Friday, 27 June 2008


By Roland Watson
Dictator Watch Org
June 26, 2008

We have new, disturbing, and detailed intelligence about the assistance Russia is providing Burma’s dictatorship, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), on its nuclear program and more generally its military modernization. This new information both confirms earlier intelligence that we have published, and expands what is known about the overall program.

Nuclear reactor and uranium mining

It has been widely reported that Russia is going to provide Burma a nuclear reactor, for so-called “research” purposes. We have received information that the SPDC has now purchased the 10 MW reactor. It is not new, but is reportedly in good condition. It is being dismantled, transported to Burma, and rebuilt. While we cannot confirm that it has arrived, our sources say that installation is due to be completed by December this year. (We have previously reported that North Korean technicians will assist with the construction.)

The reactor will be built at a site some ten kilometers from Kyauk Pa Toe, in Tha Beik Kyin township, approximately one hundred kilometers north of Mandalay near the Irrawaddy River.

In return for the reactor and other services, a Russian government mining company has received concessions to mine gold, titanium and uranium. There are two gold mining sites: in Kyauk Pa Toe; and in the mountains to the right of the Thazi-Shwe Nyaung railway line from Mandalay Division to Southern Shan State in the Pyin Nyaung area.

Titanium is also being mined, or derived from the same ore, at Kyauk Pa Toe.

Uranium is being mined at three locations: in the Pegu-Yoma mountain range in Pauk Kaung Township of Prome District (aka Pyi); in the Paing Ngort area in Mo Meik Township in Shan State; and at Kyauk Pa Toe.

The reactor site has been chosen because of its proximity to the Tha Beik Kyin and Mo Meik uranium mines. It is likely that the gold mining operation at the former will be used as cover, to conceal the nuclear facilities.

We have previously reported, from different sources, that the SPDC has a yellowcake mill somewhere in the Tha Beik Kyin area. Now we know the exact location (or at least enough information to find it with satellite imagery).

The reactor has been publicized as being for research purposes, meaning research on nuclear power generation. We believe that the SPDC has no real interest in generating electricity, or at best that this is a secondary consideration, and that the primary purpose is atomic weapons development. Our sources say that the SPDC expects to have full nuclear capability within ten years.

Russia is presumably supplying the reactor fuel as well. While Burma has uranium ore, and mills to convert it to yellowcake, this must be enriched to create the fuel, typically using cascades of gas centrifuges. We have received one report that the SPDC has begun a centrifuge program, at the South Nawin Dam, but this is unconfirmed. Barring this operation, the source of the fuel therefore must be Russia.

Note: Locating the reactor at Kyauk Pa Toe really only makes sense if there are plans to build an enrichment facility there. This way you would have the full industrial cycle in close proximity: mine, mill, enrichment, and reactor.

What is perhaps most disturbing about Russia’s program with the SPDC is that it is identical to the Soviet Union’s assistance that propelled North Korea to become a nuclear power. Why, with the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, is Russia still helping rogue regimes proliferate? The surface answer of course is money, in this case in the form of natural resources, but the deeper question remains. Russia is considered to be a democracy. What would the people of the country think of their leaders giving such help to the likes of the SPDC and Than Shwe?

In 1965, the Soviet Union gave North Korea a 2 MW reactor, which was upgraded in 1973 to 8 MW. It also supplied fuel through at least this period. North Korea then went on to construct a much larger reactor, and in the 1980s began weapons development. This included building separation facilities to obtain plutonium, and high explosives detonation tests. (We have received reports that the SPDC has already conducted such tests, in the Setkhya Mountains southeast of Mandalay.) At some point North Korea also began its own uranium enrichment program, to produce weapons grade material, and the U.S. confronted the country about this in 2002. This means that the North has two different sources of fissile material for weapons, reactor plutonium and enriched uranium.

The North detonated a small atomic weapon, with a yield of less than one kiloton, in October 2006, using some of its plutonium. It is now reportedly about to disclose its nuclear assets, and also destroy its plutonium producing reactor, but the sticking point has been the enriched uranium. The North appears unwilling to discuss this (and at this point to disclose its weapons cache), which means that even with the destruction of the reactor and the plutonium stockpile (for the latter the size of which is subject to serious dispute), the North would retain the ability to produce weapons with the uranium. At the moment the U.S. appears willing to accept partial disclosure, i.e., of only the plutonium.

In addition to Russia, North Korean technicians have been helping Burma with its nuclear ambitions (and other weapons programs), and we have received information that the SPDC has given the North refined uranium in return, which may be destined for the enrichment program.

This is all very disturbing, all the more so because of the apparent weakness of the Bush Administration, which has been unwilling to press the North, and which refuses even to mention Burma (its nuclear program). It took North Korea forty years before it detonated a weapon. It will likely take the SPDC only a fraction of this period. Once the Burmese junta has atomic weapons, its rule will be entrenched, and its neighbors, foremost Thailand, will be seriously endangered.

Precision-guided munitions

We have also previously reported that Burma has a wide variety of missile installations, including large quantities of land-based SAMs; ship-launched missiles, both surface to air and surface to surface; weapons for its MIG 29s; and even short range ballistic missiles. We have now received information that while Burma formerly bought anti-aircraft weapons from the Ukraine, in 2007 it purchased four shiploads of such weapons from Russia. We have also learned that the SPDC has multi-tube mechanized rocket launchers from North Korea. (Note: these may be for use with the ballistic missiles, and if so they confirm our earlier intelligence.)

Moreover, Burma is researching the production of guided missiles, and with Russian assistance intends to build a rocket factory in Thazi Township. This will mark the latest step in a well-recognized proliferation of Russian precision-guided munitions in the Asia Pacific region. This class of weapons includes surface to air, to attack jets, and surface to surface to attack land-based targets and also ships. Cruise missiles fall within the category. We do not know which specific PGMs the factory intends to produce, only that they will be medium range guided rockets and that production is scheduled to begin within five years.

It is clear that the SPDC is intent on developing a strong defense against an international intervention, including foreign jets, helicopters and ships. Perhaps one reason why the U.S. and the French balked at dropping relief supplies following Cyclone Nargis was the risk of missile attack on their helicopters and ships.

Military modernization

We have previously noted that the Burma Army is weapons-deficient. It is clear that the extensive procurement program underway with Russia, as well as China, North Korea and others, is intended to rectify this. During the era of Ne Win and the BSPP (Burma Socialist Program Party), the junta established six weapons production facilities. There are now twenty-two, and clearly more are planned.

Coupled with the materiel acquisitions is a major educational program. There are more than 5,000 State Scholars in Russia, all of whom passed their Defense Services Academy class, a nine-month program in the Russian language, and an entrance exam in their specialty. (This is an increase from the 3,000 we previously reported.) They are candidates for either a masters (2 years) or doctorate (4 years – we previously reported 3 years for this degree). They study in Moscow or St. Petersburg, in the former in a suburb at the Moscow Air Institute. There are additional State Scholars from Burma in China, North Korea, Pakistan and India.

One of the more recent groups of scholars, Batch Seven, included 1,100 DSA officers. Their majors are as follows:

250 Nuclear science
100 Tunneling science
200 Rockets
100 Electronics
200 Computer science
100 Aircraft construction
150 Artillery

The students also learn other military subjects, including: tanks; maintenance; anti-aircraft training; ammunition production; fighter pilot training; naval craft construction; naval craft captaincy; and anti-terrorist training.

While it is clear that the overall modernization program will improve the SPDC’s preparedness against attack, the junta still has a significant problem with soldier morale. Many of the state scholars, who are an elite in the Tatmadaw, are not motivated and would seek asylum given the chance. Their stipends barely cover their expenses. The Russian language and their training programs are difficult. They are overworked and separated from the civilian population. Their visas prohibit them from buying air, train or long-distance bus tickets. When they return to Burma, some are used as Russian language teachers or as instructors at the SPDC’s Central Research and Training Unit, but many are sent to the front lines.

As an example, in January this year one scholar fled to the border of Finland, but was arrested by Russian intelligence agents when he used his cell phone to call his contact on the other side. There is widespread dissatisfaction at all levels within the SPDC, except perhaps the very top – although there is reportedly a split there as well, between Than Shwe and Maung Aye. While the new weapons systems improve the junta’s defense against an intervention, they still need operators. The SPDC is poised to fall, through an internal coup, and it is subject to a renewed popular uprising as well.

Acquiring a nuclear weapon would alter this equation somewhat, but really only by creating a new defense against an intervention, and this is as yet some years away, unless the SPDC acquires a warhead directly from North Korea. Still, any such development has to be prevented, which raises the question, yet again: what is the U.S. doing? Under geopolitical realism, the only concerns are national interests. On a superficial level, for the U.S. and Burma, these are limited to Chevron’s investment in Burma’s natural gas production and pipelines. A secondary interest is the concern of U.S. citizens of Burmese origin, but since this group is small it can effectively be ignored. It would seem, therefore, that all the Administration bluster notwithstanding, its only real policy objective for Burma is to protect Chevron, which corporation to bolster its case also makes large campaign donations.

