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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 15/3/09

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Message from Suu Kyi Myanmar moves troops to borders Campbell says engagement with Burma failing Burmas sham elections Burma, a land frozen in tyranny Burmese
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 15, 2010
      1. Message from Suu Kyi
      2. Myanmar moves troops to borders
      3. Campbell says engagement with Burma failing
      4. Burma’s sham elections
      5. Burma, a land frozen in tyranny
      6. Burmese army’s violence against civilians
      7. Myanmar’s Suu Kyi calls for united response to ‘unjust’ law
      8. Myanmar junta annuls election held 20 years ago
      9. Burma’s election laws amorphous on Diaspora
      10. Burma’s electoral laws undemocratic
      11. New Burma election law ‘a farce’
      12. U.N. rights envoy seeks Myanmar war crimes inquiry
      13. UN urges Burma to let Aung San Suu Kyi contest polls
      14. Belt, braces and army boots
      15. Business as usual in Burma
      16. Regime looks to the law to deal with the NLD
      17. Myanmar junta allows Suu Kyi’s party to reopen branch offices
      18. Western sanctions fuel rare strikes in Myanmar
      19. Election laws may shut down opposition parties
      20. The election law: Not so free and fair
      21. Election commission law in English
      22. Burma rulers to ‘hand-pick’ election commission
      23. NLD will stick with Shwegondaing Declaration
      24. Border conflict could last ‘many more years’
      25. Vietnam bank to open branch in Myanmar
      26. Iran and Myanmar to expand multilateral cooperation
      27. Narco report on Burma
      28. Ramos-Horta launches Burma petition
      29. Authorities persecute political opponents ahead of announced election
      30. ‘Bless you Mr. Obama’ on Myanmar
      31. Fresh evidence of crimes against humanity
      32. Myanmar’s ruling junta is selling state’s assets

      Message from Suu Kyi – Ba Kaung
      Irrawaddy: Fri 12 Mar 2010

      Detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi instructed members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) to discuss the party’s Shwegondaing declaration and why the 2008 Constitution is unnacceptable, said her lawyer, Nyan Win, after a two-hour meeting with Suu Kyi on Thursday.“She wants the party members to discuss why the 2008 Constitution is unacceptable because she wants everyone to understand the laws, and she wants everyone to have a thorough understanding of the Shwegondaing declaration,” said Nyan Win, who is also a senior NLD party official.

      The meeting took place two days after the Burmese military regime promulgated the election laws that bar Suu Kyi as leader of Burma’s main opposition party from organizing and being a member of a political party if she is not released before the polls expected to be held in October.

      According to Nyan Win, Suu Kyi said the election laws gave her the impression that they targeted an individual. “She said the laws both demeans the dignity of the laws and tarnish the prestige of the country,” he said.

      “Daw Suu wants to urge everyone, whether NLD members, non-members or ethnic people, to take concerted action against these unjust laws,” Nyan Win said. “She also said all the people should speak up for their own rights with understanding of the laws.”

      The Shwegoindaing Declaration, released by the National League for Democracy (NLD) in April 2009, calls for a review of the military-drafted Constitution, political dialogue and the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

      The regime has ignored the party’s repeated call for the review of the Constitution and enacted the election laws which analysts said have put the party in a corner.

      According to the election laws, the party not only needs to forgo its call for a review of the Constitution, which it would do at the risk of losing grace with the Burmese public, but also needs to expel Suu Kyi if she is not released before May 7, the deadline for the registration of all political parties.

      Suu Kyi is serving an 18-month term of house arrrest. With her sentence due to expire in November, Suu Kyi cannot be a member of any political party if she is not released before May 7, according to the election law that bans prisoners from being members of political parties.

      If the party fails to register, on the other hand, it will cease to exist as a legal party.

      Asked how Suu Kyi viewed the prospect of her party’s dissolution if it decides not to expel her, Nyan Win said, “she has not decided on this issue.”

      Meanwhile, Suu Kyi has sent instructions to NLD leaders to pursue judicial action against these unjust election laws, according to Nyan Win, who declined to disclose the details.

      “I cannot say what these instructions are now. Party leaders will make decisions based on her instructions,” Nyan Win said, adding that the party leaders’ actions would be “nationwide.”

      Myanmar moves troops to borders
      Wall Street Journal: Fri 12 Mar 2010

      Yangon—Myanmar’s military is moving large numbers of soldiers to border areas near China and Thailand in anticipation of possible conflicts with ethnic rebels in those areas before elections this year, according to diplomats, intelligence experts and residents who are tracking the activities.Details about the buildup, including the total number of troops involved, are unclear. Myanmar is one of the world’s most secretive countries, and its government rarely speaks publicly about activities it deems sensitive, especially military movements. Attempts to reach the Myanmar government were unsuccessful.

      But analysts and dissidents say the deployments—which are believed to include tens of thousands of soldiers—are designed to ratchet up pressure on Myanmar’s numerous armed ethnic groups before the regime holds elections later this year. Several of the groups—including the Wa, an ethnic minority with a private army that includes as many as 20,000 soldiers—have yet to indicate whether they will participate and continue to resist any move that would reduce their autonomy.

      Myanmar’s military is trying to “turn up the pressure” on rebels through the troop deployments, said Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based military expert who has followed the issue. If tensions continue to build, he said, “I think there will be military action.” The generals “could decide they have to solve” the border problem now because of the election, said one Yangon diplomat.

      Some analysts believe Myanmar authorities will stop short of launching a full assault to avoid condemnation from neighbors at a time when the regime is trying to boost its international image by holding elections. Thai officials couldn’t be reached Thursday. Previously, Chinese authorities have expressed concern about Myanmar border-area unrest.

