Saturday, 27 September 2008

Win Htein remains in Katha prison

Sep 26, 2008 (DVB)–Political prisoner Win Htein, who was released on Tuesday and re-arrested the following day, remains in Katha prison but has been given no explanation for his detention.

National League for Democracy members and former army captain Win Htein was one of seven political detainees who were among the 9002 prisoners released as part of a government amnesty on 23 September.

He was released from Katha prison on the orders of the Internal Affairs Ministry, but was taken back into custody at 10am on 24 September, a prison officer confirmed today.

Win Htein’s wife had been waiting to meet him in Mandalay but was told to come to the prison where she was able to see him for an hour.

Win Htein was not told why he was being returned to prison, and prison staff, including a prison governor, could not give a reason for his arrest.

The prison official said Win Htein seemed to be in good health and was keeping his spirits up.

The Internal Affairs Ministry, deputy minister’s officer and special branch refused to comment on the case.

During their monthly meeting yesterday, Meikhtila NLD leaders in Mandalay denounced the military regime for releasing fewer than 10 political prisoners in the recent amnesty.

Meikhtila township NLD secretary Daw Myint Myint Aye criticised the releases as a token gesture.

“The SPDC has always given innocent people heavy prison terms and whenever it faces political problems it releases one or two token prisoners,” she said.

“It is very difficult for us to say we are pleased with prisoners being released for show; Meikhtila township [NLD] decided to denounce it.”

Reporting by Moe Aye

Freed political prisoner tells of prison abuses

Sep 24, 2008 (DVB)–National League for Democracy member U Aye Thein, who was released at noon yesterday from Kalaymyo prison, has spoken out about the mistreatment of prisoners he witnessed while in detention.

U Aye Thein, 38, the Thabeikkyeen township NLD organising committee secretary, was one of a small number of political prisoners among the 9002 inmates released as part of a government amnesty.

Although Aye Thein was arrested on criminal charges, he was placed among political prisoners in the jail and said he suffered mistreatment by the authorities.

He said that he and other prisoners were kept in isolation in dark cells up until the time of his release.

Pakokku township MP-elect U Hlaing Aye, who was transferred to Kalaymyo jail on 22 September, was also sent directly to an isolation cell.

Aye Thein said he had also witnessed harsh treatment of other prisoners during his time behind bars.

U Michael Win Kyaw from Kalaymyo, who was imprisoned for his role in the Saffron Revolution, was beaten up by prisoners serving criminal sentences on the orders of the prison authorities, Aye Thein said.

On 5 September, Maung Win Cho from Kalaymyo township's Kokeko village, who had been imprisoned for two months on drug charges, was beaten to death in front of inmates to set an example, drawing protest from political prisoners.

Aye Thein said he intended to report the incidents he had witnessed in prison to the authorities, NLD headquarters and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Several political prisoners including solo protester U Ohn Than, U Sai Nyunt Lwin of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, Ko Aye Aung, U Nyo Mya, U Aye Ko of Pyawbwe, U Kyaw Swe of Madaya and U Min Aung from Arakan State, U Ba Min and U Ba Thin from Kalaymyo are currently languishing in Kalaymyo prison.

Reporting by Khin Maung Soe Min

NLD ordered to withdraw statement

Sep 25, 2008 (DVB)–National League for Democracy leaders have been told by Burma’s police chief to retract a statement they issued on 18 September calling on the authorities to form a constitutional review committee.

NLD chair U Aung Shwe and members of the party’s central executive committee were summoned to the interior ministry today by police chief Khin Yi and told to withdraw their statement, according to party spokesperson U Nyan Win.

"The reason for the summons was the latest special statement-18 regarding the review committee,” Nyan Win said.

“[Khin Yi said] the contents of the letter amounted to inciting the public and that we could be liable to prosecution and told us to withdraw it,” he explained.

“We responded that we had reliable facts in the letter and that it was issued in accordance with politics and we said we could never withdraw it in any way."

The statement called on the authorities to convene parliament and to form a constitution review committee with representatives of all relevant parties which should revise the constitution within six months.

Unlike their previous declarations, the NLD’s most recent statement called for the participation of army representatives, ceasefire groups, constitutional experts, ethnic nationalities and representatives of the NLD and other winning parties from the 1990 elections in the committee.

Nyan Win said it was not made clear what action the police chief would take if the NLD continued to refuse to withdraw the statement.

The warning comes shortly after the release of prominent NLD leader U Win Tin and as the party is making preparations for its 20th anniversary this Saturday.

"The anniversary ceremony will start at 12 noon. The main thing is that the chairman will deliver a speech at the ceremony and a statement issued by the NLD will be read out,” Nyan Win said.

“As it is the anniversary, representatives from the outer regions are attending. Nothing special has been planned for the 20th anniversary,” he said.

“Important matters regarding the release of political prisoners such as U Win Tin will be addressed."

U Win Tin and party chairman U Aung Shwe had a cordial meeting yesterday evening to discuss the party’s future activities.

Many grassroots supporters and activists excited by the release of U Win Tin are expected to attend the ceremony.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

Junta's secret plan: Closer relationship with China

By Zarni
27 September 2008

Chiang Mai (Mizzima)- The secretly distributed minutes of a meeting chaired by the Burmese Ministry of Home Affairs indicate that the Burmese junta, which has ruled the country for over four decades, will seek a closer relationship with China in the face of growing, U.S.-led, international pressure.

The minutes of the meeting, dated July 6, 2008, state that in order to defend the country against U.S. influence, Burma cannot stand alone without any alliances and, therefore, needs the backing of China and other like-minded countries.

The minutes, a copy of which is in Mizzima's possession, say the junta's policy of stepping up relations with China is in both countries' favor and is not to the junta's benefit alone.

With the U.S. vigorously implementing its "China Containment Policy", the minutes say Burma is one of only a few neighboring countries of China that can still fend off U.S. influence.

The minutes list India, Bangladesh, Thailand, South Korea and Mongolia, as well as others, as neighbors of China that are fully or partially influenced by the U.S., leaving Burma and a few other countries such as North Korea free of the Western influence.

"For this purpose, the gas pipeline has been built and Kyaukthu Port has been developed, so that China can get direct access to the sea from Burma," the Home Minister was quoted as saying in the minutes.

China, a veto wielding country in the U.N. Security Council, has openly defended Burma in the U.N. as well as in other international arenas. In January 2007, China along with Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Burma that urged the release of detained pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and an improvement in the country's human rights situation.

The minutes also depict the U.S. as failing to influence many nations, including Burma, through its economic, diplomatic, human rights and democracy stance, requiring Washington to turn to the U.N. to further its influence.

The minutes, which apparently accuse the U.S. of masterminding the various resolutions passed by the U.N. against Burma, say the U.S. is seeking to exploit the various councils of the world body, including the Human Rights Council and the International Labor Organization.

Interestingly, the minutes add that with the continuous pressure of the world body and international community, the junta can no longer turn a deaf ear to the outside world but is instead forced to implement at least some changes.

However, the document states that despite growing international community demands, the government will not alter its policy regarding its roadmap to democracy.

But, in the case of renewed anti-government movements and riots, the minutes iterate that such occurrences will be handled by the police and not the army, in an effort to mitigate international criticism.

The minutes determine that while there is no need to worry about growing external pressure, it is important that members of the Ministry work hard and prove themselves excellent in their respective works.

Leaked Document

S Korea Upholds Granting Refugee Status to Burmese

The Irrawaddy News

SEOUL — South Korea's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling granting refugee status to eight asylum seekers from Burma.

A lower court ruling that the Burmese citizens "have a well-grounded fear of being persecuted" is justified, the Supreme Court said in a written ruling.

"I am very pleased with the ruling. Now, I can freely work for democracy and human rights in Myanmar [Burma]," Zaw Moe Aung, one of the eight plaintiffs, told The Associated Press after the ruling.

Burma's military junta routinely jails dissidents. Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has been detained for 13 of the past 19 years, and Friday is the one-year anniversary of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations by tens of thousands.

The Burmese citizens entered South Korea in 1990s and helped form a Korean chapter of Suu Kyi's party in 1999. They have since led rallies condemning their country's military junta.

The eight filed applications in 2000 seeking refugee status, citing possible political persecution from Burma's military junta if they were forcibly sent back to their country.

But South Korea's Justice Ministry refused to grant them refugee status in 2005 and recommended their deportation, prompting the Burmese citizens to file the suit.

A lower court ruled in the asylum seekers' favor in 2006. The Justice Ministry appealed the ruling.

Hong Man-pyo, a ministry spokesman, said he had no comment on Thursday's ruling.

South Korea, which became a signatory of the UN treaty on protecting refugees in 1992, has so far granted refugee status to 76 out of more than 1,950 asylum seekers, according to a civic group that aided the plaintiffs.

To Implement Amendments to the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003

September 26, 2008
White House Government
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

1. Section 3A(b)(1) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-61) (the "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act"), as amended by section 6(a) of the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-286) (the "JADE Act"), directs the President to prohibit the importation of jadeite and rubies mined or extracted from Burma, as well as the importation of articles of jewelry containing jadeite and rubies mined or extracted from Burma (Burmese covered articles), until such time as the President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that Burma has met the conditions described in section 3(a)(3) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act.

2. Sections 3A(c)(1) and 3A(c)(2) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, set forth certain conditions for the importation of jadeite and rubies mined or extracted from countries other than Burma, as well as for the importation of articles of jewelry containing jadeite and rubies mined or extracted from countries other than Burma (non-Burmese covered articles).

