Thursday, 31 July 2008

Junta Slams Exile Group’s UN Campaign

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s state-run press on Tuesday attacked an exile group’s campaign to have the UN declare the newly approved constitution illegal and unseat the military government from the international body.

The New Light of Myanmar published an article about Maung Maung, the secretary-general of the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) and other groups in exile that do not recognize the Burmese government as a legitimate member of the United Nations.

The newspaper said, “Some politicians of the Western bloc” and “some follower groups” were asking the UN to not recognize the junta-backed constitution, which was approved in a May referendum. The government announced that elections would be held in 2010.

“In respect to the sovereignty of a nation, neither international organization nor government has the right to interfere in the approval of a constitution that has been drawn in conformity with the nation’s prevailing conditions,” the newspaper said.

Burma’s political, economic and military affairs have never constituted a threat to the stability of the international community, neighboring countries or the region, the article said.

The article also blasted an open letter released by a group of politicians who won seats in Parliament in Burma’s 1990 election. The letter called the junta’s constitution illegal and urged the junta open a dialogue with opposition groups. The junta did not recognize the results of the 1990 election.

Gen Tamalabaw, the chairman of the NCUB, said in a July 18 letter to the US branch of the National League for Democracy in exile that the NUCB was preparing a campaign to publicize crimes committed by the junta.

The NUCB Web site said it plans to challenge the credentials of the Burmese government at the 2008 United Nations General Assembly session and object to its right to represent Burma at the UN.

Nyo Ohn Myint of the NLD in exile, who is close to NUCB chairman Maung Maung, said, “The NCUB’s agenda at the UN is to push the junta into a dialogue path.”

However, there is disagreement within Burma’s exiled opposition movement over the NCUB’s agenda, particularly within the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the Burmese government in exile, formed in 1991.

San Aung, a member of the NCGUB, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the government in exile didn’t agree with Maung Maung’s agenda because it had little chance of success and did not come from a collective leadership.

“At the last UN general assembly, 40 countries abstained in a vote on the Burmese junta’s human rights violations while 60 countries voted ‘yes’ against the junta and 20 countries voted ‘no’,” said San Aung. “I think a campaign to unseat Burma would be difficult.”

Australia rebukes China over reporter internet censorship

By Samantha Maiden
The Australian

AUSTRALIA has scolded the IOC over a secret agreement to allow China to censor the internet for journalists covering the Olympics. The rebuke came as the US and China traded blows over human rights just eight days out from the Beijing Olympics after President George W. Bush met with Chinese dissidents at the White House.

China has created an international furore after it was revealed that International Olympic Committee officials had let Beijing off from a pledge to provide complete media freedom at the Games.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith urged China to be open and transparent and said Olympic officials were wise to apologise after they admitted China would not stop censoring internet access during the Beijing Games.

Sports Minister Kate Ellis also confirmed Australian authorities were working hard to resolve the "limitations" that Kevan Gosper, chairman of the IOC's press commission, has confirmed will apply to websites not connected with the Games.

Mr Gosper has apologised for misleading journalists, saying he was disappointed that China was blocking sites it deemed sensitive.

Mr Smith said today Australia had regularly urged China to be open and transparent and that included communications.

"I do see this morning the representatives of the Olympic committee apologising for their conduct," he told reporters in Canberra.

"On the basis of what I have read, that apology seemed like it was well worth giving and required to be given.''

Sports Minister Kate Ellis said she was hopeful the situation could be improved.

"The IOC believed that they had an agreement prior to the Games being granted to China so I think that is of concern. I know that John Coates has been out there being very active and I know that the IOC are going to continue to raise these issues and try to get a resolution,'' she said.

The MPs' comments came as the US ramped up pressure on China to live up to Olympic ideals with President George W. Bush promising the regime had "nothing to fear" from internet freedom.

"President Bush has long said that China has nothing to fear from greater access to the internet or to the press or from more religious freedom and human freedom and human rights," press secretary Dana Perino said.

"And that's one of the things that he talked about yesterday with the dissidents he met with, here at the White House.

"We want to see more access for reporters, we want to see more access for everybody in China to be able to have access to the internet." Perino said.

"We think that China would be enhanced and continue to prosper if they allowed for more freedom."

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives voted 419 to 1 to endorse a resolution asking China to "immediately end abuses of the human rights of its citizens, to cease repression of Tibetan and Uighur citizens, and to end its support for the governments of Sudan and Burma (Myanmar)."

The Chinese foreign ministry in turn, criticised a meeting between President Bush and leading Chinese dissidents at the White House this week, saying it sent a "seriously wrong message''.

"`We express strong discontent and firm opposition to this,'' foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement posted on his ministry's website late yesterday.

"By arranging such a meeting between its leader (Bush) and these people and making irresponsible remarks on China's human rights and its religious situation, the US side has rudely interfered in China's internal affairs and sent a seriously wrong message to hostile anti-China forces.''

In a separate statement, Liu lashed out at the congessional resolution. Liu said the resolution passed yesterday was an attempt to politicise the Olympics in Beijing and urged Washington to curb the "odious conduct'' of anti-Chinese legislators.

Relief Still Spotty For Victims Of Myanmar Cyclone

By Andrew Theen
Portland, OR July 29, 2008

(OPB News)- Nearly 3 months after a devastating cyclone struck Myanmar, officials with Medical Teams International say relief is spotty and slow to improve. Andrew Theen reports.

Dr. Wendy Dyment is the emergency health specialist with Medical Teams International. She was the only official from the Tigard relief agency allowed into Myanmar, or Burma. Dyment spent 2 months there.

Dyment said the political situation makes it difficult to get to certain areas, and she wasn't allowed to stay overnight.

She said in the hardest hit areas trees are still down, food is scarce, and hospitals still lie in ruins.

Wendy Dyment: "A lot of people were living without adequate shelter, one of the areas that we went to 3/4 of the people said they still needed clothes, half didn't have food that would last them more than 2 days."

Dyment says that is typical of the most-damaged regions, but some areas are better.

She says she's worried that the situation is slowly fading from international awareness.

U.N. calls for doubled aid to Burma

By Khin Ohmar

(UPIAsiaonline) - The United Nations has more than doubled its appeal to member nations to fund humanitarian relief work in Burma’s cyclone-afflicted regions. It is urging donors to give a further US$280 million in addition to the US$201 million requested on May 9. The new total of US$481 million is earmarked for 103 projects submitted by 13 U.N. agencies and 23 NGOs, with the greatest increases for the agricultural and early recovery sectors.

Ibrahim Gambari, special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general to Myanmar, met with ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan to express his appreciation for the leadership ASEAN has provided in the humanitarian mission in Burma. ASEAN stated its commitment to further cooperation with the United Nations and its agencies in the ongoing relief efforts.

A U.N. spokesperson announced on July 15 that Gambari will travel to Burma in mid-August, after several postponements. The visit has sparked an internal debate within the United Nations as to how effective Gambari can be in spurring on dialogue. Burmese opposition actors also expressed their mounting frustration over Gambari’s lack of progress.

UNICEF claimed that disaster recovery and relief efforts are progressing well in cyclone-afflicted areas, despite logistical difficulties. It further announced that out of 428 children separated from their parents, 15 were reunited with their families.

Monks in the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon reported that many children orphaned by the cyclone are being employed in low-paid jobs. While they prefer to stay in their own communities, many have been forced to migrate to the cities to find work.

Burma’s state media announced that 1,670 visa have been granted to international aid workers and foreign officials.

The families of Zarganar, Zaw That Htyaw and members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions that were detained while collecting bodies of cyclone victims reported that they have received no information on their relatives.

Authorities in Maungdaw Township are allegedly borrowing rice and medicine from local traders in order to make a show of large-scale donations to the Nargis relief effort. One resident reported, “I heard the authorities want to record the goods on video and camera as Nargis relief in front of the new Western Command commander to propagate the news story in state-run media.”

New reports have emerged that the regime may be skimming as much as 20 percent off the top of incoming aid money designated for Nargis relief efforts. The regime currently forces international NGOs and U.N. agencies to convert incoming funds into the regime’s special Foreign Exchange Currency, which is supposed to be on parity with the U.S. dollar.

However, the FEC has weakened in recent months, partly due to the regime’s excessive printing of the currency, which means that the regime receives hard U.S. currency while agencies get a weaker FEC in return. The top U.N. humanitarian affairs officer, John Holmes, has promised to look into the allegations.

