[Readingroom] News on Burma - 29/10/10
- Myanmar junta chief’s ‘retirement’ unlikely
- India cautions on ‘adverse’ UN probe
- UN chief says Myanmar elections not legitimate if political prisoners not freed
- Obama admin. split on Burma engagement
- Don’t legitimize Burma’s elections
- Burma needs a war crimes inquiry
- Post-election offensive feared against Myanmar rebel groups
- Than Shwe plans no retirement from power
- Political prisoners hold little hope of release before polls
- Junta accused of slowing, cutting Net ahead of polls
- Philippines dubs Myanmar election a “farce”
- Myanmar nuclear plan could speed up
- Burma’s brutal repression continues with a sham election
- How to win an election before it’s held
- Suu Kyi party says Myanmar vote will prolong dictatorship
- Burma shuts border until after polls
- Burma’s nuclear adventure – the real threat
- A lost opportunity in Burma
- ‘Than Shwe fears the ICC’
- Tensions cloud Myanmar vote
- And the winner is … the junta
- ‘The generals’ election’
- No more charades
- U.S. push for Burmese war crimes probe hits Chinese wall
- Cries of foul play as ‘new Burma’ is hoisted
Myanmar junta chief’s ‘retirement’ unlikely: Philippines
Agence France Presse: Thu 28 Oct 2010
Hanoi – Myanmar has said that its military ruler Than Shwe will bow out of politics after next month’s elections, but the assurances should be viewed with deep scepticism, the Philippines said Thursday.“I cannot imagine that after two decades where he held on to power he will suddenly give it up and no more. I cannot believe that,” Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said on the sidelines of a regional summit.
Romulo said his Myanmar counterpart Nyan Win had confirmed at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Hanoi that Than Shwe would not take part in the November 7 polls.
“He said he will not run. But you know they can elect anybody who did not run,” he told reporters, referring to the process under which a president and vice-presidents will be appointed.
“It remains to be seen (whether he will bow out), but my feeling is that he will be elected to a higher office, perhaps the presidency, something where he still (holds) control.”
A foreign ministry official from one of the ASEAN delegations also said Nyan Win had said Than Shwe would not run for any seat in the November 7 polls — widely criticised as a sham aimed at cementing the junta’s grip on power.
“Than Shwe is not running. He will bow out of the political scene,” the source told AFP.
Under Myanmar’s new parliamentary system, there will be two national assemblies — one lower and one upper house — and a number of regional assemblies.
The source said that Nyan Win reported he was himself running for a post in the one of the regional assemblies and was sure to win because he enjoyed strong popularity in his region.
But, being a regional lawmaker, he won’t be eligible for a cabinet post.
Myanmar also introduced its new flag during a meeting of senior officials on Monday, according to the source. The banner features a large, lone star which is meant to represent the country’s unity.
Than Shwe’s future has been the subject of much rumour in Myanmar lately, with many scenarios envisioned. But after the biggest military reshuffle in decades which took place in September — which left him on top of the heap in the military — several experts have tipped him to move into the presidency.
India cautions on ‘adverse’ UN probe – Dan Withers
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 28 Oct 2010
India has questioned the value of holding a UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into war crimes in Burma, an Indian diplomat recently told a General Assembly committee.
The probe, now supported by more than a dozen nations, may be “counter productive” and “end up adversely affecting the very people it is supposed to help,” Acquino Vimal said, according to the Press Trust of India.
Vimal pointed out that UN chief Ban Ki-Moon’s recent report on Burma made no mention of the CoI, which was first proposed in March by UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana. “We believe that the focus of efforts of the international community should be on ensuring constructive engagement with Myanmar [Burma],” Vimal said.
In comments which bore a striking resemblance to Chinese policy on Burma, Vimal also stressed the importance of “peace and stability” on India’s borders. Burma’s controversial 7 November elections would be a “step forward” in the country’s “national reconciliation process and democratic transition,” he added.
The diplomat’s comments come days after Nobel-prize winning Indian economist Amartya Sen made a statement bemoaning his country’s policies towards the Burmese regime. In July, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh welcomed junta leader Senior General Than Shwe on a state visit to India.
“It breaks my heart to see the prime minister of my democratic country – and one of the most humane and sympathetic political leaders in the world – engage in welcoming the butchers from Burma and to be photographed in a state of cordial proximity,” AFP quoted Sen as saying. India had forgotten its ideals and was emulating China because of fears over its communist rival’s growing influence in the region, he said.