The real direct national interest of the United States is to deny Burma nuclear weapons. It is not only North Korea, Iran and Syria that America (and the world) must contain. Having a nuclear-armed SPDC is an unacceptable risk. This trumps the need to assist a domestic corporation. Further, since Chevron is also a major cash source for the junta, which uses money as well as the direct transfer of natural resources to pay its weapons suppliers, it demands that the company be forced to divest.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Karen Armed Rebellion in Burma Takes a New Turn: Ex-American Marines as Military Advisors/Trainers: US Watching - Part II

By Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune Investigative Report – Part Two

Washington, D.C. June 26 ( In this second installment the Asian Tribune exclusively documents here the current twists and turns of the Karen rebellion for independence, self-determination and democracy with active involvement of former American Marines who are well knowledgeable of how to conduct a rebellion. If the impression is that the U.S. officials both in Bangkok and Washington, D.C. are having a passive attitude of this significant development it is a gross understatement.

In the first installment, besides the historical struggle of the Karen rebellion, it was documented the initial rapport established between the ex-US Marines and the Karen rebel leaders. This installment gives further evidence of that emerging rapport and the conducive environment toward making the Karen rebels a formidable force to face the mighty Burmese military junta. Political changes in the United States may contribute toward the emergence of this conducive environment to allow to surface the American interests in a different form.

The Ex-US Marine-KNLA Rapport

Now, back to the developing rapport between ex-US Marines and Karen National Liberation Army.

Colonel Ner Dah, in early forties, is fluent in English obviously helped while been a six year undergraduate student in the early nineties at one of America’s prestigious universities, University of California Berkley. The Asian Tribune learned that Ner Dah has been in contact with the American Embassy in Bangkok and with several US State Department officials.

State Department officials who are engaged in the Burma Desk in Washington, and Foreign Service Officers in the American Embassy in Thailand, obviously get to know the developments within Burma through activists like Colonel Ner Dah that go on to formulate the US policy toward this South East Asian nation and the USG attitude toward the military junta.

While at dinner with him Ner Dah gives a vivid description of the brutality of the Burmese military junta toward the Karen people and the ethnic cleansing to the veteran ex-Marine Jack Slade recorded earlier in this report.

The Colonel said that while the KNU is for autonomy for the Keren ethnic entity, KNLA is for separation from Burma. But what the Asian Tribune understood after conversation with the ex-Marines is that the KNLA objective was to end the military rule in Burma and restore democratic rights to the masses of the people including the restoration of human rights to the Karen people and other ethnic entities.

However, about a third of Burma’s 47 million populations are ethnic minorities, who have a troubled historic relationship with the dominant group, the Burmans. Aug San Suu Kyi is an ethnic Burman (so are the generals of the junta) and her supporters are largely focused on the Burman homeland. Meanwhile, the Chins, Kachins, Karennis, Karens, Shans and other hill tribes have been fighting against the government. The real issue in Burma, should the regime fall, would be less about forging democracy than a compromise between the Burmans and other ethnic groups.

The ex-US Marines who have come in close contact with the KNLA are aware of this scenario.

Colonel Nar Dah becomes the tour guide to Jack Slade the following day visiting Karen villages.

Couple of weeks before the KNLA fighting cadres was in a thick battle with Burmese military in an area controlled by the Karens, and to the amazement of the KNLA the guerrilla strategy they used worked for the junta’s military to retreat abandoning a large catch of sophisticated military hardware. Asian Tribune was told that the KNLA was not surprised to note that all the military hardware the junta soldiers left behind had the Chinese trade mark.

This is how they acquire military hardware. KNLA gets a supply of arms from sources in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. But the rebels are outnumbered and outgunned.

The ex-Marine Jack Slade spent eight days with Colonel Ner Dah and his fighting cadre. The May 3 cyclone has affected 70 villages in the Irravadi Delta. The cyclone hit majority of areas e populated by those the military junta consider as enemies.

Here’s the story going around in MAE SOT in Thailand and in Burma, an amazing story that the Asian Tribune learned:

This is a typical Asian story. The Generals of Burma’s ruling SPDC about two years ago had consulted a prominent and widely respected-recognized astrologer to get a reading of the nation’s horoscope and their own. Asians do strongly believe in the placement of planets and stars, the movement of the stars and their effect on them. The astrologer has convinced the Generals that a severe calamity will visit the Irrawadi Delta region and its surroundings that included the Burmese Capital City Rangoon (Yangon). The military junta immediately took steps to move the Capital to a mountainous region far away from the region the astrologer predicted will be devastated.

Naypyidaw (pronounced nay-pee-DAW) is Burma’s new capital, built in secret by the ruling military junta and was officially unveiled in November 2005. The name denotes ‘royal capital’ in Burmese. From Rangoon (or Yangon) it is a nine hour drive.

The New York Times in a special feature about the capital carried in its June 24 edition says: “Even the most charitable observers of Myanmar’s junta portray its members as out of touch. Now they are literally out of sight: the generals live and work in a guarded zone of Naypyidaw that is off limits to all but senior officers.”

To the amazement of everyone a deadly cyclone hit the very area the astrologer predicted on May 3 this year. The interpretation of some in Burma, and also in Thailand, is that the credibility of the Generals of the military junta went up bringing support from unexpected quarters of the Burmese population.

The New York Times further states: “When the Cyclone Nargis swept through the Irrawaddy Delta last month with winds up to 155 miles per hour, it killed about 130,000 people and damaged many buildings in Yangon. But the generals and civil servants ensconced in Naypyidaw felt only a zephyr, residents say.”

The KNLA is fully aware of the psychological factor of this outcome in their struggle against the most ruthless military junta in the history of Burma.

And the American voluntary support to help the rebellion of the KNLA arrived in this atmosphere at a time the generals of the military junta who are out of touch with their own people and live and work in guarded zone in the new capital.

It has been established that the air power of the junta was greatly diminished due to the effect of the cyclone. There are absolutely no air attacks on the Karen territory or its combat positions by the junta.

The ex-marines have realized the importance of KNLA fighting cadre equipped with modern sophisticated weapons. Jack Slade was talking about providing them with night-vision goggles that will help them to successfully demobilize the junta’s military. The Burmese military lacks this vital weapon, it was learned.

Asian Tribune did not get the idea of what type of night-vision goggles Jack Slade and Tom Bleming were talking.

The battery-operated AN/PVS-7D night-vision goggles use an infrared light source to amplify existing light.

The goggles can switch from amplifying light to sensing heat for use in smoky conditions.

The range: a human-size target is visible 328 yards away in the moonlight, almost three football fields.

So, this is the Herculean task the American ex-marines and their companions already within Burma who belong to several European nationalities face in equipping the KNLA fighting cadre with sophisticated weaponry to fight the military junta. And, they are aware of China, India, and to some extent Thailand are behind the military junta for numerous reasons.

China – along with India, Thailand and, to a lesser extent, Singapore – has been put in a very uncomfortable diplomatic situation. China and India are invested in port enlargement and energy deals with Burma. Thailand’s democratic government has moved closer to the junta for the sake of logging and other business ventures. Singapore is suspected of acting as a banker for the Burmese generals. The United States, half the world away, is a passive onlooker.

But, according to the knowledge of the Asian Tribune the United States is fully aware of what’s going on in Burma, the militarization effort by ex-US Marines and an impending development of the fight between the KNLA and Burmese military that can take new turn in this six-decade struggle for democracy, rule of law, human rights and autonomy for ethnic minorities to which the successive American administrations gave a lip service support issuing statements from the White House and Congress.

Nevertheless, no United States administration can afford to get directly involved in bringing justice to the Burmese people if Iran-Contra episode is remembered.

Iran-contra affair

The tangled U.S. foreign-policy scandal known as the Iran-contra affair came to light in November 1986 when President Ronald Reagan confirmed reports that the United States had secretly sold arms to Iran. He stated that the goal was to improve relations with Iran, not to obtain release of U.S. hostages held in the Middle East by terrorists (although he later acknowledged that the arrangement had in fact turned into an arms-for-hostages swap). Outcry against dealings with a hostile Iran was widespread. On Nov. 25, 1986, Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese disclosed that some of the arms profits had been diverted to aid the Nicaraguan "contra" rebels who were fighting to oust the legitimate Sandinista regime—at a time when Congress had prohibited such aid. An independent special prosecutor, former federal judge Lawrence E. Walsh, was appointed to probe the activities of persons involved in the arms sale or contra aid or both, including marine Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council (NSC) staff.

Reagan appointed a review board headed by former Republican senator John Tower. The Tower Commission's report in February 1987 criticized the president's passive management style. In a nationally televised address on March 4, Reagan accepted that judgment without serious disagreement.

Select Congressional committees conducted joint televised hearings from May to August 1987. They heard evidence that a few members of the National Security Council (NSC) staff set Iran and Nicaragua policies and carried them out with secret private operatives, that the few officials who knew about these policies lied to Congress and others, and that the Contra rebels received only a small part of the diverted money. Former national security advisor John Poindexter (currently the Deputy Secretary of the US State Department) stated that he personally authorized the diversion of money and withheld that information from the president. William J. Casey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who died in May 1987, was implicated in some testimony, but the extent of his involvement remained unclear. The congressional committees released a report on Nov. 18, 1987, saying that President Reagan bore "ultimate responsibility" for the events of the Iran-contra affair.

Barrack Obama Advisor Advocates Intervention in Burma

Nevertheless, the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright under President Clinton in an OP-ED piece in The New York Times June 11, 2008 opined “the concept of national sovereignty as an inviolable and overriding principle of global law is once again gaining ground. In such a world, the international community would recognize a responsibility to override sovereignty in emergency situation – to prevent ethnic cleansing or genocide, arrest war criminals, restores democracy or provide disaster relief when national governments were either unable or unwilling to do so.”

