[Readingroom] News on Burma - 17/12/10
- Prepare for battle, with better weapons, junta tells militias
- Victim of land confiscation facing jail
- Burma’s eight-month international trade value hits $8.8 billion
- Out of house arrest, into the fire
- Technology lets us peer inside the Burmese cage, but not unlock its door
- Myanmar junta ignores Suu Kyi signals for dialogue
- Norway accused of funding abuse in Burma
- Indonesia backs Aung San Suu Kyi’s role in Myanmar political solution
- Former US Diplomats seek use of ’smart power’ in Burma
- US double talk on Myanmar nukes
- UK urges Ban to sack Nambiar, appoint full-time Burma envoy
- Suu Kyi calls on Europe and Germany to be more supportive
- Ethnic armed groups discuss collaboration
- Vietnam-Burma trade forecast to rise 60pc
- Independent UN rights expert calls for release of political prisoners in Myanmar
- Myanmar’s military sights ethnic victory
- New dam in China disrupts river trade at major Burma border crossing
- Panglong II can work only if military joins
- China loans Myanmar 2.4 billion dollars for gas pipeline project
- Orders for Myanmar garments up
- A pariah nation with lots of friends
- What’s next for Burma’s democrats?
- Post-election politics in Burma—glimmers of hope?
- US envoy discusses sanctions with Myanmar’s Suu Kyi
- Multi-ethnic Burma and the junta will collide
- On Myanmar, U.S. and China worked closely, cables show
Prepare for battle, with better weapons, junta tells militias – Jai Wan Mai
Mizzima News: Thu 16 Dec 2010
Chiang Mai – Burmese Army officers promised better weapons including heavy arms to around 200 junta-led militia leaders in Tangyan Township in Shan State’s north after calling them to a meeting early this week, a militia source said.
People’s militias and Border Forces Directorate chief Major General Maung Maung Ohn, told them to increase their combat readiness, the militia source said.
Maung Maung Ohn praised the co-operation and loyalty of the militias and promised to supply more weapons to, he said, maintain stability and peace in the area. Heavy weapons would also be provided he said.
He urged participants to closely monitor troop movements of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a pair of the armed ethnic groups that have rejected the Burmese generals plan that they transform into Border Guard Forces (BGF) or state militia under junta command.
Around 1,500 militia soldiers have lined up in Tangyan along the frontiers of territories held by SSA-N Brigade 1 and the UWSA.
Among the meeting participants, Bo Moon and Ja Htaw, who were believed to head the two strongest militia, were also present, the source said.
Bo Moon is an adopted son of notorious Golden Triangle drugs kingpin Khun Sa, who surrendered to Burmese authorities in 1996. The son gained the full support of the Burmese Army after he joined Burmese troops in halting the advance of SSA-S troops towards the north of Shan State between 1999 and 2000.
He is allegedly involved in the drug trade, under the protection of a reputed force of 800 armed men. The group is sometimes known as the Wan Pang militia.
Meanwhile, Ja Htaw, of Lahu ethnicity, had about 250 men but only 150 were armed, a Shan State source said.
One military analyst said: “The Burmese regime has been successful in using the ‘divide and rule’ strategy to [thwart] the opposition groups. The break-up of the Karen struggle by using the DKBA against KNU, the collapse of the Mong Tai Army, the Kachin, Mon and Pa-O were obvious examples. The Burmese Army will not hesitate to use other groups to attack its main rivals.”
He was referring to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and its rivals since 1994, the Karen National Union. He predicted: “Militia groups would be used on front lines in case a bigger confrontation between the opposing groups and the Burmese Army takes place.”
A Lahu man in Chiang Mai said: “The Lahu people were both recruited into the UWSA or the Burmese Army … we don’t want our people to be used as pawns.”
He confirmed that some of the Lahu militia leaders had gained business concessions for co-operating with the Burmese Army but that many Lahu people were still poor.
A trader in Mae Sai gave his thoughts on why local merchants had moved their allegiance to the junta-led militias.
“Many businessmen have changed their business partners from within ceasefire groups to those of militia groups because they have more power than the ceasefire groups,” the trader said. “Some of the businesses are illegal”.
He added that the Burmese Army had applied increasing pressure in various forms on the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), aka the Mongla group, and the UWSA, to transform into BGFs. Currently, Burmese officials had also stopped goods entering the NDAA-controlled area through the Taping border checkpoint.
Victim of land confiscation facing jail – Naw Noreen
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 16 Dec 2010
A farmer whose land and property was confiscated and destroyed by Rangoon authorities faces a possible jail term after being charged with trespassing.Zaw Weik had initially refused to leave his Tagondai village land when approached in 2008 by two fish farmers, Aung Shein and Khin Myint, who were accompanied by local authorities. He claims they then destroyed his two houses and farmland in two separate incidents, in 2009 and January 2010.
