[Readingroom] News on Burma - 3/12/10
- In Myanmar, house arrest looks good
- Airtime scrapped for ‘political’ artists
- Why Thailand invests in Burma
- Wikileaks says Burma passes Asean news to Beijing
- NZ government ditches Myanmar for Burma
- Unwavering and unbowed
- U.N. faces hurdles as it seeks mediator’s role in Burma
- Foreign policy and the Burmese balancing act
- Democracy comes first, says Suu Kyi
- Junta turns to Khin Nyunt for ethnic advice
- NLD report documents election fraud
- ‘She gives them strength in their struggle’
- Reports of forced labour increase after elections
- Suu Kyi calls for Japan’s continued support for democracy in Myanmar
- Suu Kyi among top 100 Global Thinkers
- UN envoy meets Suu Kyi
- Myanmar restricts speech of new parliament members
- Suu Kyi meets with CRPP
- NY Times misreads Suu Kyi
- Amid calls for ‘Panglong II,’ Ramos-Horta offers to mediate
- New Myanmar is the hell-hole old Burma
- Lift sanctions burden from Burma; Further punishment for Rangoon only benefits China
- General Than Shwe has a game plan
- Myanmar junta’s proxy wins 77% of contested seats
- The colour of money
- Journals suspended for Suu Kyi coverage
- “If We Want Change, We Have to Make It Happen”
- Suu Kyi sees military role in democratic Myanmar
- Burma AIDS clinic eviction after Suu Kyi visit
In Myanmar, house arrest looks good
Los Angeles Times: Thu 2 Dec 2010
The release of Aung San Suu Kyi is a breakthrough, but about 2,200 people — activists, writers, musicians and comedians — remain in prison on political charges, facing torture, inadequate medical care and years in solitary confinement.
Yangon – In the decaying lakeside mansion where Aung San Suu Kyi spent much of the last two decades under house arrest, the Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel laureate was forbidden to use the Internet or the telephone or to watch satellite TV.
She did, however, have two maids, was free to read newspapers and listen to radio, and had access to a doctor.
For the other 2,200 or so political prisoners in Myanmar, conditions are quite different.
Sentenced to impossibly long prison terms for speaking out against the repressive military government, they face torture, barely edible food, little or no medical care and years in solitary confinement. Some are forbidden to speak for years.
“There’s a great difference between prison and house arrest,” said Phyo Min Thein, an opposition politician and brother-in-law of a political prisoner serving a 65-year sentence. “Aung San Suu Kyi was treated well, while those in prison are treated with extreme oppression. Is it fair? Everything isn’t fair. We live under an unfair system.”
Before and after her release, Suu Kyi vowed to spotlight the plight and press for the release of other political prisoners in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
For hundreds of activists who have openly challenged military rule, there’s little hope of fair treatment at the hands of a clique of generals that has remained largely impervious to international condemnation, pressure or sanctions.
The “crimes” prosecuted by the regime include demonstrating, passing on rumors, “undermining the state” and possessing uncensored videotapes. Those who have been jailed include comedians, musicians, artists and a writer convicted of inserting a message in a Valentine’s Day poem.
For many, the decades-long sentences are abstract numbers, their release dependent more on a political deal or a hoped-for change in government than in serving out their time.
“There’s a signboard inside with the length of your sentence,” said Phyo Min Thein, who served 15 years for opposing the regime, including five during which he wasn’t allowed to talk. “My first five years, I hoped for freedom. After that, you just have to live.”
One of the toughest challenges is staying mentally fit. The lack of news, human contact or contact with loved ones eats away at you, former prisoners and family members said, deepening your isolation.
“You become more hungry for information than for food,” Min Ko Naing, a leader of the student movement that rose up against the regime in 1988 who is serving a 65-year sentence, one said.
Some described small acts of defiance: hiding a banned book by Suu Kyi in a hole carved out of the floor under a chamber pot, smuggling out appeals to the United Nations or singing protest songs, even if it meant severe punishment or years added to their sentence.
In 2008, the regime transferred many prisoners to remote sites, making family visits more difficult.
“Before 2008, I visited him twice,” said a relative of prisoner Ko Ko Gyi, who is serving a 65-year sentence for, among other charges, illegal use of the telephone system. “But since then I haven’t. It’s a long way.”
Former prisoners said they tried to stay sharp by singing, reciting Buddhist verses, playing mental games and meditating. Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest Nov. 14, said she drew strength from dawn meditation sessions.
“Some people go mad talking to themselves,” Phyo Min Thein said. “You start imagining you see your mother in front of you.”
Family visits, when they’re permitted, may be limited to an hour or two a month, with guards hovering.
