[Readingroom] News on Burma - 28/6/10
- Junta interrogates political prisoners on election
- Wa army switch ‘inevitable’
- Burma increases airport tax as tourism jumps
- Myanmar elections mute ethnic voices
- Life and times of a dictator
- More North Korean rockets reported in Burma
- Starting trade union unlawful, police say
- PM’s party enticing Muslims
- China weapons giant to mine Burma
- Myanmar restricts political activity ahead of polls
- NLD leaders tour Burma
- China remains silent on Burma’s nuclear ambitions
- Than Shwe the third ‘worst of the worst’
- Myanmar vote will ‘lack international legitimacy’
- Union Election Commission issues Directive No.2/2010
- NLD top leaders take roadshow to grass roots
- The junta’s new look
- Burma’s nuclear ambition is apparently real and alarming
- Election Commission begins poll preparations
- Words must be turned into action for Aung San Suu Kyi
- Parties seek allies to meet election expenses
- Burmese tycoon brokered arms deal with China
- Ban Ki-moon called Burma gas pipeline a ‘win-win’
- Burmese activists fear extension of army’s power
- The Burma-North Korea axis
Junta interrogates political prisoners on election – Zarni Mann
Irrawaddy: Fri 25 Jun 2010
The Burmese military junta has been interrogating political prisoners since early June about their opinions of the upcoming election and their intentions for future political activity, according to the families of political prisoners.Than Than Win, the wife of Shwe Maung, a political prisoner being held in Mandalay Division, told The Irrawaddy that her husband said the special police came to his prison and asked him to give his opinion on the election and tell them whether he will continue his political activity when he gets released.
She said her husband, who was sentenced to six years in prison for his involvement in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, told the special police that, if necessary, he will enter politics again.
Family members of prisoners wait for their release in front of the Insein prison gate in Rangoon last year. (Photo: Reuters)
Shwe Maung was tortured when he was arrested, and now has a heart condition and back pain. His wife requested that the prison authorities give him a medical examination outside the prison, but the authorities refused.
The family of another political prisoner, Zaw Thet Htwe, also said the police have recently interrogated him. “The police asked Zaw Thet Htwe about his opinion of the election and what he is going to do when he gets outside,” they said.
Zaw Thet Htwe is being detained in Taungyi Township, the capital of Shan State. He was chief sports editor at a journal in Rangoon when he was sentenced in 2008 to nine years in prison for helping Cyclone Nargis victims in the Irrawaddy delta.
Ashin Gambira, a prominent monk and leader of the Saffron Revolution, has also been asked the same questions by authorities. Gambira was sentenced to 63 years in prison and is being held in Kalay prison, Sagaing Division.
There are 2,157 political prisoners in Burma, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP). Many of them were arrested in 2007 during the Saffron Revolution.
Many in the international community have called on the junta to release all political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, before the election to be held late this year—the first election in Burma since 1990.
Although some political observers believe the junta will release a number of political prisoners before the election to improve its credibility with the international community, most believe the junta will release only low-profile political prisoners who won’t oppose the junta or the election.
Wa army switch ‘inevitable’ – Nan Kham Kaew
Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 25 Jun 2010
The Wa army in northeastern Burma will one day have to join with the ruling military government because a country with more than one army is unacceptable, the junta has warned the group.A government delegation led by the head of Burma’s Northern Military Command, Win Thein, met with the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA) on Tuesday after a bi-annual visit to China to discuss border security with officials in the country’s southern Yunnan province.
Beijing has urged the Burmese government to maintain stability along its shared border following escalating tension over the UWSA’s reluctance to transform into a Border Guard Force, which would bring it under the wing of the Burmese army. Reports earlier this month of government workers returning to the volatile Wa region in Shan state suggests however that tension had eased.
“[Win Thein] said there shouldn’t be various armed groups in one country; that is not supposed to happen,” a Wa official told DVB on condition of anonymity. “He said that sooner or later, we will definitely have to transform [into a border force] – there is supposed to be only one army in the country.”
The government is desperately trying to shore up its support base prior to elections this year as it draws up a grand design for a future Union of Burma, with ethnic armies either assimilated into the Burmese army, or otherwise eliminated.
The Wa official said that although the UWSA did not formally respond to the statement, it continues to urge peace with the government. The UWSA is Burma’s largest armed ethnic group and signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1989, although that is now looking tenuous.
The group has also been labelled by the US government as one of the world’s top opium producers, although its output has significantly declined in the past decade. It has now reportedly switched to methamphetamine production, and a UN report released yesterday said Burma’s output of the drug has soared in the past year.
“We wish for development in the region and more crops to be grown here, rather than poppy fields [for opium],” said the Wa official. “We asked the government whether they wanted peace or war with us.”
He added that the group “has been busy” as it prepares for a visit by Chinese authorities to inspect whether poppy cultivation has been eliminated, but refused to elaborate on exactly how the group was preparing.The Shan Herald Agency for News reported however that it was organising a ‘”drug bonfire” to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June.
The Wa also claims it is being assisted by the Chinese in the development of rubber plantations as a substitute for opium, with Beijing supplying farming equipment.
Burma increases airport tax as tourism jumps – Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Fri 25 Jun 2010
Burmese authorities will double the airport tax for foreigners and increase it six times for Burmese citizens, two months after a new visa on-arrival was unveiled to boost tourism. The Department of Civil Aviation said on Wednesday that the airport passenger service charge will be increased to US $10 for each departing international passenger and 3,000 kyat ($3) for Burmese nationals starting on Thursday.