He added that his bean crops were razed whilst he was attending a court hearing in March this year.
Rangoon division authorities are attempting to sue Zaw Weik on charges of trespassing that stem from his refusal to leave the land. He claims also that the death of his son earlier this year was linked to the case.
“My younger son took photos of the people destroying our house and the crops and he was assassinated on 10 June  under the guise of an accident when a motorbike crushed into a shop stall,” Zaw Weik said.
“They are hiding the truth of the assassination. Our reports on the two incidents were barely read and absolutely no action was taken.” He added that both sides in the trial have finished presenting arguments and a verdict is due to be heard next week.
Land confiscation by authorities in Burma is rife. The majority of cases involve land been taken for infrastructure projects, although numerous cases of farmland being forcibly converted to grow specific crops abound.
Only the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) is officially mandated to deal with cases of land confiscation, although groups such as Guiding Star, run by lawyer Aye Myint, handle complaints.
Burma’s eight-month international trade value hits $8.8 billion – Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Thu 16 Dec 2010
Driven by a sell-off of natural resources, the value of Burma’s exports hit US $5.5 billion for the past eight months, while the total value of its international trade was $8.8 billion, according to the junta’s Ministry of Commerce. Burmese economic observers predicted, however, that the import-export revenues would not directly benefit most Burmese people.
Citing Ministry of Commerce statistics, 7 Day News Journal, a Rangoon weekly journal, reported on Thursday that during the period from April 1 to December 7 of Burma’s 2010-11 fiscal year, Burma exported goods valued at $ 5.5 billion and imported goods valued at $3.3 billion.
A ministry official told 7 Day News Journal that most of Burma’s export revenue came from selling natural gas, followed by jade, to Asian countries. These goods were delivered by sea and road.
Burma’s export earnings from natural gas during the eight-month period were estimated to be $4 billion and Jade exports delivered by sea during the eight-month period hit US $1.1 billion, excluding jade sold at the Naypyidaw gems fair in November.
Burmese beans were the third most significant export, valued at over $520 million, while teak wood exports reached $180 million.
Burma’s biggest trading partners for the eight-month period were Thailand, Singapore and China-Hong Kong.
Trade with Thailand was valued at over $2 billion, with Singapore $1.1 billion and with China-Hong Kong $ 900 million.
The Ministry of Commerce statistics also showed that Burma’s trading value in each of the 2009-10 and 2008-09 fiscal years exceeded $11 billion.
Although the Burmese military regime has earned billions of dollars from exporting natural gas to Thailand, economic observers said they are skeptical that the Burmese people’s incomes and quality of life would improve as a result.
“It is easy to get money from selling the country’s natural resources,” said a Burmese economist in Rangoon who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But those natural resources will not come back, and so the question is how to use the money for the country’s development such as in the health and education sectors—how to bring resources from underground to development above ground.”
He added that for the past 22 years, no independent researcher has had access Burmese government expenditures, which are not publicly disclosed.
While junta officials often claim they are “looking beyond 2010” and there will be more economic opportunities following the election held on Nov. 7, Burmese experts said the country’s rate of development is still behind where it stood prior to the 1962 military coup.
A Thailand-based Burmese economist, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the billions of dollar Burma receives from its import-export trade will not find its way into the hands of the nearly 50 million ordinary Burmese citizens, since there is no transparency and accountability for how and where the money is spent and multiple billions of dollars are likely spent on the junta’s military ambitions.
In addition, intelligence sources said that although Burma earns billions US dollars by exporting natural gas, the money received is reportedly transferred directly from foreign oil companies to the junta’s undercover accounts at two Singaporean banks.
These accounts are reportedly controlled by ex Lt-Gen Tin Aye, who is junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s most trusted revenue guardian. Intelligence sources said Tin Aye is also in-charge of the junta’s missile programs.
According to Burmese experts, the majority of Burmese are still living in poverty and spending more than 70 percent of their income to purchase food.
Out of house arrest, into the fire – Steve Finch
Foreign Policy: Thu 16 Dec 2010
Aung San Suu Kyi’s release is great news for the dissident and her supporters — but it’s not going to mean anything for democracy in Burma.
