[Readingroom] News on Burma - 17/8/10
- Opposition parties spread election forces thinly
- Radios aiding Burma army
- Chinese investment in Myanmar tops $8 bln this year
- Myanmar’s military dons civilian mask before vote
- Burma’s generals script fake civilian rule
- Election date hasn’t changed the screwed up political scene
- Is a bad election better than none at all?
- New rail link to eastern Shan State spells war escalation
- Myanmar Junta sets election date
- A wave of dissent-activists start campaign opposing elections thumbnail
- Anti-election campaign in Arakan
- S.Korea bank to halt dollar remittances to Myanmar
- Radio active
- Keep making noise about Burma
- Burma bloggers’ dangerous freedom fight
- Announcement No. 20 01 06 (253)
- The announcement concerning candidates of the respective Hluttaws
- ‘Sandwich reporting’ keeps the censors guessing
- Myanmar opposition party threatens to shun polls
- Fresh DKBA troops reject junta Border Guard Force
- Junta, Chinese investors forge ahead with Salween dam
- Can the opposition remain relevant?
- Coup is possible if regime party doesn’t win
- Myanmar democracy party complains of intimidation
- Walking away from an unfair election
- Joint pipeline project with junta sparks rights debate
- Burma security threat to region
Opposition parties spread election forces thinly – Ba Kaung
Irrawaddy: Mon 16 Aug 2010
“Let’s go to the polling station!” blares the election campaign jingle on state-run TV and radio since the regime set the general election date. Opposition political parties contesting the election, however, aren’t getting the same degree of encouragement.
The Election Commission called on political parties last week to submit between Aug. 16 and Aug. 30 lists of the candidates they plan to field. Opposition parties complain that, due to the short period allowed for candidate registration and their lack of funding, they will be able to compete for only a limited number of the 498 seats in the national parliament.
The regime’s election laws stipulate that if there is only a single candidate in a constituency, then he or she wins the seat—meaning that the junta’s proxy parties are guaranteed victory in many constituencies.
Sai Hla Kyaw, a member of the Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP) central executive, said the party will be able to field candidates for 150 seats in 50 constituencies although it had originally planned to compete nationwide.
Sai Hlaw Kyaw said the party had lacked the time to properly check the qualifications of its candidates, nor had it been able yet to prepare its campaign.
The National Democratic Force (NDF) party led by renegade members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) will be able to contest only in major divisions of Burma, renouncing seats in seven states.
The party has so far assembled a list of 100 candidates who will contest constituencies in Rangoon, Mandalay, Pegu and Magwe divisions, according to NDF political leader Khin Maung Swe.
“Our party is now only one month and six days old,” he said. “How on earth can we find enough money and enough candidates for the election?”
Election rules require payment of a 500,000 kyat (US $500) fee for each candidate. Parties would need to pay the equivalent of US $249,000 to the Election Commission if they want to contest all the available seats in the national parliament.
“[There's] not enough money and time, so we cannot contest the election nationwide as we had planned,” said Thein Htay, vice-chairman of the Union Democratic Party (UDP), whose leader Phyo Min Thein recently resigned from the party because he said the election would be neither free nor fair.
Following his resignation, the UDP threatened to pull out of the election if they see signs of foul play by the ruling military in the run-up to the polls.
Leaders of pro-democracy parties in Rangoon, including the NDF, recently discussed the possible formation of an informal alliance to allow them to distribute their candidates in as many constituencies as possible, thus preventing an automatic victory for the regime’s proxy parties—estimated to be at least seven—including the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) led by Prime Minister Thein Sein. But that idea has so far not materialized.
“Parties are struggling with their own problems, but I heard that the USDP candidates recently received 100,000,000 kyat (US 100,000) for election activities,” said NDF leader Khin Maung Swe.
Some other party leaders say the election difficulties were not unexpected and that they will only focus on maintaining the existence of their parties and do what they can.
“In a multi-party general election, we will make sure that our party can exist,” said Soe Maung, vice-chairman of the Rangoon-based Democracy and Peace Party, which he said would only contest 20 constituencies.
Radios aiding Burma army – Hamish McDonald
The Age (Australia): Mon 16 Aug 2010
BURMA’S army has evaded Australian government sanctions to obtain radio sets from a Perth manufacturer that allow it to scramble its communications, gaining a new advantage in its wars against domestic rebels and dissidents. Prestigious British defence journal Jane’s Intelligence Review reports that Perth-based Barrett Communications has been selling its radio sets directly in response to tenders by Burma’s Ministry of Defence, contradicting suggestions by the company it was selling the radios to civilian agencies of the Burmese government.
When the military’s use of the radios was first reported in January, Barrett managing director Phil Bradshaw insisted the radios were used for general communications and were not of a kind ”for military use”.
The company told Jane’s that any Barrett 2050 radios sold to Burma did not include the frequency-hopping option that makes monitoring all but impossible and which would contravene Australian export controls on sensitive military technology, including signals encryption, in place since 1991.
Mr Bradshaw is quoted as saying the frequency-hopping option could only be installed at the company’s factory by authorised staff.
The Defence Department in Canberra backed this up. ”This could not be done in-country [by the customer]”, the department told the journal.
But an industry source familiar with Barrett radios has said the processor and software that hops messages across 500 frequencies is built into every Barrett 2050. This and other extra functions could be enabled by input of a random nine or 10-digit code generated by a computer at Barrett’s office and matched to the serial number.
”It wouldn’t be impossible for an experienced department, especially in the military, to figure out a way to bypass it,” the source said. ”If frequency hopping required an extra part or key to unlock, then it would be far more secure to send overseas. However, since it’s already built in, it’s just a matter of cracking that code.”
