumb as it prepares to hold a general election some time in 2010.

      Predictably, the sentence sparked international outrage and renewed calls for Suu Kyi’s immediate release.

      Aung San Suu Kyi, 64, whose name has become as synonymous with opposition to Myanmar’s military rule as Nelson Mandela’s has with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, has spent 14 of the past 20 years under detention in her decaying Yangon family compound.

      She was first placed under house arrest in 1989 for publicly criticizing former military strongman General Ne Win.

      Suu Kyi was under house arrest during the 1990 polls but, if anything, her detention helped her National League for Democracy (NLD) party win that election by a landslide.

      How much more of an impact might she have if she were free during the 2010 polls?

      “The military’s main objective is to keep her out of the picture during the election time which is absolutely critical to them,” said Win Min, a lecturer on Myanmar affairs at Thailand’s Chiang Mai University.

      “Even under house arrest she may say something about whom she supports – I don’t think they want that to happen,” he said.

      The junta has repeatedly said they will stage an election sometime in 2010 as a crucial step in their seven-point roadmap to democracy, but they have yet to issue regulations covering party registration and the election system.

      Nor have they set a firm date for the polls.

      Bets were previously on the election being held in May, the traditional month for polls and referendums because farmers are free and the monsoon rains have not yet started.

      But with no election legislation yet in place, now Myanmar pundits are predicting polls closer to the end of the year.

      “I heard the election will be on 10-10-2010. Is that true?” asked one Asian diplomat based in Yangon.

      The number 10 is a symbol of completion according to Myanmar numerology beliefs.

      Few in Yangon think the junta will allow Suu Kyi and some 2,100 other political prisoners to be freed before the polls, despite requests from US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, among others.

      Obama, as part of his administration’s new “engagement” policy with Myanmar, has hinted at lifting economic sanctions if the junta agrees to meet certain key conditions such as freeing Suu Kyi and opening a dialogue with the opposition and other stakeholders before holding an election.

      The junta is unlikely to play ball.

      “They have been ruling Myanmar under economic sanctions for a long time and have proven they can survive,” said one Yangon-based political observer who requested anonymity.

      “I think they will not negotiate with the lady [Suu Kyi] just to avoid sanctions for one year,” he said. “For the military, the ethnic issue is more important than the lady and the NLD.”

      Under the 2008 constitution, some 37 ethnic minority armies, which the junta calls “ceasefire groups,” must be turned into border guards as part of the preparations for the election.

      The ethnic minority groups are also encouraged to set up political parties to contest the polls.

      So far only only three groups have complied, and there are fears that some of the largest groups, such as the Wa, will refuse and perhaps block polling in their areas.

      “It seems to me that both sides, the regime and ethnic groups, do not have a clear plan for the next step,” said Aung Din, director of the Washington-based US Campaign For Burma.

      “I am sure that the refusal of these ethnic groups to the border guard plan is the main reason for the regime’s delay in announcing the election schedule,” he said.

      Exiled media brace for 2010 election challenge – Marwaan Macan-Markar
      Inter Press Service: Fri 11 Dec 2009

      Chiang Mai, Thailand – A promised election in military-ruled Burma next year will be held in a vastly different media culture compared to the last general election in 1990, Burmese journalists said at a regional media forum currently underway in this northern Thai city.

      That election was won convincingly by the opposition, but the junta refused to recognise its results.

      The 2010 polls in Burma will be held against the backdrop of an abundance of media outlets run by exiled Burmese journalists that have mushroomed in the last two decades, says Kyaw Zwa Moe, managing editor of ‘The Irrawaddy’, a popular current affairs magazine produced by Burmese journalists living in Thailand.

      “In the run-up to the1990 (election), no publications inside the country were free to cover elections, and there was no exiled Burmese media,” he told participants Thursday at the Mekong Media Forum, which runs here from Dec. 9-12. “The media inside still faces danger to report independently about the elections.”

      Consequently, the “exiled media has an important role to play,” he told more than 100 participants at a session on ‘Burma 2010’ during the forum. “It has grown strong in recent years.”

      ‘The Irrawaddy’ has thus far set up a special series under the theme ‘Election Watch’ to cover different aspects of the elections before, during and after the vote.

      Burma’s junta has said the nationwide vote is part of its agenda to create a “disciplined, flourishing democracy.”

      “We need to watch every step of the elections,” political activist Moe Zaw Oo, another panelist on the session, said about exploring how the media inside and outside the country will cover elections that will have not the usual ways of ensuring transparency and openness of popular votes. “It will be very tricky and complicated,” given that independent media will not be inside the country to report on the vote.

      Media representing Burma’s ethnic minorities, such ‘Kachin News’ produced by Kachin journalists exiled in Thailand, are also preparing for the vote. “A new form of people’s groups have been set up in the Kachin area,” says Naw Din Lahpai, editor of the publication. “A brand new office of the (pro-junta) Kachin State Progressive Party was inaugurated on November 18th.”