Speaking after her release from more than seven years of house arrest in Rangoon, Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi said of her freedom, “We want to use this as an opportunity [for democracy].” But she didn’t explain how that opportunity might best be exploited. Indeed, Aung San Suu Kyi has been consistently vague about how Burma, the Southeast Asian pariah state that first imprisoned her just before she won a free election in 1990, can plausibly experience genuine political reform in the near future. Worse, the West has seemed equally at a loss, especially since the Burmese leadership engineered a sham election in which it returned to power in a landslide. Aung San Suu Kyi seems intent on remaining hopeful, but unfortunately, the international community seems little inclined to help correct the injustices of Burma’s political system.
The main problem remains stubbornly in place: lack of unity in the international community. While the West talks of sanctions and punishment to coerce the generals, China, Russia, and, to a lesser extent, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) continue to prefer a less confrontational approach. The result has been persistent failure both to develop a strategy to secure the release of the regime’s 2,200 political prisoners and to facilitate reconciliation between the regime and Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, warns that in the past, when the regime has shown Aung San Suu Kyi a cold shoulder, the international community has usually abandoned her as well. “There is a cycle that happens in Burma, and it is in danger of happening again,” he said, in referring to the ruling junta’s repeated refusal to respond to offers of dialogue and compromise by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Despite the excitement over Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, so far the cycle seems ready to once again run its course. According to a Burma legal source in Washington, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, Kurt Campbell, told Burmese groups in November that the United States is taking a “wait-and-see” approach. President Barack Obama’s administration has for the moment decided not to further pursue a U.N. commission of inquiry first recommended in March by Tomás Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, that would look into war crimes Burma’s junta might have committed against its own people, an approach shot down by China in particular ahead of the election. The administration otherwise has no other plans to adjust economic sanctions, said the source.
When asked directly, the State Department gave few specifics about its plans. “U.S. Burma policy will continue to combine pressure and principled engagement to promote a free and democratic Burma that respects human rights, adheres to the rule of law, and fully complies with its international obligations,” said an official last month following the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
It’s clear that the Obama administration has Burma in mind, even if its official pronouncements are less reassuring. Among the first 200 or so WikiLeaks diplomatic cable releases last week was one message from the secretary of state’s office dated July 31, 2009, classifying Burma as one of eight “key continuing issues” for the United States together with Iraq and the Middle East. Addressed to 36 U.S. missions, including those in the capitals of the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, and Russia — the cable asked staff to collect intelligence on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s intentions regarding Burma, how the world body planned to address the recent elections and engage with the regime, and attitudes toward Burma among Security Council members.
The memo suggests that Washington sees the United Nations as the most viable arena in which to address Burma’s democracy and human rights problems. The Obama administration seems to have concluded that unilateral actions, whether economic or military, stand little chance of success. But the United Nations’ track record in Burma is not good. All attempts to discipline the junta, such as the recent efforts by Western countries to pursue a U.N. commission of inquiry, have been held up by China and Russia. Their unwillingness to chastise Burma has drained momentum from the issue entirely, at least in the Security Council, which has not held a session on Burma since July 2009 because of Chinese opposition. The September 2006 decision to place the country on the Security Council’s formal agenda has largely been for naught.
China’s government has held up progress in Burma outside the United Nations as well. While the West, India, and even Singapore welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nov. 13 release as a positive step, China’s Foreign Ministry was ducking all questions regarding Beijing’s stance on negotiations to end her detention. Beijing has instead backed the junta line, welcoming last month’s much-criticized elections as a major step toward democratization. Of the many diplomats who met with Aung San Suu Kyi the morning after her release, Chinese Ambassador Ye Dabo was the most notable absentee.
Indeed, China’s priorities regarding Burma lie elsewhere. The Chinese government has stated publicly that it sees Burma as a necessary alternative transit route for energy that could bypass the congested Strait of Malacca. China National Petroleum Corp. started building an 800-kilometer oil and gas pipeline from Burma’s western coast up to Yunnan province earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Burma’s other major neighbor, India — which also owns gas interests in the country — has shown hardly any more willingness to antagonize the junta. Just a week before last month’s elections, India called the proposed U.N. commission of inquiry on Burma “counterproductive,” which prompted a sharp rebuke from Aung San Suu Kyi herself shortly after her release. When Obama visited New Delhi shortly after Burma’s flawed vote, he accused India of shying away from criticizing regimes like Burma, but that kind of pressure has had little impact on Indian elites.
ASEAN, which includes Burma, remains divided on how to tackle the regime. The Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore have occasionally shown a willingness to fall into line with the West, but Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have generally sided with Beijing on this issue.
The sum total of all this is that the West has almost no allies when it comes to Burma. Although Aung San Suu Kyi told journalists the day after her release that “my message is not for the Western nations in particular,” her inability to engage other major players has weakened her efforts.