Some of the detainees are sentenced to more than century in prison, and in Myanmar, political prisoners are rarely released for good behavior. U Khun Htun Oo, 67, a political representative of the Shan ethnic minority in failing health, received 93 years in 2005 for a private discussion about political transition.
Human rights groups say their estimate of 2,200 political detainees in Myanmar is probably conservative, because many in rural areas go uncounted. Periodically the government declares an amnesty, although criminals are the main beneficiaries. In 2008, it released 9,000 people; eight were political activists.
“And they know they can re-arrest you any time; they play games,” said Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Assn. for Political Prisoners (Burma), a Thailand-based activist group. “Aung San Suu Kyi can definitely be arrested again soon. Now the military regime is trying to find an accusation against her.”
In fact, many believe it’s a matter of time before the defiant leader is detained again by generals threatened by her popularity and vocal appeals for democracy.
Some former prisoners surmise that her release has served the government’s interests by deflecting attention from rigged elections held a week earlier, but that once the inner circle led by Senior Gen. Than Shwe feels threatened anew, it will find a pretext to lock her up again.
The regime maintains the outward appearance of following laws, replete with formal charges, witnesses and legal representation, when in fact many verdicts are decided by a few powerful people, said David Mathieson, Myanmar researcher with the activist group Human Rights Watch.
Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, Thant Kyaw, denied last month that politics played a part in the convictions. “There are no political prisoners in Myanmar, and no individual has been incarcerated simply for his or her political beliefs,” he told a U.N. committee.
Families disagree, saying that the food in Myanmar’s 44 prisons and at least 50 labor camps is often bad because corrupt officials pocket the budget, with rice gruel at breakfast, rice and watery bean soup at lunch and a thin vegetable soup at dinner.
And prisoners deemed “troublemakers” face years in solitary confinement, they say, and torture sessions that include kneeling for hours, severe beatings for moving, being suspended by the wrists and water torture.
Conditions varied depending on the prison. A former inmate of Insein Prison said he spent five years in an 8-by-12-foot room that housed up to seven people. Prisoners were given 15 minutes a day to clean out their waste and wash themselves, using a plate, not a bowl.
“It’s very difficult to bathe with a plate,” he said.
Family members say their relatives eventually become inured.
During Htay Kywe’s first prison sentence, his father died, leaving him quite depressed. During his second sentence, during which his mother died, he took personal setbacks in stride, relatives said.
“They never tell us about torture, they don’t want us to worry,” said a relative of husband-and-wife student protesters Ko Jimmy and Nilar Thein. “Frankly, we don’t want to know either. It would only make things harder.”
Many relatives said that though they’re happy for Suu Kyi, they hope political change will ease their family’s plight.
“I hope Ko Ko Gyi gets pardoned,” said a relative. “His two nieces are growing up without knowing him. We all really miss him.”
Airtime scrapped for ‘political’ artists – Shwe Aung
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 2 Dec 2010
Around a dozen entertainment artists were yesterday blacklisted by Burma’s information ministry and will no longer be given airtime on television and radio stations.
The list of those banned includes singers, actors, directors and writers, as well as the former actor Kyaw Thu, who now runs the acclaimed Free Funeral Service Society, an official at Yangon [Rangoon] City FM radio station told DVB. The majority had visited the care home for HIV patients in Rangoon that was initially ordered to close following a visit by Aung San Suu Kyi last week.
It remains unclear whether material produced by the writers included in the list will be banned from print publications, a tabloid journal editor in Rangoon said. Likewise, performance artists are yet to find out whether the ban extends to live shows.
The MoI oversees Burma’s notorious censor board, which blocks all politically sensitive material from being distributed and orders that any printed worked is vetted by the board prior to publication.
“We are artists and not political activists,” said Kyaw Thu. “However, what matters for our country matters for us. We were just doing humanitarian work as it’s the right thing to do for human beings.
“The artists are contributing what they can and it’s quite a disgraceful act to ban and blacklist them for it.”
He added that the ruling junta should make the distinction between humanitarian work and political activity. This it famously failed to do following 2008’s devastating cyclone Nargis, when numbers of Burmese aid workers and teams of people who buried corpses were given lengthy jail terms.
Mainstream artists in Burma tend to steer clear of including political commentary in their work. The country’s most famous performer, the comedian Zarganar, is serving a 35-year prison sentence after he gave interviews to foreign media critical of the junta’s response to the cyclone.
Kyaw Thu’s wife, Shwe Zeegwat, is also included in the ban, along with writer Than Myint Aung, who is in the FFSS. Joining them are singers Saung Oo Hlaing and Than Thar Win, rapper Anegga, punk-rock musician Kyar Pauk and film directors Maung Myo Myin, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and Cho Tu Zaw.
