Monday, March 31, 2008

Junta's draft constitution backs status quo


art.myanmar.jpg

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Myanmar's draft constitution perpetuates military domination of politics and protects junta members from prosecution for past actions, according to a copy of the document obtained Monday.

Myanmar has been under mounting pressure over its crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The draft was completed in February and will go before voters in a May referendum. It has not yet been made public, but a copy of the 194-page text was obtained by The Associated Press.

The draft charter allots 25 percent of seats in both houses of parliament to the military.

It also effectively bars pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president or a lawmaker because she was married to a foreigner, maintaining a controversial clause from guidelines used to draft the charter. Her late husband, Michael Aris, was British.

Another clause in the draft protects members of the current junta, which has been in power since 1988, from legal prosecution for any acts carried out as part of their official duties.

In September a deadly government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and monks drew worldwide attention to the repressive regime, which has been under international pressure to make democratic reforms. The U.N. estimates at least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained in the crackdown.

The ruling junta has also long been under global criticism for its detention of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

After it was criticized for the crackdown, the junta announced it would hold a referendum in May on the new constitution, followed by long-awaited general elections in 2010. The junta calls the process its "roadmap to democracy."

Critics have denounced the roadmap as a sham designed to perpetuate military rule, noting that the drafting process did not include Suu Kyi or members of her opposition National League for Democracy party.

The country's last election was held in 1990. The military refused to hand over power after Suu Kyi's party won by a landslide.

The draft constitution would legitimize a military takeover in the event of an emergency. It would empower the president to transfer legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military's commander in chief for a year if a state of emergency arises.

It also stipulates that the text cannot be amended without the consent of more than 75 percentof lawmakers -- making proposed changes unlikely without support from military representatives
in parliament.

The new constitution is supposed to replace the one scrapped when the current junta took power in 1988.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Engaged Buddhism: Increase in activism puts more monks in line of fire

“Engaged Buddhists are looking at the social, economic, and political causes of human misery in the world and organizing to address them.

The role of social service and activism is clearly growing in all parts of the Buddhist world.”

Associated Press

Buddhist monks march in a protest against the military government in Yangon, Myanmar, in September 2007. Monk-led protests in Tibet and Myanmar reflect growing activism among Asia’s Buddhists.


By Denis D. Gray

Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand – Buddhist monks hurling rocks at Chinese in Tibet, or peacefully massing against Myanmar’s military, can strike jarring notes.

These scenes run counter to Buddhism’s philosophy of shunning politics and embracing even bitter enemies – something the faith has adhered to, with some tumultuous exceptions, through its 2,500-year history.

But political activism and occasional eruptions of violence have become increasingly common in Asia’s Buddhist societies as they variously struggle against foreign domination, oppressive regimes, social injustice and environmental destruction.

More monks and nuns are moving out of their monasteries and into slums and rice paddies – and sometimes into streets filled with tear gas and gunfire.

“In modern times, preaching is not enough. Monks must act to improve society, to remove evil,” says Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile and a high-ranking lama.

“There is the responsibility of every individual, monks and lay people, to act for the betterment of society,” he told The Associated Press in Dharmsala, India, discussing protests in Tibet this month that were initiated by monks.

In widespread protests over the past three weeks, crimson-robed monks – some charging helmeted troops and throwing rocks – have joined with ordinary citizens who unfurled Tibetan flags and demanded independence from China. Beijing’s official death toll from the rioting in Lhasa is 22, but the exiled government of the Dalai Lama says 140 Tibetans were killed there and in Tibetan communities in western China.

Bloodshed also stained last fall’s pro-democracy uprising in Myanmar, dubbed the “Saffron Revolution” after the color of the robes of monks who led non-violent protests against the country’s oppressive military regime.

In Thailand, followers of a Buddhist sect took part in street demonstrations that led to the ouster of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra two years ago.

In Sri Lanka, the ultra-nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya party, led by monks, has pushed for using brute force against the country’s Tamil rebels. In 1959 a monk assassinated a prime minister over a law giving some protection to the Tamil language.

Indeed, the activism reflects another side of Buddhist history. Despite the faith’s image of passivity, an aggressive strain has long existed, especially in the Mahayana school of Buddhism, practiced in Japan, Korea, China and Tibet.

The sohei, monks in Japan, fought pitched battles with one another and with secular clans for more than 600 years until around 1600. China’s Shaolin Temple, a martial arts center to this day, was allowed to retain warrior monks from the seventh century by emperors who sometimes used them to put down rebellions and banditry.

The monk Saya San became a national hero in the 1930s in Myanmar – then Burma – by leading a revolt. The British colonials hanged him after fielding 12,000 troops to suppress his peasant army.

The self-immolation of monk Thich Quang Duc on a Saigon street became an iconic image of protest against the Vietnam War.

Before China’s takeover of Tibet in 1959, warrior monks sometimes wielded more power – and weaponry – than the army. Lhasa’s Sera monastery, a hotbed of the recent protests, was particularly noted for its elite fighters, the “Dob-Dobs,” who in 1947 took part in a rebellion that took 300 lives.

“Use peaceful means where they are appropriate, but where they are not appropriate, do not hesitate to resort to more forceful means,” said the previous, now deceased Dalai Lama when Tibet fought the Chinese in the 1930s.

Christopher Queen, an expert on Buddhism at Harvard University, says the new trend among some of the world’s 350 million faithful is expanding from individual spiritual liberation to attacking problems such as poverty and environmental blight that affect whole communities or nations.

Sri Lanka’s Sarvodaya Shramadana, or “Mundane Awakening,” provides everything from safe drinking water to basic housing in more than 11,000 poor villages.

And in India, Buddhist groups are fighting for the rights of “the untouchables,” the lowest caste.

Global and loosely affiliated, originating at the grass roots rather than atop religious hierarchies and more muscular than meditative, this movement is widely known as Engaged Buddhism.

“Engaged Buddhists are looking at the social, economic, and political causes of human misery in the world and organizing to address them.

The role of social service and activism is clearly growing in all parts of the Buddhist world,” Queen said in an interview.

While not immune to spilling blood, Queen says “the Buddhist tradition is rightly known for the systematic practice of non-violence.”

That leads scholars to doubt it will turn to terrorism or sustained violence other than occasional spontaneous outbursts.

They note that Buddhism doesn’t advocate killing heretics or otherwise spreading the faith by force.

Indeed, the Dalai Lama has decried the recent violence while supporting peoples’ rights to peaceful protest.

And Samdhong, the prime minister-in-exile, adds: “If (monks) want to fight, they have to disrobe and join the fighters.”

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rice sales crippled


Exporters unable to buy rice because of widespread hoarding and speculation have begun defaulting on orders from around the world worth up to $5 billion.

The president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, Chookiat Ophaswongse said on Friday, "There will be a lot of defaults coming up, because we cannot find any rice in the market.

"What's happening now is a lot of traders have started to negotiate with buyers abroad on how to compensate them because we cannot buy any rice."

