[Readingroom] News on Burma - 21/6/11
- Life of a Burmese landmine refugee
- KIA encourages defection in Burmese Army
- YCDC strips out vendors in Yangon
- Kachin say 10K people flee fighting in N. Myanmar
- Myanmar rebels eye China mediation in clashes
- Lower US dollar value hits rice business and farmers
- Energy projects ‘fuelling’ border fighting
- China’s hand in the renewed civil war in Burma
- Vietnam, Burma seek reciprocal support
- Myanmar to launch satellite in cooperation with three countries
- Amnesty Int’l repeats call for inquiry into human rights abuses in Burma
- A new ‘civilian’ government revives an old civil war
- Doing what’s ‘appropriate’
- A grim trade: Trafficking Palaung women to China
- As dollar falls, FECs plummet
- North Korea keeps silent on ship’s turnaround
- Burma starts a new civil war with Kachin and Shan
- Illusion of freedom in Myanmar
- They never want to see ethnic unity’
- Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to the 100th International Labour Conference
- U.S. said to turn back North Korea missile shipment
- United Nations desire to help address country’s long-standing problems
- Burma must not be allowed to fail
- Burma’s richest man
- Can you travel responsibly in Burma?
- Myanmar gets record $20B investment pledges
Life of a Burmese landmine refugee – Simon Roughneen
CNN International: Fri 17 Jun 2011
Having fled their home country to escape oppression, what is to become of the thousands of Burmese refugees in Thailand? With his crutches resting against the clinic bed, Than Tin rolls up his trouser leg, gingerly pointing to a heavily bandaged leg stump.
“All I remember is being blasted up in the air,” recalls the 48-year-old father-of-five, hoisting both arms to suggest the impact of the landmine. “First was no pain, but half my leg was gone, but then it was like so bad burning.”
He was logging in the forests around Myawaddy, a trading town in Myanmar close to the border with Thailand, the site of one of the world’s longest-running civil wars.
Countless landmines litter the hilly jungle terrain, on and off the tracks close to where government soldiers fight ethnic minority rebel militias; thousands of beleaguered civilians hide out or make the arduous trek to a precarious refuge in Thailand.
According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), Myanmar’s government continues to lay antipersonnel mines, mostly in regions populated by ethnic minorities.
The larger of these minorities maintain their own militias and political parties, and have become accustomed to de facto local autonomy even as the government holds out against their calls for the creation of a federal state.
Some rebel groups also plant mines, though they say they only lay them on roads near army bases, and inform villagers of the location of the devices.
Not just for refugees
A landmine took half of Saw Maw Kel’s left leg in 1986 while he was fighting in the jungle.
He learned the prosthetics trade from medics and non-governmental organizations during his recuperation. The clinic where he works employs six people, turning out around 200 replacement legs a year, mostly for landmine victims from Myanmar.
“Not just refugees come here,” he says, referring to the Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, “but ordinary Burmese who cannot pay for treatment at home.”
The Burmese remain among the poorest in Asia, with an annual per capita income of US$469 according to 2010 U.S. State Department figures.
Despite growing foreign investment, over US$20billion in 2010 alone according to the Burmese government, and a sanctions-busting multi-billion dollar oil, gas and gemstone revenue windfall, health spending for 2011 will be just 1.3 percent of the national budget, against 25 percent to be spent on the military.
Myanmar has been ruled by the army since 1962 and in the country’s first elections for two decades last November — which were widely condemned as neither free nor fair by independent outside observers — the army and its political affiliates won 89 percent of parliamentary seats and 26 out of 30 ministries.
The government is uncomfortable with some activity along the border, which they think is a haven for opposition groups. This is no doubt boosted by the presence of people like Zipporah Sein, head of the political wing of the main Karen group, the Karen National Union (K.N.U.).
The Karen are a mix of animists, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims. They have fought the central Burmese government, and sometimes each other, for much of the time since independence from Great Britain in 1947.
In an interview at her office on the border, the day after the Burmese authorities blamed the KNU for a train bombing in central Myanmar last May, Sein dismisses the allegation: “The Burmese regime always blames the K.N.U. when something like this happens, but we do not get involved in such activity.”
Her presence in the area, where then K.N.U. leader Mahn Sha Lar Pahn was assassinated in 2008, no doubt irks the Burmese authorities.
The Mae Sot-Myawaddy border crossing remains closed on the Burmese side.
Thai traders say that they are losing out and a number of Thai officials have made ominous statements in recent months about sending the refugees back.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that repatriation would not take place unless it was safe for the refugees to go back, but nonetheless some are keeping a low profile in their temporary abode, wary of tensions surrounding their presence.
“New arrivals are sometimes hiding in Thai villages,” says Poe Shan of the Karen Human Rights Group.
New arrivals have crossed the border almost every day since the November 2010 elections, and ongoing fighting in Myanmar’s ethnic regions suggests that calls for the refugees to go back are premature.
“The Burmese army has a shoot-on-sight policy in some places, and that includes civilians as well as rebels,” says Mahn Mahn, head of the Backpack Health Workers Team, a group of mobile medics operating secretly in Myanmar’s ethnic minority regions.
Hard to go home
“There is no protection for many people inside, how can they go back?” he asks.
At Mae La, the biggest of the nine refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar frontier, and a 45-minute drive north of Mae Sot, around 45,000 people live in closely packed timber huts on stilts, their brown roofs dovetailing with leafy green foliage and low clouds on the rain-soaked cliff tops behind.
Undeterred by the Saturday afternoon downpour, two groups of men play takraw, a sort-of soccer-volleyball hybrid, at the camp’s edge.
“If you go inside the camp, it might mean trouble for us,” says Aung Aung, a pseudonym for one of the players, who asked for his real name to be withheld.
Since 2005, around 70,000 Burmese refugees have been resettled, including 50,000 to the United States, sparking a whispering campaign that some of those entering the camps are economic migrants seeking a ticket to a new life in the West.
Brushing off this suggestion, Aung Aung says, “I don’t know about everyone in the camps. For me, I do not want to go the West at all, even though my grandmother is already in Indiana.”