Why Thailand invests in Burma – Simon Roughneen
Financial Times: Thu 2 Dec 2010
There is some confusion over whether Thailand or China is the biggest source of foreign investment in Burma. But it’s clear that Thai interest is gathering pace: the Saha Group is the latest Thai cash-rich business to enter the hermetic south-east Asian country, announcing a plan to open 25 stores there by 2012.And Burma offers more than just a untapped market. For Thai businesses, the country also offers respite from the environmental and other corporate standards that exist at home.
The Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, heard as much last month, when he visited the Map Ta Phut industrial estate (pictured), in south Thailand. Seventy-six projects on the estate remain closed, after a court ruling regarding residents’ complaints about leukemia and cancer rates in the area. A business lobby group is unhappy – and handed Abhisit a letter, outlining its grievances over the government’s handling of the case.
Compare that to Burma. where there’s little chance of a court intervening so forcefully. And it’s seemingly with that disparity in mind that Abhisit has hailed a landmark agreement to develop a massive port and road transportation facility in Burma. The deal – at Dawei, beside the Andaman Sea – is between a Burmese company, the state-run Myanmar Port and Development Co., and the Italian-Thai Development Co..
Worth $8.6bn, the project is the single largest foreign investment into Burma to date. It will cover 250 square kilometres, and involve the building of a deep-sea port to be linked to Kanchanaburi in central Thailand by a new highway. The attraction for investors is an overland shortcut to China and east Asia – bypassing the Straits of Malacca, and linking to an as-yet-unrealised labyrinth of Chinese-backed road and rail links in the Mekong region.
Domestic behemoths Siam Cement and PTT Chemicals – which have both been hit by the Map Ta Phut moratorium – have expressed their interest. Burmese businessman Zaw Zaw, who is under US sanctions for his links with Burma’s rulers, is also reportedly involved in the venture, which the country’s dictator, Than Shwe, sees a domestic equivalent to the China’s Shenzhen economic zone.
The construction deal was signed five days before Burma’s election last month, and it’s noteworthy that Thai politicians have becoming friendlier towards the Burmese ruling junta in recent years. When in opposition, Abhisit’s party was hostile to the military rulers next door – and critical of the then Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, for cosying up to them. Such antipathy has now been forgotten.
Under Abhisit, Thailand welcomed the election, despite allegations of ballot stuffing and voter intimidation. According to leaks first published in Chinese state media, the junta’s party has swept 76 per cent of the vote.
Wikileaks says Burma passes Asean news to Beijing – Ba Kaung
Irrawaddy: Thu 2 Dec 2010
Burma, along with Laos and Cambodia, might be working for Beijing as spies within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), according to a US cable leak attributed to Singapore’s Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew.
“Within hours, everything that is discussed in Asean meetings is known in Beijing, given China’s close ties with Laos, Cambodia, and Burma,” a secret cable stated, quoting Lee Kuan Yew in a conversation with US Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg on May 30, 2009.
According to a leaked text posted on the Wikileaks website, the cable was sent from the US Charge d’Affaires in Singapore, Daniel L. Shields, to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in June. The conversation, which was aimed at “eliciting MM Lee’s views on China and North Korea,” took place in Singapore’s Presidential Palace.
Lee Kuan Yew was also quoted as saying in the same conversation that “Beijing is worried about its dependence on the Strait of Malacca and is moving to ease the dependence by means like a pipeline through Burma,” referring to China’s major oil pipeline construction from Burma’s Arakan coast to China’s Yunnan province.
As China’s strategic ally, Burma often seeks China’s support in the United Nations whenever its human rights record is raised. And China is widely assumed to wield influence on the Burmese regime.
The leaked cable also referred to an earlier discussion between MM Lee and China’s Deputy Chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Staff, Ma Xiaotian. Lee was quoted as recalling that when he asked Ma Xiaotian what China could do about North Korea, the Chinese official replied: “they [North Korea] can survive on their own.”
“MM Lee said he interpreted this as meaning that even if China cut off aid, the DPRK (North Korea) leadership would survive. This is a leadership that has already taken actions like killing ROK (South Korean) Cabinet Members in Burma,” the cable stated, referring to an incident in which North Korean commandos attempted to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during an official visit he made to Rangoon in October 1983.
The attempt to kill the South Korean president with a bomb was widely believed to have been masterminded by North Korean leader Kim Jong II before he succeeded his father Kim II Sung.
Among the hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables leaked by the Wikileaks website, there is little mention of Burmese issues. But in its website, it stated that there are over 3,000 records related to Burma. The documents remain inaccessible to the public but are expected to be released soon.
While the Wikileaks website lists US embassies around the world as sources for much of leaked information, the US Embassy in Rangoon is not included.
In another leaked memo released on Nov. 28 but dated July 31 2009 with its original source being US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Burma was mentioned as one of the priority issues in US foreign policy.