Jane’s writers Samuel Blythe and Desmond Ball said the Barrett 2050, costing about $3300 a set, was coming into growing use by the Burmese army for communications between its headquarters and divisional commands.
Chinese investment in Myanmar tops $8 bln this year – data – Aung Hla Tun
Reuters: Mon 16 Aug 2010
Yangon – China has pumped $8.17 billion into military-run Myanmar in the current fiscal year, accounting for two thirds its total investment over the past two decades, official data showed on Monday. Energy projects formed the bulk of the investment, with $5 billion in hydropower and $2.15 billion in the oil and gas sector of the reclusive, resource-rich nation whose neighours include economic juggernauts China and India, the data showed.
China also invested a total of $997 million in mining in the first quarter of the current fiscal year (April 2010-March 2011).
Total foreign direct investment (FDI) for the 2009-10 fiscal year was almost $315 million compared to nearly $985 million a year earlier, according to data released by the State-run Central Statistical Organisation (CSO).
Sanctions imposed by the West because of Myanmar’s poor human rights record, decades of mismanagement and graft at the hands of the military rulers have crippled Myanmar’s economy. [IDnSGE67C06D].
Myanmar will hold its first multi-party election in two decades on Nov. 7 in an attempt to gain legitimacy and lure investment. It is currently on a privatisation drive and enjoys close trade ties with China, India and fellow Southeast Asian nations, in particular, Thailand and Singapore.
However, official FDI data for Myanmar is notoriously unreliable, analysts say, with the figures quoted referring only to investments announced by the regime and often including pledges, rather than actual investments, in the totals.
Many deals are done in secret with the government and are not included in official data, which does not name the investing companies or the projects. Some investment pledges never actually materialise, experts say.
Myanmar has attracted over $20 billion in FDI since becoming a market economy in 1988, $12.32 billion of which came from China. That is followed by Thailand, with total investment of $9.57 over the same period, the statistics showed. (Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Jason Szep)
Myanmar’s military dons civilian mask before vote: analysts
Agence France Presse: Mon 16 Aug 2010
Bangkok – Two decades after the Myanmar opposition’s stolen poll victory, the junta is again gearing up for elections, but experts say years of planning mean the cards this time are stacked in its favour. The vote is widely seen as a way for the military to put a civilian face on its iron-fisted rule, with 77-year-old junta head Senior General Than Shwe likely to retain a crucial — if perhaps lower profile — role.
Myanmar’s leader will want to ensure that the November 7 election produces precisely the result he requires to shield himself from a slew of enemies within the country, said Thai-based analyst Aung Naing Oo.
“Than Shwe has held the Bengal Tiger by the tail and he cannot let go, so he has to make sure that everything goes to plan,” he said.
Had democracy been allowed to take its course, the generals would have been swept aside by the landslide victory of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar’s last election in 1990.
But the party was never allowed to take power and Suu Kyi has spent much of the intervening 20 years in detention.
Analysts say the ruling generals are taking no chances this time, reserving a quarter of the seats in parliament for the military and crafting election rules to ensure junta-backed parties have the upper hand.
“The generals may be exchanging their khakis for civilian clothes, but these polls are still a carefully arranged plan to keep power in the hands of the military junta,” said Elaine Pearson at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Suu Kyi, known as “The Lady” in Myanmar, is still seen as the most potent threat to the military, which has ruled the country for nearly half a century.
She is barred from standing in November because she is a serving prisoner — the election falls days before her current term of house arrest expires — while the NLD is boycotting the vote, citing unfair rules.
The National Democratic Force (NDF) — an offshoot of the NLD created by those in the party who wanted to contest the poll — faces financial difficulties and has a clear disadvantage without Suu Kyi at its helm.
So far 40 parties have been allowed to register for the polls, but some are already expressing concerns, including intimidation of their members.
Election hopefuls face a formidable set of hurdles, including a tight timetable for registering candidates as well as restrictions on campaigning.
They will also come up against the Union Solidarity and Development Party, formed in April by Prime Minister Thein Sein and other ministers who shed their uniforms.
The USDP has merged with the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) — a pro-junta group with deep pockets and up to 27 million members, including civil servants compelled to join for the good of their careers.
Bertil Lintner, author of several books on Myanmar, said the election was a means to convert the junta into a civilian ruling class as part of efforts to build an “entirely new country” along with the new capital, Naypyidaw.
“They are creating a new capital, a new regime, a new dynasty and part of that is having a rubber stamped assembly,” he said.
But with the election widely dismissed as a charade by activists and the West, some are questioning why the junta is even bothering to go through the motions.
“Everything is controlled and managed by just one man so it is very difficult to come up with a rational explanation as to why these things are happening,” Aung Naing Oo said.
Even if the generals and their associates do step back from the political limelight, a recent flurry of privatisations suggests economic power will remain firmly in their grasp.
Aung Naing Oo said one explanation could be an ingrained military idea that power should be handed back to civilians — under tightly managed conditions.
He said the military also felt a paternalistic responsibility to hold together a country repeatedly shaken by insurgencies and separatist movements among its many ethnic groups.
The Karen National Union — whose armed wing has been fighting the Myanmar government for more than five decades — doubts the vote will empower ethnic minorities, who complain of neglect and mistreatment.
“Even though some people will win seats in this election, I do not think they will have a voice,” said spokesman David Thaw.
Burma’s generals script fake civilian rule – Jonathan Manthrope
Vancouver Sun (Canada): Mon 16 Aug 2010
Burma’s ruling generals are belt and braces guys. The junta announced last week that multiparty elections will be held on Nov. 7 after more than a decade of trying to persuade the international community — so far unsuccessfully — that this will be a shift to a civilian administration after military rule dating back to 1962.
