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[Readingroom] News on Burma - 3/9/10

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    News on Burma Myanmars cyber generation boots up for first-time vote Generation Wave youths challenge Burmese junta Irrawaddy people agree with poll boycott
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 3, 2010
      News on Burma
      1. Myanmar’s cyber generation boots up for first-time vote
      2. ‘Generation Wave’ youths challenge Burmese junta
      3. Irrawaddy people agree with poll boycott
      4. Kachin army cements ‘unwavering stance’
      5. Burma’s tax system corrupt, activists say
      6. Farce of the Burma vote
      7. The hidden impact of Burma’s arbitrary and corrupt taxation
      8. Myanmar media confirm junta chief retains power
      9. Myanmar’s pro-junta parties field army of candidates
      10. Generals in reshuffle buying diamonds, gold
      11. KIO demands federal union before surrendering weapons
      12. Delhi notes China’s Indian Ocean ‘interest’
      13. Poverty in Burma is appalling
      14. Political transition: a chance for progress?
      15. Democracy groups struggle to challenge Myanmar’s junta
      16. Burma’s vote to nowhere
      17. Burma poll will only entrench those in power
      18. Junta’s strategic election moves
      19. Three political parties enter into alliance
      20. Border Guard Force accepts children from DKBA
      21. Burma’s generals act to ensure there are few witnesses to election
      22. How the CIA bedded down in Burma
      23. Myanmar opposition in disarray as polls approach
      24. China to build 3 pipelines to deliver Myanmar oil-report
      25. Tay Za launches broadband service in Rangoon


      Myanmar’s cyber generation boots up for first-time vote
      Agence France Presse: Wed 1 Sep 2010

      Yangon – One of Myanmar’s self-described “pioneer bloggers” proudly opens his popular website — officially banned by the military rulers — and scrolls to his updates on the approaching election. Tin San has been carefully researching the candidates running in Myanmar’s first polls in two decades, and for his next post he is busy reading up on the electoral regulations.

      “Most people in Myanmar are not familiar with voting. We need to have resources and information to vote how we like,” says the 30-year-old. Like all those in the country aged under 38, he has never voted before.

      The November 7 election has been widely criticised by activists and the West as a sham orchestrated by the ruling generals to shore up their rule. Some favour a boycott by voters, many of whom are disillusioned with the process.

      But Tin San, whose name AFP has changed for his protection, is among a group of optimists who advocate participation and online debate of the polls, despite some of the world’s most repressive Internet controls.

      “I have quite a lot of influence on my readers so I want them just to think about the information,” he says.

      “As far as I know, most young people are not interested in the election, even though they want change. But this is the beginning of change — it’s a stepping stone.”

      Judging by the busy cyber cafes across the main city Yangon, the web offers a way to tap the city’s youth, despite slow connections, frequent power cuts and huge risks over online activity that the regime deems subversive.

      Google users look up South Korean celebrities — in line with the current Asia-wide craze — while other cafe-goers read world news stories on the BBC website. Several are chattering on Google Talk or browsing Facebook.

      Staff are quick to help clients find proxy servers to bypass blocks on certain websites, even though they are strictly forbidden to do so on threat of closure, according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

      The rights group describes Myanmar’s legislation on Internet use, the Electronic Act, as “one of the most liberticidal laws in the world”, with dissident netizens facing lengthy prison terms.

      Tin San, who has about 2,000 Facebook friends and thousands more blog followers, says he holds informal gatherings across Yangon to discuss the Internet’s uses — and how to dodge the junta’s restrictions.

      “Political websites are banned but you can still read them, for example through (web aggregator) Google Reader,” is one of his tips. He also offers advice about privacy settings on social networking sites.

      During the “Saffron Revolution” monk-led protests in 2007, Myanmar’s citizens used the web to leak extensive accounts and video to the outside world, sparking a total Internet ban by the iron-fisted regime.

      Connections have also been slowed down on politically significant dates such as August 8, the anniversary of a mass political uprising in 1988.

      “I think the government is quite afraid of blogs and bloggers,” says Tin San, one of nearly 1,500 members of the online Myanmar Blogger Society.

      Controls are expected to be tightened again during the election, but for now many are fearlessly talking politics online while they still can.

      “I receive 10 to 20 emails from my friends each day about the things the government does in Myanmar,” says 28-year-old Win Oo, who lives in Yangon and whose name has also been changed.

      He says a friend recently sent him a cartoon of the junta chief Than Shwe looking like a clown. Prominent blogger Nay Phone Latt was jailed in 2008 for 20 years, later reduced to 12, for allegedly storing such an image on email, among other offences.