The memo mentioned a request for reporting of biographic information relating to the United Nations, including information about “credit card account numbers; frequent flyer account numbers; and work schedules.”
Regarding Burma, the memo asked for information on “Views of UNSC (United Nations Security Council) and member states on Burma” and also plans and intentions of the UN Secretary General on Burma and level of trust in his Special Adviser, who was then Nigerian national Ibraham Gambari. Also, views were sought from Burmese officials on the UN Chief and his special adviser; the development and democratization activities of UNDP in Burma; and details of the UNDP Resident Coordinator’s relationship with Burmese officials.
NZ government ditches Myanmar for Burma
National Business Review (New Zealand): Thu 2 Dec 2010
The government is to change its position on Myanmar and return to calling it Burma.
The Asian nation was known as Burma until 1989 when the military government officially changed it to Myanmar.
The Government has accepted a recommendation from Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to use Burma, Radio New Zealand reported.
Mr McCully said the change signalled that New Zealand refused to recognise the legitimacy of the ruling military regime.
The Government’s position allows for the use of Myanmar where the country is recognised as such, including at the United Nations.
Australia, France and the UK prefer to use Burma while the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Burma is a member, use Myanmar.
Unwavering and unbowed – Caroline Galea
Times of Malta: Thu 2 Dec 2010
An international political analyst once described Burma (now officially Myanmar) as Asia’s Heart of Darkness. In a sense, this is painfully true. Burma is a nation strategically positioned between India and China, inhabited by 53 million and once the richest producer of commodities in Southeast Asia. It remains torn between a profound thirst for democracy and freedom and the unbending totalitarian regime that has ruled it for 62 years since its Independence from Britain.
In the midst of this political saga stands a demure, delicate and fragile looking woman. Her name is Aung San Suu Kyi. She is the daughter of one of the most important figures of modern-day Burma, General Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947. Suu Kyi was orphaned at the age of two and truly knows very little of her father in her upbringing. Yet, his legacy has been unavoidable and has, for Suu Kyi, determined her life and her family’s destiny for almost three decades.
Before returning to care for her sick mother, Suu Kyi lived a normal life as mother and housewife in suburban England. Married to an English scholar, Michael Aris, she continued studying, achieving a PhD in 1985. The tumultuous events surrounding Burma in 1988 led to a string of events that saw her enter Burmese politics at a stage when many believed Burma would turn a page and become a fully fledged modern nation. Sadly, this would not happen.
Suu Kyi found herself leading the National League for Democracy Party that would, in 1990, win the elections with a landslide victory. The NLD would garner 59 per cent of the votes and control 80 per cent of the parliamentary seats. The generals would have none of this result. Power would not be handed over and Suu Kyi’s trials and tribulations were just about to begin. She would spend the next 15 years out of 21 either incarcerated or under house arrest. Isolated from her husband and family, she would witness the systematic decimation of her party.
Many nations around the world have recognised Suu Kyi’s titanic efforts to restore democracy in a pacifist and non-violent manner. For her efforts, she has received innumerable awards, among which the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Many have accused Suu Kyi of being too moderate. She has eschewed violence at every turn. Suu Kyi remains adamant that moral right should prevail over might and force. In this sense, she is likened to another historical figure, Nelson Mandela. Of course, the conditions and historical backgrounds of these two personalities differ, yet, by and large, the quality of perseverance and stoic tenacity are very similar in both. It takes inner strength and steely courage to survive years of isolation and frustration without cracking or giving up in the face of apparent insurmountable odds.
After 20 years of isolation and severe sanctions, especially from the West, the Burmese Junta have made two apparently significant moves. The first is to call elections after an absence of 20 years. Many have called this a bogus political exercise. Suu Kyi remained under house arrest during the proceedings and the NLD did not participate, hence, leading to it being dissolved by the Burmese regime.
The second and more important move was Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest on November 13. Alas, this is not the first time Suu Kyi has been released. This cat-and-mouse game has been going on for over 20 years and probably any pretext will see Suu Kyi back in prison or house arrest!
There seem to be three possible reasons as to why Suu Kyi has been released. The first is that the release is a signal from the generals they consider her a manageable threat and that her age will now hamper her in re-establishing any significant power base that has been eroded over time.
Secondly, it could be optimistically endorsing a change of tact on the part of the regime signalling a slow path to civilian rule and part democratisation. Finally, it could be a way for the generals to play for time and restart economic relations with trading partners in an attempt to re-invigorate an impoverished and underperforming economy.
The real reasons will be played out in the coming weeks and months. It is unlikely that things will remain status quo and one waits for developments since, after all, Suu Kyi has made it clear her release is not constrained by any conditions.