      The buildup comes at a time when the junta is trying to assert tighter control over how its election—the first since 1990—is conducted. On Thursday, it released the latest in a series of new rules for the vote, including provisions that officially invalidated the 1990 election, which was easily won by Myanmar’s main opposition party but ignored by the regime.

      The government also appointed a former high-ranking army officer to head the commission overseeing the vote, the Associated Press reported. Myanmar has yet to announce a date for the election.

      Reining in the more than a dozen ethnic rebel groups within Myanmar’s borders remains a priority for the regime. The junta has struggled for decades to subdue the groups, which control large areas along Myanmar’s borders, and it has repeatedly cited that struggle as one of the main reasons to justify its harsh rule over the country, also known as Burma.

      To ensure the rebels are pacified in time for the vote, regime officials have ordered ethnic groups to convert their soldiers into “border guards” under the leadership of the Myanmar army, sharply limiting their autonomy. In return, the groups would be allowed to organize political groups and participate in the vote. Several groups, including the Wa, have so far declined.

      In August, the Myanmar military targeted a relatively weak ethnic group, the Kokang, in an offensive that drove some 30,000 or more refugees into China and left more than 30 people dead. Most of the refugees returned when it was clear the Kokang had been overwhelmed.

      A spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs last year expressed “deep concern” over the Kokang episode, a rare public rebuke from its northern neighbor.

      A conflict with the Wa or other large ethnic groups would likely be worse, analysts say. The Wa are believed to be far better-armed and better-organized, thanks in part to revenue from drug trafficking, according to U.S. government and international antinarcotics officials. Intelligence experts say ethnic groups have been building up their arms stockpiles, meaning they could present a bigger challenge if the military doesn’t act now.

      According to Irrawaddy, a Myanmar-focused news organization based in Thailand, the government is moving as many as 70,000 troops into Shan state, a part of northeastern Myanmar occupied in part by Wa and other ethnic minorities. It cited unnamed sources close to military officials working in Myanmar border areas.

      Residents in some of the areas have reported seeing large numbers of troops on the move, including in a city southeast of Mandalay in central Myanmar with military bases nearby and roads heading east into Wa areas. One resident, a former schoolteacher who lives near the main highway in the region, said trucks of soldiers began moving out at night in late February and continued to leave military installations each night for several days. After that, he said, a new round of convoys began carrying rations eastward.

      He said he believed the trucks were heading to Kengtung, a town in far eastern Myanmar that’s close to areas populated by the Wa. It was impossible to independently verify his account.

      Residents in areas further north around Muse, a border crossing with China, report a similar buildup since late February.

      “More security forces are visible along the Sino-Burmese trade route” from central Myanmar to Muse, said a businessman who imports computers from China. Other businessmen and brokers have said that getting imported items from China into Myanmar cities has become more difficult because of increased military checkpoints.

      Campbell says engagement with Burma failing
      Associated Press: Fri 12 Mar 2010

      Rangoon — Washington’s new policy of engagement with Burma’s military government appears to be failing, a senior US official indicated Friday, noting the junta’s decision to bar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from upcoming elections.This week the government unveiled election laws that prevent the detained Nobel Peace Prize laureate from running for office or even voting in the polls and greatly weaken her National League for Democracy. The date of the elections has not been announced.

      The United States recently modified its strict policy of isolating the junta in the hope that increased engagement would encourage change. However, the Obama administration has said it will not lift sanctions on Burma unless its sees concrete progress toward democratic reform—notably freeing Suu Kyi and letting her party participate in elections.

      “The US approach was to try to encourage domestic dialogue between the key stakeholders, and the recent promulgation of the election criteria doesn’t leave much room for such a dialogue,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

      Campbell, speaking to reporters in Bangkok, said the US would continue to talk with all parties inside Burma, including the government.

      But he added: “We’re very disappointed, and we are concerned. It’s very regrettable. This is not what we had hoped for, and it is a setback.” Campbell is on a 10-country Asian trip.

      On Friday, the junta unveiled the last of its election laws, which Suu Kyi has described as unjust and repressive.

      The fifth and last law, carried in state-owned newspapers, governs elections for 14 regional parliaments. Details of the five laws have trickled out over the course of the week.

      “Aung San Suu Kyi said she never expected such repressive laws would come out but said she’s not disappointed,” her party spokesman Nyan Win told reporters after meeting the 64-year-old democracy leader at her home Thursday.

      “She said such challenges call for resolute responses and calls on the people and democratic forces to take unanimous action against such unfair laws,” he said.

      The party has yet to decide whether it will participate in the elections. Political parties have 60 days from Monday to register.

      It will be the first poll since 1990, when Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory. The junta ignored the results of that vote and has kept Suu Kyi jailed or under detention for 14 of the past 20 years.

      This year’s elections are part of the junta’s “roadmap to democracy,” which critics deride as a sham designed to cement the military’s power. A military-backed constitution was approved by a national referendum last May, but the opposition charges that the vote was unfair.

      An election law announced Wednesday prohibits anyone convicted of a crime from being a member of a political party, making Suu Kyi ineligible to become a candidate in the elections — or even a member of the party she co-founded and heads.

      In August, Suu Kyi was convicted of violating the terms of her house arrest by briefly sheltering an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside residence, and was sentenced to 18 more months of detention.

      Election laws announced Thursday take away her right to vote, saying those convicted of crimes are barred from the polls. Thursday’s two laws also formally invalidated the 1990 election results, saying the 1989 election law under which those polls were held was repealed by the new legislation.