The generals hope this election will prompt the lifting of sanctions and other exclusions from the international community.
But they have no intention of allowing the election results to lead to the military actually losing power.
So they have constructed a charade aimed at pleasing the gullible without putting their power at risk.
It’s a caution the generals learned 20 years ago when they suffered the electoral equivalent of finding their pants around their ankles.
In that election in 1990, the junta expected the voters among the 48 million people of Burma (which the ruling junta calls Myanmar) to show respect for the then nearly 30 years of military rule, and pick the generals’ favoured candidates.
Instead, the voters marked the planned return to civilian rule by voting overwhelmingly for candidates representing the National League for Democracy, whose heroine leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the generals had already locked up as a precaution. The NLD won 392 of the 492 seats in Parliament, and the generals were so appalled they refused to acknowledge the result.
The 12-member junta, now inaccurately called the State Peace and Development Council and led by former postal clerk Gen. Than Shwe, was shocked into several years of stunned silence.
Suu Kyi remained locked up in her crumbling lakeside villa in the then capital, Rangoon (now Yangon), selling off her furniture to buy food.
In 1995, the generals figured that despite her having been awarded such honours as the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, their persistent campaign of vilification of “the lady” must have eroded her political currency.
They were wrong. When her detention was lifted in July 1995, tens of thousands of people flocked every day to stand outside her house on University Avenue and listen to her speak at her garden gate.
By 2000, Shwe and his boys had lost patience and arranged new excuses to lock her up again.
But the regime felt increasing pressure to respond to international sanctions, which forced Burma into the often uncomfortable investment grasp of China to develop its bounteous natural resources, and the embarrassing demands for political and human rights reform from the junta’s partners in the Association of South East Asian Nations.
From the start, Suu Kyi and the NLD did not believe the generals were sincere in wanting to draw up a new constitution that would bring in genuine multiparty civilian rule.
They therefore refused to take part in years of talks that led to a referendum held in May 2008, and which to no one’s surprise endorsed the new constitution by a margin that was almost mathematically impossible.
This document ensures that the military will remain in power behind a facade of civilian rule.
The head of the armed forces, Shwe, will retain more authority than the president, and will be able to dismiss any government.
All the most important and powerful ministries will be the exclusive preserve of the armed forces, and a quarter of the seats in the 440-seat parliament are assigned to the military.
At the same time, it will require a vote of more than 75 per cent of MPs to change the constitution. So the military has a veto on any changes or reforms aimed at extending civilian rule.
As a result of this sham reform and the accompanying restrictive election rules, Suu Kyi and most of the NLD refused to register to take part in the election.
Not that they would have been allowed any role anyway.
Most of the NLD leaders are ineligible because they have criminal records as a result of the 20 years of intense persecution by the generals.
Suu Kyi is also ineligible to run because she was convicted of breaching her detention order last year after the befuddled American John Yettaw swam to her house to deliver a warning message that had been entrusted to him by angels.
There’s also a cunning little constitutional provision that says people married to foreigners can’t be candidates for parliament, and Suu Kyi is the widow of a British university professor.
Some former NLD members have broken away to form the National Democratic Front in the belief that, as flawed as they are, the new constitution and the elections are a step toward reform.
But most of the 40 parties registered for this election are ethnically or regionally based and will field limited numbers of candidates.
Only the junta’s Union Solidarity and Development Party will contest all non-military constituencies.
If the USDP does not end up with a clear majority, it will be easy to buy or rent enough other MPs to create an unassailable government.
Election date hasn’t changed the screwed up political scene – Kyaw Zwa Moe
Irrawaddy: Mon 16 Aug 2010
Burma’s election date has finally been announced and constituencies have been designated. So, what has actually changed.? The blunt answer to that question is that everything is screwed up. “Multiparty general elections for the country’s parliament will be held on Sunday Nov. 7,” announced the Election Commission last Thursday. Interestingly, one week later, on Saturday Nov. 13, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due to be released after her latest, 18-month term of house arrest.
Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 years of the past 20 years as a prisoner in her own home, is likely to be released if the election goes as planned by the generals. If junta leader Than Shwe still feels insecure about freeing her so close to the election he will probably find some trumped up excuse to keep her detained—perhaps along the lines of the stage-managed trial she endured after an American trespassed on her lakeside property. So, whether or not the 65-year-old Nobel laureate will be freed is still a big open question.
How about the current pre-election situation? More than 40 political parties listed to contest the upcoming elections were already aware before they officially registered that they will definitely be harassed or abused by the government, the Election Commission, local authorities and now the USDP. But what they are facing now is worse than expected.
Harassment, intimidation, dirty campaigning by the USDP, and heavy censorship of election-related news are rampant throughout Burma.
The chairman of the Union Democracy Party, Phyo Min Thein, recently resigned after deciding that things would not get any better, as he had hoped when he formed the party a few months ago.
The 41-year-old former student activist who spent 15 years in prison from 1990 to 2005 could see no light at the end of Burma’s dark road to democracy.
“I had hoped that there would be a new order with the emergence of political parties, entities and multi-social classes, which would help to march toward democracy, and of course, that will also gradually help to bring us to a new democratic nation,” Phyo Min Thein told The Irrawaddy in an interview shortly after his resignation. “I simply expected there to be that sort of political arena. That’s why I decided to take part in the election.”
It’s likely that many of the leaders of the currently registered parties shared Phyo Min Thein’s hopes when they formed their parties after March this year. Most didn’t like the junta’s 2008 Constitution, especially the fact that the military will have an automatic 25 percent of the seats in the parliament, but they decided to contest the elections for the rest of the seats (330 seats out of 440 in the People’s Assembly) in the hope that the election would be relatively fair.