      “If I want to look at things like that, I sit in the corner of the Internet cafe, not in the middle, because we never know about the other users or the owner,” says Win Oo, who also intends to vote this year.

      For those who can dodge the firewalls and take the risks, the Internet offers more freedom to discuss the election than print journals, which face rigid censorship over their reports.

      Yet few political parties have taken their campaign online. Two that have attempted it — the Myanmar Democracy Congress party and the Peace and Diversity Party — have had their websites banned.

      Even if their sites were allowed, the web’s reach outside the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay is severely limited.

      Just one in every 455 of Myanmar’s inhabitants were Internet users in 2009, based on statistics from the International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency in Geneva.

      About two thirds of the population, estimated at about 50 million, live in the countryside and have limited access to information about the election, the main parties and the issues at stake.

      “It’s quite ok for urban youths who have Internet access but what about youths in rural areas, small town people and farmers? How do we help them?” asks a business editor in Yangon.

      Web-savvy city dwellers still hope their online activity, however restricted, will help to spread political awareness across the country.

      “The Internet can help to change the outcome of an election, maybe not this one but the next,” says a 26-year-old student of Yangon-based civil society group Myanmar Egress, which has promoted participation in the polls.

      “We are already in a transition period so we have to concentrate on sharing things, updating news, doing more,” he says. “We can eat the fruit in 10 years — it will not happen immediately”.

      ‘Generation Wave’ youths challenge Burmese junta
      France24: Wed 1 Sep 2010

      The Burmese opposition is gearing up ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in November. A Young Burmese man told us how he and other activists are expressing their dissatisfaction with the ruling junta through rap music and street art. The Burmese people will head to the polls on November 7th, more than 21 years after Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition LND party won a legislative election ignored by the ruling junta. Although the vote has not yet taken place, international observers have already emitted serious doubts on its credibility.

      According to Burma’s electoral laws, a quarter of existing seats in regional and national parliaments are reserved for members of the military, and more than 70 high ranking officers have recently left the army to run for office. Meanwhile, most opposition candidates were threatened and pressured into opting out of the race, or deterred by the exorbitant participation fee demanded by the electoral commission.

      Three years after the “Saffron Revolution” of 2007, during which hundreds of thousands of opponents, led by Bhuddist monks, took to the streets, the junta still has a tight grip on the country. Some opponents have joined clandestine movements like Generation Wave, despite the risk of being arrested. The movement is made up of around 50 Burmese youths, aged 15 to 25, that have been staging multiple symbolic actions across the country. Although they describe themselves as an apolitical movement, they firmly support Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Bo Bo is 22. He is a member of the clandestine group Generation Wave.

      I was forced to flee my country two years ago, because my ideas didn’t go down so well with the military secret service. I was used to discussing my political views with friends and family, denouncing how the junta violates the human rights of its citizens. But in Burma, it’s dangerous to express one’s views too openly. One day, the police came to my parent’s house to try to arrest me. I was forced to flee the country with other militants of Generation Wave, and cross the border illegally to Thailand.

      “Young Burmese opponents cross the border illegally by groups of 5 or 10 to attend our training sessions in Thailand”

      Since then, we have tried to organise Burmese youths into opposition movements. We hold secret training sessions in a house right by the Burmese border. Most young Burmese don’t know what their rights are, what democracy and human rights are – we try to inform them. They will only feel the urge to fight for regime change once they are aware of what is going on in their country. The young Burmese who come to our training sessions cross the border illegally by groups of 5 or 10. They run the risk of being arrested at any time.

      “We write activist songs to inform people”

      We also use music and poetry to raise awareness in the country. High-school students and college students are naturally attracted to rap and hip hop, so we compose rap songs that denounce the regime, to inform people of the situation. We have a studio in Thailand where we record our songs onto CDs that are sold on the Burmese black market. The money we make allows us to record more CDs.

      Graffiti and stickers are another way of raising awareness. Most members of Generation Wave are in Burma – they paint on walls, by day or by night, depending on the level of security, so as not to get caught. Sometimes I cross the border to help them.

      “22 members of our movement are in prison”

      As an activist, I have no future. I have no passport, no legal papers. Things are made even harder by the fact that I have to remain in hiding and can’t move freely. Sometimes, I can talk to my family over the phone, but I have to be careful because we are closely watched. 22 members of our movement are in prison right now.

      I think that one day, we will succeed in overthrowing the military regime, and our country will be rid of its dictatorship. As the 2010 elections approach, we hope there will be more protests like those of 2007. I don’t know if it will happen, but I hope so. We’re ready for new non-violent action. Our goal is to inform people that the upcoming elections are neither free nor fair, and to convince them not to go vote.”