Hot air balloons fly over the temple-studded plains of Pagan in January. Pagan, the ancient capital of Burma, is the popular tourist attraction of the country. (Photo: Reuters
According to travel agents in Rangoon, the current airport tax for foreigner is $5 and 500 kyat for Burmese. However, travel agents said that the visa on-arrival, which started on May 1, has increased foreign arrivals by an estimated 100 percent.
“Since the new visa regulations, tourism has been more developed,” said a travel agent staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
She estimated that “more than double the number of tourists now visit.”
Meanwhile, the London-based Cox & Kings global travel company said it will reintroduce tours to military-ruled Burma offering the first 13-day escorted trip leaving in October. The company previously withdrew from the country after Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said tourism would prolong military rule and human rights violations in Burma.
Cox & Kings said it changed its policy because Suu Kyi is reported to have said tourism should be encouraged if it is run through private firms with no link to the junta, according to Travel Trade Gazette.
Visas to Burma were tightly restricted through for nearly five decades following a military coup in 1962.
Foreigners who wanted to enter the country had to apply for a visa at a Burmese embassy and wait at least one week for approval, and they were frequently turned down.
“I visited Burma two years ago,” recalled one Canadian tourist. “I applied at the Burmese embassy in Bangkok. The embassy said I had to wait for a week. I couldn’t wait, so I gave an agent money to get a visa in one day.”
According to a notice at the Burmese immigration office, a visa on-arrival is $30 for a 28-day, non-extendable visa; $40 for a 70-day, extendable business visa or a 28-day extendable social visa; and $18 for a 24-hour transit visa.
An individual must have a minimum of $300 and a family must have $600 to enter the country. The overstay fee for a tourist with a 28-day visa is $3 a day.
Burma’s visa on-arrival carries a limitation in that foreigners are restricted from going to certain areas of the country.
Myanmar elections mute ethnic voices – Brian McCartan
Asia Times: Fri 25 Jun 2010
BANGKOK – Elections slated for later this year in Myanmar seem increasingly unlikely to democratically empower the country’s various ethnic minority groups, which combined account for over 30% of the population.While the ruling generals have touted the inclusiveness of their tightly controlled democratic transition, critics say the new constitution ignores ethnic demands for federalism while junta-drafted election laws prohibit the participation of the largest ethnic parties, some of which are attached to armed insurgent groups who for decades have fought for greater autonomy.
The ruling junta has yet to announce a date for the elections, but many observers believe they will he held sometime in October. They will be the first polls held in Myanmar since 1990, when the opposition led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) swept to victory against military-sponsored parties, only to see the results annulled by the military before they could take power.
The generals have made clear their intention to hold new polls and that the participation of the NLD and ethnic ceasefire and non-ceasefire groups is not essential to their credibility. The NLD announced on March 29 that it would not re-register under the new election laws, which it considered unfair because of regulations that bar Aung San Suu Kyi, the party’s detained leader, from contesting the polls.
A number of NLD party leaders and other members have argued that non-participation plays into the regime’s hands by not providing an alternative to the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP).
At least 39 other political parties have so far applied for registration with the newly formed election commission. Of those, only 15 are considered national parties, while many of the rest aim specifically to represent the interests of ethnic groups, including the Kachin, Kayin, Mon and Shan.
The question of whether to participate in the elections has been as contentious an issue among ethnic political groups as it was with the NLD. Some see the electoral process as a sham for perpetuating military rule under the guise of democracy and advocate a boycott of the polls. Others believe the elections offer an unique chance to work from within the system and an alternative to the confrontation and armed struggle that has plagued Myanmar politics since independence from the UK in 1948.
The second and third most successful parties in the 1990 elections after the NLD, the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD) and the Arakan League for Democracy, have both supported the NLD’s stand and opted not to re-register their parties for the upcoming election. The SNLD’s decision was also based on the junta’s refusal to free its two top leaders, who were both arrested on political charges in 2005.
Significantly, many of the ethnic-based parties are looking to contest seats in local legislatures rather than at the national level. With their relative small sizes, the high cost of party registration and their lack of a national voice, many aspiring ethnic politicians feel that their chances of success and ability to effect change are better on the local level.
Parties representing larger ethnic groups, such as the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP), are seeking to contest the elections at all levels within their own states. Still other parties representing ethnic groups with much wider geographic coverage, such as the Kayin People’s Party (KPP) and the Shan Nationals Democratic Party (SNDP), intend to contest the election for both local legislatures and at the national level across several states and divisions.
Competing for seats on state legislatures may have some real, if limited, advantages for ethnic aspirations. The new legislatures mandated by the 2008 constitution are a departure from the military-dominated “Peace and Development Committees” that currently decide policy in ethnic minority areas and are often a direct arm of the central government.
Ethnic politicians hope that the local legislative bodies will be more representative of local communities and give them more say over affairs that matter to their ethnic constituents. With popular representation, there may be more opportunities for the promotion of local cultures and languages though influence over the media and education. Also important is to gain more influence and scrutiny over the exploitation of natural resources in ethnic minority areas.
According to a recent report on the elections by the Transnational Institute, “Nevertheless, many ethnic leaders point out that they will have a legitimate voice for the first time. This will allow ethnic grievances, in the past too easily dismissed as the seditious rumblings of separatist insurgents, to be openly raised.”
Without ethnic participation, the government backed, and largely ethnic Myanmar USDP and NUP will be calling the shots not only nationally, but also in the regional legislatures. While a far cry from the federalism that many ethnic leaders aspire for, the local legislatures offer the first forms of local autonomy since the post 1962 coup government of General Ne Win abolished ethnic councils established under the 1947 constitution.
