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[Readingroom] News on Burma - 16/5/11

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1. Suu Kyi appeals to Australia for scrutiny of Burmese parliament 2. US special envoy might be more effective than UN envoy: NLD 3. Press statement by Mr.
    Message 1 of 1 , May 16, 2011
      1. Suu Kyi appeals to Australia for scrutiny of Burmese parliament
      2. US special envoy might be more effective than UN envoy: NLD
      3. Press statement by Mr. Vijay Nambiar, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General
      4. No ‘meaningful change’ in Myanmar: Suu Kyi
      5. Despite improvements, child soldier recruitment continues
      6. NLD to advise farmers and workers
      7. Jailed activists’ children get school aid
      8. US Official seeks feedback on Burma’s new government
      9. Thai coal mining in Burma considers handing over its products to China
      10. Oil drilling to begin in Burma’s eco-sensitive Hukaung Valley
      11. In Burma, reporting is a crime
      12. MPs urge ASEAN to suspend Burma
      13. Burma’s new President is no moderate
      14. I’ve retired, says Than Shwe
      15. NLD forms environment protection committee
      16. S’pore, Japan firms in tie-up to explore oil in Myanmar
      17. RI, Myanmar eye trade volume to reach $500m in 2015
      18. Burma’s Commander-in-Chief to visit China
      19. Than Shwe: Out of the public eye, but still on people’s minds
      20. A police state and the problem of a media ‘third force’
      21. Former military officer arrested under Burmese Electronics Act
      22. Burma forms new intelligence unit
      23. Man in the mirror in Myanmar
      24. Myanmar woos aid groups, but wariness remains

      Suu Kyi appeals to Australia for scrutiny of Burmese parliament – Deborah Snow
      The Brisbane Times (Australia): Fri 13 May 2011

      MPs have been shown a video message by the democracy leader, writes Deborah Snow.THE Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged Australia to maintain a close watch on her country, saying the recent election of a parliament after decades of military rule has not produced a move towards ”true” democracy.

      In a video message played for federal MPs in Canberra this week, the recently released leader said: ”We have not seen any positive, definite move towards a truly democratic process”.

      She cites as core concerns the failure to free the country’s 2000 political prisoners and tight constraints on the new parliament. ”I particularly appeal to elected members of parliament, not just in Australia or Asia, but all over the world to look very carefully at how the elections of [November] 2010 were conducted, and what the elected members of the national assembly are allowed to do.”

      Ms Suu Kyi has chosen her words carefully, given she is is not long out of 15 years of house arrest, and wants to minimise direct confrontation with the still-powerful generals. The message was recorded to mark 100 days of the Burmese parliament, which convened in January after the military orchestrated the first elections in 20 years.

      Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy boycotted the poll, which was engineered to give the army control of more than 80 per cent of the seats.

      The military’s ruling organ, the State Peace and Development Council, dissolved itself at the end of March but seasoned Burma observers say the same people remain in charge behind the parliamentary facade.

      ”The old Senior General Than Shwe still calls the shots even though he holds almost no official position at all,” says a Macquarie University academic, Sean Turnell, who visited the country less than a month ago. ‘The message from just about everyone I spoke to is that … the military are still in charge.”

      Associate Professor Turnell, a world expert on the Burmese economy, says the defence apparatus will consume more than half of the national budget this year, and that more than 90 per cent of Burma’s revenues from natural gas – some 2 to 3 billion dollars a year – will go into a slush fund controlled by the army.

      The Indonesian MP and current head of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, Eva Sundari, was also in Canberra this week underscoring warnings about how little has changed in Burma. She says her group is campaigning against Burma taking chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014.

      Tensions remain along the Thai-Burma border, where some 140,000 Burmese live in refugee camps after fleeing crackdowns on ethnic minorities by the Burmese military.

      A further 87,000 Burmese have taken refuge in Malaysia, where they live in the shadows among the populace, with no right to work (though many do illegally for pitiful wages) and no right for their children to attend schools.

      It is from this group that Australia will draw many of the 4000 refugees it has agreed to take from Malaysia in return for 800 irregular boat arrivals it will send to Kuala Lumpur.

      The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, unveiled the controversial swap this week as part of Canberra’s increasingly desperate plan for a ” regional solution” to stop the boats, hoping that those contemplating the journey would be deterred by the risk they will end up in Malaysia not Australia.

      Many Burmese refugees living in Malaysia are from ethnic groups in revolt against Rangoon.

      US special envoy might be more effective than UN envoy: NLD – Myo Thant
      Mizzima News: Fri 13 May 2011

      Chiang Mai – The first US special envoy to Burma may be able to support change in Burma more effectively than the UN special envoy to Burma, says a National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesperson.Ohn Kyaing made the remark after a two-hour meeting between NLD leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi and UN special envoy to Burma Vijay Nambiar at Suu Kyi’s home in Rangoon. Nambiar was on a three-day visit to Burma.