      Irrawaddy people agree with poll boycott: NLD – Ko Wild
      Mizzima News: Wed 1 Sep 2010

      Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Many Irrawaddy residents and party members have agreed to boycott Burma’s first elections in 20 years on November 7, according to National League for Democracy party vice-chairman Tin Oo. “The people would like to boycott the election. They said they would like to cast their votes for the NLD but as the NLD had decided to boycott the election, so they also should boycott the forthcoming election. They [said they] have no option but to boycott the election”, Tin Oo said.

      NLD leaders discussed electoral issues, youth culture and women’s affairs with party members, residents and villagers, he said.

      “Our tour was aimed at educating and motivating people to do what they should. We helped them understand the current political conditions and advised that they need to carry out suitable actions peacefully,” he told Mizzima.

      Tin Oo, 83, said that although he had not visited his hometown Pathein for a long time, he had no intention of visiting relatives, but that the objective of the tour was to reorganise NLD members and colleagues and talk to local residents.

      He and his colleagues saluted the statue of national independence hero General Aung San, the father of detained NLD general secretary Aung San Suu Kyi, near Titekyi Monastery in Pathein, and vowed that they too would continue to fight for freedom.

      Also on the roadshow were NLD central executive committee member Hla Pe, party members Win Myint and Kyi Win from Irrawaddy Division, and party women’s and youth leaders. They also visited Kyonpyaw, Pantanaw, Maubin, Bogalay and Dedaye townships.

      A legal scholar, Tin Oo entered politics in 1988. In September that year he became the party’s vice-chairman and in December, chairman.

      In 1989, he was imprisoned for seven years. Then in 2003 he was arrested again after in the “Depayin Massacre” and was sentenced to nine months in Katha Prison before being put under house arrest in 2004. He was released on February 13 this year.

      The NLD have been conducting such roadshows around the country since June, visiting around 200 townships in Sagaing, Mandalay, Magway, Tenasserim, Pegu, and Irrawaddy divisions and Shan, Mon, Kachin and Arakan states.

      Registrations for 42 political parties have been approved by the junta’s electoral watchdog, the Union Election Commission, and 32 have submitted lists of members to the commission according to the junta’s electoral laws, state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported on Tuesday. Among the parties, the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP) have the maximum numbers of candidates, which junta rules make costly to submit.

      The international community including the United Nations has demanded that the election process be credible and inclusive. However, many countries including the United States, Britain, Australia and those of the European Union, have condemned the junta’s apparent stage-management ahead of the polls in favour of parties it supports and the exclusion of opposition leader Suu Kyi and her NLD party from the process as among many of the signs that the elections would be neither free nor fair.

      Kachin army cements ‘unwavering stance’ – Aye Nai
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 1 Sep 2010

      One of Burma’s most prominent armed ethnic groups has made a final deadline day decision to reject the junta’s request to transform into a Border Guard Force. The country’s ruling generals set 1 September as the day that all ceasefire armies make the transformation, which would bring them under control of Naypyidaw and see their lower-ranking troops assimilated into the Burmese army.

      Many have however rejected, and in response the generals have threatened war in Burma’s volatile border regions where the majority of ethnic minority groups are located.

      Deputy-general of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Wawhkyung Sin Wa, said that it was the group’s “unwavering stance” to see a federal union emerge in Burma with autonomy for ethnic minorities.

      But the controversial 2008 constitution that set the ball rolling for elections this year makes it clear that the future of Burma lies as “one nation, one army”, while senior Burmese army official Win Thein in June told the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ceasefire group, that “there shouldn’t be various armed groups in one country”, meaning transformation was inevitable.

      Wawhkyung Sin Wa said that the KIA would now look to achieve its goals of a federal state “via peaceful negotiations and a dialogue”. Asked what would happen if Burmese troops launched an attack, he remained coy.

      “It depends on what the government will do to us. For us, we are taking a stable stance on maintaining peace and looking for dialogue.”

      There are also reports that the New Mon State Party (NMSP) has officially rejected the Border Guard Force proposal, although this has not been confirmed.

      Burma’s tax system corrupt, activists say – Ron Corben
      Voice of America: Wed 1 Sep 2010

      Bangkok – A new report on Burma’s tax system says it lacks transparency and accountability, and many taxes are paid to corrupt officials. Burma rights activists say arbitrary taxation adds another layer to the economic burdens and rights abuses many Burmese suffer. The report, released in Bangkok, from a network of human-rights organizations said Burma’s military has transformed taxation “into extortion and a tool of repression.” The government and the military arbitrarily collect taxes in the form of cash, land, goods and labor, said the report, based on interviews with more than 340 people during the past two years.