The rice trade has been hard hit this year by unprecedented price volatility in the market, sparked by India's decision to halt rice exports. Vietnam and Cambodia also have ordered a halt to foreign sales.

India traditionally exports about 4 million tons of rice a year.

"And this year they just stopped, so that 4 million tons out of a market of say 29 million tons was removed," said Chookiat.

Vietnam, the world's second largest rice exporter after Thailand, has also put a cap on its exports at about 3.5 million tons this year, 1 million tons less than expected, and Egypt has stopped all exports, taking another 1 million tons off the world market.

"So now everyone is turning to Thailand, and this is a problem," Chookiat told the news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Rice exporters, who usually sell forward at a fixed price and then buy on the local market to meet orders, have suffered unprecedented losses this year in the face of dramatic price increases, sometimes jumping $20 a day per ton.

The price of 100 per cent Grade B white rice, for instance, has jumped from $420 per ton in early January to $720 now, almost doubling.

"By my estimates, the rice traders have lost around 4 to 5 billion baht ($127 million to $159 million), at least," said the rice trader.

Chookiat criticised Thai Commerce Minister Mingkwan Sangsuwan for encouraging Thai farmers to hoard their rice in order to fetch better prices for it. Not only farmers, but millers and local businessmen have started hording and speculating on Thai rice, creating an artificial shortage for exports.

The government currently has a 2.1-million-ton stockpile that it has promised to distribute to the poor to alleviate high rice prices.

The stock is expected to last about three months, after which the government will need to go to the market to replenish their stocks, predicted Chookiat.

The crunch for the export market will also come in three to four months, when Indonesia and Iran are likely to seek imports of 1.5 million tons and 1 million tons, respectively, to meet local demand, Chookiat forecast.

Thailand has been the world's leading rice exporter since the mid-1960s. Last year, Thailand's rice exports hit an historic high of 9.55 million tons, earning the country $3.6 billion.

This year's rice exports are estimated to reach 8.75 million tons, if exporters aren't forced to default on orders, earning as much as $4.7 billion. (BangkokPost.com, dpa)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

AEC is poised to prosecute Thaksin for the EX-IM BankBurma deal


The Assets Examination Committee has scheduled Monday to rule on the prosecution of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra for abuse of power relating to his involvement in the extending of Bt 4 billion by the EX-IM Bank to Burma.

AEC panel chairman Sak Korsaengruang said he would recommend for the trial of Thaksin as the sole defendant for increasing the loan from Bt3 billion in order to finance a telecom deal with Shin Satellite, seen as linked to his family.

The deal caused Bt99 million in damages computed from the interest subsidy paid by the Finance Ministry to make the soft loan available.
The Nation

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Protester burns himself at Burma pagoda-witnesses

YANGON (Reuters) - An unidentified man apparently suffering from economic hardship in military-ruled Myanmar has set himself ablaze in the country's historic Shwedagon Pagoda, witnesses said on Sunday.



Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thai takes a stand on Beijing 2008 Olympic


M.R. Narisa Chakrabongse has withdrawn from a group of just six Thai torchbearers chosen by China to carry the Olympic Flame next month, to protest against the violent crackdown in Tibet.

The founder and chairwoman of Bangkok-based Green World Foundation, M.R. Narisa wrote that she "will not participate in the torch-running ceremony at the Beijing Olympic Games in response to the severe violation of human rights in Tibet."

She added that hoped she and GWF could "send a clear signal to China that its actions could not be accepted by the international community."

M.R. Narisa is one of only six green activists selected to carry the Olympic Flame when it arrives in Bangkok on April 19 under the "Green Olympics" theme.

M.R. Narisa wrote her forceful views in an open letter to the media, released on Saturday.

"The slaying of the Tibetans since the middle of March is an outright violation of human rights," the letter said. "It happened two weeks before the Olympic torch bearer leaves Athens and five months before the Olympics Games.

"This reflects the Chinese goernment's negligence of world sentiment."

The pullout from the cememony by M.R. Narisa will put heavy pressure on other Thai NGOs selected to participate in the torch relay in Thailand, because she has impeccable credentials as a leader of so-called green activities.

The other five are:

  • Admiral Kohlak Charoenrook, adviser to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environment
  • Pornwut Sarasin, vice-chairman of The Coca-Cola Foundation, Thailand
  • Sumet Tantivejkul, chairman of the Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute
  • Thon Thamrongnawasawat, marine biologist and faculty of marine science at the Kasetsart University and
  • actress Ammara Siripong

    The GWF chairwoman was invited by Coca-Cola Thailand to participate in the torch ceremony at the Games to represent Thai conservationists and campaign for measures to combat global warming.

    Her open letter urged the Beijing government to urgently review its policy towards Tibet.

    In addition to the six green activists, China and local supporters selected 80 other Thais to carry the torch through Bangkok next month. Each runner is to carry the torch for 250 metres.

    The flame is to arrive in Bangkok on April 19 from Mumbai.

    It will be carried on a circular course in Bangkok which begins at the Odeon Circle and proceeds through Yaowaraj (Chinatown), New Road past the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, and the Royal Plaza.

    Bangkok is to pass the torch to Malaysia. The actual Games are to begin in Beijing on Aug 8. (BangkokPost.com, TNA)

  • Friday, March 21, 2008

    Burma disagreement


    By Thanida Tansubhapol

    Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama has told the United States its sanctions against Burma will achieve nothing and it should be more engaged in multi-national talks instead.

    Mr Noppadon raised the issue with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during his visit to Washington to mark the 175th year of Thailand-US bilateral relations.

    He quoted Ms Rice as saying that the US would continue putting pressure on Burma, while Thailand told the US that sanctions would be fruitless and it should have more dialogue with the junta in Rangoon.

    He said the US still believes its policy of sanctions will force Burma to change. But Thailand does not agree with the US policy on Burma as there would be many consequences if it did, such as drugs, infectious diseases and illegal labourers since Thailand shares a border with Burma.

    "We have to help Burma and engage them," Mr Noppadon told reporters in Washington.

    He has proposed holding multi-party talks with neighbouring and concerned countries, including China and India, in an attempt to persuade Burma to shift towards better development.

    He said he would like many countries, including China and India, to be involved in the talks, just like the six-party negotiations over North Korea.

    "China and India should be invited to these talks as both countries can play a constructive role persuading Burma to show better development," Mr Noppadon said.

    Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej visited Burma last week and was told the Burmese government was confident that its constitution referendum in May would be credible and would allow all parties to be involved, said the minister.

    Meanwhile, Mr Noppadon asked Washington to help restore Thailand's relationship with Saudi Arabia as the two countries have close ties.

    Relations between Bangkok and Riyadh soured almost 20 years ago after the murder of Saudi diplomats, the disappearance of Saudi businessmen and the theft of a large amount of jewellery from a royal palace.

    "I am hopeful that the US will be able to help us since they are a good ally of Saudi Arabia," he said.

    Mr Noppadon also asked the US to play a bigger role in the Asian region as the US hoped Thailand would have an important role in Asean. Thailand will host the Asean meetings for one and a half years starting in July.