A post-independence federal system was promised as a result of a conference held at the town of Panglong in northern Myanmar between independence leader General Aung San and representatives of several ethnic groups. Federal principles agreed to at the conference were enshrined in the 1947 constitution, but by the late 1950’s many felt they had not been adequately implemented. Agitation for a more truly federalist system was a major cause of the 1962 military coup, which was carried out in the name of preserving national unity.
Myanmar’s 2008 constitution keeps the seven ethnic states and creates seven new self-administered zones for less numerous ethnic groups such as the Pa-O, Kokang and Wa. However, it makes few other concessions to ethnic aspirations for federalism and power sharing between ethnic groups and the majority Myanmar population. During the 1993-2008 National Convention that drafted the constitution, calls by ethnic representatives for a federal union were ignored.
There is growing evidence that the generals are seeking to undermine and split the ethnic vote at the upcoming elections. This is being done largely through the junta’s mass organization, the United Solidarity Development Association (USDA), and its newly formed political party, the USDP.
Many members of the USDP are former military officers and current members of government who have resigned their ranks to participate in the polls. They have actively courted ethnic minorities to join the junta-backed USDP. In the case of the disenfranchised Muslim Rohingya in western Myanmar, that has taken the form of offering identity cards granting them formal citizenship in exchange for their votes.
According to the exile-run media group Shan Herald Agency for News, USDP members have used the USDA and local government officials to canvass for votes and to pressure villagers in Shan State to sign their names on the party’s rolls. Shan leaders in Mandalay Division, where there are significant Shan populations, were approached in March to run as part of the USDP.
The junta has also effectively blocked several of the major ethnic political players from taking part in the elections due to an impasse over the transformation of armed ceasefire groups into army-controlled border guard units. The regime’s seven-step “roadmap to democracy” had originally envisioned that the groups would either hand over their weapons or join the border guard force as a prelude to forming political parties and contesting the election.
That step was supposed to be accomplished before an election date was announced. Instead tensions have spiked between the junta and the ethnic militias as several deadlines have passed – the latest on April 28 – and the issue still remains unresolved. Over 20 ethnic insurgent groups have agreed to ceasefires with the junta since 1989 and have since largely run their own affairs. They consider retaining their weapons as a necessary protection until the generals can prove the sincerity of their political promises.
Only a few, mostly small groups have agreed to the junta’s terms, including the National Democratic Army – Kachin (NDA-K) and the Kachin Defence Army (KDA). However, their political leaders have resigned and are now seeking to register respectively as the Union Democracy Party (Kachin State) and the Northern Shan State Progressive Party.
The Kokang only agreed after a short offensive by the army drove out the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in August 2009 and brought in new leadership. The new leadership quickly declared its support for the 2010 elections and formed a political party.
Larger groups such as the United Wa State Party (UWSP), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) have not been allowed to register parties for the election. Instead the regime has threatened to revoke the ceasefire status of groups and declare them illegal. Most recently tensions have increased in Mon State, where the NMSP has refused to meet with the military’s intelligence head Lieutenant General Ye Myint to discuss the border guard issue. The junta has threatened to use force if the Mon does not agree to a meeting.
Keeping the ceasefire groups out of the polls may work to the generals’ electoral advantage. A June 2010 report by the Transnational Institute on the ethnic political situation described the ethnic ceasefire organizations, “in terms of history, membership, finance, and territorial control, the ceasefire forces far outweigh electoral parties in their ability to operate independently and, with an estimated 40,000 troops under arms, their existence was a continued reminder of the need for conflict resolution.”
Both the Wa and the Kachin have said that they would like to support ethnic parties in the polls and negotiate the decommissioning of their armed wings with the new government after the elections. After two decades of unresolved political issues and disappointment in the 2008 constitution, they want to see proof of real political reform before agreeing to hand over their weapons.
Indeed, the election commission has so far refused to accept the registration of three Kachin political parties. While two of the parties represent former ceasefire groups who have now become border guards, the KSPP has several former KIO members, including its leader, former KIO vice chairman Tu Ja. Some observers believe the party’s registration has yet to be approved because of these links.
There is also a fear that the government will declare a state of emergency in the ceasefire areas, which would prohibit people standing for elections and voting. Already areas of southern Shan State and Karen State are unlikely to be allowed to vote due to a legal provision that says elections can only be held in areas free of conflict. This would mean that large portions of Myanmar would not be allowed to elect representatives to local or national legislatures.
Border-based ethnic political organizations, many of which are attached to armed insurgent groups still fighting the government, will not be able to take part in the elections. Although they have seemingly declined in strength and influence in recent years, their message of equal rights and justice still resonates with many people who see the newly formed parties as junta stooges.
Peace talks with the government will also have to wait until a new government is formed following the elections. A section of the Political Parties Registration Law prohibits registration to any party that is involved with groups engaged in armed rebellion or involved with groups declared as “unlawful associations”.
The generals will be hard-pressed to prove the legitimacy of the elections without the participation of ethnic opposition parties or adequate ethnic representation. Should the ethnic groups continue to feel disempowered and a democratically elected pro-military government maintain the junta’s current confrontational policies, further conflict will be almost unavoidable and hinder the country’s supposed democratic transition.
* Brian McCartan is a Bangkok-based freelance journalist.
Life and times of a dictator – Bertil Lintner
Asia Times: Fri 25 Jun 2010
Chiang Mai – When Myanmar military dictator General Ne Win was still alive, foreign pundits often postulated that the country would change for the better once he passed from the scene. The country would still be ruled by the military, they predicted, but by a younger generation of more reform-minded officers that would bring Myanmar, also known as Burma, out of the Dark Ages.Ne Win relinquished formal power in the late 1980s and pulled strings from behind the scenes leading up to his death in 2002. Did Myanmar change after that? Yes – but arguably for the worse. Repression intensified, with the number of political prisoners reaching into the thousands. Economic reforms put more money in circulation, but intensified already rampant corruption. The government spent even less on health and education while ramping up military spending.