One needs to give special attention to Secretary Albright’s pronouncement as she was appointed as one of members of the national security team to Democratic presidential candidate Barrack Obama on June 18. Should Senator Obama enter the White House on January 20 next year undoubtedly Ms. Albright will be one of the top foreign policy advisors to the new president of the United States.

Advocating her hard-line policy toward Burmese military junta the following policy statement of Secretary Albright may bring some solace to those ex-US Marines who are in an endeavor to militarize the KNLA cadres, and one could visualize how both the Pentagon and the State Department under an Obama administration would act to restore human rights, rule of law and democracy in Burma:

“At the heart of the debate is the question of what the international system is. Is it just a collection of legal nuts and bolts cobbled together by governments to protect governments? Or is it a living framework of rules intended to make the world more humane place?

We know how the government of Myanmar would answer that question, but what we need to listen to the voice – and cry – of the Burmese people.”


Colonel Ner Dah is willing to accept expert military assistance to fully equip and modernize all regiments of the KNLA. There had been several attempts in the past toward achieving this goal but had not materialize.

With Thomas Bleming and Jack Slade’s serious involvement in the ‘fight of the Karen rebels’ against the Burmese military junta a pattern seems to be emerging for the veteran ex-US marines and their associates to make the KNLA fighting cadre a formidable force to face the junta.

Asian Tribune understands that serious attempts are being made to get military hardware to the Karen territory. And, the veteran American Marines expect to make it happen this time.

As for the U.S. State Department: Asian Tribune is confident that the Department officers based in Bangkok and in Washington are fully aware of what’s going on and that they are closely watching the developments.

The New York Times wrote in its June 24 edition: “People in Myanmar regularly ask foreign visitors whether the United States has plans to topple the leadership. When British, French and American warships sailed to waters off the Myanmar coast in May to offer assistance to the victims of the cyclone, at least one Western embassy in Yangon received phone calls from exited residents.

The callers said, “You’re coming to save us, aren’t you?” a diplomat remembered.”

Should Senator Obama enter the White House next January taking Secretary Albright with him to occupy a foreign policy or national security position the Burmese military junta may face a somewhat different situation in the battle front with the KNLA. It is expected here in the U.S. that a Obama administration’s guiding principles will be based on liberal far left policies that will take a fresh look at rebellions in the Third World nations that have no connections whatsoever with the US War on Global Terrorism.

- Asian Tribune -

Karen Armed Rebellion in Burma Takes a New Turn: Ex-American Marines as Military Advisors/Trainers: US Watching - Part I

Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune Investigative Report – Part One
Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. June 25 ( Along the Thailand’s western border with Burma (also known as Myanmar) is a small but active Thai frontier town Mae Sot considered the rendezvous of foreigners, with military skills, to offer their expertise to the five-decade old rebellion of the Karen ethnic group to destabilize the most undemocratic and oppressive regime in Burma.

The Karen people’s liberation struggle was intensified with the advent of General Ne Win’s military regime in 1962. And, took a new turn since the current military junta (SPDC- State Peace and Development Council) denied the nation’s democratically elected leader Aug San Suu Kyi her legitimate right to govern in the aftermath of her party’s landslide victory at the 1988 parliamentary election and put her in prolonged house arrest.

And currently, the Karen armed rebellion is taking a different shape and turn with former U.S. Marines who have expertise in combat training, counter-terrorism operations, intelligence and weapons procurement entering the scene. And this time, giving combat expertise to the Karen rebels, as learned by Asian Tribune, looks serious.

The most significant twist is that a section of the United States Government, notably the State Department, is aware of the combat involvement of the ex-Marines but has chosen to be a distant observer but very much abreast of developments.

President Bill Clinton’s secretary of State Madeleine Albright, last week appointed a top foreign policy and national security advisor to Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama in an OP-ED piece written on June 11 The New York Times advocates intervention in Burma for a ‘regime change’.

The Asian Tribune had the rarest opportunity of an ‘up close and personal’ enlightenment of ‘Karen Country’ and the ‘battle front’ in the Karen rebellion districts.

The journey starts in that Thai frontier town of Mae Sot.

Former U.S. Marine Jack Slade was a weapons trainer, counter-terrorism expert, counter-drug personnel, military intelligence expert, and above all a seasoned Marine whose eight an a half carrier sent him to Cuba, Columbia and Ecuador in the South American region, and Tanzania and Kenya in the African Continent. He has been a weapons trainer in military camps on U.S. soil.

For security and other obvious reasons Asian Tribune decided not to disclose his real identity.

In mid March this year Jack Slade was sitting here in MAE SOT expecting a call from a top military leader of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Colonel Saw Ner Dah. Another ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran 62-year old Thomas Bleming (he gave the writer the clearance to use his real name), who is now in contact with Asian Tribune US Bureau, wanted Colonel Ner Dah to contact Slade to enter the Karen territory in Burma. Incidentally, Bleming is currently exploring the feasibility of the ‘militarization’ of the KNLA, a militarization that the KNLA has never experienced.

Karen, a major ethnic group in Burma whose desire for an autonomous homeland has triggered relentless and most brutal attacks by the SPDC military junta. The Asian Tribune learned during its familiarization exercise, or call it a familiarization tour, that despite the KNLA insists their fighting cadres are holding their ground it has just 4000 fighters and weapons from the Vietnam War era and earlier and its rebels are outgunned and outmanned. The Burmese military has an estimated 500,000 in its cadre. This is where the ex-Marines of the U.S. are going to be handy with new strategy, modern weapons and a gaming plan that can outfox the military junta.

Awaiting the call from Ner Dah in MAE SOT the veteran former US Marine had already gone through the American Embassy in Bangkok. So, Jack Slade’s credentials were no secret to the officials of the embassy.

This writer who is aware of the manner in which US foreign diplomatic missions operate because of his long employment with the US State Department knows full well that the Bangkok US Mission routinely notifies in classified cables of such developments to the United States Department of State in Washington.

This confirms that both US offices in Bangkok and Washington, DC knew the intention of Jack Slade and his associates. And, Asian Tribune is aware that the State Department is knowledgeable of Bleming’s current role. Bleming is a well known talking point among American Foreign Service Officers who are either knowledgeable of the developments in Burma or are officially involved in Burmese Affairs Asian Tribunealso learned that KNLA military leader Colonel Ner Dah, despite his status being below to that of the supreme commander, had met State Department officials in Washington more than once, according to Thomas Bleming.

Despite Bleming’s on the phone instructions to meet, and introduction of Jack Slade to Colonel Saw Ner Dah, the latter, a six-year undergraduate student at the prestigious University of California, Berkley in the nineties, previously had had Slade’s credentials whetted from the officials of the American Embassy in Bangkok. Colonel Ner Dah, now a veteran fighter, did not want to take chances. Ner Dah and Slade are now in electronic contact figuring out where and how to meet.

The journey from Mae Sot was in a truck to another border town within Thailand, Umphang, accompanied by Ner Dah’s acolytes. It was about 200 miles that took little over four hours. The journey in the truck ended in Umphang awaiting the arrival of Colonel Ner Dah to enter into the Burmese territory and on to the Karen province. But there was some disruption of communication with the Colonel and Jack Slade’s party when the latter’s party had to travel further in to the jungle area but about half a mile close to the Burmese border.

After about four hours of confusion in the most rugged terrains in the Thai-Burma border finally the two parties met. Ner Dah, who is seeking to modernize his fighting cadre to oust the Burmese military junta, met a veteran ex-Marine who has all the credentials to make the Karen rebellion an invincible force in its march toward democracy, rule of law and civil liberties, and above all an autonomous homeland. The rendezvous of Jack Slade and Colonel Ner Dah was possible because of the efforts by Thomas Bleming on phone with both parties. Bleming was operating from his U.S. residence in Wyoming.

The party, led by Colonel Ner Dah, entered the Burmese territory. At a distance not very far report of gun fire by the military of the SPDC could be heard and the rebels knew how to avoid them.

The Asian Tribune exclusively documents here the current twists and turns of the Karen rebellion for independence, self-determination and democracy with active involvement of former American Marines who are well knowledgeable of how to conduct a rebellion. If the impression is that the U.S. officials both in Bangkok and Washington, D.C. are having a passive attitude of this significant development it is a gross understatement.

The Background: The Karens

The Karen, an ethnic group of Sino-Tibetan origin, is the second largest of the 135 ethnic groups that represent more than one-third of the population in Burma.

Members of these groups mainly live in the seven states around the central Burma plain, each named after the ethnic group that predominates its population. However members of these ethnic groups are also resident in the other seven divisions, populated mainly by people of the majority Burman ethnicity, that make up Burma (Also known as Myanmar).

According to official statistics, nearly 3,500,000 Karen live in Myanmar, with more than 830,000 residing in Kayin State. Among the Karen are practicing Buddhists, Christians and animists.

Karen Armed Opposition

Since Burma’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, armed opposition groups from different ethnic minorities have fought against the central government for independence or greater autonomy. The Karen National Union (KNU) and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), were formed in 1949 with the aim of independence or greater autonomy for the Karen.

While the majority of other ethnic armed groups have reached cease-fire arrangements with the Burmese military junta known as the SPDC, which has granted them certain administrative powers over their territories, the KNU has continued to fight for a political settlement. Having lost several of its key bases, the majority of the KNLA’s activities against the military in recent years have been small-scale attacks.

