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[Readingroom] News on Burma - 10/11/10

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Myanmar army-backed party sweeps election Burmese consider challenge to juntas poll win Junta troops retake Myawaddy as residents return Myanmar, Russian
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 10, 2010
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      1. Myanmar army-backed party sweeps election
      2. Burmese consider challenge to junta’s poll win
      3. Junta troops retake Myawaddy as residents return
      4. Myanmar, Russian companies to jointly explore oil, gas
      5. Obama: Myanmar elections neither free nor fair
      6. China ends blockade of UN nuclear report
      7. Knight of the generals?
      8. Here’s the new Burma
      9. NDF leader tells opposition parties not to recognize results
      10. Junta held storm victims’ aid as ransom for votes
      11. Burma election observers report voter intimidation
      12. Burma uses Chinese investment to harass opponents
      13. UN chief slams Myanmar vote
      14. What the papers say
      15. Travel independently to help Burma
      16. Attempt to consolidate authoritarian military rule
      17. Declaration by the European Union on the elections in Burma
      18. Turnout appears light in Myanmar’s election
      19. Diplomats snub election booth ‘tours’
      20. Electoral irregularities rampant
      21. Military family members ordered to re-do vote
      22. Suu Kyi’s son seeks Myanmar visa to visit mother
      23. Minority legislatures will mean little to the Burmese military
      24. Burma to build its first Special Economic Zone
      25. Italian-Thai inks deals for huge Myanmar port project
      26. For some, Myanmar is ultimate frontier market


      Myanmar army-backed party sweeps election – Aung Hla Tun
      Reuters: Tue 9 Nov 2010

      Yangon – Myanmar’s biggest military-backed party won the country’s first election in 20 years by a landslide on Tuesday after a carefully choreographed vote denounced by pro-democracy parties as rigged to preserve authoritarian rule.Opposition parties conceded defeat but accused the military junta of fraud and said many state workers had been forced to support the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in advance balloting ahead of Sunday’s vote.

      U.S. President Barack Obama told a news conference in Indonesia Myanmar’s election was neither free nor fair and called on Burmese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners.

      But China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs lauded the election as “peaceful and successful,” illustrating strengthening ties between energy-hungry China and its resource-rich neighbor.

      As the votes were counted, government soldiers cleared ethnic minority rebels from an eastern border town after two days of sporadic clashes that killed at least 10 people and sent about 18,000 civilians fleeing into neighboring Thailand.

      Many refugees had returned to Myanmar by afternoon as the military pushed back the ethnic minority Karen rebels who have resisted central authority for generations since what was then Burma won independence in 1948 from Britain.

      U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says it is helping about 15,000 refugees who fled to Thailand from fighting in Myawaddy, and monitoring another 3,000 who fled from another area of Myanmar.

      The fighters say the election and the military’s continued dominance threaten any chance of achieving a degree of autonomy.

      Stacked with recently retired generals and closely aligned with 77-year-old paramount leader Senior General Than Shwe, the USDP took as many as 80 percent of the available seats for parliament, a senior USDP official told Reuters.

      But Khin Maung Swe, leader of the National Democratic Force, the largest opposition party, told Reuters: “We took the lead at the beginning but the USDP later came up with so-called advance votes and that changed the results completely, so we lost.”

      The second-largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party (Myanmar), also conceded defeat.

      “I admit defeat but it was not fair play. It was full of malpractice and fraud and we will try to expose them and tell the people,” its leader, Thu Wai, told Reuters.

      At least six parties have lodged complaints with the election commission, accusing the USDP of fraud — a charge that is unlikely to gain traction in a country where more than 2,100 political activists are behind bars.

      FOCUS ON SUU KYI

      The vote was held with Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in detention and her party disbanded for refusing to take part in an election it said was unfair. She had urged supporters to boycott the poll.

      With the election over, the spotlight returns to Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention but is due to be freed when her latest house arrest term expires on Saturday.

      The United States, Britain, the European Union and Japan repeated calls this week to free the 65-year-old pro-democracy leader whose National League for Democracy beat an army-backed party by a landslide in 1990, a result ignored by the junta.

      The army-backed USDP’s only real rival, the National Unity Party (NUP), also backed by the army, fared poorly in its quest for 980 seats, winning just 54 in the bicameral parliament and state assemblies.

      “Some representatives of our party filed complaints about fraud and malpractice by the USDP,” said Tin Aung, a senior NUP official. A strong showing by the NUP would have been seen as a jab against Than Shwe since it is thought to be closer to a different faction in the army.

      By crushing the NUP, the junta reduces the chance of fissures in the military spilling into the open in parliament.

      Already, 25 percent of the seats in parliament are reserved for serving generals. Lawmakers are expected to rubber-stamp policies by a cabinet appointed by a president who is not elected by the people but appointed by a parliamentary committee.

      Opposition lawmakers will have little say and no chance to secure the 75 percent of votes needed to amend a constitution that favors and reserves power for the military.

      The armed forces supreme commander will choose three serving generals to head defense, interior and border affairs ministries.

      This is why critics scoff at the military junta’s assertion that the new government will reflect the will of the people. In fact, parliament will have very limited power.

      Myanmar’s neighbors and partners in ASEAN have been hoping the election would end Myanmar’s isolation and remove hurdles it poses to greater cooperation with the West.

      China has built up close political and business links with Myanmar while the West has for years shunned its leaders and imposed sanctions over the suppression of democracy and a poor human rights record.

      Russia also welcomed the vote.

      “We see the elections as a step in the democratization of Myanmar society in accordance with the political reforms taken by the country’s leadership,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

      (Additional reporting by Vorasit Satienlerk, Panarat Thepgumpanant and Somjit Rungjumratrussamee, and Lucy Hornby in Beijing; Writing by Robert Birsel and Jason Szep; Editing by Sugita Katyal)



      Burmese consider challenge to junta’s poll win – Tim Johnston
      Financial Times: Tue 9 Nov 2010

      Two Burmese opposition parties are considering legal challenges to Sunday’s elections amid signs that the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development party has been swept into power.In the absence of official results, a senior member of the USDP, which is favoured by the ruling generals, said the party won 80 per cent of seats.

      Than Nyein, chairman of the National Democratic Force, the largest opposition party, which is considering a challenge, said: “How can it be fair? The people who monitored the result in the polling booths said we won in an overwhelming number of constituencies.”

      Latest results from the parties show the NDF won just 16 of the 161 seats it contested.

      Even the National Unity party, broadly aligned with the interests of the regime, has said it will challenge the result, a process that costs $1,000, twice the cost of candidate registration.

      In Mandalay, the second largest city, election officials said the USDP won 96 of 97 contested seats.

      Observers said junta allies used advance votes to rig the result.

      One election observer said: “Where necessary, which was pretty much everywhere, bucket loads of advance votes arrived and tipped the balance in favour of the USDP.”

      The outcome of the first election in 20 years has not come as a surprise because the generals did not want a repeat of the poll that the opposition National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won by a landslide in May 1990.

      The scale of the apparent victory has snuffed out any notion that the generals wanted even a veneer of democratic legitimacy.

      Barack Obama, US president, said this week it was “unacceptable to steal elections, as the regime in Burma has done”. China, however, welcomed the elections as a critical step in Burma’s “transition to an elected government”.

      Phone Win, an unsuccessful independent candidate in Rangoon, said: “If you didn’t have an arrangement with the USDP, you didn’t win. They [the generals] may give us some political space to give themselves legitimacy. If they allow us to continue our political activities, that would be OK but if they don’t allow this, that would be bad.”

      Aung Naing Oo, a political analyst in Thailand, said the election had at least opened gates that the generals might find hard to close again. “People have been able to speak out and complain publicly. These are important issues in a democracy,” he said. “There are new actors and they will not go down quietly.”

      The observer had noticed a shift among opposition voters since the ballot. “It’s hard to describe how angry and disappointed they are,” he said. “The frustration is palpable, and it depends on how this sense of anger plays out on the streets.”



      Junta troops retake Myawaddy as residents return – Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Tue 9 Nov 2010

      Mae Sot, Thailand — Burmese junta troops have retaken control of the border town of Myawaddy after a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) launched an urban warfare offensive there on Monday, according to Burmese officials.The siege of Myawaddy, opposite Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border, sent thousands of local residents fleeing into Thailand. According to the latest reports, most have since returned to Myawaddy, despite concerns that fighting could resume.

      Sources in Myawaddy said that at least 800 regime troops, some in armored personnel carriers, took part in an overnight operation to oust the DKBA Brigade 5 rebels. They were supported by a newly formed border guard force consisting of former DKBA troops under the command of junta allies.

      “Troops of the DKBA splinter group pulled out after government troops, supported by border guard forces, launched an operation on Monday night,” said a government official in Myawaddy, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But further attacks are expected in the coming days.”

      He said about six people had been killed since Monday, with another 30 injured. He denied rumors circulating on Monday that 30 people had been killed in Myawaddy since the fighting started.

      The official also added that DKBA Brigade 5, under the command of Col Saw Lah Pwe, continues to use rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers to attack Burmese troops in the town.

      “They launched dozens of RPG attacks on Monday and Tuesday morning, some of them landing on Thai soil, and there have been at least three more since they were forced out of Myawaddy,” said the official.

      Despite claims that Burmese troops are now firmly in control of the town, many local residents remain concerned about the security situation. On Tuesday morning, many were still crossing the Moei River into Thailand.

      “People were hiding for their lives in Myawaddy last night,” said Phyu Phyu, a woman who fled the Burmese border town on Tuesday morning with her 3-year-old daughter. “Last night we were hiding at a monastery in the town, along with hundreds of other Myawaddy residents.”

      According to some who had crossed the border this morning, Thai security forces were blocking newcomers after allowing around 20,000 refugees to enter the country on Monday.

      “The Thais did not accept us, so we have to go back and take refuge at the monastery again,” said a man who crossed the river into Mae Sot at 7 o’clock on Tuesday morning and returned to Myawaddy at noon.

      Although most of the refugees had reportedly returned to the town by Tuesday evening, there were also reports that many remain stranded on the Thai side of the river bank.

      Meanwhile, sources said that DKBA Brigade 5 troops have also pulled out of Three Pagodas Pass and positioned themselves outside of the town. The Burmese army is still reinforcing its troops in Three Pagodas Pass, the sources said.

      Around 10,000 residents of the town have crossed the border into Sangklaburi, in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Province. According to sources, two refugees were injured and later died after an RPG hit them on the Thai side of the border.