Truly, the events in Burma are far removed from our present day realities. Yet, it would not be amiss to reflect on the stark reality that surrounds 20th century Burmese history. It should serve as an inspiration for us all to do our utmost every day to preserve freedom, democracy and the right to live in peace within the parameters of legitimate human rights.
U.N. faces hurdles as it seeks mediator’s role in Burma – Marwaan Macan-Markar
Inter Press Service: Thu 2 Dec 2010
Bangkok – Barely a week after a ranking United Nations official visited military-ruled Burma, the country’s strongman has sharply reminded the global body about the challenges that await any envoy who refuses to march in step with the junta.On Wednesday, Senior Gen Than Shwe declared that the Nov. 7 general election was “free and fair” and that the South-east Asian nation was heading towards handing “over state power to the public.”
The reclusive military leader’s views of the country’s first general election in two decades — made during a speech to mark the anniversary of a 1920 student strike against British colonialism – could not have been more blunt.
They ran counter to those expressed by Vijay Nambiar, U.N. special envoy to Burma.
Only days before, Nambiar told reporters at the end of his trip to Burma, also known as Myanmar, that he had informed the military government about the many concerns expressed about the Nov. 7 poll.
The questions about the elections – which many western governments described as having been rigged to ensure victory for a junta-backed party – need to be taken up “as transparently as possible,” Nambiar informed journalists at the end of his weekend visit.
“This is important for laying the foundation of a credible transition” to democratic rule, he was quoted as having said, according to the Associated Press news agency.
But Than Shwe’s snub is not the only challenge Nambiar faces as the United Nations mounts its third attempt in a decade to meet its declared political mission for Burma: to use the office of the U.N. secretary-general “to facilitate the process of national reconciliation and democratisation through his special advisor for Myanmar.”
Nambiar, who is also chief of staff for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, has to grapple with the new political equation in Burma following the release from house arrest of the widely popular democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Since her release in mid-November, the 65-year-old Nobel Peace laureate has been treading a cautious, yet determined path to breathe life into the besieged democracy movement, which she has been the icon of since late 1988.
On Wednesday, Suu Kyi, who has been shut away for over 15 of the past 21 years as a prisoner in her home, appealed to a broad slice of the country – including soldiers and civil servants — to unite under the banner of national reconciliation.
“I have worked to fulfil national reconciliation, and I will keep trying to promote national reconciliation,” said Suu Kyi during a speech in Rangoon, the former capital, to mark Burma’s National Day, as the anniversary to celebrate the 1920 student strike against British colonial rule is called.
Suu Kyi is open to the United Nations playing a role to bridge the wide political gulf between the military, the pro-democracy movement and Burma’s ethnic minorities. “She wants the U.N. to play a role, but how and what form is not clear,” said a European diplomat who visits Burma frequently.
But the military government harbours other ideas. “They are not receptive to an explicit U.N. political presence on the ground, which is what Suu Kyi wants,” the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “The government does not see a role for the U.N.”
Little wonder why analysts concede that Nambiar’s mission should force the United Nations to examine its political relevance in Burma. “I don’t think the U.N. has much clout to bring the parties together under the current circumstances,” Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst living in exile, told IPS. “The military feels it is in a position of power and economically strong so it does not need to listen to the U.N. on national reconciliation.”
In fact, the junta’s rejection of U.N. mediation efforts has been a familiar feature of its political exchanges with the world body over the past 10 years. At times, these have even exploded into open disagreement between ranking government officials and a visiting envoy or the junta doing an about-turn on promises made.
Suu Kyi, too, has snubbed the world body during her last seven-year period as a political prisoner.
Nambiar’s predecessor, Ibrahim Gambari, hit a diplomatic low during a 2008 visit to Burma when the then detained pro-democracy leader turned down two requests by Gambari for a meeting. Even an attempt by two of Gambari’s aides to show up outside the gates of Suu Kyi’s home and shout Gambari’s name proved futile.
But this political minefield has not dimmed the world body’s quest to make its presence felt in order to pave the way for national reconciliation. In November, Nambiar’s office received more funds to increase its staff to four for its Burma mission, up from the two during Gambari’s stint as the Burma envoy.
“There is definitely a role for the U.N. to play in Burma, but they have to move beyond thinking it is just about the military and Suu Kyi,” said David Scott Mathieson, Burma consultant for Human Rights Watch, a New York- based global rights watchdog. “There are so many other elements to be considered, including the concerns of the ethnic groups.”
“The situation now is far more complex,” he told IPS. “It is the Mount Everest of diplomatic efforts. And Nambiar is starting at the shores of the Indian Ocean.”
Foreign policy and the Burmese balancing act – Roberto Herrera-Lim
Foreign Policy: Thu 2 Dec 2010
Western governments recently cheered Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, but don’t expect any major changes to their Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) policies in the near term. By contrast, Asian countries will probably increase their level of engagement, no matter what the country’s politics, because they want access to its natural resources. So what does this all mean for Myanmar’s relations with the East and West?