    Thursday, March 20, 2008

    Burma's sham constitution

    The junta's announcement that it will put its tailor-made constitution to the vote should not deceive anyone





    Any remaining illusion that Burma's ruling junta might make any concessions to UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari (now in Rangoon), and permit some semblance of opposition participation, has been well and truly demolished by the uncompromising stand of the generals in the last few days.

    The Burmese regime has firmly rejected the UN proposal for serious dialogue, and amendments to the draft constitution. Information minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, who met with Gambari on March 7, said it was "impossible to revise or rewrite" a government-drafted constitution that will be submitted to a national referendum in May. Once again, the UN envoy has been humiliated by never even getting near a senior general.

    Hopes for a normalisation in Burma were triggered by the recent announcement of general election to be held in 2010. The last election was 1990.

    In September 2007, there was a global outcry over the killing of Buddhist monks and other protestors, and the brutal suppression of peaceful mass demonstrations to end more than 40 years of military rule.

    Western governments professed a renewed determination to use sanctions against the regime. The UN security council appointed Gambari, to promote reform and reconciliation in the wake of widespread bloodshed in the streets and temples. The UN reported 31 dead, but human rights bodies have placed death toll figures far higher.

    The Buddhist monks have been stopped from marching. Many were detained last September - others shot dead by the junta's bullets. Many temples have almost been emptied of saffron-robed monks. Thousands are still in hiding, arrests continue. UN diplomacy and Asean's policy of "constructive engagement" have clearly failed to bring about any significant changes.

    This new constitution is a very old saga - 14 years and six months in the making to be precise - perhaps a candidate for Guinness Book of World Records. Dating back to the 1990 general election, which was won overwhelmingly by the NLD - National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi, their revered leader and Nobel laureate and still under house arrest.

    The generals changed the rules, ignored the results and instead proceeded to organize the drafting of a new constitution, which began in 1993 and continued till 1996, when the NLD walked out in protest. Since then all delegates have been selected by the generals.

    So what are the citizens of Burma being offered with this constitution? Certainly not civilian rule. The generals have arrogated to themselves the leading political role. According to the draft constitution, the commander in chief of the armed forces is entitled to fill 110 seats in the 440-seat parliament with appointees from the ranks of the armed forces. And in the event of a "state of emergency," the commander in chief will assume full legislative, executive and judicial powers.

    It allows stringent restrictions on any activities deemed "inimical to national unity" which covers a whole gamut of criticism and dissent. Civilians will be permitted to enter parliament, but only if they show due deference to the men in uniform.

    San Suu Kyi is excluded from running for the presidency by virtue of her marriage to British scholar Michael Aris. Not surprisingly, opponents of the regime have dismissed it as a sham.

    Monks and the opposition are calling for a "no" vote. There are indications that the regime will try to coerce a "yes" vote by threats of punishment against those who either boycott the referendum, or vote no.

    The Rangoon regime expects that once the referendum is passed, China, India and South-East Asian countries that provide Burma with vital economic investment and financial support, will accept this as evidence of a return to the rule of law. China has already endorsed the referendum as a "positive step".

    Inside the Asean 10-nation grouping, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia hotly oppose western sanctions, which is understandable given their interest in extracting maximum commercial profit from resource-rich Burma. Their concern is not democracy or human rights, but the return to stability inside the country.

    Burma at the beginning of the 1960s was one of southeast Asia's leaders and one of the best-educated. It was far ahead of neighbouring Thailand and Singapore. Then came the 1962 military coup and the nation was plunged into four decades of darkness.

    In spite of western calls for sanctions, there are still glaring loopholes. US oil giant Chevron is exempt from US sanctions on a legal technicality (the so-called grandfather clause). French oil company Total is also spared partly thanks to Bernard Kouchner's special report in their favour, prior to becoming President Sarkozy's foreign minister.

    More pressure could be brought to bear on Asean countries to opt for a tougher line on their delinquent member - Burma. The UN also has to accept that diplomacy is not going to work without some kind of sanctions. U Awbata, a dissident Buddhist monk who fled from Burma after the crackdown, says the world community should support an arms embargo.
    "I would like to appeal to the international community here today to work together and urge those countries selling arms to Burma to stop them from doing so," he told a recent human rights conference in Jakarta.

    Nobody should be fooled by this figleaf of sham constitutionalism that the Burmese generals are doing anything more than pursuing a strategy to parry and deflect pressure from the outside world and prolong their stay in power.

    After 46 years of seeing their beautiful country reduced to one of the region's poorest, its teak forests and natural resources decimated by its neighbours, its health and education systems starved of funding, and HIV/Aids reaching epidemic proportions - surely the people of Burma deserve a break?

    A constitution tailored to the needs of the junta is no solution At all. A break for the Burmese and all the ethnic minorities means nothing less than a permanent break from military rule.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    U.N. envoy disappointed after latest visit to Burma


    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. envoy said on Tuesday he was disappointed his latest visit to Myanmar yielded no tangible results but said it was important for the United Nations to keep engaging with authorities there.Ibrahim Gambari, special adviser on Myanmar to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was reporting to the U.N. Security Council on a March 6-10 visit during which he met detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi twice but made no major progress in convincing the military junta to implement democratic reforms.

    Gambari said he never expected his job to be smooth sailing. "Indeed, over time, my engagement with my interlocutors has been difficult, complex, frustrating, but nevertheless incremental and continuing," he said.

    Gambari said during the visit he was not able to meet senior government leadership figures or opposition groups such as the "88 Generation" or representatives of ethnic groups.

    "It is a source of disappointment that this latest visit did not yield any immediate tangible outcome," he said.

    Gambari's visit was this third to the former Burma since authorities crushed pro-democracy marches in September in a crackdown that sparked worldwide outrage and a major diplomatic push for political reform in the former British colony, which has been under military rule since 1962.

    Gambari told reporters after the meeting no date had been set for his return but he might meet officials from the Myanmar government in a third country to prepare for such a visit.

    SEVEN-STEP ROADMAP

    The Myanmar government says it has drawn up a seven-step political "roadmap" to democracy and is making progress in drafting a constitution to be submitted to a referendum in May with a view to multiparty elections in 2010.

    However, during his four-day visit, the generals made it clear they would not accept any changes to the constitution they have drafted, despite Western concerns it is a blueprint for the military hanging on to power.

    Myanmar's Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe said Gambari's work had helped bring about "positive and concrete developments" such as the release of some 2,600 people detained in September and the appointment of a minister to liaise with Suu Kyi.

    Gambari had his offer of election monitors for the May referendum and a planned 2010 election rejected during his visit, adding to worries about their freedom and fairness.

    The generals said they had no need for external expertise in running the elections, saying they had "enough experience."

    The last time they allowed a poll, in 1990, they ignored the result when Suu Kyi's party won over 80 percent.

    Gambari said that despite the lack of tangible results from this visit, his efforts should be seen in a longer-term context as the process was "inevitably subject to ups and downs."