He says his family was involved in opposition politics in Myanmar, and worked with the National League for Democracy, the officially proscribed party headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner who was released from house arrest by the Burmese authorities in November 2010.
“I am from Rangoon,” says Aung Aung. “What I really want is to go back there, if ever there is a real democracy.”
KIA encourages defection in Burmese Army
Kachin News Group: Thu 16 Jun 2011
In a bid to encourage desertion in the Burmese Army, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has welcomed willing Burmese soldiers to join the KIA, in a statement today.“We are fighting on the front line and if some of the Burmese soldiers want to join us we will warmly welcome them,” said the statement.
The join secretary the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) the political arm of the KIA explaining the statement said, “We have in an order to all battalions said we are doing this because we should.”
A KIO officer from the front line said, “This morning we got the order that says we should treat well all Burmese soldiers, who want to desert from the Burmese Army to our side and injured Burmese soldiers would be sent away immediately from the front line.”
The six point statement said KIA was fighting for restoration of a real federal system with political means by ending the regime in Burma, said KIA.
At the same time KIA said they believe if dictatorship or military rule ends then real federalism with freedom and justice can be restored in the country.
YCDC strips out vendors in Yangon – Aung Khin + MYA
Eleven Media Group: Thu 16 Jun 2011
Not only in downtown but also in suburban areas, Yangon City Development Committee is removing street vendors from their roadside.In fact, vendors only from crowded areas should be stripped out, but roadside seller from some areas in Yangon should be spared with time limitation, said a civil expert.
Although removing of vendors on the motorways and roadside vendors are meant to prevent obstructions on the platforms and traffics, vehicles parking on the roads are the major causes of traffic-jams, according to the city dwellers.
“There were no parking areas at the high-rises which were constructed since a decade ago. When the vehicles are parked on the roads and commuter buses are not driven systematically, traffic-jams have occurred. Chaotic traffics should be managed first to avoid traffic hitch. The lives of dependent family members are to be considered when strict regulations are issued for street vendors,” said a Yangonite.
Most of the street vendors are grass root people relying on daily income, and hundreds thousands of family members are depending on them. Therefore, they should be allowed to lay their trays on the roadsides with limited times and places, according to civil experts.
Taking photo records, staff personnel of district and township offices under the management of YCDC (Management Department) are removing the vendors.
“I’m selling snacks at 30th Street. Responsible persons warned us that we were prohibited not to display our shops at 30th Street since 9 June. One day ahead, they asked and recorded our names and addresses. They also told us that they do not want to confiscate our items,” said a female vendor.
Dates of prohibition against selling goods at the roadside areas are different from one street to another and one township to another. It was learnt that vendors are permitted to sell the goods after 12 noon near Bogalay Bazaar.
“Vendors have not been forbidden to sell the goods near Sanpya Market in Thingangyun Township, while street vendors have already disappeared near Theingyi Market in downtown. Roadside sellers in Yangon downtown areas, Hlawga, Hmawbi and Htaukkyant townships have been ordered not to open their shops. No vendors are seen near Tamwe Market at present,” said a vendor.
Street vendors were allowed with market stall taxes on the roads and near the markets. To manage the accommodations for vendors, plans were made to set up evening markets. However, it did not materialize. Although another plan to open an evening market at the Lahapyin (Open Space) Market was drawn up similar to Bangkok of Thailand, it did not appear.
“There are 150 thousands domestic migrants in Yangon within five years. Most of them have to rely on daily income. Their livelihoods are selling on the roadside. So, enough time should be taken in the changing trend for the consideration of the dependant family members of vendors,” said a businessperson.
According to official statistics, there were over 40 thousands of vendors in 33 townships of YCDC jurisdiction in 2009. Civil experts estimate that the figure is possible to double at present. As hundred thousands of family members are depending on street vendors, the prevailing campaign of YCDC is sure to cause difficulties for the grass root people. Street vendors are the highest number among the millions of people who come into Yangon City every day.
“Mutual understanding should be kept between sellers and pedestrians. Vendors should place their trays of goods only at the permitted places and times. They should properly discard their garbage and wasted water,” said a resident in Yangon.
“The case of street vendors in Yangon cannot be tackled immediately as in foreign countries. As a third world country, there are many grass root people here. Except traffic-jam areas and crowded places, the shops of street vendors should be allowed with a fixed time and place. Vendors and night markets are major tourist attractions in Bangkok,” said a businessperson in Yangon.
“At the moment, the prices of shops and other charges are high. As today’s profit is the capital for tomorrow and they are depending on daily income, the vendors have to sell their goods at the crowded areas near offices and companies,” said a resident in Yangon.
“It can be said that removing street vendors is a good system instead of permitting street vendors with a fixed time and with stall market taxes in the past. It is true that street vendors are nuisances of the characteristics of a city. However, the difficulties of their family members should be considered. This plan should be carried out only in traffic-jam areas,” said a civil expert.
Kachin say 10K people flee fighting in N. Myanmar – Grant Peck
Associated Press: Thu 16 Jun 2011
Bangkok – More than 10,000 people in northern Myanmar have fled fighting between government troops and an ethnic minority group’s militia, and are living in temporary camps near the Chinese border as refugees, members of the minority group said Thursday.The website of the Kachin News Group, associated with Kachin anti-government exiles, quoted one of the group’s leaders saying that refugees have fled territory under government control.
The report cited Kachin Independence Organization civil administration officer Salang Kaba Doi Pyi Sa saying that China had closed the border to refugees, but in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei denied the allegation.
“Since the outbreak of the conflict, some of the people from Myanmar crossed the border and went to China to find their relatives and friends,” Hong said. “China has provided necessary assistance in accordance with common practice.”
Reports from the remote area cannot be independently confirmed.
The fighting began June 9 when government troops allegedly shelled a Kachin base in a bid to force the rebel fighters from a strategic region where China is constructing major hydropower plants.