In January 2004 a provisional cease-fire was agreed between the KNU and the SPDC. However, low-level skirmishes continued and civilians were displaced by military operations against the KNU, particularly in northern Hpa’an District, Kayin State and Nyaunglebin District, Bago Division. KNU leaders reported that, following a visit to Rangoon (Yangon) in October 2006, nearly a year after the state police offensive against the Karen commenced, the ceasefire was formally cancelled. The SPDC stated that they were not prepared to discuss a political settlement. In December 2006, the KNU’s leader, General Saw Bo Mya, died.

The KNU was dominated in the last three decades by Bo Mya, who was president from 1976-2000. The KNU was for many years able to fund its activities by controlling black market trade across the border with Thailand. After a failed uprising of the Burmese people in 1988, the Burmese military government turned to China for help. Various economic concessions were offered to China in exchange for weapons. The Burmese Army was massively expanded and began to offer deals to groups fighting the government. The groups were offered the choice of cooperating with the military junta or being destroyed.

The KNU's effectiveness was severely diminished after the fall of its headquarters at Manerplaw near the Thai border, in 1994. At that time, a group of Buddhist soldiers in the KNLA went over to the side of the Burmese military junta. This group, known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), was given territory inside of Burma to rule over in exchange. They played a significant part in the capture of Manerplaw. While the DKBA claims to be fighting against anti-Buddhist discrimination inside the KNU, it is in practice the small private army of a warlord in alliance with the Burmese military junta.

Since then, the KNU and KNLA have continued to fight the Burma state military (known as Tatmadaw) by forming guerilla units and basing themselves in temporary jungle camps on the Thai-Burma border. Following its principle of no surrender, the KNU continues despite a precarious state of existence. Nonetheless, their fight continues to garner the sympathy of the international community since the KNU represent the Karen people, one of the many ethnic nationalities of Burma that are experiencing ethnic cleansing under the military junta.

In January 2007, the commander of the KNLA 7th Brigade, Brigadier-General Htain Maung, announced the formation of a separate group, the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (KNU/KNLAPC). This followed his reported negotiations with the SPDC, that did not have the sanction of the KNU leadership - which subsequently dismissed him. In February 2007 the SPDC announced that it had arranged a peace agreement with this group, which numbered some 300 fighters. In April 2007 the KNU/KNLAPC took part in joint operations with the DKBA and the state military/police, and attacked KNLA forces close to the Burma- Thailand border.

When the Asian Tribune was talking to many who are connected with the Karen rebellion one could see a clear ideological and tactical division between the KNU and KNLA.

In January 2008, Brigadier-General Htain Maung’s son-in-law, Colonel Ler Moo, was killed in a bomb attack near the KNU/KNLAPC’s headquarters. In February 2008, Mahn Sha, General Secretary of the KNU, was shot to death at his home in Mae Sot, Thailand possibly by the agents of DKBA

Ethnic Cleansing

For over two years the Burmese army has been waging a military offensive against ethnic Karen civilians in the eastern parts of the country. The ongoing offensive includes widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, according to a Amnesty International report released 5 June 2008. The report describes these violations as crimes against humanity.

The report, Crimes against humanity in eastern Myanmar, says that nearly 150,000 people have been internally displaced in Kayin State and the eastern Bago Division. Many have also been subjected to unlawful killings; enforced disappearances; the imposition of forced labor, as well as the destruction of villages, crops and food-stocks and other forms of collective punishment.

Such violations have been directed at civilians, simply on account of their Karen ethnicity or location in Karen majority areas, or in retribution for activities by the Karen National Liberation Army.

Amnesty International has said that it is concerned that the violations are the result of official State Peace and Development Council (SPDC, the Burmese government) and tatmadaw policy. The organization has called for an immediate halt to all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by government forces and aligned militias and for UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive mandatory arms embargo on Burma.

Burmese (or Myanmar) government has unleashed a seven point ethnic policy:

1. Destroying Villages: Many villages have been totally destroyed in an attempt to ensure that the ethnic Karenni residents do not return.

2. Looting and Burning: Thousands of houses, rice barns were burned to the ground and all the valuable things were looted including were looted from the Karenni villages

3. Detentions: There are consistent refugee reports that the Burmese army are separating military-aged men from their families in a systematic pattern for porters and later killed.

4. Summary Execution: Refugees have provided accounts of summary executions in towns and villages In addition to random executions; in Arakan area some were burned alive

5. Systematic Rape: Ethnic nationalities women are reportedly being raped in increasing numbers. Authenticated accounts of systematic and organized mass rapes in Shan, Karenni areas have already reported worldwide.

6. Poisoning the Water: All the streams and wells in the Karenni areas were poisoned so that not only men but also animals that drink the water may die.

7. Violations of Medical Neutrality: The apparent goal is to effectively deny health care to ethnic nationalities and extinguish the community base health care systems.

The Asian Tribune in its investigation learned that nine battalions of Burmese soldiers had been deliberately sent to the Karenni area to implement the ethnic cleansing, while at the same time blaring out the ‘7-point road map’ to democracy.

(The Second Part of this Investigative Report will be carried tomorrow)

Behind the military shake-up - Commentary

By Htet Aung Kyaw

Jun 25, 2008 (DVB)–While most of Burma is busy trying to help survivors of the deadly Cyclone Nargis in the delta region, military rulers in Naypyidaw are busy with their own agenda.

Are they celebrating their new constitution and planning for the 2010 election rather than helping survivors?

Last weekend, state media announced a small cabinet reshuffle with the navy chief moved to become a minister. But there was also an unannounced major reshuffle in the army as five powerful warlords were dismissed or designated for new government posts in 2010, according to former army officials and military observers.

Those dismissed belonged to a group of Bureau of Special Operations commanders who are the key players between the War Office and regional commanders, including lieutenant general Ye Myint, Kyaw Win, Aung Htwe, Maung Bo, and Khin Maung Than.

"Changes in the military are never announced to the public but only made known through an internal circular distributed within the military" said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a defence analyst based on the China-Burma border.

After those top five off, seven regional commanders are ready to replace while more reshuffle in the lower levels. "Although it seems they were force to retire but I think they will become high officials in USDA when the new election is held in 2010," he adds.

Many believe that the Union Solidarity and Development Association will become a powerful political party in the 2010 election, while detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy is being threatened by these military-backed thugs.

Before the reshuffle, the junta announced the adoption of the new constitution which they forced people to approve while the NLD urged people to vote No in May.

"This was not only laying the groundwork for the USDA but was also part of the power struggle between senior general Than Shwe and general Maung Aye," said major Aung Lin Htut, a key member of former prime minister general Khin Nyunt's spy network who served as deputy ambassador in Washington before he sought asylum in the US in 2005.

He seems to think that the reshuffle was just a way of shoring up power for Than Shwe and the USDA. He cites the cancellation of the first US C-130 flight to Burma on 8 May as an example.

"The green light for the flight had already been given by general Maung Aye to the Burmese embassy in Bangkok. But [Than Shwe’s right-hand man] U Aung Thaung of the USDA postponed this order" claimed Aung Lin Htut.

That showed clearly that power did not rest with Maung Aye and the army but with Than Shwe and the USDA, he added.

Moreover, Aung Lin Htut says that the reshuffle was connected with Nargis.

"Vice Admiral Soe Thein was studying at the US naval academy in the 1980s. That is why he had such a good rapport with admiral Timothy Keating from the US Navy when they meet in Rangoon airport. That is why he was dismissed," the former spy official told this correspondent.

The former major put the dismissal of major-general Maung Maung Swe down to the fact that he is Maung Aye’s son-in-law, while the dismissed major-general Saw Lwin is a close friend of Maung Aye.

Power struggles and election preparations aside, is there any hope for dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi? Both the former spy official and the military observer say no.

Aung Lin Htut and Aung Kyaw Zaw agreed that there was no hope for dialogue or any change of direction as long as Than Shwe in power.

But the former spy and diplomat still hopes for the day when the army will return to the barracks. "I don’t think general Maung Aye is as bad as general Than Shwe. As a professional solider, general Maung Aye would not be as involved with the USDA or civil affairs as general Than Shwe is today," Aung Lin Htut said.

Aung Kyaw Zaw agreed but asked, "Who will remove Than Shwe from power and how? I don't think Maung Aye or any soldier will fight against him anytime soon," he said.

However, they are both agreed that Than Shwe's age and lack of moral power could present a chance for change.

"He is now 75 years old and his memory is failing. So he may face similar karma to general Saw Maung who was forced to retire for medical reasons in 1992," the analyst said.

But they warned that Than Shwe will not retire or be dismissed before the 2010 election if there is no strong action from the NLD-led people’s movement and international pressure from the United Nations.

Htet Aung Kyaw is a journalist for the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma

Min Ko Naing still denied medical treatment

Jun 25, 2008 (DVB)–The health of prominent 88 Generation Student leader Min Ko Naing is suffering in prison due to the authorities’ refusal to grant him proper medical access, a fellow prisoner’s relative said.

The student leader has been held in the notorious Insein prison since August 2007. He asked prison authorities for an emergency medical treatment two weeks ago because his health had deteriorated, but his request has still not been granted.

A family member of a political prisoner who visited the prison on Monday told DVB that Min Ko Naing’s family was worried about him.