      About 80 Buddhist monks in Three Pagodas Pass have requested that DKBA Battalion 907 stop fighting, saying more clashes with Burmese troops will only destroy property and harm lives. The monks stood guard over civilian property on Tuesday night to prevent looting.



      Myanmar, Russian companies to jointly explore oil, gas
      Xinhua: Tue 9 Nov 2010

      Myanmar and Russian oil companies will jointly explore crude oil and natural gas in Shwe U-ru block (B-2) in Homelin township in Sagaing region, the local Weekly Eleven News reported Tuesday.The project will be implemented by Myanmar’s private Htoo Group companies and the Closed Joint Stock Oil Company “Noble Oil” of the Russian Federation.

      At present, there are about 47 inland crude oil and natural gas fields with 12 others being extended.

      Besides the onshore areas, Myanmar has abundance of natural gas resources in the offshore areas.

      Since 2006, other three Russian oil companies have been engaged in oil and gas exploration in Myanmar under respective contracts. The first Russian company, which is JSC Zarubezhneft Iteraaws along with the Sun Group of India, has been exploring oil and gas at block M-8 lying in the Mottama offshore area under a production sharing contract with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) signed in September 2006.

      The latter two Russian companies — Silver Wave Sputnik Petroleum Pte Ltd and the Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd of Kalmykia have been drilling Zeebyutaung test well-1 at the inland block B-2 in Pinlebu township of northwestern Sagaing region under another similar contract reached in March 2007.

      There has been seven foreign companies operating onshore, including Essar Oil Ltd, Focus Energy Ltd, MPRL Exploration and Production Private Ltd, Goldpetrol, CNOOC, Sinopec Oil Company and Chinerry Assests, according to statistics.



      Obama: Myanmar elections neither free nor fair
      Deustche Press Agentur: Tue 9 Nov 2010

      Jakarta – US President Barack Obama on Tuesday criticized the recent elections in Myanmar, saying Sunday’s polls had been neither free nor fair.He also called on the country’s ruling generals to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners.

      Speaking after talks with his Indonesian counterpart, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Obama said one of the continuing challenges for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is Myanmar.

      Both Indonesia and Myanmar, also known as Burma, are members of ASEAN, a regional organization of 10 member states.

      “Last week’s elections in Burma were neither free nor fair, and we will continue our efforts to move Burma toward democratic reforms and protection of human rights,” Obama said at a joint press conference.

      “As first step, the Burmese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, including [opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi,” Obama said.

      Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) boycotted the elections. It had won the 1990 election by a landslide but was never allowed to take power.



      China ends blockade of UN nuclear report – Naw Noreeen
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 9 Nov 2010

      China has withdrawn its opposition to a UN report suggesting that North Korea has supplied Burma and other pariah states with nuclear material.
      The report is said to be making its way to the Security Council after six months spent in limbo due to Beijing’s opposition. “Last week, China chose to keep silent when the sanctions committee asked its members – the 15 nations on the Security Council – if they had any objections to the report. That allowed it to formally move to the council,” Reuters said.

      The 75-page document details suspicions that North Korea, which has been under tight UN sanctions since it carried out two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, has supplied banned material to Naypyidaw, as well as Syria and Iran, according to Reuters, which has seen the report.

      While the focus of the Council’s discussion will centre on how to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang, the passing of the report will likely strike a blow to any nascent cooperation between North Korea and Burma.

      While there is yet no hard evidence that North Korea has supplied Burma with proliferation material, a nuclear programme was uncovered in Burma earlier this year following a five-year investigation by DVB, which has also monitored the steadily warming relations between Naypyidaw and Pyongyang. This appears to have developed under the watchful eye of China, which has rapidly become the economic and political powerhouse of the region.

      Dr Ian Storey, a China expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, told DVB that the change in tack from Beijing, which has in the past blocked UN resolutions on both countries, may signify its growing fears over regional security.

      “It’s clearly not in China’s interest to have a nuclear power on its borders, either North Korea or Burma,” he said. “It’s too little too late in the case of North Korea, but maybe this is a signal to the Burmese government that China really does oppose it going down the path towards a nuclear weapon.”

      Burma last week held elections for the first time in two decades, despite the polls being roundly condemned by much of the international community. China however hailed the event as a “step forward”, and will likely seek to boost already substantial investment in the coming years.

      It is the economic and diplomatic support provided by China that has largely given the regime its political immunity, and provided a crutch for the generals in the face of sanctions from the West.

      One diplomat however told Reuters that while Burma and Syria had clearly been happy that China had blocked the report, the latest development shows that China now “has other priorities”.

      Storey said however that Burma “is frankly an embarrassment” to Beijing, and the nuclear threat “makes the situation worse for China,” which has already warned Naypyidaw about border stability following the elections.



      Knight of the generals? – Shashi Tharoor
      Times of India: Tue 9 Nov 2010

      As stage-managed elections ratify the consequences of three decades of military rule in Myanmar, the perspective from its neighbour India may help explain why there is continued international acceptance of the country’s long-ruling junta.Burma was ruled as part of Britain’s Indian empire until 1935, and the links between the two countries remained strong after Burma gained its independence in 1947. An Indian business community thrived in Burma’s major cities, and cultural and political affinities were well established. India’s nationalist leader and first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a close friend of the Burmese nationalist hero Aung San, whose daughter, the Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, studied in New Delhi.

      For many years, India was unambiguously on the side of democracy, freedom and human rights in Burma – and in ways more tangible than the rhetoric of the regime’s western critics. When the generals suppressed the popular uprising of 1988, nullified the overwhelming election victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1990, shot students, and arrested the newly-elected leaders, India’s government initially reacted as most Indians would have wanted. India gave asylum to fleeing students and a base for their resistance movement (along with some financial help), and supported a newspaper and a radio station that propagated the democratic voice.

      But then reality intruded. India’s strategic rivals, China and Pakistan, began to court the Burmese generals. Major economic and geopolitical concessions were offered to both suitors. The Chinese even began developing a port on the Burmese coast, far closer to Calcutta than to Canton. And the generals began providing safe havens and arms to a motley assortment of anti-Indian rebel movements that would wreak havoc in India’s north-eastern states and retreat to sanctuaries in the newly-renamed Myanmar.

      All this was troubling enough to Indian policymakers, who were being painfully reminded of the country’s vulnerability to a determined neighbour. The clincher came when large deposits of natural gas were found in Burma, which, it was clear, would not be available to an India deemed hostile to the junta. India’s rivals were gaining ground in its own backyard, while Indian businesses were losing out on new economic opportunities. The price of pursuing a moral foreign policy simply became too high.

      So India turned 180 degrees. When Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf travelled to Myanmar to celebrate his country’s new relationship with his fellow generals, India’s foreign minister Jaswant Singh soon followed. The increasingly forlorn resistance operations staged from Indian territory were shut down in the hope of reciprocation from the Burmese side. And India sweetened the generals’ tea by providing military assistance and intelligence support to their own never-ending counter-insurgencies.

      India’s journey was complete: from standing up for democracy, India had graduated to aiding and abetting the military regime in Rangoon (now Yangon). When monks were being mown down on the streets of Yangon in 2006, the Indian government called for negotiations, muttered banalities about national reconciliation, and opposed sanctions. India also sent its minister for oil to negotiate an energy deal, making it clear that the country’s real priorities lay with its own national economic interests, ahead of its solidarity with Burmese democrats. (At the same time, Indian diplomats intervened discreetly from time to time on behalf of Suu Kyi, though their effectiveness was limited by India’s unwillingness to alienate the junta.)

      All of this was in fact perfectly understandable. Officials in New Delhi were justified in reacting acerbically to western critics of its policy. India needed no ethical lessons from a United States and a Britain that have long coddled military dictators in India’s South Asian neighbourhood, notably in Pakistan.

      Any Indian government’s primary obligation is to its own people, and there is little doubt that the economic opportunities provided by Burmese oil and gas are of real benefit to Indians. There is also the strategic imperative of not ceding ground to India’s enemies on its own borders. India confronts an inescapable fact of geopolitics: you can put your ideals on hold, but you cannot change who your neighbours are.

      India’s government cannot be blamed for deciding that its national interests in Burma are more important than standing up for democracy there. The member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations, on Burma’s eastern flank, have made similar calculations.

      But many Indians are asking themselves what such a policy does to India as a civilisation. If that idealistic democrat Nehru had not been cremated, India’s stance toward Burma might cause him to turn over in his grave. It is a policy that is governed by the head rather than the heart, but in the process India is losing a little bit of its soul.



      Here’s the new Burma – Kyaw Zwa Moe
      Irrawaddy: Tue 9 Nov 2010

      Burma’s election is over. What’s new and different after Sunday? Will Burma get a new system that reduces the rule of the military dictatorship?Here the new Burma:

      All incumbent 27 ministers and deputy ministers of the military government reportedly won in the Sunday elections.

      Of course, Prime Minister Thein Sein is among them and Foreign Minister Nyan Win won his constituency without a contest because he was unopposed, as were 52 candidates of the junta’s party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). You’ll see a new government composed of many of these incumbent ministers in the coming months.

      Now, look at the leaders on the State Peace and Development Council: Former generals, No. 3 Thura Shwe Mann and Secretary-1 Tin Aung Myint Oo, won in their constituencies in Naypyidaw.

      The USDP has reportedly won 82 percent of the seats in parliament. No surprise there. We’ve said repeatedly that Than Shwe and his team would rig votes. Most pro-democracy and ethnic parties that contested in the election knew the USDP would rig votes, but it was even worse than they expected.

      The USDP made a mockery of the advanced vote process. Witnesses and party leaders said advanced votes would come in whenever a USDP candidate seemed in danger of losing. In Rangoon, they called the advanced votes “joker votes.”

      Leaders of the National Democratic Force, a breakaway party of detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said that in some constituencies advance ballots represented about half of the eligible votes. As the biggest opposition party, the NDF contested 164 seats, a handful of the 1,157 seats in parliaments. It won 16 seats, the party said on Tuesday.

      NDF party leader Khin Maung Swe said that polling station officials in many townships, such as Thanlyin and Kyauktan in Rangoon, suspended the counting of ballots on Sunday night at a point when the count showed the NDF leading. “Joker Votes” were rampant nationwide. In ethnic Mon State, Dr. Min Nwe Soe of the All Mon Region Democracy Party, said, “A suspeciously high percentage of advanced votes were cast in Mudon Township,” in which he contested.

      Than Than Nu, the daughter of Burma’s first premier, U Nu, told The Irrawaddy on Monday, “This election was the dirtiest among the elections after Burma gained independence from the British in 1948.” She’s one of the “Three Princesses” comprised of Nay Ye Ba Swe and Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, daughters of former prime ministers of Burma before 1962, when Ne Win’s military government staged a coup.