      ‘The US is a strong democratic country. I think it is the mother of democracy. So, the US special envoy to Burma can work more freely and actively than the UN special envoy’, Ohn Kyaing told Mizzima. ‘The US can help us more than the UN because it does not need to negotiate with other countries’.

      US President Barack Obama recently nominated Derek Mitchell, who has valuable professional experience with regard to Asia, as the first US special representative and policy coordinator for Burma. The post must be approved by the US Senate. Mitchell is currently a principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs at the Department of Defense.

      Nambiar ‘s visit was the first by a UN high-ranking official under Burma’s new government led by President Thein Sein. Before his visit, it was expected that Thein Sein would meet with Nambiar but the meeting failed to materialize. On Wednesday, Nambiar met with Foreign Affairs Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko among some others from the new Burmese government.

      On Thursday, he met with NLD general secretary Aung San Suu Kyi and central committee members Nyan Win and Han Thar Myint. Later, he met with Suu Kyi again, NLD Vce Chairman Tin Oo and central committee members Win Tin, Than Tun, Hla Pe, Nyunt Wai, Nyan Win, Ohn Kyaing, Han Thar Myint, May Win Myint and Win Myint.

      After the meetings, the UN special envoy told journalists that he looked positively at developments in Burma under the new government.

      Suu Kyi said that her meeting with the envoy was a frank discussion, and she would await the government’s actions following his visit. In the meeting, NLD leaders told the UN envoy to urge Burma’s new government to release all political prisoners and to help the NLD survive as a legal political party.

      NLD central executive committee member Win Tin told VOA Burmese Service that the UN should quickly make the appointment of a full-time representative as the UN special envoy to Burma. Currently, Nambiar holds a temporary appointment.

      Meanwhile, a human rights watch group said that the UN must be cautious and not allow itself to be used by Burma’s new government as a way to increase its credibility. Before Nambiar was appointed, Razali Ismail and Ibharim Gambari were the first and second UN special envoys to Burma respectively. When Gambari visited Burma as a special envoy the last time, Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest, refused to meet him.

      Currently, Nambiar is also a special adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He departed Burma on Friday.

      Press statement by Mr. Vijay Nambiar, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General
      United Nations Information Center-Yangon: Fri 13 May 2011

      Yangon – I have just completed a three-day working visit at the invitation of the new Government of Myanmar in my capacity as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General. This follows my earlier visit shortly after the elections in November last year. The purpose of this visit was three-fold:First, to engage with the new six-week old Government and with other stakeholders in order to take stock of recent developments and to build on the comprehensive dialogue between the United Nations and Myanmar. In Naypyitaw, I met with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Social Welfare, National Planning and Development; and senior officials of the Ministries of Commerce, Health and Education. I also met with the newly appointed Presidential Advisers for political, legal and economic affairs. Meetings were also arranged with the Deputy Speaker of the People’s Assembly at the Union Assembly hall, and the Secretary-General of the Union Solidarity and Development Party. In Yangon, I met again with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy. Further meetings were held with representatives of political parties represented in Parliament, and civil society organizations. This morning I visited Bago and met with the Chief Minister of Bago Region.

      The second purpose of my visit was to convey a forward looking message. The United Nations welcomes the important themes and reforms announced by President Thein Sein in his inaugural speeches. These include the recognition of some of the most pressing political and economic challenges facing Myanmar and the need to address them in a way that strengthens national unity and reconciliation - sustainable development and equitable growth; good governance through greater responsiveness, inclusiveness, accountability, and transparency; continued engagement through genuine goodwill and keeping the door open with those who do not accept the Constitution and the roadmap; and respect for fundamental human rights, the media and the rule of law. These stated priorities of the Government are consistent with the expectations of the United Nations and the international community.

      Recognizing the significance of the Government’s commitments, we must stress that implementation is key. I underscored the opportunity and responsibility that the Government now has to translate its commitments into effective action. Domestically and internationally, expectations are high that it will start taking concrete steps soon. In all my meetings, I stressed that this must include the release of all political prisoners and inclusive dialogue with all segments of society, as well as greater outreach to the international community to ensure that the proposed reforms enjoyed broad buy-in. Only then can there be greater confidence that the efforts undertaken will indeed serve to meet the longstanding needs and aspirations of the people of Myanmar. There is no time to waste if Myanmar is to move forward.

      Thirdly, I reiterated the United Nations’ strong commitment to long-term engagement with the Government and people of Myanmar in support of their efforts to move the country towards durable peace, democracy and prosperity. Since Cyclone Nargis three years ago, the collaboration between the United Nations and Myanmar has grown significantly. With all my counterparts, I discussed the opportunity and the need to build on such efforts to deepen and broaden our engagement in advancing needed reforms, including through continued facilitation and greater assistance in the areas of economic development, health, education, capacity-building, and human rights. The United Nations wants Myanmar to succeed. With the cooperation of Myanmar and the support of all concerned, including regional and donor countries, the United Nations looks forward to being able to deliver to its full potential in order to better serve the people of Myanmar. On its part, the UN agencies would be better placed to respond to Myanmar’s development needs if the existing restrictions on its operations are removed.

