[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 21/1/10
- New anti-terrorism law a threat to the opposition?
- Election ‘preparation’ barred from media
- Farmers ordered to sell paddy to army in northern Burma
- Rohingya a year later
- Several politicians express support for Burma election
- Suu Kyi lawyers give final arguments in top Myanmar court
- As poll looms, Myanmar still building parliament
- Vietnam boosts investment in Myanma
- Dark signs of things to come
- Myanmar democracy leader Suu Kyi meets official
- Ageing Myanmar opposition gets “middle-aged” boost
- Woman included in NLD expansion
- Burma electoral laws ‘70 percent complete’
- Ethnic leaders reject election
- Junta recruits forcibly to form people’s militia to harass KIA
- Myanmar polls likely in 2nd half of yr
- Burma freedom is ‘worst of the worst’
- ‘Third force’ party to reconsider Burma elections
- Gullible Gambari
- Irrawaddy: The political reformer: U Thu Wai
- New enemies of the state in Burma
- Kachin students launch “anti-government” poster campaign in Burma’s Myitkyina
- Junta turns to Draconian electronics law to silence critics
- Burma elections to be held ‘in October’
New anti-terrorism law a threat to the opposition? – Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Wed 20 Jan 2010
Burmese authorities have drafted and plan to introduce a new anti-terrorism law this year, according to a report in this month’s journal of the Myanmar Times.Based on statements made on Dec 18 by Pol Col Sit Aye, the head of the Burmese police’s Department of Transnational Crime, the report said the Ministry of Home Affairs cooperated with several departments to implement the law.
“Action will be taken against those who offer financial or material support to terrorism. This is a very important step for the security of the people,” Sit Aye was qoted as saying.
Observers and lawyers contacted by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday are concerned the law will be used by the Burmese military government as a tool to control anti-government activities.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, a Burmese lawyer who fled into Thailand after the Buddhist monk-led protest in Sep. 2007 said the law only seemed to benefit the government.
“If this law is promulgated, it will be used as a tool to entrench the rule of the military dictatorship,” he said.
“Causing death and injury through bombings and shootings can be called terrorism, but not providing financial and material support to opposition and political organizations striving for democratic reform through non-violent means,” he said.
It is another story if an organization or individual receives support from a group that conducts armed operations, however, said a Rangoon-based Burmese lawyer on Wednesday.
“It all depends on how the Burmese government defines terrorism,” he said.
The lawyer also said the regime regularly denounced illegal groups and named armed groups as terrorists in its newspapers, but it has yet to officially announce terrorist groups and the anti-terrorism law.
“Perhaps the regime will officially announce the anti-terrorism law when they are ready to enforce it,” he added.
The Myanmar Times report accused armed groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU) and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front of involvement in terrorism and that financial support and training provided by these groups are recognized as acts of terrorism.
However, some observers said the anti-terrorism law may be aimed at dissident groups or individual activists who contact opposition groups in exile. Some suggest the regime intends to use the law during the election period in 2010 to prevent any anti-government opposition including public gatherings and other forms of “social unrest.”
Zipporah Sein, general-secretary of the KNU, said the government’s anti-terrorism law intends to restrict dissident activities and prevent opposition supporters and democracy activists from participating in political activities in the run up to the election.
In Burma, any individual or organization who is contacted by or receives support from illegal groups such as dissident and armed groups can be charged under the Section 17/1 of the Illegal Organization Act. Violators can be sentenced to 3 to 5 years in prison, according to lawyers.
Election ‘preparation’ barred from media – Ahunt Phone Myat
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 20 Jan 2010
Burmese media has been banned from publishing material covering political groups’ preparations for the elections this year, while news of the elections themselves is allowed.The censoring has targeted parties belonging to the ‘third force’ in Burmese politics; those neither aligned to the incumbent nor opposition groups, said potential runner Phyo Min Thein, who recently organized a discussion forum on Burmese politics in Rangoon.
“Basically, [the junta] is blocking its opponents from exercising their rights and is looking to manipulate the [political] playground for itself,” he said.
A veteran news editor in Rangoon said that reporting on activities to do with the elections is not likely to be allowed until the elections laws and laws regarding the formation of political organisations are announced.
He added however that even when laws are announced, the media will be allowed only limited scope to report on the events.
His comments were echoed by the secretary of the Burma Media Association, San Moe Wei, who said that the delay in announcing the elections laws and date was deliberate, and will give the media “limited freedom…to report on events”.
“[The government] was once defeated in the 1990 elections, so it seems like they will be very careful not to make the same mistakes this time,” he added.
Other political activists in Rangoon speculated that media reports on the elections were not yet allowed because the government was still working to persuade credible and influential political figures, who are not government-backed, to join the elections as individual parliamentary representatives.
Veteran Burmese politician and former ambassador to China, Thakin Chan Htun, said that Burma should model its elections on that of neighbouring countries.
“I would like to urge leaders of the [army] to hold the elections the way Bangladesh did, where the country’s polls were praised by the international community as free and fair,” he said.
Farmers ordered to sell paddy to army in northern Burma
Kachin News: Wed 20 Jan 2010
Farmers in Kachin State in northern Burma are in a spot for they have been ordered to sell paddy to the Burmese Army as of late December last year at prices lower than market rates, local farmers told Kachin News Group.The order by the administrative office of Dawhpumyang branch-township in Bhamo district on December 21 says every farmer was directed to sell one Tin (Burma’s standard unit of measurement of rice is 1 Tin = 10.5 kg) per acre to the local Burmese Army base in Myothit— Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 387.