3. Section 3A(c)(2) of the Act, as amended, also permits the President to waive the conditions for importation set forth in section 3A(c)(1) of non-Burmese covered articles from any country with respect to which the President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that the country has implemented certain measures to prevent the trade in Burmese covered articles.

4. In order to implement the prohibitions on the importation of Burmese covered articles and the conditions for importation of non-Burmese covered articles set forth in sections 3A(b)(1), 3A(c)(1), and 3A(c)(2) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, it is necessary to modify the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTS) to include an additional U.S. Note to chapter 71.

5. Section 604 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended (the "1974 Act") (19 U.S.C. 2483), authorizes the President to embody in the HTS the substance of relevant provisions of that Act, or other acts affecting import treatment, and of actions taken thereunder, including the removal, modification, continuance, or imposition of any rate of duty or other import restriction.

6. Sections 3A(b)(2) and 3A(c)(3) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, authorize the President to issue such proclamations, regulations, licenses, and orders, and conduct such investigations, as may be necessary to implement the prohibition on Burmese covered articles set forth in section 3A(b)(1) of that Act and the conditions for importation of non-Burmese covered articles set forth in sections 3A(c)(1) and 3A(c)(2) of that Act.

7. I have determined that it is appropriate to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Homeland Security, pursuant to sections 3A(b)(2) and 3A(c)(3) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, to issue regulations, licenses, and orders, and conduct such investigations as may be necessary, to implement the prohibition on importation of Burmese covered articles set forth in section 3A(b)(1) of that Act and the conditions for importation of non-Burmese covered articles set forth in sections 3A(c)(1) and 3A(c)(2) of that Act. I further determine that it is appropriate to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Homeland Security to redelegate, as necessary, any of these functions to other officers and agencies of the United States Government consistent with applicable law.

8. I have determined that it is appropriate to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to perform the functions set forth in section 3A(c)(2)(A) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, relating to the issuance waivers of the conditions for importation set forth in section 3A(c)(1) of non-Burmese covered articles from any country that has implemented certain measures to prevent the trade in Burmese covered articles. I further determine that it is appropriate to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to redelegate, as necessary, any of these functions to other officers and agencies of the United States Government consistent with applicable law.

9. Section 3A(b)(3)(A) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, directs the President to take all appropriate actions to seek issuance of a draft waiver decision by the Council for Trade in Goods of the World Trade Organization (WTO) granting a waiver of the applicable WTO obligations with respect to the provisions of section 3A of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, and any measures taken to implement it.

10. I have determined that it is appropriate to authorize the United States Trade Representative to perform the functions specified in section 3A(b)(3)(A) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended.

11. Section 3A(b)(3)(B) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, directs the President to take all appropriate actions to seek the adoption of a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly expressing the need to address trade in Burmese covered articles and calling for the creation and implementation of a workable certification scheme for non-Burmese covered articles to prevent the trade in Burmese covered articles.

12. I have determined that it is appropriate to authorize the Secretary of State to perform the functions specified in section 3A(b)(3)(B) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended.

13. Section 3A(g) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, directs the President to, not later than January 26, 2009, transmit to the appropriate congressional committees a report describing what actions the United States has taken during the 60-day period beginning on the date of the enactment of the JADE Act to seek (i) the issuance of a draft waiver decision by the Council for Trade in Goods of the WTO, as specified in section 3A(b)(3)(A) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended; (ii) the adoption of a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly, as specified in section 3A(b)(3)(B) of that Act; and (iii) the negotiation of an international arrangement, as specified in section 3A(f)(1) of that Act.

14. I have determined that it is appropriate to authorize the Secretary of State, in consultation with the United States Trade Representative, to perform the functions specified in section 3A(g) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended.

15. Under section 3(b) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended by section 6(c) of the JADE Act, the President may waive the restrictions described above if the President determines and notifies the Committees on Appropriations, Finance, and Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committees on Appropriations, Foreign Affairs, and Ways and Means of the House of Representatives that to do so is in the national interest of the United States.

16. I have determined that it is appropriate to authorize the Secretary of State to perform the functions and authorities specified in section 3(b) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, acting under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including sections 3 and 3A of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended by section 6 of the JADE Act, section 604 of the 1974 Act, and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, do proclaim that:

(1) In order to implement the prohibition on the importation of Burmese covered articles and the conditions for the importation of non-Burmese covered articles provided for in sections 3A(b)(1) and 3A(c)(1) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, an additional U.S. Note as set forth in the Annex to this proclamation is included in chapter 71 of the HTS.

(2) Beginning on September 27, 2008, the importation into the United States of any Burmese covered article shall be prohibited, except as provided for (i) in section 3A(d) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended; (ii) in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this proclamation and section 3A(b)(2) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended; or (iii) by waiver issued pursuant to section 3(b) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended.

(3) Beginning on September 27, 2008, as a condition for the importation into the United States of any non-Burmese covered article, the importer and exporter of such article must meet the conditions set forth in section 3A(c)(1) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, except as provided for (i) in section 3A(d) of that Act; (ii) in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses issued pursuant to this proclamation and section 3A(c)(3) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended; or (iii) by waiver issued pursuant to either section 3(b) or section 3A(c)(2) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended.

(4) The Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Homeland Security are hereby authorized, pursuant to sections 3A(b)(2) and 3A(c)(3) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, to issue regulations, licenses, and orders, and conduct such investigations as may be necessary, to implement the prohibition on Burmese covered articles set forth in section 3A(b)(1) of that Act and the conditions for importation of non-Burmese covered articles set forth in sections 3A(c)(1) and 3A(c)(2) of that Act. The Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Homeland Security are further authorized to redelegate, as necessary, any of these functions to other officers and agencies of the United States Government consistent with applicable law.

(5) The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, is hereby authorized to perform the functions set forth in section 3A(c)(2)(A) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended, relating to the issuance of waivers of the conditions for importation set forth in section 3A(c)(1) of non-Burmese covered articles from any country that has implemented certain measures to prevent the trade in Burmese covered articles. The Secretary of the Treasury may redelegate any of these functions to other officers and agencies of the United States Government consistent with applicable law.

(6) The United States Trade Representative is hereby authorized to perform the functions specified in section 3A(b)(3)(A) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended.

(7) The Secretary of State is hereby authorized to perform the functions specified in section 3A(b)(3)(B) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended.

(8) The Secretary of State is hereby authorized, in consultation with the United States Trade Representative, to perform the functions specified in section 3A(g) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended.

(9) The Secretary of State is hereby authorized to perform the functions specified in section 3(b) of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, as amended.

(10) Any provisions of previous proclamations and Executive Orders that are inconsistent with the actions taken in this proclamation are superseded to the extent of such inconsistency.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-sixth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.


Switzerland extends sanctions

GENEVA (DailyTimes): Switzerland’s government said Friday it has decided to extend its sanctions against Myanmar to include a ban on wood imports, bringing its measures in line with the European Union.

“The new coercive measures include the banning of imports of wood and wooden products, coal, certain metals and gemstones from Myanmar,” the Federal Council said.

Financial sanctions will also be tightened and the number of Myanmar businesses subjected to sanctions has risen to 83 from 39.

The European Union strengthened its own sanctions against Myanmar in May, including an embargo on the import of timber, gems and metals from Myanmar.

The 27-nation bloc also extended the list of Myanmar leaders and their relatives subject to a travel ban and assets freeze. afp

One Down, 2,100 To Go

(VOA) 26 September 2008 - The military junta that rules Burma has released its longest-serving political prisoner, journalist U Win Tin after 19 years in jail. The United States welcomes the news and urges the government there to free all prisoners of conscience and begin a dialogue with pro-democracy and ethnic minority leaders to begin the work of rebuilding the country.

Burmese state news media said that Win Tin's release, and that of about 9,000 other prisoners, was granted to allow them to take part in voting in the general election, scheduled for 2010.

It would be the country's first election since the National League of Democracy won the vote overwhelmingly in 1990, the results of which the ruling junta has never honored. The party’s leader and Burma’s most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years. She was not granted freedom by this latest amnesty.

Win Tin was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to a long term for agitating against the military government and allegedly writing anti-government propaganda. His release is a positive development and long overdue. Showing that he lost none of the crusading spirit that got him in trouble with authorities in the first place, he said soon after leaving jail, "I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country."

An estimated 2,100 other political prisoners languish in Burmese jails and the regime continues to imprison those with differing political views. Authorities recently arrested Nilar Thein who has been hiding since the crackdown on democracy demonstrations last year.

It is hoped that if authorities are setting the stage for a fair national election in two years, these political prisoners be released as part of the process too. The U.S. urges that Aung San Suu Kyi and all others be freed and that the government move the country down the path toward genuine democracy.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Ashin Gambira unwell in court

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Ashin Gambira, facing trial, felt unwell during his last appearance in court, his defence counsel U Khin Maung Shein said.

Leader of last September's Saffron Revolution, Ashin Gambira was not feeling well when he was produced in court on Monday morning.

"I think it is food poisoning because he vomited three times this morning. 'I feel sorry for you because of the stink coming out of my mouth'," his defence lawyer quoted him as saying.

He was weak, exhausted and half asleep with his eyes closed during the court proceedings.

"He inhaled balm brought to him by his younger sisters. They applied balm on his hands and legs and massaged him," the lawyer said.

"He could not say why he felt unwell. He said he thought it was food poisoning," the lawyer added.