      In addition, people said they are charged arbitrary fees at checkpoints, and forced to pay donations for festivals, school buildings, school registration and equipment.

      Economist Alison Vicary from Macquarie University’s Burma Economic Watch said Burma’s tax system is oppressive and illegitimate.

      “The agencies collecting taxes are actively involved in the control and suppression of the population,” Vicary said. “That much of the taxation that actually collected at the local level is going to the incomes of local officials rather than to the central government.”

      According to rights activists, military-backed organizations have been extorting funds from communities ahead of the November 7th general elections.

      Vicary said the abusive tax system has contributed to Burma’s economic deterioration. And she believes little will change after the balloting.

      The lack of accountability makes life in Burma harder for much of the population, said Cheery Zahau, a human rights coordinator with the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma

      “It added to the problems to the basic survival, they [Burmese people] cannot save money, they cannot, in many cases, send their children to school,” Zahau said. “They do not have enough money for hospitals, for health care anymore. So it makes the whole social welfare collapse for the people; it becomes a burden for the people.”

      The report also said the tax system’s denies most Burmese the right to an adequate standard of living, health care, housing, food, and education. It recommends that international donors, such as development banks, should only give Burma aid when governance standards and human-rights protections have improved.

      Farce of the Burma vote – Editorial
      Bangkok Post: Wed 1 Sep 2010

      There can be no more cynical regime in Southeast Asia than that of Burma’s military junta. The generals and colonels who have controlled that poor country since 1962 have looted the economy, mistreated citizens and made Burma a worldwide synonym for tyranny. It is going to be difficult to top their current cynical move. The generals are about to bring to fruition a manipulated election that will endorse a rigged constitution to give the military control of the country forever. And all this is being passed off as an exercise in democracy.

      The breathtaking military “reshuffle” last week is a case in point. No one is sure of the details because the junta has never felt the need to announce its important moves, let alone explain or justify them. But it appears that around six dozen senior officers were moved.

      To call this a reshuffle is to demean the word. Thailand has reshuffles, where officers retire and move within the very public, designated chain of command. Burma’s military movements had quite a different cast – and sinister at that.

      The November elections are pre-arranged to be neither fair nor free. For starters, the military is guaranteed 25% of the 498 seats in the legislature.

      The opaque musical chairs orchestrated by the ruling generals last week put certain officers in military positions to claim those 125 seats. Others were released from active service to run for many of the other seats supposedly meant for non-military civilians.

      Ironically, the Burmese junta actually ran a free election. Back in 1990, a fair vote was held countrywide wherein the people rejected the military and its puppet political parties, and overwhelmingly elected pro-democracy civilians, the majority of whom were loyal to the banned leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      But because they got a result they did not want, the ruling generals simply ignored the election outcome and spent the next 20 years in a campaign of arrests, intimidation, imprisonment and torture of democratic Burmese.

      This time, the election will reflect the wishes of the military dictatorship. The junta is openly backing several political parties, including with monetary funding. Voters from Rangoon to the smallest village have been instructed on what is expected of them on election day.

      The largest group of democrats is the National Democratic Force. Some 200 candidates have raised the fees required to run for about 1,200 national and regional seats.

      Ms Suu Kyi is the only Burmese with credentials as a national political leader. She has been banned, again, from the entire election process. In the first place, she is under house arrest on various trumped-up charges that would be laughed out of any court except the ones controlled by the Burmese military. She also is the widow of a foreigner, an offence so serious to the junta that it also disqualifies her from any political participation in her country.

      The result of this political tragedy is a foregone conclusion. The military-written constitution will govern a military-run election where almost all candidates have been officially and ostentatiously military-approved. Mrs Suu Kyi has rightly called for a boycott. There is no reward for voting in a pre-determined election.

      Outsiders may be helpless to alter the course of this shameless power grab by the junta, but they can expose it. It is most important that the Thai government and all other governments in the region refrain from endorsing this political charade.

      We have to give them so much that our stomachs are empty of food: The hidden impact of Burma’s arbitrary and corrupt taxation
      Network for Human Rights Documentation: Wed 1 Sep 2010

      “On average, villagers have to provide military government organizations with more than 10,000 kyat a month. Even though villagers have no food to eat they still have to pay them. At the hands of the SPDC the villagers have to work harder but they still have not enough food for their families. ”Burma’s military regime has transformed taxation from a routine and legitimate function of government into extortion and a tool of repression. ND-Burma’s report highlights that the state of Burma is implementing a system of corrupt taxation which fails to comply with any accepted norms, fails to stop the diversion of government revenues into private pockets, and contributes to the ongoing and systematic violation of their most basic human rights: the right to an adequate standard of living, to housing, to education and the right to be free from forced labor.