      “My father would say so if he were still alive,” said Than Than Nu, who lost as a parliamentary candidate in Mandalay Division representing the Democratic Party (Myanmar). Almost all candidates of the party, including the other two “princesses” and party leader Thu Wai, also lost. The party won a couple of seats out of the 48 constituencies it contested.

      What else did we get out of this rare election, the first in the 20 years? The border towns of Myawaddy and Three Pagodas Pass, bordering Thailand, are battle grounds, with refugees fleeing the fighting. On election day, an ethnic army splinter group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, engaged government’s troops and seized some government buildings, including police stations, in the two towns. The fighting sent more than 10,000 refugees to Thailand’s Mae Sot. It bodes ill, and is a sign of the instability to come in ethnic areas along the border.

      “Is something better than nothing?” Or, is “the election an opportunity to move towards democracy?” Those were the optimistic statements of some people inside and outside Burma before the election. Actually, the election may have made things worse. By now, the world has learned a lesson, taught by the ruling generals, that many Burmese have learned repeatedly while living under the generals’ boots for five decades.

      Finally, how about the junta’s reclusive dictator, Sen-Gen Than Shwe? As commander in chief, he didn’t contest in the election. Will he relinquish power? Don’t forget his main motivation was to gain legitimacy while continuing to rule the country. Thus, he may be elected president by the new parliament. But don’t be surprised if he chooses to remain behind the scenes as the unofficial “Senior President” or “President Mentor,” the real power behind the scenes.

      So, here’s a snapshot of the new Burma: the new government will be composed of the regime’s incumbent ministers; about 80 percent of the USDP candidates will have seats in the brand new parliament; Than Shwe will be elected president or assume the “President Mentor” role; ethnic groups who signed cease-fire agreements are likely to fight the regime, in response to increased pressure on them to become a border guard force.

      Oh, yes. Don’t expect to see the release of the more than 2,200 political prisoners under this new government.



      NDF leader tells opposition parties not to recognize results
      Irrawaddy: Mon 8 Nov 2010

      Rangoon—Burma’s opposition parties in the Sunday polls have been told not recognize the election results without transparency and clarity from the regime’s Election Commission regarding the ballot counts. “We have told other parties not to recognize the results of the polls without a clear explanation about the suspicious advanced votes and other irregular activities in the vote counting,” said Khin Maung Swe, the leader of the National Democratic Force, which fielded 164 candidates.



      Junta held storm victims’ aid as ransom for votes – Thea Forbes
      Mizzima News: Mon 8 Nov 2010

      Chiang Mai – Regime officials in Burma’s west threatened to cut aid to victims of Cyclone Giri if they failed to vote for the main junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, a party source said last night.

      Mizzima received reports late yesterday that people struggling in areas devastated by the cyclone had been among the latest victims of junta-USDP voter coercion. Giri hit western Burma on October 22, killed at least 50 dead and displaced 70,000.

      Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) spokesman Thein Tun Aye told Mizzima last night that “in the storm-affected areas, especially in Myebon, we’ve lost all seats, but in other townships, we won a landslide victory”.

      He said: “Our candidates told us the authorities, especially the western military commanders, told all the elders and the villagers to vote for the USDP, not our Rakhine Party [RNDP] … and that if the villagers voted for the RNDP they would not receive any provisions or any help.”

      The USDP had clearly taken advantage of the vulnerability of voters in areas affected by Cyclone Giri, he said.

      Chapter three of the Union Election Commission Law, section eight, provides that: “The duties and powers of the commission are as follows … postponing and cancelling the elections in constituencies in which free and fair election could not be held due to natural disaster or situation of regional security”.

      Before the polls, the RNDP had asked junta officials to postpone voting in the state to enable storm victims to recuperate and rebuild their homes. Its calls were ignored.

      The pre-election junta had used the electoral laws’ powers to postpone voting in areas of Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mon and Shan states, and yet had deemed it inappropriate in Arakan, where 400,000 people were reportedly affected by the cyclone.



      Burma election observers report voter intimidation – Jack Davies
      Guardian (UK): Mon 8 Nov 2010

      Rangoon – Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton echo protesters in Japan and Thailand in calling the election in Burma a sham.

      Independent Burmese observers have reported widespread allegations of voter intimidation and bribery in the country’s first elections in a generation.

      The poll yesterday has already been written off by most international observers as a sham designed to entrench military rule, but further evidence of vote-rigging by the junta will only weaken its claims to have held a free and fair election.

      Several hundred observers from a politically neutral Burmese organisation, which cannot be named for security reasons, monitored preparations for the election and polling in districts across the country. They found widespread interference from the junta in the campaign and conduct of the elections, particularly in rural areas.

      The allegations emerged as at least 10,000 refugees fled across the border into Thailand to escape post-election fighting between government troops and ethnic Karen rebels.

      Sporadic clashes continued today along the border after rebels of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army seized the police station and post office in the town of Myawaddy. Most of the DKBA sides with the regime, but a faction is fighting with other rebel groups against the central government.

      At least 10 people were wounded and thousands fled amid gunshots and mortar fire.

      The US, the UK, the EU and Japan have condemned the vote as neither free nor fair and repeated calls to free the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her youngest son, Kim Aris, flew from London to Bangkok last week ahead of her release, which is expected to come on 13 November, but the Burmese embassy denied his application for a visa.

      Speaking in Delhi, President Obama accused the junta of “stealing the election.”

      “When peaceful democratic movements are suppressed – as in Burma – then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent. For it is unacceptable to gun down peaceful protestors and incarcerate political presoners decade after decade. It is unacceptable to hold the aspirations of an entire people hostage to the greed and paranoia of a bankrupt regime. It is unacceptable to steal an election as the regime has done again for all the world to see,” he said.

      The Burmese observers’ accounts of the election are valuable as the junta banned all foreign journalists and monitors from the country ahead of the poll.

      A Japanese photographer, Toru Yamaji, 49, was detained in Myawaddy after slipping across the Thai border to try to cover the election.

      State TV said voters cast their ballots “freely and happily” but the observers said many were coerced into voting for the military junta’s political arm, the Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP).

      Civil servants were told they would lose their jobs if they did not support the party while, in Rakhine state in western Burma, the owners of salt fields were told their land would be confiscated if they did not vote for the USDP. In other areas, villagers were warned all development programmes and public services would be cut if they did not vote for the government.

      Vote-buying was also reported: 30% of observers reported that cash or in-kind contributions were offered to people in exchange for government votes.

      In Karen state, a USDP candidate paid village leaders 200,000 kyats (about £125), and in Rakhine state, elderly people were given reading glasses and hospital patients 50,000 kyats by the government’s candidate. Other villages were promised roads or street lighting in exchange for votes.

      At 13% of polling stations, observers said, voters faced intimidation or disturbance while voting.

      Several parties have lodged complaints with the electoral commission over advance voting, where the military collected votes from people in the days before the election.

      Polling stations were allegedly set up in government offices and at industrial zones where large numbers of voters could be signed up.

      In Keng Tung township in Shan state, all 200 advance votes were cast for the government party. In nearly two-thirds of polling stations, observers reported, advance votes were counted separately from regular votes.

      Concerns have been raised about votes being counted away from public or opposition party scrutiny.

      Meanwhile the arcane process of counting votes and declaring a winner was progressing slowly across Burma. It is likely to be days before a final result is known.

      There has been no official report on the number of votes cast on Sunday, but observers reported a poor turnout across the country, falling as low as 20% in some areas.

      In what is perhaps an indication of the emerging new government, several names from the military regime were among the first elected.

      Foreign minister U Nyan Win, forestry minister U Thein Aung and industry minister U Soe Thein are now civilian members of parliament.

      Forty-one of the 57 seats announced so far went to the junta’s USDP, while the rest were shared by democratic parties, including several ethnic minority parties.



      Burma uses Chinese investment to harass opponents – Sue Lloyd-Roberts
      Telegraph (UK): Mon 8 Nov 2010

      Chinese investment in Burma has been harnessed by the regime to consolidate control of swathes of territory controlled by rebel ethnic groups on its northern and eastern borders.

      Mae Hong Son – Chinese investment in Burma has been harnessed by the regime to consolidate control of swathes of territory controlled by rebel ethnic groups on its northern and eastern borders. A Burmese family casts their votes in the capital Naypyitaw, Myanmar Photo: EPA

      Dam construction has seen thousands of Burmese villagers driven out of the country in a strategy that prepared the way for the first nationwide election in two decades on Sunday under a new constitution designed to bring military backed political parties to power.

      Refugees from Burma flock across the Thai border in motley groups with bags on their backs and babies in their arms. At a refugee camp outside the town of Mae Hong Son, the numbers of ethnic Karen displaced are growing at a faster rate than at any time since military rule began in 1962.

      They are emptying villages faster than we can cope,” said Khu Htebu, the welfare officer. “They are destroying hundreds of villages.

      The victims claim to have been forced out by a government policy known as “Damming at Gunpoint”.

      Activists from the Burma Rivers Network claim construction is under way on forty dams on rivers that flow between Burma and China and Thailand. The majority are being built as joint ventures between the Burmese military and Chinese construction companies and government troops have been deployed to remove local inhabitants from the flood basins.

      “The government soldiers started burning the village and then, with machine guns, opened fire. They were shooting everywhere and it was the old and the children who were killed. The rest of us ran away”, says Boe Reh, a refugee in his 50s.

      His wife, Htay Moe, takes up the story “We had to keep moving. They killed anyone who stopped. Some women were so pregnant that they could barely walk and so they got stones and beat their stomachs to kill their babies, to miscarry so that they could run.”

      From Mae Hong Son, I crossed into Burma illegally, where guerrillas from the rebel Karenni army face the Burmese military along front lines.

      Major General Aung Myat, the Karen commander, said Chinese support was vital to the Burmese operations. “They’ve brought more army units in, they’ve moved the villagers out, they’ve laid landmines everywhere and they’ve brought in Chinese technicians to help them build the dams”, he said.

      From the junta´s point of view, it is a cunning plan. They have been dealing with uprisings among Burma’s recalcitrant ethnic people for half a century. By flooding the areas where villages support the rebel armies, they get rid of the insurgents’ supply lines and make the money they need to keep in power by selling hydroelectricity to Thailand and China.

      Chinese investment is critically important to the Burmese regime. Beijing has invested some $8 billion in gas, oil and hydroelectric ventures in Burma this year alone.