He was forcibly disrobed when he was arrested and brought to court in handcuffs. He has been charged under section 13(1) of the Immigration Act, section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, section 6 of the Associations Act, section 505(b) of the Penal Code (inducing crime against public tranquility) and 295, 145, 147 of the Penal Code (insult to the religion, unlawful assembly), section 17/20 of the Printers and Publishers Act and section 33(a)/38 of the Electronic Law.

Ashin Gambira, the leader of the Saffron Revolution, was awarded the 'U Yewata Memorial Peace Prize' by 'All Burma Young Monks Association' (ABYMU-India) and 'Freedom of Expression Prize 2008' by the London based 'Index on Censorship'.

On the same day, 21 members of the 88 Generation Students, including student leader Ko Min Ko Naing, were produced in court. The lawyer said that the health situation of the 21 student leaders was good and their family members were allowed to be present inside the courtroom to witness the court proceedings.

Regime Frees Longest-serving Political Prisoner, Win Tin

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Burma’s longest-serving political prisoner, 78-year-old journalist Win Tin, was freed on Tuesday after 19 years behind bars. Win Tin was among 9,002 prisoners released, only a handful of whom were political detainees.

The freed political prisoners included another well-known writer, Aung Soe Myint, and four members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)—Khin Maung Swe, May Win Myint, Win Htein and Than Nyein.

A close friend of Win Tin, Maung Maung Khin, told The Irrawaddy the long-serving political prisoner had been released unconditionally and in good health.

“He didn’t need to sign any conditional agreement with the Burmese authorities,” Maung Maung Khin said.

The state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, confirmed on Tuesday that 9,002 prisoners had been released.

Win Tin, formerly editor of the influential newspaper Hanthawaddy, vice-chairman of the Writers’ Union, and an active participant in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to 20 years on charges that included “anti-government propaganda.”

Win Tin won international recognition for his pro-democracy involvement, and in 2001 he was awarded the World Association of Newspapers Golden Pen of Freedom and the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.

He suffered heart and prostate problems during his imprisonment, and two rights organizations, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association, charged that he had been denied “proper medical treatment” and the opportunity to write.

Since 2006, he had been denied visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Around 2,000 political prisoners are now believed to be detained in Burma’s prisons.

Tate Naing, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), called for the release of them all, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held under house arrest for more than 13 of the past 19 years, and leading members of the 88 Generation Students group.

Suu Kyi’s lawyer, Kyi Win, said on Tuesday that a legal appeal against her continuing house arrest would be lodged in Naypyidaw on Thursday.

At least 39 activists were arrested last month alone, and 21 of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment, according to the AAPP.

Burmese observers in exile suggested Tuesday’s amnesty was linked to the start of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York. They pointed out that prisoners had been released in the past in times of growing pressure on the regime.

In a political development, the NLD called on Monday for a review of the new constitution by a committee formed of candidates elected in the 1990 general election, representatives of the regime and ethnic groups and constitutional experts.

Leaked Document Reveals Burma’s US Policy

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s military leaders know they cannot stand alone in the world, but will react according to each situation with a view to balancing their relations with the world’s superpowers, said Home Affairs Minister Maj-Gen Maung Oo at a meeting of his ministers in July.

According to a confidential document acquired recently by The Irrawaddy detailing the minutes of a July 6 meeting, Home Ministry officials were briefed on relations with the United States, China and Indonesia, as well as the junta’s policy toward the 2010 elections, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and how the junta would react to future demonstrations.

According to the leaked minutes of the meeting, Maj-Gen Maung Oo told Home Ministry officials that in reaction to the global influence of the US and the West, Burma would continue to pursue “strong relations” with China, but that didn't mean that the junta was pro-Beijing. “In the modern world, we cannot stand alone,” Maung Oo reportedly said.

The leaked document also revealed that the regime plans to deploy riot police in the event of future protests or civil unrest.

“The international community criticized us for using the armed forces to crack down on [last September’s] demonstrators,” the home minister is quoted as saying. “Therefore we need to reorganize our riot police.”

He also warned officials to be prepared for the coming elections in 2010.

On foreign policy, Maung Oo criticized the US for “using humanitarian issues and democracy as a policy to overthrow governments that it disliked.”

Maung Oo slammed the US for using the UN and the “Responsibility to Protect” paradigm as part of an agenda to accuse the Burmese government of “Crimes against Humanity.” He also said the UN and associate international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) were “puppets” of the US and the CIA.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Maung Oo forewarned his subordinates of the possibility of a third UN Security Council resolution on Burma and subsequent economic sanctions and an embargo.

“In the event of a third presidential statement,” Maung Oo said. “There could be a resolution that the 192 members of the UN will have to follow—led by the US.”

According to the 14-page document, Maung Oo went on to accuse the US, the UN and INGOs of pushing Burma to the top of their agendas. On the Cyclone Nargis disaster, the home minister accused US relief items of providing aid to the victims “just for show” and said the US only delivered drinking water, instant noodles and medicine.

The minister is reported to have accused international aid agencies of spending humanitarian aid money on themselves and not on the cyclone victims.

“We told them to send construction materials instead of instant food,” Maung Oo continued. “But nobody did.”

He also expressed the regime's skepticism and resentment that aid was not delivered through government channels, so the authorities could not see what was being delivered.

Regarding the US naval ships’ inability to deliver aid to cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta, Maung Oo is reported as saying that the Burmese junta denied the request because the regime believed the US military would find an excuse not to leave until after the 2010 elections.

He also pointed out that although the Burmese government calculated that about US $11.7 billion was needed in relief after Cyclone Nargis, the Tripartite Core Group—comprising the UN, Asean and the Burmese regime—only approved about $0.9 billion in aid, which was 12 times the difference of the junta’s calculations.

The ministry’s minutes of the July 6 meeting also make reference to the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). Maung Oo reportedly said the regime was “not scared” of the opposition winning the election, but said that they would have to be careful because the party was backed by the US, British and French embassies.

According to the leaked document, the home minister also referred to the diplomatic standoff between Burma and Indonesia. He reportedly confirmed that there were currently no relations between the two countries at an ambassadorial level and that the first step was for the Indonesian parliament to endorse Burma's ambassador to Jakarta.

An Evil Game: Token Release of Political Prisoners

The Irrawaddy News-Blog

The release of Win Tin, a renowned 79-year-old journalist, and other political prisoners is very good news. But wait. Their amnesty is further proof that the junta is playing its usual evil games.

Win Tin was released on Tuesday after serving more than 19 years in the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon. Other well-known politicians and political activists were also released, but the exact number can’t be confirmed.

The military regime announced an amnesty for 9,002 prisoners for good behavior, saying the amnesty was granted to help build a new nation ahead of the 2010 general election.

Observers believe that only a small number of an estimated 2,000 political prisoners were among those freed.

Of course, political activists are happy that Win Tin, the former editor of the respected newspaper, Hanthawaddy, and a key adviser to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is free. He was the longest serving political prisoner in Burma and perhaps all of Southeast Asia. He is famous for his unwavering political spirit.

Apart from Win Tin, at least seven other senior members of the main opposition National League for Democracy were released from Insein and other prisons.

Their release should not be viewed as a policy change by the regime. The junta, as always, carefully calibrated its move based on external events.

The amnesty follows the opening of the 63rd United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, where the United States will again raise the Burma issue. US President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will make it a point to seek more cooperation from the international community to help restore democracy in Burma and protect human rights.

US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalizad said, “We’ll continue efforts to increase pressure on Burma, to make progress on the political track. There has been no progress on that.” Two other permanent members of the Security Council, Britain and France, are expected to join the US in taking a strong stand on Burma.

So, it was time for the regime to do something to counter criticism in the UN assembly. The international community will welcome the release of political prisoners, and the junta can say it has complied with part of the UN’s demands.

Actually, it’s an old game—political prisoners have always been pawns for the junta. In other words, they are hostages to be released whenever the regime wants to ease mounting international pressure.

Since the regime took power in 1988, the number of political prisoners has always remained above 1,000. The junta, according to Amnesty International, now has 2,000 political prisoners. If the junta really wanted to change its policy, it would release all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, prominent student leader Min Ko Naing and ethnic leaders such as Hkun Htun Oo. (JEG's: U Gambira, Nilar and all the other monks doing hard-labour by now)

This latest release will undoubtedly draw praise from some members of the international community. But we shouldn’t be fooled. The release of all 2,000 political prisoners would be the first step of genuine political reform.

Anything less means political prisoners are just pawns in an evil game.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Burmese Prisoner Dies in Bangladesh Prison

September 21, 2008 - Dhaka (Narinjara): A Burmese national died on Friday in Bangladesh after languishing for years in a Bangladesh prison, according to a report from prison authorities.

The prisoner was identified as Ko Aung San Oo, aged 39, son of U Shwe Thein, from Sittwe in Arakan. He passed away at the medical college hospital in Chittagong from cancer, just a few days after he was admitted to the hospital.

He was initially arrested by Bangladesh police in the border town Teknaf in 2005 for illegally entering Bangladesh territory without valid travel documents. After his arrest, Bangladesh authorities sentenced him to two years in prison under immigration laws.

His sentenced ended in 2007, but he was unable to return to Burma because the Burmese military government refused to accept any Burmese prisoners from Bangladesh for repatriation.

While he was at Chittagong prison, he developed cancer but was unable to get admitted to a hospital for treatment. He finally received care at the hospital when his health began to deteriorate and his condition began to improve, but the care came too late to save his life.

In several prisons of Bangladesh, there are over 1,000 Burmese prisoners languishing after the end of their sentences because the Burmese authorities refuse to allow their repatriation, despite Bangladesh's desire to hand the detainees over.