      No ‘meaningful change’ in Myanmar: Suu Kyi
      Agence France Presse: Thu 12 May 2011

      Berlin — No “meaningful change” has taken place since Myanmar’s first elections in 20 years in November, recently released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in comments due to be broadcast this week.

      “So far I haven’t seen any meaningful change,” Suu Kyi said in a phone-in with German broadcaster DW-TV and students at the Hertie School of Management in Berlin recorded on Tuesday.

      “I know there have been elections but the government that has taken over since the elections are the same as those who were in place before the elections … We are still waiting to see whether there has been real change.”

      Suu Kyi, 65, was released in November after spending most of the past 20 years under house arrest in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Her release came a few days after elections marred by accusations of cheating and intimidation.

      In March the military junta made way for a nominally civilian government after almost half a century in power and Than Shwe, the general who ruled Myanmar with an iron fist for 19 years, retired as head of the military.

      Last month a friend of Suu Kyi, U Myint, was appointed as an adviser to Myanmar’s president.

      But the army hierarchy retains a firm grip on power. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party was disbanded for opting to boycott the election because the rules seemed designed to bar her from participating.

      “Until political prisoners have been released, and until we are all allowed to take part in the political process in the country, I do not think we can call it real change,” Suu Kyi told DW-TV.

      She also said that Myanmar being given the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014, as the grouping has proposed, “would not help democracy in Burma in any way”.

      “But if they were to attach conditions to the fact of Burma taking over in 2014, it could help. If they were for example to say that certain changes would be necessary before they were prepared to agree … it could help,” she said.

      Despite improvements, child soldier recruitment continues – Ko Htwe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 12 May 2011

      The Burmese military is still recruiting underage children despite its policy against doing so, claim victims and activists.Aye Myint, a lawyer and workers’ rights activist in Pegu, told The Irrawaddy that the recruitment of children into the army is worse than last year.

      “I received fifteen complaints from Rangoon, Irrawaddy, Mandalay and Pegu divisions. Three others are now collecting documents. Most of the persons that complained to the International Labor Organization (ILO) will be able to return to their home sooner or later,” said Aye Myint.

      In January, 15-year-old Aung Ko and 12-year-old Thein Min Htike went missing on the way from Mawlamyinegyunn Township in the Irrawaddy Region to Rangoon while going to visit relatives, according to a family member.

      The boys’ mother, San Aye, said that three months later her sons informed the family that they had been recruited into the army and were receiving basic military training at Training Battalion No. 9 in Thaton Township, Mon State.

      “One of my children is so young that he is not novitiate yet. I don’t wish to let them be conscripted into the army. I don’t want to live without them. My husband is now acting crazy and every day I have to shed tears,” said San Aye. “The children rang us and said they are okay and don’t want to come back, but it seems like someone is beside them.”

      Pho Phyu, a legal advocate, said that he received three cases of child recruitment recently from the Irrawaddy region.

      “The recruitment is still ongoing. We have some difficulties in this case. Although we can contact the child, the army transfers the child to another place and then loses the child. So we contact ILO,” said Pho Phyu.

      Burmese child soldiers have been arrested and imprisoned as punishment for deserting when they tried to run away from their army bases.

      The Burmese regime formed a committee to investigate child soldier issues in 2004 and it has since denied using child soldiers in the army.

      According to the ILO’s data, there were 261 underage recruitment complaints and 80 young men discharged or released as a result of the complaints from the beginning of 2010 until now. Of the remaining complaints, approximately 110 are in process, which means that the military is investigating, and 80 are being assessed by the ILO.

      Steve Marshall, the ILO liaison officer in Rangoon, said that when the issue of child soldier recruitment was raised back in 2007, the subject was very sensitive, but since that time the military response has been quite positive and there has been considerable improvements over the last few years.

      “Every complaint we submit is received and acted on relatively efficiently, and if it is found that a person is under 18 then he is most definitely discharged and the perpetrator prosecuted,” said Marshall.

      “It is important that we do not simply respond to complaints, that we are able to become more proactive working together to ensure the correct administrative policies are in place to stop the practice, and we look forward to working with the government to achieve that ideal position,” he added.

      Rangoon-based 7 Day News journal, quoting a UNICEF official, reported that the number of underage soldiers recruited is decreasing and 402 child soldiers have been sent home since 2004.

      “Children themselves come to the army to join. All of the child soldiers have no document such as identity and birth certificate. And its hard to differentiate who are 17-years old or 18-years old because of the same body structure. Some children want to join the army because they envy the officers they have seen,” Ramesh Shrestha, a UNICEF Representative in Burma, told the 7Day News journal.