The total amount of paddy to the tune of 5,400 Tin (56700 kg) has to be sold to the Burmese military base at Kyat 3,000 (US$3.1) per Tin, a farmer in Dawhpumyang said.
At the prevailing prices, farmers can sell a Tin of paddy for between 3,500 Kyat (US$3.6) and 4,000 Kyat (US$4.2) in the open market and the China border markets in Kachin State, said a farmer in the branch-township.
“The fact is I don’t want to sell paddy to the military because of the low price. But, it is an order and therefore compulsory,” he said.
Some farmers living at a distance from the LIB 387 have decided to provide the cash equivalent for the paddy, according to farmers in remote areas of the branch-township.
There are two main reasons for farmers, who want no further loss — farmers have to transport the total paddy asked for to the military base at their-own cost and they dislike the military scale which is larger than the standard scale, said farmers in those areas.
Every year, come the post harvest season starting December, farmers in Kachin State are ordered to sell large amounts of paddy to local Burmese military bases at a fixed price, said sources among local farmers.
The military rulers claim that Kachin State is the fourth largest rice bowl of the country but they do not provide any subsidy to farmers, according to farmers in the State.
Every year, farmers have to sell the paddy demanded, to the military at a loss, added local farmers.
Rohingya a year later
Refugees International: Wed 20 Jan 2010
One year ago, the travails of Rohingya from Burma shocked people around the world. Boat after boat of refugees, fleeing abuse and oppression in Burma, were intercepted at sea by the Thai army, who then proceeded to detain them without trial. After days in outdoor detention, the Rohingya refugees were loaded back on to their boats, and the Thai army proceeded to tow them out to sea where they were abandoned with little food or water and no motors to power their boats. Over 500 people died in the few weeks that the Thais carried out the operation, and one year later, 500 more remain in detention in India, Indonesia and Thailand.International outcry ended the Thai military’s operations against the Rohingya. It also led to pledges by governments throughout the region to develop long-term solutions to the plight of the Rohingya. The issue was raised at summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and at meetings of the Bali process. Fingers were pointed at Burma for its abuse of the population at home, at Bangladesh for allowing Rohingya to transit there on their way to sea, at Thailand for their abusive policies, and even at Malaysia, whose economy is a pull factor for Rohingya seeking safety. In the end, there were no decisions made about the Rohingya, and with the summer monsoons putting an end to sailing season, the issue soon faded away, back into the obscurity that the Rohingya have endured for decades.
One year later, the sailing season is again underway. While smugglers and the Rohingya alike have been hesitant to resume the voyage, indications are that once again boats have begun sailing with passengers destined for Malaysia. And as a safeguard, the Rohingya are now attempting to fly to Kuala Lumpur via Dhaka and then making the arduous overland journey by foot. For most though, boats remain the most affordable, if dangerous, option for a better life, and they will continue to sail.
A new twist on the Rohingya migration is a push to reach Australia by boat via Indonesia. While this may be an indication that slowing economies have created fewer opportunities for new refugees seeking work, it may also be a sign that the Rohingya are hoping to move further from the Southeast Asian countries that refuse to provide any real refuge. If anything, this shows the growing reach of the problem, rather than any real solution to the Rohingya’s plight.
The anniversary of the Rohingya boat crisis highlights the lack of action by the region’s governments, but it also draws attention to the problems that arise when there is no legal framework for refugees. Policies that target people solely as economic migrants and ignore the persecution, abuse and violation of human rights they face, whether in Burma or elsewhere, will never be able to address the causes of their displacement. The countries of South and Southeast Asia need to recognize the fact that the Rohingya will continue to leave Burma, and that their policies to deal with this reality are inadequate. On the anniversary of last year’s tragedy, policymakers in the region should look with a renewed eye towards finally creating humane policies to ensure that the Rohingya do not continue to face abuse after abuse in their search for safety.
Several politicians express support for Burma election – Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Tue 19 Jan 2010
While many international observers and Burmese dissidents have condemned the military government’s plan to hold a general election this year, several veteran Burmese politicians, former political prisoners and student activists expressed support for this year’s election at an informal political meeting in Rangoon on Saturday. The individual comments came at a meeting called the “Burma Affairs Forum” which took place at the Karaweik Hotel in central Rangoon. About 50 participants discussed the pros and cons and the issues surrounding the proposed election.
The meeting was organized by a committee including student activists who were involved in the 1988 uprising and politicians who intend to contest this year’s election, such as ethnic Shan politician Shwe Ohn and the daughter of late Deputy Prime Minister Kyaw Nyein, Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein.
One of the meeting organizers, Thein Tin Aung, said, “We focused the agenda on how to approach the election. The participants discussed how to ensure a smooth transition from military rule to democracy. Another item on the agenda was: ‘How to deal with the military regime …confrontation or cooperation?’
“In my opinion, the election is vital for the process of democracy,” he added.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein said, “An election is a great chance for the politicians, for the people and for the country. For the sake of the country, we have decided to grab this opportunity.
“There is no other alternative to the election,” she said.
“It doesn’t mean we accept the 2008 Constitution. We hope it can be changed at some time in the future,” she said, adding that Shwe Ohn, who formed the Union Democratic Alliance Party to contest the election, brought up the issue of federalism at the forum.
Most major opposition and ethnic leaders did not attend the meeting, including those from detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
The NLD has said the military regime must allow for a review of the Constitution and the release of political prisoners before it will consider participating in the election.
To date, no electoral law or date have been announced for the election. However, the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun last week claimed the election will be held on Oct. 10.