“His sister told me that Min Ko Naing was suffering from high blood pressure, an eye infection and gout. His family has sent him medicine but his health has not improved yet,” said the mother of Aunt Bwe Kyaw, who is also being held in the prison.

“His family is very worried about Min Ko Naing’s health because his request for proper medical treatment is still being denied,” she continued.

Min Ko Naing was first arrested in 1989 and spent more than 16 years in prison. He was severely tortured and held in solitary confinement for most of his sentence. He was released in 2004.

In August last year, 13 members of the 88 Generation Students group including Min Ko Naing were arrested for leading protests in Rangoon. The protests triggered the biggest demonstrations in Burma since the 1988 uprising, but were brutally crushed by the military regime.

Min Ko Naing is currently being held under the Printing Act and could face up to 20 years’ imprisonment but has still not been sentenced.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

Faithfull India exploiting Burmese refugees

Chin girl kidnapped in New Delhi

Jun 25, 2008 (DVB)–A 17-year-old Chin refugee girl was kidnapped in western New Delhi by her employer on Monday evening and handed over to three men who held her until late that night.

The victim told DVB that her boss, the owner of Mawkon Book Shop, forcibly held her while other people looked on and then handed her over to three young Indian men with motorbikes waiting outside the book store.

The girl said none of the bystanders had tried to help her.

“Many people were watching while I was being kidnapped but no one tried to stop the men,” she said.

“They took me back to a place near where I live late that night.”

The girl’s parents and Chin refugee affairs officials reported the kidnappers at a police station but the police did not take any action against them. Instead, the prosecutors were forced to cease the case.

Chin Chin, director of the New Delhi-based Chin Human Rights Organisation, said the group was discussing with women’s organisations how best to protect Chin women in the capital.

“There have been a few similar incidents before. The difficulty we encountered was that the victims were not willing to open a legal case,” said Chin Chin. (JEG's: she was willing to open a case, but the authorities "were not willing" - make up your mind Mr ChinChin)

“We couldn’t do anything because they didn’t want to talk about what happened to them.”

There are over 2000 Chin refugees currently living in New Delhi, most working on low wages for Indian employers.

Reporting by Khin Maung Soe Min

Poet remanded to custody for jeering at junta supremo

Mizzima News

25 June 2008, Chiang Mai – Famous poet Ko Saw Wai, who had jeered at ageing SPDC Chairman Snr. Gen.Than Shwe calling him 'power crazy' was remanded for the third time by the Bahan Township court yesterday.

His poem 'February 14' disguised as a 'St. Valentine's Day poem' had appeared in January this year in the Rangoon-based weekly journal 'Ah Chit' (Love). The sentence 'power crazy Senior General Than Shwe' appeared when the first word of each stanza in his poem was pieced together.

This information circulated among the people and finally the authorities got to hear of it. Then the government, which is over-sensitive regarding any criticism, arrested the poet immediately.

The prosecutor charged him in court under section 505(b) of the Criminal Code which says 'with intent to cause harm to any section of the public to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility'. Although the government allowed him a lawyer to defend him, the court delayed permission for his lawyer to appear and defend him in court, until today.

"Ko Saw Wai has been produced before the court three times, the last time was yesterday. The court has examined two witnesses, one from the Censor Board and another from the 'Love' weekly journal. His lawyer could not represent him as the court delayed granting him a defence lawyer to represent Ko Saw Wai's case. Ko Saw Wai had to represent himself in his case," his wife Daw Nan San San Aye, who visited the court, told Mizzima.

The authority arrested the poet on January 22, 2008.

The poem is as follows:-

Assessment confirms cyclone survivors face acute shortage of food, water

Mizzima News

New Delhi – The United Nations today said that more than half the survivors of Cyclone Nargis in Burma's Irrawaddy Delta and Rangoon Division are still starving without any food assistance.

Only 45 per cent of the survivors received food through humanitarian assistance, while the rest were forced to rely on their own efforts, according to an initial post-disaster assessment conducted by the UN, members of Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN, and representatives of the government.

"Considering that 42 per cent of all food stocks were destroyed, continued food assistance is required," the UN said in a statement released on Wednesday.

The UN citing the findings of the Village Tract Assessment (VTA) said more than half or 60 per cent of survivors also lacked adequate supply of clean water, as ponds were polluted.

"Humanitarian relief efforts should continue to cover yet to be met needs," the UN said.

Cyclone Nargis, which lashed military-ruled Burma's southwestern coastal region on May 2 and May 3, left more than 138,000 dead and thousands missing.

According to the UN, the lives of more than 2.4 million people have been devastated by the cyclone that lashed Burma's main rice producing Irrawaddy division.

According to the assessment, sixty per cent of village leaders expressed concern over the lack of adequate seeds for the next planting season, while 78 per cent of households said they were left jobless as they had no access to credit that would help them get back to work in the fields.

Even though there has been no major outbreak of diseases, the findings of the assessment showed that 22 per cent of survivors suffered from psychological stress.

The Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) is aimed at providing both international aid agencies and donor governments a credible, independent picture of the extent of the damage and the humanitarian relief efforts.

More than 300 people were involved in the first systematic analysis of the results of the disaster.

Besides the Village Tract Assessment, a full report which would include a tally of the economic and physical losses from the disaster, would be released in early July, the United Nations said.

USAID assistance helped WFP helicopters to carry on relief operation

Mizzima News
25 June 2008

New Delhi — The UN World Food Programme has said airlifting aid supplies to Burma's cyclone victims continues with an aid of USD 3 million given by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

WFP spokesperson in Bangkok, Paul Risley, however, said airlifting aid supplies could stop by end of June unless more assistance was provided for its logistical needs.

"We have enough funds to operate helicopters until end of June," said Risley, adding that it was possible through emergency help by USAID.

Risley last week told Mizzima that WFP faced a serious fund shortage needed to deploy ten more choppers that were used for airlifting aid supplies for over 50 international aid agencies.

He said the use of helicopters was critical as aid supplies could only reach several villages in the remote areas by airlifting.

Last week, USAID, which had earlier given USD 4 million for WFP's logistical support, said it would give an additional 3 million USD.

"We have all the ten helicopters airlifting aid supplies till today," Risley said.

Meanwhile, the US said it has ended airlifting of aid supplies from Thailand to Burma, the announcement indicating that the United States was stopping aid supply to cyclone victims.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the US embassy in Thailand said, "The U.S. military airlifting of cyclone relief from Thailand to Burma ended on June 22."

The announcement, which does not provide any reasons, said the US Joint Task Force Caring Response since May 12, began flying 185 C- 130 aircraft from Thailand, carrying aid supplies including tarpaulins, mosquito netting, food, zodiac boats, water treatment equipment, and other relief supplies, including donations from Thailand.

The US has till date spent more than USD 13 million for the supplies and relief operation.

"The excellent cooperation we received from the Thai side made this relief effort possible. Coordination and cooperation with other donors, including WFP, was also outstanding," the statement said.

'Save the Children' clarifies aid distribution mode

Mizzima News
25 June 2008

New Delhi — Urgency for the sake of cyclone affected children and an urgent appeal by the Burmese military junta forced the hand of the 'Save the Children' to route 9,000 plastic sheets through the regime.

'Save the Children', and international non-governmental organization that has been helping cyclone survivors in Burma's delta region on Wednesday admitted that it had given 9000 plastic sheets to the Burmese junta in response to its request.

Kathryn Rawe, Media Manager Asia of the group said they gave 9000 plastic sheets responding to an urgent request put forward by Burma's ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement and the United Nations humanitarian coordinator.

But Rawe said, "We are independently monitoring the distribution of those sheets."

'Save the Children's' clarification on the 9000 plastic sheets it had given to Burma's military junta on June 7, came following the United Kingdom's Department For International Development (DFID) objecting to the group's mode of distribution of aid supplies.

'Save the Children' received the 9000 plastic sheets as a part of the DFID's donation for cyclone survivors in Burma's Irrawaddy delta.

However, the UK Parliament maintained that its assistance to victims of Cyclone Nargis in Burma must not "go through the Burmese regime".

Douglas Alexander, Secretary of state for International Development in a ministerial statement issued on June 18 expressed concern over the mode of distribution of the 9000 sheets.

"Save the Children's first priority is always to reach help to children who need it most," Rawe told Mizzima adding that it was a life-saving assistance that was needed urgently in the delta.

Burmese Journalists Banned from Asean Press Conference

The Irrawaddy News

More than 20 Burmese journalists were banned from a press conference organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Rangoon on Tuesday.

Rangoon-based journalists told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that Burmese journalists including correspondents with international news agencies were not allowed to attend a press conference on the Cyclone Nargis disaster that was hosted by Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan.

It was unclear if the ban was the result of a decision by Asean officials or Burmese government officials. An Asean official told the Burmese journalists to get permission from the Burmese Ministry of Information.

Although Burmese journalists were prevented from attending the press conference, four news organizations from Asean countries—Channel News Asia of Singapore, Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama), Indonesia’s Kompas newspaper and The Straits Times of Singapore—were allowed to cover the event, said Rangoon journalists. The four agencies had non-Burmese correspondents.

The press conference, held at the Chatrium Hotel on Rangoon’s Natmauk Road, followed a meeting of the Asean Roundtable with the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment for Response, Recovery and Reconstruction team (PONJA). The PONJA group is made up of UN, Asean and Burmese representatives.