      The junta is also trying to rope in the churches in the Kachin area in northern Burma, majority of whom are Christians. “Churches have been gifted with rice, cooking oil and small cash donations,” Naw Din said. “A campaign based on religious organisations has been launched.”

      Already, the exiled media are hammering away at the uncertain and oppressive political landscape that prevails, producing stories that ask how free and fair the South-east Asian nation’s upcoming poll will be. The election is only the 15th in the country’s history since it emerged from British colonial rule.

      But in truth, the military leaders of Burma, officially called Myanmar, have still to formally announce two important laws that will make the promised poll a reality, namely, those for the 2010 elections and the law governing political parties that will vie for seats in the legislature.

      The reasons to worry about the poll are ample. In May 2008, days after Burma’s Irrawaddy Delta was flattened by the powerful Cyclone Nargis, which killed close to 150,000 people and displaced some two million others, the junta conducted a referendum riddled with fraud. The junta hailed this plebiscite to approve the new constitution after over 90 percent of the voters endorsed the charter.

      How the 1990 elections turned out – where some 15 million voters turned out – also feed media concerns. The National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, secured over three-fourths of the seats in the national assembly, only to be denied power by the regime.

      The regime’s reluctance to hand over power to a civilian authority – which Burma has not had since the 1962 military coup – is reflected in the constitution that, the regime said, is part of its seven-point roadmap towards political reform and democracy.

      “The constitution is totally flawed. It favours military supremacy,” said Moe Zaw Oo, who writes for the ‘Irrawaddy’. “The military has the power to stage a coup at any time they want. They can do so using the state of emergency, and this act is not illegal.”

      The regime’s attempt to retain its grip on power has also been cemented by another constitutional provision that guarantees the military a fourth of all the seats in the legislature through appointments – and not through polls.

      For Burma’s ethnic minorities, which account for over 40 percent of the country’s 56 million population, a ruthless military campaign makes “the regime’s planned elections meaningless,” said Charm Tong, a leading figure of the Shan Women’s Action Network, which has produced reports exposing alleged war crimes committed by the Burmese military, including the systemic use of rape as a weapon of war.

      “We now have 600,000 internally displaced people inside Burma,” she told the forum, referring to the plight of the country’s ethnic minorities. “The Shan state has over 150 battalions stationed out of Burma’s 500 battalions, which is a fourth of the military strength.”

      Many of the Shan political leaders have been jailed, including some who won convincingly at the 1990 poll, added the activist from the Shan ethnic minority that lives along Burma’s north-eastern border. “These stories cannot be ignored ahead of the elections.”

      Burma: to go or not to go? – Martin Fletcher
      Times of London: Fri 11 Dec 2009

      Its brutal regime keeps this fascinating country isolated from the rest of the world. But does staying away help?

      The rising sun is burning the mist from the mountains that flank Inle Lake as my wife and I set off from our hotel in a long, narrow wooden boat.

      For an hour we glide through some of the astounding villages of bamboo homes on spindly stilts that dot the 40 sq miles of hyacinth-strewn water.

      We pass great floating beds of matted weed on which the lake-dwellers grow cucumbers and tomatoes. We watch fishermen balancing on one leg on their rickety wooden canoes while they use the other to paddle, leaving a hand free to plunge their conical nets over unsuspecting fish.

      Our destination is no less entrancing — a weekly market at a lakeside village called Ywama. We arrive to find a fleet of other longboats docked where the water ends and makeshift stalls begin. Intha tribespeople have come from across the lake, Shan from along the shores and brilliantly turbaned Pa-O women from the mountains — each with their own distinctive costumes and facial features.

      They trade dried fish, strips of boiled buffalo skin, rice cooked in hollow bamboo sticks, edible red ants, fighting cocks, gruesome marionettes and exotic fruit and vegetables that we had never seen or heard of — durian, chayote, pomelo.

      Dead batteries are used as weights for scales. Purchases are wrapped in banana leaves. A dentist offers to fill teeth using an ancient pedal-powered drill.

      This is Burma — a visual and sensory feast. It is a country of stunning mountains, of lush forests and of rivers and lakes that turn molten red at sunset. It is a country of wonderfully warm and diverse people with fabulous faces and permanent smiles, of beautiful women with ebony eyes and lustrous skin, of mischievous and enchanting children, of gentle shaven-headed monks in saffron robes.

      It is a country aflame with frangipani and hibiscus, jacaranda and bougainvillea, rampant wild poinsettia and startling yellow cassia. It is a country where every meal is an adventure — usually pleasant.

      It is a country in thrall to Buddhism and to superstition, where people anxious to earn “merit” in the afterlife hasten to fill monks’ bowls with food and leave terracotta jars of water outside their homes for travellers.