But no matter how tough the situation diplomatically, it still behooves the Obama administration to try to resolve it — and it’s unclear whether Washington is willing to step into the breach. Although Congress mandated for a special representative and policy coordinator on Burma two years ago, this role has never been filled, and there has been no official explanation for the holdup.
So where do Aung San Suu Kyi and the West go from here? Possibly, nowhere.
“We have to understand that the recent election and Aung San Suu Kyi’s release were not the beginning of the end of repression, or the first, tangible step toward national reconciliation,” says Burma specialist Bertil Lintner. “There is no hope for ‘reconciliation’ or ‘dialogue’ in Burma. Those popular catchphrases are based on wishful thinking.” And, of course, wishful thinking won’t do much to bring real democracy to Burma.
Technology lets us peer inside the Burmese cage, but not unlock its door – Timothy Garton Ash
The Guardian (UK): Thu 16 Dec 2010
To talk via video link to Aung San Suu Kyi was inspiring. Yet liberation is unlikely for Burma if its neighbours will not act.
Guardian Comment Tim Garton Ash/Matt Kenyon 16/12/2010 Of the situation in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi says: “We have years of practice at talking and getting no response.” Illustration: Matt Kenyon for the Guardian
There is nothing to compare with being there. Failing that, get a video-link. And suddenly here’s Aung San Suu Kyi on a screen in front of us, live from 54 University Avenue, Rangoon. She sits upright, composed, elegant in a white blouse, and quietly amused, after more than seven years of isolation, by the unfamiliar new technologies of long-distance communication. “I’m very glad to be able to communicate with you,” she says, “that for me is great progress” – and the satellite link goes down.
Later, she is reconnected to the LSE lecture theatre, packed with students and specialists, through a terrible phone connection. Half the time she can’t make out what we are asking, the other half we can’t make out what she is answering as her distorted voice booms from a loudspeaker. After a student has tried several times with a slightly complicated question, Aung San Suu Kyi says: “Just give me one keyword.” “Multinational companies!” we shout. “Investing in Burma!” She laughs, we laugh, at the almost slapstick quality of the long-distance exchanges. “We have years of practice at talking and getting no response,” she comments at one point, after thinking she had been cut off. Talking to the generals who are ruining her country, that is.
I don’t think any of those students will forget the day they were able to put a question directly to Aung San Suu Kyi. For all the technical difficulties, both her personality and her message shine through. The message is resolute, but also conciliatory. She reiterates how she hopes to work with, not against, the military authorities. So far as we can acoustically decipher her answer, she gives a cautious welcome to the idea of an international commission of inquiry into conditions inside Burma, but emphasises that it must not be seen as “a trial of the generals”.
After seven and a half years under house arrest, getting news of her own country only from intensive listening to international radio broadcasts, she clearly wants to take some time to get her bearings. Can she revive her own emasculated National League for Democracy? Can she rejoin forces with those who have fallen away from it or formed a new party in the (vain) hope of gaining a significant number of seats in the recent election? How about the Buddhist monks, who imparted such disciplined energy to the peaceful protest movement in 2007? Not least: can she forge ties with representatives of the ethnic minorities that comprise about a third of the country’s population? That is what her father, Aung San, did in 1947, in the Panglong conference that helped pave the way for an independent Burma. Now she tells us that she is hoping for a “second Panglong”.
Asked to identify her sources of inspiration, she says “in the first place, my parents”. Then she mentions Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Later, when the conversation comes back to the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission, like the one chaired by Tutu in South Africa, she reflects that things are more complicated in Burma. “If only we were all black,” she sometimes thinks to herself, then the ordinary Burmese and the ethnic minorities would recognise that they are all, together, an oppressed majority. As the Burma specialist Maung Zarni points out, in Burma’s version of apartheid it’s the military who are the whites.
This is an inspiring conversation, across all the barriers placed in our way. All my instincts are to frame it in a narrative of liberation – gradual, often frustrated, but eventually triumphant. “For Freedom’s battle once begun … though baffled oft is ever won” – these great words of the 19th century English poet Byron were pinned to a wooden cross outside the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, at the birth of Poland’s Solidarity movement 30 years ago. Now freedom’s battle is being fought, and baffled, with the weapons of the internet, the satellite and the mobile phone. Sometimes these are described as “liberation technologies”.
Tutu himself has an upbeat reflection on his own “wonderful” phone conversation with Aung San Suu Kyi (“She constantly seemed to be on the verge of bursting into laughter”) earlier this month: “When I think back to the situation in South Africa, I remember that there were many times when it felt like we would never see freedom in our country, when those who oppressed us seemed invincible. As I always say though: this is a moral universe, injustice and oppression will lose out in the end.”