    "Now is the time for the international community as a whole to remain united," in support of his mission, he said.

    U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Myanmar's roadmap to democracy was flawed and there were "serious problems" with the draft constitution which had not even been circulated.

    He said he would be drafting a Council statement which, if agreed by all 15 council members, would aim to keep pressure on Myanmar. Such statements do not carry the weight of binding Security Council resolutions and the prospect of a resolution is slim given Myanmar's close relationship with China, a veto-holding permanent member of the council.

    China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters before the briefing that Myanmar was making good progress.

    (Editing by Stuart Grudgings)

    Gambari's mission disappoints Western envoys


    US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilz addresses a Security Council meeting February 18 at UN headquarters in New York. Western ambassadors on Tuesday voiced disappointment with the outcome of UN troubleshooter Ibrahim Gambari's latest mediation in Myanmar but vowed to keep the crisis in the Security Council's spotlight.

    UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - Western ambassadors on Tuesday voiced disappointment with the outcome of UN troubleshooter Ibrahim Gambari's latest mediation in Myanmar but vowed to keep the crisis in the Security Council's spotlight."We are disappointed by the lack of any concrete achievement" during Gambari's last visit to Myanmar from March 6 to 9, US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters after council consultations on the issue.

    "The (military) regime has not responded appropriately to Gambari's initiative," he added, describing as "flawed" plans by Myanmar authorities to to hold a referendum on a new constitution in May and multi-party elections in 2010.

    His British counterpart, John Sawers, said Gambari gave a "not very encouraging briefing" on his latest mission to promote national reconciliation between Myanmar's government and the opposition led by democracy icon and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

    He said the world community's best tool to sway the ruling junta was "the power of persuasion" and keeping the issue "in the spotlight."

    France's UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert expressed alarm that the draft constitution unveiled by Myanmar authorities contained provisions aimed at preventing Aung San Suu Kyi from running in the elections.

    "That is not acceptable," he added.

    But Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, whose country is a major trade partner and arms supplier of Myanmar, insisted that Gambari's mission had achieved some progress.

    "One can argue whether the glass is full or the glass is half full," he told reporters. "The situation (in Myanmar) now is better than last August and September" when the military junta crushed the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years.

    Gambari meanwhile said unity among the Security Council members was "the best way" to shore up his good offices mission.

    "The United Nations is the only outsider to maintain access to both the government and Aung San Suu Kyi and to act as go-between between two," he earlier told the council.

    "Encouraging the Myanmar authorities to reverse a policy mindset that has lasted this long can be challenging," he added. "But it is imperative that we continue to do so with persistence and patience, and with legitimate expectations of tangible results from the process of engagement."

    On his third visit to Myanmar earlier this month, Gambari was rebuffed twice by the junta.

    The ruling generals refused to amend the constitution and rejected an offer of UN technical assistance and foreign observers during the referendum.

    At least 31 people died last September, according to the United Nations, although Human Rights Watch has put the toll at more than 100, and the world outcry was swift and unified -- a consensus that has since fractured.

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    UN Meets Junta's Envoy, Calls For Reconciliation


    Press Release: United Nations

    17 March 2008 - Meeting with the top United Nations envoy for Myanmar, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim today called for "serious engagement and strong commitment" from all parties to further national reconciliation.

    In a statement issued in New York, Mr. Kerim voiced confidence in the role and work of Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who recently completed a visit to Myanmar and who is mandated by the Assembly to "promote national reconciliation, democracy and human rights."

    Mr. Kerim said he was encouraged by the fact that the Special Envoy was able to meet with key figures, including pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as with the Referendum Convening Commission and the Constitution Drafting Committee.

    The President appealed for "serious engagement and strong commitment from all parties to continue the process of national reconciliation that needs to be credible and inclusive," the statement noted.

    Last month, the Myanmar authorities announced the holding of a constitutional referendum this May, to be followed by "multi-party democratic elections" in 2010, and Mr. Kerim today voiced hope that Myanmar's Government will be open to possibly allowing the UN a monitoring role.

    This most recent mission by the Special Envoy was his third since authorities in Myanmar "cracked down severely on peaceful demonstrators" last year, as Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, noted in a report to the Human Rights Council.

    Indiana For Hillary


    Solutions for America Rally with President Bill Clinton

    When

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 6:45 PM - 8:30 PM

    Where

    Grand Wayne Center - Convention Hall C
    120 West Jefferson Boulevard
    Fort Wayne, IN 46802
    General Area:

    Description

    Join us for a rally with President Bill Clinton on behalf of Senator Hillary Clinton in Fort Wayne! The event is free and open to the public!

    Host

    Indiana For Hillary

    Bullets cannot kill freedom in the heart



    May Ng
    Mizzima News
    March 17, 2008

    May Ng is from the Southern Shan State of Burma. She is NY regional director of Justice and Human Rights in Burma.

    "The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart," teaches Buddha.

    Until the Saffron Revolution, images over the Internet were not expected to have much impact in Burma, since most people in the isolated country lack access to the Internet. But when, following widely available images of the opulent wedding of General Than Shwe's daughter, August's fuel price hike left poor Burmese on the verge of starvation, the people's anger was aroused.

    During September's Saffron Revolution, the Burmese military was at a loss as to how the closely guarded country leaked pictures and information about the bloody protests to the worldwide media. And after killing, imprisoning and driving political protesters underground, the Burmese army and its supporter, China, confidently announced to the world that peace and order were restored in Burma.

    Since then the Burmese junta has been playing a cat and mouse game with web-surfers, deliberately slowing down the Internet connection. China reportedly employs thirty thousand cyber hackers to infiltrate individuals and governments across the globe. Last year Russia shut down a neighboring governments' Internet access during a period of heightened conflict.

    In response to cyber censorship throughout the world, Reporters Without Borders launched the first Online Free Expression Day on March 12. They remarked, "We are giving all Internet users the opportunity to demonstrate in places where protests are not normally possible. We hope many will come and protest in virtual versions of Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Cuba's Revolution Square, or on the streets of Rangoon in Burma. At least 62 cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned worldwide, while more than 2,600 websites; blogs or discussions forums were closed or made inaccessible in 2007".

    The Burmese military is being trained in Russia in computer technology and China gives enormous support, including Internet technology, to the Burmese army. Burma related news and information network sites are under constant attack by cyber assailants in support of the Burmese junta.

    Similar to events during the Saffron Revolution in Burma, the latest information from Tibet is now being delayed and distorted as the autonomous region is witnessing widespread unrest to Chinese rule. While Beijing told the world a few days ago that the outbreak of protests in Tibet has been under control and inconsequential, the situation has escalated, involving death and destruction. Instead of taking responsibility, China points the finger at exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and accuses him of plotting the violence as part of "separatist sabotage."

    As fires burn in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, neither has the iron grip of Beijing prevented Tibetan news from reaching the world, nor have the iron rods beaten the desire for freedom from the hearts of Tibetans.

    For six decades China has conquered the Tibetans' sky but not their hearts. To do so China must begin with truth and tolerance, which takes a lot more courage and determination than the challenges of the Olympics.