Meanwhile, Aye Lwin, a student leader in the 1988 uprising who founded his own political group in 2005 known as the Union of Burma 88 Generation Students group, said that his organization is conducting political campaigns in different townships and divisions across Burma.
“The election is a chance for change,” he said. “Therefore, we have to try––even if we all have different opinions about the process.”
He said that his organization is receiving a positive response from the public while in the field, but said that many people are still fearful of involvement in politics.
The pro-junta National Unity Party (NUP) is also campaigning across the country, sources said. The NUP won 10 parliamentary seats in the 1990 election while the NLD won 392 seats.
In December 2009, the Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office––which is tasked with helping the Burmese democracy movement prepare for a transition to democracy––said it will provide financial support to opposition parties and ethnic groups that will contest the general election if they need support, according to the organization’s Executive Director Harn Yawnghwe.
The aim of supporting those groups is to let them strive for democracy and ethnic rights within any political space that might be opened up by the Burmese regime, he said.
Many exiled dissidents and international observers have denounced the planned election as a “sham” designed to entrench the junta’s rule and have called for a boycott of the election.
Suu Kyi lawyers give final arguments in top Myanmar court
Agence France Presse: Tue 19 Jan 2010
Yangon — Myanmar’s supreme court heard final arguments on Monday against the extended house arrest of detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, her lawyer said.The 64-year-old opposition leader was ordered in August to spend another 18 months in detention after being convicted over an incident in which a US man swam to her house. A lower court rejected an initial appeal in October.
Monday’s hearing at the top Yangon court, where both sides gave arguments, lasted more than three hours, according to Suu Kyi’s main lawyer Kyi Win. He said a decision was expected within a month.
“We expect them to accept our arguments and after that release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he told AFP. Daw is a term of respect in Myanmar.
“The law is completely on our side,” he said, adding that they argued her conviction was unlawful because it was based on regulations in the country’s now-defunct 1974 constitution.
If the appeal is rejected, Suu Kyi and her legal team will write to the office of the chief justice at the supreme court, explained Nyan Win, another of her lawyers.
If this also fails, it is thought they would have to appeal directly to the military government to try to get the conviction overturned.
The Nobel peace laureate, who is detained at her lakeside mansion in Yangon, did not attend the court and journalists were barred, although the British ambassador and another embassy official were seen going into the hearing.
Myanmar’s military rulers have kept Suu Kyi in detention for 14 of the past 20 years, having refused to recognise her party’s landslide victory in the country’s last democratic elections in 1990.
The extension of her detention after a prison trial sparked international outrage as it effectively keeps her off the stage for elections promised by the regime some time this year.
But in recent months the United States, followed by the European Union, has shifted towards a policy of greater engagement with Myanmar — which has been under military rule since 1962 — as sanctions have failed to bear fruit.
Suu Kyi has also changed tack after years of favouring harsh international measures against Myanmar, writing twice to junta chief Than Shwe since September offering her cooperation in trying to get Western sanctions lifted.
On Friday she met the ruling junta’s liaison officer, in the latest sign of dialogue between the two sides. It was the fourth meeting between the pair since the beginning of October.
She was also granted a meeting in December with three elderly senior NLD members, at which she asked for their approval to reorganise the party leadership committee.
But the junta has not yet granted her requests to meet the rest of the committee and to hold talks with Than Shwe himself.
In November the regime allowed her to make a rare appearance in front of the media after meeting US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the highest level official from Washington to visit Myanmar for 14 years.
A visit by US senator Jim Webb in August secured the release of John Yettaw, the American man who swam across a lake to Suu Kyi’s home in May and sparked the case that led to her detention being prolonged.
As poll looms, Myanmar still building parliament – Aung Hla Tun
Reuters: Tue 19 Jan 2010
Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar – Military-ruled Myanmar’s first parliamentary elections in 20 years are set for this year, yet construction on its parliament is not yet complete — suggesting little chance of a poll in the next few months.The military junta has yet to set a date for the election. Some speculate it could take place in October or earlier.
A rare glimpse of the planned parliament in Myanmar’s remote new capital Naypyitaw shows much work to be done — from unfinished roads to painting many of the parliamentary complex’s 31 buildings, with pagoda-style roofs sheathed in scaffolding.
A Reuters correspondent who viewed the construction could not determine how much work if any was finished inside the buildings.
But the huge development underscores the rapid expansion of Naypyitaw, a sprawling city built from scratch just four years ago, where the reclusive military rulers of the former Burma have isolated themselves, some 320 km (200 miles) from the largest city and former capital, Yangon.
Naypyitaw — the name translates as “Abode of Kings” — is a maze of ministry buildings, government mansions, civil servants’ quarters and unfinished presidential palaces complete with grand Roman-style pillars — all rising from dusty, arid scrubland.
Bestowed with manicured, heavily watered lawns and forbidding stone walls, it bears no resemblance to the rest of Myanmar, one of Asia’s poorest countries, or even to nearby villages, where many people live in thatched wooden huts.
Attractions include five golf courses, seven resort-style hotels, drinkable tap water, a Western-style shopping mall, a large zoo, a sprawling “water fountain garden,” lavish mansions and 24-hour electricity in a nation beset by power outages.
A sleek new cinema is in the works along with dozens of buildings in a frenzy of construction carried out mostly by workers toiling in searing heat without modern equipment.
Women haul stacks of bricks balanced upon their head at one construction site, while men clear land with wooden-handled scythes at another. Ox-drawn carts transport wood on the new military-built highway from Yangon.
