- Politics still ‘off limits’ for Suu Kyi after
- ICRC should visit prison labour camps in Burma
- The Burmese government’s 100 days of silence
- Shedding light on Burma’s judicial system
- The rut and roar begins in Burma
- Relaxed sanctions equal lucrative opportunities for
Turkish entrepreneurs in Myanmar
- Report card on Burmese President Thein Sein’s first 100
days: Words not matched by actions
- ICRC returns to Burmese prisons, but doesn’t meet
- Burma’s octopus strangles reform
- Arakan the second poorest State in Burma
- Driven from Burma, scorned by Bangladesh
- Than Shwe disciple to head Burma’s intelligence
- State Minister reveals USDP’s 50-year plan for ruling
- China urged to halt Myanmar dams
- Rethinking Japan’s Myanmar policy
- Cronyism: A legacy of military rule in Burma
- Intelligent Dialogue Partners or Useful Idiots?
- Myanmar carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’
- German weapons firm in Burma capital
- Aung San Suu Kyi makes first trip since her
- Thein Nyunt calls up veteran politicians
- Press scrutiny official ‘satisfied’ with transition to
- Ceasefire Talks Produce Old Rhetoric, No New
- Support of democracies key for Myanmar: Suu Kyi
- Daewoo to expand resources business as prices
- Burma ranked 18th on failed state index
- China exploits role as best friend of poor, isolated
Politics still ‘off limits’ for Suu Kyi after
tour – Hla Hla Htay
Agence France Presse: Fri 8 Jul 2011
Bagan, Myanmar — Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi drew large crowds on a
landmark trip to rural Myanmar that tested her freedom, but experts say the
regime will tolerate her activities only up to a point.
The Nobel Peace
Prize winner was trailed by plain clothes police but allowed to travel
unhindered as she avoided making public speeches on the low-key four-day
excursion to the ancient city of Bagan and nearby villages.
warned that a full political tour, if it goes ahead, could still trigger a
confrontation with the new army-backed government, which has issued stern
warnings for Suu Kyi to stay out of politics.
“The regime playing nice to
her this time should not fool anyone into thinking that as soon as she travels
the country to in effect reconnect with her base politically the regime is to
sit back and watch, undisturbed,” said Maung Zarni, a researcher and activist at
the London School of Economics.
Suu Kyi refrained from any overtly
political activities that might have antagonised the regime during her first
trip outside the main city of Yangon since she was freed by the junta from house
arrest last November.
The democracy hero, who spent most of the past two
decades as a prisoner in her own home, made no comments on Friday to a throng of
reporters following her every move before she boarded a flight back to
“We had a break but did not rest,” her youngest son Kim Aris, a
British national who accompanied his mother on the trip, told AFP. “There were
too many people everywhere, but you can’t get away from that.”
66, signed autographs and posed for pictures as she visited temples, markets and
souvenir shops in and around Bagan, one of the top tourist destinations in
Myanmar, also known as Burma.
As word spread that the softly-spoken but
indomitable opposition leader was nearby, hundreds of supporters gathered to
catch a glimpse, some weeping with joy and others shouting: “Mother Suu, may you
be in good health!”
The crowds that she attracted, while much smaller
than those seen when she last travelled in 2002 and 2003, were a reminder of her
enduring popularity among many Burmese, despite a long absence from public
“I dropped what I was doing at home when I heard she was coming. I
had to meet her in person,” 54-year-old housewife Nwe Nwe said while waiting to
greet Suu Kyi in front of a lacquerware workshop in Bagan.
now is whether the success of the trip emboldens the dissident to launch a tour
with a more overtly political tone, in defiance of a warning from the regime
that “chaos and riots” could ensue if she went ahead.
The regime is
sending Suu Kyi a clear message that overt political activities such as public
speeches are “off limits”, said Trevor Wilson, a former Australian ambassador to
But her National League for Democracy party “might think it’s
worth their risk being a bit provocative… They do need to demonstrate that
they’re relevant,” said Wilson, a visiting fellow at Australian National
“It’s a bit of a cat-and-mouse game but it’s very hard to be
confident that it’s going to end peacefully. It’s more likely to lead to some
kind of disorder. There could be minor violence,” he said.
Security is a
major concern because Suu Kyi’s convoy was attacked in 2003 during a political
trip, in an ambush apparently organised by a regime frightened by her
Suu Kyi — the daughter of Myanmar’s liberation hero General
Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947 — was arrested along with many party
activists on that occasion and later placed under house arrest for a third
The dissident’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party sent many
of its own members to Bagan this week to protect her, one of the party’s private
security personnel told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“We think the
authorities also took care of the security. They asked local people not to do
this and that,” he said.
Suu Kyi’s release in November was widely seen as
an attempt to deflect criticism of an election that was marred by complaints of
cheating. The military’s political proxies claimed an overwhelming victory in
The NLD, which won a landslide election victory two decades ago
that was never recognised by the junta, was disbanded by the military rulers
last year because it boycotted the recent vote, saying the rules were
Some observers think the new government would have no qualms
about limiting Suu Kyi’s freedom again if she is perceived as a
“I think they would quite quickly restrict her movements if she
did something that gave them a pretext,” said Wilson.
ICRC should visit prison labour camps in
Burma: Political prisoner – Te Te
Mizzima News: Fri 8 Jul 2011
New Delhi – Burma’s many prisons give prisoners poor food and bad health
services, and prisoners need the help of the International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC), a former political prisoner and families of political prisoners
“I had to serve my prison term when the ICRC did not come to the
prison, so we had to fight for our basic rights regarding the food. Usually we
only got very low quality vegetable soup called ‘talabaw’ and low-quality rice,”
a former political prisoner Kyaw Win Tun told Mizzima.
icrcKyaw Win Tun,
an NLD member, was charged under section 505 (b) of the Penal Code and sentenced
to two years in prison. In May 2011, he was released under the one-year
commutation ordered by new President Thein Sein.
Pannate Tun, an “88 Generation” student who is now serving his prison term in
Bhamo Prison in Kachin State, said he wanted the ICRC to go to prison labour
camps, according to Pannate Tun’s mother, Nyunt Nyunt Oo, who visited him last
month at Bhamo Prison. Pannate Tun was sentenced to 65 years in
She said her son passed on this message: “If the ICRC doesn’t
come to us, let it be. But, they really need to go to the prisoners’ labour
camps. Prisoners died because of insufficient food, ruthless exploitation, and
very hard work.”