While India used to offer unqualified support to Burma’s democracy movement, over the past two decades it has changed tack. The country is now investing heavily in Burma, particularly in the energy and extraction industries, and maintains a strategic partnership with the country in a bid to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
Momentum behind the UN commission of inquiry, which would investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity by the junta and Burma’s ethnic rebel armies, appears to be flagging. Although 13 countries, led by the United States, back the probe, the Washington Post recently revealed that China is engaged in a diplomatic campaign to scupper the investigation.
Professor Ian Holliday, a specialist in China-Burma relations at the University of Hong Kong, recently told DVB that the Chinese Communist Party may also fear investigations into its own human rights record. “The core concern is not to allow anybody to stick their nose into China,” he said.
China and Burma maintain an uneasy alliance, with the larger country enjoying access to Burma’s resources and backing the junta on the international stage. China is also believed to see the military as the best bet for ensuring stability on its borders.
UN chief says Myanmar elections not legitimate if political prisoners not freed – Vijay Joshi
Associated Press: Thu 28 Oct 2010
Phnom Penh, Cambodia — The United Nations chief warned Thursday that unless Myanmar’s junta frees political prisoners its planned Nov. 7 elections may not be considered legitimate or credible.Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told The Associated Press in an interview that freeing the more than 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar would at least help create a “perception that this election will be more inclusive.”
The Southeast Asian country’s military rulers have enacted laws that prevent pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from contesting the elections, which have been slammed by critics as a sham.
Ban acknowledged that the political prisoners may not be “able to actually participate in the vote, but it will create a favourable political atmosphere which will make this perception better.”
“But without releasing all political prisoners then there may certainly be some issue of legitimacy or credibility,” he said in an interview ahead of his bilateral meeting with Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein in Hanoi this week.
This is the closest that Ban has come to criticizing the elections after repeatedly taking a diplomatic tone by urging the junta to make the elections more inclusive, fair and credible. But even his latest comments were tempered by hope that the junta would surprise everybody by making some concessions to the pro-democracy movement in a country that has been ruled by the military since 1962.
The junta has kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years. She is expected to be released on Nov. 13, just six days after the election.
“We expected and hoped that she should have been released much earlier. Now at this time I would strongly urge the Myanmar authorities that it is not too late even at this time to release all political prisoners so that the Nov. 7 elections could be more inclusive and more participatory and credible one,” Ban said.
The junta has touted the elections as a big step forward in the country’s so-called roadmap to democracy. But the results are considered a foregone conclusion, as the junta has already taken steps to block transparency and ensure that the military remains in power by repressing the country’s main opposition party and limiting campaigning.
Suu Kyi’s party is boycotting the elections as undemocratic after winning a landslide victory in 1990 that was dismissed by the military leaders.
That leaves the key junta-backed party as the only strong contender to win the upcoming contest.
Ban sidestepped the question of whether the government that takes power after the elections would be considered legitimate or democratic.
“I am not in a position to judge any results, first of all. What I am emphasizing is that the Myanmar authorities should ensure all possible measures to make this election inclusive, credible and transparent,” he said. “There will be an opportunity for me and the international comuntity to make a judgment on this process.”
He dismissed suggestions that the U.N. had failed in its effort to democratize Myanmar, and instead blamed the Myanmar government.
“It is surely because of a lack of support, lack of political will on the part of Myanmar authorities,” he said, adding that the U.N. will “continue to be engaged” with Myanmar after the elections.
“We will continue to facilitate this political, democratization process,” he said.
Obama admin. split on Burma engagement: senator
Reuters: Thu 28 Oct 2010
Washington – President Barack Obama’s administration faces internal divisions that have so far prevented it from seizing opportunities to engage Myanmar’s military rulers, a key senator said on Wednesday.Senator Jim Webb, the chair of a Senate subcommittee on East Asia who traveled to Myanmar last year, is an outspoken proponent of deepening ties with the isolated country, which he said risked becoming a “a province of China” otherwise.
The Obama administration last November launched the highest-level talks with the reclusive junta in 14 years, but has since publicly expressed deep disappointment with Myanmar’s response to U.S. outreach.
“I don’t think that this administration took advantage of the opportunities that were presented to it,” Webb told a small group of defense reporters in Washington.
Webb said U.S. diplomats at the State Department were divided over the issue, and effectively failed to act on diplomatic signals from Burma last year that offered an opportunity for “a different formula” on engagement.