    For now, China and its partner, the Burmese junta, are clearly not up to the task of facing truth or tolerance. Until they do, the Beijing Olympics will be a mockery of the ultimate human aspiration for peace and freedom.

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    UN rapporteur ridicules Burma 'democracy'


    Geneva (dpa) - The military junta in Burma has failed to make any real concessions to democracy, the UN special rapporteur said Friday, suggesting efforts were more make-believe than real.

    Paulo Pinheiro told reporters in Geneva: "If you believe in gnomes, in trolls and in elves then you can believe in this process of democracy."

    The Burmese authorities have moved to silence international criticism following September's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and announced a series of measures they claim will transform the country to a democracy.

    "They don't give any concessions. For Latin Americans, eastern and southern Europeans and Asian democracies we can not give a certificate of democratic transition because this is not happening," said Pinheiro.

    He was speaking after presenting his final report on Burma to the Human Rights Council the previous day. He is due to hand the brief to a successor.

    He said the Burmese junta had paid no heed to the UN Security Council or resolutions by the Human Rights Council. He said he saw no evidence that anyone responsible for September's killings or excessive use of force had been brought to book.

    "I am afraid 'accountability' does not translate in the Myanmar language," he said, using the junta's official name for Burma.

    The referendum, scheduled for an undisclosed date in May, is at the forefront of the Junta's democratisation efforts but has already provoked protest at home.

    Pinheiro said a referendum could not be democratic if it excluded political parties and opposition figures.

    He praised China for the "positive role" it had played in the region in trying to find a solution.

    Pinheiro had been accused of a lack of objectivity and impartiality by Burma after presenting his report to the Council on Thursday.

    Burma said the visit by the UN Secretary-General's special adviser and meeting with the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi pointed to the regime's commitment to democratic reform.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    Junta prepares for anniversary of protests in Burma



    Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, is stepping up security before the anniversary of large protests that spread across the Asian nation in 1988.

    "Truckloads of riot police with batons, shields and tear gas guns were stationed near large markets and important intersections in Yangon in an apparent effort to forestall any protests, witnesses said," the Associated Press reports. "Plainclothes police and civilian thugs employed by the junta also had a large visible presence."

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    UN expert says unlawful arrests in Burma accelerating


    GENEVA (AFP) - Some 1,850 political prisoners are behind bars as of January in Myanmar, as the government "accelerated" rather than stopped unlawful arrests, a United Nations report said Wednesday.

    "Rather than stop unlawful arrests, the government had accelerated them," according to the report by UN expert Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, which said that initial indications by Myanmar's military junta of a willingness to address human rights abuses has "disappeared."

    In the study to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, Pinheiro said he continues to get reports of arrests made in relation to massive anti-government demonstrations last year -- even as a culture of impunity reigns in Myanmar.

    According to information received, at least 70 individuals were arrested, with some 62 still detained since his last visit to Myanmar in November, said Pinheiro, who is ending a seven-year mandate as special rapporteur.

    He also received allegations of abuse relating to the arrests, including death in custody and arrests without warrants, the study said.

    The government crackdown on last year's August-September demonstrations, combined with increased military deployment in some ethnic areas have helped open "new fronts in the patterns of human rights abuses," the report said.

    In economic and social sectors as well, there have been "marked signs of deterioration," said the study which also denounced "serious violations of medical neutrality."

    Moreover violations of ethnic minorities, including extrajudicial killings, attacks on civilians and forced displacement continue to be reported in the eastern Myanmar state of Kayin, it said.

    The report also described a culture of impunity as a key obstacle, with those perpetrating torture, forced labour, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers often going unpunished.

    Pinheiro's report is based on information from independent sources, since he has not been able to return to Myanmar for a follow-up mission since his five-day November visit.

    The rapporteur urged Myanmar's junta to rapidly release all physically vulnerable political prisoners, saying it would be seen "as a good-faith gesture that would help to pave the way to democratization and reconciliation."

    A separate report published by the US State Department Tuesday ranked Myanmar along with North Korea among the world's worst human rights violators.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    Burma Democracy Talks Fail to Sway Junta, U.S. and UN Say



    By Bill Varner and Michael Heath

    March 10 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed disappointment today at the refusal of Burma's military government to take steps toward democracy.

    UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari ended a five-day visit to Burma during which the junta said it won't allow officials from the world body to observe May's referendum on a new constitution and rejected a proposed amendment to allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run for office. Gambari left without a meeting with junta leader General Than Shwe.

    ``It is not encouraging,'' U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters in New York. He said the UN Security Council should receive a report from Gambari as soon as possible and then consider measures to ``incentivize'' the junta to cooperate with him.

    ``We have not been able to achieve as much as we had hoped,'' Ban said during a news conference at the UN. He vowed to continue to ``press the issues'' with Burma's leaders.

    Burma's junta last month announced the referendum and plans to hold elections in 2010 as part of a ``road map'' to a multiparty democracy in the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma. The Bush administration has criticized the process, saying it isn't fair and doesn't pass ``the laugh test.''

    Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won Burma's last elections in 1990, a result rejected by the military. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.

    Pride and honor; promises on an Olympic scale

    (Commentary)

    By May Ng
    March 11, 2008

    May Ng is from the Southern Shan State of Burma. She is NY regional director of Justice and Human Rights in Burma.


    Like the phrases "I do" in an exchange of wedding vows, "I accept" in a constitutional referendum is a 'contract'. A Constitution is not merely a text but a deed--"a constituting"-- wrote Yale Constitutional Scholar, Akhil Reed Amar.

    Constitution is a contract people agreed to under the personal and sovereign rights to create a government. A constitution cannot be created by the government on its own. A legitimate government emerges from the constitution drawn by the people, not the other way around.

    In response to the external pressure, the Myanmar generals are calling for a constitutional referendum in May. But even the most stubborn generals must know that, this wedding with only the groom without the bride and a legitimate marriage contract will plunge Burma deeper into political chaos.

    By calling a constitutional referendum in May without the 1990 election winners, after the people have overwhelmingly rejected military rule in 1988, Myanmar junta is trying to create 'a new government of the army, by the army, and for the army.'

    Last Friday the House of Representatives of Indonesia has rejected a new Myanmar ambassador until democracy is established in Burma. Philippines President Gloria Arroyo said on Sunday that, "a central pillar of democracy is a free and fair election and outside observers are not a threat to any nation's sovereignty. It is not too late for the Burmese government to accept the proposal by the UN".

    After the 1990 election was ignored and countless people were killed or imprisoned for their political belief, the people in Burma have nothing more to lose, and are boiling with anger underneath. U Awbata, a monk leader who participated in the September Saffron Revolution has told an international audience that, "I cannot forget or erase the sight that I saw on the eastern side of the Shwedagon Pagoda where three monks were shot at, and when they fell down the soldiers used their boots and stomped on the heads of the wounded monks and beat them with batons."