      “They have been slowly trying to decimate the party and now they are doing it with utmost force. But the NLD will never collapse,” said the party’s deputy chairman, Tin Oo.

      US-based Human Rights Watch says it believes 429 members of the league are currently imprisoned, including 12 who won parliamentary seats in the 1990 elections.

      The United States and human rights groups have warned that the junta is running out of chances to make the elections appear credible. Clauses in the constitution already ensure that the military will retain a controlling say in government and bar Suu Kyi from holding office.

      Burma’s sham elections
      Independent (UK): Fri 12 Mar 2010

      For those harbouring any hopes that the military regime in Burma was moving towards some kind of real democracy, this week’s announcement of the laws for the forthcoming elections must have come as a rude shock. Under the new rules, no one who is a member of religious order or anyone with a criminal conviction can stand.In other words out goes any chance of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi – still under house arrest – or any member of the democracy parties now languishing in prison on political charges or any monk, whether they have been involved in past demonstrations or not, from taking part.

      And if that was not clear enough, the Burmese junta yesterday introduced a law annulling the election of 1990 which Ms Suu Kyi overwhelmingly won and announced a 17-member election commission to oversee the polls headed by a former military officer and stuffed with government cronies.

      Little wonder that a US official has declared the laws, setting out the principles of an election whose date has still to be announced, a mockery of the democratic process. The clampdown must be particularly galling to the US administration, which has bent over backwards to try and encourage dialogue with the regime and, indeed, for Aung San Suu Kyi herself, who had been let out to meet some members of the regime and had made encouraging noises about the future.

      The simple reality, however, is that this regime, like any other authoritarian ruler, is unwilling to give up power voluntarily. It will make gestures to get the international community, and Burma’s chief backers in Beijing, off their backs by holding elections and allowing some participation by the National League for Democracy. But it won’t permit anything that truly threatens its own position.

      Which leaves the rest of the world in a quandary as to how to react. Sanctions haven’t worked. Some sort of dialogue is probably better than total isolation. But what the UN and the international commun ty must not do is to accept these elections as anything other than what they are, namely a total sham.

      Burma, a land frozen in tyranny – Gideon Rachman
      Financial Times (UK): Fri 12 Mar 2010

      Amid the rash of commemorations celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall last year, it was easy to feel that 1989 was a year in which freedom advanced everywhere. The Soviet empire collapsed. Two years later the Soviet Union itself disintegrated. A few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela was released. The end of the cold war unfroze deadlocked political situations all over the world.But political freedom did not advance everywhere in 1989. Most obviously that was the year that the Chinese government sent the tanks into Tiananmen Square. And 1989 was also the year that Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in Burma. Who would have believed that 21 years later, this heroic woman would still be a political prisoner? At least, 21 years after Tiananmen, China has changed unrecognisably. But Burma is still frozen in time and in tyranny. The depressing sense that nothing at all has changed is reinforced by the latest news that the Burmese military junta has banned Suu Kyi from participating in national elections later this year.

      So is there any hope of change? Optimists will seize on the fact that Burma is, at least, attempting to hold national elections, the first since the elections of 1990, the results of which were ignored, when it became clear that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy had won. But this latest poll will not mean much, without the participation of the NLD and its banned leader.

      The outside world has tried many different approaches. The west has pushed for the isolation of the Burmese government, following the wishes of the democratic opposition. Burma’s Asian neighbours have gone for a policy of engagement, even admitting Burma to the south-east Asian club, Asean. But nothing seems to have worked. Burma remains an anomalous, backward dictatorship inside Asean – more repressive, poorer and more isolated, even than Cambodia or Vietnam. Now, because of the country’s strategic position and mineral resources, Burma is being wooed by China and, more discreetly, by India.

      At some point, surely, the Burmese military regime will have to crack. But what will it take?

      Burmese army’s violence against civilians
      Guardian (UK): Fri 12 Mar 2010

      Since 1996, military abuses have forced 1m villagers to flee their homes, according to UN draft report. • Since 1996, up to 1 million people have been displaced. Entire communities have been forced to relocate and their houses and food supplies burned to prevent their return. Those who refuse forced relocations and choose to hide risk military attack.
      • More than 184,000 refugees in neigbouring countries originate from Burma. An estimated 2 million migrants are in Thailand. Thousands of ethnic Chin have crossed the border to the Indian state of Mizoram. Muslimresidents of northern Rakhine state continue to seek asylum in neighbouring countries.
      • The presence and conduct of the military are central to the plight of these civilians. Military operations have placed a particularly heavy burden on rural populations affecting their ability to sustain livelihoods.
      • There have been numerous and frequent reports of civilians being forced to serve as porters and guides for the military, to build and maintain roads, to construct military camps, and to labour for infrastructure projects.
      • Cases of rape and sexual violence committed by military personnel, many of them against young girls and adolescents, have been reported by human rights organisations.
      • In Shan state the military has burned down over 500 houses and scores of granaries since July 2009, and forcibly relocated almost 40 villages, mostly in Laikha township. Reports say more than 100 villagers, both men and women, have been arrested and tortured. At least three villagers have been killed. This would be the largest forced relocation since 1996-1998, when more than 300,000 villagers in southern and central Shan State were displaced.@ Battles between government forces and ethnic groups in Shan State in August 2009 and along the Thai border region in June 2009 have raised serious concerns about security both inside Burma and its spillover effects in neighbouring countries.
      • There is serious concern about the continuing armed conflict in Kayin state, which severely affects the civilian population. It has been reported that in Hsaw Law Kho village, three villagers were killed and over a dozen more tortured by Infantry Battalion No 48 on 5 November 2009.
      • The UN urges the government and all armed groups to ensure the protection of civilians, in particular children and women, during armed conflict. Recruitment of child soldiers, displacement of villagers, the use of anti-personnel landmines, and the forced labour of civilians should stop without any delay.