Now many of them are probably having second thoughts. Phyo Min Thein correctly said that the USDP’s actions, supported by the military government, has created an election playing field that is far from free and fair. The USDP is determined to win as many of the other 330 seats as it can. Phyo Min Thein said opposition and ethnic parties would win a fair portion of those seats, if the election were fair.
According to the junta’s election laws, parties can not campaign officially at this time. But the USDP has been aggressively campaigning in towns across the country: giving out low-interest loans to farmers; coercing people to become party members; indirectly threatening civil servants to vote for the party; buying votes with incentives like constructing or repairing roads in some communities, and offering incentives to businessmen.
In some townships of Irrawaddy Division, the USDP even tried to win votes for the party by allowing businessmen to operate illegal enterprises such as gambling, lotteries, so-called massage parlors and other shady operations, according to local sources.
In the face of such abuse, Phyo Min Thein decided to walk away from the election.
Perhaps in a sign of what’s to come, the Democratic Party, led by veteran politician Thu Wai, sent a letter of complaint to the Union Election Commission in Naypyidaw, saying members of the party had been intimidated by security personnel. Ironically, even more intimidation followed. A list of 1,400 party members had been sent to the commission as a requirement to be eligible to contest the election. That list was forwarded to the special branch police. Officers then appeared at the homes of selected party members asking for personal information and photographs.
In fact, the whole country is being intimidated by the USDP and the military government. Earlier this month, an article in one of the state-run newspapers warned that anyone who “disrupts” the upcoming elections could face up to 20 years imprisonment.
All of this is just the tip of iceberg. The huge disadvantage for all pro-democracy parties is that the ruling military regime, the Election Commission and the USDP are actually all one organism.
As the election approaches, the political parties of the democratic opposition, their members and the entire electorate will be subjected to more intimidation, harassment, threats, vote buying and dirty campaigning.
Everything will be even more screwed up than before.
Is a bad election better than none at all?
The Nation (Thailand): Mon 16 Aug 2010
The Burmese junta has finally fixed November 7 for their much anticipated election. No other poll in a developing country could receive such global attention and scrutiny. The junta’s sole objective seems to have been trying to use this outcome for its own survival and perpetuating its oppression. The regime has already succeeded in scheduling the election date – indeed many feared it would be postponed or may not happen again. Now that the election is going to take place, the world has to decide if it is free, fair and inclusive. Indeed, the junta does not seem to care if opinions elsewhere in the world are divided. The Burmese generals know full well the gullibility of the international community, especially Western nations, when it comes to Burma and its plight since 1988. So, they play along with the Western hypocrisy. On the surface, all of them regularly condemn the upcoming poll as a sham because it is not going to be free, fair or inclusive. Deep down, some of them continue to work with the regime for business and other interests. They have a new mantra to assist the regime by branding their assistance as humanitarian.
Obviously, this time the regime has worked out a system whereby only its own parties will win many votes. Lessons have been learnt from the previous election two decades ago. At the moment, the junta has put in place all mechanisms that will deliver an electoral triumph to its cronies. And the opposition has been annihilated. Just look at the fate of the now-defunct National League of Democracy, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, who still languishes under house arrest. The NLD used to be the most credible political force in the country, having won the 1990 election in a landslide. Lots of complaints of electoral discriminations are being heard. As the election date draws near, there will be more.
The saddest part is that in the end, whatever the poll’s outcome, the world, and especially Asean, are likely to accept it after a period of criticism. In case of Asean, it has no other option. After all, since its admission 13 years ago, Burma is part of the Asean family. No wonder, the grouping has protected Burma, even though it has constantly tarnished the group’s overall reputation. Ironically, Asean may be the first to congratulate the regime for carrying out the poll, because its member states are fading on this issue. The group no longer wants to the Burmese mess on its annual agenda.
Since the international community has paid so much attention to the election as an important ingredient in democratic development, the Burmese regime will deliver just that. Never mind, if the poll is highly orchestrated or rigged. Who really cares? Recent elections in Sudan and Afghanistan have already provided us with very good examples concerning how the West reacts as these polls served the overall purpose. The convention wisdom still is and will remain the same: a bad election is better than no election. That remains the biggest flaw in the mind-set of the international community.
Of course, the Burmese voters could make a difference. Nobody should underestimate their judgment. Unfortunately, they are not free to speak out and pick their choices. In other Asian countries, voters are free to exercise their rights! In Burma, they are under the regime’s stringent control. Everybody knows if the election is free and held in a fair environment, there is no way the junta would win.
New rail link to eastern Shan State spells war escalation
Shan Women’s Action Network: Mon 16 Aug 2010
Shan rights groups today launched a campaign against the new Mong Nai-Kengtung railway, denouncing it an expansion of the Burmese regime’s war apparatus in Shan State. In recent months the regime has accelerated construction of the planned 361-km railway, the first rail link across the Salween River to eastern Shan State. The Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) have documented how thousands of acres of farmlands have been confiscated along the route. Farmers complaining have been told the railroad is an “army project” and threatened with prison.
The railway cuts strategically between the northern and southern territories of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the biggest ceasefire group, which has resisted pressure by the regime to become a Border Guard Force. The new line will enable rapid deployment of heavy artillery into this remote mountainous region in the event of an offensive against the UWSA or other ethnic resistance forces.
“This is not a passenger railway, it’s for the army’s tanks and howitzers,” said Ying Harn Fah of SWAN.