Interview: Pinheiro calls for new strategy on Burma

Sep 18, 2008 (DVB)–The former United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, called for the United Nations to adopt a new strategy in dealing with the regime.

Speaking to DVB in an interview on 9 September, Pinheiro said that following the junta’s seven-step road map was not an effective way to bring about a transition to democracy.

Pinheiro: “I think it is the moment to revise the strategy vis-à-vis Burma. Precisely because there’ll be on the horizon another step of the road map; the elections. I think that they will also be fake elections, because I don’t know how this miracle will be possible without any basic freedoms. No liberalisation at all.

“I don’t know a single transition process in the world without some sort of liberalisation, in terms of the right to discuss, the right to have meetings and to [distribute] publications. All this is not allowed and how you could have [elections] without international observers? How can we have an election in such an environment? And I think it’s a good moment that Europe, the other western nations, the UN could re-discuss the approach to the country.”

DVB: If you were still at the UN, how would you find an imaginative way to approach the Burma question? Pinheiro: “I don’t have a recipe but I have some hints for strategy. I think that it is very important not to continue considering the road map towards democracy. Of course the military government can do what they want but we are not obliged to consider that transition to democracy. I think that what is going on there is a transition to a consolidation of the military regime. This is not a democratic transition. Why is it important? Because if you base your strategy on the notion of the road map to transition to democracy then it’s impossible, to have a strategy based on a false assumption.

“Second, let’s abandon the hope that the military will disappear after the transition. Then I think that is, I don’t know any transition in the world where everybody that was in the previous regime will disappear like that [snaps fingers]. I think you have to consider that, in the transition a lot of people in the government will continue operating the country.

“I think that is important to continue supporting the NGOs in the country that have some sort of autonomy. There are a lot of assistance, social assistance in NGOs, not exactly connected to the government. I think that every opportunity that the world can have in terms of empowering the community, I think that this must be done.

“Something that I have already said is to establish real partnership between India, China and ASEAN. I think the creation by the secretary-general of a group of friends of Myanmar to support the activities of Mr. Gambari was a good initiative. I would have preferred a smaller group; I think it is very difficult to operate so large a group. In any case, it was a positive initiative. I think this review of some of the elements of the strategy that must be taken into consideration.”

DVB: Can you just comment on the transition from Khin Nyunt, how your working conditions have changed and what you perceive as the challenges for the next rapporteur?

Pinheiro: “I think that I was very lucky. Because ambassador Razali and I, we were operating at a juncture where the military, that is Khin Nyunt and group, was very much open to dialogue with the international community. If you take into consideration that they received Amnesty – how you can imagine a visit by Amnesty now as it was?

“Sometimes, I have the feeling that the world or the international community has lost a good opportunity, perhaps, to give Khin Nyunt more elements. It is not guaranteed that he would not have fallen. But I think perhaps the ambassador Razali was correct in saying that the prime minister needed some more concrete engagement from the international community to prove that his approach was possible.

“He never told this to me but I think that it will be fair to expect that the constitution or the referendum would not be the same as under senior general Than Shwe. That perhaps the referendum would not have been the same sham as it was, or the total absence of inclusiveness in the constitution. But this is a political science fiction. What I know is that the conditions of the present political environment are very difficult for this engagement. We saw this during the humanitarian offerings after the cyclone.

“Then, I think it will not be an easy task for my successor because he’s arriving at a very difficult juncture. In the middle of a roadmap that has indicated that, perhaps we don’t have a roadmap, perhaps we have a roadblock to democracy because what we will get is consolidated authoritarianism.”

DVB: Do you have anything to say to your successor about the constitution and upcoming election in 2010? What would your strategy be?

Pinheiro: “I think that it would be pretentious to say anything to the new special rapporteur. I prefer to say that, I think that perhaps it will be the moment not to continue considering the roadmap a transition. I think that this will change dramatically. Or this will oblige the whole international community to have another strategy, to interact. I think that it’s a fake political process. Nowadays that I don’t have any other responsibility, I think that it’s very risky to continue expecting that from the roadmap, the other stages of the roadmap, will achieve something positive, just following up a process that goes nowhere. It just goes to normalise the military dictatorship.”

The Generals Go Cyber?


(WSJ)- Burma's military junta has so successfully suppressed the media that Internet sites based outside the country are one of the few remaining sources of reliable news for Burmese people. Now it appears not even those sites are safe. Shortly before yesterday's anniversary of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and last year's Buddhist-monk-led Saffron Revolution, the Web sites of my newspaper, The Irrawaddy, and other Burmese news portals came under cyber attack. I am not alone in believing that the junta is behind the attack, just as it was behind the shutdown of Internet access in Burma during last year's uprising.

On Tuesday, we received reports from our stringers and regular readers that Internet connections in Burma were running slowly. The number of these reports suggested a concerted effort to prevent information from going in or out of the country in the run-up to yesterday's important anniversary. The next day, our colleagues and subscribers in the United States, Japan and Malaysia notified our Thailand-based office that they were unable to access our Web site,

A few hours later, inet, the largest Internet host server in Thailand and the primary host of our site, confirmed our site had been under a "distributed denial of service" attack since 5 p.m. that day. Someone had managed to freeze our site by bombarding us with so much traffic that our server couldn't cope. Inet finally decided to shut down our server.

The attackers also targeted our "mirror site," which handles overflow traffic whenever our primary host is unavailable. Singlehop, the server for our mirror site, told us the attack was forcing it to shut down our site, too. The company told us the attack had been "very sophisticated." The attacks on both our primary and our mirror sites are continuing.

Nor are we alone. Fellow exile news agencies Democratic Voice of Burma and New Era were also disabled in similar attacks. We have been forced to publish our daily news via a temporary blog we've created,

The attack on our Web sites is persistent and believed to be manually launched from various locations, which according to our Web hosts means it's the work of a large group of hackers. Cyber criminals, widely dispersed around the globe, can be bought for as little as $500 a day. We've been able to trace one source of the current attack to a computer connecting to the Internet in the Netherlands. Burma may have local cyber criminals too. In recent years the regime has sent students -- mostly from the army -- to Russia for study that many believe includes training in cyber warfare.

As for the motive, that's not a mystery either. Exiled media groups like the journalists at The Irrawaddy, bloggers, reporters inside Burma and citizen journalists played major roles last September in highlighting the brutal suppression of the monks and their supporters in the streets of Rangoon. Live images, eyewitness reports, updates and photographs landed on our desks every few seconds.

Through us and others like us, the outside world was able to witness the terror of the Burmese regime on television and on the Internet. And so the military regime struck back. On Sept. 27 last year, all connections to the Internet inside Burma were closed down for four days as the authorities tried to conceal their crimes.

This latest act of apparent sabotage comes in a broader climate of Internet and media repression. In Burma, some Internet cafes require users to provide identification before logging on so the government can track Internet usage. In other cafes, informers observe students playing video games and Buddhist monks complain they are treated like criminals if they ask to use the Internet.

Meantime, reporters, editors and publishers based in Rangoon are under increasing pressure. Earlier this month, police apprehended a group of reporters and charged them with working for The Irrawaddy, though they were not. Our stringers say they are nervous, though fortunately they remain undetected. My friend, a foreign journalist who recently left Burma, said that the mood was very tense. "It is hard for our Burmese colleagues to report," she said. "But they are very brave."

In this increasing climate of fear where Internet users are frequently suspected of working for exiled media, people in Burma are naturally afraid to communicate. The Internet is one of the few remaining opportunities they have to do so, especially with the outside world.

Over the past 20 years, the battle between Burma's regime and pro-democratic forces has shifted from the streets to the jungle and now to the computer. The generals will not give in; rather, they will equip themselves and become more sophisticated. The attack on our site appears to be a sign of this trend.

However, the junta is mistaken if it thinks we will give up. We at The Irrawaddy have to build stronger firewalls and more effective systems to prevent future attacks. Ultimately, the flow of information is unstoppable. The Burmese regime's cyber criminals cannot penetrate the strongest firewall of all -- the spirit of desire for change.

Mr. Aung Zaw is founder and editor of The Irrawaddy magazine.

Burma Sentences Activist To Two Years Hard Labour

Press Release: Terry Evans

(Scoop) - On Friday the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced that Burma's military junta has sentenced Thet Way, a labour activist, to two years' hard labour.

Thet Way helped people file complaints about forced labour. His imprisionment makes a mockery of last years agreement between the Burmese junta and the ILO, a UN agency which seeks the promotion of labour rights. The agreement provided immunity from prosecution for anyone making or supporting those making complaints about forced labour.

Forced labour is continuing on a widespread scale in Burma and is accompanied by massive violations of other human rights. Tens of thousands of Burmese citizens, under threat of arrest and/or bodily harm, are forced to work without compensation as porters in war zones, or on massive infrastructure projects.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Hmawbi residents forced to work on road construction

Sep 4, 2008 (DVB)–Authorities in Hmawbi in northern Rangoon district have been collecting money from local residents in order to repair roads and forcing those who cannot pay to take part in reconstruction work.

The World Vision NGO had already donated money to repair the roads in Hmawbi’s Myoma Ward 4, which were damaged by heavy rain in August, a local resident told DVB.

But he said ward Peace and Development Council chairman U Myo Lwin Oo still collected 1000 kyat from each household and 25,000 kyat from every car owner.

“They have to quarry stones and lay them on the road,” the local resident said.

“At a time when people do not have enough food to eat, no one wants to contribute anything even if they have the money.”