Today, the Myanmar military is more firmly entrenched in power than at any time since Ne Win’s coup d’etat in 1962, which ended a 14-year period of weak but functioning parliamentary democracy. Now the era of Myanmar’s current strongman, General Than Shwe, is drawing to an end. The 77-year-old general will soon retire and he has promised the country’s first democratic elections in 20 years to mark the transition.
A new generation of pundits has predicted hopefully that Myanmar is on the cusp of positive change. They believe a hitherto unknown generation of Young Turks and other supposed closet liberals within the military will come to the fore and push the country in a more democratic direction. Elections, they predict, will at long last give civilian leaders some say over the country’s governance.
In all likelihood, however, foreign pundits will be proven wrong yet again. Benedict Rogers’ highly readable new book shows why Myanmar’s military, even with Than Shwe’s imminent retirement, has no intention of giving up power any time soon. After this year’s polls Than Shwe may no longer be Myanmar’s de facto head of state, but he has ensured through that he and his by now immensely wealthy family will be well protected when the next generation of soldiers assume power.
“Motivated by power and a determination to hold onto it,” Rogers writes, “Than Shwe will use any tool necessary, from detention, torture and violence against his opponents, to lies, deceit, delay and false promises to the international community, or the manipulation of astrology and religion to convince his own people.”
There is scant evidence that the next generation of military officers will be any more liberal in their outlook than their predecessors – in the same way as Than Shwe’s generation certainly was no more broadminded after taking over from Ne Win. After half a century of wielding absolute power, the Myanmar military has developed its own ways of dealing with internal dissent and external criticism.
And democratic reforms, even minor and gradual ones, are not part of that mindset, as Rogers’ book thoughtfully illustrates. Ne Win set the repressive agenda when he and the army seized power 48 years ago, and those ways have survived him through several of his successors.
To be sure, Rogers does not feign objectivity in his assessment of Than Shwe’s life and times. As a member of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human-rights organization that specializes in religious freedoms, he has been a Myanmar activist for many years and openly declared his support for the country’s pro-democracy opposition. But that does not detract from this well-researched book.
To the contrary, it is the first thorough study of Myanmar’s undisputed strongman. It chronicles with detail how Than Shwe rose from a lowly position as a junior postal clerk to the most powerful soldier in the military-run country. Joining the military as a teenager, he was always immensely loyal to his commanders, a trait the book argues was a key to his eventual success. Those who questioned their superiors and official policies were ruthlessly purged under the new military order that Ne Win introduced after 1962.
Despite claims in his own official glorified biography, Than Shwe did not see as much combat as other top army officers who fought in jungle battlefields against ethnic insurgent groups. Rather he was attached to the military’s Psychological Warfare Department and, later, the grandly named Central School of Political Science, where officers and other soldiers were taught Ne Win’s “Burmese Way to Socialism” ideology.
Rogers quotes one of his inside sources as saying that Than Shwe “never talked about the country and its prospects with me. He seemed only focused on pleasing the higher officers and leaders. He always praised the leaders and never showed any ambition. He was certainly proud of being a soldier. He followed orders … very carefully.”
Rogers traces Than Shwe’s rise through Myanmar’s post-World War II period, the short-lived democratic era in the 1950s, and the disastrous years of austere socialism in the 1960s and 1970s which brought on the 1988 popular uprising and its bloody suppression. In 1992, Than Shwe became chairman of the ruling junta, known then as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC. He was promoted following the resignation of his predecessor General Saw Maung, who had become increasingly erratic.
Once in a position of absolute power, the postman-cum-tyrant, to use Rogers’ description of Than Shwe, was surprisingly durable. Over the years he displayed an unprecedented megalomania among Myanmar military leaders. Few could have guessed that the often sullen and always taciturn soldier would endeavor to build a new capital city, Naypyidaw, or “the Abode of Kings”, from an obscure patch in the jungle.
Nor did many foresee that he would replace Myanmar’s original national philosophy of “unity in diversity” with a new concept of a unitary state in honor of the country’s ancient warrior kings and empire-builders, Anawratha, Bayinnaung and Alaungpaya. Many believe his construction of the new capital city aims to leave behind a “Fourth Myanmar Empire” as a legacy of his rule.
It is unclear how Than Shwe’s promised democratic transition fits with those kingly designs. Whether Myanmar holds elections this year, next year, or never, all the structures he put in place signal that the military is geared to remain in power for the foreseeable future. Rogers correctly portrays Than Shwe and his military henchmen as modern-day “tyrants” – and history shows that from a position of power tyrants have seldom negotiated their own demise.
Anyone who believes that a post-Than Shwe Myanmar is headed in a democratic direction should read this valuable book.
Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant by Benedict Rogers with a foreword by Vaclav Havel. Silkworm Books (May 2010). ISBN – 978-974-9511-91-6. Price US$20, 256 pages.
Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review. He is currently a writer with Asia Pacific Media Services.
More North Korean rockets reported in Burma – Min Lwin and Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Thu 24 Jun 2010
North Korean-made truck-mounted multiple launch rocket systems have been reportedly set up at Burmese army bases in northern, eastern and central Burma, according to military sources.The North Korean rockets were recently delivered to missile operation commands in Mohnyin in Kachin State, Naungcho and Kengtung in Shan State and Kyaukpadaung in Mandalay Division, sources said. Missile operation commands were reportedly formed in 2009.