The Thai-based Assistance Association for Political
Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B) said that the Burmese government needs to provide
prisoners with healthy food by modern standards.
“The standards set in
Burma’s prison manual were set in British colonial times, so they do not conform
to today’s prices. And the Directorate of Prison Administration cannot provide
the prisoners with enough food at today’s prices,” AAPP-B joint secretary Bo Kyi
told Mizzima. He said the Burmese government should let the ICRC work freely in
From 1999 to late 2005, the ICRC was allowed to visit prisons
across Burma and give prisoners help in order that they could get healthy food
and good health services in accordance with international standards. Moreover,
the ICRC gave money to families of political prisoners in order that the
families could visit their loved ones.
But at the end 2005, the former
junta told the ICRC that if it wanted to visit prisons across Burma, it must be
accompanied by a member of the now-defunct Union Solidarity and Development
Association. As a result, the ICRC stopped visiting prisons across
In early June, US Senator John McCain visited Burma for three days
and urged the Burmese government to let the ICRC visit prisons in Burma
On Thursday, the state-run newpaper New Light of Myanmar reported
that an engineer and officers from the ICRC were allowed to visit Mawlamyine,
Hpaan and Myaungmya Prisons on July 1, where they inspected the situation
regarding accessibility of water and electric power in the prisons. The
newspaper did not mention whether the ICRC met with prisoners or
Since 1986, the ICRC has provided help to mine victims and the
handicapped in Burma.
There are 42 prisons and 109 prison labour camps in
Burma. There are total 1,994 political prisoners in Burma, according to
The Burmese government’s 100 days of silence –
Mizzima News: Fri 8 Jul 2011
On March 30, Burma
officially vacated the title of the world’s only purely military dictatorship.
Yet, it has now been 100 days since ex-General Thein Sein morphed into President
Thein Sein, and the question must be asked what happened to the voices of the
vast majority of parliamentarians elected last November, or even that of the
newly enshrined president?Despite the 498 elected parliamentarians in both
national houses, state policy under the brief tenure of President Thein Sein
appears to be dominated by a select inner cabinet numbering some 40 high-ranking
ministers, most of whom are recent high-ranking retirees of Burma’s armed
forces. This regrouping of power within a tightly centralized structure was
further on display with the recent announcement that such ministries as health,
education and religion now fall under the purview of the central government, as
opposed to operating under state legislatures.
Left with precious little
to do other than await verdicts handed down to them from the inner cabinet,
Parliament has thus far failed to assert itself on the Burmese political
landscape in any discernable fashion, with motions ranging from amnesty for
political prisoners to alternative solutions in ending ethnic conflicts to the
environmental impact of ongoing dam projects all meeting with de facto vetoes
from members of Burma’s ministerial elite.
But can President Thein Sein
really be held responsible? While the knee jerk reaction is to throw the book at
him as nominal head of state, the truth is that it is entirely unclear just how
much weight the president’s opinion carries in central decision-making
processes. Significant issues at stake include the handling of ongoing ethnic
insurgencies as well as popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her
Nevertheless, whether President Thein Sein is more of puppet
or puppeteer, the government is pursuing a policy of economic and financial
reform unarguably aimed at quelling the specter of popular discontent stemming
from a lack of political reform. Focal points of the strategy include poverty
eradication, and exchange rate and monetary policy. Already, state worker
pensioners have learned of a raise in their income from the state, further
evidence of fiscal policy seeking to preempt widespread political upheaval via
economic machinations. Additionally, there is speculation that the cabinet will
turn to its estimated US$ 3.7 billion in reserve to bolster small
There are undoubtedly positive outcomes that could be
realized with investment in Burma’s broader population, and this could in turn
raise the profile of the president and the façade of parliament––especially as
such measures could have been, but were not, undertaken in the preceding
decades. However, this misses the point of the election of nearly 500
legislators, the end product of a 15-year National Convention process that
promised political reform.
In a world where economics increasingly dwarfs
politics in mature democratic societies, dictating policy much as the political
axis once did in a more ideologically driven age––Burma stands as a stark
counter case. While no one will contest the fact that Burma has plenty of room
for improvement in areas of infrastructure and development, the construction of
physical bridges can in no way alone span the gaping fissure menacing Burma’s
The lack of political reform has additionally leant more
credence to the views of those that refuse to engage in the process. Why should
they take part? What benefit is it to them? As such, would those invested in the
parliamentary process not be better off actively incorporating elected
parliamentarians into policy-making processes? Stifling the naysayers? The
option is on the table.
But, if there is one tentative conclusion to be
drawn from the 100 days of relative silence and inactivity characterizing
parliamentarians as well as the president, Burma’s ultimate powerbrokers
continue to reign largely out of sight, unaccountable and beyond the reaches of
the Burmese population.
Shedding light on Burma’s judicial system –
Irrawaddy: Fri 8 Jul 2011
Than Oo and four
other farmers were returning home by motorbike late on the evening on March 21
when they were stopped at the entrance to their village by a mob of about 20
construction workers from the site of a chemical factory.The farmers were beaten
with iron bars, dragged to a building inside the site, locked inside and left
overnight in a semi-conscious state.
The following day, the boss of the
construction site quickly filed a complaint with police, saying his employees
had been subjected to verbal abuse, including “rude words,” and that the farmers
had thrown stones at the building site, and had punched a member of his
The local court threw in a charge of riding motorcycles without
licenses and, after a series of hearings, the five farmers were each sentenced
to terms of more than 10 years in prison.
This absurd perversion of
justice would be considered ridiculous in most countries, but in Burma cases
like this are part of everyday life, their existence born out of judicial
corruption, nepotism, and a gangster mentality that ensures that the wealthy and
powerful are immune from prosecution while the poor and the innocent are
routinely flayed in public.
As in so many cases where justice has been
flagrantly abused in Burma, a look behind the scenes at the background to the
incident paints a clearer picture.
The main player in the incident was
ex-Maj Win Myint, the manager at the chemical factory construction site, which
is located in the suburbs of the village of Sitsayan in Kamma Township, a
rice-farming community in central Burma’s arid Magwe Region.