      But Burma’s other neighbours are happy to co-operate. On signing a recent Memorandum of Understanding on a hydroelectric project, the head of Thailand’s Electricity Authority announced, “it is a win-win situation. The Kingdom of Thailand will get cheap electricity while Burma can earn much needed revenue”.

      The elections did not provide an opportunity to voice grievances. Many local parties wanting to stand on local issues were not allowed to register and over a million people in the ethnic areas were not allowed to vote. “The elections were just to keep the junta in power”, said Maj Gen Aung. “Once this dam project is finished, the power will be sent over the border and there will be nothing for us, local people.”



      UN chief slams Myanmar vote
      Agence France Presse: Mon 8 Nov 2010

      United Nations – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called the Myanmar election “insufficiently” transparent and made a new call for the junta to release political prisoners.Ban also expressed concern about reported clashes between government troops and ethnic rebels since Sunday’s vote “and urges all sides to refrain from any action that could raise tensions further or create instability at this sensitive time,” his spokesman said in a statement.

      The UN leader, who has frequently expressed frustration at the attitude of Myanmar’s ruling generals, believes “the voting was held in conditions that were insufficiently inclusive, participatory and transparent,” said the statement.

      Sunday’s vote has been condemned by much of the international community and Myanmar’s opposition as a sham. Pro-junta parties are widely expected to take most seats in the new assembly and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winning opposition leaders was banned from taking part.

      “Consistent with their commitments, the authorities must demonstrate that the ballot is part of a credible transition towards democratic government, national reconciliation and respect for human rights,” said the UN chief’s statement.

      Ban “urges the Myanmar authorities to release all remaining political prisoners and lift restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi without further delay so that they can freely participate in the political life of their country.

      “He also urges the Myanmar authorities to ensure that the process of forming new institutions of government is as broad-based and inclusive as possible.”

      Ban said: “The international community will look to the Myanmar authorities to provide greater assurances that the current process marks a genuine departure from the status quo.”

      The United Nations warned the junta before the election that it would not be seen as credible if Aung San Suu Kyi and other opponents remained in jail.



      What the papers say – Francis Wade
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 8 Nov 2010

      By all accounts it was a mute affair: polling stations across the country hosted desultory audiences of voters who braved the soporific atmosphere to cast ballots, while the streets of Rangoon, which the media fanfare had depicted as a carnival in the run-up to yesterday, were quiet.Footage filmed undercover (despite a less-than-convincing crackdown on journalists) showed patchy queues outside ballot stations, and voter turnout was thought to be no more than 60 percent. A bored looking Than Shwe joined his equally jaded second-in-command on the front page of the New Light of Myanmar, as they added their support to the ‘transition’ – perhaps years of rehearsals had finally taken their toll, as both appeared ready to collapse into the ballot box and make way for a new era of military rule.

      Predictably, the few results that have trickled out place the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the lead, with the pro-junta juggernaut given a head-start by its dominance of the one-party constituencies. Rumours that USDP candidate and Rangoon mayor Aung Thein Linn was pipped at the post by the opposition National Democratic Force (NDF) have been corrected, while Democratic Party chairman, Thu Wei, who pledged to pop the cork when the results came through, struck a sombre figure today as his loss was announced. It’ll likely take days before the official winner is declared, but don’t hold your breath – candidates are already reporting that the requisite box of advance votes at the foot of every voter counter is reversing any headway made by the opposition.

      China acted the counterweight to global condemnation of yesterday’s proceedings, with a leading state-run newspaper hailing the “step forward” taken by Burmese across the country, deaf as it was to the hundreds of complaints of fraud and intimidation that emerged. Barrack Obama’s prelude to the “illegitimate” vote was nothing new, and so top senator Mitch McConnell today urged the world’s most powerful man – who has been conspicuously quiet on the Burma issue – to do more.

      The disbanded National League for Democracy party continued to carry the torch for Aung San Suu Kyi, and unveiled a banner outside their Rangoon office yesterday in honour of the leader. “Only five days more,” it read, anticipating the 13 November release of The Lady, whose son, Kim Aris, remains in Bangkok wrestling for a visa. “They’re unpredictable, these people,” he said of the generals who have denied mother and son communication for a decade. “We’ll see what they’ll do.”

      Predictions that Burma’s border regions would erupt in violence materialised sooner than anyone could have guessed. A breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) yesterday took advantage of a distracted junta and sent 1000 troops into Myawaddy, where fighting continues today. The site of a burning police station will concern family and colleagues of Japanese journalist Toru Yamaji, who was arrested in the town yesterday. Renegade leader Na Kham Mwe, who led the assault, said the surprise move followed allegations that Burmese troops were threatening voters at gunpoint, and more than 5000 refugees have now fled to Thailand, with more arriving.

      They are the first human results of yesterday’s game, and should be used as ammunition when regional neighbours, especially Thailand, emit their muffled echoes of China’s praise. “It is possible that it [violence] will carry on during the next three months, particularly during the transition from the current government to an elected government,” Abhisit said today, appended by his desire for “peace and order”. But, he added, Thailand will not “interfere in Myanmar’s [Burma] domestic affairs.”

      In that case, Japan deserves some praise, having broken the trend of silent Asian natio

      (Message over 64 KB, truncated)
    • shreeram chaudhary
      Dear Sir Namaste, Thank you for sending enough reading material. Regards Shreeram Nepal ... From: CHAN Beng Seng Subject:
      Message 2 of 2 , Nov 10, 2010
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        Dear Sir
        Namaste,
        Thank you for sending enough reading material.
        Regards
        Shreeram
        Nepal

        --- On Wed, 10/11/10, CHAN Beng Seng <bengseng@...> wrote:

        From: CHAN Beng Seng <bengseng@...>
        Subject: [justpeaceinasia] [Readingroom] News on Burma - 10/11/10
        To: dagainfo.burma@..., readingroom@...
        Date: Wednesday, 10 November, 2010, 8:40 AM

         
        1. Myanmar army-backed party sweeps election
        2. Burmese consider challenge to junta’s poll win
        3. Junta troops retake Myawaddy as residents return
        4. Myanmar, Russian companies to jointly explore oil, gas
        5. Obama: Myanmar elections neither free nor fair
        6. China ends blockade of UN nuclear report
        7. Knight of the generals?
        8. Here’s the new Burma
        9. NDF leader tells opposition parties not to recognize results
        10. Junta held storm victims’ aid as ransom for votes
        11. Burma election observers report voter intimidation
        12. Burma uses Chinese investment to harass opponents
        13. UN chief slams Myanmar vote
        14. What the papers say
        15. Travel independently to help Burma
        16. Attempt to consolidate authoritarian military rule
        17. Declaration by the European Union on the elections in Burma
        18. Turnout appears light in Myanmar’s election
        19. Diplomats snub election booth ‘tours’
        20. Electoral irregularities rampant
        21. Military family members ordered to re-do vote
        22. Suu Kyi’s son seeks Myanmar visa to visit mother
        23. Minority legislatures will mean little to the Burmese military
        24. Burma to build its first Special Economic Zone
        25. Italian-Thai inks deals for huge Myanmar port project
        26. For some, Myanmar is ultimate frontier market


        Myanmar army-backed party sweeps election – Aung Hla Tun
        Reuters: Tue 9 Nov 2010

        Yangon – Myanmar’s biggest military-backed party won the country’s first election in 20 years by a landslide on Tuesday after a carefully choreographed vote denounced by pro-democracy parties as rigged to preserve authoritarian rule.Opposition parties conceded defeat but accused the military junta of fraud and said many state workers had been forced to support the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in advance balloting ahead of Sunday’s vote.

        U.S. President Barack Obama told a news conference in Indonesia Myanmar’s election was neither free nor fair and called on Burmese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners.

        But China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs lauded the election as “peaceful and successful,” illustrating strengthening ties between energy-hungry China and its resource-rich neighbor.

        As the votes were counted, government soldiers cleared ethnic minority rebels from an eastern border town after two days of sporadic clashes that killed at least 10 people and sent about 18,000 civilians fleeing into neighboring Thailand.

        Many refugees had returned to Myanmar by afternoon as the military pushed back the ethnic minority Karen rebels who have resisted central authority for generations since what was then Burma won independence in 1948 from Britain.

        U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says it is helping about 15,000 refugees who fled to Thailand from fighting in Myawaddy, and monitoring another 3,000 who fled from another area of Myanmar.

        The fighters say the election and the military’s continued dominance threaten any chance of achieving a degree of autonomy.

        Stacked with recently retired generals and closely aligned with 77-year-old paramount leader Senior General Than Shwe, the USDP took as many as 80 percent of the available seats for parliament, a senior USDP official told Reuters.

        But Khin Maung Swe, leader of the National Democratic Force, the largest opposition party, told Reuters: “We took the lead at the beginning but the USDP later came up with so-called advance votes and that changed the results completely, so we lost.”

        The second-largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party (Myanmar), also conceded defeat.

        “I admit defeat but it was not fair play. It was full of malpractice and fraud and we will try to expose them and tell the people,” its leader, Thu Wai, told Reuters.

        At least six parties have lodged complaints with the election commission, accusing the USDP of fraud — a charge that is unlikely to gain traction in a country where more than 2,100 political activists are behind bars.

        FOCUS ON SUU KYI

        The vote was held with Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in detention and her party disbanded for refusing to take part in an election it said was unfair. She had urged supporters to boycott the poll.

        With the election over, the spotlight returns to Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention but is due to be freed when her latest house arrest term expires on Saturday.

        The United States, Britain, the European Union and Japan repeated calls this week to free the 65-year-old pro-democracy leader whose National League for Democracy beat an army-backed party by a landslide in 1990, a result ignored by the junta.

        The army-backed USDP’s only real rival, the National Unity Party (NUP), also backed by the army, fared poorly in its quest for 980 seats, winning just 54 in the bicameral parliament and state assemblies.

        “Some representatives of our party filed complaints about fraud and malpractice by the USDP,” said Tin Aung, a senior NUP official. A strong showing by the NUP would have been seen as a jab against Than Shwe since it is thought to be closer to a different faction in the army.

        By crushing the NUP, the junta reduces the chance of fissures in the military spilling into the open in parliament.

        Already, 25 percent of the seats in parliament are reserved for serving generals. Lawmakers are expected to rubber-stamp policies by a cabinet appointed by a president who is not elected by the people but appointed by a parliamentary committee.

        Opposition lawmakers will have little say and no chance to secure the 75 percent of votes needed to amend a constitution that favors and reserves power for the military.

        The armed forces supreme commander will choose three serving generals to head defense, interior and border affairs ministries.