It is not clear when the multiple launch rocket systems were shipped from North Korea. However, military sources said delivery of rocket launchers mounted on trucks occurred several times in recent years.
The North Korean troop with M1985 multiple launch rocket system. (Source: www.military-today.com)
Sources said they witnessed at least 14 units of 240-mm truck-mounted multiple launch rocket systems arrive at Thilawa Port near Rangoon on the North Korean vessel, Kang Nam I, in early 2008. Previous reports said Burma had purchased 30 units of 240-mm truck-mounted multiple launch rocket systems from North Korean.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, North Korea produces two different 240mm rocket launchers, the 12-round M-1985 and the 22-round M-1991. The M-1985 rocket pack is easily identified by two rows of six rocket tubes mounted on a cab behind an engine chassis. The M-1991 is mounted on a cab over an engine chassis. Both launch packs can be adapted to a suitable cross-country truck.
The Kang Nam I was believed enroute to Burma again in June 2009. However, it reversed course and returned home after a US Navy destroyer followed it amid growing concern that it was carrying illegal arms shipments.
However, more arms shipments from North Korea appear to have been delivered to Burma in 2009-2010. The latest report about a North Korean vessel’s arrival was in April. The ship, the Chong Gen, docked at Thilawar port.
Last week, the junta acknowledged that the Chong Gen was at the port, but it denied involvement in any arms trading with Pyongyang, saying Burma follows UN Security Council resolution 1874 which bans arms trading with North Korea. The junta said the North Korean vessel came to Burma with shipments of cement and exported rice.
According to reports by Burma military experts Maung Aung Myoe and Andrew Selth, purchasing multiple-launch rocket systems is a part of the junta’s military modernization plan. While the junta has acquired 107-mm type 63 and 122-mm type 90 multiple-launch rocket from China, North Korea has provided it with 240-mm truck-mounted launch rocket.
Some experts have said North Korea is also involved in a secret relationship with Burma for the sale of short and medium-range ballistic missiles and the development of underground facilities. Other experts and Burmese defectors claim that North Korea is also providing Burma with technology designed to create a nuclear program.
Burma severed its relationship with North Korea in 1983 following North Korean agents’ assassination of members of a South Korean delegation led by President Chun Doo Hwan. The two countries restored relations in early 1990s and officially re-establish diplomatic ties in April 2007.
Starting trade union unlawful, police say – Myint Maung
Mizzima News: Thu 24 Jun 2010
New Delhi – Aspiring trade unionists had their request to form a national industrial and farm workers union flatly rejected yesterday by police carrying the response from junta leader Senior General Than Shwe, according to the workers’ representatives.Rangoon Division Western District Police Colonel Aung Daing met seven workers’ representatives at his station and told them forming a trade union would be “unlawful” and that police would take action if they went ahead.
Twenty-two trade union activists including eminent labour rights lawyer Pho Phyu had told the junta leader in a letter that they intended to form a “Trade Union for the Protection of National Industrial Workers’ and Farmers’ Interests” and asked for permission to do so.
“No right at all to form such union. It’s unlawful, they told us”, Pho Phyu said.
According to Pho Phyu, they responded to authorities that to protect the rights of workers and farmers that they would go ahead with their plan at the risk of being arrested and imprisoned.
“The working people and Burmese citizens have suffered bitterly for many years, even many decades. Now it’s time for a trade union for them”, he said.
But this was not the first rejection or fierce reaction from authorities Pho Phyu has experienced. He represented farmers whose lands were seized by the army and then he himself was imprisoned last March. He was released from prison just three months ago.
If they went ahead with their trade union, it would be considered “unlawful association” and a violation of the law. Moreover publishing and printing about this organisation will be in violation of the printers and publishers act and will be subjected to stern action, Aung Daing told the workers’ representatives.
In the early morning on the same day, Labour Department Director-General Thet Naing Oo also met trade union leaders and told them to wait until the new government takes office after the general election.
Though it was a private meeting, about 20 intelligence personnel watched the unionists and took photographs and video recordings.
Tin Oo, vice-chairman of main opposition party, the National League for Democracy , said the government should not make such a prohibition.
Other trade union leaders who met with authorities are Par Lay and Win Naing from Taungdwingyi, Kyi Lin from South Dagon Township, Ma Nwe Yee Win from Tharyarwady, Khaing Thazin from Hlaingtharyar and Aye Chan Pye from Shwepyithar.
Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB) joint general-secretary Dr. Zaw Win Aung said, “The regime should enact laws permitting freedom in forming of trade unions and they should eliminate all hurdles and obstacles in this regard”.
Out of the more than 2,100 political prisoners behind bars, 15 are trade union activists, based in Thailand, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B) joint general-Secretary Bo Kyi said.
The successive military regimes have banned and deprived of right to freedom of association in Burma since 1962.
But at least 10 labour strikes since last December, staged by workers demanding for better wages and working environment have taken place at private industries since last December.
PM’s party enticing Muslims – Aye Nai
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 24 Jun 2010
Burma’s minority Muslim population will be issued with identification cards and allowed to freely travel the country if they make the right vote in elections, the party headed by Burma’s prime minster has reportedly said.The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has been campaigning in the country’s western Arakan state and appears to be targeting Muslims for votes. One man in Sandwoy town said that local authorities were urging them to join the party.
“It is likely that [the USDP] has no chance in recruiting Buddhist residents after the [September 2007] monk-led protests so they are now targeting Muslims, promising them ID cards and travel permission,” he told DVB.
Muslims are widely persecuted by the Buddhist ruling junta in Burma; the ethnic Rohingya minority in particular is denied any sort of legal status and thousands have now fled to Bangladesh. The government claims that four percent of Burmese are practising Muslims, but the US state department claims the figure could be as high as 30 percent.