Divining the intentions of Myanmar’s generals is never easy, especially their calculations around the release of the country’s most famous dissident. It could be an act of economic desperation, the result of a power play between the old guard and relatively more moderate factions within the military, or simply the regime’s efforts to achieve some form of normalization. Regardless of the motives, however, the effects are clear: While the West remains distrustful of recent moves, other Asian countries will increase their dealings and investments with Pyinmana, giving these governments greater leverage with the generals who effectively run the country (albeit in civilian clothes). In other words, there will a widening gap between how the West and Asia deals with the Burmese regime, for the next year at least.
The current U.S. administration, whose priorities in Asia lie elsewhere, will not expend much political capital on the country. Influential pro-democracy constituencies in Washington can easily find arguments for continued sanctions and against engaging with the country’s nominally “civilian” leadership. While the country held its first general election in 20 years on Nov. 7, it was not free, fair, nor credible. Furthermore, most Myanmar watchers are mindful of May 2003 when, barely a year after Suu Kyi’s first release from detention, an armed group apparently recruited by the regime’s front, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), attacked her convoy, killing about 100 people. Senior generals seen as responsible for the attack are now in the new parliament as part of the government-sponsored majority belonging to the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the successor of the USDA. ??
Meanwhile, many countries in Asia (including China, India, and Thailand) will continue to pursue policies toward Myanmar based on their economic interests and a sense that the country is an arena for strategic competition with rivals. China is already Myanmar’s de-facto regional patron. Other countries are now pursuing postures more similar to Beijing’s than to Washington’s, which, in turn, eases the environment in Asia for further Chinese pursuit of Burmese resources such as natural gas. This year, for instance, CNPC started construction for its oil and gas pipeline projects from Arakan (Rakhine) state off the Andaman Sea to the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. The gas pipeline will draw its supply from the Shwe fields off the Arakan coast in the Bay of Bengal and transport it to Kunming and Nanning in China. The oil pipeline, meanwhile, will transport oil offloaded by tankers from the Middle East at Ramree (Maday) Island in Kyaukphyu to Ruili in China’s Yunnan province; it will be able to carry roughly 10 percent of China’s imports from the Gulf. For Thailand, meanwhile, Myanmar supplies about a fourth of Thai gas needs, and the amount is expected to increase by 2013, based on new agreements by Thai state energy company PTT.
The next few months will be critical for Myanmar’s political and economic trajectory. In the days after her release, Suu Kyi was understandably vague about her plans. She did, however, emphasize “national reconciliation” and flirted with the line that Western sanctions might need to be rethought. Increasingly, Suu Kyi will likely test the limits of the government’s tolerance and willingness to pursue political reform. But she’ll have to be careful, as the generals will probably be assessing whether their experiment of releasing Suu Kyi succeeds — and they’ll recalibrate as necessary. If they sense that increased instability is the likely outcome of her freedom, the leadership will likely revert to old practices, including increasing the military’s role in maintaining order and possibly finding an excuse to again arrest Suu Kyi. On the other hand, if Myanmar’s leaders believe their gamble has paid off — and that the economic and diplomatic gains from her release outweigh the risks to their control over the country — the pro-democracy movement could be given some breathing room. In this case, if the regime can claim it has fulfilled former prime minister Khin Nyunt’s seven-step roadmap (announced in 2003), then a more significant, though slow, thawing of ties with the West becomes more likely. This process will, of course, take time. But if the momentum generated by Suu Kyi’s release is sustained, some change might become a more realistic expectation within a couple of years.
* Roberto Herrera-Lim is a director in Eurasia Group’s Asia practice.
Democracy comes first, says Suu Kyi – Shefali Rekhi with Aung San Suu Kyi
The Straits Times: Thu 2 Dec 2010
Sounding much like the firebrand of the past, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said yesterday that she will work to convince fellow citizens that power lies in their hands, and that they must use it properly to achieve change.
In her first interview with a regional publication since her Nov 13 release after seven years of house arrest, she told The Straits Times yesterday that modern methods of communication have made her task much easier.
Despite the ever-present threat of arrest, the democracy icon hopes to facilitate democracy in Myanmar by building a global network and engaging the country’s military regime at the same time.
‘What I am interested in is creating a wide network of people not just for Burma, but people all over the world to encourage the democratic process in our country,’ she said in the phone interview, using the old name for Myanmar. ‘That’s what I want to do at the moment. I see that as my role -as a facilitator of such a network.’
That network could include the United States, the European Union, and countries in the region.
‘I would like them to work in concert. Not just the EU and the US…but also Asean and other Asian countries. If they could coordinate their efforts, I think it would help the process of democratisation in Burma greatly,’ she said.