“There was a big division in the State Department over whether to do that or not,” he said.
“I think Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton was inclined to a certain point to want to try. But there was an awful lot of pressure on the other side.”
The comments come ahead of a trip by Clinton to this week’s East Asia summit in Vietnam, and just days before Myanmar’s November 7 elections, which rights groups deride as a sham designed to entrench military power in the country formerly known as Burma.
The elections will be the first since 1990 polls won by detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party but ignored by the junta.
Washington has dismissed preparations for the November polls as failing to meet basic democratic standards, and has also expressed concern over growing ties between Myanmar and Asian nuclear renegade North Korea.
“It’s a very complicated issue, because we all respect Aung San Suu Kyi and the sacrifices she has made,” Webb said. “And yet, on the other hand, we are in a situation where if we do not push some form of constructive engagement, Burma is going to basically become a province of China.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Andrew Quinn)
Don’t legitimize Burma’s elections – Ashin Issariya
Wall Street Journal: Thu 28 Oct 2010
The government that emerges after Nov. 7 will be no less corrupt and unlawful than the present one.All actions are based on intentions. For instance, the goal of monks is to bring peace and kindness to the people, and so Burmese trust their actions. In contrast, when the military regime says they will hold elections, Burmese are skeptical because they know the intention is only to maintain power at their expense.
When Burma’s monks marched through the streets in 2007, we did so because we saw the pain of the people, and knew we had to respond. People have suffered needlessly for many years because of the military system of control and intimidation.
Our involvement in what would become the Saffron Revolution began Sept. 5 in the town of Pakokku in Magway Division. We began our peaceful demonstration by reciting the prayers of loving kindness, urging the authorities to open their eyes and finally take action to alleviate the sorrows of the people. In response, local authorities and members of the military-supported civilian group, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, violently attacked my brothers.
In response to this horrific insult, we, the monks of the All Burma Monk’s Alliance, demanded an apology from the authorities who purport to be Buddhist. No apology has ever come.
The same organization that participated in that violent crackdown is now masquerading as a political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, in the upcoming elections. The people of Pakokku remember the September 2007 attacks and are very upset to see the perpetrators now presenting themselves as candidates. This story of the corrupt elite taking political power in Pakokku is repeating itself throughout the country right now.
The USDP’s members are running uncontested in many areas because of wide restrictions on any independent political parties. And where there are other parties, the USDP is doing everything it can to manipulate the process and ensure a win. Moreover, people are hesitant to participate because this is not a real election; it is just more of the same deceptions that always happen in my country under the generals.
Like most people of Burma, I am all too familiar with the schemes that the military regime uses to maintain its power. Once when I opened a library in my town so that people could have some access to knowledge, the USDA came and wanted to take books from my library. I would not give them the books because I knew their only interest was to take photos and claim they had built the library. This is the type of social manipulation the USDA is known for. When a road needs to be built in an area, the USDA goes house to house forcing families to give large amounts of money or even to help build the road themselves. Then when the road is finished, the USDA proclaims that it has helped the people by building the road.
In such a system, there are endless barriers for people who seek to build a better society. Monks are not free to even give the sermons they would like. Recently, the regime’s Minister of Livestock Breeding and Fisheries Maung Maung Thein, a former Brigadier General who is now running for office, held a ceremony in Thabya village, Tenasserim Division. During the ceremony, a young monk preached about the sin of killing. As a result, district authorities disrobed the monk. For that monk, this is a deep humiliation and an end to his heartfelt vocation, as well as a great loss to our religious community. It is a sacrilege to be disrobed. What price is that to pay for speaking the truth?
Even though monks cannot vote in these upcoming elections, we cannot remain silent. Despite restrictions, monks are still taking measures to educate people about the problems of the elections, including distributing leaflets and stamping money with boycott slogans. This is done with great risk. In September, monk U Okkantha, who was arrested for anti-election campaigning, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Nevertheless, the work continues and we are finding ways to act. We do this because we know these elections are a lie that will not improve the lives of the people. After the election, Burma’s ruling class will sit in the new parliament buildings in the isolated capital Naypyidaw. There they will pretend to work, far away from the harsh reality of the lives of the people of Burma. And what’s even more, the new constitution gives the military complete independence from any civilian control and they will be able to continue their campaigns of persecution. How is this supposed to improve our country?