The total number of casualties so far remains unclear. Col. James Lum Dau, a Kachin spokesman in Thailand, said Thursday that 16 people on the government side had been killed, and 150 wounded. He said he was unable to give the number of Kachin casualties.
Myanmar’s state-controlled media have not reported the fighting.
Myanmar’s central government has tenuous control of many parts of the country where minority groups many of which maintain their own militias are strongest. It has reached cease-fire agreements with 17 ethnic minority rebel militias since 1989 and most have been allowed to keep their weapons and maintain some autonomy over their areas.
The 8,000-strong Kachin militia reached a peace deal with the country’s former ruling junta in 1994, but the truce broke down last year after the militia rejected a call by the government for them become border guards under army leadership. The junta made the appeal ahead of last November’s elections, Myanmar’s first in 20 years, which introduced the nominally civilian government now in power.
Reached by phone, Chinese local officials said refugees who had fled into China required little government assistance, as they found food and shelter with their friends and relatives, and that many have returned to Myanmar.
“As the situation gradually eases, the Myanmar border residents have started to go back to the Myanmar side,” said Sun Konglong, vice general-secretary of the government of Dehong, a border prefecture in Yunnan province.
Another official, Shen Yu, from the Dehong emergency affairs office, said the refugees started arriving June 8 and numbered up to 300. Shen said more than half of them have already returned to Myanmar.
* Associated Press writer Gillian Wong and researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.
Myanmar rebels eye China mediation in clashes
Agence France Presse: Thu 16 Jun 2011
Bangkok – Myanmar ethnic minority rebels on Thursday appealed for China to help end a deadly standoff with government troops as Beijing called for calm after people fled across the countries’ shared border.Fierce fighting began a week ago near a large hydropower project being built in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State to provide power to China, and has since spread to northern areas of neighbouring Shan State.
China — one of the Myanmar military’s closest allies — on Thursday urged both sides to “resolve their differences through peaceful negotiations”.
“We are closely following the situation on the border between China and Myanmar and call on the parties in conflict to remain calm and exercise restraint so as to avoid an escalation of the situation,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
The remarks came after the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) said it wanted China to be a “referee” in any potential negotiations.
“Without the involvement of another country as a witness, as a facilitator… there is no solution,” KIA press spokesman Henry Branglai told AFP from the group’s headquarters near the Chinese border in Kachin State.
Battles with the national military continued to rage on Thursday, a week after hostilities began with what Branglai said was a government incursion into KIA-held territory “to get some influence over that area”.
More than 10,000 people have massed on the Myanmar side of the frontier, with many people seeking out KIA-held areas as they look to avoid being forced into carrying supplies for the Myanmar military, according to the rebels.
Branglai said thousands had crossed the border during the fighting and were being allowed to move back and forth between the countries.
Hong denied reports that Beijing was not allowing Myanmar refugees to cross the border and said China was providing support.
But a local official in the Yunnan province foreign affairs department, who refused to give his name, said there were no refugees at all.
“The borders are open as per usual. Myanmarese nationals come and go every day. We are not considering providing tents or food as at the moment. There is no need,” he said.
The authorities in Myanmar — where power was handed to a nominally civilian government in March after almost half a century of military rule — have given no information about casualties or displaced people.
But a government official confirmed the fighting on Wednesday and said some bridges had been destroyed.
Myanmar has been plagued by decades of civil war with armed ethnic minority rebels in various parts of the country since independence in 1948.
The mainly Baptist and Catholic Kachin account for about seven percent of Myanmar’s population and an insurgency agitating for greater autonomy gathered momentum from the 1960s until a ceasefire was signed in 1994.
The KIA, thought to have at least several thousand fighters, used to be one of the most powerful rebel groups but was until recently considered to be open to dialogue.
Relations between the army and ceasefire groups have soured over the past year as ethnic minority fighters were pressured to give up their weapons or come under state control in the run-up to a controversial November election.
Several local Kachin parties were refused permission to contest the vote, dashing long-held hopes for greater self-rule.
Rights groups accuse the army, which has doubled to 400,000 personnel over the past two decades, of waging a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in areas where civil war continues involving the rape, torture and murder of villagers.
Myanmar’s military rulers earned a rare rebuke from China in 2009 when an offensive against ethnic Chinese Kokang rebels in the country’s northeast caused tens of thousands of people to spill over the border.
Lower US dollar value hits rice business and farmers – Yan Pai
Irrawaddy: Thu 16 Jun 2011
Sales of rice have declined in Burma as exporters, including the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), have stopped buying from domestic traders following a drop in the value of their overseas earnings, according to business sources.With the US dollar recently reaching as low as 750 kyat, down from around 1,000 kyat last year, exporters have been reluctant to convert their earnings back into the Burmese currency.
Although licensed trading companies in Burma enjoy a preferential exchange rate, currently around 800 kyat to the dollar, this has done little to offset the overall decline of the dollar against the kyat, the currency used for purchasing rice and other domestic products.
Further complicating matters is the fact that foreign currency transactions are illegal in Burma, although trading companies sometimes informally use dollars, euros and Japanese yen when doing business with each other.
“Exporters are suffering great losses right now, so they’re just holding on to their earnings and watching the situation. This means that domestic rice traders are also in a bind, as they usually rely on exporters to buy much of their rice,” a rice dealer from Rangoon’s Bayintnaung rice market told The Irrawaddy.
To make up for the loss of sales to exporters, some rice traders are trying to sell off some of their stock domestically. However, with few buyers around with cash in hand, this hasn’t been easy.
Sluggish sales have had the effect of driving down prices. According to dealers in Rangoon, a sack of export-quality rice now sells for 12,500 kyat (US $16), down from 13,500 kyat ($17).
Falling rice prices will add to the burden of already struggling farmers, who say that they may be unable to repay government agricultural loans and other debts if the dollar continues to fall, putting further pressure on overseas demand.
“Everything depends on the exchange rate, so it will be difficult in the long run it things continue the way they’re going. At the end of the day, it will be farmers who have to shoulder the burden,” said a farmer from Thayawaddy District in northern Pegu Division.