He said that Muslims tired of the restrictions placed on them by the government “very much agreed to join the party”. A USDP leader and former government transport minister, Thein Swe, arrived in Sandwoy earlier this month and “summoned Muslim leaders [to talk about] the ID cards and the travel permission”.
“He assured these things will be OK because [Burmese junta chief] Than Shwe has also given his approval. He said a minister-level discussion was underway and told [Muslims] to wait one or two months and the travel issues will be OK.”
But a number of Buddhists in the town have reportedly spoken of their disappointment at the number of Muslims joining the party, which is widely tipped to win the elections later this year. The Sandwoy man said that the issue could trigger tension between the two religious groups.
“Burma has a majority Buddhist populaton but even [Buddhists] are being oppressed so it will be impossible for Muslims to get more privileges than [Buddhists],” he said.
Earlier this week the USDP was asked by an election candidate to ensure it had severed ties with the ruling junta prior to the polls. Phyo Min Thein, head of the Union Democratic Party (UDP), said the lines between the USDP and the government were blurred.
Other hopefuls for Burma’s first elections in two decades have complained that preferential treatment given to the USDP has hindered the chances of other parties running for office. The USDP’s social wing, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), allegedly began canvassing voters some weeks ago, while reports of coercion of civilians by the USDA have already surfaced.
China weapons giant to mine Burma – Francis Wade
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 24 Jun 2010
One of China’s biggest weapons manufacturers is to begin developing a copper mine in central Burma after agreeing to terms with the Burmese government earlier this month.A statement on the website of the state-owned China North Industries Corp (or Norinco) said the project will serve the dual purpose of “strengthening the strategic reserves of copper resources in [China], and enhancing the influence of our country in Myanmar [Burma]”. Norinco also bills itself as an engineering company.
At the beginning of June a top-level Chinese delegation, including prime minister Wen Jiabao, spent five days in Burma to ink a raft of new trade deals and mark the 60th anniversary of China-Burma diplomatic relations. It was during this visit that Wen oversaw the agreement for Norinco to take charge of the Monywa mine in Sagaing division.
China’s investments in Burma are soaring and will soon match those of Thailand and Singapore, the pariah state’s two main economic backers. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has already begun work on the multi-billion dollar Shwe pipeline pipeline project, while Beijing has been busily damming Burma’s major rivers to feed its energy-hungry population.
Investment in Burma’s mines provides the ruling junta with one of its largest sources of legal foreign capital, behind hydropower and gas. The Monywa area is rich in copper, and operations there had been dominated by Canadian giant Ivanhoe Mines until it allegedly withdrew in March 2007 and transferred ownership to The Monywa Trust. At its peak the mine had been producing some 39,000 tonnes of copper per year.
The Norinco statement said only that the two countries agreed a “cooperation contract” but did not mention who the other party in the project was. The agreement was signed by Norinco general manager, Zhang Guoqing.
Tin Maung Htoo, from the Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB), says however that Ivanhoe transferred its lot to a blind trust who have taken “[responsibility] for the firm’s 50 percent stake in Monywa copper project, officially known as Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company Limited [MICCL],” thereby meaning that Ivanhoe has retained some presence in the project.
The managing director of MICCL, Glenn Ford, told DVB however that MICCL “has nothing to do with the Norinco project” and that Ivanhoe Mines had nothing to do with MICCL, which was blacklisted in July 2008 by both the EU and US for its “key financial backing” of the Burmese regime.
Norinco was also sanctioned by the US in 2003 for its ongoing weapons sales to Iran, with the White House calling the company a “serial proliferator”. Tin Maung Htoo said that the company’s contract with Burma was an “apparent copper for weapons deal”. China also happens to be Burma’s biggest arms supplier.
GlobalSecurity.org claims that Norinco’s “main business is supplying products for the Chinese military”, and has a registered capital of US$30 billion. The value of China-Burma trade in the 2008-2009 fiscal year was US$2.6 billion.
Myanmar restricts political activity ahead of polls
Agence France Presse: Wed 23 Jun 2010
Yangon — Members of political parties contesting Myanmar’s first elections in two decades will be banned from marching, waving flags and chanting to garner support, under rules announced Wednesday.The directive, which did not reveal a date for the polls, requires party members who want to gather and deliver speeches at places other than their offices to apply for a permit one week in advance, according to state media.
The rules prohibit “the act of marching to the designated gathering point and the venue holding flags, or marching and chanting slogans in procession” in a bid to enlist members, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.
Parties must have at least 1,000 members to contest the nationwide election.
Holding knives, weapons and ammunition are also banned, along with acts that harm security and the rule of law or tarnish the image of the military. Misuse of religion for political gains is also not allowed, state media said.
Critics have dismissed the election — which is scheduled for some time later this year — as a sham due to laws that have effectively barred opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from participating.
The United States said Tuesday that the polls will “not be free or fair and will lack international legitimacy”.
Suu Kyi’s party won the last polls in 1990 but was never allowed to take office. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) was forcibly dissolved last month under widely criticised laws governing the polls.
The NLD refused to meet a May 6 deadline to re-register as a party — a move that would have forced it to expel Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest — and is boycotting the vote.
Under election legislation unveiled in March, anyone serving a prison term is banned from being a member of a political party and parties that fail to obey the rule will be abolished.
The latest directive for drumming up support among voters has upset some parties who fear they will make it harder to connect with people.
“The political parties will be in a tight corner because of these rules,” said Ye Tun, chairman of the 88th Generation Student Youths (Union of Myanmar), which despite its name is pro-government.
“We are in difficult position to work in some places. They restricted our movements such as holding flags.”