I am confused why people in the international community want to wait and see what the elections will bring. The people of Burma already know what will happen. It will be the same faces and the same system that we have been living with for decades. The name “elections” does not change anything for us.
International leaders should think more deeply. Supporting these elections is not supporting gradual progress to democracy; rather it is a message to the suffering people of Burma that international support is given to the military regime and their friends to continue to do what they will. A different message must be sent.
The monks’ religious boycott of alms from Burma’s corrupt elite that began after the violence of 2007 is ongoing. We still demand the release of monks and all political prisoners and call for an end to the people’s suffering. And for these purposes, myself and others will continue to organize and act.
The Venerable Ashin Issariya, also known as King Zero, is a founding member of the All Burma Monks Alliance.
Burma needs a war crimes inquiry – Elaine Pearson
Guardian (UK): Thu 28 Oct 2010
The proposed UN inquiry would call the Burmese regime to account, but it depends on global support that’s so far lacking.Support for an international commission of inquiry into war crimes in Burma got a major boost as the UN’s special rapporteur on Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, strengthened his call for a commission of inquiry into violations of international law in Burma. “Failing to act on accountability in Myanmar will embolden the perpetrators of international crimes and further postpone long-overdue justice,” he said in a report delivered to the UN general assembly last week.
Since Quintana first broached the issue in his March 2010 report, more than a dozen countries – including the UK, France, US, Canada and Australia – have publicly voiced their support for a commission of inquiry.
Despite this growing momentum for justice, not one of these countries is showing concerted leadership to make the commission of inquiry a reality. Instead, there are various excuses given for delaying justice. But the victims of atrocities in Burma should not have to wait any longer.
Over the course of the world’s longest-running civil war – now more than six decades old – Burma’s security forces have committed deliberate attacks on civilians, carried out summary executions, sexual violence and torture, they have used child soldiers and committed other war crimes with total impunity. Ethnic minority armed groups have also committed serious abuses.
For nearly 20 years, the UN has been passing annual resolutions on Burma, condemning human rights violations and calling on the government to stop abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable. Yet the government has failed to act, hence the UN special rapporteur’s call for a commission of inquiry to be set up through the UN general assembly or the human rights council or on the secretary general’s own initiative.
Such a commission would investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law by all parties to the conflict in Burma. It would be different from the usual UN reports, because a commission would collect information to establish that crimes have been committed. By shining the spotlight on the violations, this would give recognition to victims, and compel the Burmese government to seriously address the problem.
Concerned governments have a prime opportunity to move on the commission of inquiry recommendation with the annual Burma resolution at the general assembly. So why don’t they act? Diplomats have given various reasons for not wanting to pursue accountability now, but the main excuse is the looming elections – “It’s not the right time.” It is true that the first elections in 20 years are about to take place in Burma on 7 November. Yet all the evidence suggests these elections will simply entrench military rule with a civilian face – a quarter of all parliamentary seats are reserved for military officers. More than 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars, and the pro-military party, the Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP), will be the only party to field candidates for every open seat. Yes, generals are shedding their uniforms, but no one should be hoodwinked into thinking there is any genuine civilian transition underway that could be threatened by an international inquiry.
Some governments seem concerned that pushing for an international process of accountability may negatively affect the conduct of the elections by driving Burma further into isolation. A few Asian leaders have suggested a commission of inquiry could lead to renewed intense fighting in Burma. If anything, embarking on an accountability process will put all parties to the conflict on notice that there are consequences for serious abuses. As we have seen from Liberia to the Balkans, justice could instead facilitate a process in which highly abusive figures are marginalised and a more reformist leadership is able to emerge in Burma.
Some states are concerned that acting on a commission of inquiry may affect whether democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be released shortly after the elections, as her current term for house arrest expires. While we all want to see Suu Kyi released, her liberty is not a meaningful indicator of progress in Burma. She has been released and detained many times over the last 20 years. Burma’s military rulers are masters at using one woman’s freedom as a bargaining chip to distract and deter the international community from taking actions that would harm the military’s interests.
Another argument is that certain powerful countries, namely China, are actively lobbying against a commission of inquiry for Burma. A commission will only succeed if the major players who have come out in support of a commission are as active in support for it as China is in efforts to scupper it. In the past, commissions of inquiry have been created by the security council despite China’s initial reservations, most recently in the case of Darfur. But there will need to be a commitment to a campaign of sustained advocacy and high-level démarches to ensure enough votes to support it.