      Myanmar’s Suu Kyi calls for united response to ‘unjust’ law
      Agence France Presse: Thu 11 Mar 2010

      Yangon – Myanmar’s detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi Thursday called on her people to respond to an “unjust” election law issued by the junta that bars her from the vote, her lawyer said.Under the laws enacted Monday, which have sparked international anger, Suu Kyi faces exclusion from her own National League for Democracy (NLD) and is prevented from standing in the elections expected in October or November.

      “The people and political forces have to respond united to such an unjust law,” Suu Kyi said according to her lawyer and NLD spokesman Nyan Win, after he visited the democracy icon, who has been locked up for 14 of the last 20 years.

      “She didn’t think such a repressive law would come out,” he told AFP, adding that her disposition was “more cheerful” than expected during the meeting.

      Under the legislation — slammed as a “mockery” by the United States — the Nobel Peace Laureate is not allowed to run in the election on the grounds that she is a serving prisoner.

      On Thursday Myanmar’s ruling junta also unveiled on state television its handpicked election commission to oversee the polls, leading to criticism from rights groups that the body would not be impartial.

      It cited an order signed by General Tin Aung Myint Oo, the number five in the junta hierarchy, and named the chairman of the new commission as Thein Soe, without giving further details.

      The new laws also officially annul the result of Myanmar’s last elections in 1990, which the NLD won by a landslide. The junta never allowed the party to take power.

      But in a surprise move, authorities permitted the reopening of around 300 NLD offices which were shut after an attack by a pro-junta mob on Suu Kyi’s motorcade in May 2003 which left dozens of people dead.

      “They have not yet informed our party headquarters but the authorities have informed regional and divisional offices that they can reopen,” Nyan Win said.

      The new laws give parties just 60 days from Monday to decide whether to register, but the NLD has not yet said if it will do so.

      Suu Kyi’s house arrest was extended by 18 months in August after she was convicted over an incident in which a US man swam to her home.

      UN chief Ban Ki-moon Wednesday renewed his appeal to the junta to free the 64-year-old and let her take part in the elections and Britain expressed “regret” over Suu Kyi’s exclusion.

      The United States, which has imposed heavy sanctions on Myanmar but recently launched a policy of increased engagement with the regime, reacted angrily to the new laws.

      “The political party registration law makes a mockery of the democratic process and ensures the upcoming election will be devoid of credibility,” US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Wednesday.

      The Philippines on Thursday described the law affecting Suu Kyi as a “farce”, becoming the first member of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to publicly comment. The group includes Myanmar.

      But China, which has huge investments in neighbouring Myanmar, said the laws were a matter for Myanmar alone.

      “These are the internal affairs of Myanmar, which need to be properly resolved by the government and people of Myanmar,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

      Analysts said the laws proved that the elections were mainly aimed at legitimising and entrenching the generals’ grip on power and were a “survival strategy”.

      “Accordingly, it is almost sure that the 2010 elections will not achieve genuine democracy in Myanmar,” Toshihiro Kudo, from the Institute of Developing Economies in China, Japan, said in emailed comments.

      Myanmar junta annuls election held 20 years ago
      Reuters: Thu 11 Mar 2010

      Yangon – Myanmar’s military government on Thursday officially annulled the results of the country’s 1990 general election, a poll it chose to ignore at the time when the main opposition party won by a landslide.The 1990 polls were declared null and void because they did not comply with a new parliamentary election law enacted this week, the junta said in a statement published in Thursday’s official newspapers.

      “It must be deemed that the results of the multiparty democracy elections held under that annulled law have also been annulled automatically since they are not consistent with this new law,” it said in the announcement in state media.

      The National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, won the 1990 election, taking 392 of the 485 seats in parliament, but it was never allowed to rule.

      The junta, then known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, said it would honor the result but refused to allow the NLD to take office until a new constitution was drafted and an investigation conducted into the polls.

      Myanmar plans to hold an election this year, the first since the 1990 vote, but the process has already been derided by critics as a sham to entrench nearly five decades of military rule in the former British colony.

      (Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould and Sugita Katyal)

      Burma’s election laws amorphous on Diaspora
      Mizzima News: Thu 11 Mar 2010

      The Burmese military junta’s election laws have conveniently failed to address the fundamental issues of millions of Burmese in Diaspora, residing outside the country for years due to political and economic upheaval.“Many migrant workers are concerned about the political situation in their country because that is one of the reasons that they came out as migrant workers,” said Debbie Stothard, Coordinator for Altsean-Burma. “It is very clear that there is not going to be any change to get jobs…so all the economic management and the systematic human rights abuses that forced people to leave Burma are still likely to continue.”

      The law vaguely mentions that the Foreign Ministry is directed to organize advanced voting for those who live outside the country.

      Millions of Burmese citizens are living in neighbouring countries such as Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore. In Thailand alone, it is estimated that at least two million Burmese live and work as migrant workers. This is in addition to some 150,000 refugees in camps along the Thai-Burma border region, who have fled Burma due to the ongoing civil war.

      In India there are an estimated 50,000 odd Burmese in Mizoram State alone living as illegal migrant workers; while Malaysia has more than 150,000 Burmese workers staying legally, with the illegal number of Burmese residents in Malaysia estimated to easily match the legal figure.