The railway will also pass through the Mong Kok coalfields, opposite Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, where the regime and Thai investors are planning to excavate millions of tons of lignite and build a power plant to sell electricity to Thailand.
“The regime is telling the world that their 2010 elections will bring change to Burma, but on the ground they are digging in for war,” said SHRF researcher Puen Kham. “Burma’s neighbours should think twice about investing in these war zones.”
SWAN and SHRF are demanding an immediate halt to construction of the railway.
Myanmar Junta sets election date – Seth Mydans
New York Times: Fri 13 Aug 2010
Bangkok—Myanmar will hold its first election in two decades on Nov. 7, the ruling junta announced on Friday, setting a date for a vote that is seen as a means of legitimizing military power within the format of civilian rule. The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, is boycotting the election, saying the electoral rules are unfair and restrictive. Its leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate who has spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest, is legally barred from running in the election because she is under government detention.
The party was officially disbanded in May because it refused to register for the campaign.
The brief election announcement, carried on government radio and television stations, said, “Multiparty general elections for the country’s parliament will be held Sunday, Nov. 7.” It gave political parties until the end of this month to submit their candidate lists.
The timing of the election gives parties only a short time to recruit candidates and mount campaigns in what one Burmese exile commentator, Win Tin, called “a calculated political ambush.”
The United States and other Western nations have condemned the election as undemocratic. After a two-day visit in early May, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell said he was “profoundly disappointed” over the preparations for the election.
“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” he said.
Although the future Parliament ostensibly marks a shift to civilian government, it is heavily weighted toward the military, which has held power for the past half century. One quarter of the 440 seats will be reserved for active members of the military, which will allow them to control important ministries including those responsible for justice, defense and internal affairs.
Many other candidates are former military officers. In April, the prime minister and 22 other ministers retired from their military posts to run for office as civilians.
In addition, a new constitution creates a powerful National Defense and Security Council, controlled by the military commander in chief, that has the power to overrule the civilian government.
Electoral rules also favor the junta, placing tight restrictions on campaigns and public statements that criticize the government.
At least 40 parties have registered to run, including the Union Solidarity and Development Party, regarded as a vehicle for the junta’s candidates, which is believed to have received state money and special privileges.
The now-dissolved National League for Democracy won the last election in 1990 by an overwhelming margin but was denied its seats by the military.
The new election is scheduled to take place shortly before Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s latest term of house arrest expires. The fact that her late husband was a foreigner also prohibits her from running.
Other prisoners, including an estimated 2,000 political prisoners, are also barred from taking part.
A breakaway faction of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National Democratic Force, is taking part in the election despite her objections. It has squabbled with some other members of the party.
Most other parties represent ethnic minority groups with specific local agendas. But pro-democracy parties are facing the most difficulties.
A prominent opposition candidate and former political prisoner, Phyo Min Thein, recently resigned as head of his Union Democratic Party because of what he called an “unfavorable pre-election environment.”
“My resignation is proof to the international community that the forthcoming elections will not be free and fair,” he said in a statement.
A wave of dissent-activists start campaign opposing elections thumbnail – Gayatri Lakshmibai
Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 13 Aug 2010
It’s a quiet Thursday afternoon in Rangoon. A young activist treads the streets carefully. He sneaks a few glances around. He’s on a mission. And he must accomplish it. It’s important not to be spotted by the Special Branch Police (SBP), who are in turn difficult to be spotted — they always work under cover. Cutting across a corner, he finds a good spot to start his work. He pulls out a poster from his bag, smears some glue on it and sticks it on the pillar along side. “You have the right to not vote” reads the poster with a picture of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the background. He admires the words on the poster. Satisfied with his first attempt at expressing his dissent publicly, he continues — he must empty his bagful of posters.
He is part of a young group of activists called Generation Wave (GW). The organisation’s main aim is to urge the people of Burma to boycott the elections, given the undemocratic nature of the 2008 Constitution; “We reject the 2008 constitution for being undemocratic and unfair. We want to make people aware of this fact and sticking posters in public places is a good way to get the word out,” spokesperson Min Ye Naing told DVB.
GW started off its campaign against the election commission on Thursday, which marked the beginning of International Youth Year. The average age in their camp is 23. 10 GW comrades accomplished their mission on Thursday, sticking posters in buses, pavements, parking lots, public rest rooms and lamp posts in Rangoon’s Dagon-Myo-Thit, Inn-Sein, Hlaing-Thar-Yar, Mingalardon, Bayint-Naung, Yazana Plaza, Dagon center areas.
“It is a huge risk we are taking, especially with the Special Branch Police officers patrolling under cover. But it is fortunate that none of our team members have faced any danger yet,” Naing says, adding that they are actually only endorsing the Election Commission’s diktat which states: “It is your right to vote or to abstain from the 2010 elections.”
GW opposes three major aspects of the 2008 constitution. Firstly, according to the Constitution, the Army has already secured 25 percent of the parliamentary seats irrespective of the outcome of the elections, giving them an unfair advantage in future parliamentary proceedings.
Secondly, the people of Burma will not directly affect the Presidential candidate, that right lies exclusively with the three vice-presidents — two of whom will be chosen by the two parliaments and one will be appointed directly by the military.
Finally, the lack of freedom to non-junta endorsing political parties to campaign prior to the elections makes it difficult for them to get their message across to the masses.
The move initiated by GW has been met with mixed responses. “Some people on the streets give us a look of approval, but in one of the areas, we saw that the posters had been ripped apart. We aren’t yet sure whether that was a junta-initiated drive,” Naing said.