        This is why critics scoff at the military junta’s assertion that the new government will reflect the will of the people. In fact, parliament will have very limited power.

        Myanmar’s neighbors and partners in ASEAN have been hoping the election would end Myanmar’s isolation and remove hurdles it poses to greater cooperation with the West.

        China has built up close political and business links with Myanmar while the West has for years shunned its leaders and imposed sanctions over the suppression of democracy and a poor human rights record.

        Russia also welcomed the vote.

        “We see the elections as a step in the democratization of Myanmar society in accordance with the political reforms taken by the country’s leadership,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

        (Additional reporting by Vorasit Satienlerk, Panarat Thepgumpanant and Somjit Rungjumratrussamee, and Lucy Hornby in Beijing; Writing by Robert Birsel and Jason Szep; Editing by Sugita Katyal)



        Burmese consider challenge to junta’s poll win – Tim Johnston
        Financial Times: Tue 9 Nov 2010

        Two Burmese opposition parties are considering legal challenges to Sunday’s elections amid signs that the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development party has been swept into power.In the absence of official results, a senior member of the USDP, which is favoured by the ruling generals, said the party won 80 per cent of seats.

        Than Nyein, chairman of the National Democratic Force, the largest opposition party, which is considering a challenge, said: “How can it be fair? The people who monitored the result in the polling booths said we won in an overwhelming number of constituencies.”

        Latest results from the parties show the NDF won just 16 of the 161 seats it contested.

        Even the National Unity party, broadly aligned with the interests of the regime, has said it will challenge the result, a process that costs $1,000, twice the cost of candidate registration.

        In Mandalay, the second largest city, election officials said the USDP won 96 of 97 contested seats.

        Observers said junta allies used advance votes to rig the result.

        One election observer said: “Where necessary, which was pretty much everywhere, bucket loads of advance votes arrived and tipped the balance in favour of the USDP.”

        The outcome of the first election in 20 years has not come as a surprise because the generals did not want a repeat of the poll that the opposition National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won by a landslide in May 1990.

        The scale of the apparent victory has snuffed out any notion that the generals wanted even a veneer of democratic legitimacy.

        Barack Obama, US president, said this week it was “unacceptable to steal elections, as the regime in Burma has done”. China, however, welcomed the elections as a critical step in Burma’s “transition to an elected government”.

        Phone Win, an unsuccessful independent candidate in Rangoon, said: “If you didn’t have an arrangement with the USDP, you didn’t win. They [the generals] may give us some political space to give themselves legitimacy. If they allow us to continue our political activities, that would be OK but if they don’t allow this, that would be bad.”

        Aung Naing Oo, a political analyst in Thailand, said the election had at least opened gates that the generals might find hard to close again. “People have been able to speak out and complain publicly. These are important issues in a democracy,” he said. “There are new actors and they will not go down quietly.”

        The observer had noticed a shift among opposition voters since the ballot. “It’s hard to describe how angry and disappointed they are,” he said. “The frustration is palpable, and it depends on how this sense of anger plays out on the streets.”



        Junta troops retake Myawaddy as residents return – Wai Moe
        Irrawaddy: Tue 9 Nov 2010

        Mae Sot, Thailand — Burmese junta troops have retaken control of the border town of Myawaddy after a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) launched an urban warfare offensive there on Monday, according to Burmese officials.The siege of Myawaddy, opposite Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border, sent thousands of local residents fleeing into Thailand. According to the latest reports, most have since returned to Myawaddy, despite concerns that fighting could resume.

        Sources in Myawaddy said that at least 800 regime troops, some in armored personnel carriers, took part in an overnight operation to oust the DKBA Brigade 5 rebels. They were supported by a newly formed border guard force consisting of former DKBA troops under the command of junta allies.

        “Troops of the DKBA splinter group pulled out after government troops, supported by border guard forces, launched an operation on Monday night,” said a government official in Myawaddy, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But further attacks are expected in the coming days.”

        He said about six people had been killed since Monday, with another 30 injured. He denied rumors circulating on Monday that 30 people had been killed in Myawaddy since the fighting started.

        The official also added that DKBA Brigade 5, under the command of Col Saw Lah Pwe, continues to use rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers to attack Burmese troops in the town.

        “They launched dozens of RPG attacks on Monday and Tuesday morning, some of them landing on Thai soil, and there have been at least three more since they were forced out of Myawaddy,” said the official.

        Despite claims that Burmese troops are now firmly in control of the town, many local residents remain concerned about the security situation. On Tuesday morning, many were still crossing the Moei River into Thailand.

        “People were hiding for their lives in Myawaddy last night,” said Phyu Phyu, a woman who fled the Burmese border town on Tuesday morning with her 3-year-old daughter. “Last night we were hiding at a monastery in the town, along with hundreds of other Myawaddy residents.”

        According to some who had crossed the border this morning, Thai security forces were blocking newcomers after allowing around 20,000 refugees to enter the country on Monday.

        “The Thais did not accept us, so we have to go back and take refuge at the monastery again,” said a man who crossed the river into Mae Sot at 7 o’clock on Tuesday morning and returned to Myawaddy at noon.

        Although most of the refugees had reportedly returned to the town by Tuesday evening, there were also reports that many remain stranded on the Thai side of the river bank.

        Meanwhile, sources said that DKBA Brigade 5 troops have also pulled out of Three Pagodas Pass and positioned themselves outside of the town. The Burmese army is still reinforcing its troops in Three Pagodas Pass, the sources said.

        Around 10,000 residents of the town have crossed the border into Sangklaburi, in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Province. According to sources, two refugees were injured and later died after an RPG hit them on the Thai side of the border.

        About 80 Buddhist monks in Three Pagodas Pass have requested that DKBA Battalion 907 stop fighting, saying more clashes with Burmese troops will only destroy property and harm lives. The monks stood guard over civilian property on Tuesday night to prevent looting.



        Myanmar, Russian companies to jointly explore oil, gas
        Xinhua: Tue 9 Nov 2010

        Myanmar and Russian oil companies will jointly explore crude oil and natural gas in Shwe U-ru block (B-2) in Homelin township in Sagaing region, the local Weekly Eleven News reported Tuesday.The project will be implemented by Myanmar’s private Htoo Group companies and the Closed Joint Stock Oil Company “Noble Oil” of the Russian Federation.

        At present, there are about 47 inland crude oil and natural gas fields with 12 others being extended.

        Besides the onshore areas, Myanmar has abundance of natural gas resources in the offshore areas.

        Since 2006, other three Russian oil companies have been engaged in oil and gas exploration in Myanmar under respective contracts. The first Russian company, which is JSC Zarubezhneft Iteraaws along with the Sun Group of India, has been exploring oil and gas at block M-8 lying in the Mottama offshore area under a production sharing contract with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) signed in September 2006.

        The latter two Russian companies — Silver Wave Sputnik Petroleum Pte Ltd and the Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd of Kalmykia have been drilling Zeebyutaung test well-1 at the inland block B-2 in Pinlebu township of northwestern Sagaing region under another similar contract reached in March 2007.

        There has been seven foreign companies operating onshore, including Essar Oil Ltd, Focus Energy Ltd, MPRL Exploration and Production Private Ltd, Goldpetrol, CNOOC, Sinopec Oil Company and Chinerry Assests, according to statistics.



        Obama: Myanmar elections neither free nor fair
        Deustche Press Agentur: Tue 9 Nov 2010

        Jakarta – US President Barack Obama on Tuesday criticized the recent elections in Myanmar, saying Sunday’s polls had been neither free nor fair.He also called on the country’s ruling generals to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners.

        Speaking after talks with his Indonesian counterpart, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Obama said one of the continuing challenges for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is Myanmar.

        Both Indonesia and Myanmar, also known as Burma, are members of ASEAN, a regional organization of 10 member states.

        “Last week’s elections in Burma were neither free nor fair, and we will continue our efforts to move Burma toward democratic reforms and protection of human rights,” Obama said at a joint press conference.

        “As first step, the Burmese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, including [opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi,” Obama said.

        Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) boycotted the elections. It had won the 1990 election by a landslide but was never allowed to take power.



        China ends blockade of UN nuclear report – Naw Noreeen
        Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 9 Nov 2010

        China has withdrawn its opposition to a UN report suggesting that North Korea has supplied Burma and other pariah states with nuclear material.
        The report is said to be making its way to the Security Council after six months spent in limbo due to Beijing’s opposition. “Last week, China chose to keep silent when the sanctions committee asked its members – the 15 nations on the Security Council – if they had any objections to the report. That allowed it to formally move to the council,” Reuters said.

        The 75-page document details suspicions that North Korea, which has been under tight UN sanctions since it carried out two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, has supplied banned material to Naypyidaw, as well as Syria and Iran, according to Reuters, which has seen the report.

        While the focus of the Council’s discussion will centre on how to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang, the passing of the report will likely strike a blow to any nascent cooperation between North Korea and Burma.

        While there is yet no hard evidence that North Korea has supplied Burma with proliferation material, a nuclear programme was uncovered in Burma earlier this year following a five-year investigation by DVB, which has also monitored the steadily warming relations between Naypyidaw and Pyongyang. This appears to have developed under the watchful eye of China, which has rapidly become the economic and political powerhouse of the region.

        Dr Ian Storey, a China expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, told DVB that the change in tack from Beijing, which has in the past blocked UN resolutions on both countries, may signify its growing fears over regional security.

        “It’s clearly not in China’s interest to have a nuclear power on its borders, either North Korea or Burma,” he said. “It’s too little too late in the case of North Korea, but maybe this is a signal to the Burmese government that China really does oppose it going down the path towards a nuclear weapon.”

        Burma last week held elections for the first time in two decades, despite the polls being roundly condemned by much of the international community. China however hailed the event as a “step forward”, and will likely seek to boost already substantial investment in the coming years.

        It is the economic and diplomatic support provided by China that has largely given the regime its political immunity, and provided a crutch for the generals in the face of sanctions from the West.

        One diplomat however told Reuters that while Burma and Syria had clearly been happy that China had blocked the report, the latest development shows that China now “has other priorities”.

        Storey said however that Burma “is frankly an embarrassment” to Beijing, and the nuclear threat “makes the situation worse for China,” which has already warned Naypyidaw about border stability following the elections.



        Knight of the generals? – Shashi Tharoor
        Times of India: Tue 9 Nov 2010

        As stage-managed elections ratify the consequences of three decades of military rule in Myanmar, the perspective from its neighbour India may help explain why there is continued international acceptance of the country’s long-ruling junta.Burma was ruled as part of Britain’s Indian empire until 1935, and the links between the two countries remained strong after Burma gained its independence in 1947. An Indian business community thrived in Burma’s major cities, and cultural and political affinities were well established. India’s nationalist leader and first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a close friend of the Burmese nationalist hero Aung San, whose daughter, the Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, studied in New Delhi.