    According to the most recent report by the Free Burma Rangers, over 2,200 people were forced to flee their home by the military as the UN envoy Mr. Gambari was going to Burma. Over 1,700 villagers in Northern Papun district in eastern Burma fled after being fired upon by Burma Army mortars. In another area nine houses were burnt while 85 people fled their homes. An additional 400 may have fled the area to join the increasing number of internally displaced population, out of reach from outside help. The US Campaign for Burma has condemned the attacks.

    Adding insult to injury the regime has announced its intention to revoke the voting privileges from the country's venerated monks, members of the political oppositions and the exiled community. At the same time the Myanmar generals are handing out temporary citizenship to anyone who will vote for the army's constitution, regardless of their legal status inside Burma.

    Burma Lawyers' Council has recommended in 2005 that every citizen of Burma, who loves human rights and democracy-- and supports the establishment of liberty and justice--has the responsibility to prevent the deterioration of the country by stopping the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)'s constitution, the product of a sham National Convention.

    All Burma Monks Alliance has unequivocally rejected what they deem to be illegitimate and unjust constitution to prolong the cruel military dictatorship in Burma. The ABMA said that, to help overcome the economic hardship and humanitarian catastrophe they are determined to continue opposing the military rule, together with other democracy forces in Burma.

    The 2007 new Generation Wave students have called for an inclusive, open, and fair, constitutional vote. They are organizing the entire nation to resist the one-sided military constitution in Burma.

    The late Karen National Union (KNU) secretary general Mahn Sha Lar Phan, who was murdered, said before his death that the army-drafted charter will enslave the Burmese people indefinitely. Ethnic nationalities, including the ceasefire organizations, continue to criticize the proposed constitution's lack of credibility, fairness and transparency.

    The International Burmese Monks Organization (IBMO) is holding Myanmar military to the promise of transferring power to the civilian government after the 1990 election. The monks have declared the military's plan for constitution and election as unfair, unjust and illegitimate. They believe that the junta's plan to force through such a plan will create a greater political conflict and push Burma to the brink of catastrophe.

    Since 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi has sacrificed her family and her marriage to become the mother of Burma who is entirely wedded to the country's democratic cause. She has given up everything to give democracy a chance in Burma. Her father has promised democracy and equality to the people of Burma, at the time of independence.

    Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of General Aung San, the founder of Burma's army. The well known '88 student leader Moethee Zun, and the imprisoned monks' leader, Ashin U Gambira, are also children of the military personnel who have served in the Myanmar Tatmadaw. Moethee Zun has called on the entire political opposition to mobilize against the junta's constitutional referendum in any possible way they can.

    Without the cooperation of Aung San Suu Kyi, ethnic nationalities, and the democratic oppositions, it is unlikely for the military junta to find peace in Burma. As ordinary soldiers suffer the same hardship with the rest of the country, a handful of top generals continue to control Burma at gunpoint, from fear and insecurity.

    The fate of General Ne Win and General Khin Nyunt is proof that the military generals can never feel safe for themselves, or for their families, without a legitimate and credible political system in Burma. If the generals insist on making the army rule permanent, Burma will continue to edge towards total devastation.

    Asian countries, especially China and India, often lament the Burmese democratic opposition's reliance on the western democracies for support; while, they, China and India, continue to sell weapons to Myanmar junta and help kill more Burmese people. Contrary to their rhetoric, China and India have not shown respect for Burma's sovereignty, and have clearly interfered in Burma's internal affairs by sending arms to one side of a bitter political conflict there.

    But Myanmar Tatmadaw cannot forever remain the foreign proxy army of India and especially China. It is urgent for Burma to find a middle ground where the titanic split between the generals and the people of Burma can be reconciled.

    It will be 20 years on 8 August 2008, the opening day of the Olympics, since the people of Burma have decided to end the military dictatorship. But, because of India and China's military support for the dictators, hopes for freedom have been dashed in Burma.

    Making anew the promises of freedom is no doubt an Olympic scale challenge in Burma. But it is only a question, of honouring the promises made at the 1990 elections by the Myanmar general; and of taking pride in acting responsibly as rising global powers by China and India.

    May Ng is from the Southern Shan State of Burma. She is NY regional director of Justice and Human Rights in Burma.

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Famous Singer Sai Htee Saing Dies



    Sai Htee Saing, one of the most celebrated singers in Burma, died early Monday morning in Rangoon General Hospital. He was 58.

    An ethnic Shan, Sai Htee Saing was born in 1950 in Lin Khae, a small town in southern Shan State. He proved his musical talent when young: in 1969, the government-owned Burma Broadcasting Service—now Myanmar Television and Radio Department—aired his songs, which he wrote himself, in Shan language.

    When original pop music compositions began to flourish in Burma in the late 1970s and cover songs started gaining a foothold in Burmese popular culture, The Wild Ones, a band formed by Sai Htee Saing and composer Sai Kham Lait, took the lead and became popular nationwide.

    "He was a pioneer who introduced Burmese audiences to a new trend," said well-known singer Khin Maung Toe. "He and his band showed the way—you have to create your own music. That's the artist’s way.'"

    Sai Htee Saing and The Wild Ones became one of Burma’s modern music pioneers during late dictator Gen Ne Win’s era.

    He sang in both Burmese and Shan languages, introducing many listeners in lower Burma to Shan culture. Although his songs were carefully scrutinized at that time by the infamous censorship bureau, the Press Scrutiny Board, his lyrics often conveyed political messages through hidden meanings which allowed him to successfully elude the censors.

    Many of his songs were about the civil war and the struggles of life in his homeland. He helped pave the way for other ethnic singers that have become established figures in Burma’s music industry.

    Sai Htee Saing, however, succumbed to the temptations of promoting government ideology, notably after 1988. Like other musicians who made the conscious decision to curry favor with the junta, he soon gained special privileges, but photos of the singer standing arm in arm with junta leaders were run regularly in the government-controlled media.

    In singing songs written by military official Mya Than San and by neglecting the interests of the country’s artists as head of Burma’s musicians’ union, Sai Htee Saing’s audience soon abandoned him.

    However, his old songs are still popular in Burma and his albums continually sell well. He was frequently invited overseas by expatriate Burmese to perform at Burmese festivals.
    He made his last overseas performance in London on Shan New Year’s Day on 5 December, 2007.

    Sai Htee Saing is survived by his wife, Khin Than Soe, his son and two daughters, all of whom live in Rangoon.

    A funeral service will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at Yayway cemetery in the outskirts of Rangoon.

    Sunday, March 9, 2008




    Philippines quick to criticise Burma polls ban


    Manila (dpa) - Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Sunday urged the Burmese junta t reconsider its rejection of a UN proposal to allow observers at its constitutional referendum planned for May.

    In a statement, Arroyo said it was "a sad day for democracy" and the Southeast Asian region that Burma rejected the proposal made by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari in talks with election officials on Friday.

    "A central pillar of democracy is a free and fair election," she said. "Outside observers are not a threat to any nation's sovereignty. Rather, the participation of outside election observers is a sign of strength.