      While the majority of Burma’s people live in abject poverty, the military regime and its cronies spend more than 50% of the national budget on the military and less than 1.3% on health and education combined. ND Burma’s research revealed that people are forced to hand over large proportions of their income and property in official and unofficial taxes leaving more and more people struggling to survive.

      The military’s corrupt practices violate their signature of the UN Convention on Corruption and their signatures of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Convention on the Rights of the Child. They cause longterm damage to the economy and destroys the viability of subsistence and medium scale farming and enterprises, i.e. the economic activities that that sustain most of the civilian population. A subsistence farmer in Burma could be forced to pay more than 50% of his or her livelihood in so-called taxes. This report documents the range of corrupt acts that occur under the guise of taxation including; farmers being forced to grow certain crops and sell them at low price to the army, goods being confiscated and not returned until a payment is given, Tatmadaw and government officials forcing people to pay arbitrary high payments at checkpoints, forced “donations” for festivals, school buildings, etc, forced labour, and the loss of earnings and health or fees incurred in order to avoid these burdens.

      The regime’s attacks on the civilian population take the form of murder, torture, and sexual violence, and this report demonstrates that those attacks also entail imposing severe economic hardship on the population in violation of their human rights.

      “The people of Burma are poor but the regime that oppresses them is not.”
      Sean Turnell, Burma Economic Watch.


      Myanmar media confirm junta chief retains power
      Associated Press: Tue 31 Aug 2010

      Yangon, Myanmar — A message from Myanmar’s junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe appeared in state media Tuesday, dispelling reports that he had stepped down from the army as part of a major military reshuffle ahead of elections. The message was a typical note of congratulations to Malaysia on its Independence Day and made no reference to the military reshuffle — the largest in more than a decade. But it was carried on the front page of the country’s three official newspapers and the subtext was clear: Than Shwe is still in charge.

      The military reshuffle that occurred Friday retired more than a dozen senior leaders, though it has yet to be officially announced by the highly secretive junta. It was an apparent move to prepare for Nov. 7 national elections, the first in two decades.

      Than Shwe has ruled the country since 1992. The rumors of his retirement, along with that of his second-in-command Maung Aye, suggested they were being groomed for roles as president and vice president in the new government after elections.

      Since military reshuffles are often never formally announced, when rumors of such shifts spread through Myanmar society, citizens carefully follow television and news reports to see if leaders are referred to with new titles.

      “Senior General Than Shwe, chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, has sent a message of felicitations” to the king of Malaysia to mark the country’s Independence Day, the New Light of Myanmar and other newspapers reported.

      The message referred both to Than Shwe’s military rank and his title as head of the ruling junta’s government, known as the SPDC, effectively putting to rest reports by several media outlets that had reported his resignation last week.

      The elections are portrayed by the regime as a key step to shifting to civilian rule after five decades of military domination, but critics call them a sham and say the military shows little sign of relinquishing control.

      Friday’s reshuffle included about two dozen officials, notably the junta’s third- and fourth-ranking generals, Thura Shwe Mann, who served as Joint Chief of Staff, and Tin Aung Myint Oo, who was the army’s Quartermaster General, according to officials who are close to the military but could not be named because the reshuffle was not formally announced.

      It was the second since April, when 27 senior officials, including Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein, retired from the military.

      Under the country’s new constitution, 25 percent of the seats in Parliament will go to military representatives. If retiring generals run for Parliament they would not be counted in the military’s quota although they are likely to enhance the army’s influence.

      The polls will take place without the country’s leading opposition party, headed by detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which says the elections are unfair and is boycotting them.

      Myanmar’s pro-junta parties field army of candidates
      Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Tue 31 Aug 2010

      Yangon – Myanmar’s two pro-junta parties have submitted large candidate lists for the country’s November 7 general election, dwarfing the number of pro-democracy candidates, party sources said Tuesday. Parties had to submit their candidate lists to the Election Commission on Monday to qualify for the November 7 polls, Myanmar’s first in two decades.

      The pro-junta Union Solidarity Development Party, whose membership is packed with retired military men, will field 1,163 candidates, enough to fight all contested seats in the lower, upper and regional houses of parliament.

      Another pro-government party, the National Unity Party, has registered 994 candidates, the party’s executive committee member Han Shwe said.