But other parties welcomed the rules, saying they could have been even more restrictive.
“We can transform from party politics to people politics if we can get in touch with the people through party meetings,” said Phyo Min Thein, chairman of the Union Democratic Party.
A faction from within the disbanded NLD has applied to form a new political party, to be called the National Democratic Force, in a bid to advance the movement’s two-decade campaign to end military rule.
According to official figures, 36 out of 42 groups which have applied to form political parties have been registered.
NLD leaders tour Burma – Lawi Weng
Irrawaddy: Wed 23 Jun 2010
Despite being disbanded for failing to register for this year’s upcoming election, the National League for Democracy (NLD) remains active, sending senior members to branch offices around Burma to discuss strategy.
On Sunday, Win Tin, an NLD executive member, traveled to Karen State to meet with former party members. “I told them not to vote in the election,” he said, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
Win Tin, who was accompanied by two other party members from the the NLD’s Rangoon headquarters, said he also urged the members in Karen State to boycott the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party, led by Prime Minister Thein Sein, and the National Unity Party, formed from late dictator Ne Win’s authoritarian Burma Socialist Programme Party.
“The purpose of the trip was to consolidate party unity and listen to the voices of members who face difficulties since the party decided not to register. We also wanted to tell them that we will not abandon them. We will continue to work more actively in politics,” said Win Tin.
Nyan Win, an NLD spokesperson, said that party leader Aung San Suu Kyi agreed with the trips. So far, senior party members from Rangoon have traveled to party offices in Shan, Karen and Mon states and Mandalay, Pegu and Irrawaddy divisions.
“It is important to meet with our members during these difficult times,” said Nyan Win.
The NLD decided not to register to run in the election because the 2008 Constitution bans Suu Kyi and other detained political leaders from participating. The NLD won a landslide victory in Burma’s last election in 1990.
Since deciding not to register for the election, the party has been unable to hold meetings at their offices, release official statements or engage in any other political activities.
“We traveled to see our members because we heard some of them are having trouble running their offices since the party was dissolved,” said Ohn Kyine, a central executive committee member of the NLD who recently visited the party’s office in Mandalay. “We want to know how they are dealing with the situation.”
Senior members of the NLD said they will continue to work for the Burmese people through humanitarian projects to support families of political prisoners, HIV/AIDS patients and Nargis victims.
“We will work in public politics and social politics even without party registration,” said Win Tin.
During his trip to Karen State, Win Tin also visited pagodas and met a Karen abbot known as Taungkalay Sayadaw to talk about national reconciliation and the current political situation.
Meanwhile, eight senior members of the NLD met with Robin Lerner, counsel of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and assistant to one-time US presidential candidate, John Kerry, yesterday.
“She asked us about our current situation and our future plans and what we will do after the election,” said Nyan Win.
The US said on Wednesday that the election will not be free and fair and will lack international legitimacy. No date has yet been set for the vote, the first in 20 years.
China remains silent on Burma’s nuclear ambitions – Hseng Khio Fah
Shan Herald Agency for News: Wed 23 Jun 2010
While the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been in grave concern on Burma’s nuclear weapons program with North-Korea’s support, its neighboring country, China has been conspicuously silent about it, say Burma Army observers on the Sino-Burma border.The reason is because China had acted as a facilitator between the two countries, according to Aung Kyaw Zaw, a well-known Burma watcher.
Burma and North-Korea suspended their relations in 1983, after members of a high profile delegation from South-Korea were assassinated by North-Korean agents while they were on a visit to Burma, known since then as the Mausoleum massacre.
China later had arranged a rapprochement between the two because it was unable to sell Burma other than conventional weapons, according to him.
“China is therefore partly responsible for the junta’s nuclear program,” he said. “But it should at least know that letting Burma to do whatever it wants is dangerous. It should have also realized that the junta military, from top to bottom, is unhappy with China. What happened at Kokang (last year) and Mongkoe (in 2000) should serve as examples.”
On 24 October 2000, a faction of the Mongkoe Defence Army (MDA), a breakaway group from Kokang, had mutinied. A month later, the mutineers were executed by the Burma Army and the MDA leader Mong Sala put in jail and the territory occupied by the Burma Army.
Likewise, in 2009 August, Kokang was attacked by the military junta and its territory has been occupied by the Burma Army since.
According to Aung Kyaw Zaw, the military junta has maintained relations with China because of military weapons and economic needs.
Burma’s nuclear program can be dangerous not only to western countries but also to ethnic groups in its country, according to him. “They might use these nuclear weapons to destroy any group that opposes them,” he said.
There are two main reasons Burma wants to have nuclear weapons: to stay in power and to use them as a deterrent to western countries if they interfere in its domestic affair.
Burma has reportedly been planning this nuclear weapons program since 2000 and has been sending up to 10,000 officers to Russia to study nuclear technology since 2002.
At the same time, there have been reports that Burma is hosting two Pakistani nuclear experts who took sanctuary in Burma after being accused by the CIA of helping Osama bin Laden to build nuclear weapons.
There are 9 countries that have nuclear warheads including North-Korea, that reportedly has 4-8 nuclear warheads.
Than Shwe the third ‘worst of the worst’
Irrawaddy: Wed 23 Jun 2010
In an article titled “The Worst of the Worst,” Foreign Policy magazine named junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe the world’s third worst dictator, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il ranked No 1 and Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe No 2.Than Shwe, Kim Jong Il and Mugabe were pictured on the magazine cover with the caption, “The committee to destroy the world.”
Than Shwe, who has been ruling Burma by force for almost 20 years, was described by Foreign Policy as a “heartless military coconut head whose sole consuming preoccupation is power.”