The government declines to disclose Naypyitaw’s cost but analysts and diplomatic sources say it must have cost billions of dollars, drawing criticism from aid groups over the priorities of a country facing chronic poverty and crumbling infrastructure.
But its rise reflects the strengthening diplomatic and financial muscle of Myanmar’s rulers as Southeast Asia and China tap its rich natural resources, from timber and natural gas to precious Burmese gems, despite Western sanctions imposed in response to rights abuses.
A Western diplomat in Yangon expressed amazement at the scale of Naypyitaw, questioning how the government would occupy parliament’s 31 buildings, which are in addition to ministerial offices and three presidential palaces spread around the city.
“It’s astonishing how fast it is being built,” he said.
But one critical element is missing — a pulse. There’s no lively city center thronged with people, even four years after the government moved nearly all its workers there.
Though officials put its population at about 1 million, this is ballooned by four surrounding townships. And while a ban on foreigners has lifted and tourists are welcome, Naypyitaw itself feels like a high-end ghost town.
Its roads are puzzlingly wide, including one 20-lane boulevard, but they are largely empty. Civilian cars are rare. Its city center, a roundabout where five roads meet, is populated only by palm trees and potted flowers.
Restaurants are busy at night, but the city’s amenities — from parks to a double-tiered, fully lit golf driving range — are eerily empty. It’s possible to drive hours on the new highway from Yangon and see just a half a dozen cars.
One person they’re surely happy to leave in Yangon is opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate whose house arrest was extended in August.
Some experts say she may be released ahead of elections, but even then she is not expected to be allowed to play a significant role in politics after leading her National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in the last election in 1990, a poll the junta never recognized.
(Editing by Bill Tarrant)
Vietnam boosts investment in Myanmar
Vietnam News Agency: Tue 19 Jan 2010
Hanoi –A delegation of representatives of Vietnamese ministries and businesses visited Myanmar [Burma] from January 14-16 to survey investment opportunities in this country.
The delegation, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Doan Xuan Hung, paid a courtesy visit to Prime Minister Thein Sein and held a working session with the Myanmar Ministry of Economic Development and State Planning at Myanmar ’s administrative capital of Nay Pyi Taw.
At the meetings, the Myanmar side spoke highly of the Vietnamese delegation’s visit, affirming that Myanmar values the traditional relationship between the two countries.
The Myanmar officials said they were pleased with the continuously developing friendship and cooperation between Vietnam and Myanmar , both bilaterally and multilaterally.
They also affirmed that they would create favourable conditions for Vietnamese businesses to invest in areas that benefit both sides and meet Myanmar ’s demand for development.
On January 15 and 16, the Vietnamese delegation joined Myanmar’s Ministry of Economic Development and State Planning and Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry to hold two seminars in Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon which aimed to seek solutions to boost Vietnam’s investment in Myanmar as well as bilateral trade cooperation.
According to the Myanmar statistics, by the end of September 2009, Vietnam had invested 23.4 million USD in Myanmar. Investment activities between the two countries started in late 1988.
Vietnam is Myanmar ’s 16th largest export market. The country imports agro-forest, seafood products and electronic components from Myanmar while exporting steel, electronic items, pharmaceuticals, industrial goods, chemicals, computers and computer’s spare parts.
The two countries are looking towards launching a direct air route to promote bilateral economic and trade cooperation.
Dark signs of things to come – Kyaw Zwa Moe
Irrawaddy: Tue 19 Jan 2010
Burma’s year is off to a grim start, thanks to the country’s ruling junta.In a year that is supposed to mark a major political transition, the regime has moved quickly to snuff out any glimmer of hope for real change. We now know what to expect in 2010: harsh punishment for those who cross the generals, and rich rewards for those who work with them to keep the country under their control. In other words—more of the same.
On Jan. 6, a court in Insein Prison sentenced ex-major Win Naing Kyaw, a former aide to Lt-Gen Tin Oo, the junta’s late Secretary Two, and Thura Kyaw, of the foreign affairs department, to death under Section 3 of the State Emergency Act. At the same time, it sentenced a clerk from the foreign affairs department to 15 years imprisonment for violation of the Electronics Act, which prohibits sending information, photos and videos damaging to the government via the Internet.
Their crime was leaking military secrets to the exiled media. Specifically, they were found guilty of sending information and photos about a secret trip to North Korea by Gen Shwe Mann, the third most powerful general in the regime. The trip, which took place in late 2008, involved arms procurement and an agreement with Pyongyang for technical assistance in the construction of secret tunnels in remote regions of Burma.
Earlier, it was learned that 25-year-old video journalist Hla Hla Win and her assistant were thrown behind bars for 26 years for attempting to smuggle video footage of the country’s situation to the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma.
Meanwhile, there have also been reports of continuing cronyism in Burma. The state-run newspaper Myanmar Ahlin reported that the government had awarded a major contract for construction of two hydro-power plants to the Htoo Trading Company, owned by Tay Za, a close associate of junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his family.
These are inauspicious signs, indeed. With an election expected to take place later this year, we are all still very much in the dark about the country’s political situation. The junta has set no date for the election, nor has it promulgated any law allowing political parties to form. No one has any idea when the campaign will begin or who will be permitted to run.
“The current political situation is like the blind groping in the darkness,” said Khin Maung Swe, a spokesperson for the National League for Democracy (NLD), speaking by phone from the party’s headquarters in Rangoon’s Shwegondaing Township.
His words hold true not just for dissidents and political groups, but also for the majority of people in Burma. Only the generals themselves have any idea what the junta’s plans are.