“The roundtable [meeting] started at 9 am on Tuesday. When Burmese journalists asked to cover the roundtable, officials there told them the press conference was at 6 pm,” said a Burmese journalist who is a correspondent for an international news agency.

“When it was time, [Burmese] journalists returned. But officials told us to leave, but the four news agencies from Asean countries were allowed to attend the press conference.”
Rangoon journalists said a woman who said she was Surin’s secretary told them only reporters invited by officials could attend the press conference.

The Singapore ambassador to Burma, Robert H K Chua, and Daniel Baker, a UN official, met with a group of Burmese journalists in a separate room in the hotel and discussed the Asean Roundtable briefing.

“It was like a separate press conference for the kicked-out journalists, but not with the secretary-general of Asean,” said a Burmese reporter for a Rangoon journal. “I feel it was discrimination between Burmese journalists and media personnel from Asean countries by Surin Pitsuwan.”

Surin has strongly advocated greater press freedom and freedom of speech throughout Asean countries. “We can help people understand the importance of human rights, and we should,” he said in January.

On June 18, he urged the Thai press to pay more attention to transnational issues that affect Asean citizens and to help promote press freedom and professionalism in Southeast Asia, according to The Nation newspaper in Bangkok.

Debbie Stothard of the Alternative Asean Network (Altsean) said that [the treatment of local journalists] is a serious issue and a challenge for Asean.

“The secretary-general is trying to be relevant,” she said. “But it [Asean] has to follow that principle. They make a general principle, and then when they arrived in Rangoon, they forgot the principle. They undermined their own credibility.”

At the Asean Roundtable press conference, Surin said the basic needs of the cyclone refugees are being met, but there is a need for more humanitarian work to sustain a medium and long-term recovery, according to the Asean Web site.

Stothard said Asean is trying to build “a relationship” between the military junta and the international community.

Asean must be mindful of the needs of the Burmese people and not just helping the military junta during the humanitarian crisis, she said.

According to an interim report released by the PONJA team, only 45 percent of survivors are getting food from international aid agencies.

"We know Mr Surin Pitsuwan wants to be diplomatic,” Stothard said. “But he has to be careful that he isn’t too diplomatic.”

Junta Reshuffles Key Military Positions

The Irrawaddy News

A number of senior officers have been reassigned or retired following a belated quarterly meeting of Burma’s ruling military council in the capital Naypyidaw last week, according to military sources.

The junta’s top military leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, retired at least five lieutenant generals and promoted a number of senior military officers as a part of the largest military reshuffle in years.

According to military sources in Rangoon, the reshuffle involved about 150 senior officers, including four brigadier generals who have been promoted from jobs as rectors of military academies to positions as powerful regional military commanders.

A retired lieutenant colonel said that the decision to place well-educated brigadier generals in regional military command positions was probably part of Than Shwe’s preparations for a general election to be held in 2010.

The election will set the stage for a military-dominated civilian government, requiring more politically astute regional commanders, the retired lieutenant colonel said. “Than Shwe seeks regional military commanders he can trust and who have an awareness of politics and economics.” [JEG's: in order words preparing the junta to become more efficient :)))]

In late 2007, Brig-Gen Kyaw Swe, the former rector of the elite Defense Services Academy, was picked to lead the Southwest Military Command, in a move that was seen as part of an effort to replace battle-hardened military commanders with more knowledgeable leaders.

Rangoon-based military sources also said that the latest round of changes was calculated by Than Shwe to outmaneuver his deputy commander in chief, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye.

“Junior officers cannot advance without the blessing of the top general, Than Shwe,” said Htay Aung, a Burmese researcher based in Thailand. “Last week’s reshuffle indicated that Than Shwe is still in control and has tightened his grip on power.”

A retired major from the Burmese Air Force told The Irrawaddy on Monday that Col Thein Naing, a son-in-law of Than Shwe, was among those who owed their promotions to close relations with the senior general. Thein Naing was named the new commanding officer at Rangoon’s Mingaladon Air Base.

Observers in Rangoon said that the position is one of considerable importance, as commanders at the base usually advance to the post of air force commander in chief.

Thein Naing replaces Brig-Gen Zin Yaw, who has been involved in the post-Cyclone Nargis relief effort.

The Burmese military government’s most senior generals, Than Shwe and Maung Aye, are unlikely to relinquish their posts at this time.

The two men have served in the junta since 1988, first in the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and then in the State Peace and Development Council, when that replaced SLORC in 1997.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Farmers left in debt after land seizures

Jun 25, 2008 (DVB)–Thousands of acres of privately-owned farmland in Bogalay have been seized by authorities after the farmers had already received farming equipment and seeds bought on credit from the government.

The township agricultural department recently supplied the farmers with the equipment and seeds before the farmers were told their lands would be seized, according to one local farmer.

“Now we have a debt of about 1.5 million kyat each and we have to repay it within three years,” the farmer said.

“And now we have tillers but no farmland to use them on, but we can’t return them to the agricultural department and we can’t sell them.”

The farmer said the authorities had blamed the possibility of another cyclone for the seizures.

“The authorities told us it was dangerous for us to live on the farmlands just in case another cyclone hit the area, so they kicked us all off the land and seized it,” he said.

“We lost all our rice crops from last year and the money we made from them after the cyclone, and now we won’t be able to do our farming this year either, and that’s going to cause us a lot of trouble.”

The farmer said Htoo Trading company, which is owned by Tay Za, a Burmese tycoon with close links to the ruling junta, has now promised to build new houses near Kyein Chaung Gyi village for the farmers whose lands have been seized and villagers who have been forced to move out of the area.

Htoo Trading was given a contract by the government for reconstruction work in the Irrawaddy delta, but local residents worried that the company would take advantage of the situation for its own profit because of its close links to the regime.

Another local farmer said farmlands had been seized from Kyarkuyal, Danyinphyu, Mondinegyi, Mondinelay, Salugyi, Salulay, Tayawchaung, Myarchaung and Narnapauk villages, all in Bogalay township.

“It seems like they are going to work on the farms themselves,” the farmer said.

“They have forced everyone out of the villages and seized the land for the government,” he said.

“Now the farmers have received all the tillers under the credit system and so they are facing difficulties after losing their land.”

The farmer criticised the government for not only neglecting local farmers after the cyclone but now also exacerbating their problems by seizing their land.

A third farmer urged the government to allow farmers to work on the land again so that they could begin to rebuild their lives.

“We have lost our families, our houses, everything,” he said.

“These farmlands are the only thing we have left, and we will be in deep trouble if we are not allowed to work on these farms.”

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Suspected gang member dies under interrogation

Jun 25, 2008 (DVB)–A man accused of involvement with a gang responsible for the theft of Buddha statues in the Magwe divisional capital died after being beaten during an interrogation session by police, locals said.

The man, whose name has not been confirmed, was arrested on suspicion of being an important member of a notorious criminal gang that has been stealing statues from Magwe, Minbu and other townships in the area.

Locals said the suspect died last week after he was beaten up by police officers during interrogation at Magwe police station (1).

A police officer on duty at Minbu police station said it seemed that Magwe police had “overdone it” during the interrogation.

“They usually come to us to conduct interrogations on our criminal suspects as well,” the officer said.

“The last time they visited us was on 2-3 June to interrogate three suspects we detained in connection with the same case," he said.

"The suspects were first caught by the Minbu police – two of them were caught while they were stealing a Buddha statue. Then we managed to collect more information from these two suspects on other people who were involved in the crime."

Locals said Magwe attracts a lot of gangs involved in stealing Buddha statues as the town has a lot of ancient pagodas and other religious sites.

Reporting by Khin Maung Soe Min

Hard to be innocent in Burma

Shan Herald Agency for News

“The government is bankrupt and the generals have all the money,” reported Mizzima News, 25 April, quoting a member of an International NGO in Rangoon.

Earlier, on 15 January, SF Chronicle quoted Xavier Bouan, UN illicit crop monitor based in Rangoon, “Everybody is involved in this trade in one way or the other. Insurgents, militia, government, ceasefire groups; for all of them, in a region where the economy is slowing down, it’s one of the only ways to survive and get cash.”

Reading carefully between the lines, nothing is more revealing than the above two quotes, when it comes to drugs, because that is what is actually taking place at the ground level, whatever happens in Rangoon with all the spectacular arrests of celebrities connected to the generals since the end of May.

Ordered to live off the land since 1996, army units in Shan State have been trying as best they can “to survive and get cash.”

Infantry Battalion 246, based in Kunhing, notorious for killing at least 150 people including a monk who was tied up in a sack and drowned during the infamous 1996-1998 forced relocation campaigns, is a perfect example.

In February, a 20-plus strong unit commanded by Lt Tin Aye (real name withheld by request) was assigned a security mission at the village of Nam Oi, 3 miles west of Kunhing on the road to Namzang. It was at the end of the season’s opium harvest and the farmers were picking the dry poppy pods to be used as seeds for the next season. “The soldiers not only came to help us pick the seed pods,” said one of the Shan farmers there, “they even warned us that the fields were too near the motor road and we should move them away from it next time.”

IB 246 and its sister unit Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 524 lived by taxing on the farmers: 10-30% of the harvest depending on the size of each field.

Last December, SHAN interviewed villagers coming from Kehsi township, Loilem district. One of them gave SHAN the following account:

Earlier in 2007, villagers were attending a meeting called by IB287 based in Wanzing to receive directives for the plantation of physic nuts, one of the Senior General’s bees in the bonnet, when the commander asked, “Do you grow poppies? If you don’t, what are you going to eat? Only if you have enough to eat, we (soldiers_) can also eat.”