A sober analysis, however, shows a constellation of forces in and around Burma less favourable than those in South Africa, or Poland, or the Philippines, or Chile, or the many other stories of eventually triumphant self-liberation over the last three decades. This is not just because of the weakness and divisions of the internal opposition movement, after decades of brutal oppression and the regime’s “divide and rule”. That can change, with time, hard work on the ground and inspired leadership.
Above all, it’s because of the external context. Some readers will recall that a month ago I asked on these pages whether the world’s largest democracy, India, could be more true to its own values when it came to its small, suffering eastern neighbour. President Barack Obama, no less, posed a similar question on his official visit to India. I gather that so far the answer has been a resounding silence. India is barely prepared to talk about the issue with the world’s other leading democracies, let alone to act differently. So long as Burma’s Asian neighbours, including Thailand and, of course, China, continue to behave in this way, putting their own commercial and strategic interests before the lives of the long-suffering peoples of Burma – and before their own long-term enlightened self-interest in having a stable and prosperous neighbour – the Burmese generals will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Burma is not the only example of such an unfavourable external setting. Welcome to the post-western world. If this continues to be the case, the internet, satellites and mobile phones will enable us to peer inside the cage, but not to unlock its door. We may see the embattled friends of freedom more clearly but will not necessarily be able to help them more effectively. When Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel peace prize winner, is finally released, we may have a chance to talk to him on a video link, though at the moment even his wife’s mobile phone is blocked. We can watch the unjustly imprisoned Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky behind his bars. He remains locked up.
What we have here is a political version of the drama of the Chilean miners. We saw them on video camera when still trapped underground, but if their own self-help, and the physical drilling through the rock, had not been successful, then that video link would merely have allowed us to watch them die.
This is not a counsel of despair, just of realism. In Burma, as everywhere else, communication technologies do not, of themselves, set anyone free. People set people free.
Myanmar junta ignores Suu Kyi signals for dialogue – Daisuke Furuta
Ashai Shimbun (Japan): Wed 15 Dec 2010
Bangkok—Despite her many appeals for dialogue, Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is getting only silent treatment from the country’s ruling generals.
Diplomatic sources in Myanmar (Burma) say the junta simply sees no reason to make concessions to Aung San Suu Kyi after it pulled off an overwhelming victory in last month’s general election.
Since being released from seven and a half years of house arrest on Nov. 13, Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly indicated her willingness to engage in dialogue with the junta.
She suggested that she won’t go on a speaking tour of rural areas out of consideration for the junta.
Speaking of economic sanctions imposed by the United States and European countries, Aung San Suu Kyi showed flexibility toward the junta by saying those measures should be reviewed if they end up causing suffering to ordinary Burmese.
The junta is set to convene the parliament in February based on the results of the vote.
In the Nov. 7 election, the first held in 20 years, the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party emerged with about 80 percent of the seats in both houses of parliament. Including seats already allocated to military members, about 85 percent of the full legislature is in the hands of the junta and its political proxies.
Western countries have questioned the validity of the polls amid widespread reports that the election was rigged. However, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have acknowledged the election results.
Since her release, Aung San Suu Kyi has gone nearly every day to the headquarters of her National League for Democracy party in Yangon (Rangoon) for discussions with party senior officials. She has also met with foreign diplomats and given interviews to media outlets.
However, Aung San Suu Kyi’s only public oration since being freed was an address on Nov. 14. She is trying to connect with the public by making weekly appearances on Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-sponsored broadcast service, and answering questions from listeners.
The pro-democracy leader does not directly criticize the military leadership, but she has expressed her discontent with the junta’s road map to democracy.
Norway accused of funding abuse in Burma – Andrew Buncombe
Independent (UK): Wed 15 Dec 2010
The Norwegian government has been accused of complicity in illegal land seizures, forced labour and killings, by investing national funds in international companies that operate inside Burma on projects where widespread abuses are alleged to have taken place.
A state-controlled pension fund that is a repository for some of Norway’s own oil wealth has invested up to $4.7bn in 15 oil and gas companies operating inside the South-east Asian country.
The companies are accused of participating in projects where various human rights violations have taken place. Activists claim the pension fund is in breach of its own guidelines for responsible investment. The allegations come just days after Norway hosted the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
Land confiscation, forced labour and other abuses are happening in connection with several gas and oil pipeline projects in Burma, according to Naing Htoo of EarthRights International, which is today publishing a report detailing the alleged abuses being committed by the Burmese government. “There’s every indication abuses connected to these projects will continue, and, in some cases, worsen,” he said.
A number of those companies in which the Norwegian fund has investments have previously been accused in relation to controversial projects in Burma which has been controlled by a military junta since 1962. Among them are Total Oil of France, in which the Norwegian fund has an investment of $2.6bn, and the US-based Chevron Corp, in which the fund has $900m invested.