      It is a country where the formal “sights”, mostly golden temples and giant Buddhas, are not as fascinating as the scenes of everyday life — men ploughing fields with oxen, old ladies puffing on cheroots, women carrying bundles of orchids down from the hills, boys with faces white from dust carving marble Buddhas by the roadside.

      Burma is untouched by galloping global homogenisation. It has few cars or paved roads, no chain stores or shopping malls, hardly a pylon or high-rise to desecrate the landscape. Most of it is beyond reach of the internet or mobile phones. Foreigners are seldom cheated or hassled.

      It remains an overwhelmingly agrarian society, a seemingly delightful throwback to an earlier, innocent age. Unfortunately, it is that way because it is governed by one of the world’s most brutal, backward and xenophobic regimes, which raises the inevitable question of whether tourists should go there at all.

      No, said Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s courageous opposition leader, in the 1990s when the junta began admitting tourists because it was so desperate for foreign currency.

      Yes, with certain provisos, said every diplomat, aid worker, opposition politician, monk and Burmese citizen that we questioned. Circumstances have changed, they argued.

      The revenue that the regime gleans from tourism is negligible compared with the billions that it now earns from gas, drugs and other exports, and is far outweighed by the benefits that foreigners bring to the impoverished and isolated Burmese people: jobs, money, access to the outside world.

      They ask only that tourists do their best to patronise private — not government — enterprises and understand that, away from the areas they visit, savage repression continues.

      Ms Suu Kyi, “The Lady”, remains under house arrest and largely incommunicado, and whether she still favours a tourist boycott is a subject of much speculation. But U Win Tin, 80, a co-founder of her National League for Democracy who was recently released from 19 years in prison, told me: “We welcome foreigners in this country if their money doesn’t help the junta.”

      It is impossible to give the regime nothing, of course. It receives taxes from hotels, airport levies, visa and licence fees and some admission charges. But because much of the tourist industry is in private hands it is possible largely to bypass government-owned businesses.

      We stayed at the sumptuous Governor’s Residence hotel in Rangoon, then flew to Mandalay, where we boarded a small, exquisitely refurbished cruise ship, The Road to Mandalay, for a magical three-day voyage down the mighty Irrawaddy, with its vibrant river life. The ship, like the hotel, is owned by Orient Express, directly employs 110 Burmese, buys local produce and sponsors six schools along the river.

      We disembarked at Bagan, where more than 2,000 temples, stupas and pagodas, none less than seven centuries old, stand amid fields of peanuts, sesame and cotton. We had hoped to survey this amazing plain in a hot air balloon at sunrise, courtesy of another private enterprise called Balloons Over Bagan that employs 80 Burmese and also supports local schools. Unfortunately the weather intervened, and we hired boneshaker bikes instead.

      >From Bagan we flew to Heho on Air Bagan, which is owned by Tay Za, the
      chief financier of the junta. We had to. By Burmese roads the 230-mile journey would have taken ten hours, not 40 minutes.

      But on Inle Lake we stayed at the luxurious Inle Princess Resort, which is owned by a former NLD politician who was imprisoned for his political activism. It, too, seeks to redress the Government’s neglect of its people, channelling guests’ donations to six clinics and orphanages on the lake.

      If we felt guilt, it was at being so pampered while most Burmese survive on $2 or $3 a day — at the gourmet dinners, at finding fragrant frangipani flowers scattered on our bed at nights, at being offered cool, wet flannels every time we ventured into the heat.

      We compensated by spending liberally in umpteen little private “factories” producing lanterns and parasols of hand-made paper, fine lacquerware, silver ornaments, gold leaf, handwoven silk and cotton, and the greatly prized cloth of lotus-stem.

      We overtipped guides and drivers, donated generously to temples and monasteries, bought pirated copies of George Orwell’s Burmese Days. We also compensated for our sybaritic existence with a three-day trek into the beautiful mountains of central Shan state.

      We climbed far beyond the range of electricity or the internal combustion engine. We followed trails of packed red earth across fields of tea and coffee bushes, past trees weighed down with avocados, lemons and papayas, through stands of bamboo, teak and eucalyptus.

      We watched men dexterously splitting 20ft lengths of thick bamboo into paper-thin strips for weaving the walls of houses. We found old people who did not know their age, women washing great baskets of chives in muddy ponds, young girls tending cows in mountain meadows, ten-year-old novice monks solemnly chanting their scriptures.

      We stayed in monasteries, ate in villagers’ spartan homes, attended a wedding party. We were welcomed everywhere. How, we wondered, were a people so repressed so happy?

      Largely because of Ms Suu Kyi’s admonitions few Western tourists visit Burma, and fewer still since the monks’ revolt of 2007 and Cyclone Nargis a few months later. In two weeks we met only one other British traveller. It is time, perhaps, to reconsider.