    "It is not too late for the government of (Burma) to accept the proposal by the UN," she added. "It is a small but modest step towards democratisation that is long overdue."

    Burma has claimed it will hold a referendum on an unspecified date in May to endorse a controversial draft constitution compiled over the past 14 years by a military-appointed forum.

    The proposed constitution enshrines the military's role as a powerful political force in any future elected government.

    The date of the referendum will be announced 21 days prior to the event. It may be followed by a general election in 2010 as part of the ruling junta's "seven step road map" to democracy.

    Burma and the Philippines are both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has been criticised in the past for failing to put more pressure on the military-ruled country to hasten democratic reforms.

    Saturday, March 8, 2008

    Day Three of USG Gambari's visit to Burma






    Print E-mail
    Saturday, 08 March 2008

    On the third day of his visit to Myanmar , The Secretary General’s Special Adviser, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, at the Sein Le Kantha State House. The meeting lasted for an hour and a half. Mr. Gambari also met separately with representatives of the of the National League for Democracy, the Pa-O National Organization, the National Unity Party and the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA).



    Friday, March 7, 2008

    House rejects new Junta's ambassador


    The House of Representatives has rejected a new envoy to Indonesia from military junta-ruled Burma, while civil society groups are skeptical of a constitutional referendum planned there.

    The decision was made Thursday at a consultation meeting of House leaders led by speaker Agung Laksono.

    Agung was quoted by Antara as saying the House recommended the government postpone accepting I Nyan Lin as Burma's new ambassador to Indonesia until democracy was established in the country.

    The Indonesian government should accept the new envoy only after the junta manages to ensure democratic elections and reconcile with pro-democracy groups, particularly the one led by detained Aung San Suu Kyi, Agung said.

    The meeting discussed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's request for the House's opinions on three new foreign ambassadors: Ibrahim Baba from Nigeria, Hamdi Ould from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and I Nyan Lin from Burma.

    Indonesian law allows the House to recommend approval or rejection of foreign envoys set for assignment in the country.

    The Thursday forum, attended by House leaders and all its faction heads, accepted Ibrahim and Hamdi but rejected Nyan Lin...........( read more: click title)

    Thursday, March 6, 2008

    Time for Action, Not More Empty Promises From Military Rulers

    Burma: Heed UN Envoy on Constitutional Reform
    Time for Action, Not More Empty Promises From Military Rulers


    (New York, March 5, 2008) – The Burmese military government should adopt expected calls from UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari to allow an open and inclusive political process ahead of a planned constitutional referendum in May, Human Rights Watch said today. Gambari arrives in Burma on March 6, 2008.


    On February 19, Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) announced that a referendum on a new constitution would be held in May 2008, with multiparty elections following in 2010. But, without input from the public and opposition parties, the process fails to be a real step toward democracy, despite the government’s claims.

    “Gambari should tell the generals that marching a fearful population through a stage-managed referendum will not advance democracy or reconciliation in Burma,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “A referendum under these repressive conditions will only cement in place continued military rule.”

    Since announcing the referendum, the government issued Law No.1/2008, which denies voting rights to members of religious orders, including monks and nuns. It also imposes a three-year prison sentence on anyone found “lecturing, distributing papers, using posters or disturbing the voting in any other manner in the polling booth or at the public or private place to destroy the referendum.”

    Provisions in the draft constitution bar candidates from running for president if they have a foreign spouse or child (such as detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi) and reserve a quarter of parliamentary seats for serving military officers.

    Human Rights Watch called on Special Envoy Gambari to seek guarantees from the government to convene an independent election commission, compile a proper voter registration list, lift long-standing restrictions on media, permit freedoms of association, expression, and assembly in Burma, and revoke new regulations that criminalize legitimate debate about the referendum.

    “Gambari should not confuse this sham constitutional process with progress,” said Adams. “Opposition parties risk being punished for simply discussing or sharing information about the proposed constitution.”
    Human Rights Watch urged the UN special envoy to call on the SPDC to:


    * Release political opponents and more than 1,800 political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, leaders of the ‘88 Generation Students, and the leaders of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy arrested in 2005;
    * Account for all casualties and missing persons from last September’s crackdown on protests by Buddhist monks and democracy activists, including the whereabouts of missing monks and nuns;
    * Secure access to Burma for the incoming UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma; and
    * Permit opposition political parties to meet with the special envoy.

    Following its brutal crackdown on protesters during August and September 2007, the SPDC promised Gambari to set out clear steps to reform, and to engage in dialogue with the domestic opposition and the international community.

    On October 11, 2007, the UN Security Council urged the Burmese government “to create the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all concerned parties and ethnic groups, in order to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation with the direct support of the United Nations.” On November 14, the Security Council expressed its expectation that a “meaningful and timebound dialogue” would take place, and called for the release of political prisoners, accounting for missing persons, and humanitarian access to persons in need throughout the country.

    When Gambari visited in November, his activities were closely controlled by the government and he was unable to visit opposition leaders without government supervision. Reforms have not occurred and arrests of political activists and journalists have continued in a climate of fear.

    “If the Burmese generals continue their obstructive tactics during Gambari’s visit, the UN Security Council must react to such contempt for UN officials.” said Adams. “Burma’s backers in the international community, including China, Russia, and Thailand, must support Gambari in this effort.”

    Detainees in Burma: In a lawless land, any law will do


    Thursday, March 06, 2008
    Awzar Thi [member, Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong]:

    "Human rights advocates, lawyers and journalists are often concerned with how special laws are used to suppress dissent and deny basic freedoms in countries around the world. Internal security acts and emergency decrees attract widespread interest and strong critiques. How ordinary laws are used to the same ends often obtains less notice. And yet it is in the workings of mundane codes and procedures that the efforts of governments to control the largest numbers of their citizens are brought into sharpest focus.

    Burma is a case in point. Democracy campaigners have long described it as having some of the most draconian and sweeping security laws in the world. Now a lawyer has said that around 20 detainees are likely to be charged under one of these. The persons, held since last August, are expected to face charges under law 5/96 for “acts such as incitement, delivering speeches, making oral and written statements and disseminating in various ways [sic] to belittle the National Convention” on a new constitution.

    Like hundreds of other people locked up since the nationwide uprising last year, none of these persons were ever in fact arrested. Unidentified men bundled them into unofficial vehicles and took them to undisclosed places. They were snatched. Even the state media quietly acknowledged this much, describing them as “brought, investigated and questioned”. Those freed have been forced to sign incoherent pledges, admitting that they have committed undefined crimes and have been released because of the state’s goodwill.............( Click Title)

    Burma 'lying doggo' for UN


    From correspondents in London | March 07, 2008

    BRITAIN has accused Burma's military regime of paying only lip service to international calls for democratic reforms, as the UN special envoy embarked on a fresh round of talks there.

    A senior British official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ruling junta's co-operation with the UN had been "very minimalist" since the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that cause global outrage last year.

    "I think the Burmese government is playing a clever game," he said after Ibrahim Gambari flew into Rangoon to push for detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's inclusion in a May referendum and eventual elections.