EarthRights International insists that widespread violations continue to be committed by the Burmese army in support of many oil and gas projects that earn the regime millions of dollars. The group says that troops providing security for the Yadana and Yetagun pipelines have carried out extra-judicial killings.
“The Burmese regime has long demonstrated itself as an unsuitable business partner,” said Steve Gumaer, of the Norway-based aid group Partners Relief and Development. “Business ventures conducted through official channels in Burma directly support the regime’s abuse of the ethnic populations and pro-democracy citizens in Burma today.”
He added: “It is said that villages in north-eastern Burma have benefited by this sort of ‘economic engagement’. I have seen the devastating results; instead of schools, health and hygiene programmes, are the ashes of villages that have been burnt down. I have talked to women who were raped, men who were forced to serve as porters.”
The Norwegian fund has a total of $3.6bn invested in companies involved in these projects that transport offshore gas from the Andaman Sea. Total, Chevron and other companies have denied claims that their operations inside Burma encourage abuses such as forced labour and land seizure.
The report also claims the Norwegian fund has investments in companies that are involved in projects in the Shwe gas fields, which have also been linked to abuses such as forced labour.
The Norwegian fund, established in 1990, is the second largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, with assets estimated at $512bn and investments in 8,000 companies. It is forecast to double in size by 2020. Because of previous allegations over unethical investments, the fund, controlled by the Norwegian central bank on behalf of the ministry of finance, is overseen by an ethical advisory council.
In 2007, the Norwegian authorities said they were withdrawing the fund’s investments from Vedanta Resources, the British company that was seeking to mine bauxite on a mountain in eastern India many considered sacred .
In 2005, the council was asked to consider the fund’s investment in Total and whether it breached guidelines. The council said it believed it likely that Total was aware of human rights violations on projects in Burma between 1995 and 1998, but this “did not provide a basis for exclusion from the fund, as it is only the risk for present or future violations of the guidelines which can prompt exclusion”.
When allegations of forced labour were earlier levelled at Total in summer 2009, the company issued a statement saying, “local inhabitants around the Yadana pipeline say they are happy to have us there; they are, above all, grateful that there is no forced labour around our pipeline”.
Last night, Norway’s foreign ministry said it had not been made aware of EarthRights International’s report. “The Norwegian government is worried about the situation for human rights in Burma,” a spokesman said. The fund,he added, was “a financial investor with investments in more than 8,000 companies. It is therefore difficult for the Ministry to make comments related to a specific company in the fund’s portfolio.”
Indonesia backs Aung San Suu Kyi’s role in Myanmar political solution
Deustche Presse Agentur: Wed 15 Dec 2010
Indonesia said on Wednesday that recently freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi needs to play a part in the solution of Myanmar’s ongoing political problems.
Ms. Suu Kyi was released from seven years of house detention on November 13, a week after military-ruled Myanmar staged its first general election in two decades.
Observers slammed the election as a sham designed to cement the army’s rule over the country, which has been under military dictatorships since 1962.
The polls, held on November 7, seemed timed to exclude Ms. Suu Kyi from the process and undermine her potential role in the post-election period.
But Indonesia, which will assume the chairmanship of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year, made it clear that it still sees Ms. Suu Kyi as playing a pivotal part.
“Our vision from the start was that it would take the election and national dialogue, inclusive of Aung San Suu Kyi, for further development in Myanmar post-election,” said Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.
“In short, what we are going to suggest in the most constructive way, is that we need to see Daw (Madam) Aung San Suu Kyi and the authorities in Myanmar as being part of the solution to the situation in Myanmar,” Mr. Marty told a seminar on ASEANpolicy at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
Indonesia will chair two ASEAN summits and the East Asia Summit, which includes ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the U.S.
Myanmar’s political problems promise to be a major subject of debate at these forums, as they have been for the past two decades.
Western democracies slapped economic sanctions on Myanmar, in 1988 when the army cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators, leaving an estimated 3,000 people dead.
ASEAN has traditionally followed a policy of “constructive engagement” with the pariah state, even allowing it to enter its fold in 1997 despite objections from the region’s main allies — the U.S. and European Union.
Indonesia, in its coming role as ASEAN chair, is advocating greater cooperation between the two camps in pressuring Myanmar to become more democratic, with the West easing some sanctions when appropriate and the East being more critical of the military’s lack of progress.
“We hope that in 2011 many of the external sides of the Myanmar issue will find some closure,” Mr. Marty said.