The local said that people no longer even bothered to report these incidents to senior authorities because no action has been taken in past against the officials responsible.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Red paint campaign commemorates protests

The boys were in town... lalala...

Sep 4, 2008 (DVB)–Activists have sprayed red paint on the walls of various public building in Rangoon, reportedly to commemorate last year’s September protests and their violent suppression by the military regime.

Red paint began to appear on 2 September in Lanmadaw and Pabedan townships on the walls of the Sanpya cinema, Thayettaw monastery, and the Theinggyi market overpass but was deleted by armed security personnel within hours, according to an eyewitness.

"They erased them straight away and made it match the original colour,” the witness said.

“Some of them were in civilian clothing and some were wearing the uniforms of the security forces."

Given the timing of the red paint campaign, the witness said it seemed to be intended to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Saffron Revolution as a reminder to people not to forget the monks.

"It could happen again. I am hearing a lot of different voices; people are not very satisfied,” the witness said.

The witness said that an army truck was parked at city hall and vehicles carrying security forces armed with shields and batons were patrolling the city.

A journalist in Rangoon said the demonstrations and subsequent violent crackdown would be remembered as part of popular history.

"This history will never disappear. People won't forget the Saffron Revolution,” he said.

“People might disappear, but history stays with us – you can't kill it."

Last September’s mass public demonstrations led by monks, students and civilians were brutally suppressed by the Burmese regime.

The former United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said that at least 31 people were killed, though other estimates put the number much higher.

Thousands more were arrested, many of whom remain in detention or are awaiting trial.

Reporting by Htet Yarzar

USDA candidates for 2010 election shortlisted

Ala boys... corruption at its best...

Sep 4, 2008 (DVB)–A list of three candidates for the 2010 election from Yezagyo township, Magwe division, has been sent to the Union Solidarity and Development Association headquarters, according to sources close to the association.

The discussion of prospective candidates comes at a time when pro-democracy groups are continuing to protest against the proposed 2010 election.

Yezagyo township Peace and Development Council chairman U Mya Ngwe and his team held consultations in early August and selected five possible candidates and then narrowed it down to the final three.

The three selected are
Kan Pwint incense business owner U Aung Than, Aung Theiddit incense business owner U Aung San and National Convention farmers’ representative U Tin Maung Kyaw.

District USDA working member U Lu Min and Mahethi rice mill owner U Myint Thein, the two other potential candidates, were rejected by the committee.

USDA secretary U Kyaw Swe reportedly also wanted to be considered as a candidate was but was not included on the shortlist.

The relationship between Mya Ngwe and Kyaw Swe is said by locals to be strained, and his exclusion is likely to exacerbate tensions between the local PDC and the USDA.

Relations between the two took a recent downturn when brigadier-general Thein Zaw, minister for post and telecommunications, came to Yezagyo after the constitutional referendum in May, and allocated 400 phones for distribution.

Kyaw Swe requested 100 phones for his USDA members, but his request was refused by Mya Ngwe.

Mya Ngwe also used his clout and the help of 19 of the town’s power holders to push for his preferred candidates.

Businessman U Aung Than, one of the nominees, raised 4 million kyat, 2.5 million of which he contributed from his own pocket, and went to the capital Naypyidaw to lobby for the procurement of phones.

When the deputy post and telecommunications minister came to Yezagyo, he inspected the prospect of phone installation and allocated 20 phones for his home town, Myaing.

He also awarded one of the phones to U Htay Hlaing, the owner of Tawtharlay jaggery factory, and another to the son of a businessman called U Tin, who had looked after him when he was a schoolboy.

Reporting by Aye Nai

Natural gas favours regime, not national interest

By Moe Thu and Htet Win
Tuesday, 02 September 2008

(Mizzima) - While Burma's economy is largely pushed forward by the sale of its natural gas reserves, the military regime has failed to develop gas related industries though there is potential demand for gas consumption in several different sectors.

ႈႈႈIn the fiscal year 2007-2008, Burma earned US$ 2.56 billion, 40 percent of its total export revenue from gas.

Major natural gas finds off the Arakan off-shore in 2004 by South Korea's Daewoo International and more recent discoveries in the Gulf of Mottama by Thailand's PTTEP have put Burma's energy sector in the international spotlight.

Development of Burma's oil and gas fields draws more foreign investment than any other sector of the Burmese economy, although some economists have voiced concerns that the rush for gas comes as other sectors fall behind those of regional competitors.

On March 27, a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said sales of natural gas were creating growing trade surpluses and a valuable buffer for Burma, but warned that national economic reliance on the export market puts the country's economy at risk should global gas prices fall.

However, using the gas primarily to support domestic industries rather than exports would be the best way to supplement long-term economic growth – including job creation, experts said.

Areas that could benefit most from Burma's gas reserves include the agricultural and industrial sectors, which, for instance, could use the gas to power fertiliser or cement factories.

"If we build fertiliser plants we can produce it for our domestic use and sell our surplus abroad," a Rangoon-based academic said, noting that such a move was consistent with import substitution policies, inexhaustibly pursued by the military regime with its inconsistent economic policies.

Only a third of Burma farmers use fertiliser, while the country currently produces just 200,000 tonnes of the 1.6 million tonnes of fertiliser it consumes annually, according to the recent data available from the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The military government, which is well aware of the high demand for gas to be used to generate electricity for a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, however fail to utilize the gas.

Manufacturing industries, which need constant supply of energy, is the most favourable for job-creation even compared to agriculture, which is so-called the economic backbone of Burma, for the many young rural people who are increasingly migrating to urban centres in search of jobs.

The lack of consistent and sufficient supply of electricity has been one of the major set-backs to the Burmese economy and use of its natural gas and income from its sales to set up power plants, could be an immediate and first step to solve the electricity needs of manufacturing industries.

Gas power stations in Burma constitute 40 per cent of the total annual generation, while hydropower contributes 50 per cent, steam turbines 9 per cent and diesel engine one per cent, the Ministry of Electric Power No (1) figures indicated.

Though the country has an abundance of gas reserve and enjoys sale of natural gas, a recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) report on Burma's economy indicated that the best use of the resources is important for the country's long-term development.

The report said gas export, if properly utilized, will provide an opportunity to embark on structural reforms, including exchange rate unification, fiscal consolidation, and agricultural liberalization, and to redirect public spending for development of social and physical infrastructures.

"In view of the importance of agriculture and its impact on poverty, strengthening the sector should be a key goal," the report said.

Another possible benefit from natural gas is establishing natural gas revenue funds in the country, which will then help in developing the economy and stabilizing of commodity prices.

"Resources like natural gas are exhaustible. It will be good if we set up a fund with the income from gas sale for our generation and the economy," said a Rangoon-based economist.

Though Burma's trade volume saw an increase due to the export of natural gas, it does not, however, imply that natural gas is a catalyst for long-term economic development of Burma, which still has an agro-based economy. And experts said existing gas reserves are not big enough to rely on like the countries in Middle East and Russia.

This kind of fund will help sustainable economic development of the country as the country can invest the money from the fund in promising businesses and industries to acquire revenue and cope with the devaluation of the funds due to inflation.

Setting up gas revenue funds can help stabilize commodity prices and to keep inflation at bay. Burma, in a little over five years has witnessed skyrocketing of commodity prices, and seen soaring inflation rates.

Setting up funds from petroleum sales has been practiced in the countries such as Norway, Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan with the aim of increasing transparency and better governance, the very things the Burmese military regime does not want.

However, some economists feel it is impossible to set up a gas revenue fund as earning from the natural gas sale cannot match the earning from oil sales in oil-rich countries, citing as a concrete example that Burma has no longer oil revenue.

Putting it bluntly, it is the government, in the first place, that continues to fail creating a 'business environment conducive to investment growth' – regardless of economic sanctions against the country.

It is apparent that the military government has left out the role of business or economic experts, who are crucial to pave the way for reform measures leading to in such a business climate.

But the saddest fact is that the military leaders are happy with cronyism, a scale which they could manage and a cause which continues fundamentally to backpedal the country's economy.

The Generals still pursue cronyism in economic affairs even as they continue to ignore the interest of the people by failing to take up economic reforms.

Therefore, gas in Burma can only entrench the power of the military junta, as long as the policy makers fail to come up with measures to best utilize it.

Junta arrests two more activists - Tin Myo Htut and

By Myint Maung
Thursday, 04 September 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima)- In another round of crackdown on dissidence, Burmese military junta authorities in Rangoon on Wednesday arrested two political activists, an eyewitness told Mizzima.

Tin Myo Htut (alias) Kyaw Oo, a member of an underground activists group the Generation Wave, and another unidentified activist, were taken away by plainclothes police at about 7:30 a.m. (local time) on Wednesday, from near a teashop in Kamayut Township, Rangoon, the eyewitness said.

"I saw them being taken away by three plainclothes policemen from near the teashop," the eyewitness added.

Moe Thwin, spokesperson of the Generation Wave said Tin Myo Htut had informed him of his appointment with a friend near 'Amayh Ywa' Teashop.

"And when I called him yesterday, he did not speak but put it on, and I could hear other voices interrogating him over the phone," Moe Thwin said.

According to the eyewitness, the two activists were to meet at the teashop, but the police were lying in wait for them and whisked them away.

The Thailand based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said though they are aware of the arrest of the Tin Myo Htut, they are still unable to garner details of the arrest.

"We heard of the arrest of Tin Myo Htut, but we are still following up on details about the arrest," said Bo Kyi, Joint Secretary of the AAPP.