The site is
jointly operated by Myanmar Economic Holdings Co. Ltd (MEHC), a military-owned
corporation, and the ubiquitous Htoo Group of Companies (HGC), which is run by
Tay Za, who recently claimed to be the first billionaire in
According to the farmers’ lawyer, Aung Thein, some weeks prior to
the brutal attack, Than Oo and three other farmers (though not the ones who were
attacked and imprisoned) filed a lawsuit at the Kamma Township Court against Win
Myint and two other officials of the MEHC for illegally confiscating some 4,000
acres of farmland for the purposes of building a factory, and of destroying
Than Oo’s wife claims that the subsequent attack on the
farmers was directed at her husband, and was ordered by the retired army
To further emphasize his power, the following day Win Myint turned
the tables on the farmers and pushed through his own lawsuit.
Win Myint’s malice went one step too far.
Upon hearing about the
outrageous conduct of the company’s manager, the villagers of Sitsayan crowded
the courthouse to support the farmers.
Fearing retaliation, Win Myint
convinced the judge at the Kamma Township Court to transfer the case to Minhla
Ruthless retribution was sought against the accused
farmers and each were given sentences of more than 10 years. For his role in the
fabricated litany of crimes, Than Oo was sentenced to 11 years and 6 months in
However, Rangoon-based veteran lawyer Aung Thein was not prepared
to surrender the case. His legal team is part of a legal network organized by
the National League for Democracy, and it appealed the sentence to the district
court in Minbu.
To the astonishment of everyone, they won the legal
battle, and succeeded in getting the farmers’ sentences cut to just three
Than Oo and the four other farmers were released last week from
Thatyet Prison, where they had been detained since March, and returned to their
village as free men.
However, this encouraging success raises a number of
questions on the impartiality of Burma’s judicial system.
could a township court and a district court differ so dramatically on lengths of
sentence imposed for such minor crimes?
“It really is a rare success,”
said Aung Thein. “However, the district court [in Minbu District] maintained the
decision of the lower court [in Minhla Township] that the farmers were guilty.
Nonetheless, it amended the sentences.”
And what about just rewards for
Win Myint and his thugs?
“Than Oo’s wife filed a lawsuit against Win
Myint, accusing him of organizing the attack,” said Aung Thein.
court decided the accusation was unfounded, imposed small fines on two of the
employees who were involved in the attack, and dropped the rest of the
He added: “As you all know, Burma’s judges today stand
alongside the person or company that wields the power, such as MEHC and HGC, two
of the most influential firms in the country.”
President Thein Sein
pledged in his first presidential speech that the new government must carry out
“clean and good governance.” Asked whether a reform of the judiciary should be
one of the first priorities of the new administration, Aung Thein said, “Handing
out the maximum sentence is such an easy job. Even a court clerk can do
Taken at face value, Aung Thein’s comments and accusations
highlight the immense necessity for reform in Burma’s corrupt judicial
In addition, the new government must move to seriously review the
cases of more than 2,000 political prisoners, some of whom have been given
inhumane 60- to 100-year sentences.
Another important question is: how
many prisoners cannot afford to hire a lawyer or have no awareness of court
proceedings and appeals systems? How many farmers similar to Than Oo are serving
time for minor crimes that do not warrant the lengthy sentences handed
“I’d say that there is no independent judicial system in Burma,”
said Aung Thein.
The rut and roar begins in Burma – Aung
Irrawaddy: Fri 8 Jul 2011
Only three months into the
formation of Burma’s new quasi-civilian government, a power struggle has emerged
among the former top generals who removed their uniforms and donned longyi in an
attempt to convince the world that the country was on the road to disciplined
democracy.Like two stags during the rutting season, ex-Gen Shwe Mann, the
current speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, and ex-Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo,
the current first vice-president, are bugling their presence, butting antlers
and collecting allies.
Although it’s hard to predict where this conflict
will lead, the pressure is on new President Thein Sein to settle the matter
before it gets out of control. If Thein Sein does not resolve the situation,
then he will he be sidelined and Burma could be thrown back into the dark ages
of military dictatorship.
Shwe Mann was once the most up-and-coming
member of the previous junta, which called itself the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC). He served as joint chief of staff in the armed
forces and was the number three man in the SPDC. His official title was Tatmadaw
Nyi Hnying Kutkae Yay Hmu, or coordinator of Special Operations, Army, Navy and
Air force, a position created by the recently “retired” dictator, Snr-Gen Than
Shwe, and offered to Shwe Mann in the early 2000s.
In this position, Shwe
Mann oversaw the operations of the armed forces and earned the respect and
cooperation of regional commanders. It was believed that he would have the solid
backing of the military following the official retirement of Than Shwe and his
deputy, Gen Maung Aye, and as a result he was tipped to become president after
Shwe Mann’s success and popularity, however, may have
contributed to his comeuppance. His steady rise in the armed forces perhaps
alarmed the ever-paranoid Than Shwe, who passed him over for president in favor
of the more malleable and less dangerous Thein Sein—a man much less likely to
turn against Than Shwe and his family (the way Than Shwe turned against previous
dictator Gen Ne Win and his family).
Thein Sein was previously a loyal
officer to Than Shwe, and while acting as prime minister for the former junta,
he proved to be a front-man who was adept at carrying the diplomatic water for
the generals. He is no saint—we must always remember that he was a top general
and prime minister in a ruthless regime—but he is known to be less corrupt than
most of the former junta leaders and a good listener. Although it was rumored
that Thein Sein wanted to retire due to health reasons after the election, Than
Shwe needed him and asked him to stay on.