Former US Diplomats seek use of ’smart power’ in Burma – Lalit K Jha
Irrawaddy: Wed 15 Dec 2010
Washington — Observing that the policy of sanctions and open criticism has yielded nothing in the last two decades, two former US diplomats who served at its mission in Rangoon urged the Obama Administration on Wednesday to use “smart power” to bring change to Burma.
“Perhaps it is time now, as Burma transitions to at least the trappings of civilian rule, to seriously try a different approach where the United States attempts to further its goals in Burma through ’smart power’,” said Franklin Huddle and Donald Jameson.
Huddle was US Chargé d’Affaires to Burma from 1990 to 1994, and Jameson was Acting Deputy Chief of Mission to Burma from 1990 to 1993. The two American diplomats expressed their views after US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joe Yun visited Burma and had meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese officials last week.
Huddle and Jameson said the use of “smart power” by the US would include engaging in an effort to open up the country to increased outside influence that may enable nascent civil society groups now germinating to take root with the assistance and example of Western governments and NGOs.
“One thing many closed-off regimes fear most is hordes of Western assistance providers and tourists bringing in new ideas and values. This approach has been taken in dealing with other authoritarian regimes such as China and might be equally effective in Burma. Unless a serious try is made we will never know,” they argued.
State Department spokesman P J Crowley recently said the United States is willing to lift sanctions against the military regime but the ball is in the court of the junta, which needs to create conducive conditions.
“We are prepared to have a different relationship with Burma, provided Burma takes significant steps forward. There are very clear requirements for Burma, and it’s not about the United States dictating to Burma. It’s about what is in Burma’s best interest,” Crowley told reporters on Friday.
“Obviously, we welcome the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, but that doesn’t solve the broader problem of the 2,000 political prisoners who still remain in custody in Burma. It doesn’t solve the challenge of the fact that the central government is still at war with many ethnic groups within its borders,” he said.
“It doesn’t solve the challenge of having a political system that allows broader participation so that you don’t have a faux election here that just, in essence, takes generals and makes them civilians and pretends that’s a different kind of government. It is the same kind of government,” Crowley said.
Huddle and Jameson said the US policy toward Burma over the past two decades can only be described as ineffective. “Whatever the steps toward liberalization taken by Burma’s ruling generals in recent years—such as the recent elections and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi—these mincing steps have taken place on their own terms and at their own pace, not as a response to admonitions by the United States and other Western countries,” they wrote.
“Meanwhile, the Burmese people have been pawns in a political game that has little relevance to their everyday struggle for survival,” they said.
The former US diplomats said the American policy toward Burma has remained largely the same for 20 years, consisting basically of strongly worded demands that the junta make major moves toward democratization and respect for human rights, including the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners now languishing in prison under harsh conditions.
“Our vehicles for bringing the generals to heel have consisted mainly of public castigation and an increasingly tight array of economic sanctions designed to isolate the ruling military junta and force their compliance,” Huddle and Jameson said.
US double talk on Myanmar nukes – Bertil Lintner
Asia Times: Wed 15 Dec 2010
Bangkok – Is Myanmar truly trying to acquire a nuclear weapons capability and produce ballistic missiles with North Korean assistance, as alleged in a controversial June documentary made by the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and aired by al-Jazeera, or is it all poppycock, as claimed in a November 12 report by United States-based ProPublica, an award-winning US investigative journalism outfit?The DVB report was based on testimonies from Myanmar army defectors who had been scrutinized by Robert Kelley, a highly regarded former US weapons scientist and former United Nations weapons inspector. ProPublica, on the other hand, quoted an anonymous senior “American official” as saying that the US Central Intelligence Agency had reviewed Kelley’s report “line by line and had rejected its findings”.
Classified cables recently released by WikiLeaks from the US Embassy in Yangon, however, reveal a wide discrepancy between what US officials have said in public and the concerns they raise internally about Myanmar’s nuclear ambitions. Judging by these leaked documents, it appears that ProPublica has fallen victim to manipulations by US officials who want to hide the true extent of the intelligence that US agencies have collected in order to enhance the political agenda of those who favor engagement over further isolation of Myanmar’s military regime.
The US currently imposes economic and financial sanctions against the rights-abusing regime. Long before the Barack Obama administration launched its new Myanmar policy and began sending emissaries to talk with the generals, other US officials had tested a similar conciliatory tack. By any measure, those diplomatic efforts completely failed. In February 1994, US congressman Bill Richardson, who later served as the US’s ambassador to the United Nations, paid a highly publicized visit to the country.