      According to the Parliamentary Election Law (for House of Representatives) announced today, an eligible candidate has to live in the country for a minimum of at least 10 consecutive years in the run-up to the election.

      Thousands of Burmese pro-democracy activists left Burma in the years following the 1988 popular uprising.

      The new law also says that the military will hold 25 per cent of parliamentary seats, 110 out of a total 440 in the House of Representatives. Further, the country’s Commander-in-Chief will select and nominate the 110 members to represent the military. And in the Nationalities Parliament, the military is to have 56 out of a total 224 representatives encompassing the 14 States and Divisions of the country.

      At the same time, the government is prepared to crack down on any anti-election and anti-voting activities under the guise of a clause detailing that anyone who speaks, writes or rallies against voting can be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail or Kyat 100,000 or both.

      “I think it is very clear from the election law that the polls are not going to improve the situation in Burma,” Stothard said and added “so the international community has to understand that it is actually unsafe to force refugees and migrant workers back to Burma under such conditions.”

      Since 1962, when the military took over power by a coup, at least five million Burmese are believed to have sought a better living throughout the world. According to official statistics of 2008, there are nearly 28 million eligible voters in the country of around 55 million people.

      Estimates from human rights groups working along the border and inside Burma say there are about two million internally displaced persons in Burma, especially in Karen and Shan States.

      Despite repeated calls by the National League for Democracy to recognize the results of the 1990 elections, Burma’s military regime has now officially annulled the 1990 results through its new election laws. The law for the Parliamentary Election clearly states that the results of the 1990 elections have been canceled as of March 8 this year.

      Reports circulating inside Burma and abroad say that the regime will hold the 2010 elections on October 10, although the government is yet to announce the official date.

      Burma’s electoral laws undemocratic: Indian experts
      Mizzima News: Thu 11 Mar 2010

      Indian constitutional experts and election observers have said that Burma’s electoral laws that the junta has started announcing since March 8 through the state controlled media do not follow democratic norms.The laws promulgated by the Burmese government for the elections in 2010, goes against democratic norms and it will not pave the way for democracy.

      Subash Kashyap, a constitution expert and former Secretary General in the Indian Parliament said: “what is going on in Burma is really a serious matter. What the junta is doing over the last two decades is totally against democratic laws”.

      Election laws announced by the junta have barred pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from being a member of a party, from forming a party or contesting the elections. The new law states that anyone serving a prison term cannot be a member of a political party. Aung San Suu Kyi is presently under 18 months house arrest. She was convicted for flouting the terms of her house arrest in August last year after an uninvited American man John Yettaw swam to her house and stayed there for two days.

      “It is wrong to keep the opposition leader under house arrest. She must be freed to contest elections. Under democratic laws every individual has the right to contest elections. There can be no election if there is no opposition party,” Sanjay Kumar at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in New Delhi told Mizzima.

      Sabya Sachi, a professor and an election observer in Kolkata told Mizzima, “If such laws are made then there will never be peace and democracy in the country.”

      “Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi must be set free and should be allowed to campaign. She must be allowed to speak in public, free to meet people and must be allowed to hear public demands,” he added.

      The junta is implementing its ‘Seven Points Road Map to Democracy’ with the fifth step being the elections this year, after 20 years. In 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept to victory but was refused power.

      The 2010 elections laws also bar the over 2100 political prisoners to take part in the elections. It reserves 25 per cent of parliamentary seats for the country’s military.

      “Unless and until Aung San Suu Kyi is released, there will not be free and fair elections, said Subash Kashyap.

      The 64-year-old Suu Kyi has been in detention for the last 20 years. The new law also gives the NLD just 60 days from March 8 to register as a party if it wants to take part in the elections. With the new laws, NLD will either have to expel its leader Suu Kyi and more than 400 members of the party, who are in jails or face de-registration.

      Human rights groups have condemned the junta’s electoral laws as “designed to exclude the main opposition party and ensure a victory for the ruling military”.

      “The new law’s assault on opposition parties is sadly predictable,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “It continues the sham political process that is aimed at creating the appearance of civilian rule with a military spine.”

      Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon has made a statement in New York that the laws “so far suggest that they do not measure up to the international community’s expectations of what is needed for an inclusive political process.”

      He has called on the Burmese government to ensure a fair, transparent and credible elections and allow Aung San Suu Kyi to freely participate in the polls.

      New Burma election law ‘a farce’ – Estrella Torres
      Business Mirror (Philippines): Thu 11 Mar 2010

      FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo called the new election law passed by Burma’s military junta as a “farce” as it fails to facilitate the release and participation in the elections of Nobel laureate and peace icon Aung San Suu Kyi.The Philippines’ chief diplomat said Burma’s military junta had committed to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2007 to fulfill its own road map to democracy, which includes the holding of its first inclusive democratic elections and the release of Suu Kyi and the rest of the political prisoners.

      The Philippines and Burma, renamed by junta leaders as Myanmar, are members of Asean, along with Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos.

      “Unless they [referring to Burma’s junta] release Suu Kyi and allow her and her party to participate in the
      elections, it’s [new election law] a farce and, therefore, contrary to their Road map to Democracy,” said Romulo in a statement on Thursday.

      Burma’s junta leaders passed the Political Parties Registration Law on March 8. It bans people convicted by a court of law from party membership—which may force Suu Kyi’s expulsion from the National League for Democracy (NLD).

      Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the past 20 years in self-exile. In August last year, the democracy icon and Nobel Peace laureate was convicted of violating the terms of her house arrest when she sheltered an American who swam to her lakeside residence. Her term of house arrest expires in November.