An embarrassed and beleaguered
Shwe Mann suffered another blow when, to the surprise of many, Than Shwe picked
Tin Aung Myint Oo to be the first vice president. The former Secretary 1 and
number four ranked member of the SPDC, who also served in the powerful position
of Quartermaster-General, is a hard-liner renowned for his foul mouth and grumpy
demeanor. He also has a reputation for allegedly taking massive kickbacks for
granting business concessions to Burmese cronies and Chinese companies investing
But none of this deterred Than Shwe from tabbing Tin Aung Myint
Oo to be the first vice president. This should come as no surprise, however,
because the move is classic Than Shwe—he wants a good cop and a bad cop in the
new administration, believing that as long as there is internal conflict he is
Just as the former dictator must have predicted, there is now clear
tension among the top officials in the new civilian regime. The question
remains, however, as to whether Than Shwe was too clever by half, because if his
maneuvers set the stage for another dictator to emerge in the person of Tin Aung
Myint Oo, he may be in more danger than he ever would have been under a Shwe
Given his hard-line attitude and clear quest for power,
it is not surprising that Tin Aung Myint Oo has emerged as a strong, and
possibly the strongest, leader in the new civilian regime. He has inserted
himself directly in the decision-making process, bypassing President Thein Sein
to get his way on matters ranging from the budget to trade policies to security
In addition, Tin Aung Myint Oo is now believed to be allied with
Kyaw Hsan, the information minister, and Khin Aung Myint, the speaker of the
Upper House who is also a protégé of Than Shwe. With this Machiavellian trio in
place, Tin Aung Mying Oo has personally interfered with many major decisions of
the new government, undermining both Thein Sein’s executive authority and his
ability to implement policy.
Tin Aung Myint Oo has also been able to
muffle the voice of Shwe Mann, whose recent speech to businessmen in Rangoon was
censored by Kyaw Hsan’s information ministry.
Shwe Mann asked the group
of businessmen to be good citizens of Burma and promised that he would do the
same in furtherance of Thein Sein’s public vow of “good governance” by the new
authorities. He even said that “no one in Burma is above the law,” words he last
spoke when the regime removed powerful intelligence chief Khin Nyunt in 2004.
This time, his use of the phrase left everyone wondering whether the comment was
directed towards a certain individual—maybe rival Tin Aung Myint Oo, or ever
Than Shwe himself?
The Lower House speaker went on to say that if there
is no Parliament in a country, the citizens will be oppressed—apparently
forgetting the fact that he was one of the most prominent and powerful members
of the former military regime, and the fact that two of his sons received major
business concessions from that regime that made the family very
But Shwe Mann also admitted Burma’s failure, saying the country
is lagging far behind, and acknowledged its pariah status in the eyes of the
world. These candid remarks impressed many of the businessmen who heard him
speak, but didn’t impress Kyaw Hsan, who did not let news reports of the speech
see the light of day.
The former joint chief of staff, however, is too
powerful to be silenced completely and cannot be counted out. It is believed
that Shwe Mann has the loyalty of the current commander in chief of the armed
forces, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who some observers note has begun to flex his
muscles with the recent shuffle of the regional military commanders.
addition, everyone is aware that Than Shwe is still watching from behind the
scenes. A retired senior general who served in the SPDC’s predecessor, known as
the State Law and Order Restoration Council, cautioned that Burma’s past
military dictators never leave in peace—suggesting that they always come back to
interfere in politics.
A case in point is Gen Ne Win, who officially
retired in 1988 but continued to pull many strings until he was finally accused
of conspiring to stage a coup and placed under house arrest in 2002.
Shwe, Burma’s most recent ex-dictator, is also a master political chess player
who has no qualms about influencing the current administration when it suits his
desires, and as one businessman close to Burma’s top brass recently told me, “No
one wants to wake the sleeping tiger.”
Sitting in the middle of this
emerging power struggle among former generals—all of whom were more powerful
than him in the previous regime—is the meek and indecisive President Thein Sein,
who over the last three months has made some good speeches but accomplished very
Thein Sein is well aware of the rise of Tin Aung Myint Oo’s
faction in the government, the very existence of which undermines his promises
to govern well and stamp out corruption. But what can he realistically do about
Can a president whose entire political existence is beholden to a
still-influential former dictator fire a vice-president on the rampage, who is
both undermining his authority and is rumored to be taking massive
If Thein Sein can muster the political will and backing to do
so, the people of Burma will say his actions are beginning to match his words,
and the country may stand a chance. But if he cannot, we only have to look back
over the last few decades of Burmese history to predict the outcome of an
internal power struggle: The military wins, and the people lose.
Relaxed sanctions equal lucrative
opportunities for Turkish entrepreneurs in Myanmar – Mehmet
Today’s Zaman (Turkey): Fri 8 Jul 2011
London – It
is now a business-as-usual matter to see Turkey’s extremely mobile and
risk-prone entrepreneurs in the most unlikely places all over the world. I would
not be surprised if they have already started knocking on doors and forging
lucrative business alliances in Yangon, Mandalay, Naypyidaw and Mawlamyaing. As
we speak, they might even have taken positions and established themselves in
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia
– almost as big as Turkey in terms of landmass and with 56 million people.Last
November after a national election, parliament — packed with retired and serving
soldiers — dissolved the junta, the State Peace and Development Council. The end
of military rule was seen as a move to attract much-needed foreign investment to
a country that just over 50 years ago was one of Southeast Asia’s most promising
and wealthiest, the world’s biggest rice exporter and a major energy
The 78-year-old paramount leader, Senior General Than Shwe,
named General Min Aung Hlaing as his successor as commander-in-chief. With his
top allies in key posts in the army and government, Than Shwe has effectively
insulated himself from a purge by preventing the emergence of another strongman.
Experts agree he is likely to maintain broad behind-the-scenes
Few expect immediate political, economic or social reforms,
with the same generals, now retired, in control of a country where 30 percent of
the population lives in poverty and botched policies and Western sanctions have
blighted its economy.
The historic handover of power by the military
junta was greeted with skepticism by the international community and Myanmar’s
opposition, most of whom have lived under a succession of brutal army
dictatorships. Members of the junta retained prominent roles as president, vice
president, parliament speaker and cabinet ministers or regional
The international community is now seeking engagement with the
new government after decades of frosty ties with the junta. Western sanctions
will be in focus although it is unlikely that the embargoes, considered a
failure by many analysts, will be fully lifted any time soon.