On Wednesday, Generation Wave, in a statement called on the government to immediately release their members including Tin Myo Htut and vowed that despite the government's crackdown, it will continue its struggle for a change in Burma.

Tin Myo Htut, according to the Generation Wave, is a political activist who had participated in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising as a high school student and was arrested in 1992 and detained for five years.

However, another activist, who was arrested along with Tin Myo Htut has not been identified as yet.

Generation Wave, mostly known as GW, was formed with students and young activists in October last year following the Saffron Revolution. However, the group remain underground and operated secretly in order to avoid attention by authorities.

Despite of their secret operation and networking, the junta in March arrested four key members including Zeya Thaw (alias) Kyaw Kyaw, who is the lead vocalist of Burma's popular hip-hop band Acid group.

Ceasefire groups in Shan State face renewed pressure to surrender

By Solomon
04 September 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima)- The Burmese ruling junta has mounted fresh pressure on ceasefire armed rebel groups in Shan State to surrender arms latest by the end of 2009, an ethnic news agency based in Thailand said.

The Shan Herald Agency for News' editor Khun Sai, citing sources in Shan state, said Brig. Gen Ya Pyae, commander of the eastern military command, during his visit to Ho Mong township in Shan State in August put pressure on ceasefire arm groups to lay down their arms before the 2010 elections.

"Last month, Commander Brig Gen Ya Pyae told ceasefire arm groups in Shan State to surrender before the end of 2009," Khun Sai said.

Besides, Khun Sai said local villagers who have fled to Thailand told him that Maj. Gen Kyaw Phyo, Commander of Kengtung Township has pressurised ceasefire groups from southern Shan State to surrender or join the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), which has not signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta.

"He [Maj. Gen Kyaw Phyo] told armed groups that by 2009 there will be only two choices – either to surrender or regroup with the SSA-S," said Khun Sai, quoting local villagers.

However, Khun Sai said the armed groups are likely to try and avoid a situation of total surrender or laying down arms.

Meanwhile, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a major ceasefire armed group, said they have not yet come across fresh pressure to surrender arms.

"So far we have not received any official statement from the Burmese government pressuring us to surrender arms," the UWSA spokesman told Mizzima.

The spokesperson, who requested anonymity, however, said his group has no plans to surrender or to lay down arms until there is visible justice and equality in the country.

"We want to resolve things peacefully, so there is likely to be more discussions between us and the government, but surrendering of arms is not possible," the spokesman said.

Similarly, the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO), one of the strongest Kachin ethnic ceasefire groups, also said they were not aware of any renewed pressure from the government to surrender arms.

Major Gun Maw, spokesperson of the KIO, said, "They [junta] did not tell us anything regarding arms surrender and we are not thinking about this issue right now."

He said there have been no thoughts in the KIO over the issue of changing the group's name or to surrender arms.

"This is not the kind of planning and we are not discussing it," Gun Maw added.

But Mya Maung, a Burmese military analyst based along the Sino-Burma border and having a close relationship with ceasefire groups said, pressuring the ceasefire groups to surrender might indicate the junta's intention to prove to the international community that it is able to bring peace to the country.

"Because the groups that it [the junta] has pressured are not strong enough to resist and the junta wants to use them, but just groups like the UWSA and KIO will be difficult to pressurise," Mya

He said it is unlikely that the junta will be able to pressure big groups such as the KIO or UWSA before 2010 general election, though it might be possible to do so after the election.

"If the junta forcibly orders them to surrender then the groups are likely to break their ceasefire agreements and wage an active armed struggle," Mya Maung said.

Mya Maung said, Burma's political crisis is about democracy as well as problems of nationalities and without solving these problems, the government will continue to face problems, and conflicts will remain.

"Suitable political reforms would mean forming a federal system where ethnic groups are guaranteed their rights. This is the only long-term solution to Burma's political problems," he added.

Illegal Timber Crossing Thai-Burmese Border

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese officials have been accepting bribes from a Thai logging company, which is smuggling timber across the Three Pagodas Pass border into Thailand, according to local witnesses.

A businessman in Three Pagodas Pass, who spoke to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, said he witnessed trucks laden with logs passing through the border crossing at night several times.

A local motorcycle taxi driver, who asked to remain anonymous, also said that the Burmese border guards opened the gate at night or sometimes at about 5 a.m. to allow the logging trucks to pass through. He said the guards checked first to make sure there weren’t many people in the street before they waved the trucks through.

The local sources estimate that about 100 trucks containing teak and other hardwoods pass through Three Pagodas Pass every month and that the practice has been ongoing for several months.

Officially, Three Pagodas Pass border crossing is closed and the Burmese junta has not permitted border trade with Thailand since soldiers from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) kidnapped two Thai border policemen in 2006.

However, according to the local businessman, Burmese officials have made an unofficial trade agreement with Sia Hook, a powerful Sino-Thai logging company.

The source alleged that Sia Hook has been paying Burmese officials bribes of 30,000 baht (US $947) per truckload of teak, and 15,000 baht ($473) for each truckload of any other type of timber, to pass through to Thailand.

It is not clear whether the company has received permission to log timber from the Burmese Forestry Department. However, Sia Hook has been known to cooperate with several Burmese logging companies in the past, whose representatives were able to arrange timber export agreements with local township authorities.

Sia Hook proved itself loyal to the Burmese regime in 1990, when it offered its trucks to transport Burmese troops onto Thai territory to engage the New Mon State Party army, which then controlled Three Pagodas Pass.

Journalist’s Arrest Triggers Regime Warning to Editors -Saw Myint Than

The Irrawaddy News

Editors of at least six Rangoon publications have been visited by the authorities and warned to avoid contacts with the Burmese media in exile and international news organizations in what is being seen as a new crackdown on the Burmese media.

The warning follows the arrest of the chief reporter of Flower News Journal, Saw Myint Than, who was reportedly charged with at least three offences, including an infringement of a section of the Electronics Act which bans contacts with unlawful organizations.

Saw Myint Than was interrogated by the police last week after he had reported on a Rangoon murder case. Burmese exiled media, including The Irrawaddy, reported on his interrogation, during which the journalist was reportedly accused of spreading rumors.

On Monday, nearly a week after his initial interrogation, he was arrested. The authorities also visited the offices of at least six Rangoon journals, including 7 Days and The Voice, and warned editors to avoid contacts with the exiled media and international news organizations.

The Irrawaddy’s editor, Aung Zaw, said
Saw Myint Than did not work for his publication.

"The regime is nervous and deeply concern about the anniversary of last September’s demonstrations," Aung Zaw said. "It knows very well that bloggers and reporters played a very important role in the September uprising. That's why it is now monitoring media groups in Burma very closely."

Aung Zaw also condemned the arrest of Saw Myint Than, saying it was a “great threat to freedom of expression in Burma.”

Rangoon-based correspondents Aung Thet Wine and Moe Aung Tin also contributed to this report.

AIPMC Appeals to Surin, Ban Ki-moon to Visit Suu Kyi

The Irrawaddy News

A rights advocacy group within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has appealed to the heads of both Asean and the UN to visit Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and check on her health.

Roshan Jason, executive director of the group, the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that letters had gone to Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking them to make a personal assessment of Suu Kyi’s condition—“Not just her physical health but also her emotional [state of mind].”

The letter told Surin and Ban: “We remind you that her continued well-being is vital for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Burma.”

Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), says she has been refusing supplies of food to her home since mid-August, but there is no indication that she is on a hunger strike. Her lawyer said after visiting her this week that she has lost weight and is tired but otherwise appears to be in good health.

Suu Kyi has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest.

The AIPMC letter reminded Surin that he had described Asean as a “tapestry of hope,” and said that Burma was a part of this tapestry. The AIPMC urged Surin to act to ensure the tapestry did not unravel.

Jason said Asean had acknowledged receipt of the letter, but nothing had been heard yet from the UN. The two bodies appeared to think Suu Kyi was not “relevant in the democracy process,” he said.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Burmese Media Silent on Thai Turmoil

A Thai demonstrator waves a flag as she and others occupy the Government House.
Anti-government protests in Thailand have captured headlines around the world,
but in neighboring Burma, censors have blocked coverage of the unrest. (Photo: AP)

The Irrawaddy News

As the international media continues to follow the tense situation in Thailand closely, the censors in neighboring Burma have imposed a blackout on coverage of massive anti-government protest in Bangkok, according to journalists in Rangoon.

An editor from a Rangoon-based journal told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the authorities were not allowing reports of the current unrest in Thailand to be published or broadcast by the country’s tightly controlled media.

“We can’t report it in our magazine,” said the editor. “They have censored reports about the protests in both the broadcast and print media.”

Another journalist in Rangoon confirmed that the protests, which are directed against the government of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, have received no media attention inside Burma.

“I haven’t seen any news about the turmoil in Thailand so far,” the journalist said.

The blackout on news about the unrest in Thailand extends to the international news network CNN, which is available through Family Entertainment, a 19-channel satellite television service created by Burma’s Ministry of Information and the privately owned Forever Group in 2005.

“We can only see the headlines about the protest,” said one journalist. “None of [CNN’s] in-depth coverage of the protests is shown.”

According to the journalist, the only source of information on the situation in Thailand is the Norway-based Burmese news organization, the Democratic Voice of Burma, which some people can watch secretly using satellite dishes.

The anti-government protests in Bangkok are led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which occupied the prime minister’s office compound on August 26 and vowed not to budge until Samak steps down.

On Tuesday, Samak declared a state of emergency in Bangkok after one protester died in a clash between anti-government and pro-government groups that broke out on Tuesday morning.