He added that while the price of rice has gone down, the cost of producing it hasn’t. Fertilizer and fuel remain expensive, and wages for farm laborers are rising all the time, he said, warning that unless these trends change, there could be a disruption in rice production.
Khin Maung Nyo, a Rangoon-based economist, also suggested that the rising value of the kyat could cause lasting damage to the Burmese economy. If the currency makes prices for Burma’s goods too uncompetitive, exports will suffer, domestic producers will lose out and job opportunities will be affected, he said.
Energy projects ‘fuelling’ border fighting – Francis Wade
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 16 Jun 2011
The Burmese government’s campaign to rout armed ethnic groups along its northern border has at its heart the goal of securing areas around lucrative China-backed hydropower projects, environmental groups claim.Two of the main flashpoints over the past week are in southern in Kachin state, where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) controls territory close to the Shweli and Taping dams. The KIA recently ended a 17-year ceasefire with the Burmese government, sparking heavy fighting on 9 June.
Nine dams financed by Chinese companies are being constructed in Burma’s northernmost Kachin state, according to Burma Rivers Network. It said that the Taping fighting follows a warning letter from the KIA that if construction of the controversial Myitsone Dam in Kachin state proceeds, civil war will break out.
“Mega dams in Burma have severe negative social, economic and environmental impacts while the majority of electricity generated is exported to neighbouring countries or used by the military,” said BRN. “Most of the dams are located in ethnic states and allow the expansion of Burma Army control into these areas.”
The KIA has destroyed several roads and bridges close to hydropower sites, which are deeply unpopular amongst many civilians who are often the victims of forced relocations but who see little reward from the ventures.
Burma’s relationship with China to an extent hinges on these energy projects, thus necessitating the need for the Burmese army to secure territory surrounding them.
Fighting has escalated in Kachin, Shan and Karen states since late last year following the refusal of armed groups to assimilate into the Burmese army.
In March, central Shan state witnessed several clashes between Burmese troops and the Shan State Army, whose northern faction also recently ended a 15-year truce with the government. The epicentre of the fighting was close to the town of Hsipaw, where the highly lucrative Shwe gas pipeline will run through en route to China.
Burmese army reinforcements were also sent to the site of the Ywathit Dam in Karenni state, which is being built by China’s Datang company. In December last year the Karenni Army, one of the myriad ethnic armed groups operating in Burma’s border regions, attacked a convoy of trucks transporting equipment to the dam, BRN said.
China’s hand in the renewed civil war in Burma – Ba Kaung
Irrawaddy: Thu 16 Jun 2011
The current armed conflict in Burma’s northern Kachin State has effectively ended nearly two decades of ceasefire between the country’s second largest ethnic army, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and the newly sworn-in Naypyidaw government, bringing a strategic region near the Chinese border to the verge of a civil war.The gunfire that was exchanged between the KIA and the Burmese army over the past seven days has claimed only a few casualties on both sides. But, despite concerns that the fighting will spread to other areas, no other clashes have been reported in the region since midday on Monday.
The past week’s conflict is extraordinarily significant because for the first time it has reignited a civil war in northern Burma which has been in hibernation mode since a fragile “gentlemen’s” agreement was reached in 1994.
The clashes that broke out last Thursday presented a new challenge in the armed struggle of Kachin rebels who initially demanded independence in 1961 but later called for a federal union.
The new and daunting challenge for the KIA today is its neighbor China. Across Kachin State, Chinese state-owned mega-corporations such as China Power Investment and China Datang are constructing a number of large-scale hydropower dams. And the electricity from those dams will be exported to China.
KIA spokesperson La Na told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the immediate cause of the latest fighting stemmed from the Burmese army’s aggressive attempts to control areas surrounding the hydropower dams, which are located near the Chinese border—areas which have long been under the control of KIA forces, and just a few kilometers away from China’s strategic oil pipeline from the Bay of Bengal to Yunnan Province which passes through central Burma.
La Na said that these massive investments were implemented without the consent of the local public or stakeholders such as the KIA, and these economic interests have already pushed Beijing into becoming an ally of the Burmese army.
“When we approached the Chinese company officials working at these dams, their response is that they already have agreements with Naypyidaw,” he said. “China wants to get resources from Burma. So it seems that their policy is to secure our country’s resources by any means necessary and, in this case, with the connivance of the Burmese authorities.”
According to Burma Rivers Network, an independent environmental group, these dams have severe social, economic and environmental impacts. In addition, the majority of the power is to be exported to neighboring countries, necessitating the expansion of Burmese army control in the areas where these dams are being built.
The NGO said in a statement on Wednesday that the latest fighting near the Dapein and Shweli hydropower dams in northern Burma shows how the build-up of Burmese government troops in the region fuels the conflict and adds to the deep resentment against the widely unpopular dam projects.
Given China’s huge investment in the region, it is interesting to question whether the Burmese armed forces tried to dispel the KIA battalions from the areas near these projects only after it received explicit approval from Beijing.
The ongoing armed clashes in Kachin State come just a few weeks after Burmese President Thein Sein visited Beijing and the two countries announced the establishment of a strategic relationship. During the visit, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo appealed to Thein Sein “for the smooth implementation of infrastructure projects, including oil and gas pipelines, hydroelectric power and transportation,” according to state news agency Xinhua.
China kept mum on the latest crisis near its border—unlike during the Burmese government’s surprise offensive in 2009 against the small Kokang ethnic militia group in northeastern Shan State. At that time, China reprimanded Naypyidaw for creating “border instability.”
On Thursday, only a week later after the fightings, China has called for restraint on both parties and de-escalation of the tension.
Despite repeated stress on the importance of border stability from both Chinese and Burmese governments, the KIA official said the words lacked sincerity, describing it as “stability forced on the ethnic people by military means.”
Asked if China had possibly given a green light to the Burmese army to clear the KIA-controlled areas, Jim Della-Giacoma, the Southeast Asian Director of International Crisis Group, said, “We don’t think Beijing would have been caught off-guard by this [the latest clashes] as they were by the Kokang fighting of August 2009, but their larger interests remain.”