The international community needs to heed the call of the UN special rapporteur to act, because as he points out, “Justice and accountability are the very foundation of the UN system.” Getting a commission of inquiry for Burma will entirely depend on how much the EU, the US and like-minded states are prepared to engage, rather than on how much the spoilers want to shoot it down.
ANALYSIS: Post-election offensive feared against Myanmar rebel groups – Peter Janssen
Deustche Press Agentur: Thu 28 Oct 2010
Bangkok – Few people have high hopes for real change after Myanmar’s November 7 general election, its first in 20 years, but for the country’s ethnic minority rebel groups, the polls threaten to bring change for the worse.
‘The election is not for the Kachin people,’ said Laphai Naw Din, editor of the Kachin News Group, which operates on the Thai-Myanmar border. ‘After the election, the war will start.’
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is one of six guerilla groups in northern and north-eastern Myanmar that have refused to submit to the ruling military junta. In 1994, the Kachin signed a ceasefire with the regime, allowing them semi-autonomy to govern in their territories in Kachin state and even keep their own army.
Last year, however, the junta insisted the ‘ceasefire groups’ were to cease to exist. As part of the regime’s election preparations, the ceasefire areas were to set up political parties and turn their armies into ‘border guard forces’ under the military’s control.
Among the rebels who refused to comply were the KIA with an estimated force of 7,000, the United Wa State Army with 30,000 fighters, the Shan State Army/North (SSA) with 5,000, the Karen National Liberation Army with fewer than 8,000, the New Mon State Party with 1,000 and a breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army with 1,400.
In retaliation, the regime has barred rebel-controlled portions of the Kachin, Karen, Wa and Shan states from voting.
The election commission also rejected applications from a Kachin party and Kachin independents to contest the polls.
More worrisome, the junta has cut off all communications with the KIA since September 1 and in public speeches has referred to the movement as an ‘insurgency’ for the first time since signing the ceasefire.
Whether the military in Myanmar, which was once named Burma, would launch an offensive against the Kachin and other ethnic groups in the post-election period remained open.
‘I would say the ethnic minorities shouldn’t be worried about being attacked by the Burmese army for the next six months,’ said Khunsai Jaiyen, editor of the Shan Herald Agency, another news agency based along the Thai-Myanmar border.
Khunsai argued it would take the regime three months to set up a new government and it might take another three months for them to get used to their civilian clothes.
The pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party, packed with former military men, was expected to win the polls.
The Shan people can vote for the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, a Yangon-based party that has fielded 157 candidates.
In the 1990 election, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy won 23 seats in a statewide victory. There are hopes that the new party would do similarly well this time round.
Khunsai said he was confident that if the military attacks the SSA, the United Wa State Army, one of the best-armed insurgencies in South-East Asia thanks to its lucrative methamphetamines trade, would come to its aid.
In August last year, the military launched a 48-hour attack on Laogai, the capital of the Kokang region in Shan state, crushing the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, as the Kokang rebel army was called.
The attack sent 30,000 Kokang refugees across the border into China, irking Myanmar’s big neighbour and one of its few allies.
Since the Kokang attack, the six rebel armies have formed an alliance, promising to come to each other’s aid should the junta launch another attack.
Thai military sources suspected the most likely first target would be the Karen National Liberation Army, which has been weakened by years of fighting and internal dissension.
‘If the Karens were defeated in a swift military offensive, the Myanmar army could claim they had ended the oldest insurgency and that would send a chilling sign to the other groups,’ said Maung Zarni, a research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The Karen have been fighting for the autonomy of their state since 1949 with the military having failed for the past six decades to defeat them.
Whatever their outcome, the November 7 polls were not expected to miraculously improve the Myanmar army’s fighting skills.
‘They cannot win, unless they are prepared to commit genocide,’ Maung Zarni said.
Than Shwe plans no retirement from power – Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Wed 27 Oct 2010
Though junta supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s plans for his post-election role still remain uncertain after state-run media described him as the commander in chief during the week, observers say at least two ways remain for him to retain control of the country in the next 10 years.
Rangoon’s business community suggest that Than Shwe might appoint himself as the next president of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, becoming the constitutional head of state while his loyal generals retain control of the armed forces.
However, military sources in Naypyidaw said whether Than Shwe retires his uniform or not, he will control the armed forces as chairman of the military council, much like the Central Military Commission of China and North Korea.
The state-media’s reference to his position as the commander in chief followed a near two-month silence after Lt-Gen Myint Aung was appointed as his successor in the major military reshuffle in late August.