The EU has
relaxed some of its sanctions against members of Myanmar’s government, signaling
a more flexible approach by the West. Travel and financial restrictions have
been suspended for four ministers — including the foreign minister — and 18 vice
ministers in the new government. It is the first easing of curbs since they were
imposed in 1996 in response to abuses by the junta. It follows the swearing-in
last month of a new nominally civilian government. However, critics have labeled
the new so-called civilian administration a sham, since it is made up of former
generals, some serving military officers and a handful of
The EU Council said in a June 2011 statement that the
application of a visa ban and asset freeze for “certain civilian members of the
government” would be lifted for a year, especially for Myanmar’s foreign
minister “as an essential interlocutor” with the West. “We recognize that there
have been changes in the government, and we will judge the new government by its
actions,” said David Lipman, the EU’s ambassador to Myanmar. All those who have
had their restrictions suspended have never served in the military or, as in the
case of Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, left the army more than a decade ago.
The council also said a ban on high-level EU visits to Myanmar would be
However, restrictions against the rest of the country’s ministers
will be maintained, and trade and financial sanctions will remain in place for
at least another year. Analysts say the argument for or against economic
sanctions in Myanmar is a controversial subject both inside and outside the
country. Those wanting sanctions lifted, who have gained a stronger voice after
Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, say they hurt everyone, rather than just the leaders
they target, or that they have little impact, as foreign trade with countries
like Thailand and China goes on anyway.
International sanctions against
the Myanmar military regime are fast eroding under pressure from the Austrians
and Germans eager to do business there. The Austro-German argument seems to be
the classic “if we don’t someone else will” as Chinese, Japanese and Southeast
Asian businessmen take advantage of the fact that the long-awaited elections
have taken place, irrespective of the fact that they were unrepresentative of
the country’s true political mix. Italy and Spain too have reportedly pushed for
the modification of sanctions, whereas the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic
and others urged that they remain in place.
One of the possible reasons
for this dramatic reversal is Myanmar’s emergence as a significant regional
exporter of natural gas. Such exports currently account for around 13 percent of
Myanmar’s gross domestic product (GDP). At present the gas is exclusively
exported to Thailand, but in late 2013 (should events go as planned) significant
gas volumes will be piped across Myanmar and into China’s Yunnan Province. This
gas will come from new fields (the so-called “Shwe” fields) that are currently
being brought to the point of exploitation off Myanmar’s coast in the Bay of
Recent feedback from the EU indicates a strong desire on the part
of the EU countries to shift any gas volumes going to China to other
destinations. While this strategy is principally directed at encouraging the
flow of Central Asian gas westward into Europe, this line of thinking may also
have an influence in the lifting of sanctions in Myanmar.
should also caution that Myanmar is both a dream and a nightmare for companies.
As with any authoritarian regime, the political risks are very high; the primary
goal of any company is to get into the good graces of the generals by offering
them the right financial terms, but this is an extremely opaque and
unpredictable process, subject to power plays within the junta and the finite
lifespan of any patron. What makes Myanmar worth it? Profits are clearly the
attraction. Myanmar is a largely untapped commodity market offering high
returns. Rising discovery and increasing energy production, including natural
gas and hydropower, is making the market increasingly attractive for foreign
investors. It isn’t to prevent damage to their corporate image that stops more
Western companies from working there; it is the sanctions that are now in the
process of being relaxed.
The Myanmar regime is so keen for investment
that it is relatively easy for companies to start up projects. The lack of
regulation, on the other hand, and the active support of the Myanmar government
and all the resources it has to offer, just add to the attraction. As sanctions
have kept so many Western companies out of the picture, Asian enterprises are
having a field day in Myanmar. With less competition, Asian companies probably
have to pay less to do business. Companies operating in Myanmar will likely have
to give fewer concessions to secure their contracts. Moreover, due to
geographical proximity and better understanding of the Myanmar market and
government regulations, Asian investors might have an edge over investors from
the US and Europe.
These developments signify the opening of new
investment and trade opportunities. Time is of the essence for Turkish business
groups to include, if they have not already done so, Myanmar in their strategic
market strategies. Myanmar’s value doesn’t just rest on the country itself but
also on the regional linkages that it offers through its strategic geographic
location. It is a dynamic crossroad linking Southeast Asia, Western China
(Yunnan) and the Indian sub-continent and serves as economic gateway to a
potential vast market of over 2 billion consumers as well as a sub-regional
economic nodal link. Working in Myanmar will also facilitate tapping into these
Report card on Burmese President Thein Sein’s
first 100 days: Words not matched by actions
ALTSEAN-Burma: Fri 8
Bangkok – One hundred days after assuming the presidency in
Burma, former General Thein Sein has failed to take any meaningful steps towards
political, legal, and economic reforms. Thein Sein’s policies have been a
continuation of the State Peace and Development Council’s programs.In a
five-page briefer, the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma
revealed that it was “business as usual” for the Burmese military despite
President Thein Sein’s much-promoted image as a “softliner.”
found that the Tatmadaw continued to commit crimes against humanity and war
crimes in Burma against both urban and rural populations. Tatmadaw troops
continued to attack, kill, and rape ethnic civilians, while over 2,000 political
prisoners continued to be detained under atrocious conditions.
is Thein Sein in his first 100 days, one dreads to think what the rest of the
year is going to be like for the people of Burma,” said ALTSEAN-Burma’s
Coordinator, Debbie Stothard. “His actions and policies seem to be exactly the
opposite of the promises he made.”
The briefer can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/okzuw8
ICRC returns to Burmese prisons, but doesn’t
meet prisoners – Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Thu 7 Jul 2011
For the first time in nearly six years, officials from the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been allowed back into Burma’s prisons.
Their mission, however, was to carry out technical inspections, and did not
involve meeting prisoners.The state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar,
reported on Thursday that three officials from the ICRC’s water and habitat
engineering department visited three prisons—Myaungmya Prison in Irrawaddy
Division, Moulmein Prison in Mon State and Pa-an Prison in Karen State—on July
Philippe Marc Stoll, a regional spokesperson for the ICRC, told the
BBC that the organization welcomed the opportunity to resume its work in Burma.
The ICRC had been denied permission to enter the country’s prisons since late
Stoll added, however, that the visits were limited to observing
water distribution and hygiene in the prisons, and did not include meetings with
Despite the limited scope of the ICRC’s activities on this
occasion, the news was greeted as a positive development.
“We are happy
to hear that the ICRC has been permitted to resume its work. Health conditions
in the prison will likely improve as a result,” said Kyi Kyi Nyunt, the elder
sister of well-known political prisoner Min Ko Naing, speaking to The Irrawaddy
“But it would be better if they could meet the political
prisoners,” she added.