      Freelance journalists under fire in Burma – Francis Wade
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 10 Dec 2009

      Burma continues to be one of the world’s largest prisons for journalists, according to a media watchdog that warns of a global increase in the jailing of freelance media workers.Burma joins China, Iran, Cuba and Eritrea as the five worst of 26 countries worldwide that imprison journalists, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Tuesday.

      “Freelancers now make up nearly 45 percent of all journalists jailed worldwide, a dramatic recent increase that reflects the evolution of the global news business,” it said.

      Five of Burma’s nine imprisoned journalists, whom generally come under the banner of ‘political prisoners’, are freelancers, according to CPJ.

      These include renowned comedian Zarganar, who was sentenced to 59 years in prison (later commuted to 35 years) in November 2008 after giving interviews to foreign media in which he was critical of the Burmese junta’s response to cyclone Nargis.

      Zaw Thet Htwe, who worked with Zarganar in filming the aftermath of the cyclone, was also sentenced to 19 years in prison.

      Burmese blogger Nay Phone Latt, who was imprisoned for 12 years after posting caricatures of Burma’s ruling generals on his website, was also listed by CPJ, along with former BBC stringer Ne Min, who is serving a 15 year sentence.

      “The days when journalists went off on dangerous assignments knowing they had the full institutional weight of their media organizations behind them are receding into history,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon, in statement.

      “Today, journalists on the front lines are increasingly working independently. The rise of online journalism has opened the door to a new generation of reporters, but it also means they are vulnerable.”

      The group also highlighted the case of Burmese cameraman ‘T’, who worked for DVB in filming the award-winning documentary, ‘Orphans of Burma’s Cyclone’, and now faces up to 15 years in prison.

      “Journalism is so dangerous in Burma, one of the world’s most censored countries, that undercover reporters such as “T” are a crucial conduit to the world,” said CPJ.

      Burma ranked 171 out of 175 in the World Press Freedom Index 2009, released annually by Paris-based media watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontieres. CPJ had also named Burma as the “worst country to be a blogger” in a report released in April.

      Kachin party opens 10 branches for 2010 polls
      Kachin News Group: Thu 10 Dec 2009

      Gearing up for the junta declared 2010 elections in Burma, an ethnic Kachin political party has opened 10 branch offices in main cities in Kachin State, said party sources.The Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP) will contest the 2010 elections in Kachin State and has opened branch offices in Myitkyina, Bhamo (Manmaw in Kachin), Momauk (N’Mawk in Kachin), Manje (Mansi), Waingmaw, Chipwi, Mohnyin, Mogaung, Danai (Tanai) and Puta-O, the sources said.

      The party’s spanking new two-storey building was inaugurated in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State on November 18. It is designated the party headquarters, said party officials.

      The branch office in Bhamo, the second largest city in the state will be the second headquarters of the party, the officials added.

      The party embarked on its campaign for the 2010 elections since early this year in Kachin State, though it is not an official political party till now.

      Party officials said they have been mobilizing people for the elections on the verbal authorization of the junta’s Lt-Gen Ye Myint, head of Military Affairs Security and chief Naypyitaw negotiator on transforming ethnic ceasefire groups to the Burmese Army controlled Border Guard Force, and Maj-Gen Soe Win, commander of Northern Regional Command based in Myitkyina.

      KSPP is led by Dr. Manam Tu Ja, former Vice-president No. 2 of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and leader of 17 ethnic ceasefire groups, who attended the junta-led 14-year National Convention for drafting the country’s new and contentious constitution.

      The KSPP was floated early this year with the support of three main Kachin organizations— the KIO, former New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) and the Kachin Nationals Consultative Assembly (KNCA) rather than in deference to the wishes of the Kachin people.

      According to the junta’s seven-step roadmap to so-called disciplined democracy, the countrywide general elections will be held next year. However the military leaders are yet to announce the exact date of the polls.

      Meanwhile, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s pro-democracy leader and General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) remains incarcerated in her house in Rangoon.

      Burmese women to block 2010 elections
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 10 Dec 2009

      Burma’s 2010 elections will prolong poverty and violence against women and should not be supported by the international community, an exiled Burmese women’s rights group said.Campaigns to block the elections will be carried out by the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), which yesterday celebrated its 10-year anniversary, the group’s general secretary, Lway Aye Nang, said.

      “We cannot accept the government’s 2008 basic constitution which didn’t include any resolution on security and insurance for the women and was approved without the true will of the people,” she said.

      Critics of the Burmese government have argued that the constitution, which guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the army prior to polling, will entrench military rule.

      Furthermore, given that women are largely excluded from the military in Burma, all of the power reserved for members of the military is automatically unavailable to women.

      This denial of gender equality is in direct opposition to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to which Burma is a state party.

      “Sexual harassments and violations against women are taking place in Burma and most of these are caused by the people planning the 2010 elections,” she added.