(Source: Foreign Policy)
The article said the Burmese dictator has decimated the opposition with arrests and detentions, denied humanitarian assistance to his people in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated Burma in May 2008, and thrived off a black market economy and natural gas exports.
“This vainglorious general bubbling with swagger sports a uniform festooned with self-awarded medals, but he is too cowardly to face an honest ballot box,” the article said.
Kim Jong Il, in power for 16 years, was described as a personality-cult-cultivating isolationist. Foreign Policy said Kim has pauperized his people, allowed famine to run rampant, thrown hundreds of thousands in prison camps and spent his country’s resources on a nuclear program.
Robert Mugabe, in power for 30 years, was described as a liberation “hero” in the struggle for independence who has since transformed himself into a murderous despot. He was condemned by Foreign Policy for arresting and torturing the opposition, squeezing his economy into astounding negative growth and billion-percent inflation and funneling off a juicy cut for himself using currency manipulation and offshore accounts.
The article named 23 world dictators in total, including the leaders of Uganda, Rwanda, Cuba, China, Iran, Venezuela, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Myanmar vote will ‘lack international legitimacy’: US
Agence France Presse: Wed 23 Jun 2010
Washington — The United States said that elections planned in military-run Myanmar this year will “lack international legitimacy.”“US believes elections planned for this year in Burma will not be free or fair and will lack international legitimacy,” the State Department said on the micro-blogging site Twitter, using Myanmar’s former name of Burma.
US Senator Jim Webb said earlier this month he expected Myanmar to hold elections on October 10 and urged support for the vote despite the military regime’s exclusion of the democratic opposition.
Webb is a leading US advocate for engagement with the junta, although he called off a trip to Myanmar this month due to allegations the country was developing nuclear weapons with support from North Korea.
Myanmar plans to hold its first elections in two decades later this year, although the regime has not set an exact date.
The Obama administration last year initiated dialogue with North Korea but has voiced concern about the elections, ahead of which Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy was forcibly dissolved.
Webb acknowledged that the election was designed to preserve the military regime, but said it was a step forward that the country would allow at least some opposition figures to stand for seats.
Union Election Commission issues Directive No.2/2010
New Light of Myanmar: Wed 23 Jun 2010
Nay Pyi Taw – The Union Election Commission issued Directive No.2/2010 dated 21 June 2010. The informal translation of the directive is as follows:-
Union of Myanmar
Union Election Commission
Nay Pyi Taw
10th Waxing of First Waso 1372 ME
(21 June 2010)
Subject: Enlisting the strength of political parties
1. For holding a free and fair multi-party democracy general election in 2010, the Union Election Commission is granting permission to set up political parties and register as political parties in accord with the Political Parties Registration Law.
2. Under Section 9 of Political Parties Registration Law, the parties that have been granted permission to register as political parties shall have to submit a report to the UEC that they have enlisted the prescribed strength of their parties in accord with Section11 and Rule 13(a) (b) after mobilizing their members in accordance with Section 10.
3. The UEC, therefore, has issued the directive under Section 26 of Political Parties Registration Law in order that the political parties that have been granted permission to register shall act in conformity with the law in enlisting the prescribed number of party members.
Procedures to follow
4. Political parties may follow the following procedures for enlisting the prescribed number of party members:-
(a) Assembling and giving speeches at a designated place with the permission of the sub-commission concerned
(b) Writing, printing and publishing
Applying for permission to assemble and give speeches
5. Those political parties that want to assemble and give speeches at a designated place shall have to apply to the sub-commission concerned at least seven days ahead as mentioned hereunder to get a permit.
(a) The State or Division Sub-commission concerned for the townships where State or Division Sub-commission office is resided
(b) The District Sub-commission concerned for the townships where District Sub-commission office is resided
(c) The Township Sub-commission concerned for the remaining townships except the townships mentioned in sub-paragraphs (a) and (b)
6. Those political parties that want to assemble and give speeches at their party headquarters or branches shall have to report to the sub-commission concerned at least seven days ahead without necessity to apply for permission.
7. The political parties entitled to apply: In applying for permission according to the paragraph 5, the chairman, the secretary of the party headquarters, state/division, district, or township concerned or a person who takes the same responsibility of the said chairman or secretary shall have to sign the application.
8. Points to be mentioned in the application: In applying for the permit, political parties concerned shall have to mention that they will assemble and give speeches in conformity with the prohibitions, provisions included in the permit and the rules and regulations in addition to the following points in the application.
(a) the planned place
(b) the planned date
(c) starting time and finishing time (estimate)
(d) the number of attendees (estimate)
(e) the names, National Registration Card Nos. and addresses of permitted speaker or speakers
(f) The name, NRC No and address of the applicant
9. Scrutiny to be conducted by the sub-commission concerned: As regards for applying for the permit according to paragraphs 5, 7 and 8, the subcommission concerned:-
(a) shall issue the permit or reject the application after scrutinizing the application as necessary
(b) shall have to mention the following points in the permit if it is to be issued:-
(1) date and venue of the issuance
(2) Starting time and finishing time.
(3) Name, NRC No and address of permitted speaker or speakers.
(c) Rules prohibiting the act of marching to the designated gathering point and the venue holding flags or marching and chanting slogans in procession, and stating to disperse without any slogan-chanting marches at the end of assembling and speeches shall be stipulated in the permit.
(d) The followinpoints shall be stipulated in a permit as necessary:
(1) Not to disturbany public places such as government offices, organizations, factories, workshops, workplaces, markets, sports grounds, religious places, schools and people’s hospitals.
(2) Not to exceed the capacity of buildings or halls designated as assembling vanue for speeches (To mak
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