Top growers in the area are Lahu, who arrived from the North following the forced relocations. “Then we have Palaung, Lisu and us Shans. We also saw a number of soldiers tending their own fields,” said a villager.

Life certainly is harsh even for the junta personnel especially for those at the lower rungs of the strata.

Last September, 6 policemen from Homong, Mawkmai township, opposite Maehongson, deserted with 2 pistols and 2 walkie-talkies and the newly arrived head of the station was ordered to pay for the losses, priced at K1.2 million ($880) or the equivalent of Senior General Than Shwe’s monthly pay. The princely sum was eventually taken care of by Col Maha Ja, head of the local militia and for whom Thailand has issued an arrest warrant on drug charges.

The said officer has been in his debt since. “What could he do?”, asked a militia member rhetorically. “His monthly pay is just enough to buy two Hsins (sarong) for his wife.”

Maha Ja’s Shan State South (SSS) company trucks are reportedly never searched by the local Burmese authorities.

Understandably, the annual poppy lashing campaigns launched by the junta were carried out “only to put on official record,” according to a pro-junta militia leader in Mongton township, opposite Chiangmai. “But be careful no Wa fighters are on the destruction teams. These guys don’t just thrash the plants like us and the soldiers. They like to pull out the plants from the earth, roots and all.”

Likewise, some seizures which really deserve screaming headlines just went by without an audible sound.

Between 4-8 November 2007, a combined force led by police officer Ye Naing came across a heroin refinery located in a gully near the village of Htitan in Hsihseng township, 57 miles south of the state capital Taunggyi. The total haul was estimated to be K2.5 billion ($2million).

The refinery was reportedly owned by Khun Chit Maung, former leader of the ceasefire Shan State Nationalities Peoples Liberation Organization (SNPLO), “who had been paying K 5 million ($4,000) per month to the Eastern Region Command and K3 million ($2,400) to each of the light infantry battalions stationed in the area, LIB 425 and LIB 426,” according to a local source, who had proved to be reliable in the past.

It was not the only case worth mentioning. The year 2007 also saw other cases which were as much exciting if not more:

* On 22-28 January 2007, authorities seized 20 kg of heroin, 50 kg of raw opium, 1 million pills of methamphetamine, 2 million yuan, $38,400 and K50 million from the Panhsay militia in Namkham township. But its leader Kyaw Myint aka Li Yongqiang, who is said to be close to the regional commander, remains untouched.

* On 27 May, 5 officials who had detained Yaw Chang Wa (Yaw Chang Hpa), an officer in the ceasefire Kachin Defense Army on drug charges, were ambushed and killed. But the group remains scot free.

* On 18 September, a joint patrol of LIB 553 and LIB 554 waved down a four wheel drive between Punako and Mongtoom, Monghsat township, opposite Chiangrai. It found one slab of heroin (350gm, two slabs make one block, called jin in Chinese), which they were said to have brought as a sample to a prospective customer. The 5 militiamen on the truck were detained but were released on 5 October, when the group’s leader Ja Ngoi returned and met the authorities concerned.

“The only damage caused by the incident was the removal of the refinery to a new location,” said an informed businessman from Tachilek. “It is just one and a half miles north of Hpak Ha village, which is guarded by LIB 553. It therefore seems inconceivable the Burma Army knows nothing about it.”

It appears that the longer the generals so needlessly continue expanding their armed forces, the drug problem is here to stay.

Drug use in gold mines on the rise

Wednesday, 25 June 2008 16:36

There has been an alarming rise in drug addiction in gold mining areas in Danai (Tanai) Township in Hukawng Valley (Hugawng Valley) in Kachin State in northern Burma. Drug dealers have penetrated gold mines because they can sell drugs freely in these areas with encouragement of the mine owners, a source said.

In gold mining areas, goldmine owners encourage miners to use drugs. This ensures loyalty to the owners and the workers don't move to other areas. Some goldmine owners are known to give their employees 1,000 Kyat (about US $ 1) a day to buy drugs, said a local in a mining area.

Though goldmine owners give them 1,000 Kyat (about US $ 1) to buy drugs, it is not enough. They buy drugs with their own money and addiction is on the rise.

According to a report the "Valley of Darkness" by the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) last year, "Goldmine owners do not allow their miners to drink alcohol… Employees are allowed to use opium…"

Because it is easy to sell drugs in gold mines, drugs dealers transport the drugs to gold mine areas from Myitkyina Township the capital of Kachin state with the help of women and the Burmese military, a drugs seller said.

The drug dealers first ask the women to carry drugs packed inside condoms. Then on the way to Danai from Myitkyina, they put the packed drugs inside their vagina and cross the check point, he added.

The authorities only search on the way from Myitkyina to Danai. After Danai to the gold mining areas, drug carriers easily pass without checking.

Nargis volunteer narrates tales of continued crisis

By Lawi Weng
Kaowao News

24 June 2008, Every day the coverage of Burma's Cyclone Nargis diminishes around the world. "After just one month news of Cyclone Nargis dropped on news programmer's priority lists," a foreign volunteer, Tom, said. He has arrived on the border after working for one month in Rangoon.

Although the global media coverage is fading, the crisis that followed the devastating events of May 2 and May 3 continues, as each day the Burmese cyclone survivors face food shortages. According to Tom, many cyclone survivors have been stealing food from each other in the Phyapon Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp.

The junta recently told Thai healthcare teams that the post-Nargis situation was under control and that the people of Burma no longer needed any aid. Having just returned from Burma, Tom stated that resettlement programs planned to run for two years would clearly need to be extended by at least another three. He went on to say, "The country is still in bad shape, with corpses still floating in the water and many survivors in desperate need of aid."

In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, the world tried to offer aid to Burma, but the junta largely refused any outside help. In recent weeks the UN urged world leaders to provide more aid to Burma. The World Food Program (WFP) only received USD 35 million from post-Nargis donations. If further aid does not arrive soon the Burmese arm of the WFP would be defunct, leaving many cyclone survivors facing starvation.

The WFP has said survivors need more aid and they need water buffalos to resume growing rice in their fields. Many water buffalos were killed in the cyclone. Although the junta built schools and houses for the victims in Phyapon, Tom told our correspondent, "The people can't eat houses. They need food. These houses only benefit the Junta and their building contracting cronies."

Tom said a team appointed by the Junta visited Phyapon and distributed rice and mangoes to the IDPs. There were five hundred families in Phyapon, and the team offered ten bags of rice and a handful of mangoes. The victims only accepted one small basket of rice and one mango, while the team took photos. The Junta did not visit them again.

This photo opportunity was not the only way the Junta exploited the cyclone survivors, as donated goods were readily available at roadside stalls. Tom said, "I saw clothes donated at the temple and the next morning I found the same clothes in the public market. The military officers were behind it, and they do not try to hide their corruption."

This type of report only serves to solidify fears held by the international community, who voiced concerns about their aid reaching the people who needed it most, and not just the Junta. After the refusal of foreign aid, many American reports stated their concerns that aid would not reach cyclone survivors but would be grabbed by the oppressive Junta.

Unfortunately aid restrictions have also been placed on local donors, even individuals, who attempted to share food with their less fortunate neighbours. People in Burma are growing increasingly concerned that cyclone survivors may not survive much longer. The concern is greatest for young children who have lost their parents to Cyclone Nargis.

Reporter arrested for covering cyclone news

Nem Davies
Mizzima News

24 June 2008, New Delhi - A woman journalist covering Cyclone Nargis victims asking for aid from international NGOs in Rangoon has been detained by for over two weeks, according to her publication.

Eint Khaing Oo (24) from 'Ecovision' weekly journal was arrested on 10 June while she was covering cyclone victims going to INGOs and asking for aid, an official from 'Ecovision' who wished not to be named said.

Eint Khaing Oo joined the publication two months ago. She is in custody at Tamwe police station and will be produced before the Tamwe Township court on Wednesday.

The police accused her of taking photographs of cyclone victims with the intention of selling these to foreign based Burmese media organizations, according to her office.

"The police accusation is fabricated. She has no contact with foreign media and she had no intention of selling the pictures. She was arrested while she was performing her work as a journalist," a senior official of Ecovision said.

"She was inducted to our weekly journal only two months ago. She was very energetic and active. Like other journalists, she wanted to get a scoop and couldn't envisage danger," he added.

The 48-page 'Ecovision' was first brought out in a tabloid format on September 2006. It covered mainly economic issues initially. However, the journal changed to a magazine style layout and covered not only business reports but also domestic and international news. Health and opinion articles also appeared.

A group of cyclone victims, mostly from South Dagon Township, were about to ask for aid from Rangoon based international NGOs, but some victims were arrested on their way. But the news of the arrest of the journalist appeared only today.

According to journalist sources in the former capital, Eint Khaing Oo was arrested in front of the UNDP office at Natmauk Road, Tamwe Township.

Nargis cyclone lashed Burma on May 2 and 3. Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions were the worst hit.

Burma's Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu told reporters on 23 June that the updated official figure was now 84,537 people killed and 53,836 missing.

On June 10, about 30 cyclone victims, mostly from a Rangoon suburb South Dagon township were looking for aid from NGOs including the UNDP. Refugees claimed that little aid reached from the government.