      The WLB comprises 12 Burmese women’s groups, including the Burmese Women’s Union (BWU) and Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN). The latter in 2002 released the landmark ‘License to Rape’ report, which documented the use of rape as a weapon of war by the Burmese military.

      “If the elections went on successfully, the situation will get worse,” Lway Aye Nang said. “We will raise awareness and convince the international community that the military leaders are criminals, and that it will still be them in civilian clothing after the 2010 elections.”

      Events to mark the umbrella organisation’s anniversary were also held yesterday in Bangladesh and India.

      Saw Mra Raza Linn, a member of the WLB board, said the group’s marking of the event in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar, close to the border with Burma, would include a discussion forum on opposing the 2010 elections.

      UNSC urged to investigate junta’s ‘Crime against Humanity’ – Mungpi
      Mizzima News: Thu 10 Dec 2009

      New Delhi – On International Human Rights Day, 442 Members of Parliament from 29 countries on Thursday urged the United Nations Security Council to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the Burmese military junta’s ‘Crimes against Humanity’.

      MPs from Asia, Europe, North and South America in a letter urged the Security Council to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate ‘Crimes against Humanity’ and ‘War Crimes’ committed by Burma’s military rulers and to impose a global arms embargo against the regime.

      The letter sent by Japanese MPs Azuma Konno and Tadashi Inuzuka, who are members of the House of Councillors, the National Diet of Japan, and endorsed by 442 MPs across the globe, was addressed to the UNSC’s President Ambassador Michel Kafando, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and members of the Security Council.

      The Burmese military regime has been committing widespread and systematic crimes including the killing of thousands of its own civilians and widespread rape of ethnic women, forced displacement of over one million refugees and internally displaced persons, recruiting tens of thousands of child soldiers, and using modern day slave labour, the MPs said in the letter.

      The MPs said evidence of the Burmese junta’s widespread crimes have been well documented by several groups including various bodies of the United Nations and accused the UNSC of ignoring the plight of the Burmese people saying the silence of the Security Council on these matters is “shocking.”

      The MPs, in their letter, quoted a recent report by the Harvard Law School, which was commissioned by five of the world’s leading jurists. The report, which is a compilation of various UN documents, conclude that “there is a prima facie case of international criminal law violations occurring that demands UN Security Council action to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate these grave breaches further.”

      The jurists that commissioned the report also conclude that violations committed by the Burmese regime “may amount to war crimes, as well as crimes against humanity.”

      “Such action is long overdue. Burma’s military regime has carried out brutal attacks on its own people for decades,” the letter said.

      The Japanese MPs also quoted another report by the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a humanitarian group providing aid to Burmese refugees and displaced persons along the Thai-Burma border.

      The TBBC, in its report released earlier this year, said the junta in their attack against ethnic minorities since 1996 had destroyed over 3,500 ethnic minority villages in eastern Burma, forcing at least 75,000 people to leave their homes during this past year alone, and more than half a million people remain as internally displaced.

      The report also said the situation in eastern Burma, where ethnic armed resistance groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Burmese junta’s army are engaging in military conflicts, are “comparable to the situation in Darfur.”

      With several UN Special Rapportuers including Brazil’s Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and Japan’s Yozo Yokota acknowledging the crimes committed by the Burmese junta, the MPs said, “We strongly urge you to immediately draft and pass a resolution on these matters.”
      “The longer the Council waits, the more people will die in Burma,” the MPs concluded.

      While the campaign for the UNSC to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate ‘Crimes against Humanity’ and ‘War Crimes’ committed by the junta gain momentum with MPs across the world joining in, the possibility of the UNSC taking it up as an official agenda still seems to be far off.

      Ivan Lewis, British Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, at a Parliamentary debate on Wednesday said the United Kingdom, though its supports the call to UNSC to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate crimes committed by the Burmese junta, it realises that there is not sufficient support at the moment to achieve a resolution.

      Lewis said the UK at the moment does not want to table such a motion because if it fails to achieve a desired resolution, it would be “a propaganda victory par excellence for the Burmese regime.”

      “The reason why we are being cautious about the commission of inquiry is not that we do not believe that it is right in principle, but that we believe that tabling a resolution that would be voted down would backfire considerably in realpolitik terms,” Lewis said at the Westminster Hall debate chaired by MP Mike Hancock.

      In early 2007, a UN Security Council resolution proposed by the United States and supported by France and UK was vetoed by Russia and China, two of the Burmese regime’s closest allies.

      Yuki Akimoto of BurmaInfo, Japan, one of the worldwide campaigners lobbying MPs across the globe to support the Burma issue, said Russia and China should realise their action has affected the lives of many Burmese people and that they should not in the future act irresponsibly.

      The letter to the UNSC was signed by parliamentarians and congressmen includes MPs from Japan, United States, UK, France, India, Korea, Brazil, Maldives, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand.