‘(I hope) that they will talk more to each other and try to find a common ground on which to approach the problems of Burma.’
The 65-year-old made it clear, however, that she does not aspire to become the country’s president or prime minister, saying her only goal was to ‘establish a strong and lasting democratic system’.
‘I don’t think it is important who is president if the democratic institutions are genuine and strong and in place. There will be presidents and presidents after that.’
Speaking in her trademark soft yet forceful voice and with a slight British accent, Ms Suu Kyi did not sidestep any questions during the interview -including the fear of arrest.
‘It is always a possibility,’ she acknowledged. ‘Not just with me but with many of my colleagues as well. They have been in jail and have been kept in jail for many, many years as well. And they are aware of the fact that they could be re-arrested. But I don’t think we live in fear.’
Indeed, the threat of another clampdown by the reclusive regime has not stopped Ms Suu Kyi from striving to bring about a return of power to Myanmar’s people -a key message that she sought to emphasise during the interview.
From the moment she was released, she has been reaching out to supporters within the country, addressing thousands of cheering people at public gatherings.
The speed at which she returned to work appears to suggest that Ms Suu Kyi is trying to get as much done as possible while her freedom lasts.
‘Change has to come from the people and there is nothing more important than a change in which people think,’ she said.
‘Our people need to understand that they are empowered; that they are not powerless and I am trying to instil the idea of the power of the powerless into them; and that they can use this power in the right way to make the changes that we want.’
Elaborating, she said she hoped to help people see that ‘their power lies in unity and their ability to communicate with each other’. Only then, she added, would ‘they be able to make their hopes and aspirations felt’ by the authorities.
Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy had won the national elections in 1990, sweeping 392 of the 492 seats in Parliament, but was never allowed to rule. Instead, what followed were long periods of detention for its leader -15 years in all -with intermittent periods of release.
Yet, she still believes in continuing to try to engage the military regime. ‘We haven’t made much progress in the sense we haven’t heard anything from them. It’s always been like that. We have always had to ask for dialogue continuously,’ she said. She added that she would keep trying: ‘We will have to make them understand that there is a need for change.’
Ms Suu Kyi also spoke about her personal life. Her husband, Mr Michael Aris, died in London in 1999. The younger of their two sons, Kim, finally managed to visit her in Myanmar after being denied permission for 10 years. It is unclear if the elder son, Alexander, is also seeking to visit Yangon.
Ms Suu Kyi has not left the country for many years, fearing she would not be allowed to re-enter. She told The Straits Times she has no intention of leaving Myanmar any time soon, though she hopes to visit her sons one day.
Asked if the suffering she faced in putting duty before family was worth it, she replied humbly that others had done it too. ‘I am not the only one who has put duty above family,’ she said. ‘I don’t think I want to make a big issue out of whether or not I suffered.’
Junta turns to Khin Nyunt for ethnic advice – Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Wed 1 Dec 2010
Intelligence sources in Burma have speculated that members of the military junta have met with former intelligence officials, including ex-spy chief Gen Khin Nyunt, for advice about intelligence matters, particularly in dealing with ethnic leaders.
Since a video clip of Khin Nyunt meeting with Burma’s police chief Khin Yi was posted on Facebook on Friday, the former premier and his wife have been moved to a military guest house near Rangoon, adding fuel to the rumors that senior military officials have been speaking with Khin Nyunt.
Other officials with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Myint Thein, Win Naing Tun and Zaw Win, appeared in the video clip. All used to work under Khin Nyunt when he was in power.
However, prison officials and intelligence sources said that officials with the Military Affairs Security (MAS) which replaced Khin Nyunt’s Military Intelligence (MI) in late 2004, have met regularly with former intelligence officials in prison and in Rangoon to discuss ethnic issues since 2008 when the junta began planning its Border Guard Force proposition for ethnic armed groups.
“[MI's] Col. San Pwint met with MAS officials throughout 2008- 09 in Thayet Prison to discuss ethnic issues, particularly in dealing with armed cease-fire groups,” said a source close to prison authorities who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He [San Pwint] told MAS officials that his boss [Khin Nyunt] was in charge of the ethnic issues and that he [Khin Nyunt] is knowledgeable about the situation.”
When the MI was in power, two intelligence officers, Brig-Gen Kyaw Thein and Col San Pwint, were well known as negotiators with ethnic cease-fire groups. In 1989, Khin Nyunt historically signed a cease-fire pact with former troops of the Communist Party of Burma. It was the first of many cease-fires the junta would agree with ethnic armies in the years to follow.
When Khin Nyunt and his MI apparatus were usurped by Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his clique, almost all intelligence officials and some of their family members were arrested and sentenced to long-term imprisonment—with the notable exception of Deputy Intelligence Chief Maj-Gen Kyaw Win and an ethnic affairs specialist, Brig-Gen Kyaw Thein.