The ICG report last year said that the Kokang conflict and the rise in tensions along the border prompted Beijing to increasingly view Burma’s ethnic groups as a liability rather than a means of strategic leverage. It also said that the ethnic groups’ view China’s support for them as provisional and driven by its own economic and security interests.
According to Dr. Zarni, a Burmese research fellow at the London School of Economics, the Burmese generals’ insensitivity to the survival needs of local communities has resulted in the rise in military tensions with respective armed organizations.
“The ruling military class in Naypyidaw has condemned the Burmese people to slavery, and has colonized the ethnic groups with their other hand,” he said. “Now this ruling class is fulfilling the wishes of the Chinese government, and what they want in return is China’s political protection on the international stage.”
Della-Giacoma described the current break in hostilities in Kachin State as “the lull before the storm.”
“We are not yet at a point of full resumption of conflict in Kachin, but if the Myanmar government doesn’t move quickly to create space for a de-escalation, that’s where this is headed,” he said.
Despite the presumed incentive of economic interests and the China factor, the core major cause of this conflict, the KIA official said, is the Burmese army’s attempt to subjugate the KIA under central command—a move the KIA has rejected, just as many other armed ethnic groups have done.
Added to the Kachins’ resentment toward Naypyidaw is that three Kachin political parties that tried to run in the parliamentary elections last year were banned from doing so on the grounds that their leaders were linked with the Kachin Independence Organization, the KIA’s political wing.
La Na said the KIA had lost trust in the Burmese government and will not accept any peace talks inside the country. He said that KIA wants a neighboring country to host a dialogue between it and the Burmese government, so that Naypyidaw can be held accountable.
“Our major goal is for a genuine federal union. We don’t seek independence,” he said.
Regarding the Chinese hydropower projects in Kachin State being included in any peace talks, the official said that although the KIA clearly rejects the Myitsone Dam project, which is not near KIA military bases, it is not in opposition to other dam projects in Kachin State.
“We wanted to have a say in these projects and make sure that the revenue from these dams benefits Kachin people too,” he said, adding that the apparent immediate objective of the Burmese army attack is to completely control full and direct access to China.
He said he does not rule out a large-scale major offensive by the Burmese army in the coming days.
“It depends only on the Burmese government,” La Na said. “We have prepared a broad defensive military position, just in case.
“But we know that real victims of war will be the people of the region,” he added. “That’s why we are not conducting military attacks in any other area except to destroy bridges to deter the Burmese army tanks coming in.”
Vietnam, Burma seek reciprocal support – Joseph Allchin
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 15 Jun 2011
A delegation from Vietnam has finished a high-level trip to Burma at a crucial time in regional diplomacy for both countries.The group was lead by Vietnam’s deputy prime minister, Hoang Trung Hai, and according to the state-run Vietnamese News Agency signed a raft of agreements on key areas of economic cooperation, from aviation, agriculture, finance and mining.
However there are key geopolitical issues for both countries: for Vietnam its recent spat with Beijing over South China Sea islands with oil potential will have necessitated a push by Hai to build regional allies and prize states away from the regional giant.
Burma’s campaign to garner support in its bid for the ASEAN chair in 2014 will have likewise been a big factor in the talks. Following discussions between Hai and Burmese Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo in Naypyidaw, the Vietnamese News Agency said Hanoi “supports Myanmar’s [Burma’s] bid to assume ASEAN 2014 chairmanship”.
But the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea is perhaps the more delicate issue. ASEAN nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines have attempted to bargain collectively with China, despite all three nations making separate conflicting claims over the tiny islands and maritime territories. Burma in this respect will have to tread carefully.
After making his first state visit since changing titles from prime minister to president, Thein Sein will have to balance ASEAN with China whilst simultaneously bidding for Beijing’s economic, military and diplomatic power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. He will also continue to push for the vital role of ASEAN chairmanship which will be a valuable boost to the country’s international image.
Vietnam meanwhile began live fire drills off its coast on Monday which, strikingly given recent history, will be with the US navy’s Pacific fleet, the world’s largest. The two old adversaries appear to have warmed in the face of a mutual threat, with the US allegedly pushing aggressively for stronger relations in order to dent China’s growing power.
Responding to the Spratly Islands dispute, China’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Hong Lei, told the Financial Times: “We hope that countries that are not parties to the South China Sea dispute truly respect the efforts of the countries concerned to resolve their disputes through consultation.”
The Vietnamese meanwhile have allowed street protests against the Chinese and, perhaps significantly, released lists on its official website detailing who would be exempt from military conscription should there be a war.
Despite their shared communist histories, Vietnam and China have long had an uneasy relationship, which resulted in a border war in 1979 shortly after the Vietnamese had finished vanquishing western powers from the country.
Vietnam remains an important player in ASEAN, while it is seen as a natural ally to Burma given its role as a powerful counter-balance to the more liberal nations such as Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. The economic relationship between the two countries also holds tremendous potential, with the Vietnamese News Agency quoting Thein Sein as “[speaking] highly of Vietnam’s achievements in its renewal process”.
In this respect Vietnam may provide the best template for economic reform for Burma, given the integration of private enterprise and foreign direct investment into its manufacturing sector. It has also seen huge success in developing its agricultural system to rival Thailand as a leading exporter of rice, likely prompting the agreement between Hai and Burmese agriculture minister U Myint Hlaing to cooperate in the agriculture sector.
Myanmar to launch satellite in cooperation with three countries
Xinhua: Wed 15 Jun 2011
Yangon – Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications authorities are planning to launch a satellite which cost about 200 million U.S dollars in cooperation with companies from Russia, China and Japan, local media reported Wednesday.As part of its bid to promote the country’s telecommunication and information sectors, the authorities have initiated the program in May this year, the Weekly Eleven journal said.
For launching satellite, Myanmar has set up a five-member central committee and a seven-member working committee.
The central committee for launching satellite is to lay down policy with the launching of state-operated satellite, approve satellite-launching memorandums of understanding and other related documents, and carry out tasks aimed at obtaining space-related technology.