        For many years, India was unambiguously on the side of democracy, freedom and human rights in Burma – and in ways more tangible than the rhetoric of the regime’s western critics. When the generals suppressed the popular uprising of 1988, nullified the overwhelming election victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1990, shot students, and arrested the newly-elected leaders, India’s government initially reacted as most Indians would have wanted. India gave asylum to fleeing students and a base for their resistance movement (along with some financial help), and supported a newspaper and a radio station that propagated the democratic voice.

        But then reality intruded. India’s strategic rivals, China and Pakistan, began to court the Burmese generals. Major economic and geopolitical concessions were offered to both suitors. The Chinese even began developing a port on the Burmese coast, far closer to Calcutta than to Canton. And the generals began providing safe havens and arms to a motley assortment of anti-Indian rebel movements that would wreak havoc in India’s north-eastern states and retreat to sanctuaries in the newly-renamed Myanmar.

        All this was troubling enough to Indian policymakers, who were being painfully reminded of the country’s vulnerability to a determined neighbour. The clincher came when large deposits of natural gas were found in Burma, which, it was clear, would not be available to an India deemed hostile to the junta. India’s rivals were gaining ground in its own backyard, while Indian businesses were losing out on new economic opportunities. The price of pursuing a moral foreign policy simply became too high.

        So India turned 180 degrees. When Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf travelled to Myanmar to celebrate his country’s new relationship with his fellow generals, India’s foreign minister Jaswant Singh soon followed. The increasingly forlorn resistance operations staged from Indian territory were shut down in the hope of reciprocation from the Burmese side. And India sweetened the generals’ tea by providing military assistance and intelligence support to their own never-ending counter-insurgencies.

        India’s journey was complete: from standing up for democracy, India had graduated to aiding and abetting the military regime in Rangoon (now Yangon). When monks were being mown down on the streets of Yangon in 2006, the Indian government called for negotiations, muttered banalities about national reconciliation, and opposed sanctions. India also sent its minister for oil to negotiate an energy deal, making it clear that the country’s real priorities lay with its own national economic interests, ahead of its solidarity with Burmese democrats. (At the same time, Indian diplomats intervened discreetly from time to time on behalf of Suu Kyi, though their effectiveness was limited by India’s unwillingness to alienate the junta.)

        All of this was in fact perfectly understandable. Officials in New Delhi were justified in reacting acerbically to western critics of its policy. India needed no ethical lessons from a United States and a Britain that have long coddled military dictators in India’s South Asian neighbourhood, notably in Pakistan.

        Any Indian government’s primary obligation is to its own people, and there is little doubt that the economic opportunities provided by Burmese oil and gas are of real benefit to Indians. There is also the strategic imperative of not ceding ground to India’s enemies on its own borders. India confronts an inescapable fact of geopolitics: you can put your ideals on hold, but you cannot change who your neighbours are.

        India’s government cannot be blamed for deciding that its national interests in Burma are more important than standing up for democracy there. The member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations, on Burma’s eastern flank, have made similar calculations.

        But many Indians are asking themselves what such a policy does to India as a civilisation. If that idealistic democrat Nehru had not been cremated, India’s stance toward Burma might cause him to turn over in his grave. It is a policy that is governed by the head rather than the heart, but in the process India is losing a little bit of its soul.



        Here’s the new Burma – Kyaw Zwa Moe
        Irrawaddy: Tue 9 Nov 2010

        Burma’s election is over. What’s new and different after Sunday? Will Burma get a new system that reduces the rule of the military dictatorship?Here the new Burma:

        All incumbent 27 ministers and deputy ministers of the military government reportedly won in the Sunday elections.

        Of course, Prime Minister Thein Sein is among them and Foreign Minister Nyan Win won his constituency without a contest because he was unopposed, as were 52 candidates of the junta’s party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). You’ll see a new government composed of many of these incumbent ministers in the coming months.

        Now, look at the leaders on the State Peace and Development Council: Former generals, No. 3 Thura Shwe Mann and Secretary-1 Tin Aung Myint Oo, won in their constituencies in Naypyidaw.

        The USDP has reportedly won 82 percent of the seats in parliament. No surprise there. We’ve said repeatedly that Than Shwe and his team would rig votes. Most pro-democracy and ethnic parties that contested in the election knew the USDP would rig votes, but it was even worse than they expected.

        The USDP made a mockery of the advanced vote process. Witnesses and party leaders said advanced votes would come in whenever a USDP candidate seemed in danger of losing. In Rangoon, they called the advanced votes “joker votes.”

        Leaders of the National Democratic Force, a breakaway party of detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said that in some constituencies advance ballots represented about half of the eligible votes. As the biggest opposition party, the NDF contested 164 seats, a handful of the 1,157 seats in parliaments. It won 16 seats, the party said on Tuesday.

        NDF party leader Khin Maung Swe said that polling station officials in many townships, such as Thanlyin and Kyauktan in Rangoon, suspended the counting of ballots on Sunday night at a point when the count showed the NDF leading. “Joker Votes” were rampant nationwide. In ethnic Mon State, Dr. Min Nwe Soe of the All Mon Region Democracy Party, said, “A suspeciously high percentage of advanced votes were cast in Mudon Township,” in which he contested.

        Than Than Nu, the daughter of Burma’s first premier, U Nu, told The Irrawaddy on Monday, “This election was the dirtiest among the elections after Burma gained independence from the British in 1948.” She’s one of the “Three Princesses” comprised of Nay Ye Ba Swe and Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, daughters of former prime ministers of Burma before 1962, when Ne Win’s military government staged a coup.

        “My father would say so if he were still alive,” said Than Than Nu, who lost as a parliamentary candidate in Mandalay Division representing the Democratic Party (Myanmar). Almost all candidates of the party, including the other two “princesses” and party leader Thu Wai, also lost. The party won a couple of seats out of the 48 constituencies it contested.

        What else did we get out of this rare election, the first in the 20 years? The border towns of Myawaddy and Three Pagodas Pass, bordering Thailand, are battle grounds, with refugees fleeing the fighting. On election day, an ethnic army splinter group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, engaged government’s troops and seized some government buildings, including police stations, in the two towns. The fighting sent more than 10,000 refugees to Thailand’s Mae Sot. It bodes ill, and is a sign of the instability to come in ethnic areas along the border.

        “Is something better than nothing?” Or, is “the election an opportunity to move towards democracy?” Those were the optimistic statements of some people inside and outside Burma before the election. Actually, the election may have made things worse. By now, the world has learned a lesson, taught by the ruling generals, that many Burmese have learned repeatedly while living under the generals’ boots for five decades.

        Finally, how about the junta’s reclusive dictator, Sen-Gen Than Shwe? As commander in chief, he didn’t contest in the election. Will he relinquish power? Don’t forget his main motivation was to gain legitimacy while continuing to rule the country. Thus, he may be elected president by the new parliament. But don’t be surprised if he chooses to remain behind the scenes as the unofficial “Senior President” or “President Mentor,” the real power behind the scenes.

        So, here’s a snapshot of the new Burma: the new government will be composed of the regime’s incumbent ministers; about 80 percent of the USDP candidates will have seats in the brand new parliament; Than Shwe will be elected president or assume the “President Mentor” role; ethnic groups who signed cease-fire agreements are likely to fight the regime, in response to increased pressure on them to become a border guard force.

        Oh, yes. Don’t expect to see the release of the more than 2,200 political prisoners under this new government.



        NDF leader tells opposition parties not to recognize results
        Irrawaddy: Mon 8 Nov 2010

        Rangoon—Burma’s opposition parties in the Sunday polls have been told not recognize the election results without transparency and clarity from the regime’s Election Commission regarding the ballot counts. “We have told other parties not to recognize the results of the polls without a clear explanation about the suspicious advanced votes and other irregular activities in the vote counting,” said Khin Maung Swe, the leader of the National Democratic Force, which fielded 164 candidates.



        Junta held storm victims’ aid as ransom for votes – Thea Forbes
        Mizzima News: Mon 8 Nov 2010

        Chiang Mai – Regime officials in Burma’s west threatened to cut aid to victims of Cyclone Giri if they failed to vote for the main junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, a party source said last night.

        Mizzima received reports late yesterday that people struggling in areas devastated by the cyclone had been among the latest victims of junta-USDP voter coercion. Giri hit western Burma on October 22, killed at least 50 dead and displaced 70,000.

        Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) spokesman Thein Tun Aye told Mizzima last night that “in the storm-affected areas, especially in Myebon, we’ve lost all seats, but in other townships, we won a landslide victory”.

        He said: “Our candidates told us the authorities, especially the western military commanders, told all the elders and the villagers to vote for the USDP, not our Rakhine Party [RNDP] … and that if the villagers voted for the RNDP they would not receive any provisions or any help.”

        The USDP had clearly taken advantage of the vulnerability of voters in areas affected by Cyclone Giri, he said.

        Chapter three of the Union Election Commission Law, section eight, provides that: “The duties and powers of the commission are as follows … postponing and cancelling the elections in constituencies in which free and fair election could not be held due to natural disaster or situation of regional security”.

        Before the polls, the RNDP had asked junta officials to postpone voting in the state to enable storm victims to recuperate and rebuild their homes. Its calls were ignored.

        The pre-election junta had used the electoral laws’ powers to postpone voting in areas of Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mon and Shan states, and yet had deemed it inappropriate in Arakan, where 400,000 people were reportedly affected by the cyclone.



        Burma election observers report voter intimidation – Jack Davies
        Guardian (UK): Mon 8 Nov 2010

        Rangoon – Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton echo protesters in Japan and Thailand in calling the election in Burma a sham.

        Independent Burmese observers have reported widespread allegations of voter intimidation and bribery in the country’s first elections in a generation.

        The poll yesterday has already been written off by most international observers as a sham designed to entrench military rule, but further evidence of vote-rigging by the junta will only weaken its claims to have held a free and fair election.

        Several hundred observers from a politically neutral Burmese organisation, which cannot be named for security reasons, monitored preparations for the election and polling in districts across the country. They found widespread interference from the junta in the campaign and conduct of the elections, particularly in rural areas.

        The allegations emerged as at least 10,000 refugees fled across the border into Thailand to escape post-election fighting between government troops and ethnic Karen rebels.