It was not clear why the Burmese authorities had blocked coverage of the unrest in neighboring Thailand, although it is not unusual for Burma’s censors to screen out sensitive information or images that could incite domestic unrest.

In September 2007, the censors shut down the news networks on the Family Entertainment satellite service to prevent access to international coverage of the ruling regime’s brutal crackdown on monk-led demonstrations. Internet access was also temporarily suspended at the height of the conflict.

Thakin Chan Htun, a veteran politician and former ambassador to China, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the Burmese regime’s decision to prevent the media from reporting on the current situation in Thailand showed that its claims to be moving towards democratic reforms were meaningless.

“If they really want to form a democratic country, they should allow local journals and magazines to independently report news that the people should know,” he said.

Aye Thar Aung, the Rangoon-based secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy, said that the authorities were intent on controlling not only the media, but also the will of people.

“In Thailand, the King, the military and the government all respect the basic principles of democracy,” said Aye Thar Aung. “They are serious about the will of the people. But in Burma, we can’t imagine this. It is like a dream.”

Despite the lack of news coverage of the current unrest in Thailand, many Burmese have taken a strong interest in the situation there, partly because Samak, the target of the Thai protests, has in the past made a number of controversial comments about Burma’s political impasse.

Samak recently described Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as a “political tool” of the West, and suggested that international efforts to engage the Burmese junta would be more productive if Suu Kyi were kept off the agenda.

Samak made the remark during a meeting with Ibrahim Gambari, the United Nations’ special envoy to Burma, when the two met in Bangkok soon after the Nigerian diplomat ended his latest trip to Burma.

Burmese opposition leaders reacted angrily to the Thai premier’s comments.

And now that Samak’s political future is in question, many Burmese say they hope to see him out of power soon.

“They are happy that protesters are demanding Samak’s resignation. They said it is good that he is facing the current unrest,” said one Rangoon resident, describing the sentiment expressed by many Burmese who are following the situation in Thailand.

Reporter Arrested over Murder Story

The Irrawaddy News

A reporter for a leading Rangoon journal was arrested on Monday after being summoned and rebuked by the authorities last week for reporting on the murder of a couple in Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township.

Police from Kyauktada Township in Rangoon arrested Saw Myint Than, the chief reporter for the Flower News Journal, on Monday night and is now holding him at the local police station, according to sources.

Saw Myint Than was reportedly charged with at least three offences, including violations of Section 17/A of the Electronics Act, which bans contact with organizations deemed to be unlawful, and Article 124/A of the Criminal Code, which forbids expressions of disrespect towards the government.

Last week's Tuesday, Saw Myint Than was summoned by police and threatened with arrest for reporting on the murder. He was also warned that the journal’s publishing license could be revoked.

“His situation is not good,” said a journalist in Rangoon. “It is like the authorities have lost patience and have done this to make an example of him.”

Another journalist said that Saw Myint Than was accused of spreading rumors after reports of his interrogation by the police last week appeared in the Burmese exiled media. Officials reportedly asked him if he was working for The Irrawaddy, which is based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

His story about the murder passed through the military regime’s censorship board, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, and was also published in other journals, including Weekly Eleven and Voice Weekly.

It is common practice in Burma for news of crimes written by independent reporters to be censored. All stories in the print media must pass through the censorship office.

Meanwhile, several journalists in Rangoon confirmed that the Burmese authorities have tightened restrictions on access to government ministries. According to sources, journalists who visit government offices are now required to provide detailed information about who they are working for.

88 Generation Students Go On Trial

The Irrawaddy News

Thirty-five members of the 88 Generation Students group appeared in court on Tuesday. However, the case was adjourned because of the late hour after the activists had delayed proceedings by arguing against being handcuffed and calling for a public trial.

The activists, including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Min Zaya, were arrested for participating in the monk-led demonstrations last year and have since been detained in Insein prison in Rangoon.

Aung Tun, the brother of Ko Ko Gyi, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the activists—seven women and 28 men—appeared in Insein prison court at 4:30 in the afternoon the day before, by which time court proceedings had concluded for the day.

“Ko Ko Gyi told me the trial was delayed because the activists had tried to negotiate with the prison authorities not to be handcuffed,” said Aung Tun. “He said that they were political prisoners and, as such, demanded a public trial.

“I am not sure whether they will reappear for trial on Thursday,” Ko Aung added.

However, one of the group’s lawyers, Aung Thein—who said that he has not been allowed to meet his clients—told The Irrawaddy that if they refuse to appear in court on Thursday they would most likely be sentenced to six months in prison and be fined in accordance with Burmese law.

Meanwhile, the US Campaign for Burma released a statement on Tuesday accusing the Burmese military government of hauling dozens of detained pro-democracy activists to court just days after two UN envoys traveled to Burma seeking democratic change and improvements in human rights.

“By forcing Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and the 88 Generation students into a sham trial instead of releasing them, the Burmese [authorities] have refused to cooperate with the UN Security Council,” said Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma.

“If the Security Council wants to have any credibility at all, it must take strong action immediately, such as banning all weapons sales to the military regime,” he added in a press statement.

He said that Burma’s judiciary is widely seen as a kangaroo court system in which judges sentence human rights activists based on orders from the military regime in closed-door trials.

At least 2,092 political prisoners are currently being held in detention across the country, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), or AAPP.

The imprisoned activists are suffering “prolonged and unlawful detention, no access to proper legal counsel, no free or fair trials,” AAPP said.

Suu Kyi’s Lawyer Denies She Won’t Meet Regime Minister

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) has denied a report in the regime’s official newspaper that the party’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is refusing to meet the minister charged with liaising between her and the government.

The government mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar, reported on Wednesday that Suu Kyi had declined a scheduled meeting with Labor Minister Aung Kyi on Tuesday. The meeting had been arranged at the request of the United Nations following the latest, unsuccessful mission to Burma by special envoy Ibrahim Gambari at the end of August, the newspaper said.

The New Light of Myanmar reported that Suu Kyi had told her lawyer, Kyi Win, that she didn’t want to meet Aung Kyi. She also declined a visit by her doctor, the newspaper said.

Suu Kyi also declined a meeting with Gambari.

“For the time being, she wants to meet no one, except advocate U Kyi Win,” said The New Light of Myanmar.

Kyi Win said that when he met Suu Kyi on Monday she had said she was prepared to meet Aung Kyi but had added: “However, there are problems to be solved.”

Kyi Win said: “She also said that she felt weak and tired, and asked me to appeal for understanding.” The lawyer said she had lost weight but otherwise appeared to be well.

The NLD says Suu Kyi has told it not to deliver any more food or supplies to her home, but has denied she is on a hunger strike.

Suu Kyi has been allowed to meet Kyi Win three times in the past month. The lawyer said that at their Monday meeting they had discussed an appeal against the regime’s latest detention order. The Nobel laureate has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years, and is now in the sixth year of continuous detention.

Another city has, meanwhile, honored Suu Kyi by making her an honorary citizen.
Dundee in Scotland has given her the “freedom of the city,” a rare honor reserved for outstanding personalities.

Anna Roberts, Director of the Burma Campaign-UK, who will collect the award on Suu Kyi’s behalf, said such prestigious honors “are really important for raising awareness of the situation of Aung San Suu Kyi herself, but also more widely about all of the people in Burma.

"It's a great occasion to be able to raise the profile of Burma and also to let people know inside Burma that the world has not forgotten and that they are campaigning to help bring freedom and democracy to Burma.

"Aung San Suu Kyi herself will probably hear about this award and people inside Burma certainly do take great courage and they feel very supported by acts like this.

"She remains a powerful source of hope and inspiration for the people of Burma and it's important that we never forget and we never stop campaigning for her release and [the release of] all political prisoners in Burma."

Training Eyes on the Junta

The Irrawaddy News

Brad Adams is the Asia Director of New York-based Human Rights Watch. Adams talked to The Irrawaddy about Burma’s constitutional referendum, human rights and the international response to Cyclone Nargis.

Question: What is Human Rights Watch’s assessment
of the State Peace and Development Council’s [SPDC’s] response to Cyclone Nargis?

Answer: The initial response was disgraceful; it is still shocking to me that the military government obstructed the relief effort in the first weeks after the cyclone. How many people suffered or even died due to this obstruction? The SPDC’s reaction was proof—clear proof—as if any more was needed, of the complete disdain the military leadership has for its own people.

There was a huge amount of genuine goodwill in the international community to provide aid and skilled aid workers to help. But this was delayed and delayed and, in large measure, blocked. Even now the movements of many foreign aid workers remain tightly controlled. To think of the aid shipments on US, French and British warships waiting offshore that were rejected is heartbreaking. This was largely due to the SPDC’s paranoia. Even when things got better, as they belatedly did, the military still placed their own selfish and paranoid security interests first.

The 2.4 million people affected in the Irrawaddy delta deserve more. This situation should still be a matter of urgent concern for the international community as many people still haven’t received any help and those who are counted as having received help have not received enough. All of this is the responsibility of the SPDC.

Q: How do you assess the role of the international community and its aid agencies in Burma?

A: As the government has long ago abdicated its responsibility for the welfare of the Burmese people, international donors and agencies have a critical role to play inside Burma and should be supported.

But we must also understand the challenges they face. These agencies are assisting communities devastated by the cyclone, but they are working in a country where they also have to address alarming poverty and dire health and welfare problems because of failed governance. Human Rights Watch has long supported increased humanitarian assistance to Burma, but aid going into Burma must be provided in an accountable, transparent and principled manner. It must reach the people who desperately need it, not the generals and their favored businessmen. Restrictions on aid agencies and workers should be removed and more freedom of movement, monitoring and effective projects provided.