In a move probably intended to tighten their grip on the dissemination of information regarding the aftermath of the cyclone, Burmese authorities asked the United Nations to hold its weekly press conferences in Rangoon rather than in Bangkok. John Holmes announced that the Bangkok press conferences would continue.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister, George Yeo, gave ASEAN a “C” rating for its response to cyclone Nargis in Burma.

Burma ratified ASEAN’s new charter, which sets some ground rules for the regional grouping on human rights and democracy. Burma vowed to uphold the charter’s democratic ideals.

On July 21 ASEAN issued a rebuke of the Burmese regime from its annual meeting in Singapore. The regional organization called for “meaningful dialogue” between the regime and opposition forces. At the meeting, Burma’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win hinted that Aung San Suu Kyi could be released within the next six months, but then quickly took back the statement.

The Post-Nargis Joint Assessment report, produced by the United Nations, ASEAN, and the Burmese military government, was released on July 21 at the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Singapore. The report claims that Cyclone Nargis caused US$4 billion in damage, left 84,537 dead and 53,836 missing and impacted the lives of 2.4 million people out of a population of 7.35 million living in the affected townships. The report states that Burma will need an additional US$1 billion for relief and reconstruction efforts.

The National League for Democracy was challenged by the junta to form a political party to contest the 2010 elections. An article in the regime’s mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar dubbed the NLD victory “illegal” because the recent referendum “results” mean that “it has been ditched by the entire people who are desirous of the emergence of a new, modern, developed democratic nation.” The NLD does not recognize the referendum results.

The military regime is pressuring ethnic ceasefire groups to disarm and form political parties to stand in the 2010 elections. Most groups remain undecided, according to reports. The Mon National Democratic Front will not form a new political party and will not take part in the 2010 elections because the party did not accept the “approved” Constitution.

Violent resistance to the military dictatorship in Burma is growing more likely inside Burma, according to new reports. The British newspaper the Guardian interviewed monks and activists involved in the Saffron Revolution who now support armed resistance. Noted American intellectual Noam Chomsky was also quoted in the Bangkok Post as saying that armed resistance in Burma was morally justified.

The U.S. House of Representatives on July 15 unanimously passed the Block Burmese Jade Act, a law that would place additional financial and trade sanctions on the Burmese military regime. If passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the bill will ban the import of Burmese jadeite and rubies into the United States, a major revenue source for the country's military regime. Aung Din, co-founder of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, which pushed for the bill, said, "This legislation sends a strong signal to Burma's military regime that the U.S. stands firmly on the side of my country's democracy movement."

A Burmese opposition umbrella group, the National Council of the Union of Burma, launched a campaign on July 14 that seeks to challenge the regime’s credentials at the United Nations. The NCUB will submit a challenge to the U.N. credentials committee, which annually affirms the right of a government to represent its country, based on the regime’s human rights record and its refusal to honor the results of the 1990 elections that would have brought an end to military rule in Burma.


(Khin Ohmar is coordinator of the Asia Pacific Peoples' Partnership on Burma, based in Thailand. She can be contacted at Her blog may be found at

The Burmese deserve better

(Independent) - An admission by the UN this week that it had "lost" some $10m in aid to cyclone-stricken Burma must come as a shock to the many donors who forked out substantial sums to help the people of that poor, benighted country. It's arisen, according to the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sir John Holmes, because of an arcane system by which the UN calculates the exchange rate. But the bottom line is that money that should be going to the purchase of goods and services for the suffering is instead going into the pockets of the Burmese military administration.

That would be bad enough in itself. The UN, which earlier this month issued an urgent appeal for an additional $300m in aid for the victims of Cyclone Nargis which hit the Irrawaddy Delta in May, has so far raised about $200m of its intended $482m total. So a loss of $10m is far from insignificant. It is especially galling, however, because it comes on top of increasing reports from the aid agencies of the misappropriation and abuse of such aid as is getting through. Right from the beginning of this natural disaster, the military junta that runs the country has consistently refused either to admit the true level of suffering or to give outside agencies the freedom to tackle it. Even on the government figures, the number of dead and missing has risen to some 138,000. Unofficial estimates put it much higher.

Access by agencies has continued to be restricted by a government that remains deeply suspicious of foreigners. The help from the UN and the World Food Programme, as from neighbouring countries, is all too often diverted into the coffers and the warehouses of the junta and their friends. Some of this may be unavoidable given the nature of the Burmese regime. Some may also be due as much to incompetence as corruption. But there are also worrying signs that the junta is using the disbursement of aid for political reasons, to enforce political compliance. It is not a satisfactory situation, especially for ordinary donors who have stumped up their own money to help a people in distress. Being told that the UN itself has lost $10m on the exchange is hardly reassuring.

Myanmar plays the UN and the world for suckers

The Gazette

It's hard to say which is more appalling: the way Myanmar's elite skimmed as much as $10 million from international aid money flowing into the country for the survivors of Cyclone Nargis, or the way United Nations officials failed to notice the scam - or worse - for weeks on end.

John Holmes, the UN's top man on humanitarian affairs, says now that the losses are "a significant problem," amounting to as much as 15 per cent of recent cash aid flowing into the country. He admitted that the UN had been "a bit slow" to recognize the swindle.

The country's military government forced the UN to trade hard currency for the local money by the medium of foreign exchange certificates and then set the rate of these instruments in such a way that millions of dollars flowed to bankers and others close to the junta. The usual market rate is 1,100 Myanmar khat per dollar, but the UN has been getting only about 880. The story was broken by a blog ( which covers the UN. We wonder if news of this UN inefficiency would ever have become public without the blog's good work.

That any government could be complicit in such a fraud, at the expense of its own hard-hit people, is staggering.

But it's also alarming that the scam could have gone on since the early days of the humanitarian crisis without being noticed until recently. Nor has it been corrected yet, apparently; Holmes says the UN now hopes the Myanmar government will co-operate in letting UN aid staff get decent value for the organization's hard currency.

The world's people invest their good wishes, their hopes, and their idealism - along with some of their money - in the United Nations. But the high standards those investments require are too often not met by the world body. The UN must keep reforming itself.

United States Imposes Sanctions on 10 Burmese Firms

(News Blaze) The United States is imposing further economic sanctions on Burma in an effort to punish the ruling military junta for systematically oppressing the Burmese people.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced financial sanctions against 10 companies suspected of being owned or controlled by the military-run government of Burma. At the same time, President Bush signed into law legislation and a joint resolution that will continue some sanctions, add new ones and extend import restrictions.

"We are tightening financial sanctions against Burma's repressive junta and the companies that finance it," said Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. "The regime's refusal to protect and allow relief to reach the Burmese people as Cyclone Nargis devastated their country is but another example of the regime's heartless neglect of its people."

The sanctions will affect two major conglomerates - the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEH) and the Myanmar Economic Corp. - that have extensive interests in a variety of sectors critical to the Burmese government, including the gem, banking and construction industries, Szubin said July 29. And four of UMEH's subsidiaries - Myanmar Ruby Enterprise, Myanmar Imperial Jade Company Ltd., Myawaddy Trading Ltd. and Myawaddy Bank Ltd. - have been added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list, the Treasury Department said.

In addition, Szubin said, any bank accounts or other financial assets found in the United States that belong to those named by Treasury officials must be frozen. No Americans or American companies may do business with these companies, the Treasury Department said.

"The designations also make available to the global community information about companies that provide vital support to the Burmese military and to a regime that is systematically oppressing the Burmese people," the Treasury Department said.

Bush signed into law the renewal of import restrictions on Burma and the 2008 Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, which is aimed at extending sanctions against leaders of the Burmese military regime, those providing them with economic and political support, their immediate families and the Burmese gem industry.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Sanction has not really impacted Burmese gem trade

30 Jul 2008, IMNA

Although the US government continues with its sanction on importing gems from Burma, it will not strongly impact the Burmese gem trade, said Burmese gem traders.

President Bush signed a legislation yesterday banning the import of rubies and jades from Burma to the United States to penalise Burma's brutal ruling regime. It has also frozen assets of the generals.

"Trading on board through Hong Kong had been totally stopped. But we are still working trough neighbouring countries and there has been no strong impact in gem trading," a gem trader in Rangoon said.

Demand for jewels in China and Thailand is increasing and it could help balance the loss of market in the US.

"A majority export jade and some high value rubies to China," a trader said.

A majority of traders in upper Burma cross the Sino-Burma border and sell jade in China.

"Selling gems in China is like selling vegetables because the Chinese like jade so much," a Mandalay jade producer and trader said.