All we can say for certain is that the regime sees the 2010 election more than just part of an exit strategy. It also intends to use it to lay the foundation for the military’s long-term domination of Burma’s political system. After the election, the 2008 Constitution will come into force, ensuring the military a 25 percent share of the seats in parliament.
On Jan. 4, in his speech to mark the country’s Independence Day, Than Shwe stated: “Plans are underway to hold elections in a systematic way this year.”
“The entire population has to make the correct choice,” he added, offering no guarantee that the election would be free, fair and open, as the international community has demanded.
As for the NLD, it remains firmly committed to its Shwegondaing declaration, which calls for a review of the Constitution, political dialogue between the junta and opposition groups, and the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners, including party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for more than 14 of the past 20 years.
The current dark cloud in politics has left several main ethnic groups wondering whether they should even consider forming political parties to participate in the upcoming election.
“We will not found a political party, much less take part in the election, if the government doesn’t review the 2008 Constitution,” said 76-year-old veteran journalist and politician Thar Ban, the acting chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy, which won 11 seats in western Arakan State in the 1990 election and was later abolished.
“We were cheated once. We don’t want to be cheated again,” said Thar Ban, who was put in jail twice, for a total of 12 years.
Leaders from a coalition of 12 ethnic parties based inside Burma have stood together with Thar Ban. The ethnic coalition, known as the United Nationalities Alliance, won 67 seats in the 1990 election. What they complain about mainly is the lack of equality and autonomy for ethnic people in the 2008 Constitution.
Although most political groups in Burma agree that the regime’s political process is too flawed to participate in, there is a small minority who take a different view.
Even in the absence of electoral laws and an election date, a small group of dissidents has decided that the election is the only game in town. A few months ago, veteran politician Thu Wai formed the Democratic Party. However, the party has not yet been registered.
“Anyone expecting to contest the election is not allowed to do anything yet,” he said. His party is supported by the daughter of former Prime Minister U Nu.
Thu Wai, who was also put in jail in the mid-1990s for his political activities, sees demanding dialogue with the junta as just a waste of time.
“If discussions are possible, it is good. But if they are not possible, why should we be wasting time?” Thu Wai told The Irrawaddy in a recent interview. “Only in a legal parliament can we secure the right to criticize what we don’t like and to engage in politics.”
The crucial problem is that the game is never fair, not even to a minimal degree. Players—even those who view the election positively—are never allowed to participate in the whole process. Undemocratic and irregular rules drive them out of the game.
This is supposed to be a year in which great things will happen. Yet we haven’t seen any movement in a positive direction. Like it or not, however, this is the country’s political process.
Even developments from last year, such as the meetings between US officials and the junta and meetings between Suu Kyi and Than Shwe’s liaison officer and Western diplomats, are losing momentum.
The news over the past couple of weeks is an indication of what kind of result we can expect from the election.
The ethnic leader Thar Ban concluded his interview with The Irrawaddy by saying: “We are in the middle of a storm far from shore. The election will be just like lightning: It won’t provide enough light to help us find our way.”
Myanmar democracy leader Suu Kyi meets official
Associated Press: Fri 15 Jan 2010
Yangon, Myanmar — Detained Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday held her first meeting this year with the Cabinet official responsible for contact with her, as her party makes preparations for possible participation in elections.
Officials said Suu Kyi was taken from her home to meet for about 20 minutes with Relations Minister Aung Kyi. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release information, did not know the contents of their talk.
Myanmar’s military government has set elections, the first since 1990, for an unspecified date this year. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, which has not yet declared whether it will take part, this week expanded its central executive committee by nine members to 20.
Last year, party colleagues agreed to Suu Kyi’s suggestion that the committee be reorganized. Most of its members are elderly.
Suu Kyi’s last meeting with Aung Kyi was on Dec. 9, when he informed her that her request to be allowed to meet with the party elders was granted. She met them on Dec. 16.
Suu Kyi has also requested a meeting with junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe to explain how she would cooperate in tasks “beneficial to the country,” but is not yet known to have received any response.
The constitution adopted in 2008 that set up this year’s polls was considered undemocratic by her party. It has clauses that would ensure that the military remains the controlling power in government, and would bar Suu Kyi from holding office.
Politics in Myanmar have been deadlocked since Suu Kyi’s party overwhelmingly won the 1990 elections. The military refused to allow it to take power and clamped down on the pro-democracy movement, causing the United States and another Western nations to impose economic and political sanctions in an attempt to isolate the junta.
However, the Obama administration has said the sanctions failed to foster reforms and is seeking to engage the junta through high-level talks.
Ageing Myanmar opposition gets “middle-aged” boost
Reuters: Fri 15 Jan 2010
Yangon – Myanmar’s main opposition party has injected some youth into its aging leadership, although the new recruits are all in their 60s and the ailing 92-year-old chairman keeps the top job.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said nine “middle-aged” party officials were joining its executive committee, whose 11 existing members have an average age of nearly 82.
“We have added nine middle-aged party officials to fulfill the desire of the party’s youth members and help reinforce the committee,” senior NLD member Khin Maung Swe told Reuters.
Much of the NLD’s leadership is frail and in poor health. Chairman Aung Shwe has been housebound for over a year due to illness.
Some of the older members are against the NLD running in this year’s elections, the first in two decades, because they believe the constitution gives too much power to the military, which has ruled for almost five decades.
A former top NLD official said it was unlikely the new members, all former political prisoners, would have any impact on party policy in the short term.