In recent days, state-run newspapers and broadcast media have described Than Shwe as the junta chairman and the commander in chief in reports about visits he made to rehabilitation projects in the Irrawaddy delta hit by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.
It was not the first time that the junta media has mentioned the military positions of the two top generals, Than Shwe,77, and his deputy, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye,73, since the August military reshuffle.
On Oct.5, The New Light of Myanmar noted the deputy Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, Maung Aye, separately met outgoing and incoming Chinese and Thai military attachés to Burma in Naypyidaw on Oct.5.
This conflicts with earlier reports from military sources in Naypyidaw that Than Shwe and his deputy signed their retirements from the armed forces when other top generals including junta No.3 Gen Shwe Mann, Secretary-1 Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo and other lieutenant generals were ordered to retire from their military positions in late August.
“At the time, A Ba [“the grandfather” as Than Shwe is commonly called in the military] also signed his retirement,” said a source in Naypyidaw. “So other generals were prepared to retire from their uniforms saying ‘even A Ba has decided to take off his uniform.’”
“But A Ba’s reversal of his resignation and that of his top deputy has surprised many, who now see the earlier move as a ‘pre-emptive strike’ to placate potential disgruntlement among military officers in Naypyidaw,” he said.
The state media reports about Than Shwe’s and Maung Aye’s ranks in October contradicted previous news about their retirement and replacement by loyal generals, Lt-Gen Myint Aung, former adjutant-general, and Lt-Gen Ko Ko, a former chief of Bureau of Special Operations-3.
Sources in Naypyidaw said Myint Aung and Ko Ko are attached to the War Office and remain in waiting to take over their new positions, however.
Military officials in Naypyidaw, meanwhile, speculate that Than Shwe and Maung Aye are retaining their top positions until after the election to preserve unity among senior officers during the period of readjustment after the August reshuffle.
Although Myint Aung and Ko Ko are tipped as successors for the Tatmadaw’s top two positions, the state media has not mentioned them since late August.
The most noticeable promotion in the reshuffle is that of Lt-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the former Bureau of Special Operations-2, who replaced Gen Shwe Mann as joint-chief of staff (Army, Navy, Air Force).
Min Aung Hlaing has been seen accompanying Than Shwe to the Irrawaddy Delta this week as well as on other tours in the country in recent months. He also went with Than Shwe on state visits to India, China and Laos.
Whether Myint Aung or Min Aung Hlaing—both are in their 50s—succeeds Than Shwe to the top slot, both are considered loyal.
How Than Shwe will retain control over Burma’s power structure after he resigns from the top post in Burma’s military hierarchy remains in question, however.
Some observers suggest that by designating the two young loyal generals to the top ranks, Than Shwe will keep a grip on power for two electoral terms and will not need to reshuffle the military for another 10 years, that is assuming the deputies remain loyal to their master.
Observers express caution about all news and rumors emanating from the military in Burma, however.
“All is speculation since Burma is a most secretive nation,” said an editor of a private Rangoon journal. “Everything can change at the last minute in an authoritarian state like this.”
“At present, only Snr-Gen Than Shwe knows the future of the leadership in military-ruled Burma,” he said.
Political prisoners hold little hope of release before polls
Mizzima News: Wed 27 Oct 2010
New Delhi – Burmese elections next month cannot be presumed free and fair unless the military junta releases all political prisoners prior to November elections and allows them to participate, a range of Burma analysts, pro-democracy advocates and the UN have said.As the military continues to jail many political prisoners, their role in shaping the future political scene in Burma is fading almost completely. Junta’s electoral laws bar prisoners from the vote.
In the world’s largest democracy, political activist Jaya Jaitly said India allowed prisoners to vote, let them contest in parliamentary elections and some even served in high government positions.
“If we give an Indian example, Indira Gandhi threw all opposition leaders into jail in 1975. When the government announced elections, the leaders could contest … despite their detention. George Fernandes was being detained at that time as well. We took his photo and campaigned through out the country in cars. Then he won with the second largest number of votes. For that reason, why can’t someone join the vote whether detained or living under house arrest?”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called on the Burmese junta to release political prisoners during his visit to Burma after Cyclone Nargis. He reiterated his call in August this year, after the junta announced the election date, and urged that all political prisoners be released, adding that the election needed to include them to be free and fair.