Bo Kyi, the joint-secretary of Thailand-based
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said that the move was due to
pressure on the Burmese regime.
“If there hadn’t been any pressure, the
ICRC would not have been allowed to reenter. Even now, it still hasn’t been
allowed to do its work effectively,” he said, adding that it was too early to
call this a sign of improving conditions for prisoners under the new nominally
civilian government formed in March.
The ICRC started its work in Burma
in 1986, providing physical rehabilitation for mine victims and other disabled
people. ICRC delegates carried out regular visits to detainees in prisons and
labor camps until the end of 2005. However, since 2006 the authorities have not
permitted the organization to continue this activity according to its standard
procedures applied worldwide.
Burma’s octopus strangles reform – Larry
Irrawaddy: Thu 7 Jul 2011
Bangkok — Burma’s new
quasi-civilian government is under threat from within—and a military coup may be
brewing as inertia has replaced the old junta. The newly elected President Thein
Sein is embroiled in a power struggle that is paralysing any progress toward
political or economic change.It has emerged that Vice-president Tin Aung Myint
Oo is deliberately trying to undermine the new president and assert his
influence over the new army chief, Gen Min Aung Hlaing. “He’s trying to control
everything,” a Burmese businessman told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity.
As a result, the president’s planned economic reforms and the release of
thousands of political prisoners have been put on hold.
vice-president represents the old guard—and their hard-line attitudes—and he
wants to make sure everything stays unchanged. His mentor, the former top junta
leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe has withdrawn from the day-to-day activities of
government, leaving a power vacuum which Tin Aung Myint Oo is trying to fill at
the expense of the more reform-minded president.
(commonly known in Burma as “Shid-lone,” meaning “eight words,” because his full
name is Thi Ha Thu Ra Tin Aung Myint Oo) is trying to establish himself as the
new dictator—or the most powerful man in the country. Everywhere he turns he
tries to establish his authority, according to sources in Naypyidaw who say he
uses every opportunity to usurp the president’s authority.
He has been
left with few avenues of formal influence now that the trade council he headed
has been dissolved, but that has not dampened his efforts to monopolize the
economy. “He’s a spoiler,” said a senior government official. And if he comes
out on top, the country will be returned to the Dark Ages, he
After every Cabinet meeting, which usually takes once a week, the
ministers are summoned into his room—without Thein Sein—for tea and an
ear-bashing. Sources in Naypyidaw say he tries to exert influence on government
decisions behind the scenes, especially on economic matters—especially import
and export licences and company registration, which he previously controlled as
head of the trade council.
The commerce minister has to report to him
twice a day, according to sources in the capital. Ministers were shocked
recently when their budgets were arbitrarily cut by 20 to 40 percent—except
Defence, of course—by Tin Aung Myint Oo. Some ministers are reportedly so upset
that they are using their own personal funds to pay for new schools and health
centres, a Burmese businessman recently told The Irrawaddy.
There is a
major battle for control going on between the president and his vice
president—one which will determine whether the government’s plans and vision set
out in Thein Sein’s speech to the parliament more than three months ago will be
implemented. After the president ordered the export tax to be reduced to 5
percent, the vice president intervened—with the support of the finance
minister—and had it reduced to only 7 percent.
Perhaps the most critical
tussle is over the role the army is to play under the new regime. Under the new
army chief, it seems clear that the army is no longer involved in politics. They
are very much back in the barracks. Interestingly, the military MPs in both the
national houses of parliament were virtually silent during the discussions in
parliament during its first session earlier this year.
Min Aung Hlaing
told the military MPs—who occupy 25 percent of parliamentary seats—before the
parliament started its session that their duty was to rebuild the tarnished
reputation of the army through their political work. “It’s your duty to become
seasoned politicians,” he reportedly said, “as you represent the future Burma.”
He virtually blamed the old guard for the current mess, said one of the military
But Burma’s new “Octopus,” Tin Aung Myint Oo, is unhappy with this
current state of affairs. He wants the army to exert pressure on the executive
and legislature in his favour. Several weeks ago, the vice-president summoned
the army chief to see him and lectured him on the power structure, telling the
general that he was the boss, as militarily he outranked Thein Sein. A silent
Min Aung Hlaing was then reportedly assaulted with an ashtray.
the present, it seems the army chief remains his own man, intent on reforming
the military machine, making it more professional. He is after all, according to
several military sources, part of the army’s 88 generation. He definitely
supports Thein Sein—at least for the moment, according to senior military
This new generation of army commanders are close to Vice Snr-Gen
Maung Aye, according to a Western intelligence source.
They dislike but
respect Than Shwe, said the source, but they completely despise the
But the Octopus is marshalling his forces. Information
and Culture Minister Kyaw Hsan has emerged as one of his main allies. He
recently tried to get him co-opted to the National Security Council, which is
emerging as one of the most important institutions in the post-junta framework.
This was unconstitutional and resisted, according to military sources in the
For the moment these layers of political intrigue are dogging
Burma’s movement forward—albeit to a unique form of guided democracy. With the
Octopus tentacles tightly controlling business in Burma, he is slowly
transforming the new hierarchies.
Even trusted old business friends of
Than Shwe, such as Tay Za, are finding themselves shut out as control of the
economy is being handed over to the new business leaders—criminals such as
Stephen Law (aka Tun Myint Naing) of AsiaWorld and Ko Ko Gyi (who now owns Shwe
They are the new breed of Chinese mafia businessmen—and they are
currently making vast profits with the Octopus’s blessing and support. After
all, Tin Aung Myint Oo is himself reportedly very close to Beijing, and has
profited enormously as a result. This is going to have very significant
consequences for the future Burma.
But the real danger to Burma’s
political future—while the power struggle between the two politicians is
unresolved—is the possibility of a military coup, led by the army chief, at Than
Vice-president Shid-lone and his cronies remain the
villain of the peace, and seem intent on continuing to paralyse any political
and economic reforms that would benefit the country and the people.
Arakan the second poorest State in Burma
Narinjara News: Thu 7 Jul 2011
Dhaka: Arakan ranks second
after Chin State for poverty among the fourteen states and divisions in
poverty-stricken Burma, according to a report of results from a survey on
household living conditions.