One thing the international community can do is provide more aid across borders to conflict zones where the situation is often most desperate. It would also train more eyes on what is happening in these areas and undermine the SPDC, which doesn’t want the international community to witness systematic human rights violations in these remote areas.

Q: There was a lot of talk during the past three months on invoking the “Responsibility
to Protect” principle, especially by [International Crisis Group President] Gareth Evans
and [French Foreign Minister] Bernard Kouchner. How applicable do you think it would
be in Burma? And do you think there are crimes against humanity being perpetrated in Burma?

A: There was a lot of talk about R2P [Responsibility to Protect] at the time, which reflected the frustration of many in the international community. France was courageous to raise this. We did not take a position on it, as R2P is based on genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing, and we did not have clear evidence of this.

However, we agreed with the main point of the French, which was that the world could not stand by and watch large numbers of people die or suffer because of the malice of a government. We called for concrete action by the UN Security Council and Burma’s friends, such as China, India and Thailand. What was really frustrating was the international discord over the R2P principles and the idea of international collective action to help people, which served as a diversion by those who didn’t want any action at all, whatever the label. China and other states refused to support stronger diplomatic measures to open up humanitarian space inside Burma, just as they have failed to push the military government more on its atrocious human rights record.

Clearly the actions of the senior Burmese leadership have contributed to violations of international humanitarian law in conflict zones, and these include crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch has documented this for years and we have called for an international commission of inquiry to look into this and make recommendations for action.

Q: Do you see any possibilities to bring Snr-Gen Than Shwe before the International Criminal Court?

A: It’s something that the international community must look at, but it’s complicated both legally and politically. As with the idea of crimes against humanity charges, it is a long process that will take a huge amount of resources. The challenge is to collect the right evidence and understand the process of bringing such charges to the ICC [International Criminal Court].

Q: What are some of the provisions international donors should employ on providing
aid and reconstruction finance to Burma?

A: In our recent letter to aid donors we listed 10 key provisions, which included the urgent need of communities to receive aid; unimpeded humanitarian access for local Burmese and international aid organizations to affected areas; that funding should go through aid organizations and not the Burmese military government; that reconstruction efforts should be closely monitored so that human rights violations such as forced labor, forced evictions and land seizures don’t occur; and that there be no discrimination on aid delivery on religious or ethnic grounds.

We also asked the international community to pressure the SPDC into using some of its gas export revenue to fund reconstruction and ensure that no contracts are awarded to individuals on current international sanctions lists. Given the great concern over the SPDC’s abuse of aid in the past, we proposed an independent monitoring body be created to ensure aid is delivered appropriately and based on real need. We’re waiting for action on that.

Q: What examples of human rights violations tied to the referendum has your organization documented?

A: Well, the [referendum] was a sham, made even more insulting by the fact that it was pushed through during the desperate aftermath of the cyclone.

The biggest clue was the refusal of the SPDC to receive UN technical assistance or permit independent observers. That’s a red flag right there. The most immediate concern was the climate of fear in the country, as many people realized the consequences of openly opposing the referendum, especially as they could have been sent to jail for three years under the absurd referendum law.

The idea of a free and fair vote under military rule is a nonstarter and the regime seemed intent on proving this with their ridiculous turnout and vote counts. There is a raft of repressive laws in Burma that sharply curb freedom of expression, assembly and association. Before the referendum we documented cases of intimidation against people during the registration process, and there were a lot of irregularities over how people were registered and what they knew about the whole process, which wasn’t a lot. There was a lot of intimidation of the media, which was not allowed to report freely and openly on the process. Monks and other members of religious orders were not given the vote—hardly surprising, following the monks’ involvement in last year’s popular protests. Out of this tightly orchestrated farce it’s no wonder that a 92 percent approval was announced by the SPDC.

Q: In what ways does the organization of the referendum breach international
standards for elections?

A: There was no independent election body, no independent courts to adjudicate disputes, no ability to challenge results, no free media– you name it.

By any international standards the referendum failed miserably, but by SPDC standards it all went according to plan.

Q: How do you foresee the junta’s election in 2010 and its aftermath in view of the fact that its constitutional referendum in May wasn’t seen as “free and fair”?

A: There is no reason to believe or even hope that the vote in 2010 will be free and fair. The point of the election is to put a civilian face on a military regime by handpicking the winners. This is likely to be the USDA or a similar group.

There must be a major conceptual shift to empower people, not continue to subordinate them. Releasing political prisoners and permitting basic freedoms, such as political party mobilization, freedom of information, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression—these are all fundamental prerequisites to a democratic process, but these are the elements the SPDC is suppressing.

And they call it “disciplined democracy.” What does that mean? It’s an Orwellian affront to human freedom. So, in short, no, I don’t foresee much hope for the 2010 elections at the moment.

Q: It could be said that the international community has forgotten about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest and has been excluded from this process. What does Human Rights Watch think the role of Daw Suu Kyi in this process should be?

A: The first step should be her unconditional release from house arrest, clear and simple.

The SPDC has worked very hard to construct the idea that Aung San Suu Kyi is irrelevant to modern Burma and that she is in some ways the cause of the political impasse. It is impossible to stomach this argument, even as some foreign observers perpetuate it. How can someone who has consistently called for peaceful dialogue on the political future of the country be blamed for its problems, especially when she has spent most of her time since 1989 in state detention?

If she is irrelevant, then why is she still isolated, vilified and excluded? Maybe it’s because she still has some relevance to the people of Burma, a point the military regime obviously understands—or else why would they still take the cowardly route of isolating her?

As to her role in the future affairs of Burma, that has to be something the Burmese people themselves figure out.

Q: In a previous interview with The Irrawaddy you talked about the rights of Burma’s ethnic minorities. How have they been treated in this process?

A: As appallingly as ever, particularly those hundreds of thousands of people still surviving in remote conflict zones who have been violently excluded from the whole process. While there has been participation by some ethnic ceasefire groups in the National Convention, particularly the Wa and Kachin, many others have been brutally treated, such as the leaders of the Shan political party who were all thrown in jail in 2005. Other groups have distanced themselves from the process, such as the Mon, due to disappointment over the process. Others have tried to participate to ensure their legal status.

Ethnic groups have still not benefited sufficiently from the so-called peace process in the country, and while many have been making headway in local development projects, they need to be more involved in deciding their future and that of the country. Otherwise the resentment against the central government will continue and the possibility of a renewed descent into violence would be real.

Q: How would you assess the diplomatic role of the international community on Burma, particularly the UN secretary-general’s special advisor Ibrahim Gambari?

A: The role of the international community is crucial; it always has been. However, there is a desperate need for more unified action among the main international players. China, India, Russia and Thailand need to stop defending the regime and push for real change and protection of basic rights. The SPDC benefits greatly from their moral, political and financial support, and feeds off international discord.

The role of Professor Gambari could be very important but, as the “Group of Friends” of Burma said at its most recent meeting, his next visit must make “tangible progress.”

Thus far the SPDC has been playing games with Gambari, just as they did with Razali when he held the same role. Gambari has to be supported, but there must be some progress, not more visits with little or nothing to show for it. At this point the regime has given nothing important to Gambari since he took up his post. He must come away from his next visit with something real, including a clear picture of what the SPDC plans next on political reforms, and a list of promises they can keep.

Q: The new UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, Thomas Ojea Quintana, has a challenging task. What are some of the areas he should prioritize for Burma’s human rights situation?

A: The question isn’t really what his priorities are—you name the subject and there exists in Burma a serious human rights problem that he can pursue. The question is how the SPDC is going to cooperate with him. We have to remember that they have treated successive envoys with disdain since the early 1990s. They even planted a microphone under a table during a supposedly confidential interview between Paulo Pinheiro and a prisoner at Insein prison in 2003. They need to let Mr Quintana operate freely so that he can meet people and document the situation on the ground. We hope for the best, but expect the worst, even if they are being relatively friendly with him early on in his mandate.

Q: It has been nearly a year since the crackdown on protests in Burma during August-September 2007. How is the human rights situation in the country now?

A: Unfortunately the situation is as bad as it was before the demonstrations began in August. There has been no progress on human rights or democratization at all.

The SPDC have simply ignored the concerns of the Burmese people. Most of the people arrested during the protests, including Min Ko Naing and other members of the 88 Generation Students, and the labor activist Ma Su Su Nway, are still in prison. Of course they and all other political prisoners should be released immediately. The famous comedian Zarganar, who was arrested briefly during the protests last year, was arrested a couple of months ago for organizing aid delivery to cyclone-affected communities, and he was recently sentenced to two years in jail for that.

The monks’ movement is still active, if underground, and the pressure on the monasteries has been maintained, which has undercut the social services they provide to communities. The essential grievances of people—better living standards, access to health services, job opportunities, and some sense of hope—have been ignored by the government.

Q: It seems that the SPDC is impervious to international pressure. How effective does your organization think sanctions could be in this situation?

A: Sanctions can be effective if they are the right ones that target the right individuals and institutions.

Recent targeted financial and other sanctions announced by the US, the EU and Australia have the possibility of being meaningful if there is real political will and constant monitoring to make them effective. Sanctions on Burma should target key military leaders and their business associates who benefit from military rule, and a handful of sectors that strengthen military rule.

Targeted sanctions should be seen as a tool of principled engagement with the SPDC—not an isolationist policy.