      NLD to advise farmers and workers – Sai Zom Hseng
      Irrawaddy: Thu 12 May 2011

      The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is offering consultations, advice, training and other types of support to farmers, workers and civil society groups in order to promote their rights and expand the NLD’s civil society network.Win Htein, one of the leaders of the NLD, said that Suu Kyi, after she was released from house arrest in Nov. 2010, advised party members to provide training and to promote and protect the rights of farmers and workers. She wants the effort to be run by associations and networks which are not influenced by politics, he added.

      Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Win Htein said, “It is necessary to have a committee and associations which will support the farmers and workers. We will also consult with other societies to form such kinds of associations and networks.”

      A farmer who has attempted to form a local farmers association, and who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that farmers’ associations are necessary in Burma and all of the farmers have to try to form associations and expand the network.

      “We are glad that the NLD supports our forming associations and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi thought deeply for us and for our wishes,” a farmer said.

      Phyu Phyu Thin, a member of the Social Assistance Committee of the NLD, said that there is an NLD committee which assists farmers by educating them about their rights and providing agricultural training.

      “In my point of view, this is a very good and useful program for the farmers, and I believe that they can realize their rights. The farmers are enjoying the training, they had patient and active discussions with the trainers,” Phyu Phyu Thin said.

      The farmers’ network was formed in March 2011 at the NLD headquarters and had 33 members from 19 townships at the time of formation. Since that time, the party has been providing training to farmers, which is currently ongoing.

      The NLD is also supporting the formation of a workers association. On May 1, the party issued a statement which urged the International Labor Organization to keep pressuring the new government to allow a workers’ union which guarantees the rights of the workers.

      In addition, the NLD is currently working on campaigns to release political prisoners and to protect the environment.

      The NLD was disbanded on May 6, 2010 because of its refusal to register for the Nov. 7, 2010 election. The party’s Central Executive Committee made the decision to protest the exclusion of its leader and the dissolution of the party was announced on September 14, 2010. However, the party still remains active.

      Some political observers said that the NLD has turned to social activities rather than political activities, and party spokesperson Ohn Kyaing told The Irrawaddy recently that there has been no threats from authorities regarding the party’s social activities.

      Jailed activists’ children get school aid – Naw Noreen
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 12 May 2011

      Education for the children of more than 100 political prisoners in Burma yesterday received a small boost yesterday after the National League for Democracy (NLD) made its tenth schooling donation.

      Speaking at an event at the NLD’s Rangoon headquarters yesterday, Aung San Suu Kyi said that the nearly 2,100 political prisoners in Burma were jailed “for their work in making the country freer for its 60 million people”, according to NLD spokesperson Ohn Khaing.

      Suu Kyi reportedly added that “every citizen should have a right to self-determination and to take part in shaping the country the way they want it to be”.

      Around 40,000 kyat ($US50) was given to the children of 123 activists, MPs, lawyers and doctors who languish in prisons across the country. The absence of an earning parent has meant children of political prisoners often struggle to pay for schooling.

      A new government budget announced in March allocates less than one percent of annual spending to the education sector, and 1.3 percent on healthcare. Military spending meanwhile accounts for nearly a quarter of the budget.

      Despite once boasting a strong education sector, Burma’s now lags behind most regional countries. Education resources are scarce, although various Thailand-based NGOs provide material to schools inside the country.

      The Rangoon-based Blood Group, led by NLD member Nyi Nyi, is due to open a free education centre on 18 June for orphaned and homeless children, with a view to expanding the programme.

      Around 100 children have so far signed up to courses that teach manual work, literature and citizenship, amongst others.

      US Official seeks feedback on Burma’s new government – Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Tue 10 May 2011

      A high-ranking US diplomat based in Rangoon is currently traveling in central Burma and speaking with a variety of people—including representatives from the government, civil society and political parties—to get their perspective on Burma’s new government, said sources in Rangoon.Western diplomatic sources based in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that Larry Dinger, who has been the Chargé d’Affaires at the US embassy in Rangoon since 2008, is making the trip as part of an ongoing effort to engage with key stakeholders throughout Burma.

      Myint Thein, the deputy-chairman of the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) Chauk Township branch office in Magwe Division, said that Dinger met NLD members in Chauk Township on Monday.

      “He [Dinger] asked us if we have any optimism regarding Thein Sein’s speech claiming that the government is building up a democratic country. Is it any change or not? Are there any restrictions still placed on the NLD’s political movement?” Myint Thein said.

      Myint Thein told Dinger that it is too early to have a positive perspective on the president’s speech. Instead, it is very important to have dialogue, national reconciliation—including with ethnic leaders—and the release of political prisoners while attempting political reform.

      “We haven’t seen any progress, so we have to wait and see,” Myint Thein told the US official.

      Dinger also met with 15 NLD members in Yenangyaung Township, Magwe Division. Khin Saw Htay, a local organizing committee member of the NLD who attended the meeting, said Dinger asked about her opinion of Thein Sein’s speech as well.