      Burma Partnership, a network of rights groups in the Asia-Pacific region pushing for democracy in the military-ruled nation, said the passage of the new election law painted a “dire image” of the elections. The group said the junta has not even announced a date for holding elections that was supposed to be held in May this year.

      The rights group has identified crucial loopholes in the new election law, which it viewed would still fail to democratize the nation.

      Burma Partnership pointed out that the election commission formed by the junta to implement the new law will have the authority to convene the election and will exercise “final decision-making power throughout and administer and direct political parties.”

      “This means that the elections will unfold according to the junta’s wishes,” said Burma Partnership.

      The group added that most of the key political figures, including Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders, were barred from forming political parties and participating in the elections.

      The new election law also requires political parties participating in the elections to abide by and protect the 2008 Constitution, which was criticized as undemocratic and fundamentally flawed.

      The rights network said such provision shows that the regime does not envision the elections and the ensuing government to be a transformative step toward true democracy, but rather a means to maintain power.

      Burma Partnership believes that Suu Kyi and her colleagues in the NLD may not be able to participate in the elections because most of them have been convicted and are still in detention. The new election law only allows party leaders to register for the upcoming elections within 60 days.

      U.N. rights envoy seeks Myanmar war crimes inquiry – Stephanie Nebehay
      Reuters: Thu 11 Mar 2010

      Geneva – The United Nations human rights investigator for Myanmar called on Thursday for an international inquiry into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the ruling junta.Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said a pattern of gross and systematic violations of fundamental freedoms continued in the country formerly known as Burma which has promised elections this year.

      “According to consistent reports, the possibility exists that some of these human rights violations may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the statute of the International Criminal Court,” Ojea Quintana said in a 30-page report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

      Activist groups welcomed his recommendation, calling it unprecedented since the United Nations established a mandate to look into human rights violations in Myanmar in 1992.

      Violations included mass arrests of dissidents, deaths and torture of detainees, lack of freedom of assembly, religion and expression, and forced labour, according to the Argentine lawyer who made his third trip to Myanmar last month.

      As Myanmar had failed to investigate the abuses, “U.N. institutions may consider the possibility to establish a commission of inquiry with a specific fact-finding mandate to address the question of international crimes,” he said.

      There were indications that the violations were “the result of a state policy that involves authorities in the executive, military and judiciary at all levels,” he said.


      Ojea Quintana called for the release of 2,100 political prisoners — including monks, students, lawyers, journalists and dissidents — that he said were being detained in Myanmar. They had nearly doubled in number in the past two years.

      Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years and was sentenced to a further 18 months of house arrest last August, is among them.

      He called for the end of her house arrest, saying it violated both international and domestic law, and voiced regret that he was not allowed to visit her on his latest mission.

      Myanmar’s military government has allowed her National League for Democracy party to reopen regional branch offices that have been closed since May 2003, a party spokesman said in Yangon on Thursday.

      “The elections cannot be free, fair, transparent and inclusive, in accordance with international standards, without the freedom of expression, opinion, association and assembly,” Ojea Quintana declared.

      Noting there was still no election date, he said that the delay raised serious doubts about the possibility of providing adequate time for all parties to fairly contest the elections.

      Dissenting voices are not tolerated in Myanmar and there are at least 12 journalists and many more bloggers in prison, according to the independent investigator.

      Ojea Quintana voiced concern at reports about an “alarmingly high number of deaths in prison”. Deprivation of food and water, as well as denial of medical care, are used as punishment. Up to 130 political prisoners are said to be in poor health, he said.

      UN urges Burma to let Aung San Suu Kyi contest polls
      Agence France Presse: Thu 11 Mar 2010

      United Nations – UN chief Ban Ki-moon overnight renewed his appeal to Myanmar rulers to let detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi take part in upcoming polls after new election laws disqualified her.“The Secretary General reiterates his call for the Myanmar authorities to ensure an inclusive political process leading to fair, transparent and credible elections in which all citizens of Myanmar, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, can freely participate,” his office said in a statement.

      In a law printed for the first time overnight in state newspapers, Myanmar’s military junta said that anyone serving a prison term cannot be a member of a political party.

      Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) – which won Myanmar’s last elections in 1990 but was stopped from taking power by the junta — would in turn be abolished if it failed to obey the rules.

      The United Nations said it was carefully studying the new laws, adding: “the indications available so far suggest that they do not measure up to our expectations of what is needed for an inclusive political process.”

      Myanmar’s Political Parties Registration Act also gives the NLD just 60 days from Monday, when the law was enacted, to register as a party if it wants to take part in the elections, or else face dissolution.

      The NLD has yet to announce whether it will take part in the polls promised by the junta, which are expected in October or November although the Government has still not set a date.

      The 64-year-old Suu Kyi has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years since the previous elections.

      She was already barred from standing as a candidate under a new constitution approved in a 2008 referendum that stipulates that those married to foreigners are ineligible. Her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died in 1999.

      The Nobel Peace laureate was sentenced to three years’ jail last August over an incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside home. Suu Kyi’s sentence was commuted by junta supremo Than Shwe to 18 months under house arrest.

      Belt, braces and army boots
      Economist: Thu 11 Mar 2010

      THE junta ruling Myanmar has had 20 years to digest the lessons from the country’s most recent election. It was trounced by the National League for Democracy, even though the opposition’s charismatic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was already under house arrest. This year on an unnamed date (perhaps its astrologers cannot agree) the junta will hold another election. It will not lose this one.Election laws published this week do not quite spell out the result. But a “political-parties registration law” bars Miss Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, of whom there are more than 2,000, from belonging to a party because of their criminal convictions. Cut off from politics by her house arrest, Miss Suu Kyi is anyway barred from office as the widow of a foreigner. Her party now has to expel her and other detainees. The law also bans civil servants from joining parties, along with monks, who led anti-government protests in 2007.