With the election date being announced, Naing and clan have started working on their campaigns for 7, November 2010; “We have to chalk out a detailed plan, but right now our main aim will be to get on to the streets and persuade people to boycott the elections,” he said. In the run up to the election, Generation Wave hopes to form alliances with other democracy groups in order to extend their sphere of operation beyond Rangoon.
Anti-election campaign in Arakan – Takaloo
Narinjara: Fri 13 Aug 2010
Kyauk Pru: A poster and leaflet campaign urging people to oppose the upcoming junta-planned election and the political parties that have registered to run has been occurring in Kyaukpru Township in western Burma’s Arakan State, report local residents. A resident of Kyaukpru told Narinjara that posters stating, “Oppose the Election to Save Yourself from Being a Lifelong Military Slave”, and leaflets bearing the title, “Oppose the Registered Political Parties in Support of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi”, were posted and distributed in public places throughout the city during the night of 6 August.
“It was amazing to see such a poster and leaflet in almost every place including households, markets, and offices in our town. But we do not know yet who has done this. We heard that the campaign is still spreading to the rural areas such as Krettin, Pyatwe, Saikrun, Katthapyay, and so many other villages in our township,” the resident said.
They added that the leaflets are urging the public to boycott the election by not voting for any political party, accusing the parties of being national traitors that support legitimizing the military junta that seized state power by force and illegal maneuvers.
A goldsmith from the Kyaukpru market reported that local police came to their market the next morning and took the posters and leaflets from their shops, and interrogated the shopkeepers about whether they saw the culprits. However, no shopkeepers were arrested for possessing the posters or leaflets.
According to the source, local authorities have been stepping up security with the deployment of police forces in every place that draws crowds, and four police vehicles have been patrolling the streets around the clock since the anti-election campaign started.
Kyaukpru is one of the towns that supported the National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the 1990 election in Arakan State.
Special Branch police are suspicious that NLD members may be involved in the campaign because the leaflets contained the name of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. They have been closely watching local NLD members since the campaign started, said the sources.
S.Korea bank to halt dollar remittances to Myanmar
Agence France Presse: Fri 13 Aug 2010
Seoul – A South Korean bank said Friday it would suspend its US dollar remittance service to Myanmar as part of an international crackdown on countries suspected of financing terror. Korea Exchange Bank, controlled by a US buyout fund, said its decision would take effect in October.
The bank said it would also stop accepting dollar remittances from Myanmar. Other foreign currencies such as the euro will not be affected.
In July, the US Congress renewed a ban on imports from Myanmar for another year, seeking to pressure the military regime over human rights and democracy, as well as alleged ties to North Korea.
Myanmar announced Friday it would hold its first election in two decades on November 7 — a vote that activists and the West say is a sham aimed at shoring up the ruling junta’s half-century grip on power.
Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the last election in 1990 but was never allowed to take power. The Nobel laureate has spent most of the ensuing two decades under house arrest.
Washington has said it would only lift sanctions in return for progress on democracy and other concerns.
China is the main military and diplomatic partner of Myanmar, which has trading relationships with many Asian nations.
Radio active – Desmond Ball and Samuel Blythe
Jane’s Intelligence Review: Fri 13 Aug 2010
Myanmar has improved its communications security capability despite being subject to a range of embargoes. Samuel Blythe and Desmond Ball explain how the evident ability of the secretive state to evade such restrictions raises concerns about its other procurement plans.For Myanmar’s secretive government, communications appear to be increasingly important.
Secret documents leaked to Jane’s and a series of procurement tenders posted on the internet reveal that the country’s military government is making a sustained effort to upgrade its communications security capabilities.
The ability of the Myanmar armed forces (officially known as Tatmadaw) to conceal its operations is of concern in light of the government’s apparent efforts to develop a nuclear capacity.
Since early 2009, United States officials have been expressing anxiety about Myanmar’s possible pursuit of a nuclear programme and its potential links to North Korea. These reports were given further credence following a report by the Norway-based multimedia organisation Democratic Voice of Burma in June, which included the testimony of an army defector and documentary evidence suggesting the development of a nuclear programme. Naypidaw has denied these allegations.
Quite apart from its potential use in any nuclear programme, improved communications security will enhance the military’s ability to move against insurgent groups operating in the country. In addition, as documented by Amnesty International, the Tatmadaw regularly targets civilians in its military operations in areas of active insurgency in eastern Karen and Kayah states, as well as southern Shan state. Encrypted communications could complicate efforts to provide early warning of a potential attack to civilian populations and aid workers in border regions adjacent to Thailand.
Another worrying aspect of Myanmar’s improved communications security capability is the fact that the country is subject to a range of bilateral arms embargoes. While designed to hinder Myanmar’s access to such equipment, the country’s evident ability to evade such restrictions raises concerns about its other procurement plans.
Talking in tongues Myanmar’s communications security initiative may have been prompted by border skirmishes with Thailand in 2001 and concerns that the Thai army could share communications intercepts with Myanmar’s ethnic insurgent groups. Initial efforts were focused on the production of the TS-2002 transceiver and LA-97 scrambler, which was first introduced into service in the late 1990s.
An army handbook for general staff seen by Jane’s, which was published in 2003 and issued as late as 2005, elaborates the standard frontline communications inventory of light infantry divisions, the army’s main fighting force. A table in the manual entitled Communications equipment for normal operations against domestic insurgents and foreign enemies indicates that light infantry division headquarters used 10 different communications systems, including four communications security devices, a TW-100RX receiver, a TW-1100 transceiver, a SR MP-25, and the LA-97 scrambler, an indigenously produced voice scrambler handset modelled on the LA-54, which was acquired from South Africa in 1992 and 1993.