The refugees initially came from different quarters of South Dagon township such as Quarter 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8 and gathered at a pre-arranged place and hired a truck and went to the NGOs. Soon afterwards the police saw the group. Intelligence personnel arrested some of them. But some were reportedly released a few days later.

More than 30,000 Burmese Refugees Resettled

The Irrawaddy News

More than 30,000 Burmese refugees living in camps in Thailand have been sent to third countries in what the United Nations said on Wednesday had become the world's largest refugee resettlement operation.

Most of the refugees are ethnic Karen people who had been sheltered in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 30,144 refugees have left Thailand to start new lives abroad since the resettlement operation began in January 2005. But the camps remain home to 123,500 refugees and asylum-seekers.

“Some of the refugees have been here for nearly two decades,” UNHCR regional representative Raymond Hall said on Wednesday. “Some were born in refugee camps, grew up there and are now raising their own families in refugee camps. For them resettlement offers a way out of the camps and the opportunity for a fresh start in life.”

The UN and human rights groups say that over the years the Burmese army has burned villages, killed civilians and committed other atrocities against the Karen, who have long fought for autonomy from the central government.

Some activists have charged that Burma’s ruling junta is waging a genocidal campaign against the Karen and other rebel ethnic groups.

Hall said prospects for the refugees to return to Burma or settle permanently in Thailand were dim.

Nearly 21,500 of the resettled refugees have gone to the United States, while Australia has received 3,400 and Canada 2,600.

Other resettlement countries are Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Burmese refugees are now leaving Thailand for resettlement at an average rate of more than 300 a week, the UNHCR said.

India Provides Burma US $84 Million in Loans, Credit

The Irrawaddy News

India has agreed to provide Burma with US $84 million in loans and credits to build power transmission lines and an aluminum plant, state media said on Wednesday.

Four agreements related to the loans were signed Tuesday during the visit to Burma by India's Minister of State for Commerce and Power Shri Jairam Ramesh, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

The agreements covered a loan of $64 million to finance three power transmission lines and a $20 million credit line to build an aluminum wire plant.

Burma is making a push to develop its hydroelectric potential, with India, China and Thailand the biggest foreign investors.

The two countries also signed an agreement to facilitate banking. India is one of Burma's major trading partners, with the balance of trade consistently in favor of Burma.

Relations between the two nations, which share an 830-mile (1,330 kilometer) border, turned cold when Burma's military took power in 1988 by suppressing pro-democracy demonstrations. Ties have improved significantly since 2000 with mutual visits by government leaders.

The second-highest ranking member of Burma's ruling junta, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, visited India in April to witness the signing of a $120 million project to upgrade waterways and highways along Burma's Kaladan River and develop the port of Sittwe in northwestern Burma.

Junta Signs Gas Deal with Thailand

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese military regime is selling off the country’s natural gas, its chief resource, as hundreds of thousands of Burmese still struggle for the bare necessities to survive after Cyclone Nargis.

The junta-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise this week struck a deal to sell neighbor Thailand more natural gas from the new, still-to-be-developed M-9 offshore field in the Gulf of Martaban.

The gas will fuel Thailand’s expanding electricity generating industry—while most of Burma remains without power.

Senior executives of PTTEP, Thailand’s state majority-owned energy exploration company, and Thai government officials were in Rangoon this week to close the deal. No details were released on how much PTTEP will pay the junta.

The deal allows Thailand to begin pumping at least 300 million cubic feet per day from the field starting about 2012. Some 80 percent of the gas will go to Thailand via a new pipeline still to be built across southeast Burma.

Thailand is already Burma’s No 1 customer for gas. Burma- watcher Sean Turnell, an economics professor at Australia’s Macquarie University, estimates gas sales earn the generals at least US $100 million per month.

Gas was Burma’s biggest foreign revenue earner in 2007, netting about half of the regime’s declared exports income of $8.7 billion.

“Burma’s gas industry operates in a vacuum of secrecy, and it’s uncertain just how much the generals rake in from it,” said energy industry consultant-analyst Collin Reynolds in Bangkok.

“One thing for sure, it’s a rapidly expanding business and has the potential to grow much more as new reserves are certain to be found in the current round of explorations.

“It’s ironic,” he said, “that despite all that onshore destruction in the cyclone, the gas industry was unscathed.”

The PTTEP deal comes as an interim damage assessment report on Cyclone Nargis was presented in Rangoon by the Tripartite Core Group, made up of Asean, the UN and Burmese officials.

The report, which will be finalized in July, says a survey of the devastated Irrawaddy delta region showed that more than 40 percent of food stock was destroyed in 380 wrecked villages, and that 90 percent of the affected population needs help.

Some NGO estimates have put the number of people in need at 2.4 million.

A little more than $200 million in aid was pledged by foreign governments, after Burmese officials asked for help, but Turnell—who produces the Burma Economic Watch bulletin—has estimated that the junta has about $4 billion in foreign exchange reserves from gas sales.

PTTEP has estimated that the M-9 field holds at least 1.76 trillion cubic feet and probably much more. The Thais have agreed to include the China National Offshore Oil Corporation on the deal.

Meanwhile, more details have emerged on the future of the much bigger Shwe gas field off Burma’s southwest coast, bordering Bangladesh.

Most of the gas in that field—with proven reserves of more than 6 trillion cubic feet—is destined for China, the chief developer, Daewoo confirmed this week.

The South Korean company has been pressured to sell the gas to China and has now invited competitive bids to build production platforms and transmission lines to shore, probably via the port of Sittwe, which is being redeveloped by Indian companies.

Daewoo is also likely to oversee—with the China National Petroleum Corporation—construction of a 1,000-kilometer pipeline through Burma into China’s Yunnan Province.

Daewoo and the Seoul government had wanted to convert the Shwe gas to liquefied form and ship it to South Korea.
But Daewoo will still do nicely out of the deal.

The South Korean newspaper Chungang Ilbo this week quoted company officials saying profits of around $1 billion could be expected over 25 years, once the gas begins pumping in about 2012.

The Burma generals’ pursuit of gas profits—little of which finds its way into the public purse—has also recently extended to a challenge to neighbor Bangladesh over disputed territorial waters west of the Shwe field that are believed to hold rich gas or oil reserves.

Burma’s ministry of energy protested to Dhaka about its plan to issue exploration licenses in the disputed zones.

Several international companies are queuing to move in after submitting bids in May.

Bangladesh’s state energy company Petrobangla is now proposing a halt to all new developments in the Bay of Bengal pending a three-nation conference also involving India.

No More Aid through Junta: US House

The Irrawaddy News

In amendments to the Supplemental Appropriations Act 2008, the US House of Representatives has passed a bill that says US agencies should seek to avoid passing humanitarian relief through the military junta to cyclone victims in Burma.

Supplemental Appropriations Act 2008, passed on June 19 by the US House of Representatives—which approves the spending of the Bush administration for the fiscal year ending September 30—made specific reference to the cyclone disaster last month that resulted in the death of more than 130,000 people in the Irrawaddy delta.

Stating that the Burmese junta, or State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has compounded the humanitarian crisis in Burma by failing to respond to the needs of the Burmese people in the wake of Cyclone Nargis and by refusing offers of assistance from the international community, Supplemental Appropriations Act states: “The Department of State and USAID should seek to avoid providing assistance to or through the SPDC.”

The bill must now be approved by the US Senate.

Even though the Bush administration has little or no alternative but to route all of its relief material through the Burmese military junta, the House mentioned twice in the bill that the government should avoid giving aid through the regime.

Under a sub-section on Food Security and Cyclone Nargis Relief , the amended text on Section 1414 (a) now reads: “For an additional amount for ‘International Disaster Assistance,’ [US] $225 million to address the international food crisis globally and for assistance for Burma to address the effects of Cyclone Nargis: Provided, that not less than $125 million should be made available for the local or regional purchase and distribution of food to address the international food crisis: Provided further, that notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds appropriated under this heading may be made available for assistance for the State Peace and Development Council.

“These funds should be used to respond to urgent humanitarian requirements worldwide, including Burma, Bangladesh, the People's Republic of China, and countries severely affected by the international food crisis,” it said.

The amended bill also includes another $5.3 million in assistance for humanitarian programs along the Thai-Burmese border.

Meanwhile, Carl Gershman, president of the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED), urged Thailand and India to start thinking about what is going to be needed for a transition in Burma.

“We have to start thinking about the transition now, and to show that there is an alternative. We should also build political support for the Burmese movement now because it answers the argument of the people in Thailand and elsewhere that they have to deal with this government because there is no alternative,” he said.

For more than a decade now, the NED has provided support to many of the pro-democracy Burmese groups in exile, including The Irrawaddy, as well as ethnic groups inside Burma.

“Without neglecting the present, we have to start thinking about the future and start building a core of people who can think about the economy, who can think about how to organize a civil-military relationship, who can think about the constitution, think about minority rights and how to organize Burma as a multi-ethnic society with federalism and decentralization," Gershman told The Irrawaddy.

Now of course, he said, the immediate issues before the international community and the Burmese leaders in exile are the crushing of the saffron revolution last year, the “phony” referendum and the humanitarian crisis in Burma. However, there are also more long-term issues, he said.

Developing an alternative constitution, developing a plan for the economy and a plan for governance should be some of the top priorities, Gershman said.

“The need is to bring people together to begin thinking about the future and to do it in an active way, without neglecting the current political and humanitarian crisis,” he said.