      The dilemma the opposition faces has become sharper. It has long had to worry about whether to add legitimacy to a sham electoral process by taking part, or risk further marginalisation by boycotting it. Now the League has been allowed to reopen branch offices closed since 2003. But it has 60 days to decide, in effect, between taking part in the election and abolition as a legal party. In 1995 it pulled out of a farcical “national convention” drafting a new constitution. The constitution that emerged in 2008 duly enshrines the role of the army. This time the League may feel compelled to take part, but find that just as ineffectual.

      The election, nonetheless, does come at a time of some sort of change, if only generational. Than Shwe, the “senior general” (pictured), is 77. He and his comrades are preparing to pass on the baton. Western diplomats hope that, having cut their teeth fighting a Chinese-backed communist insurgency, they are uneasy with Myanmar’s isolation from the West and loth to bequeath their successors a regime so reliant on China. The election, one stop on a “road map” to democracy, in this analysis, is one way of opening up.

      In another change the junta has started a remarkable if stealthy process of selling state assets: ports, buildings in Yangon vacated by its shift of capital in 2005, petrol stations, telecoms firms and a share in the national airline. This is hardly a gesture to economic reform—the sales are cooked-up deals benefiting junta cronies. But nor does it seem just the desperation of a cash-strapped regime. Rather, in the analysis of Yeni, of Irrawaddy, a magazine published by émigrés in Thailand, it is the “formal transfer of the nation’s wealth into the hands of an entrenched elite”, ahead of an election and the implementation of a new constitution which, in theory, should allow greater competition for assets. This elite is “pre-emptively buying up everything in sight”. It has a similar attitude to competition of the democratic kind.

      Business as usual in Burma – Simon Tisdall
      Guardian (UK): Thu 11 Mar 2010

      The Burmese junta’s new electoral laws are designed to give the regime a veneer of democratic respectability.A call by a senior UN official for Burma’s military rulers to be investigated for “international crimes”, including crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated against Burmese civilians, has ratcheted up pressure on the junta as it finalises much-criticised plans for the country’s first elections in 20 years. The development also casts further doubts on flailing US attempts to engage the regime diplomatically after years of ostracism and sanctions.

      In a draft report to the UN human rights council published last week, Tomás Ojea Quintana, special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, describes:

      “A pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights which has been in place for many years and still continues… There is an indication that those violations are the result of a state policy that involves authorities in the executive, military and judiciary at all levels.”

      Quintana goes on: “The possibility exists that some of these (violations) may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the statute of the international criminal court.” For this reason, he suggests the UN security council should set up a “commission of inquiry with a specific, fact-finding mandate to address the question of international crimes”.

      The report, which has yet to be considered by the human rights council, says the forthcoming elections, expected in October, provide an opportunity for positive change. But it is pessimistic the junta will allow the chance to be seized.

      “During his last mission (in February), the special rapporteur received no indication that all prisoners of conscience will be released, that freedom of opinion and association will be guaranteed in the context of these elections, and that ethnic communities will be able to fully participate.”

      The pressure group Burma Campaign UK today welcomed what it said was an unprecedented UN call for an inquiry, calling it a “major step forward” that would increase pressure on the US, British and regional governments to adopt a tougher line. Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by the jailed Nobel peace prizewinner Aung San Suu Kyi, has repeatedly drawn attention to widespread, ongoing human rights abuses, including the incarceration of 2,000 political prisoners. It also suggests the planned elections will be very far from free or fair.

      The junta’s unveiling of electoral laws this week has served to strengthen the impression that the polls will be a closely controlled charade designed to give the regime a veneer of democratic respectability. The new rules effectively prevent Suu Kyi and her jailed supporters from standing for election. They establish a government-controlled election oversight body with the power to prevent or annul voting in any part of the country for “security reasons”. And just to be on the safe side, the junta has formally declared the 1990 elections, which the NLD won in a landslide, to be invalid.

      By allowing the NLD to reopen 100 regional offices offices closed since 2003, the regime is clearly hoping that, despite the restrictions, a decapitated opposition will participate in the poll, thereby boosting its credibility. This has created a dilemma for those NLD leaders who are not in jail. “I think they want us to take part in the election but we still haven’t made up our minds about this,” said spokesman Nyan Win. He described some of the new electoral provisions, such as a requirement that parties uphold the generals’ gerrymandered 2008 constitution, as “completely unacceptable”.

      External reaction to the junta’s latest machinations has been fierce. The new rules “make a mockery of the democratic process… There’s no hope this election will be credible,” a US state department spokesman said. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said he had written to the junta, urging the release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, so they can take part in the polls. Britain has endorsed the demand.

      But the UN rapporteur’s call for investigations into crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly perpetrated by junta members potentially raises the long-running Burmese drama to a new level. Having pursued diplomatic contacts with the regime since taking office, the Obama administration came close to admitting this week that its policy of engagement was not working. But what to do? The White House is currently setting human rights and democracy concerns against a top security priority – persuading the generals to curb their military ties with North Korea.

      The over-riding fear in Washington is that Burma could become another nuclear-armed rogue state. The fear among Burmese activists and thwarted democrats is that they will again be abandoned to their fate, cast as helpless stooges in a cruel election travesty.