      Myanmar’s two main pro-democracy parties, the National Democratic Force and Democratic Party Myanmar (DPM), have only registered 160 and 49 candidates, respectively.

      “We could only register 49 candidates because of a lack of money,” DPM chief general secretary Than Than Nu told the German Press Agency

      Generals in reshuffle buying diamonds, gold
      Irrawaddy: Tue 31 Aug 2010

      Rangoon—Family members of recently retired top military officers and government ministers in Burma have been collecting diamonds, gold jewelry and solid gold, according to business sources. Diamond and gold traders in Rangoon said family members and relatives of those who have been recently removed from their top military posts and who will have to resign ministerial posts after the election, appear to be transforming their property into diamonds and gold.

      “Ministers and generals don’t keep money in cash,” said a businessman in Rangoon. “They have converted it into strong and valuable items such as diamonds and gold. They don’t need to buy land and cars anymore because they already have as much they want. Those things are not as valuable and as movable as diamonds and gold that they can carry along with their families wherever they go.”

      A number of jewelery dealers told The Irrawaddy that the generals’ family members did not come to the market to buy diamonds and gold, but instead send their close business associates and brokers to take care of it for them.

      The current price of solid gold is 652,500 kyat [US $665] for one kyat-thar [approximately 0.015 kg].

      A gold trader close to the regime’s top generals said gold bars and gold have been purchased in visses [one viss is approximately equivalent to one kilogram].

      “It is really difficult to estimate the amount of gold they have,” said a gold trader. “For many years they have bought it, and they are still buying it.”

      Family members of the generals are reportedly buying more diamonds than the ministers themselves.

      “Diamonds are everyone’s fancy and can be worth millions or billions. Although it is small, it is a treasure that makes the possession stronger and more valuable. Families of top generals are particularly buying expensive diamonds,” said a diamond shop owner in Rangoon.

      According to military sources in Naypyidaw, Snr-Gen Than Shwe is well known as the richest of the generals followed by the family of his deputy, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye.

      Ministers Aung Thaung of the Ministry of Industry No. 1 and Htay Oo of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation are said to be the wealthiest among government ministers.

      Almost all the important positions in the army have recently been filled with a new generation of army officers. The state-run media has been silent on the reported resignations of top military officials in the Burmese leadership structure.

      KIO demands federal union before surrendering weapons
      Kachin News Group: Tue 31 Aug 2010

      Burma’s ethnic Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has put its foot down and in a statement today has reiterated that it will not transform its armed-wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) till a genuine federal union comes about and lasting peace is restored in Burma. If the ruling junta restores lasting peace through protracted dialogue with the KIO and implements the goals and aims set forth in the 1947 Panglong Agreement, which was signed by Kachin and other ethnic leaders for a multi-ethnic union with equal rights, the KIO will transform its armed-wing and other departments, the KIO statement released on August 30 said.

      The statement made it clear that the KIO’s stance and goal are based on democracy (existing sovereignty of the people) in a peaceful and developed country.

      Wawhkyung Sin Wa, Deputy General Secretary of KIO said, the statement will be important and meaningful for any group or organization related to the KIO as well as the Kachin people.

      For the first time in its over 16 year ceasefire period, the KIO was ordered on August 22 to surrender weapons from September 1 by the junta.

      The surrender order came in the wake of the junta and KIO meeting over 15 times on the contentious Border Guard Force issue, where the regime demanded transformation of the KIA.

      The junta has repeatedly rejected the KIO’s proposal for a political dialogue before the armed-wing issue is addressed, said KIO officials.

      On the junta’s controversial November 7 elections, the KIO has, however, stated that it would like it to be “free and fair”.

      In order to inform pro-democracy groups, the statement pointed out that the KIO will cooperate with whoever works towards a consolidated and genuine federal union of Burma.

      The KIO had signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta hoping for a meaningful political dialogue. It also approved the new junta-centric 2008 constitution despite severe opposition from the Kachin people and pro-democracy outfits.

      As an offshoot of its rejecting the junta’s BGF proposal, the KIO is regaining the support of the Kachin people and pro-democracy organizations, who had been alienated because of the KIO’s proximity to the junta.

      The statement on KIO’s new policy was the result of two meetings — the meeting between KIO officials and Kachin public representatives on August 14 to 16 and the first Party Congress for KIO members on August 27 to 29 in Laiza, said Deputy General Secretary Sin Wa.