According to a trader, although the US government started banning Burmese gem, the gem trade is not really hard hit and trade in Burma has been going on normally.

However the trade has lost major customers in California trough Hong Kong and Singapore. But Burmese gem traders have found markets through neighbours to by pass the sanction.

Gem earns the third major export income for Burma and it has generated 647 million dollars during the 2007-2008 fiscal, according to official statistics.

Bomb explodes in Telecommunication Office in Mudon

31 Jul 2008, IMNA

A bomb exploded near the Burmese military regime's Central Agriculture Research and Training under the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in Mudon Township, Mon State, Burma last night.

The bomb went off in the Telecommunication Office precincts in front of Central Agriculture Research and Training in the eastern part of Kyone paik village about 20 miles from Moulmein, the capital of Mon State but no one was injured.

The authorities have not been able to identify the bomber yet. "It seems to be an internal affair and there were only three people present," an observer from the town said.

The local authorities are investigating. The office was built in 1996 and the local authorities seized a rubber plantation for constructing the building without paying compensation.

In July last year, a small bomb exploded in a brothel near the Azin Dam in Mudon.

Burmese rock star Lay Phyu to sing for cyclone victims - Lay Phyu

30 July 2008, Mizzima, New Delhi — Prominent Burmese rock star Lay Phyu, along with three other famous singers are ready to rock the city of Rangoon during a fund raising concert organized for victims of Cyclone Nargis, organizers said.

Lay Phyu, who has not performed live concerts for the past three years, will stage a come back along side his brother Ahnge, Myo Gyi and Wai Wai, in a charity show to be conducted on August 24, in Rangoon's indoor stadium in Thuwanah.

Dr. Ko Ko Lwin, secretary of the Myanma Music Association, known as Myanmah Gita Asi Ayone, said all the four rock stars have agreed to perform free to lend a helping hand to cyclone victims, struggling to rebuild their lives.

"All the proceeds will go towards donation to cyclone victims," Ko Ko Lwin told Mizzima. But he added that they have not fixed the rates for the tickets for the show.

The show according to Ko Ko Lwin, will be sponsored by the Myanma Music Association and the performance will be by Burma's most prominent rock band Iron Cross, better known as IC by fans across Burma.

An official at the Iron Cross studio in Rangoon told Mizzima that the band will play to raise funds for cyclone victims without taking any fees.

"Lay Phyu will also be featuring in the show, and it will be the first time he will be appearing on stage after about three years," a woman official at IC studio told Mizzima.

Lay Phyu, Burma's premier rock star, has not performed in public shows for the past three years.

While the reason for his absence from live concerts remains unknown, rumours among his fans across Burma suggest that he was subjected to a ban by authorities.

A fan of Lay Phyu in Rangoon said, "We don't know what exactly happened to him but we hear rumours that he was banned by the authorities."

Lay Phyu could not be reached for comment on his disappearance from public concerts.

According to Ko Ko Lwin, the former manager of the Iron Cross band which has close links with Lay Phyu, he last performed a live concert in Rangoon in mid-2005.

Another woman fan of Lay Phyu told Mizzima that a planned concert at Rangoon's Kandawgyi in September 2005 apparently was conducted without him though the initial advertisement included him in a special appearance.

"I saw the advertisement stating that Lay Phyu was to perform at the show, but when the day came close, his name was removed from the advertisement and he eventually did not appear on the show," the fan, who went for the show expecting Lay Phyu to appear on stage, said.

"Since then I have never seen or heard him perform on stage shows," she added.

Lay Phyu, a graduate from the University of Mandalay, is one of the pioneers of rock music in Burma and gained immense popularity in the early 1990s. He is particularly famous for his high-pitched vocal.

Following the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in early May, several Burmese musicians and prominent singers planned to raise funds through their songs and by jointly releasing charity music albums.

Earlier, another prominent Burmese singer Song Oo Hlaing told Mizzima that he and several other artists are working towards releasing a charity music album to raise funds for victims of the cyclone.

Cyclone Nargis, which lashed Burma on May 2 and 3, left at least 138,000 dead and missing, and devastated the lives of more than 2.4 million people.

Reporting by Mizzima correspondent, writing by Mungpi

Fresh charge against Maung Weik

(Mizzima) - The young business tycoon Maung Weik has been slapped with one more charge. He has been charged with violating the immigration act by the police who have accused him of allowing a Malaysian to stay in his office premises in Rangoon.

The case was filed at the Lanmadaw township police station on July 15, said a police officer. The case number is (Pa) 187/08 under immigration section 13 (5).

"He (the businessman) is suspected of allowing the Malaysian to stay in Myanmar (Burma) without informing the immigration authority," a police source said.

The Malaysian national Mr. Peter Too Haut Haw is also being detained along with five other Burmese nationals and Maung Weik.

Meanwhile, Maung Weik has been charged with trading in narcotics such as ecstasy, amphetamines and Ketamine. The 35-year-old businessman faces life-imprisonment if found guilty of trafficking in drugs.

According to the first information report filed in the police station, the Malaysian has been living in the head office of the Maung Weik and Family Co. Ltd., located on Anawyahtar Street, Ward-1, Lanmadaw township, Rangoon since 2003.

Detained Shan leader at risk of blindness - Sao Hso Ten

Jul 31, 2008 (DVB)–Detained Shan leader Sao Hso Ten of the Shan State Peace Council is at risk of losing his eyesight after developing cataracts, according to a source close to his family.

Sao Hso Ten’s daughter learned of his cataracts when she visited him last week, the source said, and his family is very worried about him.

“He’s starting to lose his sight, and there’s a chance he might go completely blind within the next two years if he doesn’t receive medical treatment,” the source said.

“He seems a little depressed and is worrying about his condition.”

The Shan leader’s family has written a letter to senior authorities asking for him to receive immediate medical attention, but has so far received no response.

Sao Hso Ten is currently being held in Khandee prison in Sagaing division, where he is serving a 106-year sentence.

He was one of eight Shan leaders arrested in February 2005 after attending a meeting between opposition and ethnic groups in Shan state and given long-term prison sentences for discrediting the military government.

One of the eight, Sai Myint Than, died in Sandoway prison in Arakan state in 2006.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

Aung Lan farmers pressured after ILO complaint

Jul 30, 2008 (DVB)–Farmers in Magwe division's Aung Lan township have come under pressure from local authorities after filing a forced labour complaint to the International Labour Organisation.

The farmers reported to the ILO that local authorities had ordered them to grow sugar cane on their farms after declaring that the land was the property of the defence department.

A farmer from Thabyaypin village in Aung Lan said farmlands in nearby Sapyanjet that local farmers had been working on for generations were seized by local authorities earlier this month.

"Officials from Aung Lan township's sugar factory 5, led by major Ye Naing, seized the land and then forced us to sign an agreement to grow sugar cane on the land," the farmer said.

"They threatened to kick us off the land if we refused to grow sugar cane," he said.

"The farmers were really frustrated by that and about 50 of them filed a report to the ILO about the abuse."

The farmers were later summoned to see township Peace and Development Council chairman U Myint Ngwe, who demanded they tell him who had filed the report and why.

"We replied that we had had to report the case because growing sugar cane, which can only make us a profit once a year, would not be financially viable for us," the farmer said.

"But since then we have been paranoid that the authorities will do something bad to us."

Major Ye Naing and the Aung Lan township PDC office were unavailable for comment.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Nine monks arrested in Rangoon

Jul 30, 2008 (DVB)–Nine monks have reportedly been arrested by authorities while waiting at Rangoon railway station to return to their monasteries for a retreat to mark Buddhist lent, according to an eyewitness.

A Rangoon resident who witnessed the incident said the railway police arrested the nine monks as they arrived at the station on 15 July.

“The monks did not come as a group. They came separately and were at the railway station before the train departed,” the witness said.

“They appeared to be on their own and were not seen to be communicating with each other or doing something together,” he said.

“But the railway police came and arrested the nine monks and sent them to Insein prison.”

The Rangoon resident said he did not know if the monks had been charged with any offence.

DVB is investigating the incident and trying to establish which monasteries the monks belonged to and where they were heading before their arrests.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

Farmers struggle with lack of resources

Jul 30, 2008 (DVB)–Farmers in the cyclone-hit township of Labutta in Irrawaddy division are still struggling to resume their work due to lack of resources, financial difficulties and crop failures.

According to some estimates, there is a possibility that only a quarter of the 1.4 million acres of farmland in Irrawaddy will be producing crops this year.