      “We told him that even though the government announced that it is working on building a democratic nation, they didn’t release political prisoners. We don’t accept its announcement. We also don’t support the Constitution and the election,” said Khin Saw Htay.

      Khin Saw Htay said she pointed out to Dinger that opposition poltical parties that contested the election can’t do anything for the people of Burma and the new government is dominated by ex-Burmese military leaders.

      “I think he also wanted to know how alert the Burmese people are about politics. And he may want to know if the NLD maintains a political movement,” said Khin Saw Htay.

      Dinger also met in central Burma with members of political parties who contested the general election in Nov. 2010, including the National Democratic Force (NDF), National Unity Party (NUP) and Democratic Party (Myanmar). His meeting with members of the NDF—a breakaway faction of the NLD—took place in Yenangyaung Township.

      Party sources said that Dinger focused on Thein Sein’s speech and the survival of the pro-democracy movement and opposition political parties.

      Dinger previously held several meetings in Rangoon with opposition leaders and politicians, including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and leaders of the NLD, NDF and Democratic Party (Myanmar), where he talked about US initiated economic sanctions on Burma. In these meetings, Dinger reportedly said the US sanctions were only aimed at putting pressure on Burma to speed up the process towards a democratic government.

      The Obama administration said in April that it will continue to engage the Burmese leadership despite the fact that Burma has ignored, and often directly contradicted, the advice of the international community.

      At a panel discussion on Burma in Washington D.C. in April, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Joseph Y. Yun, told the audience that the Obama administration is trying its best to engage with the Burmese junta, but without any success.

      The NLD, which won a landslide victory in the 1990 general election only to have the ruling military junta refuse to transfer power, was dissolved by the Burmese government in 2010 for refusing to register for the November election.

      Thai coal mining in Burma considers handing over its products to China – Hseng Khio Fah
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Tue 10 May 2011

      A Thai coal mining company, Saraburi, a subsidiary of Ital-Thai that was granted a 30 year coal concession in Shan State East’s Mongkok sub-township, Monghsat township, 70km north of Thailand’s Chiangrai border, told a meeting held in Chiangrai province yesterday that it was considering passing on its coal products to China if people in Thailand continued opposing the project, according to Thailand’s Manager Online.Thai officials together with the company held the meeting on at Mae Sai’s custom department building over the company’s plan to transport coal shipments from the Mongkok mine through conflict zones inside Shan State and through unaffected areas in northern Thailand to the city of Saraburi in central Thailand where it will be used as fuel in cement factories.

      The Burma Army had made a condition for Saraburi to construct a new route across the border despite the existence of a shorter 70-80 km route inside Burma’s Tachilek to Thailand’s Maesai, in exchange for the coal concession.

      Due to that proposed road plan, people from both sides are concerned that the coal shipment could destroy and affect local village life along the proposed route as well as endangering the environment and their security.

      In addition, people in Thailand are also worried that the road project could promote drug trafficking and damage public roads as well. This has led to their protests against the project since 2009 and calling upon the company to use other routes.

      “If we are not allowed to transport our coal through the said route, there are only two alternatives for us to choose. One is to use the existing Mongkok-Tachilek-Mae Sai road,” said Pakorn Ruamthong, the company representative.

      “But if people in Maesai do not allow us to use this way, we will be forced to hand over our products to China. But to do so, we still have to ask Naypitaw for its consent.”

      The road is proposed to be built across Maejok on the Burmese side of the border to Thailand’s Hmong Kaolang village, Mae Fa Luang district. It will be around 68 km inside Burma and 77 km inside Thailand until it connects with the national highway at Pasang, between Maesai and Chiangrai. The existing Mongkok-Tachilek-Mae Sai road is 70-80 kilometers long.

      The proposed road would be able to transport between 2,000-5,000 tons of coal per day. The deposit in Mongkok boasts at least 150 million tons of raw coal, one third found to be Grade A. It would take 40 years long to deplete the fields even with 270 ten wheelers working each day to transport, according to an official from the company. The total value is estimated at 270,000 million baht (US $ 9 billion).

      If the company still wants to work on the project, it should submit a proposal to National Security Council of Thailand (NSC), Arnat Wittayakul, Chiangrai’s assistant governor, who presided over the meeting suggested.

      However, the construction of its project, which has destroyed paddy fields, farms and lands of local villagers in Shan State, is ongoing since mid April to date, according to local sources.

      Oil drilling to begin in Burma’s eco-sensitive Hukaung Valley – Thomas Maung Shwe
      Mizzima News: Tue 10 May 2011

      Endangered tigers and local villagers are threatened by an oil-drilling venture due to start in a remote area of Burma’s northern Kachin State.A Singapore-based joint venture firm Silver Wave Exploration & Production announced last week that it will soon begin drilling for oil on land that includes the ecologically sensitive Hukaung Valley in Kachin state.

      Environmentalists and opposition activists worry Silver Wave’s exploitation of the 19,066-sq km block of land could wipe out endangered animals and kick people off their land.