Ban further reiterated those calls said yesterday in Bangkok. He said that while the UN was committed to long-term engagement with military-ruled Burma that it was not too late to make next months election more credible, Reuters reported.
The United Nations would work with the new government formed after the much-criticised ballot on November 7, and that the junta could improve its international image by releasing all political prisoners immediately, he told a press conference at Government House in Bangkok.
“It’s not too late, even now. By releasing political detainees, [the junta] can make this election more inclusive and participatory,” Reuters quoted Ban as saying. “We will really be expecting this election will be a free one, fair one and inclusive one.”
But the junta had made no signals of releasing political prisoners before November 7, despite western democracies and regional countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines adding their calls to the UN’s to make this happen. Burmese parties and individual candidates have recently started adding their voices for the release political prisoners, for the polls to be inclusive.
Kaung Myint Htut, an individual candidate standing for a seat in the South Okkalapa Township constituency said: “It is routine that political prisoners are released after a general election. That is my dream, which is quite possible … I wish they could be released today or tomorrow. They could play a role assisting the election that is a turning point of our country’s change. They can debate and discuss their views, which would be a valuable contribution to the country’s freedom and self-determination. If this doesn’t happen, I wish them to be released after the election. I will continue to call for their release to be realised”.
However, Ashin Htarwara, a Buddhist monk who participated in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, was not holding out much hope that political prisoners, student leaders and jailed monks would be released under the Burmese military dictatorship.
“If the junta released [political prisoners] and called an election, we could say the election was fair, instead of continuing to lock them up in prisons. We’ve heard nothing so far from the junta about releasing political prisoners,” the monk said. “The prisoners frequently being released now are mostly criminals, which is why I’m deeply concerned about the situation.”
NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo said better political change could be allowed to happen if imprisoned political leaders were released and the junta started a national reconciliation programme.
“We have opened the door. It would be better if the government released political prisoners and sought dialogue to solve the problems. That is the principle by which we stand,” he said.
Many prominent activists and opposition leaders are still serving or have served lengthy terms in the junta’s infamous prisons, such as the NLD’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Shan leader Khun Tun Oo, General Sai Htin, 88 Generation Students leader Min Ko Naing, satirist Zargana, blogger Nay Phone Latt, and the many other NLD leaders, activists and monks who participated in the Saffron Revolution, which started in 2007 calling for decreased commodity prices.
Despite the junta’s claims that there were no political prisoners in Burma, the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB) had recorded that more than 2,010 prisoners remained behind bars for their political beliefs.
The United Nations, international advocates, NGOs, activists and many governments have frequently called on the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners.
Junta accused of slowing, cutting Net ahead of polls – Myint Maung
Mizzima News: Wed 27 Oct 2010
New Delhi – Burmese internet users on the Bagan Net provider are having their connections cut regularly and when working, they slow to a crawl, according to cybercafé owners and surfers.
With little more than a week until election day, Burma’s Bagan Net internet service from Myanmar Teleport had been very poor for the past three days, they said, adding that they had no warning of impending difficulties.
“Bagan Net told us nothing … . The internet connection has been cut frequently but we can access local websites such as Myanmar Times online and People Magazine’s website. Although we could access our e-mail occasionally, after 10 minutes of use, the connection breaks down. Sometimes, we can use just about five minutes”, a cybercafé owner in Kyauktada Township, downtown Rangoon, told Mizzima.
The Burmese junta’s severe censorship laws and poor development of networks has earned Burma’s internet access environment the pejorative nickname of the “Myanmar Wide Web”.
An editor from a weekly journal told Mizzima: “I think that the closer we come to election day, the more often connections will be cut. I think their [the Burmese junta’s] intention is to block the flow of information out of the country. Not only internet connections, but also phone links have been disturbed. People think the junta is doing it intentionally”.
Because of the poor internet connection, the number of Net users had declined, another cybercafé owner said.
“Just a few people came to use the internet. They used to use Facebook and Google Talk, but these days, they could not access them … my cybercafé has nearly been empty,” the owner from Thingangyun Township told Mizzima.
An internet user said: “We can’t use the internet. Some cybercafés were closed. One of my friends who needed a Departure Form [D Form] to go to a foreign country, could not apply online as the government’s D Form site was down. We haven’t been able to surf other sites as well. I went to many cybercafés … but the connection was down at all of them.”
Web connections in Arakan, Kachin, and Karen states and Tenasserim, Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions have also been very slow.
A Bagan Net employee said that he was unaware of when connections would be restored.