Problems have included the death of cows and buffalo used in cultivating land, the failure of some crops and farmers’ inexperience in using tillers, as well as the limited agricultural loans given by the government and shortage of diesel fuel.

The government provided some fertiliser to the farmers at 25,000 kyat a bag, but they found they still needed to buy more so had to borrow money from loan-sharks to buy it on the black market for 48,000 kyat a bag.

The farmers are also struggling to use tillers provided by the government and complained that workshops run by the state agricultural department teaching them how to operate the machines had been inadequate.

They have also complained that the tillers, which were manufactured by a Chinese company and assembled in Mandalay's Kyauk Se township, broke down shortly after being put to work in the fields. (JEG's: high quality aha??? :) )

The farmers claimed the pinions on the tillers broke too easily and said that tillers imported from Thailand would have been more appropriate for their land.

Only a quarter of farmers working in Irrawaddy division own their own land, while the rest are hired hands who work for the farm owners in return for wages and food, but farm owners have been struggling to provide food for these workers, farmers said.

There have also been complaints that the government agricultural loans have stayed at the previous limit of 8000 kyat per acre of farmland up to a maximum of 60,000 kyat per farmer, which farmers say does not meet their current needs.

Crops have also been damaged by crabs brought in by the cyclone, which have been attacking the plants.

The farmers have now called on the government to provide heavy machinery to assist the community as it has done in other village groups.

Reporting by Aye Nai

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

U.S. Calls for End of Myanmar For-Ex Rules After UN Admits Losses, UK Joins, France Silent

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

FEC/Burma Shave series - 1st (June 26), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, last

UNITED NATIONS, July 29 -- The United States is supporting a call that the Myanmar government eliminate currency "exchange rules and regulations" by which of Cyclone Nargis aid "twenty to twenty five percent was diverted," U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad told Inner City Press on Tuesday. "I looked into a little of what you said," Ambassador Khalilad began, referring to Inner City Press' reporting since June 26 and questions to him last week and Monday about UN aid losses to government-required currency exchange in Myanmar.

"It's the result of rules and regulations of the Myanmar government," he said, "that a significant portion, 20 to 25%, was diverted... We are looking further into the Myanmar government's diversion of aid." He did not say if the U.S. is pushing for a return of the lost $10 million, but he said clearly that the U.S. supports the call, in which he included the UN, that Myanmar's currency exchange rules and regulations that led to the loss be "eliminated."

Inner City Press also asked the United Kingdom's Deputy Permanent Representative Karen Pierce about the 20 to 25% loss of aid funds in Myanmar, since as she said the UK has sent $92 million there. "It is obviously very concerning," she said. "We're supporting the UN efforts to get this resolved, rather than working through it bilaterally ourselves. We're in close touch with John Holmes' people about this." Video here, from Minute 4:12.

The third of what some currently call the Security Council's three musketeers, France, despite having loudly threatened to invade Myanmar with food aid after the March cyclone, has not answered questions on the subject of 20 to 25% losses of aid funds. On July 28, while France's Deputy Permanent Representative Jean-Pierre Lacroix was taking questions at the Council stakeout microphone, Inner City Press sought to ask a question, but Amb. Lacroix walked away from the microphone. Video here, from Minute 5:03.

Amb. Lacroix's spokesperson, also the French Mission's deputy, it being August, stood in the way when Inner City Press sought to follow and ask the question. Inner City Press emailed her questions about the issue, stating that they were "on deadline," and sent a text message summary of the questions. By mid-afternoon the next day, there was no response from the French mission to the factual questions sent. When one it received, it will be reported on this site.

Footnote: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the day after his Humanitarian Coodinator John Holmes admitted the 20 to 25% losses of aid funds on government-required currency exchanges in Myanmar, is publicizing another contribution to Myanmar. At Tuesday's noon briefing, his spokesperson would have been asked what precautions Ban is taking that his contribution is not diverted in part to the unqualified use of the Myanmar government. But no questions were taken at Tuesday's noon briefing -- there was a farewell press conference by outgoing UN Peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno, which will be reported elsewhere on this site. Into Ban Ki-moon's actions on this issue, we will continue to inquire and report.

Watch this site. And this --

UN Admits $10 M Exchange Loss in Myanmar, Says Will Disclose Others Countries and Losses

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
FEC/Burma Shave series - 1st (June 26), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, last

UNITED NATIONS, July 28 -- At least $10 million in UN aid money raised by the UN after Cyclone Nargis hit has been lost in government-dictated currency exchanges, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes admitted on July 28. He stated that at the time he launched a second appeal for aid on July 10, "we here" in New York had not been aware of the seriousness or extent of the losses. But an internal UN document obtained by Inner City Press shows that the UN knew as early at June 26 of a "very serious 20% loss on foreign exchange... changing US Dollars to Foreign Exchange Certificates [FEC] then to local currency, Kyats." This appears in the internal "Notes for the Record" of an "Emergency Task Force Teleconference" call involving top officials in Yangon, Bangkok and Rome, available here.

Inner City Press on June 26, after being read the minutes by a source, wrote an article and asked questions about it, including to the UN Development Program. On July 9, before the appeal was launched, Inner City Press asked Holmes about it, on camera in front of the Security Council, video here, at end.

Holmes on July 28 put the loss at $10 million and called it unacceptable. Inner City Press asked what percentage loss through government-dictated currency exchange he and the UN would find acceptable. "I think we've had this discussion before," Holmes said. "It's very difficult to set the bar." Video here, from Minute 31:58. "We are arguably a bit slow to recognize, since the spread widened in June." But prior to June, and prior to the cyclone, the UN was losing 15% to currency exchange. Was that acceptable?

Given the UN's losses in Myanmar only came out due to questions being pursued about these leaked minutes, Inner City Press asked Holmes if he would commit to now releasing a list of those countries in which the UN suffers currency exchange losses of greater than five percent, and a plan to address the losses and / or appropriately disclose them to donors. "I don't see any reason why not," Holmes said. "There's no reason not to be transparent." Video here, from Minute 55:57. He added, "we had not been trying to conceal it."

But why then not have disclosed it in the July 10 appeal for several hundred million more dollars for Myanmar? Notably, if a publicly-traded company was even negligent in this way, there would be fines and worse. This now becomes a test-case not only for Holmes but also for Ban Ki-moon. The problems of currency exchange rip-offs by governments may have pre-existed their tenures. But now that it is belatedly known, if only through questions being pursued about leaked minutes, it remains to be seen if they and the UN move to clean out this heretofore undisclosed leakage of aid money.

Inner City Press first raised the issue on June 26 itself, in print and in questions to the UN Development Program, which handles UN finances in the field. UNDP Spokesman Stephane Dujarric provided a written response that
"UNDP Funds are remitted into the UNDP US dollar account at Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank. UNDP Myanmar exchanges US dollars for Foreign Exchange Certificates at the Bank, and then converts these into local currency (Kyat)."
After that, in response to Inner City Press' request for how much money UNDP and the UN have converted into FEC, UNDP has provided no information. Mr. Dujarric left a message that he was going on leave but that his colleagues would provide the information. This never took place. On July 25, Inner City Press asked UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis after he launched an appeal for more most-emergency funds if he would answer questions about UNDP's Myanmar operations, there in the UN's conference room 4 or in a press conference. "You know I don't answer questions like this," he said, adding that any press conference would have to wait until "after the high summer season." There are indications that UNDP, even prior to Cyclone Nargis, provided larger cuts to Myanmar's Than Shwe government than the 25% now admitted to by the UN's humanitarian operations.

The amount of money the UN system has turned over to the Than Shwe government goes back far before the cyclone. At UN Headquarters on July 16, Inner City Press posed questions to Eric Laroche, now at the World Health Organization, but previously the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Somalia, and further back with UNICEF in Myanmar. When Inner City Press asked if Laroche thought it legitimate to accept a low exchange rate from a government in order to have access, he stayed silent for a full eight seconds before saying, "It's a very difficult question, and a more difficult answer. It has to do with principles." He said that when he was in the country with UNICEF, auditors were told about the exchange rate arrangements with the government. He and his spokesman committed to explain how WHO exchanges money in Myanmar, but to date have not done so. After a telephone call on the afternoon of July 28, their response is expected immanently, and will be covered as this series progresses.