    The junta were keeping their heads down, he said. "They are lying doggo. They are not doing anything that is sufficiently outrageous to get them on the front pages of the world's newspapers again".

    The official, who said the proposed constitution to be voted on had "obvious flaws", charged that arrests of suspected dissidents continued while none of the estimated 1100 long-term political prisoners had been released.

    And of the 3000 thought to have been picked up during protests last year, between 500 and 1000 remained in custody, he added.

    "They have gone about co-operation with the UN in a very minimalist way. The co-operation really has not been there. They have not accounted for the detainees. They have not released detainees.

    "They have done little to cooperate with Dr Gambari's good office mission. And they have done nothing really to facilitiate a genuine process of dialogue with the opposition.

    "They have had a series of mechanical meetings between the government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi but there has never been sense that any dialogue is being developed," he added, referring to the National League for Democracy leader.

    The fact that Aung San Suu Kyi and her elderly deputy, plus other political leaders, were still under house arrest "tells you all you need to know about their ambitions for an inclusive political process," he added.

    Britain, which refuses to recognise the military junta, has made the push for democratic reform in its former colony a top priority, identifying progress as key to greater stability and economic prosperity in Myanmar and the region.

    Foreign Office minister Meg Munn said Burma was a "drag" on the wider development of the 10-member Asian and South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic bloc.

    The Special Advisor of the Secretary-General, Mr. Gambari, arrives in Yangon

    Wednesday, March 5, 2008

    Burma stonewall


    ANALYSIS
    By Larry Jagan

    As the United Nations envoy heads for Burma on Thursday, it is clear that the military regime has no intention of introducing democratic reform. However, the failing health of Senior General Than Shwe may force others to move.

    The UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari is due to arrive in Burma today on his latest mission to try to encourage the military government to involve Aung San Suu Kyi in the country's political future.

    But Burma's top general Than Shwe has no intentions of including Aung San Suu Kyi in his plans for political change. In fact, Mr Gambari is unlikely to even meet the senior general.

    "Mr Gambari is only being allowed in to endorse the 'road map' [the new constitution, referendum and elections] and nothing else," according to the Burmese academic Win Min, who is based at Chiang Mai University.

    The Chinese urged Mr Gambari to accept the road map as it is when he visited Beijing last month, according to a UN insider.

    "The road map has now become Than Shwe's main strategic tool to hold on to power," Win Min added.

    "It's a pre-emptive strike against the UN envoy, Ibrahim Gambari and the international community as well as a death blow to Maung Aye's aspirations to be number one."

    The announcement last month that the new constitution was drafted and there was a timetable for the referendum and elections are all part of the senior general's game plan to keep a firm grip on power and preserve his family's interests in the future.

    It was also a clear message to his subordinates that he intends to keep the reins of power as the country moves from military to civilian government.

    It came after months of total inertia within the military hierarchy, as Than Shwe was primarily preoccupied with sidelining his deputy, Maung Aye.

    The number two in the military hierarchy woke to hear the announcement on the radio and was not informed beforehand, according to reliable sources in the capital Naypidaw.

    This is a clear sign that a major rift exists between the top two generals.

    Mr Gambari, Than Shwe hopes, will provide the final seal of approval on that part of the strategy and allow him to turn his attention to other pressing internal matters - the growing frustration within the army over the lack of promotions and career development, and the loud clamouring from the country's businessmen for economic change.

    "The top generals have not met [for the quarterly meeting] for more than nine months, since before the August and September protests, so during that time, apart from the appointment of three regional commanders, there have been no promotions," said Win Min.

    "The impact of this will certainly add to the growing frustration amongst some of the commanders who should have already been promoted," he said.

    While sorting out these promotions may be the first order of the day, it is by no means easy for the senior general, as he realises that most of the top ranking generals now actually owe their personal allegiance to his two chief subordinates, General Maung Aye and General Thura Shwe Mann, and not him. This is beginning to trouble him as he fears that his immediate subordinates may be planning a putsch against him.

    "For the past twelve months, Than Shwe has been preoccupied with sidelining Maung Aye," a senior military source told the Asia Times.

    "He has in effect promoted the army commander, Thura Shwe Mann, over Maung Aye," he said.

    The turning point came more than nine months ago, when Maung Aye was replaced as head of the junta's powerful Trade Council, before the beginning of the August unrest.

    He was also effectively replaced as military chief during the protests, when Thura Shwe Mann took charge of security arrangements during the demonstrations and started to chair the National Security Council meetings on Than Shwe's orders.

    For more than a year now there has been almost total inertia in the Burmese capital as the senior general is pre-occupied with his own personal concerns, his power and ensuring the dominant position of his family in the future.

    Than Shwe has an elaborate game plan, but he is constantly re-examining all the options and revising his various scenarios, according to Burmese government sources.

    "Than Shwe continues to follow his trusted approach - divide and rule," said Win Min. "He did this successfully before, preserving his position by pitting Maung Aye against the then military intelligence chief, Khin Nyunt."

    But this time Than Shwe's divide-and-rule policy is becoming much more intricate.

    "While Thura Shwe Mann has been elevated to the key position below him, Than Shwe has developed a chess board of counterbalancing influences, both inside the cabinet and the military hierarchy, to maintain an equilibrium that keeps Thura Shwe Mann in check and Maung Aye sidelined," a senior military source said.

    But Than Shwe's position is becoming increasingly perilous, despite his carefully planned schemes, according to many specialists on Burma's military.

    "We cannot rule out the possibility of a mutiny or purges within the army," said the independent Burmese analyst Aung Naing Oo, based in Chiang Mai.

    "Than Shwe is standing in the way of change, but so far no one has the guts to tell him he is the main obstacle," he said. "But if the situation gets worse, especially the economy, the possibility of a palace coup to oust Than Shwe is more likely," he concluded.

    For the time being, at least, there are no signs that the factions and divisions within the army will lead to a move to get rid of Than Shwe in the immediate future.

    But the senior general's failing health may in the end force the others to make their move.

    Monday, March 3, 2008

    Shooting in Yangon near Suu Kyi's home: police

    YANGON (AFP) - A rare shooting incident has taken place late Monday in the leafy Yangon neighbourhood where Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest, police said.

    Police said the shooting happened near the State Guesthouse, a military facility that has been the venue for recent talks between the Nobel peace prize winner and a liaison officer for the military government.

    The facility is in the same neighbourhood as Aung San Suu Kyi's home on University Avenue, which is under constant guard.

    One resident near the guesthouse, speaking on condition of anonymity, said five people at a neighbouring home had been killed. Police declined to comment on casualties.

    "Five people were killed by the gun shots -- a couple, their two daughters, and a maid," the resident told AFP.

    Although Myanmar has been at civil war for about six decades, shootings in the nation's commercial hub are extremely rare.

    Ordinary citizens are not allowed to own weapons, and firearms are strictly controlled by the regime.

    Any sort of violence near Aung San Suu Kyi's home or the guesthouse is unusual because the area is under constant surveillance by authorities.