Accompanied by a New York Times correspondent, he met with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi – then under house arrest – as well as then intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt. At the time, Richardson’s visit was hailed in the press as a major “breakthrough” – although he himself was very cautious in his remarks. After a second visit to Myanmar in May 1995, Richardson stated at a press conference in Bangkok that his trip had been “unsuccessful, frustrating and disappointing”.
Similarly, a string of UN special envoys have for over two decades attempted and failed to engage the generals towards political change and national reconciliation. Myanmar’s partners in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have also long advocated a policy of “constructive engagement” with the military regime, though so far with few tangible results apart from increased trade and investment with the impoverished nation.
The WikiLeaks cables and other internal US documentation show that Washington is indeed concerned by reports of North Korea’s shadowy involvement in Myanmar as well as the military regime’s nuclear ambitions. Comparing the content of the recently leaked cables with what US officials and other sources apparently told ProPublica shows that expressing such concerns publicly would make it more difficult to entice Myanmar’s ruling generals to give up their newly established, cozy relationship with North Korea’s weapons-proliferating regime.
Myanmar’s close relations with North Korea’s main ally, China, is also a concern, according to US senator James Webb, a staunch advocate of the US’s new and to date ineffectual engagement policy with Myanmar’s military government. At a breakfast meeting with Washington defense reporters in October, Webb called on the Obama administration to be more active in Myanmar and engage the country’s military junta to prevent China from making Myanmar a full-blown client state.
Downplaying perennial human-rights concerns and dismissing the well-documented reports of Myanmar’s nuclear ambitions are part and parcel of this new policy departure. From the afore-mentioned breakfast meeting, Foreign Policy magazine reported on its web site on October 27 that Webb “criticized what he sees as a double standard in the administration’s approach toward human rights – and pointed to Beijing”. “When was the last time China had an election? How many political prisoners are there in China? Does anybody know? What’s the consistency here?” Foreign Policy reported. Tellingly, the November 12 ProPublica report quoted Webb as saying that the DVB report on North Korea and Myanmar’s nuclear ambitions “made such an [engagement] approach impossible”.
The US Embassy in Yangon stated in a report dated August 27, 2004 – which has recently been made public by WikiLeaks – that one of their sources had said that North Korean workers were assembling surface-to-air missiles at a “military site in Magway Division” where a “concrete-reinforced underground facility” was also being constructed. An unidentified expatriate businessman had told the US Embassy that “he had seen a large barge carrying reinforced steel bar of a diameter that suggested a project larger than a factory”.
While stating that these reports could not be “definitive proof of sizable North Korean involvement with the Burmese [Myanmar] regime… many details provided by [a confidential source] match those provided by other, seemingly unrelated sources”. According to those reports, the embassy stated in its report, Myanmar and North Korea “are up to something of a covert military or military-industrial nature”.
The report added that, “exactly what, and on what scale, remains to be determined” and that the embassy would continue to “monitor these developments and report as warranted”. Asia Times Online reported as early as July 2006 (see Myanmar and North Korea share a tunnel vision, July 19, ‘06) on North Korea’s involvement in the construction of an extensive underground complex in and around Myanmar’s new capital Naypyidaw.
In another internal US document made public by WikiLeaks, a local Myanmar businessman reportedly offered uranium to the US Embassy in Yangon. The offer was not linked to any North Korean activity, but nevertheless added to the mystery and speculation surrounding nuclear issues in Myanmar. The embassy reportedly bought it and wrote in its cable to Washington: “The individual provided a small bottle half-filled with metallic powder and a photocopied certificate of testing from a Chinese university dated 1992 as verification of the radioactive nature of the powder.”
The unnamed businessman also said that “if the US was not interested in purchasing the uranium, he and his associates would try to sell it to other countries, beginning with Thailand”. It was unclear where the alleged uranium came from, but Myanmar is known to have several deposits of the radioactive metal used in nuclear reactors and weapons. According to a Myanmar government web site, there are uranium ore deposits at five locations in the country, namely: Magway, Taungdwingyi (south of Bagan), Kyaukphygon and Paongpyin near the ruby mines at Mogok, Kyauksin, and near Myeik (or Mergui) in the country’s southeast.
Perhaps even more revealingly, according to an August 2009 report from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the US Embassy in Berlin marked “confidential” (but not included in the documents released by WikiLeaks), ambassador Susan Burk, special representative of the US president for nuclear non-proliferation, discussed “concerns about Myanmar’s nuclear intentions” in a meeting with German officials.
The DVB documentary mentioned the involvement of German companies in Myanmar’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs. But, in ProPublica’s version of events, the only noteworthy event related to Germany was that “officials” had said “they were aware that Burma had bought the equipment shown in the [Myanmar army] defector’s pictures [some of it was exported by German companies], but have concluded that it
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