Watch this site. And this --

U.N. admits "significant" Myanmar exchange rate loss

By Louis Charbonneau and Megan Davies

UNITED NATIONS (Swissinfo-Reuters) 28 Jul'08 - The top U.N. humanitarian affairs official said on Monday the world body had suffered "significant" losses while delivering cyclone aid to Myanmar due to a distorted official exchange rate.

Earlier this month, the United Nations issued an appeal for more than $300 million (150.5 million pounds) in extra aid to cope with the effects of Cyclone Nargis that struck the Irrawaddy Delta region in early May, leaving around 140,000 people dead or missing.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters the United Nations has lost about $10 million in currency exchanges so far as it pays for a variety of goods and services in Myanmar.

"We were arguably a bit slow to recognize ... how serious a problem this has become for us," Holmes said, adding the loss was "significant" and that the spread between the market and official rates widened suddenly in June.

"It's not acceptable," he added.

The loss comes from a complicated system whereby the United Nations uses foreign exchange certificates with a nominal value of $1 each that are then exchanged for the local currency, the kyat, at a rate set by Myanmar's military government.

The market rate for kyats is around 1,100 per dollar but the U.N. rate is now around 880, according to the Inner City Press (, a blog that covers the United Nations and first raised the currency exchange issue.

Holmes said the United Nations did not include the issue of the exchange rate losses in the appeal documents because U.N. officials "were not aware of the extent of the loss."

Holmes, who spoke at the United Nations after returning from a trip to the Irrawaddy Delta, said relief efforts were improving, with almost everyone affected by the cyclone now having been reached with items like food or shelter.

A revised appeal for aid of $482 million had raised about $200 million so far, he said, adding that initial indications from donors were "quite positive."

He later said he was not aware of any countries refusing to contribute because of the currency loss but that donors were only just realizing themselves the extent of the problems.

Withdrawing aid would only hurt the people of the Delta who needed help, he said.


U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he was looking into the issue.

"Of course we are against any waste of resources that taxpayers around the world and member states provide to meet the needs of people around the world," he said on the sidelines of a Security Council meeting on unrelated issues.

Inner City Press reported last week the junta changed the official exchange rate since the cyclone so that the estimated loss of the United Nations had risen to 25 percent from 15 percent on the spread between the official and market rates.

It reported on Monday that an internal memorandum showed the United Nations was aware of the problem in June.

The International Monetary Fund raised the issue of what it described as Myanmar's distorted official exchange rate in a report in November 2007.

"The use of the highly overvalued official exchange rate for conversion purposes results in understatement of external trade and the foreign component of consumption, government expenditures, and investment," the IMF said in the report.

Holmes said it was unclear where the exchange rate losses were going and who specifically was benefiting.

"I'm not saying that there isn't some benefit to the government in the spread somewhere -- the likelihood is that there is," Holmes said.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

Kanbawza Bank denies impending closure

By Nem Davies

29 July 2008, New Delhi (Mizzima)— Burma's privately owned Kanbawza Bank on Tuesday denied rumours that the bank is closing down in the wake of panic withdrawals.

An official at the Bank's head office in Kamayut Township in Rangoon told Mizzima on Tuesday that the bank is functioning normally and that it has no plans to close down.

"Whatever you heard are rumours. Everything is fine here including the President and the Vice President. There has been no interrogation either and we have no plans to close down," the official said.

An official at the Kanbawza's branch office in Kamayut Township also said while there had been a come down in the amount of deposits to the bank about two weeks ago, the situation has normalised and customers can now deposit as much as they like.

The official's clarification comes at a time when rumours are doing the rounds in Rangoon that the Managing Director Zaw Win Naing, an adopted son of Kanbawza Bank's owner Aung Ko Win, has been arrested by authorities and is currently being interrogated.

"About two weeks ago, we limited the amount of deposit to three million Kyats according to the central bank's order but now things are normal and customers are free to deposit or withdraw as much as they want to. The transactions are normal in the bank," the official at the Kamayut branch office said.

A Rangoon based businesswoman, who regularly has financial transactions with the Kanbawza Bank in Bayintnaung Township told Mizzima that though sometimes there are problems in transferring money to other parts of the country, so far there has been no major problem with the bank.

"For example sometimes when we transfer about five million kyat to Taung Gyi branch and if the branch does not have that much money they refuse to accept it. But if the amount is lesser and if the branch has the money usually there is no problem," Thida, the businesswoman told Mizzima.

Though she denied rumors of the bank's imminent closure, she said banks in Burma have limited capacity and cannot be totally trusted.

"I go to the bank almost every day and it is not closed yet. But in the long run we cannot trust any bank in Burma. There is no bank that can be trusted," she said, saying that there is no proper financial policy that can guarantee the security of banks.

Meanwhile, an editor at a Rangoon-based Weekly Journal said he had heard of the rumors about the arrest of Kanbawza's Managing Director and the interrogation. But he failed to confirm the information.

Junta's attempt to shut down Mizzima and DVB

Mizzima website under attack
29 July 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima News)— The Burmese website of Mizzima News, a Burmese Independent News Agency based in New Delhi, has come under persistent and severe Distributed Denial of Services attack causing the website to become inaccessible since Sunday.

The DDoS attacks flood the communication channel of Mizzima's servers with data up to the extent that the site can no longer handle.

According the Mizzima's webmaster, a DDoS attack is an attempt to disable a website, by overwhelming the site with information requests so that it cannot respond to regular traffic.

Mizzima website received more than five Gigabytes of data in less than 15 minutes, many times more than it usually receive, said the webmaster adding that the enormous amount of information received is more than the site can handle.

While, technically, the origin of the attack is impossible to trace, Mizzima's friend, a technocrat who monitors the site, said the attack is clearly targeted.

He said, while this is not the first attempt, there had been plenty of attempts t intrusion from servers in China, Russia and Hungary. At least 30 servers are involved in the case of the attack on the Mizzima Burmese website, he added.

Mizzima News Agency, run by Burmese journalists, is an independent Burmese multi-media group focusing on Burma and related news and issues, and maintains four different websites –,,,

Besides updated daily news both in English and Burmese, Mizzima also Podcast video stories on its site, which are frequently picked up by other news organizations.

Both Mizzima's Burmese and English site normally attract an average of 10,000 to 15,000 unique visitors per day but the readership suddenly jumped to hundred thousands during the September protests in Burma last year and in the month of May and June 2008, following the killer Cyclone Nargis' hitting the country.

While it is difficult to determine who is behind the recent attack, with intrusion attempts coming from servers in China, Russia, Hungary, the Burmese military junta, which has several of its technocrats and engineers studying in these countries, could be behind the attack.

Burma's military rulers have banned Mizzima's sites in Burma and bypassing the government's internet filtering systems with the use of proxy and browsing the Mizzima's sites, if caught, could lead to users paying a heavy penalty.

Mizzima, however, is not the only Burmese news organization to have recently suffered such attacks. The Oslo based Democratic Voice of Burma's website also came under similar attack since July 20.

In a statement released on Friday, the DVB deputy executive director, Khin Maung Win said the attacker is trying to shut-down the DVB's site from the internet as the attack has been getting more severe and persistent over the last four days.

"And we are still under attack," said Khin Maung Win.

"Technically, it is of course difficult to say who is behind the attack. But we can easily say that Burmese government is behind this attack," Khin Maung Win said.

Soe Soe, Myanmar: "Life is totally bleak"

OUTKWIN, 29 July 2008 (Relief-web-IRIN) - Almost three months since Cyclone Nargis struck southern Myanmar - leaving nearly 140,000 dead or missing - many storm-affected people lack basic necessities of food and shelter.

In the village of Outkwin, Pyapon Township, deep inside Myanmar's badly affected Ayeyarwady Delta, one such survivor, Soe Soe, 28, told IRIN about the hardship she faces, as well as the birth of her son, named after the storm.

"That night I went into labour in a small bamboo, thatched house on the banks of the Pyapon River to deliver my first child. But as the wind roared, my husband and I struggled outside only to see our home destroyed right before our very eyes.

"As the rain poured down and the water began to reach my chest, my husband lifted me on to some floating debris. As I lay there, the labour pains became so painful I began to scream. I needed help.

"Finally, among the broken pieces of wood I gave birth around six in the morning, but almost died in the process. I had lost so much blood. Both my husband and the woman who had helped me deliver thought I was gone. But a single hope kept me hanging on - that my son needed me.

"After the cyclone, I thought the worst was over. But finally I understood that the worst of our hardship - bringing our lives back to where they were - had only just begun.