According to the list, the light infantry divisions’ subordinate units, which include three tactical operations commands and 10 infantry battalions, lacked this equipment, suggesting that light infantry divisions probably used these devices to communicate with the Ministry of Defence and regional commands.
The inventory list further indicates that light infantry divisions and tactical operations commands were equipped with Israeli-manufactured SC-120 scramblers and Chinese-manufactured XD-D9V transceivers, which also offer full encryption security. Tactical operations commands, columns and battalions were each equipped with six TS-2002s. Although specifications on the indigenously produced TS-2002 communications security devices are unavailable, they are apparently interfaced with the standard issue radio systems for battalions, which include the six XD-D6M, TRA-906Cs, and the indigenously produced Thura.
The Tatmadaw has subsequently upgraded and diversified its systems through the intensified production of communications security devices.
Documents from 2000 provided to Jane’s state that the Tatmadaw’s Directorate of Signals intended to produce 2,075 LA-97s but was doing so at the rate of only 50 units per year. However, by 2008 the LA-97 had been used down to the battalion level, improving its counter-insurgent and conventional military capability.
Beginning in 2006, ST-24 hi-tech communication sets have also been used by the army, including its strategic commands and armour battalions. Technical specifications on the radio are not available.
The army is also increasingly reliant on the TS-2003 frequency hopping transceiver, employing it in some regions of conflict, such as Kayah state. Procurement orders for the production of 500 sets in early 2010 suggest their use may become increasingly prevalent. A military source reported to Jane’s that the TS-2004 is also in use, but declined to provide details about the system.
Specifics on the army units current outfitting are unavailable. However, it appears that indigenously produced communications security devices are being distributed far more widely than in the past, and have enabled the Tatmadaw to mask its communications, leaving insurgent groups and neighbouring militaries at a greater disadvantage than before.
Despite greater indigenous production, the Tatmadaw remains dependent on foreign-produced hi-tech components to build its communications security devices. Although many governments have imposed bilateral export restrictions on the sale of technology and arms to Myanmar, they do not appear to have seriously complicated military procurement. For instance, a top-secret memo from 2000 elaborating LA-97 production plans, a copy of which was provided to Jane’s, indicated that the Directorate of Signals relied on local companies to purchase 37 parts, 18 of which were purchased abroad.
The Tatmadaw has also outsourced the procurement of several hundred components necessary for TS-2003s to private companies. Buyers include the Yangon-based Guardian Enterprise Company, which also has active tenders to purchase parts for Myanmar’s F-7 fighter aircraft.
Despite Canada’s far-reaching sanctions regime, in late 2009, the Canadian-based Asian Network Service also openly posted tenders on its website to buy TS-2003 parts. Canada’s Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations, implemented in 2007, do not clearly prohibit the posting of tenders.
However, the law provides that “no person in Canada shall export, sell, supply or ship any goods, wherever situated, to [Myanmar], to any person in [Myanmar] or to any person for the purposes of any business carried on in or operated from [Myanmar].” They also impose a blanket ban on the import of goods “supplied or shipped from [Myanmar]”. The Asian Network Service’s website indicates it is an employment agency for immigrant labourers, and trades in a range of commodities from Myanmar, including teak.
According to Jane’s sources, the Tatmadaw also continues to use foreign communication devices and favours Australian-manufactured Barrett radios.
The Barrett 2050 is a sophisticated HF single side-band communications system that – in one version – provides a simple-to-operate frequency hopping option. It then requires insertion of the ‘hop band’ and the nine-digit cipher number and is ready for use. The heart of the 2050 is a flexible soft-core processor and powerful digital signal processing system that delivers superior reception and noise reduction. These normally transmit on a frequency of 5.407 MHz or 6.628 MHz.
Contained in a lightweight, extremely strong, sealed aluminium chassis, the 2050 meets military standard 810F for ‘drop, dust, temperature, shock and vibration’. It is usually operated as a desktop transceiver, but can easily be truck-mounted for mobile operations.
Tatmadaw division level units increasingly use the Barrett 2050 in the Eastern, North East, and Central Regional Commands, according to a source that monitors Tatmadaw communications, and Myanmar’s army evidently plans to make more extensive use of the Barrett 2050 system. The price of a new Barrett 2050 radio with standard accessories is about USD3,000.
Details about Barrett’s sales of communication equipment to Myanmar were revealed by Hamish McDonald in the Australian newspapers Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 5 January 2010, generating considerable controversy. Even when legal, sales of equipment with potential military applications to Myanmar can arouse international criticism because of the brutal nature of Tatmadaw operations in ethnic areas. In statements to the press, Phil Bradshaw, managing director of Barrett Communications, acknowledged the sale of radios to Myanmar in 2009, with earlier sales of “around 50 radio sets”
in 2005 and 2006, but insisted they were for civilian use”. Bradshaw stated: “They are used for just internal communications within [Myanmar]” owing to the country’s “very bad infrastructure generally outside the main towns”, which he compared to Papua New Guinea. Bradshaw added:“
I cannot say the army have not used them but I do not think they have.” He insisted the radios were not “for military use anyway. The ones that are going to [Myanmar], they are straight Barrett 2050s with data systems that are used to send data from point A to point B. They are not tactical radios by any means”.
At the time, Barrett acknowledged that one of Myanmar’s government ministries was tending bids for additional sets. In light of these statements, news agencies widely reported that the Tatmadaw had acquired the Barrett radios through a civilian front company, or that the radios had been diverted from another government ministry.
Barrett’s sales to the Tatmadaw date back to at least 2002, with the sale of 34 Barrett data sets, as revealed in a procurement document from Myanmar’s Ministry of Defence provided to Jane’s.