Myanmar has to hire satellite system from foreign countries to launch its communication and TV programs such as Sky Net, Myawady, MRTV and MRTV-4 spending about 15 million USD annually.
As part of a move to seek cooperation with foreign counterparts for the development, the Department of Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) and the Department of Public Relations of Thailand have signed a memorandum of understanding on the aspects.
Myanmar is the third country to receive Thaicom service after Cambodia and Thailand.
On March 31, 2010, Myanmar International TV (MITV), which is MRTV-3 channel, began airing its regular program directing at international audiences.
In cooperation with China Central Television (CCTV), Cable Networks News (CNN) and the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), there are also satellite news available with the MRTV.
According to statistics, a total of 217 MRTV relay stations has been launched countrywide.
MRTV was first first launched in June 1980 with four channels including Myanmar and English languages telecasting news, education and entertainment programs.
Amnesty Int’l repeats call for inquiry into human rights abuses in Burma – Thea Forbes
Mizzima News: Wed 15 Jun 2011
Chiang Mai – Amnesty International has called on Burmese President Thein Sein to allow the ‘urgent establishment’ of the proposed international commission of inquiry into human rights abuses in Burma.The nongovernment group has researched and documented human rights abuses and crimes against humanity by the Burmese military in war-torn eastern Burma since 1988.
Calling Burma’s 2008 Constitution an ‘obstacle to justice’, Amnesty said, ‘Impunity for human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity prevails in Myanmar (Burma) and investigation and prosecution of these is obstructed by Article 445 of the 2008 Constitution’.
Article 445 effectively eliminates the culpability for any person who was an official in Burma’s military governments since 1988. It states, ‘No proceeding shall be instituted against the said Councils (SLORC/SPDC) or any member thereof or any member of the Government, in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties’. However, the laws would not apply to an international tribunal.
According to the campaign group’s statement, presented at the 17th UN Human Rights Council session in June in which dialogue was fostered between Burma and other countries, Burma accepted ‘only 74 of the 190 recommendations made during the review’.
Burma’s conclusion to the Universal Periodic Review gave responses to only some of the recommendations, one of which included reassurance that the Burmese military is an ‘all-volunteer army’. The Burmese response also concluded that ‘… Myanmar [Burma] is still inthe initial stage of a multi-party democratization process which will be enhanced and strengthened. As this process develops, Myanmar is convinced that it will be able to further promote and protect the human rights of its citizens’.
‘In light of this obstacle to justice, Amnesty International again calls for the urgent establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity and possible war crimes in Myanmar (Burma)’, said Amnesty’s statement.
The statement also condemned Burma’s ‘vague laws’ that it said the government utilizes to ‘criminalize peaceful political dissent’.
Benjamin Zawacki, an Amnesty International Burma researcher, told Mizzima that he thought the first step to dissolving the shield of impunity surrounding the military is to launch a commission of inquiry, as proposed by UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana.
‘An international commission only becomes relevant when a government is either unable or unwilling to hold its own officials to account, and the government seems, if not unable, certainly unwilling…it is now incumbent on the international community to step in on behalf of the citizens of Myanmar (Burma), where the government itself is essentially unwilling to do so’, he said.
Aung Myo Min of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma also told Mizzima that the 2008 Constitution allows military personnel in Burma to evade the hand of the law inside Burma.
‘The Constitution itself, like Article 445 allows amnesty for the military or anyone in authority; it provides them with amnesty’, he said. ‘Actually the Constitution should be the one that protects and promotes the rights of the citizens and guarantees justice for everyone, but the Constitution itself allows this kind of amnesty and protects the perpetrators and not the victims’.
The 2008 Constitution gives final say to the military in Burma, as exemplified by Article 343 (section b), which states that ‘In the adjudication of Military justice…the decision of the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services is final and conclusive’.
General Min Aung Hlaing took over from Than Shwe as commander-in-chief of the Burmese military in March.
A new ‘civilian’ government revives an old civil war – Editorial
Irrawaddy: Wed 15 Jun 2011
It’s been a long time coming, but it seems like the vaunted “peace” that Burma’s former military rulers brought to much of the country over the past two decades has finally reverted to war.Of course, we use the term “former military rulers” advisedly. The new government that has taken shape since last year’s bogus election consists of the same lineup of military hardliners that ruled in the not-so-distant past. And you can be sure that the one name conspicuously missing from this list—that of Snr-Gen Than Shwe—is still very much on the lips of his underlings now at the helm of the new “civilian” regime.
If there was ever any doubt about this, events in Kachin State since early this week should dispel them. The return to open hostilities between the Burmese army and the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA), ending a ceasefire that has been in place since 1994, is just the latest step in Than Shwe’s long-term project of “national reconsolidation”—his answer to calls for national reconciliation.
That’s why this week’s clashes in the northern Momauk region, near the Chinese border, should come as no surprise. As early as last year, Kachin leaders told The Irrawaddy that their refusal to buy into a scheme that would have put their troops under Burmese command as “border guard forces” probably made war inevitable.
On Monday, Kachin military commander Gwan Maw told Radio Free Asia that the conflict could turn into a full-blown civil war unless the government negotiates with the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization.
This is not an idle threat. Ever since a breakaway faction of a former Karen ceasefire group engaged in fierce fighting with Burmese troops near the Thai border immediately after last year’s Nov. 7 election, ethnic tensions have been rising. Since March, Shan State has also seen renewed conflict, with troops from the Shan State Army—including a brigade from a former ceasefire group—engaging in a series of skirmishes and battles with the Burmese army that have claimed casualties on both sides and killed dozens of civilians.
The most disturbing aspect of all this is that the Burmese government, flush with victory on the political battlefield, seems to be pursuing its policy of crushing its ethnic opponents with renewed vigor.
But this isn’t just a matter of getting on with the unfinished business of reasserting military control over Burma’s hinterlands. Increasingly, these areas are becoming key to the survival strategy of the country’s rulers.