      The Hukaung valley, also spelt Hukawang, is home to rare tigers and other endangered species including leopards, Himalayan bears and elephants.

      Activists have expressed concern that local villagers and farmers will be driven off their land and made homeless by Silver Wave’s operations.

      In 2001, the Burmese military regime in collaboration with the American NGO Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) established the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve. Local residents were given no opportunity for input and many critics from Burma’s democratic opposition worried that the reserve was a bogus ploy by the military regime to get foreign funds. The critics also charged that a key backer of the project WCS’s former director of science and exploration, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, was woefully naïve for working with the Burmese regime and praising the generals.

      Tigers in the wild are said to number a mere 3,000 worldwide, according to WCS.

      In 2004, the reserve’s total area expanded to include the entire valley of 21,890 square kilometers, creating what was heralded as the largest tiger reserve in the world. Since the reserve’s expansion, the Burmese regime has encouraged logging, gold mining, large scale farms and the building of factories inside what is supposed to be a tiger and nature reserve.

      According to a report in the Business Times of Singapore, Silver Wave Exploration & Production was formed recently as a joint venture between Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd, another Singaporean firm, BFI Holding Pte Ltd, and two firms from Japan, Star Field Corporation and Star Holding Corporation.

      A press release issued by BFI Holdings on April 18 stated that Silver Wave Exploration’s drilling programme in the Hukaung valley will begin this year and have a budget of US$ 100 million. The press release also indicated that Silver Wave exploration ‘has acquired all licence rights for exploration and production oil-prospecting acquisitions at Block B (B 2)’ which Silver Wave energy had previously received from state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

      The BFI press release said that Block B2 is located in the Hukaung Valley, although several previous MOGE reports including a detailed map made for an Asia Development Bank conference in 2008 placed B2 further south in an area of Northern Sagain Division called Zebyutaung-Nandaw (also spelt Zeebyutaung) in Pinlebu Township. The 2008 MOGE report listed the Hukaung block as PSC-A. The reason for the discrepancy remains unclear.

      Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd while based in Singapore is owned by Burmese businessman Min Min Aung (also known as Minn Minn Oung) and is part of his Silver Wave Trading group, a conglomerate known for having close ties to Burma’s generals.

      Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd has been active in both offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration in Burma since at least 2006. Min Min Aung previously joined forces with government officials from the Russian republic of Kalmykia to form Silver Wave Sputnik Petroleum Pte incorporated in Singapore.

      Burmese state media reported in March 2007 that Silver Wave Sputnik and Silver Wave Energy signed an agreement with state-owned MOGE to explore for oil in the Hukaung Valley. Boris Chedyrov, the Kalmykia Republic’s Minister for Energy, attended a March 2007 ceremony with Min Min Aung and Burmese government officials.

      In September 2008, The New Light of Myanmar reported that MOGE had signed a deal with Russian firm Nobel Oil of the Russian Federation to allow for oil and gas exploration in the Hukaung and U-ru regions. It appears that Nobel Oil let their licenses for these areas expire without renewing them.

      Junta land grab in Hukaung Valley makes thousands homeless

      According to a report produced by the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) in August of last year, since 2006 the Yuzana Corporation has with the support of central government authorities expropriated more than 809 square km (200,000 acres) of land in the Hukaung valley from local Kachin villagers.

      KDNG reports that hundreds of families have been displaced by Yuzana’s land acquisition. As with many other such state approved land grabs in Burma, the displaced families were not adequately compensated and many were forced to say they were moved ‘willingly’.

      Yuzana has planted large plantations of cassava root and sugar cane on the contested land. Instead of hiring local people for the massive plantation farms, Yuzana has imported workers belonging to the Burman majority from the south of the country.

      Reports from the area indicate that the Yuzana’s operations have created intense resentment among the remaining Kachin residents of the Hukaung Valley. The Burmese military is reportedly giving the Yuzana employees military training to deal with unhappy local residents. Yuzana is headed by Htay Myint, a real estate tycoon said to be close to Burma’s generals.

      In Burma, reporting is a crime – Elizabeth Hughes
      The Australian: Mon 9 May 2011

      IT’S a Burmese tragedy with a cast of 17 brave characters. They are all journalists with the Democratic Voice of Burma — the exiled media organisation that broadcasts uncensored television and radio into Burma. And, for the crime of reporting the news, they have been immured in some of the nation’s most isolated prisons, mostly for years on end, and sometimes for decades.Last week, one day after the UN’s World Press Freedom day, DVB launched a Free Burma VJ (video-journalists) campaign in an attempt to push for their release, publicly conceding for the first time that the total of DVB reporters behind bars had reached the alarming total of 17. The new information means Burma is the third-most oppressive jailer of journalists in the world, after China and Iran, with a total of about 25 incarcerated.

      Only five of the DVB 17 have been named, because the Burmese authorities usually treat journalists even more harshly than other prisoners. DVB wants to maintain some discretion to avoid even more punitive conditions. It remains unclear how the unnamed 12 were captured, what they were charged with and how long their prison sentences were.