"We could not rebuild our home. We have neither money to buy materials, nor assistance to build. If my neighbour hadn't had the compassion to share her makeshift hut with us, we would have been left to live in a displaced persons camp. My neighbour collected material from what was left of her own house to build this place. Now, my son Nargis and I have been living here with four other families. My husband, a fisherman, has been away at sea for two months and has yet to return.

"I hope he comes back soon. I have so many debts to pay back and my son needs medical treatment.

"For medical fees, I had to borrow some money from a local money-lender at a high interest rate - 30 percent per month.

"But there are no choices here. You do what you need to do to survive. Not just for my son's medical bills, but also food. Occasionally, the local authorities bring rice to us, but it's never enough. I still need to buy some rice, as well as vegetables and other things for cooking.

"Of course, I know I shouldn't be borrowing money at such high interest rates, but I don't know what else to do. I feel I should thank her for allowing me to borrow the money given I have nothing to offer her in collateral.

"My husband earns just $30 a month and our debts far exceed that now.

"Sometimes, I wonder what the future holds. Right now life is totally bleak."


A selection of IRIN reports are posted on ReliefWeb. Find more IRIN news and analysis at

US clamps down on firms linked to Myanmar


WASHINGTON (AP) - The Bush administration is imposing financial sanctions on companies suspected of being owned or controlled by the military-run government of Myanmar.

The Treasury Department's action Tuesday covers 10 companies including two big conglomerates _ the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and the Myanmar Economic Corp. _ that each has extensive holdings in gem mining, banking and construction. Those sectors are keenly important to the government, the department said. All the companies are located in Myanmar.

Any bank accounts or other financial assets found in the United States that belong to those named Tuesday must be frozen. Americans also are prohibited from doing business with them.

It marked the latest administration move to financially punish the repressive junta in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and its backers for a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The United States last week blasted the Myanmar junta's oft-repeated promise to democratize as a "kind of mockery." The U.S. also renewed criticism of Myanmar for initially refusing international help after Cyclone Nargis in May, when several countries including the United States were sitting offshore with ships loaded with aid.

"The regime's refusal to protect and allow relief to reach the Burmese people as Cyclone Nargis devastated their country is but another example of the regime's heartless neglect of its people," said Adam Szubin, director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the sanctions program.

Three mining companies and an export-import firm also were targeted Tuesday. Myanmar Ruby Enterprise Co. Ltd., Myanmar Imperial Jade Co., Myawaddy Bank, and Myawaddy Trading Ltd. also were covered by the department's order.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Don't let junta off the hook

By Thaung Htun

(The Australian) IF it were possible for human rights in Burma to be further assailed, then Cyclone Nargis managed to provide the opportunity. The storm, which swept through Burma's Irrawaddy Delta in May, killed up to 140,000 and ruined the lives of millions. Human rights are also a victim of Nargis.

Indeed, Human Rights Watch recently observed: "The greatest obstacle faced by the international community in addressing the large-scale reconstruction needs of the Irrawaddy Delta is Burma's abusive military regime." Yet the Burmese generals pat themselves on the back for ratifying an important regional human rights charter. Those who live in the real world must not be bought off by this latest lavish ruse.

Burma's ratification of the human rights charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is infused with the sharpest irony.

For one, the charter, despite being years in the making, is neither enforceable nor does it carry any powers of prosecution. In fact, it extends ASEAN's non-interference culture to new lows. While the Burmese military junta remains truculently unwilling to provide basic access to foreign aid organisations post-Nargis, ASEAN seems prepared to allow a signature on a document to stand for its commitment to justice and human rights.

The torpid nature of ASEAN's human rights culture is epitomised in article14 of its charter. Pertaining directly to human rights in the region, the two-paragraph entry is vague and weak in tone. It's a perfect backdrop to ASEAN's listless approach.

So, for Burma's generals, ratifying the human rights statement was a no-brainer. The timing is clearly political, as it provides a moment for the generals to bask in some rare global community warmth. It also acts as a diversion to ongoing human rights violations in Burma.

Burma's junta is already a signatory to treaties and agreements on the rights of women, children, labour and unionists, among others. These documents gather dust on the shelves of military dictators while the Burmese horror story goes on.

More specifically, the generals continue to ignore the suffering of those affected by Nargis.

Nearly three months after Nargis, more than one million Burmese still have not received any assistance from international humanitarian and aid agencies. Wads of aid money are landing in the khaki pockets of the country's rulers, prompting the British Government to reconsider providing any aid at all, invoking the principle of its responsibility to protect Burma's civilians. This money funds continued atrocities of various degrees.

For instance, villagers still are being press-ganged into rebuilding roads and other infrastructure projects, even as donor money is pledged to pay for them. The Burmese military still is forcibly relocating many villagers in the Irrawaddy Delta, often to put them out of the reach of international aid workers. Meanwhile, there are critical shortages in housing materials, educational materials such as books, water and sanitation equipment, and health care and basic medical services. Some areas are desperately short of food.

On another level, people still are being detained, including locals who have volunteered to help the aid effort. Forced labour, land grabs, torture and rape are common military tactics, often targeting ordinary civilians going about their daily affairs.

The continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is a fitting symbol of the years of neglect and mistreatment of the Burmese people.

If these acts of political bastardry don't suffice as a pointer to the Burmese military's true intentions, it should be remembered that in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, the Government was more concerned with conducting a sham referendum to legimitise constitutional changes that shored up the military's power base. Those who opposed the process were summarily locked up.

During this period, the infamous Law 5/96 was regularly invoked. This law imposes a maximum prison term of 20 years for so much as discussing the constitution.

Without a democratic and accountable government, aid work will remain underdone and over-exploited. Without international monitors, money from international donors will continue to be wasted or, worse, scurrilously diverted.

Unfortunately, while ASEAN has achieved something worthwhile in persuading Burma to ratify its human rights charter, the victory rings hollow, as hollow as the roar of a vastpaper tiger over the broken Irrawaddy Delta.

Thaung Htun is the representative for UN affairs at the Burma UN Service Office of Burma's government-in-exile.

HRDP provides antenatal support for pregnant women

Jul 28, 2008 (DVB)–A shelter funded by Human Right Defenders and Promoters to provide antenatal care to pregnant women in Irrawaddy's Bogalay township has successfully assisted in its first delivery of a baby boy.

The shelter was founded by HRDP member Ma Myint Myint Mu, who has been involved in relief work in the region since the cyclone.

Ma Win Khine, who lost most of her family including her husband and son in the May cyclone, gave birth to her second baby son on 11 July, Myint Myint Mu said.

"Thirteen of her 19 family members were killed in the cyclone including her husband and her 4-year-old son while she survived by clinging onto a tree," said Myint Myint Mu.

"We brought her to our shelter and a professional midwife helped deliver the child."

She said the baby was named Maung Kyaw Htet Aung, in memory of his father Ko Kyaw Moe Thu.

Myint Myint Mu said the shelter is located on 34 and 5th street in Bogalay's ward (4) and has four women providing health care and nursing assistance to the pregnant woman.

Ten more pregnant women have applied for antenatal care at the shelter and will be brought to the house closer to their due dates.

Women from other villages who cannot afford to travel to Bogalay will be provided with assistance at their homes during delivery, Myint Myint Mu said.

"These women were struggling for money before the cyclone hit and now they have been left with no money to afford to give birth in hospital," she said.

"We have promised to provide assistance to them."

Myint Myint Mu said each delivery costs around 200,000 kyat and the shelter would accept any help to be provided directly to the expectant mothers.

Reporting by Aye Nai

Urge Thai Business to Indochina Investment

by Bupha Ravirot

(Thaindian) - ‘Thailand used to be the No. 1 investor in this region. Now, we have fallen to No. 3,” said Mr Phairush.

Despite of mounting tensions with Cambodia, Thai business have to pay more attention into the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Co-operation Strategy (Acmecs) to involve in and expand trade and investment in the Indochina region.

Phairush Burapachaisri, the secretary-general of the Thai Chamber of Commerce revealed that in the region Thailand was No. 1 investor now fallen to No.3. the lack of attention to building up their investments in the region, leaving their counterparts from countries like China, Vietnam, South Korea, as well as Taiwan, to flock to the region.

Thai business investors will be given full support from the government once they need to explore trade, invest as well as relocate invesment in the region including Cambodia, Viroon Tejapaibul, Deputy Commerce Minister said.

“We believe the temple row would be settled next month as the two governments have sent a signal that they want to settle the deal peacefully,” said Mr Viroon. ”Business will move on and Cambodia has a diversity of rich natural resources. Above all, it offers very cheap labour costs.”

Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Co-operation Strategy or Acmecs programme launched in the year 2003 aimed at cooperating framework amongst Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam to utilize member countries’ diverse strengths and to promote balanced development in the sub-region. Annual trade in this region was estimated at over US$10 billion in 2007.

The executive chairman of the Export-Import Bank of Thailand, Narongchai Akrasanee said the bank takes the responsibility to provide financial support to Thai industries who are interested in investment in neighbouring countries. In May 2008, the bank extended loans worth a total of 13 billion baht to Thai businesses to invest in international projects in the region: in Burma made up 5.56 billion baht, Laos 4.89 billion baht, Cambodia 2.13 billion baht, and Vietnam 425.25 million baht.

Chairman of the Thai Business Council for Cambodia, Somsak Ringruengsin said that Thai still have great opportunity to invest in the capital city, Phnom Penh though the major investors are those from Chinese and Vietnamese counterparts.

New Human Rights Chief Faces Daunting Task

By Thalif Deen, Asian Tribune-Inter Press Service

United Nations, 29 July, (IPS): Mary Robinson, a former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), who faulted countries such as the United States, China and Israel for transgressions of humanitarian law and civil liberties, was forced to retire after a 12-month renewal of her four-year contract because of intense lobbying against an extended tenure for her.

A former president of Ireland, Robinson was an outspoken critic of human rights abuses who even challenged Western nations on the legality of the 1999 bombing of former Yugoslavia by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which resulted in civilian casualties.

She was succeeded by Louise Arbour, a jurist from Canada, who was an equally vociferous defender of human rights and who was refused entry into both North Korea and Myanmar (Burma).

The government of Sri Lanka rejected her request for a human rights field office in the capital of Colombo. When she visited Sri Lanka early this year, Arbour was asked why she wasn't visiting Guantanamo Bay, the now-infamous U.S. detention centre for suspected terrorists, some of whom claimed they were tortured there.

And when she met with U.S. Congressional leaders, they turned the question around: why is she not visiting Myanmar, which has been roundly criticized by the United Nations for human rights abuses? And why is she singling out the United States?

Navanethem Pillay of South Africa, whose nomination as the new High Commissioner for Human Rights was endorsed by the 192-member General Assembly on Monday, will be walking in a political minefield -- particularly at a time when human rights are being integrated into all activities in the U.N. system, including socio-economic activities.

She also takes office when the United Nations is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and when the Security Council is deadlocked over human rights issues in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Israeli occupied territories.

Pillay, 67, will hold office for four years, following in the footsteps of Jose Ayala-Lasso of Ecuador; Robinson; Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil; and Arbour.

She will be based in Geneva overseeing a staff of over 1,000, spread across 50 countries, and with an annual budget of more than 150 million dollars.

Since 2003, Pillay has served as a judge on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and in 1999 she was elected Judge President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where she served for eight years.

Palitha Kohona, a former chief of the U.N. Treaty Section, said the position of High Commissioner for Human Rights is one of the most important appointments at the United Nations.

"Ms. Navanethem Pillay has an impressive background and she comes from a Third World country where respect for human rights was a major challenge for many years: a challenge which was primarily taken up by Third World countries unlike many developed countries which turned their backs on it," he told IPS.

"As we leave behind the agonies of yesterday and strive for a more just and equitable world, we are confident that she will introduce the necessary balance to ensure that human rights are strengthened and advanced in a practical and effective manner across the globe," said Kohona, who is currently foreign secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that Pillay will take up her appointment at a critical moment for human rights protection worldwide, and within the United Nations in particular.

"The U.N. Security Council has failed to take needed steps to confront human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and Darfur, thousands continue to be subjected to arbitrary detention in the war on terror, and states must be urged to implement newly adopted human rights standards relating to enforced disappearances, disability, and cluster munitions," he added.

Roth said the new high commissioner must be willing to take on those who abuse human rights -- "no matter how powerful they may be."

"Engaging governments through quiet diplomacy has a place in human rights protection, but experience shows that there is no substitute for strong public advocacy on the part of the high commissioner," Roth said.

Meanwhile, HRW has said that although key institutions of the United Nations relating to peace and security, and development are based in New York, there has been no full representation for human rights.

Roth said the high commissioner's office in Geneva is handicapped by not having an assistant secretary-general based in New York and the staff needed to carry out its mission in the field.

"[U.N. Secretary-General] Ban [Ki-moon] should use his authority to ensure those needs are met," he added.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

Families forced out of homes in Ton Tay

Jul 25, 2008 (DVB)–Families living in more than 600 houses in Rangoon's Ton Tay township have been ordered to move out so the properties can be demolished and the land used for new homes for cyclone victims.

A Ton Tay resident said families living in their homes on a 75-acre-square are of land near Nyaung Wine monastery were being forced to relocated with compensation by township authorities who said they had plans to build 500 new homes for people who lost their homes in the cyclone.

"People who are living on the land are general labourers – they have been told their houses will be demolished," said the Ton Tay resident.

"The residents cannot afford to lose these lands they have spent their life savings on and they won't give in to the authorities who are forcing them to do this," he said.

"They are now signing a petition and they will complain to several government ministries."

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

An Interview with Jody Williams

The Irrawaddy News

Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, spoke to The Irrawaddy on a wide range of issues including the role of the United Nations in Burma, the humanitarian crisis and targeted economic sanctions. She was in Bangkok in late July with US actress and activist Mia Farrow as part of a Nobel Woman’s Initiative Delegation tour of trouble areas in the world.

Question: You have been very critical of the UN.

Answer: I don’t think the UN likes me a lot, but I recognise a need for something like the UN. However, I think it’s really time to reform the UN. When it cannot respond to crises like the [Burma] cyclone, when it cannot respond to the crisis of dictatorship there for 50 years, when it cannot respond to the crisis in Darfur, I find it ethically impossible to pretend that they’re doing a great job.

I understand the constraints, but let’s talk about reality and let’s not dismiss the voices of the Burmese people themselves. And yes, they get uncomfortable and yes, they don’t like it, but nothing changes unless you raise the level of discomfort.

Even when you want to change, it’s hard. Even when a person chooses to change, it’s hard. A massive institution that has 60 years of bureaucracy and ineptness and self preservation is not going to change unless people like me and people like Mia [Farrow] challenge it in public. At the same time, it is the institution that exists. And when I said that Mia and I were going to go to New York during the General Assembly to raise our voices and to raise issues that we heard about here and work with the women of Burma.

Q: UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari is going to visit Burma soon. What is your message to him?

A: He is just doing his job. My message would be to the UN, to the secretary-general and the Security Council. Accepting that the Burmese junta has now allowed Gambari to meet with Daw Aung San Su Kyi is a fig leaf, there is no change happening and this is pretty typical of the way the international community deals with conflict.

Something happens, everybody get agitated, they respond and then a dictatorship will give a meaningless response showing flexibility and everybody claps their hands. When we go to New York, I’m going to request a meeting with the secretary-general, closed door. It doesn’t have to be public, and I’m going to speak very firmly.

Q: What will be your main message to the secretary-general if you meet with him?
A: Exactly all of the things I’ve just said. And I’m going to express my extreme dismay, sadness, anger at saying that the roadmap is a great way forward. The roadmap is the worst way forward. The roadmap is accepting the lies, the fake referendum, the questionable reform of the constitution, excluding people who won the election. I’m going to say that in my view, that is a recipe for disaster. That is not going to bring about sustainable peace, and we don’t support that. That the people of Burma that I have spoken to don’t support that. And while I recognise that his job is to work with the government, how can he justify that?

Q: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked the international community not to politicize the humanitarian issue during the Cyclone Nargis crisis. What’s your view on this?

A: What aren’t we supposed to politicize about a civil war that’s been going on for 50 years? We’re not supposed to politicize the very political issue of theft of international aid from the cyclone survivors? We’re not supposed to politicize that? What are we supposed to do? Clap because it goes into the hands of the junta? His job is to work with governments of the world. Thankfully, it’s not my job. It’s my job to question him, it’s my job to push him, and it’s my job to say, ‘How dare you! How can you say it’s not political?

How can you say the delivery of aid to one of the biggest disasters to hit Burma is not a political issue when you’re putting it into the hands of the same junta that has been repressing the people for decades” And you’re supposed to call that not a political issue? I have no problem saying it to them. I mean he’s just a human being. I’m not impressed by titles. I mean it’s great that he’s the secretary-general, but he’s just a human being. I recognise he has to do his job. But I’m a human being, and I have to do my job and it’s my job to question what the hell he’s doing.