      Burma, once known as the rice bowl of Southeast Asia, has been ruled by military dictators since 1962 and is ranked by the Heritage Foundation as one of five most repressive economies in the world, by Transparency International UK as the third most corrupt country in the world, and by Reporters Without Borders as one of the worst violators of press freedom.

      Some optimism after third dialogue? – Wai Moe and Ba Kaung
      Irrawaddy: Thu 10 Dec 2009

      Some NLD members are voicing cautious optimism about negotiations between the Burmese junta and Aung San Suu Kyi, following the third meeting in three months between her and the junta’s liaison officer, Aung Kyi, on Wednesday.State-run media on Thursday reported that they met in the regime’s Seinle Kantha Guesthouse for 45 minutes, from 1:05 p.m. to 1:50 p.m.

      No official details of the meeting were made available. However, senior National League for Democracy (NLD) members told The Irrawaddy that the meeting probably was in response to Suu Kyi’s Nov. 11 letter to Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

      NLD spokesman Khin Maung Swe said, “The topic of the meeting might be related to economic sanctions, which she mentioned in her letter, and it shows that the government is still willing to talk with her.”

      Suu Kyi sent letters to the junta leader in September and November. In both letters, she said she wanted to cooperate with the junta in working toward the lifting of international economic sanctions against Burma. In the November letter, she also requested to meet with Than Shwe.

      The meeting on Wednesday came as somewhat of a surprise, following a recent commentary article in state-run newspapers that criticized Suu Kyi and the NLD for providing details about her two letters to the media, describing it as “dishonesty.”

      The newspaper commentary said that Suu Kyi and the NLD used “the media as a tool in an insincere way.”

      “It is acceptable that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sent a letter to the Head of State. However, they should not have passed the buck to the government after disclosing the letter to the media with an ulterior motive,” said the article.

      Khin Maung Swe said the media regularly runs stories critical of Suu Kyi and the NLD, and the criticism should be put in perspective.

      “We can say there could be some parties on both sides who do not want to see a positive dialogue,” he said. “Hard-liners and soft-liners could be in both camps. Those people who oppose dialogue write these kind of articles.”

      It’s not surprising that the military regime and the NLD reflect different perspectives about the same events.

      While transparency and accountability to the public is an important value for pro-democracy groups, the generals in Naypyidaw prefer secrecy and confidentiality as the first priority. As a result, he said, the generals might see any public announcements by the opposition as “insincere.”

      Such views are reflected in the recent commentary article, where it said: “It should be taken into consideration that the attempt of one side to force the other into a corner by making dishonest use of the media might delay the other side’s response.”

      Regardless of the commentary, relations between the junta and the NLD seem to be improving somewhat following Suu Kyi’s offer to cooperate on removing sanctions.

      NLD sources noted that, in spite of some difficulties, the authorities allowed an NLD divisional level meeting in Monywa in Sagaing Division to take place in November, at the same time an application for reopening a party office in Rangoon Division was being considered by the government.

      Also, the NLD relief committee for Cyclone Nargis recently completed a trip to the Irrawaddy delta, since the two-month detention in 2008 of committee head Ohn Kyaing.

      Ohn Kyaing told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday: “During previous trips to the delta, all the guest houses there would not accept our team because of restrictions by the authorities. On this trip, we stayed at guest houses.”

      On Thursday, the NLD marked the 61st Human Rights Day at its party headquarter in Rangoon with a public talk on human rights issues in the country chaired by Win Tin, a prominent NLD executive committee member.

      However, some political observers inside Burma still voiced skepticism about any real progress being made in Suu Kyi’s overtures to the junta.

      “I won’t get excited about U Aung Kyi meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi until I see a genuine outcome,” said Aye Thar Aung, an Arakanese leader who is secretary of the opposition umbrella group, the Committee Representing People’s Parliament. “For any real change in Burma, there are many more steps that need to be taken.”

      Doing business with Burma violates human rights – Debbie Stothard
      The Age (Australia): Thu 10 Dec 2009

      Today is International Human Rights Day. This year, the Burmese military regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), continued to commit widespread and systematic human rights abuses against its own people with total impunity. Military offensives against ethnic nationalities in Eastern Burma’s Shan and Karen states forced 37,000 civilians to flee to China and more than 6000 to Thailand in the past six months alone.

      Earlier this year, the regime orchestrated a bogus trial to sentence Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to another 18 months of imprisonment. The SPDC’s ongoing crackdown on freedoms in Burma led to the imprisonment of more than 80 dissidents, including pro-democracy activists, Buddhist monks, relief activists, and journalists. As a result of this persecution, the number of political prisoners has reached an all-time record of about 2200.

      In their quest for basic rights and in the face of this crushing oppression, the people of Burma continue to resist in their own way – with grace, dignity and even compassion for their oppressors. Diverse voices have been raised to strengthen the movement, bring unity to their cause, and inspire solidarity across the globe.