      DVB’s video-journalists are a trained and dedicated group, says DVB’s Thailand bureau chief Toe Zaw Latt. “In Burma, if Big Brother is watching you, OK, your small brother is watching you back with a small camera,” he adds.

      But critics say not all the journalists are professionally trained, and they wonder if the risk of lengthy jail terms is worth the rewards. They note that although DVB maintains it is now an independent and professional organisation, with an audience of as many as 10 million people, it grew from political roots. DVB employs more than 100 journalists in various locations in Burma, Toe Zaw Latt says, and as well as providing the raw material for DVB broadcasts, their footage is sometimes used by foreign media organisations, and even in an Oscar-nominated documentary titled Burma VJ.

      Two of the DVB journalists most recently arrested are a young man and his father. Sithu Zeya, 21, was arrested in April last year while filming the aftermath of a grenade attack that left nine dead and hundreds injured in Rangoon.

      DVB says he was interrogated for five days, tortured and denied food for two days. He was finally sentenced last December to eight years in prison, for having ties to an unlawful organisation.

      “Sithu Zeya had been forced to reveal under torture that his father, Maung Maung Zeya, also served as an undercover DVB reporter,” the organisation says.

      Maung Maung Zeya, 57, who also worked with DVB, was arrested at his home in Rangoon, soon after his son was detained.

      A poet and essayist, he was eventually sentenced to 13 years in prison, and is now incarcerated in Hsipaw prison, hundreds of kilometres from Rangoon. Toe Zaw Latt says Maung Maung Zeya was doped during his interrogation, and another of his sons has been forced to flee.

      Military intelligence officers arrested 48-year-old Win Maw in November 2007, in a Rangoon tea shop, soon after he had visited an internet cafe. DVB says he was accused of being the “mastermind” of DVB’s news coverage of the 2007 anti-government Saffron revolution led by Buddhist monks and students. Win Maw was originally sentenced in 2008 to seven years in prison for sending “false” information to DVB. The next year, he was sentenced to an extra 10 years for violations of the Electronics Act. He is in the remote Sandoway prison in Arakan state.

      These journalists are just a few among the crowds of political prisoners locked up by the Burmese regime: activists, lawyers, writers, poets — anyone, in short, with the temerity to express a view or which differs from the official line.

      Nearly 2100 prisoners of conscience remain incarcerated in Burma, despite international diplomatic efforts to wrangle an amnesty from the nation’s new and nominally civilian government.

      “Reporting the truth is not a crime,” said Toe Zaw Latt. “Someone should not be jailed 20 years for being a journalist.”

      MPs urge ASEAN to suspend Burma – Francis Wade
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 9 May 2011

      The ASEAN bloc risks damaging its international credibility and impeding regional progress if it appoints Burma to the 2014 chair, a parliamentarian lobby group has warned.It follows a recent bid by Burmese President Thein Sein for the revolving chair of the 10-member grouping. Thein Sein joined other regional leaders in Jakarta for the 18th annual ASEAN summit, where his ambitions became a key focus of talks alongside the protracted Thailand-Cambodia border dispute.

      Following much fanfare over the weekend that the controversial bid will be successful, ASEAN released a statement yesterday on the final day of the summit saying only that it had “considered the proposal”.

      It didn’t however take long for observers to level sharp criticism at the bloc, which has come under persistent international pressure to do more about Burma’s myriad domestic crises.

      Shortly after news broke of Burma’s proposal, the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) released a statement urging the bloc to reject the bid, arguing that the “oppression in Myanmar [Burma] constitutes a black stain on the credibility of ASEAN and will be an obstacle to efforts by ASEAN to build an ASEAN Community by 2015”.

      It added that the grouping should instead “consider suspending Myanmar from the organization over its flagrant violations of the ASEAN Charter”.

      Kraisak Choonhavan, president of AIPMC and deputy chairman of Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party, told DVB that despite the warnings, he wouldn’t be surprised if ASEAN accepted the bid.

      “They are denying simple reality and masquerading the [November 2010 Burma] elections as a new political development that meets international standards,” he said, adding that the grouping was “exaggerating this to no end, and with no embarrassment”.

      “After the election, we don’t see any improvement – in fact the [ethnic armed] conflict has expanded…because the elections have not given anything but more centralisation.”

      Human Rights Watch had warned last week that appointing Burma to the chair would be an embarrassment to a region to which it is the perennial thorn in the side. A Thai official said on Friday however that ASEAN officials had “agreed” to support Burma.

      Kraisak saw the support for what critics claim is one of the world’s worst human rights abusers as an attempt by ASEAN give Burma the image of a progressing democracy and help lift international sanctions on the country.