The report, titled “Poverty Profile”, was
published by the UNDP in Burma in June 2011 and was based on surveys taken in
2004 – 2005 and 2009 – 2010 through its Integrated Household Living Conditions
Assessment that has been implemented with the Burmese government’s Ministry of
National Planning and Economic Development.
The report said the highest
rate of poverty is in Chin State, at 73%, followed by Arakan State at 44%,
Tanintharyi Division at 33%, Shan State at 33%, and Ayeyerwaddy Division at
Arakan State in the western coastal region has potential, with its
geographically rich natural resources, to become a developed and prosperous
state compared to other states and regions in Burma. But, Arakanese intellectual
Dr. Aye Kyaw from New York says, Arakan being ruled as a hidden colony with
militarization for many years is the main reason it has become an impoverished
state in Burma.
“Arakan is just a hidden colony existing under cover of a
state with over militarization by the Burmese forces for so many years. Now
there are over 60 battalions based in the state and they are not the forces
being deployed for the well-being of the state, but for monopolizing the state’s
resources for their own benefit, and these are the reasons why Arakan became
impoverished,” said Dr. Aye Kyaw.
He said the forces have confiscated
many arable lands from the local people and contained the people’s access to
natural resources with strict rules within the state.
Dr. Aye Chan, an
Arakanese professor from Japan’s Kanta University, also said the high level of
poverty afflicts the state because the government and its armed forces has
monopolized even resources such as land, waters, and forests, on which the local
residents depend for the livelihoods.
“All natural products and resources
are being monopolized by the government and its forces in Arakan State. For
example, the local residents have no right to fish in their nearby waters such
as ponds, creeks, rivers, and the sea, for their livelihoods without paying a
huge toll and tax to them. That is the reason why the highest level of poverty
afflicts the state,” said Dr. Aye Chan.
He said despite the multibillion
international business projects being constructed for exporting gas and oil
found in onshore and offshore fields in Arakan State, most of the Arakanese
people are fleeing their homeland to find jobs elsewhere to survive.
three million people are now living in Arakan State and it is estimated that
over a million people have left their homeland for mainland Burma and
neighboring countries due to political oppression and economic hardships in
According to the report, Arakan also has the lowest level of
literacy, with 71% of primary enrollment rate and 32% of secondary enrollment
In terms of electricity, Arakan State has the lowest access rate,
with just 26% of the population having access to electricity, most of whom are
However, the report said the poverty rate has fallen by
6% across the whole of Burma according to the 2009 – 2010 survey as compared to
the 2004 – 2005 survey, and the current poverty rate in the country is 26%, of
which 70% is from people living in rural areas.
Driven from Burma, scorned by Bangladesh –
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 7 Jul 2011
It’s the “Rohingya problem.” Burma’s history of brutal persecution of
the Rohingya – coupled with their lack of citizenship rights – have forced
hundreds of thousands of people to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s
Minister of Food and Disaster Management, Abdul Razzaque, recently blamed
western countries for “keeping the problem alive.”
countries are not to blame for keeping the “Rohingya problem” alive. The plight
of the Rohingya originates with the Burmese government’s abuses of this
minority. Numerous Rohingya refugees say they can barely sleep at night in Burma
due to the constant fear of the NaSaKa, or border police, at their door.
However, persecution of the Rohingya is made worse by Bangladesh’s failure to
respond in a humane manner to this refugee crisis. Bangladesh’s intransigence in
refusing to allow protection and assistance to this very vulnerable and
desperate population has only exacerbated one of the world’s most neglected
In an ongoing policy review, the Bangladesh government must
protect the Rohingya’s basic human rights to safety, food, shelter, and – as
stateless people – an identity. First and foremost, this requires a process to
register Rohingya refugees. Only 28,000 out of at least 200,000 Rohingya
refugees are registered – which enables them to access legal justice and basic
protection. Residents know that they can abuse Rohingya refugees with impunity
because the unregistered refugees cannot access justice. Furthermore, those not
registered are not allowed to work, nor are they provided with any food or
livelihood assistance. As a result, they face severe
Rohingya also face unlimited detention for working
illegally, even though it is often the only way they can keep their families
alive. Many Rohingya women are left alone while their husbands are held in
detention or are forced to stay far away from their families to make money for
their survival. Unregistered Rohingya refugee women in these circumstances have
suffered sexual assaults, but cannot access justice because of their own lack of
Bangladesh has made significant progress in reducing
poverty and lowering the rates of maternal and child mortality over time. It has
proved resilient in the face of famines, cyclones and civil war. As a result,
Bangladesh is one of the top development aid recipients, with more than $US2
billion provided last year primarily from western countries like the United
States and the United Kingdom.
Unfortunately, little of the international
aid money is going to help the Rohingya. In fact, Bangladesh is willing to
deprive its own citizens of international assistance in order to maintain
inhospitable conditions for the Rohingya. Recently, Bangladeshi authorities
rejected a $33 million aid package from the United Nations intended for Cox’s
Bazar, one of the most impoverished districts in the country, and where the
majority of Rohingya refugees live. The UN program was designed to help reverse
the annual three precent economic decline, a decline that Minister Razzaque
blames on the Rohingya refugees. Other Bangladesh authorities say that the aid
package was rejected because it might encourage other Rohingya currently living
in Burma to flee to Bangladesh. This is appalling.
Bangladesh has not
been forced to deal with the problem of the Rohingya refugees alone. Western
countries provide the bulk of funds for the UN refugee agency and
non-governmental organizations that provide assistance. Eight western countries
have also resettled more than 700 Rohingya refugees. Yet last October,
Bangladesh abruptly halted all refugee resettlement, including for urgent
Bangladesh and other refugee-hosting countries in the
region must recognize that the Rohingya refugees are not going to stop escaping
from Burma until the Burmese government ends the ongoing persecution of these
people. Instead of blaming the victims, Bangladesh, along with China, India and
Thailand, must address the root cause and pressure Burma to reinstate
citizenship rights for the Rohingya. Bangladesh has leverage with its neighbour
– Dhaka’s relationship with Burma has grown significantly since a deal was
agreed to create a gas pipeline from western Burma through Bangladesh and on to
After hosting Rohingya refugees for more than 30 years, the
Bangladeshi authorities must realize that denying them their basic rights does
nothing to resolve the problems posed by their presence in the country. Now is
the time for the Government of Bangladesh to demonstrate that it is a
responsible and accountable international partner by prioritising and protecting
the rights of Rohingya refugees.