“The only change we can expect is a steep drop in the average age,” he said. “They have injected new blood into the leadership but the brains of the party will remain as old as before.”
(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould)
Woman included in NLD expansion – Htet Aung Kyaw and Francis Wade
Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 15 Jan 2010
Another woman will join the Burmese opposition party’s central committee after a major and unprecedented expansion was yesterday put into motion.
Nine people in total have been added to the existing 11-member central executive committee (CEC) of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party. One of these, Dr May Win Myint, is now the only female in the committee other than the detained leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The news was met with muted enthusiasm by the secretary general of the Thailand-based Burma Women’s Union (BWU), Tin Tin Nyo, which has in the past called for a greater gender balance within the party.
“Only after 20 years has one more woman been included in the CEC,” she said. “It’s a positive step, but it’s taken so many years to get [here].”
“I would suggest however that the NLD consider more women at this decision-making level. There are 20 people, and only two of these are women. The other woman, Aung San Suu Kyi, is under house arrest, so it’s really only one woman [who is active].”
Another prominent addition to the CEC is party spokesperson and lawyer for Suu Kyi, Nyan Win, who acted as the international media’s first port of call during the Suu Kyi trial last year.
Another NLD spokesperson, Khin Maung Swe, said that the majority of the CEC, those who were neither detained or in poor health, will hold a plenary meeting next Monday to assign duties to the new members.
He added that the expansion was being undertaken to prepare for “the upcoming political situation in the country”, but declined to say whether this was a reference to the looming elections, which the NLD is yet to announce whether it will participate in.
Some lower-ranking NLD members complained last week however that the decision-making process to select the new members had been done without full cooperation from the various party wings.
Khin Maung Swe reacted by saying that the party had needed to act swiftly on the requests of regional members. The expansion was first framed as a call for fresh blood in the party following a rare meeting between Suu Kyi and two ageing CEC members, chairperson Aung Shwe and secretary U Lwin.
“Due to our respect to [regional members], we carried out the expansion quickly. If we have to collect opinions from the ground level, we wouldn’t be able to do it this quickly,” he said. “One day, when we can convene everyone, we will do this as a fully democratic procedure.”
Burma electoral laws ‘70 percent complete’ – Francis Wade
Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 15 Jan 2010
The majority of Burma’s electoral laws have been completed and will be rounded off in a matter of months, the Thai foreign minister reported after a meeting with his Burmese counterpart.
Speculation has been rife over the possible date of Burma’s first elections since 1990, with eyes now fixed to the latter part of 2010, most likely October. The ruling junta has confirmed only that they will be held this year.
A number of potential runners in the elections have said however that the lack of confirmation from the ruling junta of both the date and the laws governing polling has hindered their ability to prepare, and may force their withdrawal.
Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya told Reuters yesterday after a meeting with Nyan Win that “60 to 70 percent” of the electoral and political party laws had been completed.
“You take another two or three months to make it 100 percent, so it will take you by that time from the mathematical, or the guessing point of view, to the middle of this year,” he said. “So, I think the elections would be most probably in the second half.”
According to information leaked from a meeting between the head of a prominent Japanese charity and the chief of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a proxy of the Burmese junta, the elections will be held in October, most likely on the 10th.
The 10/10/2010 date would be in keeping with the junta’s fixation on numerology, which has dictated many of the key decisions of the military since it took power, including currency devaluations and the 1990 election date.
Nyan Win also sought to assure Piromya that elections would be “free and fair”, following criticism from the international community that constitution, supposedly ratified by 92 percent of the country in the weeks following cyclone Nargis in May 2008, would entrench military rule.
Indonesia’s foreign minister echoed international concerns but said that delays to announcing the election date may remedy this.
“For us the main criterion, or the main preoccupation, would be that we have that necessary positive, democratic atmosphere for a credible election to take place,” he said, after meeting Nyan Win at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Vietnam.
“It’s best to allow things for such conditions to be established rather than to rush into it and then we have a situation where the ideal condition is not there.”
Ethnic leaders reject election – Ba Kaung
Irrawaddy: Thu 14 Jan 2010
Several ethnic leaders elected in Burma’s 1990 election reaffirmed this week that they will not participate in the planned election this year without a review of the 2008 Constitutional and the release of all political prisoners—two major demands they have been pressing for since early last year.“We will not found any political party if the 2008 Constitution cannot guarantee us equality and autonomy,” said 76-year-old Thar Ban, the acting chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy.
Pu Cin Sian Thang, a spokesman for the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), a coalition of 12 ethnic parties which contested and won 67 seats in the 1990 election, said that the alliance’s attitude toward the planned election is not much different from the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) Shwegondaing Declaration.
The Shwegondaing Declaration, released by the NLD in April last year, calls for a review of the controversial Constitution, political dialogue and the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
“The reason for this stand is that we contributed to the Shwegondaing Declaration even though it was not publicly known,” said Pu Cin Sian Thang, who is also the chairman of the Zomi National Congress, an ethnic Chin political party.
Many of the 12 parties comprising the UNA were abolished after the 1990 election by the military regime, which cited various reasons—one of them for not having enough membership on their central executive committees.
In February last year, the UNA issued a statement condemning the Constitution as a means to make Burma’s ethnic nationalities subordinates to the Burman majority, and because it hands “supreme power” to the military’s commander in chief.
“Our participation in the election without changing the undemocratic elements of the Constitution would validate this whole Constitution as soon as the first session of parliament is held,” said Pu Cin Sian Thang in a telephone interview with The Irrawaddy.