      Burma’s new President is no moderate – David Scott Mathieson
      Jakarta Globe: Mon 9 May 2011

      The Asean summit that starts on Saturday is a debut for Burma’s new President Thein Sein and the now ostensibly civilian, but still tightly military-controlled government formed on March 30.Since the elections of Nov. 2010 and the release of dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, many governments in Asia and the West have intensified their search for moderates in Burma’s new military-parliamentary complex, in order to increase engagement with the government. Thein Sein’s inaugural speech is being lauded as a blueprint for a new moderate government, with his emphasis on tackling corruption, promoting the role of the media, and emphasizing health and education. But these are just words; there has been no discernible improvement in the human rights situation of Burma at all since the elections, no release of political prisoners, no letup in fighting in ethnic conflict zones or granting basic freedoms to Burma’s 59 million citizens.

      It is thus disquieting to hear many informed observers on Burma refer to Thein Sein as “Mr Clean.” Without questioning the commentators’ standards of hygiene, it is safe to say that the former Lt. Gen. Thein Sein is actually a ruthless loyalist with a well-established past in command positions during some of Burma’s darker and most corrupt periods.

      It is a matter of public record that Thein Sein was the commander of the Triangle Region Military Command from 1997 to 2001. This is the area infamously known as the Golden Triangle, long a redoubt of drug lords and warring ethnic and Communist armies. During his tenure, there was a decline in opium and heroin production in his area of operations, but there are two main reasons for this — neither necessarily due to a firm commitment to drug eradication.

      First, Afghanistan heroin production was booming at the end of the 1990s, so Burmese syndicates such as the massive United Wa State Army couldn’t compete on global markets because of the more labor-intensive production of opium in Burma, and overwhelming new supply. Second, the main drug producers were actually branching into massive methamphetamine production, which was proving easier to manufacture, supply, and sell. The UWSA’s central narco-financier, Wei Hsueh-kang, has been under indictment by the United States since 1998, with a $2 million price tag on his head (eight other senior leaders were indicted in 2005).

      Neighboring Thailand paid the highest price for the surge in meth exports, which was the main catalyst for then-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s murderous domestic “war on drugs” in 2003. The new town of Mong Yawn close to the Thai border was the lynchpin in the UWSA’s strategy to increase drug supply into Thailand. To help Mong Yawn grow, the UWSA forcibly relocated nearly 100,000 civilians from northern Shan State from 1999 to 2001, ostensibly to break their dependence on opium cultivation. As the Lahu National Development Organization (an ethnic community development NGO from Burma), and numerous Western and Thai journalists who covered the operation reported, in this draconian transmigration hundreds are suspected to have died from abuses and disease, including an anthrax outbreak. I lived in this area in 2003, with ethnic Shan, Lahu and Akha refugees, who could see their seized land on the other side of the valley, occupied by relocated ethnic Wa, guarded by UWSA and Burmese army camps. Thein Sein’s headquarters in the town of Kengtung was right in the middle of this nearly year-long relocation.

      What Thein Sein’s specific role was in the Mong Yawn project is not known, but he could not have been unaware of it, nor could he have been unwitting to the explosion of drug money in his area of operations. At the time, senior Thai army commanders claimed that Thein Sein not only knew the drug plants were there, but was actively protecting them: then Third Army Commander Lt. Gen. Wattanachai Chaimuenwong and Thai army commander Gen. Surayud Chulanont raised this fact on a regular basis, during frequent border skirmishes between Burmese and Thai forces during this period due to massive drug smuggling being protected by units within Thein Sein’s command area. According to Bertil Lintner, a noted expert on the regional drug trade, and numerous academics and researchers on Burma’s military such as Mary Callahan, Burma’s regional commanders have long been suspected to be sitting on top of a corrupt patronage system that maintains order through regulating rackets and illicit trade, not interdicting them.

      Thein Sein’s recent past suggests no grounds for optimism either. Following his stint in the Golden Triangle, Thein Sein was the military adjutant general and then secretary no. 1 of the ruling State Peace and Development Council. He has since been a senior member of the regime, including serving as prime minister when scores of protesters were killed on the streets of Rangoon in a peaceful uprising in September 2007. He was in charge of the government when Western relief agencies were denied access to Burma following the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Instead of giving priority to aid for the sick and injured, the government focused on its sham constitutional referendum that is the blueprint for continued authoritarian rule. Perhaps most disturbing, since he became prime minister in 2007, the number of political prisoners doubled to more than 2,200.

      The search for “pragmatists over hard-liners” within the ruling elite has been a central fault-line in the speculative trade of Burmese political analysis for years. Many Western journalists, academics, aid workers and diplomats believed former Prime Minister and military intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt was the pragmatic player who was negotiating between his intelligence faction, Suu Kyi and the West to broker a deal for democratic reforms. This apocryphal glasnost was ruptured in October 2004 when Khin Nyunt and his intelligence clique, more than 800 officers, were rounded up by the so-called hard-liners. Most are in prison or under house arrest.

      It remains unclear why Khin Nyunt was considered to be a moderate given his long years of ruthless repression of the oppo

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