It is no accident, then, that the worst clashes to occur so far have been in an area where China is building two major dams as part of a hydroelectric power plant. There have been reports that hundreds of Burmese government troops were deployed to the northern region to drive out Kachin forces after they refused to abandon a strategic base near the project. China officially confirmed that about 30 Chinese engineers from the state-owned China Datang Corporation were caught up in the conflict.
It is also no coincidence that the Burmese army’s decision to go on the offensive comes just weeks after the newly installed president, ex-Gen Thein Sein, traveled to China for his first official state visit in his new role to cement his government’s ties with Beijing.
One of the issues the two sides discussed was stability along their shared border, something that Beijing has been especially concerned about since 2009, when the Burmese regime routed the ethnic Kokang army, sending thousands of refugees fleeing into China. The question is, did Thein Sein get a green light from his hosts to go after the Kachin, in order to protect a project that is worth billions of dollars to China and Burma’s generals?
If so, the situation looks grim indeed for the KIA, whose leaders have confided that they will be hard-pressed to hold onto their bases for more than six months if they are faced with a full-scale offensive. With somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 troops, the KIA will be grossly outmatched by the 400,000-strong Burmese army, and may be hoping that China will intervene to bring the Burmese to the negotiating table to avoid a bloodbath and a fresh exodus of refugees across the border.
But it is not only the KIA and the other ethnic armies that should be worried by these developments. The new government’s willingness to resort to force is a throwback to the bad habits of the past, and only serves to confirm that Burma is still in the thralls of Than Shwe’s political vision of a nation united under his thumb.
Doing what’s ‘appropriate’
Radio Free Asia: Wed 15 Jun 2011
In a program broadcast on June 3, Aung San Suu Kyi highlights the need for a probe into the 2003 Depayin massacre and urges participation in a signature campaign demanding the release of political prisoners.Q:Â The present Burmese government has declared that it is a new democratic government. But why is this new government slow in exposing the truth about the Depayin massacre, which occurred during the time of the previous government? I have heard that leaders of other countries all over the world have been arrested and that action has been taken against them after massacres were exposed. But our present government has done nothing with regard to such cases.
A:Â We have asked the authorities to start an investigation with regard to the Depayin incident. Punitive action and revenge are not the main issues in our request, though. We want to highlight the fact that it is not permissible"”in a country where integrity, honor, responsibility, and the rule of law are prevalent"”to ignore unlawful acts against the people. I think that with regard to the honor and integrity of the country, you would have to ask those people who are responsible why they have not done the appropriate thing in this matter.
Q:Â Why do people who do not do anything for the country themselves only like to blame and criticize people who make personal sacrifices and work in the interests of the country? What would you say to those people?
A:Â Generally, we can look in two ways at the reasons why people who will not do anything themselves blame and criticize others. Some have a guilty conscience for not doing anything themselves, and therefore act in a reckless manner or as if they are mad. Then there are those who want a lot of things to happen"”but who, not understanding their own responsibility, blame others for not being effective in their work and become angry and dissatisfied. In short, I would just say that these people are irresponsible and ignorant of their own responsibilities.
Q:Â In 1989, you pledged that NLD members would participate in the Martyrs"™ Day march to the Martyrs"™ Mausoleum and that they would pay their respects at the mausoleum. Many NLD members attendedÂ this march because of your pledge. Just as Martyrs"™ Day drew near, though, many NLD members got into trouble. Some fled the country, some were arrested, and some were imprisoned. What is your answer with regard to the accusation that many NLD followers got into trouble because you, as a leader, retracted your pledge at that time?
A:Â It was I who was responsible for canceling the plan to march to the Martyrs"™ Mausoleum. It was necessary to change the plan, and I take responsibility for the consequences. I have not heard that any of the lives of the people who went to the march were wrecked"”whether they went to the march because they did not know that the plan had been canceled, or because they did not accept that the plan had been canceled. As far as I am aware, not one person who went to the march was given a long prison sentence. Three women who distributed notices canceling the march were sent to jail for three years. In fact, quite a lot of people who did not attend the march were also sent to jail. That was by arrangement of the SLORC. It had nothing to do with our Martyrs"™ Mausoleum plan.
Q:Â In my circle of people, whenever I ask them about human rights or democracy, most answer that they are not interested in politics. They say that politics is none of their business. And recently, a learned economist said in an interview with a media organization that politics is none of his business, and that he is concerned only with the study of economics. When I heard this, I felt that I could not leave it at that and thought that I should ask you about this. What I would like to know is, what is the meaning of politics? And is it appropriate for every citizen to participate and work in politics?
A:Â Just as I have answered this type of question many times, I think I will have to repeatedly keep saying what politics is and who should be concerned with it, so that this will be embedded in the hearts and minds of the people. Politics is a matter that concerns all citizens, whether they want to be concerned with it or not. To put it simply:Â Isn"™t it true that the government of a country is closely connected to politics? Whether one likes it or not, a government"™s actions have an effect on the lives of every citizen. If a person is an economist, there is no reason for him not to know anything about politics. Perhaps he has a cold.
Q:Â Foreigners who have an interest in Burma are asking me whether it would be a good idea to stage demonstrations by all of the Burmese people both inside Burma and abroad at the same time on the same day to demand the immediate release of all political prisoners. Isn"™t this the time when the United Nations and the international community are closely monitoring the new Burmese government, and also when efforts are being made for the U.N. Security Council to decide on a resolution regarding the establishment of an Inquiry Commission on Burma?
A:Â It is a good idea to plan demonstrations all over the world demanding the release of political prisoners. But for the moment, I would like you all to enthusiastically participate and help in the signature campaign that has been organized by the Democracy Network. This campaign demands the release of political prisoners, a ceasefire in the country, and the right of Burmese people who have left Burma to be able to return peacefully. I would like you to urge other Burmese around you, and also those foreigners who are interested in Burma, to participate and add their signatures to this campaign.