      Regime looks to the law to deal with the NLD – Ko Ko Thet
      Irrawaddy: Thu 11 Mar 2010

      If there is one thing all authoritarian systems have in common it’s their desire to eliminate all forms of dissent. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) of Burma is no exception. Having the will as well as the means to crush the organized urban opposition—the most popular of which is the National League for Democracy (NLD)—it is a wonder why the Burmese regime has not done just that. It may be that the SPDC has been weighing its actions against possible reactions. If their actions went out of proportion, there would be perverse consequences.

      A more viable answer lies in the nature of the conflict that is going on between the two parties. It is well-known that, when faced with clear and present danger such as a mass uprising, the regime spares no effort to crush dissent. But the NLD presents a special case.

      The war of attrition that is going on between the NLD and the SPDC is mostly of a legalistic nature. The NLD, being a legitimate entity, bent on claiming power via an electoral process, has never gone out of its way. The NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi also appears to be an ardent proponent of civil disobedience of the type that aims to prove the injustice of an authoritarian system by suffering from its unjust laws.

      As much as the NLD wishes to undermine the SPDC within the legal framework, the SPDC wishes to do likewise to the NLD. This explains why the NLD leadership controversially opted to remain out of the picture of the Saffron Revolution.

      This also explains why the SPDC has not outlawed the NLD even though it has often accused the organization of having been directly linked to exiled political groups it consider as enemies.

      Since the NLD walked out of the constitution-drafting process at the regime-led National Convention in 1993, there has hardly been any indication that the regime would want the NLD back. In fact, there is every indication that the SPDC has been systematically pushing the NLD out of its tolerance limit—out of the legal framework. Being expert at Fabian tactics, the regime found it most expedient to wear the NLD out in a legalistic way.

      First of all, the SPDC has made a point of making the life of NLD members intolerable. Targeted repression and intimidation of select but grassroots NLD members and their families by the authorities all over the country in the past two decades have been well-documented.

      Many NLD members simply ceased to become members as they could not sustain their livelihood as long as they are associated with the opposition party.

      Then came public humiliation and denunciation of the NLD leaders by the SPDC’s mass organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). A series of such measures in the late 1990s was followed by the forced closure of NLD offices in the provinces that aimed to cut the local NLD support for its Rangoon headquarters.

      Around the same time, the resignation of some of the NLD members who had been forced out of the struggle under duress became regular news in the SPDC papers. It should be noted that, whatever it does to the NLD or others, the SPDC has always managed to find a “legal reason” to justify its actions.

      More recently, the release of the NLD senior leader Win Tin in September 2008 and Tin Oo in February this year, while keeping key leader Suu Kyi in continued detention incommunicado, is seen as carefully calculated moves to cause a divide in the NLD leadership.

      Today, what remains of the NLD are tried and tested members, the few but the most formidable. Very few of the groups that are now set to be part of the electoral process can match the NLD when it comes to the sacrifice and political integrity of individual members. So why would the regime want the NLD to be part of its future?

      The irony of the Burmese regime, which is widely considered to be above the law, is its obsession with law. The election law now provides it with a “lawful reason” to outlaw the NLD or remove Suu Kyi from it. It is definitely easier for the regime to handle Suu Kyi if her party is disbanded or if she lacks legitimate organizational backing.

      Now the ball is back in the NLD’s court. The party has less than 60 days to decide its future. Whatever the NLD chooses, the change in the nature of the struggle between the SPDC and the NLD will alter the conflict as well as the individuals involved in it.

      * Ko Ko Thett is a Burma analyst, based in Helsinki.

      Myanmar junta allows Suu Kyi’s party to reopen branch offices
      Associated Press: Wed 10 Mar 2010

      Yangon – Myanmar’s ruling junta on Wednesday issued permission for detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s party to reopen its branch offices, a party spokesman said.Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy has opened its 35 township branch offices in Yangon, according to an official source.

      “Authorities have reopened party branch offices in Yangon and in other districts across the country this evening,” the spokesman said.

      The action by the junta followed its decision earlier Wednesday to disqualify Suu Kyi from participating in upcoming national elections.

      The new political parties registration law, announced in state-run newspapers Wednesday, barred electoral participation by members of a political party if they have been convicted in court.

      The ruling military closed down all offices of Suu Kyi’s NLD in May 2003, following a deadly clash between her followers and the pro-junta mob in central Myanmar.

      The junta allowed the party’s head office in Yangon to operate in April 2004. But it had continued to close other branch offices across the country.

      The NLD had been persistently calling for the reopening of its branch offices in the past years while seeking an early release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

      Western sanctions fuel rare strikes in Myanmar – Aung Hla Tun
      Reuters: Wed 10 Mar 2010

      Yangon – Western sanctions that have decimated Myanmar’s once-thriving garment sector have led to a rare spate of strikes that have unnerved its military rulers, fearful of civil unrest in the run-up to long-awaited elections.Four South Korean-owned factories were brought to a halt for several days last week and another on Monday by sit-in protests by more than 3,000 workers demanding better working conditions and higher pay, demands owners say they cannot meet.

      They were among 20 garment factories in the commercial capital, Yangon, that have suffered strikes since Feb. 8.

      “We are doing our best to help the workers and management negotiate and reach an agreement,” a senior Labour Ministry official told Reuters.

      “The security measures imposed around the factories are not meant to suppress the strikes but just to contain them so that there will not be any infiltration from outside and the strike will not grow into civil unrest,” he added.

      Strikes and other forms of protests are rare in Myanmar, where small demonstrations over increases in fuel and cooking gas prices in

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