        Sporadic clashes continued today along the border after rebels of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army seized the police station and post office in the town of Myawaddy. Most of the DKBA sides with the regime, but a faction is fighting with other rebel groups against the central government.

        At least 10 people were wounded and thousands fled amid gunshots and mortar fire.

        The US, the UK, the EU and Japan have condemned the vote as neither free nor fair and repeated calls to free the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her youngest son, Kim Aris, flew from London to Bangkok last week ahead of her release, which is expected to come on 13 November, but the Burmese embassy denied his application for a visa.

        Speaking in Delhi, President Obama accused the junta of “stealing the election.”

        “When peaceful democratic movements are suppressed – as in Burma – then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent. For it is unacceptable to gun down peaceful protestors and incarcerate political presoners decade after decade. It is unacceptable to hold the aspirations of an entire people hostage to the greed and paranoia of a bankrupt regime. It is unacceptable to steal an election as the regime has done again for all the world to see,” he said.

        The Burmese observers’ accounts of the election are valuable as the junta banned all foreign journalists and monitors from the country ahead of the poll.

        A Japanese photographer, Toru Yamaji, 49, was detained in Myawaddy after slipping across the Thai border to try to cover the election.

        State TV said voters cast their ballots “freely and happily” but the observers said many were coerced into voting for the military junta’s political arm, the Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP).

        Civil servants were told they would lose their jobs if they did not support the party while, in Rakhine state in western Burma, the owners of salt fields were told their land would be confiscated if they did not vote for the USDP. In other areas, villagers were warned all development programmes and public services would be cut if they did not vote for the government.

        Vote-buying was also reported: 30% of observers reported that cash or in-kind contributions were offered to people in exchange for government votes.

        In Karen state, a USDP candidate paid village leaders 200,000 kyats (about £125), and in Rakhine state, elderly people were given reading glasses and hospital patients 50,000 kyats by the government’s candidate. Other villages were promised roads or street lighting in exchange for votes.

        At 13% of polling stations, observers said, voters faced intimidation or disturbance while voting.

        Several parties have lodged complaints with the electoral commission over advance voting, where the military collected votes from people in the days before the election.

        Polling stations were allegedly set up in government offices and at industrial zones where large numbers of voters could be signed up.

        In Keng Tung township in Shan state, all 200 advance votes were cast for the government party. In nearly two-thirds of polling stations, observers reported, advance votes were counted separately from regular votes.

        Concerns have been raised about votes being counted away from public or opposition party scrutiny.

        Meanwhile the arcane process of counting votes and declaring a winner was progressing slowly across Burma. It is likely to be days before a final result is known.

        There has been no official report on the number of votes cast on Sunday, but observers reported a poor turnout across the country, falling as low as 20% in some areas.

        In what is perhaps an indication of the emerging new government, several names from the military regime were among the first elected.

        Foreign minister U Nyan Win, forestry minister U Thein Aung and industry minister U Soe Thein are now civilian members of parliament.

        Forty-one of the 57 seats announced so far went to the junta’s USDP, while the rest were shared by democratic parties, including several ethnic minority parties.



        Burma uses Chinese investment to harass opponents – Sue Lloyd-Roberts
        Telegraph (UK): Mon 8 Nov 2010

        Chinese investment in Burma has been harnessed by the regime to consolidate control of swathes of territory controlled by rebel ethnic groups on its northern and eastern borders.
        Mae Hong Son – Chinese investment in Burma has been harnessed by the regime to consolidate control of swathes of territory controlled by rebel ethnic groups on its northern and eastern borders. A Burmese family casts their votes in the capital Naypyitaw, Myanmar Photo: EPA

        Dam construction has seen thousands of Burmese villagers driven out of the country in a strategy that prepared the way for the first nationwide election in two decades on Sunday under a new constitution designed to bring military backed political parties to power.

        Refugees from Burma flock across the Thai border in motley groups with bags on their backs and babies in their arms. At a refugee camp outside the town of Mae Hong Son, the numbers of ethnic Karen displaced are growing at a faster rate than at any time since military rule began in 1962.

        They are emptying villages faster than we can cope,” said Khu Htebu, the welfare officer. “They are destroying hundreds of villages.

        The victims claim to have been forced out by a government policy known as “Damming at Gunpoint”.

        Activists from the Burma Rivers Network claim construction is under way on forty dams on rivers that flow between Burma and China and Thailand. The majority are being built as joint ventures between the Burmese military and Chinese construction companies and government troops have been deployed to remove local inhabitants from the flood basins.

        “The government soldiers started burning the village and then, with machine guns, opened fire. They were shooting everywhere and it was the old and the children who were killed. The rest of us ran away”, says Boe Reh, a refugee in his 50s.

        His wife, Htay Moe, takes up the story “We had to keep moving. They killed anyone who stopped. Some women were so pregnant that they could barely walk and so they got stones and beat their stomachs to kill their babies, to miscarry so that they could run.”

        From Mae Hong Son, I crossed into Burma illegally, where guerrillas from the rebel Karenni army face the Burmese military along front lines.

        Major General Aung Myat, the Karen commander, said Chinese support was vital to the Burmese operations. “They’ve brought more army units in, they’ve moved the villagers out, they’ve laid landmines everywhere and they’ve brought in Chinese technicians to help them build the dams”, he said.

        From the junta´s point of view, it is a cunning plan. They have been dealing with uprisings among Burma’s recalcitrant ethnic people for half a century. By flooding the areas where villages support the rebel armies, they get rid of the insurgents’ supply lines and make the money they need to keep in power by selling hydroelectricity to Thailand and China.

        Chinese investment is critically important to the Burmese regime. Beijing has invested some $8 billion in gas, oil and hydroelectric ventures in Burma this year alone.

        But Burma’s other neighbours are happy to co-operate. On signing a recent Memorandum of Understanding on a hydroelectric project, the head of Thailand’s Electricity Authority announced, “it is a win-win situation. The Kingdom of Thailand will get cheap electricity while Burma can earn much needed revenue”.

        The elections did not provide an opportunity to voice grievances. Many local parties wanting to stand on local issues were not allowed to register and over a million people in the ethnic areas were not allowed to vote. “The elections were just to keep the junta in power”, said Maj Gen Aung. “Once this dam project is finished, the power will be sent over the border and there will be nothing for us, local people.”



        UN chief slams Myanmar vote
        Agence France Presse: Mon 8 Nov 2010

        United Nations – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called the Myanmar election “insufficiently” transparent and made a new call for the junta to release political prisoners.Ban also expressed concern about reported clashes between government troops and ethnic rebels since Sunday’s vote “and urges all sides to refrain from any action that could raise tensions further or create instability at this sensitive time,” his spokesman said in a statement.

        The UN leader, who has frequently expressed frustration at the attitude of Myanmar’s ruling generals, believes “the voting was held in conditions that were insufficiently inclusive, participatory and transparent,” said the statement.

        Sunday’s vote has been condemned by much of the international community and Myanmar’s opposition as a sham. Pro-junta parties are widely expected to take most seats in the new assembly and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winning opposition leaders was banned from taking part.

        “Consistent with their commitments, the authorities must demonstrate that the ballot is part of a credible transition towards democratic government, national reconciliation and respect for human rights,” said the UN chief’s statement.

        Ban “urges the Myanmar authorities to release all remaining political prisoners and lift restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi without further delay so that they can freely participate in the political life of their country.

        “He also urges the Myanmar authorities to ensure that the process of forming new institutions of government is as broad-based and inclusive as possible.”

        Ban said: “The international community will look to the Myanmar authorities to provide greater assurances that the current process marks a genuine departure from the status quo.”

        The United Nations warned the junta before the election that it would not be seen as credible if Aung San Suu Kyi and other opponents remained in jail.



        What the papers say – Francis Wade
        Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 8 Nov 2010

        By all accounts it was a mute affair: polling stations across the country hosted desultory audiences of voters who braved the soporific atmosphere to cast ballots, while the streets of Rangoon, which the media fanfare had depicted as a carnival in the run-up to yesterday, were quiet.Footage filmed undercover (despite a less-than-convincing crackdown on journalists) showed patchy queues outside ballot stations, and voter turnout was thought to be no more than 60 percent. A bored looking Than Shwe joined his equally jaded second-in-command on the front page of the New Light of Myanmar, as they added their support to the ‘transition’ – perhaps years of rehearsals had finally taken their toll, as both appeared ready to collapse into the ballot box and make way for a new era of military rule.

        Predictably, the few results that have trickled out place the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the lead, with the pro-junta juggernaut given a head-start by its dominance of the one-party constituencies. Rumours that USDP candidate and Rangoon mayor Aung Thein Linn was pipped at the post by the opposition National Democratic Force (NDF) have been corrected, while Democratic Party chairman, Thu Wei, who pledged to pop the cork when the results came through, struck a sombre figure today as his loss was announced. It’ll likely take days before the official winner is declared, but don’t hold your breath – candidates are already reporting that the requisite box of advance votes at the foot of every voter counter is reversing any headway made by the opposition.

        China acted the counterweight to global condemnation of yesterday’s proceedings, with a leading state-run newspaper hailing the “step forward” taken by Burmese across the country, deaf as it was to the hundreds of complaints of fraud and intimidation that emerged. Barrack Obama’s prelude to the “illegitimate” vote was nothing new, and so top senator Mitch McConnell today urged the world’s most powerful man – who has been conspicuously quiet on the Burma issue – to do more.

        The disbanded National League for Democracy party continued to carry the torch for Aung San Suu Kyi, and unveiled a banner outside their Rangoon office yesterday in honour of the leader. “Only five days more,” it read, anticipating the 13 November release of The Lady, whose son, Kim Aris, remains in Bangkok wrestling for a visa. “They’re unpredictable, these people,” he said of the generals who have denied mother and son communication for a decade. “We’ll see what they’ll do.”

        Predictions that Burma’s border regions would erupt in violence materialised sooner than anyone could have guessed. A breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) yesterday took advantage of a distracted junta and sent 1000 troops into Myawaddy, where fighting continues today. The site of a burning police station will concern family and colleagues of Japanese journalist Toru Yamaji, who was arrested in the town yesterday. Renegade leader Na Kham Mwe, who led the assault, said the surprise move followed allegations that Burmese troops were threatening voters at gunpoint, and more than 5000 refugees have now fled to Thailand, with more arriving.

        They are the first human results of yesterday’s game, and should be used as ammunition when regional neighbours, especially Thailand, emit their muffled echoes of China’s praise. “It is possible that it [violence] will carry on during the next three months, particularly during the transition from the current government to an elected government,” Abhisit said today, appended by his desire for “peace and order”. But, he added, Thailand will not “interfere in Myanmar’s [Burma] domestic affairs.”