Q:Â On the last New Year"™s Day, at the ceremony paying respects to the elderly held at the NLD headquarters, I saw you presenting the Unknown/Unsung Heroes Award to three political prisoners. I also saw you, yourself, signing and supporting the signature campaign demanding that the country"™s president release all political prisoners that is being organized by the youth inside the country. What is your view and thinking with regard to the political prisoners and the unknown/unsung heroes?
A:Â There would be a lot to say if I were to talk about the political prisoners and the unknown/unsung heroes. The most important point is that political prisoners are courageous people who dare to risk prison just to stand up for their political beliefs. Unknown/unsung heroes are those people who have struggled inspired by that kind of courage, and who people are unaware of, and yet continue with their life"™s struggle while holding on to their beliefs.
Q:Â I once read in a book that in any country, people get the government they deserve. Is this Burma"™s situation at this moment?
A:Â What I know of this quote is that this was said by a Frenchman, de Maistre, who desired a government completely controlled by kings and popes and who opposed science and liberal policies. That kind of analysis with unbending views is narrow-minded. As for me, I believe that we must struggle inspired by the belief that every citizen has the ability to create his or her own country"™s destiny.
A grim trade: Trafficking Palaung women to China - Simon Roughneen
Irrawaddy: Tue 14 Jun 2011
Bangkok: Unscrupulous traffickers, Burma’s economic decline and militarization, and a shortage of males caused by China’s "One Child Policy"� have all combined to contribute to the trafficking of women from the Palaung region of Burma into China, says a locally based activist group."Since 2007, we have documented 72 cases of actual and suspected trafficking involving 110 people,"� said Lway Moe Kam of the Palaung Women’s Organisation (PWO). The caseload includes 11 children under 10 years of age.
Twenty-five percent of the women trafficked were forced to marry Chinese men and 10 percent of the caseload were coerced into the sex trade, according to the PWO, which grimly concluded that nine out of 10 trafficking victims do not escape.
According to a particularly gruesome account given by one victim of trafficking, she was taken to a building in Shandong, eastern China, where people were kept as live feed for leeches, used in Chinese medicine. "I saw some people in that room lying in pools of water. They were all fat, but looked lifeless and were not moving. Then I saw that there were leeches sucking those people’s blood,"� said the unnamed woman.
The PWO concedes that the number of trafficking victims is likely to be higher than reported, with real figures difficult to determine due to local cultural constraints, further hampered by the logistical and security challenges confronting researchers working in the area. In 60 percent of the cases analysed, it remained unclear exactly what kind of situation the victim was trafficked into.
"Traffickers work in secret, and the presence of the army means that we have to be careful when doing research and talking to people,"� said Lway Aye Nang, another PWO representative.
Palaung culture frowns upon extramarital sex, meaning that trafficked women who suffer sexual crimes "are often reluctant to admit they have been trafficked,"� said Lway Moe Kah, the lead author of the PWO report, "Stolen Lives" Human Trafficking from Palaung Areas of Burma into China."�
In perhaps a surprising finding, 65 percent of the trafficking perpetrators were female, a factor that Lway Moe Kam puts down to the greater trust placed in women by the eventual victim of trafficking. “It sounds better if the job offer is made by a woman,” she said, though Khin Ohmar, a Burmese exile activist based in Chiang Mai, cautioned that the female perpetrators might themselves be coerced into recruitment by other traffickers, likely male, who dominate the trade.
The investigation focused on the townships of Namkahn, Namhsan and Mantong in the Palaung region of Shan State, which sits on the Burma-China frontier. In the absence of recent census date, the Palaung are thought to number around one million people, mostly mountain-dwellers in an area laden with gold, silver, zinc and aluminum.
China’s one Child Policy has contributed to a relative scarcity of women in the country, with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences recently predicting that 24 million Chinese men of marrying age could be unable to find a wife by 2020. While the laws are not as aggressively imposed in rural areas close to Burma as they are in China’s eastern seaboard cities, they contribute to a growing gender imbalance, with sex selection abortions "extremely common,"� according to the Academy.
With families restricted by law to one, or perhaps two children, a cultural preference for male offspring has been exacerbated, said the Chinese researchers, resulting in 119 boys born for every 100 girls, a disparity that rises to 130-100 in some rural areas.
According to US government in its 2010 report on global human trafficking trends, Burma’s government has been working to combat some aspects of trafficking, such as the international sex trade. Burma prohibits sex and labor trafficking through its 2005 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, in which traffickers are classed in the same category as rapists.
However the US report said that Burma’s internal trafficking situation had worsened, mentioning the use of child soldiers and forced labor by the army, abuses that are particularly common in ethnic minority areas.
However, the law is not applied on the ground, according to Palaung and Kachin researchers, and Burma’s policy in other areas directly or indirectly contributes to the trafficking of women and children, they say, with conflict and economic decline forcing people to migrate, making them vulnerable to traffickers and criminal gangs.
Within Burma, the Palaung are perhaps best known for the local tea industry, which in recent years has been commandeered by the Burmese army, a factor that the PWO say has contributed to the human trafficking problem in the region.
The PWO accuses the Burmese army of monopolising the tea industry, and of "forcing local people to sell their tea to military-supported companies at very low prices."� The ensuing income drop contributes to increased economic migration within Shan State and across the border to China, which renders local women vulnerable to traffickers.
Describing a similar scenario in Burma’s now conflict-wracked Kachin State, Khaung Seng Pan of the Kachin Women’s Association"“Thailand (KWAT) says that "a lack of jobs and the army’s presence has pushed people out."�
Her organisation says that it is aware of 130 cases of human trafficking into China from Burma since 2010, involving women and children from Kachin State.
Kachin State sits north of the Palaung region in Shan State, similarly sharing a border with China. Since June 9, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese army have fought on-off battles, with the KIA accusing the government of breaching a long-standing ceasefire agreement and of encroaching into KIA-held areas.
Naypyidaw is demanding that the KIA and other ethnic militias become part of the country’s border guard, a proposal which most of the militias have rejected.
As dollar falls, FECs plummet
Irrawaddy: Tue 14 Jun 2011
Rangoon — The US do
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