He said the Zomi National Congress will base its decision on how the NLD responds at that time. However, soon after the regime announces the electoral law, many political groups including the NLD and the UNA will have to announce their final decision on whether to participate or not.
“We will not follow exactly what the NLD does,” he added. “But we have to look at its responses since it represents the majority of the people.
“However,” he added, “if the Constitution remains unchanged, we will in no way join in the election.”
Another ethnic leader, Naing Ngwe Thein, who is the chairman of the Mon National Democratic Front, said his political party’s position on the election is the same as the UNA’s.
But while a stalemate remains between the regime and several ethnic cease-fire groups, such as the United Wa State Army and the Kachin Independence Army, over the Border Guard Force proposal, other ethnic leaders like Dr. Tuja, the former vice-president of the Kachin Independence Organization, have stated their willingness to participate in the election.
“We have no objection if anyone wants to join in the election,” said Naing Ngwe Thein. “But history will judge who is on the right side and who is on the wrong side.”
Junta recruits forcibly to form people’s militia to harass KIA
Kachin News Group: Thu 14 Jan 2010
The Burmese military junta is forcibly recruiting people from East Burma to form a people’s militia in Northeast Shan State, the area where the 4th brigade of the Kachin Independence Army is located, said a local source.A resident of border town Mongkoe, where the army has set up a training camp, told Kachin News Group that the Burmese military was forcibly assembling local people for recruitment for a people’s militia since January 11.
“At least 60 people from Mongkoe have already been recruited,” said the source.
“They (local Burmese military authorities) forced the civilians to attend the training programme. This problem is being faced by Mongkoe and its surrounding areas,” he added.
However, no one is certain of the motive of the regime in trying to form the militia. Local people think it might be to take on the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/A) and pressurize the ethnic armed group.
“They want to pressurize the KIO and the KIA’s 4th brigade. Should there be clashes between KIA and the Burmese Army, the militia will be sent to the front lines because they know the terrain well,” said a resident.
Eyewitnesses said they have seen fresh batches of Burmese soldiers travelling in 32 army trucks to Loikang village on January 8, where KIA’s 4th brigade is based.
The junta had ordered KIA’s 4th brigade to shift to Kachin State to KIO’s headquarters in Laiza but the rebels have refused because the place is historically linked to KIO, which was formed there in October 25, 1960. The armed wing, KIA was set up in February 5, 1961.
Lt-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the junta’s Chief of Bureau of Special Operations-2 (BS0) directed KIA in September last year to move.
“They are trying to pressurize KIO by sending additional forces into the area, and they will use the militia to put heat on the 4th brigade,” said the source.
The 4th brigade of KIA has four battalions— No. 2, No. 8, No. 9 and No. 17 in Northeast Shan State.
Myanmar polls likely in 2nd half of yr – Thai FM – John Ruwitch
Reuters: Thu 14 Jan 2010
Danang, Vietnam (Reuters) – Myanmar will likely hold its long-awaited election in the second half of this year because the ruling junta is still crafting the legal framework for the vote, Thailand’s foreign minister said on Thursday.Kasit Piromya made the comments after a meeting with Myanmar counterpart Nyan Win during which he was told that 60-70 percent of the election and political party laws were completed.
“You take another two or three months to make it 100 percent, so it will take you by that time from the mathematical, or the guessing point of view, to the middle of this year,” Kasit told Reuters in an interview.
“So, I think the elections would be most probably in the second half.”
Myanmar’s reclusive junta has been silent on the timing of the election, and Nyan Win’s comment to Kasit would be a rare indication of the level of progress towards holding the vote.
Nyan Win declined to answer reporters’ questions on multiple occasions during a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers in central Vietnam.
Nyan Win briefed the other foreign ministers on the preparations at a dinner on Wednesday night, but he gave no indication of the timing.
“It was assured that it will be this year and it will be free, fair and credible, and the ASEAN ministers have expressed their hope the issue of Myanmar will be resolved this year and that we can move on to the new era of ASEAN relations and cooperation with the international community,” Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN secretary general, told reporters.
“No date has been set but everything is moving on course. That’s what we were told.”
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who also met Nyan Win on the sidelines of the Vietnam meeting, said there was no rush, as long as the vote takes place this year, and is carried out fairly and democratically, as the junta has promised.
“For us the main criterion, or the main preoccupation, would be that we have that necessary positive, democratic atmosphere for a credible election to take place,” he told reporters.
“It’s best to allow things for such conditions to be established rather than to rush into it and then we have a situation where the ideal condition is not there.”
Little is known about the junta’s legal preparations.
Critics of the army-drafted constitution say Myanmar’s legislature will be dominated by the military and their civilian stooges, with limited powers and representation for dozens of ethnic groups or established opposition parties.
Myanmar’s last election, in 1990, ended with a landslide win for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, but the junta ignored the result and has since jailed more than 2,000 activists and political opponents, many for minor offences.
Suu Kyi herself has been under house arrest or other sort of detention for 14 of the last 20 years.
The election in the former British colony has already been widely dismissed as a means to entrench nearly five decades of unbroken military rule, with the junta hoping a public vote would legitimise its monopoly of national politics.
The notoriously secretive regime has yet to say who can take part in the polls. Several major ethnic groups are resisting calls to join the political process, saying they have nothing to gain.
Many analysts believe the delay in naming an election date is to give the government more time to bring the ethnic groups on board, either voluntarily or through military force.