      Delhi notes China’s Indian Ocean ‘interest’
      Agence France Presse: Tue 31 Aug 2010

      New Delhi – India on Tuesday said China was demonstrating “more than normal interest” in the Indian Ocean as two Chinese warships made a rare visit to military-ruled Myanmar. India is watchful of China’s growing presence in the region, including its major investments in ports being built in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

      The Chinese ships docked in Yangon on Sunday afternoon and were set to launch a series of exchanges with Myanmar’s navy, Xinhua news agency reported.

      “India has come to realise that China has been showing more than the normal interest in the Indian Ocean affairs. So we are closely monitoring the Chinese intentions,” Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told parliament.

      He did not make direct reference to the Chinese ships, but China is a key ally and trading partner of the junta that has ruled Myanmar since 1962.

      China buys teak and gems from Myanmar and has shielded it from UN sanctions over rights abuses as a veto-wielding, permanent member of the Security Council.

      India also looks to Myanmar for potential oil and gas imports and was criticised by rights monitors for hosting reclusive junta leader Than Shwe on a state visit to New Delhi in June.

      Despite growing trade between China and India, ties between the emerging giants are wracked by mistrust.

      Border disputes in Kashmir and the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, a short war in 1962 and the presence of Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in India all contribute to an atmosphere of suspicion.

      Poverty in Burma is appalling – Lars Birgebard
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 31 Aug 2010

      Poverty in Burma is widespread and appalling. The failure or disinterest of the government to provide a policy framework conducive to development and to direct resources to other needs than security largely explains the hard conditions under which so many people in Burma live. With support of different donors, UN Development Programme (UNDP) has gradually developed a major programme since 1993 attempting to address rural poverty. Presently this programme, the Human Development Initiative, reaches some 6,500 villages predominantly in border areas inhabited by ethnic minorities. This has been achieved in an extraordinarily hostile development policy and security context.

      The complexity and difficulties in operating the programme have been further compounded by restrictions imposed by the UNDP Board on UNDP activities in Burma as a consequence of the US policy stand on the country and its influence in UNDP. Hence, in executing the HDI, UNDP has not been permitted to cooperate with government institutions or channel any funds through such institutions. For instance, it has not been possible to cooperate with the government structures at local level in the fields of agriculture, health, education, and so on, in order to coordinate activities and draw upon their technical staff resources. Therefore, UNDP has been forced to develop what has become a gigantic NGO-type organization. This arrangement has both reduced implementation capacity and undermined the prospects for sustainability of services delivered and benefits.

      As the conditions under which the HDI is implemented by necessity reduce the prospects for impact and sustainability of achievements, expectations should be adjusted accordingly. A further consideration is that whatever impact achieved is of great importance given the deplorable living conditions of millions and millions in Burma.

      The UNDP Board requires that an Independent Assessment Mission annually determines whether the UNDP Country Office implements the HDI within the mandate given to it by the Board. It is the Mission report for 2010 which is the basis for the article UN aid has ‘limited impact’ in Burma in DVB on 25 August. This Mission concludes that two of the three main projects in the HDI have had limited impact on poverty, as elaborated in the DVB article. This conclusion is based on impact evaluations undertaken by the programme itself.

      However, the Mission does not find the entire programme deficient. It gives unreserved credit to the micro-finance project, which is the third main project in the programme. This project is outstanding and counts among the 20 most successful large micro-finance projects in the world. It proves that properly designed and well managed significant development gains for the benefit of poor people can be made also in Burma. Furthermore, the two remaining (small) projects in HDI – the HIV/AIDS project and the Household Survey project – are also found to be satisfactory.

      The Mission expresses concern about two main projects in HDI and argues that the primary reason for their limited impact is to be found in the design. The Mission points out what it considers to be the design flaws. Doing so begs an answer to the question of what a modified design with better prospects for a greater impact could be. The Mission provided a tentative proposal on principles and a strategic approach for a revised design. However, given the terms of reference for the Mission and instructions from UNDP New York, this discussion is not included in the report, which is now made public, but in a separate report submitted to the UNDP-Myanmar Country Office. This may leave the unfortunate impression to the readers of the official report that provision of development support for poverty alleviation in Burma, at least through UNDP, is unsuccessful and has no prospects. End of story.

      This is factually incorrect and not the conclusion of the Mission. Firstly, one of the three main projects in the programme, the micro-finance project, is a resounding success and two smaller projects are satisfactory as already noted. Secondly, the Mission is firmly of the opinion that modifications of the design of the two less successful main projects can significantly enhance impact on poverty. This opinion is not mere speculations; it is evidenced by concrete suggestions based on experience. The fact that the report containing this discussion is not made public prevents any further elaboration here.