Q: What did you learn from your trip to the Burma border?

A: I haven’t been to Burma since February 2003. Given all of the development recently, given Su Kyi’s repeated imprisonment every year when she should be set free, we wanted to come back and meet with people who are on the border, since we can’t go inside Burma. And particularly because it’s the Nobel Women’s Initiative, see what women’s organizations are doing, see what young women are doing to empower themselves. It’s fantastic and the people who inspire me are not the famous ones, I mean I love some of them, but I’m inspired by the women I met on the border, who live in precarious circumstances, who live undocumented, who could be deported at any time, who if sent back, could be imprisoned or worse.

And yet, they fight for their rights, they fight to be recognised as political women inside their organizations, they fight for democratic prospects in Burma, they fight for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, they fight for the release of the 2000 political prisoners. I want to take their message. They asked us to do that, and I have every intention to. I also am extremely excited to hear that a delegation of some of those women are coming to the UN in September/October and Mia and I and the Nobel Women’s Initiative are able to work with them for advocacy at the UN. We’ll hold a press conference, we’ll probably hold a forum where we can all speak, we’ll speak about our experience but more, we’ll them a platform because they’re from here. It has made me even more inspired.

Q: What do you think about the situation of Burmese migrant women living in

A: I think for me as an American, because Americans only care about America more or less, I’ll probably try to link it with the terrible immigration and migrant worker problems we have in the US. You know the racism, the exploitation. When they come they’re undocumented, sometimes when they come they’re not paid and then they’re thrown across the border when the employers are sick of them. So, I’ll probably make that linkage to make it more real to the people in the US.

Q: More Burmese women want to become involved in political and developmental work, but there are fewer resources to educate Burmese women and give them more confidence. In your view, how can they be supported?

A: The most I can do is try to talk with the political people in Thailand in the ministry of education and the ministry of welfare, who have been supportive, to allow women here to have education. But I’ve been very impressed that they’re not waiting here for people to give them an education; they’re educating themselves. The most I can do is advocate for an opening up of the system.

Q: Some of Burma’s neighbours, such as Thailand, India and China, have big trading interests with the Burmese regime. They also support a non-interference policy in Burma’s internal affairs.

A: I think capitalism sucks, whether it’s American capitalism or Asian capitalism. The reality is that we have to find ways to work with them, that it’s in their long-term self interest. Back in the 30s, it was FDR that made them realise that if they gave workers enough money to live, if they gave them mortgages so they’d be enslaved for 30 years to pay off the mortgage, they’d have a fairly stable and prosperous workforce.

This region is going to blow up unless it can be a little more forward thinking. I’m happy to talk to them about enlightened self interest, that’s all they care about. I’ll use all the tools I can, but I’m only one woman.

It’s not the way I operate obviously. I’m happy to interfere. Given that that is the style of this region, we have to find ways within that style to bring about change. I mean congratulating Thailand for its sensitivity about the people of Burma and people here.

Government’s like to be congratulated when they do something good, and I realise that this is a very shallow good. You know it’s all a game. But sometimes the game works. I certainly can’t go knocking on the door of China telling them to renounce their position of non- interference, but I think all of the pressure on China has done that. They themselves don’t say suddenly, ‘I’m transformed’ but they’re afraid of the public spotlight, afraid of the pressure. They have started doing things a little differently.

Q: Do you support targeted sanctions?

A: I support targeted sanctions. It’s one tool but the problem is that it’s going to take many different tools on many different levels to make Burma change. All I can say is that I’m committed to being with Burma until there’s change. The Nobel Women’s Initiative is committed to being with the women of Burma until there’s change, and I will do all I can at different levels.

You know one of the things about the Nobel Prize is that you have access. I will use that access to advocate change in Burma.

Q: There was talk about a humanitarian intervention after Cyclone Nargis and/or an effort to change of regime.

A: I am not a fan of humanitarian intervention. I mean look at the US’s great humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan and the “Coalition of the Willing” in Iraq.

Q: What are your thoughts on the debate about humanitarian assistance going inside the country or outside to the border regions?

A: I think the people of Burma, whether they’re inside or forced outside, deserve aid. There’s always donor fatigue. I didn’t go into the refugee camps myself so I can’t talk about that.

I think that what would be most helpful to the people I met with would be some legalization of their status in Thailand so that they can work freely without fear, change jobs like any normal person can change jobs, so they’re not tied to their work card, so they can have access to education, and the children can have access to education and healthcare. I think that’s what I would be calling for, not humanitarian intervention. I think Thailand should be even more sensitive in helping the [Burmese] people here.

Kachin Leaders to Form Political Party

The Irrawaddy News

Leaders of ethnic Kachin ceasefire groups have formed an umbrella group to lobby Kachin people to cooperate in creating a new political party, according to sources in Burma’s northernmost state.

The group includes leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) and the Kachin Consultative Committee (KCC). The group was formed in July and is led by Tu Ja, deputy chairman of the KIO, said sources.

Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng, the KIO’s deputy chairman and foreign affairs representative, told The Irrawaddy by phone: “It is a first step towards lobbying Kachin people to cooperate with other parties in Kachin State for when we are allowed to form a political party.”

However, the group is not yet sure that it will be permitted by Burma’s ruling junta to form a political party to contest the general election scheduled to take place sometime in 2010.

The group currently has at least 50 members, with the KIO and NDA-K represented by 10 members each, said Zau Seng. The remaining members are from the KCC or are civilians unaffiliated with any group. The new group has not yet been named.

“If we are able to form a political party, the name of the group will be officially given,” said Zau Seng.

The group plans to appeal to Kachin people to be unified and support the formation of a political party. The members will perform their duties through a transition period which will last from now until the formation of the political party.

The Kachin leaders introduced the umbrella group on July 23 in Laiza, a town near the border with China. About 800 people, including civilians and members of the KIO, NDA-K and KCC, attended the meeting.

Ma Grang, who was present at the meeting, said he didn’t think that the group would easily succeed in its efforts to win popular support for a new political party.

Ma Grang, who is close to KIO leaders, said that they raised the possibility of forming the group in May. However, many lower-ranking members of the KIO and the Kachin Independence Army, the military wing of the KIO, expressed opposition to the proposal.

Due to the disagreement, the KIO leaders are seeking an alternative way to form a political party, said Ma Grang.

The KIO, founded in 1961, was one of 17 ethnic armed groups that signed a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta in 1990s.

Burmese military authorities have been urging the ceasefire groups to surrender—in effect, lay down their weapons—and form political parties. An alternative option for the ceasefire groups would be to enlist their troops as special combat police, said sources.

However, most of the ethnic ceasefire groups are undecided as to whether they should disarm and form political parties to contest the Burmese general election.

Farmers Face Fertilizer Shortage

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese department of agriculture is not providing farmers with an adequate supply of chemical fertilizer for the monsoon paddy, forcing prices to rise in the country’s agricultural heartland.

“The government is currently selling only one bag (50 kg) of fertilizer for every 20 acres,” a farmer in Nyaunglebin Township, Pegu Division, told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

Burmese farmers normally use 25 kg of chemical fertilizer per acre to produce at least 80 baskets (1668.8 kg) of paddy. The government usually supplies one 50-kg bag for every three acres of paddy, according to the farmer.

“We are only producing about 50 baskets of paddy per acre. If we added more fertilizer, our yield would increase by more than 30 baskets,” said Win Maung, a farmer from Waw Township, Pegu Division.

The Burmese government operates three factories which produce low-cost fertilizer for the entire country. Fertilizers are also imported from neighboring countries through Maungdaw in Arakan State, Muse in Shan State and Myawaddy in Karen State, according to a fertilizer merchant in Pegu.

In the past, fertilizers were mainly imported from Bangladesh and Thailand, but at present, China is the source of about 90 percent of the fertilizer used in Lower Burma, said the merchant. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia also supply small quantities.

“Fertilizer prices have increased everywhere in Burma this paddy season, because the Burmese government can’t produce enough for farmers’ needs,” he added.

In the third week of July, the price of a 50-kg bag of urea fertilizer increased from 29,000 kyat (US $25) to 31,000 kyat ($26.70) in Pegu Township. The government price was 21,000 kyat ($18) per 50-kg bag.

There are about 19 million acres of farmland under cultivation in Burma, 19 million bags of chemical fertilizer bags every year.