The documents indicate that army regional commands used the radios to communicate with subordinate combat units. A second document indicates that in July 2004, the Ministry of Defence called for tenders for the supply of an additional 50 Barrett HF datasets. Barrett and another Australian company, Codan LTD, the UK-based D & J Exports LTD and the Singapore-based Enpress Trade were among the 16 companies that tendered bids. Sales bids of this type presumably remain legal despite the embargoes.
Barrett Communication’s winning 2004 bid secured the sale of 50 950-transceivers and included optional components, including a 923-Clover 2000 odem and the 923-HF fax and data system operating software. Barrett’s website indicates that the 950 is built to European military standards and has a scrambler option that provides a “medium level of voice encryption for message privacy under the most arduous propagation conditions”. The USD659,000 contract covered air freight charges from Perth delivered to Yangon Airport, and included on-site commissioning.
In an email to Jane’s, Bradshaw declined to comment on sales to Myanmar’s Ministry of Defence, noting that “due to the inaccurate reporting in the press regarding our company’s activities we have decided not to provide information that is commercial in confidence between ourselves and
Since 1991, Australia has banned exports to Myanmar of goods identified by the Department of Defence on its defence and strategic goods list as “defence goods”. Proscribed items include radios with encryption and frequency hopping capabilities. The arms embargo is implemented under Regulation 13E of the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958. In his email to Jane’s, Bradshaw wrote: “On no occasion have we sold frequency hopping transceivers to the [Myanmar] Armed Forces.
Frequency hopping, by company policy and agreement with the Department of Defence, can only be installed at the Barrett facility in Perth and only by staff authorised to do so. It is not possible to retrofit frequency hopping outside the factory to Barrett 2050 transceivers or any other Barrett transceivers including those that use scramblers.”
A spokesperson from Australia’s Department of Defence told Jane’s Barrett Communications had “confirmed that the radios they supplied to Burma did not contain an optional frequency hopping capability”. She said: “As such, the radios are not controlled for export under Regulation 13E of the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958. The company was therefore not required to seek a Department of Defence permission to export, and the department has not been involved in the transactions.”
She added: “The Department of Defence’s technical assessment concluded the frequency hopping function built into the Barrett 2050 radios can only be enabled at the factory by a Barrett technician. To enable this function, a customer would have to have access to Barrett’s facilities and co-operation. This could not be done in-country.”
Limits of export control
However, a way to obtain restricted communications security equipment may be to purchase it from third countries. An Australian Department of Defence spokesperson told Jane’s that the defence and strategic good list restriction “includes cases where the end-user is known to be in [Myanmar], but the export is being transshipped through a third country. In assessing an export application, the Department of Defence conducts a risk assessment process that includes checks on the bona fides of the end-user and end-use of the goods to ensure that the export is consistent with Australia’s export control policy criteria.”
The spokesperson added: “However, Australian legislation does not apply to foreign countries. Once they have been delivered to the foreign enduser, any re-export of the goods would be subject to control by the foreign government concerned.”
Once defence and strategic good list restricted goods have left Australia, it may be difficult to monitor compliance. For instance, in 2008 an officer in one of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups showed Jane’s a Barrett transceiver with an activated frequency hopping system that he had purchased on the retail market in Singapore.
As demonstrated by its recent acquisitions and the increased production of communications security devices, the Tatmadaw seems intent on further shrouding its operations in secrecy. These efforts will receive a significant boost when the government’s countrywide fibre optic networks become fully operational, as these link the Ministry of Defence to all of its command areas and operational units.
The Tatamaw’s growing communications security capabilities could provide it with a decisive
edge against active insurgencies along the border with Thailand, and recalcitrant ceasefire groups along its borders with China, including the Kachin Independence Army and the United Wa State Army. Moreover, despite international criticism of Myanmar’s government on the grounds of its potential nuclear ambitions and human rights abuses, no concerted effort has yet been made to crack down on transfers or co-ordinate embargo efforts, meaning that the country is likely to be able to continue its programme of communications security upgrades.
Keep making noise about Burma – David Milliband
Guardian (UK): Fri 13 Aug 2010
The international community must maintain pressure on the Burmese junta if basic human rights are to be restored there. In September 2007, monks marching in Rangoon applauded as they passed by the British embassy. That is the sort of reputation British diplomacy should have. If we are to continue to have that respect in countries where the people have their true voice suppressed, then the kind of action outlined in Waihnin Pwint Thon’s excellent article for the Guardian last week is a good place to start.
I met Waihnin earlier this year to support Amnesty’s campaign to free political prisoners in Burma. I was struck first by her bravery and strength in leaving her family for a new life to study here in Britain, and secondly by her determination to bring about change in Burma. In doing so, she has the full support of her father, imprisoned for no crime and surviving in conditions unfit for any person, let alone someone struggling with a serious heart condition.
The Burmese junta has announced elections for 7 November. They will not be free. They will not be fair. And they will mark the culmination of a process begun by the junta to tighten its grip on the throat of Burma’s people. The freedoms of assembly, of speech, and of political opinion have been consumed by the military state. When cyclone Nargis struck in May 2008, the junta had at least 29 people arrested and they remain in prison. A further 10 who accepted relief donations from abroad were arrested in October. This is the kind of mindless suppression that characterises a paranoid state, intent only on eliminating the most basic of rights.
On the prime minister’s recent trip to India, the issue of Burma was not in the British news. But countries such as India and China have a vital interest, as well as a role, in Burma. So do all the countries of Asia. The danger is that “stability” is seen as an alternative to the rights of all the Burmese people. We need to use our partnerships with India, China and other countries in the region to make the case for accountable government and the restoration of basic rights. As the EU shapes its foreign policy, and as we consid
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