An official in charge of the provider said connections were under maintenance, according to a cybercafé owner in South Okkalapa Township, Rangoon Division.
Since the monk-led “saffron revolution” of 2007, the junta has strictly controlled access to the internet. During the anti-government protests that year, the junta shut down all services out of the country, claiming a break in an underwater cable.
Net users and observers have accused the junta of again disturbing services intentionally as the election, to be held on November 7, draws near.
Nearly 60,000 Burmese have their own internet connections, according to figures from the Ministry of Communication, Post and Telegraph.
While Burma has been connected to the World Wide Web since 2000, the junta considers use of the internet so threatening that just connecting can be seen, under its laws, as a dissident act. The military government restricts access using censoring software that blocks sites, especially free online e-mail and pornography. The government also charges exorbitant fees for access.
Philippines dubs Myanmar election a “farce” – Ambika Ahuja
Reuters: Wed 27 Oct 2010
Hanoi – Myanmar’s election is a democratic farce, the Philippines said in a document outlining President Benigno Aquino’s position at an Asian summit this week where differences over the military-ruled nation could bring discord.The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) faces divisions over reclusive and recalcitrant Myanmar, days before its first election in two decades, at the gathering in Vietnam of leaders aiming to forge an economic and political union in the next five years.
Myanmar’s grim record on human rights damages ASEAN’s reputation and credibility and is an obstacle to cooperation with some of its international partners.
It is also a source of friction within ASEAN, which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
“It is increasingly evident that the forthcoming elections … will continue to be a farce to democratic values of transparency, fairness, provision for ‘level playing field’, credibility and all-inclusiveness,” the Philippines government said in the document prepared for Aquino’s meetings this week and seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The Myanmar military, which has ruled since 1962, says the election will be fair and will return the country to civilian rule but critics say it is a sham aimed at ensuring the generals remains firmly in control.
Some ASEAN members, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, have been pressing for reform. Others, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, have called for respect of ASEAN’s long-held principle of non-interference.
EXCLUDED FROM POLITICS
Detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party swept the country’s last polls in 1990 but was never allowed to govern, has been kept in detention and excluded from politics for most of the past 21 years.
The exclusion of Suu Kyi from the election and the detention of more than 2,000 political prisoners “is a clear signal that the Myanmar government does not intend to provide space and opportunity for the election process that the U.N. and ASEAN demand,” the Philippine government said in the paper.
“The Philippines strongly urges for real and meaningful change for the Myanmar people,” it said.
Earlier, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Myanmar’s election lacked credibility but neighbours hoped it was not too late to improve prospects for the vote.
“There is obviously a credibility deficit at this time in terms of where the election appears to be heading, in terms of its preparation,” Natalegawa said before a meeting with his counterparts from the region, including Myanmar.
“We are not pessimistic, even at this late stage, that we can all work together to ensure that an election in Myanmar can be part of a solution rather than part of more difficulties ahead.”
ASEAN offered Myanmar help with the vote, with some members suggesting observers. Myanmar declined the offer.
ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said on Tuesday Myanmar could make it difficult for ASEAN to establish the confidence and credibility “for us to move on as a region.”
(Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota in Tokyo; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by John Ruwitch and Miral Fahmy)
Myanmar nuclear plan could speed up: scientist
Agence France Presse: Wed 27 Oct 2010
Bangkok — Myanmar is carrying out a secret atomic weapons programme that could “really speed up” if the army-ruled country is aided by North Korea, according to a top nuclear scientist.
The comments follow a June documentary by the Norwegian-based news group Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) that said Myanmar was trying to develop nuclear weapons, citing a senior army defector and years of “top secret material”.
Robert Kelley, a former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), inspected the files smuggled out of Myanmar by Sai Thein Win and said the evidence indicated “a clandestine nuclear programme” was underway.
“This is not a well-developed programme. I don’t think it’s going very well,” he told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand late Tuesday.
“But if another country steps in and has all of the knowledge, the materials, and maybe the key to some of the things that are plaguing them, including bad management, this programme could really speed up.”
Kelley said North Korea was “certainly the country I have in mind”.
Myanmar, which is holding its first elections in two decades on November 7, has dismissed the reports of its nuclear intentions and brushed aside Western concerns about possible cooperation with North Korea.
The DVB documentary gathered thousands of photos and defector testimony, some regarding Myanmar’s network of secret underground bunkers and tunnels, which were allegedly
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