      How should Australia respond to the courage of human rights defenders from Burma in a meaningful way? By understanding how their oppressors have remained standing for so long. The military dictatorship is in power because of its vast financial resources, estimated to be $US5 billion. Most of this income has come from Burma’s oil and gas industry. It funds and grows their military arsenal, and fuels their delusions of control.

      The Australian business community, and its regulators, must face the fact that flows of money from the West are not only going into the pockets of the military dictators of Burma, they are also allowing these criminals maintain the oppressive infrastructure that prevents the people of Burma from enjoying food security and their basic freedoms.

      Against this backdrop, Australia’s Twinza Oil is investing in Burma’s oil and gas industry – Twinza’s project alone will earn the military dictatorship an estimated $US2.5 billion. Investment in the oil and gas industry requires a certain amount of infrastructure. This should have beneficial flow-on effects to those in agriculture, with increased access to markets following the construction of roads, and maybe even increased mechanisation.

      However, in Burma, trade is restricted within the country; many farmers are forced to grow cash crops for the regime instead of food for themselves, others are forced to pay interest rates ranging from 7 per cent to 17 per cent on “assistance” loans. They are the lucky ones – many others lose their land at gunpoint while others are conscripted as forced labour on infrastructure projects. Women and children are marched through the jungle and forced to manually break up rocks into gravel for roads. Their villages and land are destroyed to make way for dams and gas pipelines.

      Many in the democracy movement in Burma and human rights advocates have called on foreign investment to be suspended, to be deferred in favour of future, democratic, state-partners. Sanctions have been criticised by some for their impact on the general population. However, this overlooks the institutional characteristics of the Burmese economy. The informal sector, which is largely village-based, focuses on subsistence agriculture and represents the vast majority of the population, has little connection to international trade. In contrast, the formal sector, which is dominated by the regime and concentrated in highly lucrative sectors such as mining, petroleum, logging, manufacturing, finance and banking, is more reliant upon access to the international market.

      It is no accident that human development indicators in Burma have plummeted as the regime’s income from oil and gas ballooned: There are an estimated 70,000 children currently enlisted in the army, the largest number in the world. One in 10 children die before their first birthday, and many more are impoverished, abused and orphaned by military actions. The military uses rape as a weapon to terrorise communities. These crimes against humanity and war crimes have also involved the military’s destruction of more than 3300 ethnic villages.

      Australia, like the US and EU, has financial sanction and travel bans targeting senior members of the regime and their business partners. However, they suffer from a lack of consistent implementation. Further action needs to be taken to ensure that sanctions impact on the regime’s ability to earn foreign income.

      It is time that the Australian Government reviewed and strengthened its targeted financial sanctions and visa bans on Burma, and subjected current projects with Australian interests in Burma to greater scrutiny. The Australian business community needs to live up to its corporate responsibilities and end their trade with Burma, as QBE Insurers and Downer EDI already have. Will Australia be contributing to greater protection or violations of human rights in 2010?

      Debbie Stothard co-ordinator of the Southeast Asia-based ALTSEAN-Burma. ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma) is a network of organisations and individuals based in ASEAN member states working to support the movement for human rights and democracy in Burma.

      All Burma Monks’ Alliance, 88 Generation Students, and All Burma Federation of Student Union: Statement No. 8/2009
      Thu 10 Dec 2009

      Rangoon, Burma December 10, 2009 marks the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this auspicious day, on behalf of the people of Burma who have been oppressed and brutalized by the successive military regime since 1962, we, the All Burma Monks’ Alliance, 88 Generation Students, and All Burma Federation of Student Unions, submit the following message to the attention of the United Nations and the international community:
      1. We are proud that Burma was an early supporter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our country’s democratically-elected government supported the Declaration as soon as Burma became a member of the United Nations after it gained independence from Britain in 1948. However, since 1962, Burma’s democratically-elected government was forcibly removed by the military regime, which has abolished all freedom, democracy and fundamental rights of the people of Burma thereby ignoring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today, when the people from the rest of the world commemorate this important anniversary, the people of Burma are forced to live under the climate of fear. We are living in Burma’s darkest days.
      2. As Burma’s military regime is planning to complete its plot to set up a permanent military rule in the country, with a sham constitution and a showcase election, scheduled in 2010, the most dangerous days of Burma are before us. The strong desire of the people of Burma to restore their fundamental rights will confront the regime’s final attempt to rule the country forever. Peaceful activities will face forceful brutalities. There will be more bloodshed, more political prisoners, more refugees; more internally displaced persons, more slave laborers, more child soldiers, and more crimes against humanity and no accountability. The regime acts under the cloak of impunity.
      3. We are seeing that more governments are now choosing to engage with the regime with the expectation that they can persuade it to make positive changes in our country. However, evidence, on the ground, proves that the regime considers engagement as a weakness; the regime rejects good-will. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s request to Senior General Than Shwe for a meaningful political dialogue has been ignored. The calls by the international community to release all political prisoners and to hold a meaningful dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic minorities have not been fulfilled. The arrest and harassment of democracy activists, monks and attacks against ethnic minorities continue unabated.
      4. We urge the international community to apply pressure and engagement with the clear intention to achieve genuine national reconciliation and democracy in Burma.