* Michel Gabaudan is president of
Refugees International, a Washington DC-based organization that advocates to end
refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding.
Than Shwe disciple to head Burma’s
Irrawaddy: Wed 6 Jul 2011
A trusted disciple
of former Burmese junta chief Than Shwe will now head the country’s intelligence
body following a major reshuffle last week of the military’s upper echelons.Army
sources told DVB that Major General Soe Shein, once Than Shwe’s personal
security officer, will now take the helm of Burma’s intelligence unit, known as
Military Affairs Security (MAS), replacing its former chief, Major General Kyaw
New regional army commanders have also been appointed in the first
major shake-up of the military since the elections in November 2010, which saw
the ascent of the powerful new commander in chief, Min Aung
Sources said the reshuffle affected at least six regional
military command (RMC) zones around the country, including Rangoon RMC, Southern
RMC, Southwestern RMC, Western RMC, Eastern RMC and Triangle RMC, close the
conjunction of the Burmese, Thai and Laotian borders.
General San Oo,
commander of the Taunggyi-based Eastern RMC will replace his Rangoon counterpart
Brig-Gen Htun Than, while Brig-Gen Soe Htut, commander of the Southern RMC, will
move to the Taunggyi office.
The appointment of Soe Shein to such a
senior position will likely reignite speculation of Than Shwe’s lingering grip
on the Burmese military: defence ministry sources told The Irrawaddy Magazine in
April that reports from the War Office marked ‘confidential’ were still being
sent to the 77-year-old, despite officially retiring as head of the military
following the elections.
His position alongside Min Aung Hlaing, another
Than Shwe confidante, as one of the country’s most powerful military figures
also suggest that Than Shwe is building a trusted network of comrades that will
ensure his safety into the future – a pertinent concern for Burma’s leaders
given the regime’s history of sometimes vicious power struggles.
military commanders are being introduced at a time when internal armed conflict
is raging on an almost unprecedented scale, with at least four border states
currently hosting fighting between Burmese troops and ethnic
Reasons for the reshuffle remain unclear. It comes only 10 months
after a major shake-up that saw more than 50 senior Burmese military officials
nudged up the army hierarchy to fill spots made vacant by the mass ‘retirement’
of the country’s leading ringmasters before the polls.
As of last week,
many of those men, including Kyaw Swe, have been replaced, but their
destinations are not known.
State Minister reveals USDP’s 50-year plan for
Narinjara News: Wed 6 Jul 2011
Kyauk Pru: A
minister from the regional government in western Burma’s Arakan State has
recently publicized that the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has
an “outstanding plan” to rule the country for the next 50 years. The
pronouncement was made by U Soe Aye, USDP member, minister of finance and
customs, and the former minister of transport in the Arakan State government,
during an address to the public during his village-to-village travel for paddy
seed distribution in Kyaukpru Township in southeastern Arakan State.
arrived to our village on 23 May, 2011, to distribute paddy seed, and while he
was speaking to the villagers through a loudspeaker he said that the local
Rakhine party is just in step to follow and clap in praise for whatever his
party has done in the present government, and his party has planned well for
ruling the country for the next 50 years,” said an elder from Kyaktwapyin
Village in the area.
The minister is said to have traveled to other
villages, including Thaychaung, Kyaukne, Mingan, Kyaukngu, and Taungrun for
paddy seed distribution and has made similar declarations while speaking to the
villagers in those towns as well.
A villager from Taungrun Village also
confirmed the statement was made by the minister during his visit to their
village for seed distribution.
“He told us not to vote for other parties
besides his own in the next election while distributing paddy seeds to us, and
said that no party except his party would be able to fulfill the necessities in
the country because his party is the only one that will rule the country for
next 50 years”, said the villager.
Another villager from Kyaukngu village
also said the minister rebuked a school teacher who served as in-charge for the
village’s polling station and defamed the MPs of local Rakhine Party for his
party’s loss in the last election.
“The minister, with no relation to his
seed distribution, scolded and blamed a school teacher who served as an
in-charge of the village’s polling center for his party’s loss to the local
Rakhine party in the last election before the villagers, and also defamed the
MPs of the Rakhine party as uneducated who have no ability to make a class-eight
after adding two of them and as becoming MPs for clapping and following his
party in the government”, said the villager.
Minister U Soe Aye is a
strong member of the USDP in Arakan State and was elected from the second
constituency of Gwa Township in the last election for the state parliament, but
no candidate of his party was elected from the area he traveled to for seed
According to the villagers, it was unknown whether the
paddy seed distribution was being done in the area from his party’s funds or
state funds, but the minster had well spread propaganda for the support of his
party, defaming the local party and distributing a small amount of paddy seeds
to the villagers.
They said senior officials from the USDP in the present
government have often defamed the local party before the public openly and have
also implied to the local people that they should ask the local party if they
need roads, schools or clinics, whenever they visit the area on their official
China urged to halt Myanmar dams
Wall Street Journal: Wed 6 Jul 2011
A coalition of
Myanmar dissident groups called on China to halt a series of dam projects it is
building in the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation, the latest sign of rising
hostility toward Chinese investment there.
The call comes as sporadic
fighting has continued between Myanmar troops and ethnic insurgents in dense
jungle areas near Myanmar’s borders with China and Thailand, including areas
close to some of the dams. Although details about the fighting with Kachin and
other ethnic-group rebels are scant—the areas are largely off-limits to
outsiders—dissident groups in communication with the groups say that as many as
10,000 people have had to flee and that resentment over the dams is a
significant contributing factor to the conflicts. Decades-old animosities
between the ethnic groups and Myanmar’s powerful military are also to
Separately on Tuesday, democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was mobbed
by supporters—and trailed by plainclothes policemen—while visiting the ancient
ruins of Bagan in central Myanmar, the Associated Press reported, but otherwise
the day passed without incident. It was Ms. Suu Kyi’s first trip outside of
Yangon since being released from several years of house arrest late last year,
and supporters have been watching cl
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