(Editing by Martin Petty and Sugita Katyal)
Burma freedom is ‘worst of the worst’ – Joseph Allchin
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 13 Jan 2010
A Washington-based NGO has labeled Burma one of the worst countries in the world for ‘freedom’ in an annual report, released yesterday.Burma ranks alongside nine other countries in the “worst of the worst” category in Freedom House’s ‘Freedom in the World 2010’ report, which includes Libya, Tibet, China, Eritrea, North Korea and Equatorial Guinea.
The organization, funded largely by the US government and the conservative Bradley Foundation, has been producing the report for nearly forty years, which “examines the ability of individuals to exercise their political and civil rights in 194 countries and 14 territories around the world.”
Determinants of ‘freedom’ include whether “people’s political choices are free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group”.
It also includes a base alignment system, with countries ranked either ‘free’, ‘partially free’ or ‘not free’. This is based on a score system for civil liberties and political freedom, with seven being the lowest and one the highest. Burma predictably scores seven on both counts.
This will make worrying reading for the international observers who will be closely monitoring the planned elections this year. Critics of the ruling junta have already labeled them a sham that will enable the military to retain power.
“This report reflects the actual situation in Burma,” said Soe Aung, foreign affairs spokesperson of the Thailand-based Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB).
“Moreover, some international and local groups tend to overlook the real situation in predicting that the elections in Burma will bring an opening for a change. The lives of the people [in Burma] should not be gambled at all.”
In terms of population, China’s inclusion in the ‘not free’ category made it the largest of the three groupings.
Freedom House emphasizes in its methodology that it “does not maintain a culture-bound view of freedom”, whilst noting that “American leadership in international affairs is essential to the cause of human rights and freedom”.
Overall the report finds that there has been a “freedom recession” and an “authoritarian resurgence” in the last year.
‘Third force’ party to reconsider Burma elections – Ahunt Phone Myat
Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 12 Jan 2010
A Burmese political party will reconsider its decision to enter this year’s elections if the announcement date of the electoral laws does not leave sufficient time to campaign, the party chairman said.The Democratic Party, part of the ‘third force’ in Burmese politics in which parties are not aligned either to the incumbent government or opposition groups, includes Than Than Nu, the daughter of Burma’s first civilian prime minister, U Nu.
The party’s chairperson, Thu Wei, said yesterday that groups eyeing the elections were not being given sufficient time to prepare, with the laws surrounding participation yet to be made public.
“Also we expect that the election laws will impose a lot of restrictions and limitations which will leave more groups and people unable to participate,” he said, adding that he thought there would be fewer parties contesting the polls than in 1990, Burma’s last elections.
The Democratic Party had previously written a letter to junta leader Than Shwe urging the announcement of election laws, which includes the formation of political parties.
The Burmese government is yet to announce the date of elections, although information leaked by a Japanese newspaper last week reported that the military generals were planning to hold them in October.
It also said that electoral laws would be announced in April, around the time of Burmese New Year. This would allow parties only six months to campaign.
A number of ‘third force’ politicians have announced that different restrictions on freedom to campaign were being granted to different groups, depending on their alignment to the ruling junta.
Others have given mixed reports about their ability to prepare for what critics of the junta believe to be sham elections aimed at cementing military rule in Burma.
“On political grounds, we can say we are ready as our ideology and political view is now spreading among the public,” said Aye Lwin, from the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics.
Nay Myo Wei, from the Union Democracy Alliance, said that his party was “in the front row…We are in a strong position with our belief and work procedures.”
Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is yet to announce whether it will participate. It won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, but the junta refused to recognize the results, and instead placed NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.
Gullible Gambari – Seyward Darby
The New Republic (US): Tue 12 Jan 2010
On May 20, 2006, Ibrahim Gambari, the gregarious UN under-secretary general for political affairs, met with leaders of Burma’s military junta and their most famous political prisoner, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi . It was Gambari’s first trip to Burma, and the first time in two years that the country’s secretive rulers had granted a UN official such high-level access. Gambari’s optimism was palpable: “They want to open up another chapter of relationship with the international community,” the seasoned Nigerian diplomat said in a press conference  on May 24. But three days later, only a week after meeting with Gambari, the junta extended Suu Kyi’s house arrest by a year. Suddenly, Gambari’s optimism was his humiliation. “People thought he had fallen for their line,” says Mark Farmaner, director of Campaign for Burma UK. “He was completely suckered.”It was just the first in a series of diplomatic blunders that would sully Gambari’s tenure as the UN’s envoy in Burma. Widely viewed as a pawn in the junta’s game of repeatedly fooling the international community about its willingness to change, he earned the nickname “Gullible Gambari.” “He had all these meetings and nothing to show for it,” says David Mathieson, a Burma researcher for Human Rights Watch.
When the UN announced in December that it was reassigning Gambari to be its top envoy in Sudan, effective January 1, many Burma watchers breathed a sigh of relief. “Gambari–who liked to tell critics who faulted him for a lack of results that his mission was ‘a process, not an event’–often seemed a hapless bystander whenever anything actually happened in Burma,” The Irrawaddy , a Thailand-based newspaper established by Burmese citizens in exile, said in a scathing editorial. But some Darfur activists are now worried that Gambari might repeat his mistakes in Sudan. “My main concern is that his focus would be on accommodation of the regime, and that would leave the perpetuation of an unacceptable and unstable status quo,” says Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition.
Gambari can’t be blamed for the fact that conflict within the Security Council has prevented the UN from adopting a strong Burma policy. But, instead of advocating for a tougher stance, he was all too willing to play the role of genial UN hack pushing a soft line with a notoriously duplicitous regime. “You need a much harder edge to a UN envoy’s position,” Ma
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