      We urge the international community to not recognize the 2010 election, if there is no release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, no sustainable political dialogue with democratic opposition and ethnic minorities, and no national reconciliation first.

      All Burma Monks’ Alliance
      88 Generation Students
      All Burma Federation of Student Unions

      UN committed to Burma’s development projects
      Mizzima News: Wed 9 Dec 2009

      New Delhi – A senior official of the United Nations, Dr. Ajay Chhibber during a five-day visit to Burma reiterated the World Body’s commitment to support ongoing and future development programmes aimed at the upliftment of the poor and the needy.Dr. Chhibber, who is visiting the country in his capacity as Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator of UN Development Programme (UNDP), reaffirmed the UN’s commitment in his meetings with various ministers of the Burmese junta, a statement by the UN office in Rangoon said.

      “UNDP will support the development in Burma’s agricultural sector by cooperating with the FAO for the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” the statement said.

      During his visit, from December 3 to 7, Dr. Chhibber held talks with ministers of the Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Ministry, Agriculture and Irrigation Ministry, National Planning and Economic Development Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

      The UN envoy, during his visit, also toured the ‘Dry Zone’ in central Burma, where UNDP is implementing its Microfinance Project and Integrated Community Development Project (ICDP).

      About 245 villages and over 160,000 people have received assistance from UNDP under the ICDP till October 2009, the statement added.

      Arakanese abducted for border fence work – Thiri Htet San
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 9 Dec 2009

      Burmese troops are abducting villagers near to the Burma-Bangladesh border and forcing them to work on the construction of a border fence, an Arakan local has reported.Hundreds of local villagers in Arakan state’s Maungdaw district are being forced to work on the fence for as little as 400 kyat ($US0.40) per day, a Maungdaw resident told DVB.

      A number of construction sites have sprung up along the border to facilitate what has become a controversial project. Government officials from both countries were forced into a meeting on the Burmese side of the border in October after escalating tension.

      A military build-up on the Burmese side of the border, allegedly to support construction of the fence, triggered a reaction from Dhaka, which sent three fresh Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) battalions to the area.

      A source based on the border said that Bangladesh had followed the reinforcement with the development of a bunker network near to Teknaf,the southernmost point of mainland Bangladesh. Teknaf lies opposite Maungdaw district.

      Another resident in Maungdaw’s Katpalaung village said that following the refusal of residents to work on the fence, Burmese troops had began abducting villagers at night and forcing them to the construction sites.

      “Because they are only paying around 400 kyat per day, more and more people are refusing to come and work at the site,” said the villager. “Then [troops] abducted people at night and forced them to work. It’s been going on about a week and a lot of people have gone into hiding.”

      Local authorities in Maungdaw were not available to comment.

      The fence is aimed at stemming cross-border smuggling and the movement of refugees. Burma has however been accused by Bangladesh of breaching the agreed demarcation by 150 feet.

      The International Labour Organisation (ILO) said in November that complaints of forced labour in Burma had risen by 50 percent since May this year, with more than half of these stemming from the recruitment of youths into the army.

      Forced labour in Burma, as determined by the ILO, comes in varying forms, from hard labour used in the renovation of roads and infrastructure to use of civilians as porters or ‘minesweepers’ by the Burmese army.

      Mekong media should ask tougher questions – Tess Bacalla
      Inter Press Service: Wed 9 Dec 2009

      Chiang Mai, Thailand – Countries in the Mekong region have indeed opened their borders and former foes become friends, but several of them are still ruled by authoritarian governments that put limits on media and other freedoms.Aung Zaw, exiled Burmese editor of ‘The Irrawaddy’ magazine, stressed this contrast during in his opening remarks at Wednesday’s opening of the Mekong Media Forum in this northern Thai city, where he has lived and fought for Burma’s freedom since fleeing the repressive state 21 years ago as a student activist.

      In this kind of environment — where openness has filtered through all economies in the region but not necessarily into their political environments — the founder and editor of the magazine focusing on Burmese and South- east Asian issues said journalists need to raise fundamental questions to authorities lest they remain buried and allow the region’s repressive regimes to remain in power unchallenged.

      This while scores of people continue to languish in oppressive environments — such as Burma where there are 2,000 political prisoners — that denies them of fundamental freedoms as well as economic opportunities in an otherwise resource-rich region.

      “The role of journalists is not about nurturing media organisations; it is about having the courage to tell the truth,”

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