        In that case, Japan deserves some praise, having broken the trend of silent Asian nations when it spoke of its “deep disappointment” with the polls. But back inside Burma, such sentiments may be wasted among the inured population, who have asked for help so often from the international community but been provided with little. As the listed air that settled over Burma yesterday suggests, expectations these days are nil; that it was only punctuated by gunfire in the east is perhaps even more telling.



        Travel independently to help Burma – Benedict Rogers
        The Guardian (UK): Mon 8 Nov 2010

        The National League for Democracy’s lifting of the blanket tourism boycott is wise – it’s package tours that are problematic.

        Yesterday the people of Burma went to the polls for the first time in 20 years, and it is rumoured that democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi may soon be released. Neither of these events, however, represents meaningful change. The elections were a sham, designed to perpetuate military rule. Aung San Suu Kyi was excluded, her party banned and many voters disenfranchised.

        The decision last week by the National League for Democracy (NLD) to lift the blanket boycott to Burma should not, therefore, be read as any endorsement of the current situation. It is an important and intelligent change of tactics in the struggle for freedom.

        The NLD has chosen to target the tourism boycott on package tours, which generate more income for the regime and hide the truth about Burma. NLD Leader U Win Tin said: “We want people to come to Burma, not to help the junta, but to help the people by understanding the situation: political, economic, moral – everything.” But he added: “To have a very big cruise ship with hundreds of tourists coming in – that’s a lot of money for the regime, and so we don’t like such big business.”

        This is a view I have long advocated. I have traveled, as a human rights activist, inside Burma and along its borders more than 30 times. For me, the purpose of sanctions is to put pressure on the regime, not to isolate the country.

        Package tourism helps no one except the regime. Itineraries are approved by the regime, and it is almost impossible to have any meaningful interaction with Burmese people. Earlier this year, I watched French, German and Italian tourists get on and off buses in Rangoon, Bagan and Inle Lake, and for them it was just another town, another luxury hotel, another pagoda. I doubt they even knew about the daily suffering of the people.

        But I do believe that a certain type of travel is valuable. I have come up with a formula: independent, informed and intentional. If people are well-informed before they go to Burma about the human rights and humanitarian situation, if they travel independently and minimise the amount they contribute to the regime’s coffers, and if they go with the intention of not just having a holiday, but doing something to help, then it is worthwhile. People can help on the ground, by listening, learning and, when they have opportunity to do so, by giving, and upon their return home they can tell others, support campaigns and raise funds for humanitarian projects.

        So I welcome the NLD’s wise new policy: encourage those who want to learn and help to go, while targeting pressure on the package tours that help no one except the generals. It reflects the democracy movement’s broader approach of targeted sanctions and targeted engagement, and it is a formula that can help bring the change we all want to see.



        Burma elections: “attempt to consolidate authoritarian military rule”
        European Parliament: Mon 8 Nov 2010

        Burma’s first elections in 20 years took place over the weekend with the poll being boycotted by the main opposition party and its leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. The election has drawn its fair share of criticism with the President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek saying before the poll that “these elections may go down in history as an attempt to consolidate authoritarian military rule in a civilian guise”.Speaking after the election Mr Buzek said that he “deeply regrets that the Burmese authorities failed to make these elections a step towards gradual democratisation. I am disappointed that the elections have not been inclusive, free and fair”.

        The last elections in 1990 were won by the National League for Democracy led by Suu Kyi. Burma’s military rulers annulled the result and Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest in the capital Rangoon for most of period since then. In the wake of the crackdown, Burma’s people have suffered under the crushing weight of the military dictatorship which spends 40% of the country’s wealth of the armed forces and 1% on health and education.

        Validity of election questioned

        The National League for Democracy has dismissed the 2010 elections as an attempt to put a veneer of democratic legitimacy on the dictatorship (25% of the Parliamentary seats are reserved for Generals) and declined to take part. This gave the military the pretext to bar Suu Kyi as a potential candidate.

        The validity of the election has also been questioned by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton. Prior to the election she said, “elections in themselves do not make a country democratic. The EU regrets therefore that the authorities did not take the necessary steps to ensure a free, fair and inclusive electoral process”.

        Journalists on the spot have reported a low turnout and massive fraud. The head of Parliament’s delegation to Southeast Asia was also sceptical. German centre right MEP Werner Lang told us, “one cannot really talk of free and fair elections as several exiled media outlets reported that there seem to have been strong irregularities surrounding the elections”. He finished by saying that “these elections should not be overrated”.

        Aung San Suu Kyi released?

        One of the questions of the election and its aftermath is the position of Aung San Suu Kyi. Her House arrest is due to end on 13 November and the military government has said she will be released. Whether that promise is fulfilled or not remains to be seen as previous assurances of her release have not materialised.

        In 1991, one year after getting the Nobel Prize she was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for human rights. In his post-election statement President Buzek called for “the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. For the people of Burma/Myanmar and the whole international community Aung San Suu Kyi has been over the last 20 years a figure of hope, human resilience and political courage”.



        Declaration by the High Representative Catherine Ashton on behalf of the European Union on the elections in Burma/Myanmar
        Council on the European Union: Mon 8 Nov 2010
        1.  Today, the first elections were held in Burma/Myanmar, since those of 1990 whose results were never implemented.
           
        2. Elections in themselves do not make a country democratic; nevertheless they should offer the opportunity for a new beginning and greater pluralism. The EU regrets therefore that the authorities did not take the necessary steps to ensure a free, fair and inclusive electoral process. Many aspects of these elections are not compatible with internationally accepted standards; notably in the bias against most opposition parties – such as the NLD – and their candidates, in terms of opportunities to campaign; in restrictions on their registration; in severe restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly; in limited access to the media; and in the lack of free and balanced reporting by the latter.
           
        3. In this context, the EU repeats its call for the unconditional release of all those detained for their political convictions. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest on entirely spurious grounds. The EU calls on the government to restore her unrestricted freedom.
           
        4. However, the EU notes the fact that civil society could partially organise itself politically, notwithstanding the many difficulties. The EU acknowledges the decision of those opposition parties who have chosen not to participate because of the flawed process. The EU equally acknowledges the fact that other parties, including from ethnic groups, did participate, hoping that this could represent an opportunity for change.
           
        5. The EU calls on the authorities to ensure that these elections mark the start of a more inclusive phase, by allowing in particular representatives of all groups to participate in the political life of the country, and by releasing all political detainees. A meaningful dialogue between all stakeholders is long overdue. Such a dialogue should usher in a transition to a civilian, legitimate and accountable system of government, based on the rule of law; to the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and to the participation of all strata of society in the economic and social development of the country. We stand ready to support such a process.
           
        6. The EU will observe closely how accountable the new Parliament and government will be vis-à-vis the electorate; whether the new institutions will ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and contribute to a process leading towards reconciliation and democracy; and whether they will deliver better policies to improve the economic and social situation of citizens.
           
        7. The EU recalls the Council conclusions of 26 April 2010, and its unwavering commitment to the people of Burma/Myanmar. The EU will continue to work to increase their well-being.
         


        Turnout appears light in Myanmar’s election
        New York Times: Sun 7 Nov 2010

        YANGON, Myanmar — Polling places appeared nearly empty around Yangon on Sunday as the rest of the city went about its business in the first election in this closed and tightly controlled nation in 20 years.

        The process was expected to cement military rule behind a civilian facade but also to open the door slightly to possible shifts in the dynamics of power.

        “It was an empty room,” said one voter who emerged from a polling place where he said he had spoiled his ballot in protest, here in the country’s commercial capital.

        Though the Constitution guarantees the military a leading role in the state apparatus, this will be the first civilian government in the former Burma since a military coup in 1962. With votes being tabulated locally, it was not known if results would be announced Sunday or later.

        The appearance of electoral legitimacy and civilian institutions may make it easier for Myanmar’s neighbors to embrace what has been a pariah, but it was unlikely by itself to ease a policy of isolation and economic sanctions among Western nations.

        Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the election Sunday.

        Speaking in Mumbai, India, the president said: “There are elections that are being held right now in Burma that will be anything but free and fair, based on every report that we are seeing. ”

        He added, “for too long the people of Burma have been denied the right to determine their own destiny. ”

        Mrs. Clinton, speaking in Melbourne, Australia, said: “You look at Burma holding flawed elections today that once again expose the abuses of the military junta.” In an hour’s tour of Yangon Sunday morning, there was very little sign on the streets or at polling places of a police or military presence.

        Half a dozen voting centers appeared almost empty and a resident of the country’s second city, Mandalay, said voting was light there as well.

        “None of my friends or family voted,” said a shopkeeper. “Aung San Suu Kyi is number one.”

        He was referring to the detained pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was not contesting the election and had called for a boycott.

        Voters were electing a 665-member, two-chamber national Parliament and 14 regional Parliaments. A total of 25 percent of those seats will be reserved for the military, and several senior military officials have resigned to run as civilians. Military officers are to head the key Ministries of Interior, Defense and Border Affairs, and the commander in chief of the armed forces will have power to take control of the country in times of emergency.

        Thirty-seven parties were on the ballot, but the military appeared to have taken pains to assure the victory of parties it supports by severely restricting campaigns, setting high fees for candidacy, censoring political statements, controlling the media, excluding voters in unstable ethnic minority areas and barring outside election monitors. Hundreds of the strongest potential opposition candidates were in prison or under house arrest.

        Each candidate was given 15 minutes on national television, but the censored, pretaped speeches had the feel of confessions at a Stalinist show trial.

        Speaking in Bangkok on Thursday, Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Heyn, said, “These elections are going to be neither free, nor fair, nor inclusive. There is nothing in these elections themselves that could give us grounds for optimism.”

        Kurt M. Campbell, the United States’ assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, said in Washington in September that it appeared the vote would lack international legitimacy, but that it might create “new players, new power relationships, new structures inside the country” that would bear watching.

        The military appeared to be trying to avoid the pitfalls of the last election, in 1990, which it annulled after the party it backed was trounced by a democratic opposition led by Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi.

        In what could be the first sign of a backup plan if this election also did not go the military’s way, Myanmar’s state media, which has been urging people to vote, warned of the possibility of the election’s being “aborted,” in which case, it said, “the ruling government will have no choice but to keep taking state responsibilities until it holds another election.”

        Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, now 65, has been held under house arrest for most of the time since the past election.

        Her latest term of detention ends one week after the election, and the junta has hinted that she could be released. It has often made similar hints in the past, and there was no way to know what restrictions might be imposed if she is set free.
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