      The current programme comes to an end in 2011. This provides a golden opportunity for UNDP to elaborate a revised programme building on the viable elements of the present programme. The prospects for something better is clearly within reach. The potential of this programme is unique in Burma given its outreach and coverage. The staggering levels of poverty strongly call for attention. There is no reason and justification for “donor fatigue”. However, there are reasons for reflection and reconsideration.

      * Lars Birgegard is team leader of the UNDP’s 2010 Independent Assessment Mission of the Human Development Initiative in Burma. He writes this piece partly in response to UN aid has ‘limited impact’ in Burma, published in DVB on 25 August.

      Political transition: a chance for progress? – Noeleen Heyzer
      Bangkok Post: Tue 31 Aug 2010

      The government of Burma has announced it will hold a general election on Nov 7, the first to be held since 1990. This may provide an opportunity for Burma’s military-led government to improve the country’s political governance. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the government to honour its publicly stated commitments to hold inclusive, free and fair elections, noting that any transition to democracy should also include the release of all political prisoners without delay.

      In addition to a possible move toward a civilian-led government, it is also likely that improvements in political governance will present significant opportunities for economic and social advancement for the country, for an emerging middle class, and especially for the estimated one-third of Burma’s 50 million people currently living in poverty.

      Cease-fire agreements keep a tenuous peace in Burma today, between the central government and most of the dozens of ethnic groups along border areas where decades of conflict had left hundreds of thousands of villagers displaced in previous years. New transport routes and the gradual lifting of government restrictions on travel have increased economic and trade connections and opened social integration between the better-off central region and the more remote ethnic communities in the border highlands to an extent never seen before.

      Over the past five years, the United Nations has significantly increased its humanitarian aid within the country, working closely with the government and with international non-governmental organisations to provide food, medicine and relief aid to more than 5 million people in need, and over a larger part of the country. But access remains uneven and still severely restricted in areas where the threat of conflict remains.

      International donors including the United States and European countries have welcomed this opening of the humanitarian space, doubling the funding of critical relief available to Burma, where sanctions maintained by the very same countries restrict trade, economic activity and direct bilateral assistance to Burma. While there is much work to be done, the increased humanitarian aid has paid off, with clear progress shown in meeting several of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

      Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma’s agriculturally-rich Ayeyarwady Delta region in 2008, taking more than 140,000 lives and destroying hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice paddy, is still exacting a heavy cost on Burma, as affected villagers and farmers struggle to recover their livelihoods.

      The tragedy of Nargis also led to an opening for the international community, with Burma’s government allowing the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and others to provide direct aid to the affected Delta areas and to other areas of need in Burma.

      Alongside my UN colleagues and Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of Asean, I worked closely with Burma’s government to increase and target international aid in the immediate aftermath of Nargis.

      Recognising that major economic structural changes were also needed, I urged the government to look abroad for help, and offered the assistance of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap) in suggesting needed technical and policy assistance to the government.

      Ultimately, Escap brought Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to Burma’s capital on Dec 15 last year to offer his advice on how best to bring about development and poverty reduction.

      Despite the sanctions of the United States and Europe, Burma’s neighbours, India and China, and other countries are making investments and constructing gas pipelines, deepwater ports, and roads, and engaging in business activities sparking significant economic growth in Burma. The next government, whatever its make-up, will face critical economic and development choices, and in weighing these they have the opportunity to make a real difference in the country’s future:

      - Investment or lost windfall? The continuing development of Burma’s large offshore natural gas holdings means that the new government will soon benefit from substantial increased export earnings, revenue that could fund economic and social investment – or become a squandered windfall, as has happened in all too many developing nations.

      - Opening up the economy to those on the bottom. Closing the development gap is critical to achieving social and economic security and is most rapidly achieved through the active participation of the poor. Improving the assets and skills of the working poor, and the public services available to them, directly promotes growth and stability for the economy as a whole. Countries grow faster when the bottom half is participating and contributing productively.

      - Strategic and structural economic reform. A new government may possess a unique opportunity to determine the path of development and economic growth for the country, especially by promoting and supporting the emergence of a middle class. Making the economy more inclusive, investing in rural and social infrastructure and encouraging competition and small business enterprises are badly needed reforms that a new government can take on, if Burma is to move forward.

      - Helping small farmers and traders. Strategic investments in agriculture and the rural economy has multiple benefits, by addressing food security and rural livelihood issues, and sparking significant economic and development benefits in the rural communities, where Burma’s poorest people live. Rural incomes will increase when farmers receive a higher price for their produce and when their costs of production are reduced. A recent government decree reforming the

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