Although Kyaw Win and Kyaw Thein retired from their posts when the MI was abolished, they were not arrested.
Nowadays, Kyaw Win is reportedly busy with his photo studio business in Rangoon and enjoys painting, while Kyaw Thein is mainly involved in religious affairs.
“Like Col. San Pwint [who is now serving a 44-year prison term on corruption charges], Brig-Gen Kyaw Thein has also met and talked with senior military officials, such as Lt-Gen Myint Swe, the former chief of the Bureau of Special Operations-5, and former officials from the MAS, including Brig-Gen Myat Tun Oo [currently commandant of the Defense Services Academy],” said an intelligence source in Rangoon.
However, it appears that the military officials’ secret meetings with Kyaw Thein at a military guest house in Rangoon have not yielded positive results as the former intelligence officer in ethnic affairs was reported to say that he was unable to negotiate with the ethnic groups without the aid of his mentor, Khin Nyunt, and his colleagues.
Both Kyaw Thein and San Pwint are reported to have recommended that Khin Nyunt should be a key negotiator with ethnic leaders.
Kyaw Thein and San Pwint have previously attempted to agree cease-fires with different ethnic groups, from the Sino-Burmese border region in far northern Burma to the Thai-Burmese border in the south, between 1989 and 2004, until a few days before the downfall of the military intelligence apparatus.
After Khin Nyunt’s MI was removed from the junta’s power structure in October 2004, Burma’s new ruling generals and their new intelligence department, the Military Affairs Security (MAS), failed to consolidate a working relationship with the cease-fire groups.
Sources have said that the junta’s key negotiators and the MAS are not savvy on ethnic issues—a significant difference from Khin Nyunt’s MI.
“The MAS is quite different from the MI. They do not seem to have files on their ethnic counterparts like their predecessors did,” said a senior official with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). “When Lt-Gen Ye Myint [former MAS chief] started to talk about the Border Guard Force in 2009, he did not have a grasp of the details of the situation when we questioned him.”
Most of ethnic cease-fire groups, including the United Wa State Army and the KIO, have been resisting the junta’s plan for disarming the ethnic armies and transforming them into BGF units.
The KIO official said that Khin Nyunt and the MI employed the same policy on ethnic issues as the current regime, however they used a completely different approach and negotiating tactics.
NLD report documents election fraud – Sai Zom Hseng
Irrawaddy: Tue 30 Nov 2010
The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has completed a draft report that documents cheating and unfair procedures in Burma’s Nov. 7 election and the party’s central executive committee has approved the report, according to NLD leader Han Thar Myint.
“The cases are coming mostly from individual candidates because they were more oppressed in the election than political parties. There was only one political party which submitted their case to us,” Han Thar Myint told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
“The candidates who submitted their complaints about the Nov. 7 election had to show evidence substantiating their complaint. Although we finished the draft, there are still many more cases to come. We can’t confirm when we will release the report because we have to compile many cases and if necessary translate them into an English version,” said Han Thar Myint.
Dr. Saw Naing, a 42-year-old dentist, was an independent candidate who lost in his constituency in South Okkalapa, Rangoon Division, where he competed for a seat in the Regional Parliament against regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate Aung Kyaw Moe.
When the vote-counting ended the day after the election, the Union Election Commission (EC) declared Saw Naing the winner by six votes. But that evening Burma’s state-run television announced that the ballots had been recounted and Aung Kyaw Moe had won.
“If the regime is not going to discuss the NLD report, I will be dissatisfied. I want the regime to review the report and discuss it with the candidates,” Saw Naing told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
In addition to submitting his case to the NLD for inclusion in its report, Saw Naing signed a complaint letter and sent it to junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe on Nov. 29.
He said he also wishes to sue the EC in court, but if a candidate wants to sue the EC or an opposing political party, the complaining candidate first has to pay a 1 million kyat (US $1,150) court fee. As a result, no candidate has thus far been able to afford to file a lawsuit.
The NLD documenting team also collected the Nov. 7 experience of Thu Wai, the chairman of Democratic Party (Myanmar), who was declared to have lost in the general election.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Thu Wai said, “Even though the NLD report won’t effect the outcome of the election, it will record its history. Whether the results of the election change depends only on the government.”
On Nov. 17, China’s state news agency reported that the regime-backed USDP won 883 of the 1,154 parliamentary seats, or 76.5 percent, in the Nov. 7 election.
‘She gives them strength in their struggle’ – Htet Aung Kyaw
Democratic Voice of Burma: Tue 30 Nov 2010
Once Burma’s most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi has used her newly-found freedom to offer support to the families of more than 2000 detained activists and
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