[Readingroom] News on Burma - 11/7/11
- Politics still ‘off limits’ for Suu Kyi after tour
- 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 prisoners
- 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 Burma
- 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 release
- Thein Nyunt calls up veteran politicians
- Press scrutiny official ‘satisfied’ with transition to self-censorship
- Ceasefire Talks Produce Old Rhetoric, No New Agreement
- Support of democracies key for Myanmar: Suu Kyi
- Daewoo to expand resources business as prices rise
- Burma ranked 18th on failed state index
- China exploits role as best friend of poor, isolated Myanmar
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.
Observers 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 Yangon.
“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.”
Suu Kyi, 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 view.
“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.
The question 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 Myanmar.
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 University.
“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 popularity.
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 time.
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 poll.
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 unfair.
Some observers think the new government would have no qualms about limiting Suu Kyi’s freedom again if she is perceived as a threat.
“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 said.
“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.
Political prisoner 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 prison.
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 Burma.
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 Burma.
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 freely.
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 not.
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 AAPP-B.
The Burmese government’s 100 days of silence – Editorial
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 followers.
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 businesses.
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 political arena.
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 – Htet Aung
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 staff.
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 Burma.
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 their crops.
Than Oo’s wife claims that the subsequent attack on the farmers was directed at her husband, and was ordered by the retired army major.
To further emphasize his power, the following day Win Myint turned the tables on the farmers and pushed through his own lawsuit.
However, 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 Township Court.
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 prison.
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 months.
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.
First, how 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.
“But the 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 charges.”
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 that.”
Taken at face value, Aung Thein’s comments and accusations highlight the immense necessity for reform in Burma’s corrupt judicial system.
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 down?
“I’d say that there is no independent judicial system in Burma,” said Aung Thein.
The rut and roar begins in Burma – Aung Zaw
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 the election.
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 in Burma.
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 safe.
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 Mann presidency.
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 affairs.
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 wealthy.
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.
In 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.
Than 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 little.
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 it?
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 kickbacks?
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 Ogutcu
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 producer.
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 influence.
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 ministers.
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 technocrats.
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 lifted.
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 Bengal.
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.
However, one 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 regional opportunities.
Report card on Burmese President Thein Sein’s first 100 days: Words not matched by actions
ALTSEAN-Burma: Fri 8 Jul 2011
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
(ALTSEAN-Burma) revealed that it was “business as usual” for the Burmese military despite President Thein Sein’s much-promoted image as a “softliner.”
The briefer 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.
“If this 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 1-2.
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 2005.
Stoll added, however, that the visits were limited to observing water distribution and hygiene in the prisons, and did not include meetings with prisoners.
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 on Thursday.
“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 Jagan
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.
The 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.
The vice-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 added.
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 MPs.
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.
But for 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 sources.
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 vice-president.
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 capital.
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 Myin).
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 Shwe’s bidding.
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 32%.
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.
Over 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 their state.
According to the report, Arakan also has the lowest level of literacy, with 71% of primary enrollment rate and 32% of secondary enrollment rate.
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 urban dwellers.
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 – Michael Gabaudan
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.”
However, western 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 crises.
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 malnutrition.
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 legal status.
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 medical cases.
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 India.
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 intelligence
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 Swe.
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 Hlaing.
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.
The new 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 armies.
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 ruling Burma
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.
“He 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 distribution.
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 trips.
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 blame.
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
(Message over 64 KB, truncated)